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So you are thinking of bidding on a pricy piece of sports memorabilia. But there is this nagging voice in the back of your head saying: “How do I know Mickey Mantle really used that bat?” Or “How can they be so sure that that’s really Babe Ruth’s autograph on that ball?” Or “What does a ‘Certificate of Authenticity’ really mean, anyway?”
“When we sell something, we research it,” says Mike Heffner, president of Lelands. “We have three people on staff who have to sign off on everything we sell. If any one of them has doubts, we have to go outside to get another opinion. And we don’t hide behind third-party letters of authenticity – we offer a three-year warranty.”
But how can Heffner, or anyone else, know what is real and what is not? “It takes experience – buying things, selling things, knowing how an autograph should look on the curved surface of a ball as opposed to a flat photograph,” says Heffner.
He picks up a Ty Cobb autographed baseball, which a Lelands staffer recently acquired at a memorabilia convention. “This is a forgery,” he says. “Cobb died in 1961, but this ink is much fresher than that. It was probably done within the last 10 to 15 years. The formation of some of the letters is off, too – it’s too laboured, too drawn-out. And see how there was more pressure on this letter? If Ty Cobb had signed this ball, the pressure would be even throughout the signature.”
Do phonies still slip through? “We make mistakes, absolutely, but not many,” says Heffner. “In our last auction, which was over 1,000 lots, I don’t think any items were returned.”