The goal of this section of our web site is to educate, protect, assist and guide you in your purchases of investment quality memorabilia. Since the invention of money con artists, forgers and counterfeiters have been preying on unsuspecting consumers in a wide variety of forms and ruses. A whole new crop of techniques have been invented and old ones redone for the age of the computer. In many ways the internet is still like the wild west and sometimes you can’t even find the sheriff. New laws have been created to help protect buyers but the advent of the internet made international crime accessible to a whole new generation of crooks. Instantly their pool of potential victims increased to astounding proportions.
Why are we doing this, you might ask? It’s obvious’ we want your business and we want you to be confident in what you purchase from us. What better way to help improve the business environment than to help educate our customers and steer them away from the fakes, forgers and con artist, as best we can.
How can we do that, you might ask? Well, collectively the experts that we rely on and those of us here at It’s Only Rock n Roll have been in this business for a very long time, with many, many years of experience getting screwed in a wide variety of ways and learning from our mistakes, the hard way, at our expense. We know, first hand, that nothing is more upsetting and frustrating than getting ripped off or burned. It stands to reason that if we can help you avoid these same things you’ll learn to trust and buy from us.
While these sorts of things happen in lots of fields we’re going to confine our info to the fields of music and popular culture memorabilia. We’ll break it down into sections and update it as often as is necessary.
THE RULES TO BUY BY
Here are some basic rules to go by to protect your self when buying expensive or investment grade collectibles and memorabilia.
- Do your homework! There’s no substitute for research and knowledge. Find out all you can about the item or subject you are buying or collecting. There are many great reference books available on many subjects in this field including price guides, books that help you distinguish the various printings of posters, collectors guides and more. Often these books have chapters or pictures devoted to distinguishing the copies from the real McCOYS. You can also look at auction sites, like eBay, to see if the item is listed from other sellers to learn whatever you can. Also take the time to look at completed auctions to see what the item sold for previously.
- Investigate the seller. What is their reputation? If they’re an on-line auction seller, look at their feedback. Not just the number, but look at the actual comments. They may have a high number feedback rating but they may also have a lot of negative comments and you won’t realize unless you look at the actual feedback comments. And ask about their return policy. How they respond and communicate is a good indication of what to expect if there’s a problem after you get your item. Anyone can say that they met so and so on the street or at an event and ‘they signed this I for me’ and COA’s or LOA’s (certificates or letters of authenticity) may only be worth the paper they’re written on.
- Ask the experts! We seek out and will refer you to the leading experts in the areas that interest you. These people have dedicated themselves to finding out the truth and trying to protect the integrity of the market place. Theoretically, if everyone stopped buying fakes the crooks would go out of business. While that’s not likely to happen the experts can help you avoid becoming a victim.
- Ask questions of the seller before buying or bidding. It’s important to ask questions because sometime the problem is what’s NOT stated, as opposed to what IS stated. If an auction doesn’t describe the items condition, there may be an intentional reason that info was omitted. This is especially important when items are listed as being sold ‘As Is.’ If it doesn’t say that it’s original or authentic you should ask. The seller may know that it s copy but not have said so. If you don’t ask you may buy a cheap reproduction or a counterfeit and have no recourse. Of course, we offer a full money back guarantee on everything we sell. One of the most important and often overlooked questions is that of provenance. Where did they get the item they are selling? How can they support their claims? This is especially important with celebrity owned items, such as clothing or instruments. Does the seller legally own the item being offered? If you buy stolen property you stand to lose both your investment and the item when you try to resell it.
- Ask yourself ‘Is this too good to be true?’ If an item is priced so much lower than the real current market value it’s most likely not authentic. Realize that the knowledgeable dealers and experts are out there looking for items to buy for resale, more often more intently than you are. Reputable dealers will pay up to 75% of the price they know they can get when they sell items. In auctions, look at who else is bidding. If a great item, like a set of Beatles autographs that may be worth upwards of $20,000 is sitting at $1000 with no bids, there’s a reason. Don’t buy impulsively. That Buy It Now may be there to tempt you into leaping before you look!
In the world of celebrity autographs there are a lot of fakes in the marketplace. Sometimes these ‘autographs’ are innocently fake, but most often they are the creations of forgers. As soon as an autograph becomes valuable the crooks go to work.
