Auction Report recently sat down with autograph and historical memorabilia expert, Richard Albersheim
Auction Report: What is your feeling on Authenticity of autographed items?
Albersheim: You never know if an autograph is 100% real unless you witness the signing of the autograph yourself. Other than that, you will need to purchase an autograph from a reputable and reliable dealer.
Auction Report: Do you like third party authenticators and why?
Albersheim: They have their place in the hobby, but I have to tell you, there is nothing scientific about autograph authentication. Forensics and DNA are buzz words. It all comes down to opinion. As a dealer I usually know where the autographs that I do sell have been sourced from which helps factor into the equation of the rendering of my opinion of Yay or Nay as to whether the autograph is authentic. As far as I know, autograph authenticators are not doing ink testing which in turn can be done to test the era that an ink was produced. That's not to say that a forger couldn't take a 60 year old bottle of ink and start to produce forgeries. Unfortunately, third party authenticators are not usually privy to where mine or other dealer's autographs are sourced, so that doesn't factor into the equation of their opinion. Again, the keyword here is opinion. Some third party authenticators are better than others. Some are really good at what they do. The problem I have is that if an autograph authenticator is right 9 times out of 10, they're right 90% of the time which means they're doing a pretty darn good job. If 10% of the items I sold were forged, I'd be labeled incompetent or worse yet, a crook.
Auction Report: How hard is it finding new material these days?
Albersheim: It gets harder and harder every year. A lot of people believe that they will get more through auction, so that's where a lot of material goes. I travel all over the United States and a little bit internationally to find great stuff to fulfill the needs of my clients.
Auction Report: How has the Internet affected business?
Albersheim: It has impacted my business in both a positive and negative way. The internet has brought people to me that would have never found out about Albersheim's through any other means, so yes, it's helped a lot. On the other hand, the internet has brought out a lot of crooks and put them into lucrative positions. What I mean by this is that a guy can put a Babe Ruth autograph on his website for $500 and I can put a Babe Ruth autograph on my website for $4000. Now here's the kicker, the one we have for sale is 100% genuine, whereas the $500 article was signed by Babe Ruth from the grave (meaning it's a forgery). To the uneducated bargain shopper, $500 sounds like a great price. So, yes, we've lost some business that we would have had previously because it's created a fantastic marketplace for the criminally minded.
Auction Report: Are you going to be doing auctions in the future?
Albersheim: This year after 3 years of working 100 hour weeks, I decided to take a break. I'm currently working with several auction houses as a consignment consultant/agent. I'm sort of like an insurance agent. If you need car insurance you go through an insurance agent who will probably get you a better deal than if you were to go directly to the insurance agency. I'm able to do this for you because we do such large bulk consignments. Quantity discounts. If we can't get you a better rate, what you do have working through us is that we can give you the personalized service, walk you through the consignment process, give you the best and worst case scenarios, what auction house would be best for your consignments. Most of the auction houses work with hundreds and sometimes thousands of consignors. I'm usually working at any one time with 5-35 consignors which means I can give you fantastic customer service and let you know what's going on with their consigning process. You see, if you consign to an auction house and they give you lousy customer service (meaning, you can't get anyone on the phone other than the receptionist), perhaps they'll lose you as a consignor. If they don't work with me, they could possibly lose all future consignments. This could cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Albersheim: As to in the future, we may have a small internet auction (50-100) items in 2006. We're playing that by ear. It's just a lot of work. Most people do not realize what excruciating effort it is to put together an auction and your gross does not equal your net results.
Auction Report: How have auctions changed in your mind over the years?
Albersheim: They've gotten bigger and better. When I say better, some of the prices that have been brought at auction have given people incentive to go up to their attic or reach into their collections and sell their one of a kind treasures. It's kind of like the real estate market. People who would have never sold their homes in the past have realized huge gains in the values of their homes giving them a reason to put it on the market. On the other hand a lot of auctions use third party authenticators who are fallible (they are human after all) and work under the caveat emptor (meaning buyer beware). If you spend $100,000 on a jersey that turns out to be fake, you might be out of luck.
Auction Report: You seem to specialize in rare and hard to find autographs...what makes them so popular to collectors?
Albersheim: Everyone wants something that nobody else has. It's that simple. Plus when it comes time to sell, you can pretty much name your price if nobody else has it.
Auction Report: Do you collect autographs and if so what do you collect for yourself?
Albersheim: I collect football HOF autographs and artwork.
Auction Report: Pricing of autographs is always an interesting topic of discussion...how do you put a price tag on an autograph item that doesn't have a book value?
Albersheim: Usually I throw out book value on everything I sell. If you were to audit the prices I have on my inventory, you'd find that some prices are higher and some are lower than the price guides you might find out there. A lot of pieces aren't even listed. You'll find that the guides are just that, guides. Many of the prices are submitted by dealers or collectors. The prices can be manipulated based on that person's agenda. Some price the autographs high because they want to sell their own and want to keep their prices higher. Some are priced lower because they want to use the guides as a buy book. This means, they can buy the pieces lower and mark up their own inventory substantially. I price my own items based on my cost factor, how hard it is to obtain them, and if I were to put it in my own collection - what would be a fair price to pay.
Auction Report: Do you think that dealers tend to price their items low?
