|January 18, 2012
Authenticity: Avoiding the Fall
Collecting is the thrill of the chase, followed by the satisfaction of the capture and finally, pride of ownership. However, the discovery of expensive shenanigans on the part of the seller that burns the buyer can turn the heart cold to collecting and the perceived good in mankind.
Purchasing a cut signature from Thomas Jefferson on eBay for $1,200, I sent the item to a renowned autograph dealer to verify its authenticity in spite of a COA from an unknown service accompanying my purchase. It was fake. I was able to return the item to the seller for full reimbursement, but lost my $75 authentication fee. A month later, I found the same item again offered on eBay.
This has also happened to me with the purchase of a Chinese dinosaur fossil that, upon inspection by a paleontologist at the nearby Museum of Natural History, was partially reconstructed with rock and the bones of a domestic dog; an amber egg containing ancient bees, which were actually contemporary insects; and other illustrations which I won’t bore you with. The point is made.
When it comes to serious collecting, bargains are more often than not, not. Even trusted sources around the world can be fooled. For example, from the Heritage Auctions’ website:
“Late last year (2007) in England an octogenarian couple and their 47 year-old son were all tried for art fraud. The family of forgers admitted to a near twenty-year run of selling various museums and dealers "authentic" works of art, all of which had been in truth "knocked up in the garden shed." They had earned well over a million dollars, but by all accounts looked and lived like any other middle class British family. One of their unwitting victims was the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago, which had acquired a ceramic figure of a classical faun supposedly by the French master Paul Gauguin. In addition to conning the Art Institute, the fake statue fooled Sotheby's, where it had been sold in 1994.”
Even today, individuals in China are producing beautiful, nearly perfect struck examples of rare coins, such as these 1889-CC silver dollars, then placing them within counterfeit certified holders the numismatic industry uses for authenticity and strict condition standards.
Where can one go, then, to obtain authentic, original material, natural or man-made without fear of being fooled into trading funds for fakes? The answer,
regrettably, is a depressing one – there is no place, without building within yourself a strong foundation of knowledge in your areas of interest. For we are dependent on fallible men who themselves have gained knowledge to then assure us that knowledge will protect us.
It is our personal responsibility to study learned works, such as those on the References page, and to handle examples at auctions and shows in order to cement our knowledge of authentic examples. We can, of course depend on certification and authentication services, such as PCGS for coins and PADA for autographs to provide assurances the item in question is real. We can buy at professional auctions where many other learned eyes have assessed and informed the auctioneers of any suspicion of authenticity. But the burden of proof lies within us, and also, the responsibility for bad judgment.