Let’s start with the biggest and most in demand autographs in the music world. We’re talking, of course, about The Beatles. Genuine Beatles autographs are BIG business and BIG money bringing about an ideal target for counterfeiters and forgers. The area of Beatles autographs is further complicated by the fact that at the height of Beatlemania ‘The Lads’ got literally thousands of requests for autographs every day. To satisfy the incredible demand secretaries and employees signed The Beatles’ names to innumerable photos and items and sent them out to fans. This is one form of relatively ‘innocent’ fake. It’s intent was not to defraud someone of their money and they were certainly not the first to have people sign for them in this manner. Nevertheless, unscrupulous, and sometimes unknowing, people use these ‘secretarial’ autographs for the purposes of fraud. Of course in those days their autographs were a tiny fraction of the value they are today. Authentic Beatles autographs are worth thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars, depending on what the item is that is autographed. Experts, like Frank Caiazzo (the Beatles autograph expert), have studied the art of these signatures for years and have in-depth experience on this one subject. It’s not just whether something looks real. Their signatures changed over the years and sometimes from month to month. Through careful and intense analyzation of the history of their signatures and those of the ‘secretaries’ and the forgers, as well, Frank has repeatedly amazed us by telling us correctly when real ones were signed or which Beatle signed for one or more of the other Beatles, or which forger a fake came from. We recently showed him three autographs blind and he told us from who he thought the ‘letters of authenticity’ came and was correct on all three cases.
Please be careful when purchasing Beatles sets or solo autographs, documents, letters, drawings and other material. A reputable dealer will guarantee the piece and offer a refund if they are shown to be not authentic. There have been lots of typed George Harrison letters with his ink signature circulating lately and usually they are fake!
This practice of fakes affects not just The Beatles, but all the top names like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and many more. When celebrities die their autographs usually shoot up in value, which draws out for forgers. Occasionally it is not intentional fraud, as is the case where Elvis’s cousin working at Graceland signed many of his fan letters or as in the case of Frank Sinatra, who’s wife signed any of his fan requests.
Another important point is that even a legitimate autograph can be a bad investment. For example, if the celeb signed something while leaning on your back, or worse, while they were drunk or stoned after a show or at the bar and it’s illegible it’s not as desirable or a good investment. Of course some people always sign illegibly, but in many cases there’s a big difference between when they are sitting and signing something for someone they like from when they are rushed and in a crowd or on the move..
CELEBRITY OWNED ITEMS
In this area of collecting and investing the key is Provenance. Where did the item come from? How did the seller obtain it? How can this be supported? Is there a photograph of the person with, wearing, or using the item? Anyone can go to a flea market and buy vintage clothing and claim it belonged to someone famous. We’ve seen pants that were too short to fit Jimi Hendrix sold as his pants. Can the chain of ownership be reliably traced back to the celebrity? We’ve seen copied Beatle Suits sold as the genuine article. Sometimes the original manufacturer of an item may reproduce it and may make such an exact copy that it could fool even the celebs themselves. That’s why provenance is so important.
CONTRACTS and DOCUMENTS
Just a brief comment on contracts. Some dealers say that contracts are the safest way to buy autographs. While generally that is true, and often because of the historical significance of the item may add the value of the autograph, in many cases artists and celebrities sign over power of attorney to their lawyers or managers who then legally sign for the artist or celebrity, often in the celebs own name. There have been a number of contracts for Allman Brothers concerts on the market over the last handful of years. While it certainly cannot be stated that Duane Allman never signed a contract, many of the contracts for concert appearances were management signed, but signed in his name. Again, rely on the experts for security and make sure the seller is reputable and will stand behind what he says. It can help to get an invoice in writing stating what the item is claimed to be as well as the return policy.
POSTERS, HANDBILLS and PRINTED EPHEMERA
This is a complicated field to learn, but we can help. Collecting concert and promotional posters, handbills, programs and tickets has steadily grown since the psychedelic poster explosion in the sixties into a serious area of investment where more and more items are bringing higher and higher prices. Posters and handbills are selling in the thousands of dollars at the upper end with the top items breaking the $20,000 barrier recently. That kind of money brings out the counterfeiters. When pieces of paper with ink printed on them can change hands for thousands of dollars the counterfeiters think they have a license to print money, so to speak. But with diligent research and investigation you can hopefully avoid the fakes.
