Since 1998, PSA/DNA has evaluated approximately 3 million autographs. Last year alone, PSA/DNA’s team of experts reviewed more than 350,000 autographs from collectors and dealers worldwide. Unfortunately, as a result of the popularity and value of many autographs, a good portion of them are forged by unscrupulous individuals.
In fact, it is not uncommon for the rejection rate at PSA/DNA to meet or exceed 50 percent on some of the more prominent names. What is most startling about that statistic is the fact that PSA/DNA does not often receive obvious forgeries since hobbyists are well aware of our expertise and standing in the industry. In other words, if the rejection rate for a particular autograph approaches 50 percent with PSA/DNA, you can only imagine how high that percentage of forgeries might be in the overall marketplace.
In addition, remember that forged signatures come in a variety of dangerous forms. Not all forgeries are created with malice. There are also non-malicious types of forgeries such as secretarial signatures, used by everyone from baseball players to U.S. Presidents, and clubhouse examples in the world of sports. These forgeries were not made for financial gain or produced to harm anyone else. These were often signed to satisfy autograph requests through the mail or to complete a team-signed item that was missing a player or two.
That is why it is so important to find and buy from reputable sellers — ones who use third-party authentication to protect the interests of their customers. There are a lot of so-called “deals” that can be found on the Internet, at local flea markets and even at some collectibles conventions, but most of these “deals” are too good to be true. Genuine autographs do not often come with a huge discount. As the saying goes, you usually get what you pay for.
Below is the list of the 10 most dangerous historical/entertainment autographs prepared by the experts at PSA/DNA, based on their observations in 2012.
There were some names that thrust into the Top 10 since the last time we generated this report. Now, that is not to say that large numbers of forgeries do not exist of names that didn’t make our Top 10 because there are many autographs that are considered dangerous.
In our opinion, these lists are composed of The Most Dangerous autographs in 2012. Approximate values of genuine autographs are in parentheses. The values provided range from average quality cut signatures to premium items such as high-end baseballs. Please note that truly exceptional examples and special items can bring even more than the prices listed.
For additional information about autographs, please visit psaautographfacts.com, a free online resource with pricing, articles, biographical summaries and thousands of terrific images.
1. Elvis Presley
($1,500 for a signed cut to $35,000 or more for a signed contract or letter.)
The King of Rock and Roll leads our non-sports list in 2012, for the second time in three years. Passing away at only 42 years of age in 1977, the amount of authentic autographs is extremely limited. Elvis’ popularity is global. For example, large numbers of forgeries can be found in Europe, not just the United States. More specifically, Germany and the Netherlands. Very few handwritten letters, which are extremely desirable, are known of this American icon. Signed photos are the most prevalent type of authentic Elvis autographs, but they still have been known to sell for thousands of dollars at auction. In fact, even a 1953 Draft card, signed by the music legend, sold for $26,290 within the last few years.
2. The Beatles
($5,000 for a signed cut to $15,000 or more for a signed photo.)
They are, quite simply, the most heavily forged band in the autograph world. George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr made up The Fab Four, a band that was together for a relatively short period of time (about 10 years from 1960-1970). Lennon’s early passing, at the age of 40 in 1980, also contributes to the low number of complete, authentic examples of this mega-popular hit machine. In 2012, an autograph purported to be Lennon’s last (dated December 8, 1980), sold for $72,000 at auction. Even a few vintage signed baseballs of the group have sold for over $40,000 at auction. The last example, from 1965, sold at auction for $65,725 in May 2012.
3. Neil Armstrong
($1,500 for a signed cut to $5,000 or more for a signed photo.)
It may come as a surprise, but astronauts are one of the popular autograph collecting themes in the hobby. With that in mind, it is easy to see why an autograph from the first man to set foot on the moon (1969) would be the pinnacle of these collections, especially in light of his passing in 2012. In fact, authentic signed photos of the entire Apollo 11 crew fetched more than $7,000 each at auction this past year. Over the past three decades, Armstrong had a virtual no-autograph policy, making it even more difficult for collectors to obtain the genuine article. One of the most sought after Armstrong signed items is the familiar NASA studio-style photograph, which the late-astronaut signed for fans. But beware, it is also a popular medium for forgeries.
4. John F. Kennedy
($1,750 for a signed cut to $25,000 or more for a Presidential letter/document.)
Beyond being one of the most popular Presidents in U.S. history, there has always been a mystique about Kennedy. Shot and killed at the age of 46 in 1963, the number of authentic signatures is very small. In addition to large amounts of forgeries, non-malicious “Kennedy” forgeries were produced by secretaries and via autopen during his tenure in office. A small group of love letters made out to Gunilla von Post of Sweden (a woman he had an affair with prior to his marriage) sold for $115,537 in March 2010 at auction. Like most U.S. Presidents, autographs that were signed during his time in office usually sell for price premiums.