Albersheim: I think it's all over the board. I respect everyone's prices. Some people are exceptionally low, which over the course of several years you start to wonder, "how can this guy sell his pieces for so little?" Makes you think. On the other hand, some people are really high and figure that if you want the piece, you'll pay it. I try to price my items somewhere in between. Sometimes I come into a really good deal where I'm able to pick up the autographs or memorabilia at exceptionally reasonable prices in which I'm then able to pass on the savings to the customer.
Auction Report: How have the card manufacturers affect the autographed market?
Albersheim: They've definitely had an effect. It's introduced a lot of card collectors to collecting autographs. Unfortunately in some cases certain card companies have been shopping to buy autographs from the least expensive vendors which in turn has created a percentage of possibly bad autographs that have been inserted into autograph cards. In the case of certain checks or autographs, they've driven the prices up. For example, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Honus Wagner checks have skyrocketed in the retail market because some of the card companies have been buying large quantities to cut up and put into their cards. Every time you cut up a check, that takes one out of the market.
Auction Report: Do new autographs have a chance to be worth anything close to what vintage autographs are worth?
Albersheim: Possibly. Sometimes I think in 30 years will the collectors care who Charlie Peete, Duke Maas, Curt Roberts, Harry Agannis, and other autographs of that genre (all are extremely tough autographs). They'll probably still care about Babe Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, Foxx, Walter Johnson. Will they care about Rabbit Maranville, Arky Vaughan, Smokey Joe Williams? Most likely collectors will collect their heros of their childhood. Ripken, Jeter, A-Rod, Marino, Montana? Then again, if I could predict the future, I wouldn't be selling autographs and memorabilia for a living.
Auction Report: What conventions will you be at this year?
Albersheim: I'll be walking around Sports Fest in Chicago (which will be in a few weeks), I'll be set up at the National Convention at table #368 and I plan on setting up for the next two Ft. Washington shows. I'll probably run around a few other shows and might even set up at a Chicago Sun Times show later in the year.
Auction Report: Do you still accept consignments?
Albersheim: Absolutely! Click Here for More Information on Consignments
Auction Report: Do you work with any other auction houses and if so who?
Albersheim: Yes, currently I'm taking consignments for Lelands and Heritage. A few other auction houses have approached me about consulting with them on consignments. I'm open to working with others.
Auction Report: You are considered one of the younger dealers in the country...how do you see yourself in 10 years and where do you think the industry will be then?
Albersheim: Probably grayer, less hair, weaker joints. I started collecting baseball cards in 1979, autographs in 1981, and started selling in 1985. I'm already an old man in this industry. Hopefully, I'll be where I'm at now and maybe mentoring some younger guys who will come after me. There's a few guys who are widely respected who will be out of business in 10 years due to retirement.
Auction Report: What changes do you think are needed for the industry in the next few years?
Albersheim: Change is good. Hopefully, better education. A lot of people have the sheep syndrome. I don't mean this as an insult to collectors, but it seems to be true in any aspect of life. For instance, the real estate market is hot right now, so a lot of people are investing in real estate, several years ago the tech boom was hopping on the stock market and people threw their money into tech stocks. Today many people are led to believe that certain authenticators are the messiahs for the hobby or that a particular avenue of collecting (whether it's a particular genre of autographs, jerseys, bats, helmets, etc) are the way to go. Trends come and go. Authenticators, dealers, fads; they only last for so long. My suggestion is educate yourself. Ask around for opinions as to why a particular dealer is good at what they do. What are their plusses, what are their minuses? Same goes for authenticators if you choose to use one.
Auction Report: Are the popularity of auctions going to continue to rise in your opinion?
Albersheim: I think so. Everyone and their mother seems to be jumping on the auction house bandwagon. I believe a few will go out of business or cease to exist and the operators will be totally out of the business. A lot of people like auctions because it gives them comfort knowing that they are buying something someone else wants too. I can list a Babe Ruth autograph in my ad (or website) for let's say $4000 (I'm picking an arbitrary number) and it might not sell. Stick it in auction and start the bidding at $250, it might sell for $5000 because all of the sudden several collectors feel good that they're getting a great deal with x,y, and z are bidding on it. I don't have a problem with that. I'll send my stuff over to the auction too.
Auction Report: What is your opinion of Ebay?
Albersheim: It can be a great place to buy on wholesale levels. Unfortunately, most of the people that sell on there are not experts and do not stand behind their material. Again, caveat emptor.
Auction Report: Is Ebay a good place to buy or sell items and why?
Albersheim: I've met some great people on there and it is a segment of my business, but it's really more of a wholesale dumping ground with an occasional surprise.
Auction Report: What do you think of the game used baseball bat craze that seems to be going on...do you like the grading that goes along with it?
Albersheim: I understand they're grading baseballs now in addition to bats. Grading is very subjective, but if I were a bat collector; knowing that I could buy a bat that's graded let's say a 9 versus a 4; I would presume I'm buying a better bat. So hey, why not.
Auction Report: Any additional comments?
Albersheim: You can either get in touch with me through Auction Report or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
That's it for now. Please check back under news for future articles. If you have any questions or comments you'd like to address to Richard Albersheim. Please contact him at email@example.com
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