Illustration by Justin Mezzell

Rosen isn’t alone. At www.haulsofshame.com, you can find allegations of systematic fraud in conjunction with PSA/DNA, JSA, Heritage and, well, just about every other player in this insular world. Another frequently heard complaint concerns the ­authority of the authenticators themselves. What, critics ask skeptically, qualifies an individual to serve as the definitive arbiter of the authenticity of an item produced or worn, in many instances, before that individual was born?

The answer, more or less, is experience. Both Spence and Orlando acknowledge that their authenticators are, indeed, far from infallible. “Is the system perfect?” Orlando asks. “Of course not, because you have human beings at the wheel.”

That said, it takes a lot to pull one over on the authentication pros. JSA has what Spence calls an “exemplar folder,” which tracks the evolution of certain coveted signatures over time. “We’re not just basing it on a single moment,” he explains. Other authenticators study baseballs under ultraviolet lighting to determine whether autographs have been tampered with or erased (solo-autographed balls are worth more than group-inscribed ones). They also consult with fabric experts to make sure that game-worn jerseys are consistent with the threads of a given era.


NOW YOU KNOW: James Spence Authentication has an exemplar database totaling around 500,000 files.
“Finding [authenticators] is the toughest­ part of the job,” Spence readily admits. “I can’t just go to Yale or Harvard and say, ‘Give me your best authentication students.’ ”

That, happily for PSA/DNA and JSA, is one of the few limitations concerning their potential growth. Both companies have ambitious plans for future expansion; Spence mentions Corvettes and Barbie dolls as possibilities, while Orlando muses about the importance of educating newbie collectors in the hope of converting them into passionate, lifelong ones.

“It’s a highly volatile business. If LeBron [James] turns his ankle or somebody gets in trouble for steroids, that can affect a lot of items,” Orlando says. “That’s why we should tell [collectors] the stories behind the items — tell them about card sets and autograph schemes. The content-and-information side of this business is one place everyone can do more.”

I’m sure the teenage boy who bought the faux-autographed 1975 Thurman Munson baseball card would agree.



LARRY DOBROW is a frequent contributor to American Way. He’s contemplating the purchase of a “like new” 1975 Thurman Munson baseball card on eBay.