Friday, December 30, 2011

The game of autograph authenticity

When Q+PR were scheduled to play the MGM Grand a few years back, my wife and I flew down to Vegas so I could check them out with a few other Queen fans while she went shopping. Being on a Queen high after the show, we wandered into Antiquities International at the Forum Shops in Caesar’s Palace and discovered this autographed The Game album which wasn’t framed. After some negotiation with the sales rep — and feeling comfortable with the certificate of authenticity that came with it — we flew back home with the single most expensive Queen item in my collection to date.

While Brian’s autograph on this cover was slightly different from what I recall seeing on the sleeve of my Starfleet album, I chalked his and the other band members’ signatures up to the spontaneous scribble that may have resulted after their Seattle show in 1980, as the handwriting on the back of the album implied.

I only have two other autographs by musical artists that would revival my new Queen collectible: Billy Joel’s, who I personally met and witnessed his signature being written; and Neil Diamond’s, which was a result of some back-and-forth correspondence in 1988 with Diamond's personal assistant, Alison Zanetos.

It required me to send my original fingerprint portrait of him down to Arch Angel Productions (his production company) and she would hold on to it until he stopped into the studio after his current concert tour was over. My patience was rewarded a few months later when my portrait was mailed back with a clever message on the bottom right: “Pat, you really know how to put your finger on the subject. Good luck, Neil Diamond. 4/88. LA.” This Neil collectible has been hanging on the wall of my parents’ house ever since.

A few weeks ago, I was doing an Internet search for “Alison Zanetos” to see if she is still his personal assistant — Diamond is scheduled to be here in Calgary in July 2012, so I was thinking that if I could gain access to him through Zanetos somehow, I might have the opportunity to ask him personally if he remembers signing my fingerprint portrait 24 years ago.

The problem is, though, I came across a Neil Diamond discussion group and she was the subject of controversy regarding Neil’s autograph:

What!?? You’re telling me that the showpiece of my mom’s kitchen has a fake autograph on it? I’m not sure on what grounds Mr. Ross has for such accusations, but now that I’m in armchair autograph sleuth mode, I came across this statement from a BBC news article that seems to support his assertion:

Perhaps the hardest signatures to verify are those that have been faked freehand. In the days before autopen, Walt Disney and many other Hollywood glitterati had their secretaries sign photos for them, says [Antiques Roadshow expert] Clive Farahar.

Now this whole authenticity thing is annoying me. From what I can see, my Neil autograph is pretty close to another Diamond collectible I found online, as I compared the two signatures here:

Sure, there are some differences, but I think the handwriting gestures in his first name are the same as is the “D” in Diamond. But if Alison could sign a mean Neil Diamond signature, maybe she did both of these?

So what about my autographed Queen album? Are they fakes? Well, I took another look at the evidence and compared the autographs from my purchase (labeled “1” from 1980) with the autographs from a cover of ANATO that Jacky Gunn from the Queen fan club claims are authentic (labeled “2” from 1975), and finally with a set of autographs from (labeled “3” from an unknown year). There are considerable differences, as you can see:

The “B” on Brian’s name is quite different from 2 to 3 as is the “R” in Roger’s name; and even John’s first name is almost completely different. So how do you know a signature is fake if their own handwriting changes over time and you weren’t there to witness it firsthand? That is a problem, according to Clive Farahar:

Human error – the fact real handwriting varies over time and in different circumstances - can make real and fake signatures extremely hard to validate or dismiss. Autographs by the Beatles are notoriously hard to authenticate. “You can’t recognise a lot of signatures done at stage doors. It looks like John Lennon but it could be anybody. If you walked out of a theatre as you signed your name, it would look dodgy,” says Mr Farahar.

So back to my Certificate of Authenticity issued by the Las Vegas dealer . . . 

It claims the signatures are authentic (signed at the Seattle concert) and my discussion with the sales rep included the integrity of their suppliers, so did I end up with an album of fake autographs? I’m not sure either way at this point. I’ll still go ahead and get my Game album framed up along with some other Game-era paraphernalia I’ve got kicking around. Whatever the authenticity, it is now part of my collection with a history of its own. 

I suppose the money-back guarantee offered by Antiquities International is always an option but I’d need to find a licensed and certified handwriting expert, pay between $50 and $400 for an analysis, and then pay to send the original cover back to Vegas. For the $600US I paid for the cover, I’ll settle for whatever the authenticity happens to be, which is a mystery at this point.



  1. Sorry, horrible fakes:

  2. Yeah, you're probably right, Orco. Is it your opinion that the Vegas dealer routinely sells fakes? Just curious.

  3. Hi Patrick,

    First of all I'd like to point out that the "A Night At The Opera" signatures are forgeries as well.

    Then, about the Vegas dealer... I personally wouldn't buy anything from him. First of all he actually sold at least a forged item -yours, sadly.

    The pictures of the items for sale on his website are way too small to talk about genuinity; and this may not be by sheer coincidence. Lastly, they have too many first class signed items: 10-15 Beatles fully signed Lps? And that cheap? Mmm...

    PERSONALLY, I wouldn't buy a thing there.



  4. Fair enough, Orco. Thanks for elaborating.

  5. I know this is an old one but your Queen album is as fake asit can get. Seems who ever signed it never saw a genium signature of the bad. Epperson as a third party will give you a quick opinion on that for 15US$ that should be enough.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, A. I'll give it some thought.

  6. Yeah, Its a fake. I purchased a Marilyn Monroe signature from Antiquities of Las Vegas, found out it was fake by 5 experts 3 from Antiques Roadshow, and they still won't refund my $2000.
    Antiquities should be investigated for fraud!!!

    1. Yeah, it seems that Antiquities has quite the shady reputation, all things considered. I didn't spend as much as you and attempting to get a refund would be unrealistic given my proximity to Vegas these days, so I guess I'll chalk it up as a life lesson.