When it comes to posters you really have to rely on the experts and learn as much as you can because there are very few books that tell you anything about distinguishing printing history. If you collect posters, handbills or postcards from Bill Graham’s Fillmore series, the Family Dog series, The Neon Rose series or those from The Grande Ballroom in Detroit there is an invaluable book by Eric King that you must own. If you collect anything else you have to learn from and rely on the experts or risk getting taken. Only with experience and by relying on reputable dealers can you acquire solid investment quality posters.
In many cases the demand for posters vs. the limited amount originally printed creates the demand for reprints. Realize that most concert posters are printed in very small quantities, sometime less than 100 copies. Since these posters are made with the purpose of selling tickets they only need to print enough of them to cover the area surrounding where the concert is to take place so these posters are generally regional as opposed to promotional posters, which are usually nationally distributed. To meet the demand, merchants and companies have purchased the rights or may already own them to reprint posters or handbills, generally in much larger quantity than original produced. These reprints have some value and some vintage reprints can sometimes be worthwhile investments but you must be able to tell which is which. It seems like there are more reprints being represented as original posters than there are original posters for sale on the internet these days.
As prices have risen, the crooks have gone to further and further lengths to perpetrate their scams. There are reprints that have been altered to appear to be first printings such as the famous Skeleton and Roses poster for a Grateful Dead concert at the Avalon Ballroom, know to collectors as FD 26 (Family Dog poster # 26). The second printing differs from the first primarily by having a line of text indicating it’s the second printing at the very bottom of the poster. By trimming off this ‘ scammers have tried to fool unknowing buyers into believing it’s a first printing. A near mint first printing is worth in excess of $4000 today while a second can be found for under $500 generally. A trimmed second printing is worth basically nothing. Unless you know that there’s a printing flaw that is unique to the first printing of this poster you can get screwed.
While many of the people selling reprints are unaware that they have reprints the burden is on the buyer to know his stuff or rely on the sellers knowledge and reputation. A money back guarantee, couldn’t hurt.
However, more and more unscrupulous people are intentionally making posters and handbills with the purpose of convincing people that they are authentic. There have been several major instances of this in the last 5 years or so. There was a ‘stash’ of poster that were alleged to have been found in a building belonging to ‘the original printer’ in the New Orleans area. These posters looked old because they were printed on old, stained and discolored paper. As it turns out, they were printed by someone that had access to pieces of the original printing blocks and plates. They contrived to make posters that would fool the biggest collectors into believing they were authentic. This fraud was unraveled through research. The person who created them wasn’t smart enough to get all the facts straight. The posters listed song titles that the stars had made famous along with their names and photos on these posters. He also listed the years along with the day and month on the posters (we’ll come back to this detail in a minute). It turns out that some of the songs he used weren’t written until after the years listed on the posters. When confronted by the F.B.I. this scammer said that the posters were definitely original and he knew this for a fact because he printed them himself.
In most cases posters don’t list the years on them. If you think about it, it’s really not necessary. Posters are usually printed within a month or two prior to the event and posted around town. After the event, they are obsolete and no longer serve their purpose. When you see a poster advertising an upcoming concert you don’t stop to think if it next month or a year and a month from now, do you? That’s an important clue as to whether a poster is authentic or commemorative or fake. If you want to make a fake poster with the intent to fool someone into think it’s real you want them to know that it’s from 1965 or 1957 or whenever it’s supposed to be from, so often the counterfeiters screw up by putting the year. Of course there are exceptions to this rules as often posters are designed or made by people who aren’t professional advertisers and they put the year in because they don’t realize it’s not necessary. Take as an example the posters advertising the Beatles famous appearances at Shea Stadium in 1965 and 1966. There are original posters that advertised both of these events but neither has the year on it. But look on eBay for ‘Beatles Shea poster’ and every one you see will say 1965. Ironically, the real poster for the 1965 concert had no photos and listed several other concerts in the New York area as well as The Beatles show, while the real 1966 poster has a photo of The Beatles, but was on August 23rd while the 65 show was on August 15th.
