Thursday, October 26, 2006

A PSA from REA: "Buy the Card, Not the Holder"

Every once in awhile Robert Edwards Auctions sends out helpful information to the vintage card collector. This afternoon I received an important note that all vintage card collectors need to be weary of. Since it came in a email I will reprint the most important points here in entirety.

Every once in while (OK, more than once in a while),
REA likes to communicate about issues that we think
deserve attention but for some reason are receiving
little or no attention. There are several topics
that we would like to bring to the attention of
buyers today, in the hopes of educating buyers
and maybe saving someone money.

1) Practically every day we are seeing fake items.
Fake printed items. Posters that are actually
reproductions of vintage posters. Stand-up
cardboard counter displays that are not real.
Babe Ruth Candy wrappers that are not
real. Fans that picture baseball player portraits
that are reproductions. Photographs that appear
to be old but are not vintage. There is no limit
to what can be made with computers, especially
with printing equipment available today that is
very economical and which years ago did not
even exist. These items are being intentionally
made to fool people into parting with their
money for worthless items. These items are
being made to cheat buyers. Many of these items
are somehow reproduced from books and
auction catalogs, often enlarged from small
quality illustrations to their correct original
size. With computers these days, it is possible
for some criminals to produce very real- looking
reproductions and also to produce “fantasy
pieces” (defined as those items that are not
actually reproductions, as there is no
original, but are made to look old to fool
buyers). This is a BIG problem. These items are
offered to us practically every day, and they
are being offered to us by collectors who
themselves are victims. Most of the
sophisticated fake items of this type that we
have seen appear to have one thing in common:
They were purchased by sellers in the state of
Ohio. It is obvious to us that the individual(s)
resp onsible for most or all of these
imaginative quality fakes is located in
the state of Ohio, though these items are now
circulating throughout the country. It is easy
for us to tell in almost all cases whether an
item is real or not, often just from a scan.
We understand from experience that not
everyone can, including the numerous victims who
have sent us these recently produced fake items
which at a glance appear to be vintage items.
If you think that you have purchased a fake
item of this type and would like our opinion,
we will be happy to be of assistance. Please
write and/or send scans.

2) In recent weeks we have received a number of
consignments of graded cards that has motivated us
to adopt a formal policy regarding altered
professionally graded cards that we have not
previously seen a need to articulate. The
altering of cards is so widespread, and “card
doctors” so brazen, that REA has actually been
receiving cards submitted for auction to us that
are the very same cards that have been sold by
REA previously – in some cases
just months earlier – and which, since purchase,
have been significantly altered, reholdered, and now
grade higher according to the grading label. In some
cases a given card has changed hands and the new
consignor was not even aware it was a seriously
altered card. It is our policy that when we are
aware of such a problem, and we ARE looking, we
will be happy to auction the card in question -
but insist on providing all information
describing the alterations which have occurred
to the card of which we are certain. So far,
the potential consignors of such cards have
elected to have these cards returned rather
than have a proper description provided by
REA. Last week we returned a $10,000
card. The consignor couldn’t believe it was the
same card that we had just sold (in a lower grade
and looking quite different) in a previous auction.
Only after being provided with images of the card
as it appeared when we previously sold it was
the consignor finally convinced.

We’re not guessing here. We are talking about
cards that we know for a fact are problems.
The fact that we have to address situations
such as this at all suggests
a greater underlying problem than is generally
recognized. And while it is bad enough that the
altering of cards is an epidemic, it is
particularly disturbing that some of the most
sophisticated “work” on cards (including the
previously mentioned $10,000 card) has actually
been executed by employees of auction
houses that also deal in cards. We have to ask
ourselves “What is going on here?” Turning a
blind eye to this issue, in our opinion, has
far greater and more significant negative
potential consequences than our calling
attention to it and promoting discussion. We
all know that there is a subjectivity to grading
and that sometimes there is an honest difference
of opinion regarding a grade, or sometimes even
an honest mistake. We’re not talking about
honest mistakes here. Active and sophisticated
collectors, dealers, and auction houses know
that this is a problem. They just don’t talk
about it, except among themselves. In the end,
the collector loses. We want to be clear that we
think the major grading services do a valiant
job and we can’t imagine what the landscape of
the marketplace would look like without them.
That doesn’t mean there are no problems. At
the end of the day, we have this advice: “Buy
the card, not the holder.”