5. Michael Jackson
($350 for a signed cut to $1,000 or more for a signed photo.)
The King of Pop found his way into our Top 10 this year. With his recent passing in 2009 at the age of 50, Jackson forgeries flooded the marketplace in 2010. A subject of controversy throughout the latter half of his career, Jackson’s contribution to music has received greater appreciation after his death. While genuine signed photos sell for $1,000 and higher on the open market, forgeries are often listed online for a fraction of that price. In 2010, a ball that was signed by Jackson and basketball star Michael Jordan sold for $294,000 at auction in China. It is not uncommon for Jackson’s handwritten lyrics to bring five figures at auction.
6. Marilyn Monroe
($2,500 for a signed cut to $15,000 or more for a signed photo.)
Yet again, another celebrity who passed away at a very young age (36 in 1962), which resulted in a very limited number of authentic autographs for fans of the iconic actress. Forgers tend to target photos of Monroe as their primary medium. Monroe signed checks and documents do exist, and both mediums are very popular with collectors. A dual-signed baseball of Monroe and her former husband Joe DiMaggio sold for $191,200 in 2006. A photo signed and personalized from Monroe to the Yankee Legend sold for more than $60,000 in November 2010. In 2012, what is believed to be Monroe’s last signed check, dated August 4, 1962, sold for $15,000, and a personalized photo from circa 1956 sold for $32,500 at auction.
7. Jim Morrison
($1,500 for a signed cut to $4,500 or more for a signed photo.)
As the lead singer of The Doors, Morrison became a virtual overnight sensation in the late-1960s, but the rock-and-roll lifestyle contributed heavily to his undoing. In 1971, he died at the age of 27 in Paris, France, and there is still a cloud of mystery surrounding the circumstances of his passing. Most of the genuine autographs found today come in the form of check endorsements, but forgers target albums, photos and even simple slips of paper.
8. Jimi Hendrix
($2,500 for a signed cut to $7,500 or more for a signed photo.)
Much like Jim Morrison, this guitar legend died at the age of 27 after vaulting to the top of the music world. His death was also shrouded in controversy and the way it happened is still a subject of debate today. While there are some similarities surrounding their deaths, Hendrix autographs, a common target of forgers, are considered even tougher than Morrison’s. In fact, the earliest known Hendrix contract (1965) sold for about $200,000 at auction in 2009, one of the highest prices ever recorded for a signed contract of any sort…even in the sports genre.
9. Walt Disney
($750 for a signed cut to $3,500 or more for a signed photo.)
This entertainment icon was successful and inventive in a number of areas, including motion pictures, animation and theme parks. Today, his remarkable company (founded in 1923 with his brother Roy) generates well over $30 billion annually. In 2012, the company acquired Lucasfilm for slightly more than $4 billion, a deal which could further cement Disney as an entertainment powerhouse. Walt Disney passed away in 1966, but up until that time, he did sign a fair number of items. In addition, his signature is one of the most unique and attractive of autographs in any genre, which increases the demand. It is not uncommon for checks and documents to sell for a couple to several thousand dollars each at auction.
10. Judy Garland
($350 for a signed cut to $2,000 or more for a signed photo.)
There are certain movies that will always be a part of our culture and The Wizard of Oz is one of those iconic films that will be forever introduced to future generations of children. In 2013, a prequel to the 1939 classic will be released by Disney titled Oz: The Great and Powerful, and it is sure to generate a lot of interest. While Garland was not limited to her starring role in Oz, she will always be remembered most for her portrayal of Dorothy in, perhaps, the most beloved musical production in cinematic history. When it comes to Garland autographs, as one would expect, the most desirable items tend to be the ones that link the performer to the unforgettable movie. Garland passed away at the age of 47 in 1969, which adds to the difficulty in finding authentic examples.
($150 for a signed cut to $275 or more for a signed photo).
Eastwood has enjoyed a long and storied career as an actor, director and producer. Rising to popularity in the 1960s, Eastwood became a symbol of toughness in Hollywood, especially after his role as Harry Callahan in the Dirty Harry film series. Later on, Eastwood would make his mark in other ways, winning Academy Awards for his directorial work on Unforgiven in 1992 and Million Dollar Baby in 2004. Through his body of work, Eastwood has become an icon to multiple generations, creating demand for his autograph. Since Eastwood is a relatively private person, obtaining his autograph can be challenging, which adds further appeal to authentic examples of his signature.