RECORD AND ACHEIVEMENT AWARDS
Collecting and investing in Gold or Platinum Record Awards or achievement awards, like Grammy’s or MTV Moon Men can be an exciting and profitable investment, but you can also get burned if you don’t know what to look for. Originally, only the people immediately involved in a recording were awarded Gold Records. But, as the format changed and evolved from ‘white mattes’ to ‘floaters’ to ‘strip plates’ and then to ‘Holograms’ access became greater or looser. The latter being the most widely available format, with many people only remotely involved with the recording (if at all) being able to get them. Here too, you must do your research and find the right experts to advise you. There are two kinds of awards that you should avoid, or at least know what they are before you buy them. One is ‘put togethers’. These are awards that are made by assembling the parts of others, often with remade presentation plaques. Counterfeiters have taken apart awards from lesser artists and ‘created’ real looking awards from names that bring the big bucks. But the experts know what to look for to tell if an award has been opened and had things replaced or if it is authentic and original.
There’s a new one every day so we’ll probably be adding to this section a lot.
One con that we’ve seen several times now on eBay goes like this. A seller who is in a distant country (i.e. Australia or England) lists an item for auction. In fact they don’t even own the item. They have taken a photo from an auction catalog or a book or website and have represented that they are the owner of the item. Of course once you’ve sent your money you never hear from them again. As the con evolves it gets more twisted. One such con artist listed some very rare high-end posters and autographs and when people contacted him to ask questions he would tell them he was open to offers. If you made an offer he would close the auction so that you could ‘Buy It Now’ so to speak. He went so far as to send his victims empty tubes and envelopes and then swear that the item was in there when he mailed it, leaving the person to try and recover their money from the insurance (which you should know is almost never honored when items are of high value’read the fine print in the manuals’ UPS, Fed Ex and the Post Office all exclude items of ‘Extraordinary value’ from their insurance although you may not find that out until you try to file a claim).
Another seller would list incredible items and intentionally close their auctions early, often canceling bids, in order to attract inquiries as to why the auction was closed. They would then offer the withdrawn item to the unsuspecting and trusting interested party and never send it. One we encountered sold the same item to several people who contacted him. Since these kinds of scams are done ‘off eBay’ they are not subject to feedback so often these con artists will have great feedback. Although if all of their feedback is as a buyer, not as a seller, I’d take note of that before sending money to another country. How can you avoid this happening to you? One way is to offer to pay for an escrow service. There are several reputable ones on the internet. The way they work is you send them your payment. They notify the seller once payment has been received and the seller then sends the merchandise to the buyer. When the buyer receives the item and is satisfied they notify the escrow company to release the payment. They charge a fee for doing this and it takes a while so even some legitimate sellers may refuse this option but it will protect you from this scam.
Don’t be discouraged if you get burned. We’ve all been there at some time. Try to get it resolved. In the future we’ll add a section about how to go after some of the crooks and what, if anything, you can do to get your money back when you get taken. But our best advice is to follow our advice to prevent getting taken in the first place.
Do as much research as you can on the item, the item’s real value and the seller, especially if they are in another country or jurisdiction. At least if they’re local you can get the authorities involved. We hear a lot of talk about them cracking down on internet fraud, especially international internet fraud but so far have seen no real action. Always seek the advice of experts. Ask whatever questions you can before buying. And if something is being offered way too cheap, there probably is a reason, and you should be extremely cautious.
The dealers recommended on our links and in this section are some of the many dealers who are reputable, honest, diligent researchers, who are strong in their convictions of selling you absolutely original and guaranteed collectibles. It is our goal to offer you well-researched and authentic investments at competitive market prices. It’s Only Rock n Roll has relationships with most of the recommended links and has researched others who come highly recommended. We will be adding more links later this year. If you are interested in being added to our links send us your information for consideration.
It’s Only Rock n Roll, and many of the links, will be happy to give you our best opinion if an item is legitimate. We will check with other experts to get the best info available. We always BUY WHAT WE SELL as well, and guarantee your purchases from us to infinity and beyond.