Getting a genuine autograph of a living athlete or celebrity may be difficult, or at least expensive, but it is not impossible. Deceased athletes and celebrities are a different story. It comes as no surprise that the most-forged autographs include those of Babe Ruth, Elvis Presley, and The Beatles.
While Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are still alive, it is no longer possible to get the autographs of all four members of The Beatles, and, as a result, any memorabilia signed by the four members is highly valued by collectors -- the most likely to be forged, as well. Perhaps the most famous athlete of all time, Babe Ruth, also has one of the most-forged signatures of any athlete or celebrity, living or deceased. Elvis Presley was a cultural phenomenon, much like The Beatles, and there are still thousands of fans seeking an authentic autograph of “The King.”
PSA/DNA Authentication Services released on Friday its 2012 PSA/DNA Autograph Report: The 10 Most Dangerous. The report includes a rundown of the most-forged autographs of athletes and celebrities. PSA/DNA authenticates and grades thousands of autographs and other collectibles and rejects several thousand of them each year.
Babe Ruth is the most-sought sports autograph for any collector and would be the centerpiece of any collection. According to PSA/DNA, even a mundane but authentic Ruth signature, say on a scrap of paper with faded ink, could fetch thousands of dollars. A baseball signed by The Bambino, with a PSA Mint 9.5+ grade, sold for $388,375 through Heritage Auctions in August, PSA/DNA reported. With such popularity, Ruth's signature is often forged, with the authenticator noting a nearly 60 percent rejection rate for all Ruth signatures.
Elvis is The King among nonsports celebrities whose autographs are most frequently forged. Due to Presley's untimely death at the age of 42, PSA/DNA noted there are not a lot of authentic signatures available to collectors. The Elvis market is a global one, and forgeries come from every corner of the globe, according to the authenticator. It pointed out that large numbers of forgeries have been traced to Germany and the Netherlands. An authentic autograph by Presley can set collectors back thousands of dollars, and many forgers want to capitalize on such a large market of collectors and fans.
The Beatles have the second most-forged autographs among nonsports celebrities, and PSA/DNA reported its members' autographs are the most-forged of any band. Considering The Beatles were around for only a decade, there was just no way supply could meet such huge demand. Autographs of The Beatles on a piece of paper can fetch $5,000, while signed photos can get $15,000 or more at auction, the authenticator said.
Not all forgeries are malicious. In fact, the idea of an autograph market is a comparatively recent occurrence, and many autographs were signed by secretaries who were responding to fan mail. PSA/DNA President Joe Orlando told Reuters: “There was absolutely no financial gain 50 years ago, and secretaries and assistants just wanted to make them happy. A lot of times, people stumble upon an old box of signed photographs in grandma's attic and don't know they're forged.”
Among athletes, the second most-forged autograph belongs to Lou Gehrig, who did not sign many autographs and could be considered ornery on a good day. Solo Gehrig autographs on a baseball are rare, PSA/DNA reported, and none have been found that would be considered in great condition. Mickey Mantle signed plenty of autographs, but there are even more forgeries out there. Mantle had two styles of signature, PSA/DNA said, one during his playing days, and one during his retirement -- and many forgers tend to fake Mantle's later style. A pair of living athletes, Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali, round out the top five most-forged athlete signatures.
Among nonsports celebrities, an astronaut, a president, and the King of Pop round out the top five most-forged autographs, according to PSA/DNA. Neil Armstrong, who died this year, rarely signed any autographs, and finding an authentic signature from the first man on the moon is difficult. John F. Kennedy is the fourth most-forged autograph due to the policy of presidents having secretaries sign letters as well as the use of autopen, PSA/DNA reported. Michael Jackson is the fifth most-forged autograph due to his popularity and early death in 2009.
For the autographs of older celebrities, Orlando recommended looking for signed contracts, while for all autographs, he said collectors should buy from reputable dealers who use third-party authenticators to ensure the legitimacy of each autograph.