Say it ain’t so, Joe!

July 21, 2008 at 2:33 am | Posted in Autographs, My Cards | 5 Comments

So, I was reading Wax Heaven the other day and I came across this interesting post about Doug Glanville responding to a mailed autograph request fifteen years after it was sent. The post generated a few comments about other people’s experiences with through-the-mail autograph requests, and I decided to chime in with my own experience:

When I was in middle school in the early 90s, I sent cards through the mail to a few of the top athletes of the day. I only got one back out of about five. The one that I got back was from Joe Montana. That card has been a treasured part of my collection ever since then, but I’ve always wondered if he really signed it or if he hired someone to “handle” the huge amount of fan mail that he must have been getting. Maybe I’ll scan it and post it on my blog soon to see what other people think…

Well, here is the 1989 Topps football card that I spoke of:

Needless to say, I was thrilled when I got this card back in the mail. I remember considering myself lucky to have gotten Joe Montana’s autograph before he retired, because after his retirement he would no longer have a team address to receive mail. I was impressed by the crisp blue signature on the card, but I knew that Montana must have received a huge amount of fan mail, and I wondered if he really signed it or if he hired some sort of assistant to sign cards that people sent to him.

Charlie from the Hawk to the Hall blog responded to my comment:

There have actually been industry rumors that about 90% of Montana’s autos are done with an “autopen” machine, along with a lot of other very popular athletes.

I had never heard of an autopen machine, but apparently it is a machine that some athletes and celebrities use to add their “signature” to items. I did some research and came across Zipper’s Fakes, Phonies & Frauds site. It lists some common fake autographs that are often put up for sale. Joe Montana is on the list, and a great sadness filled my soul when I clicked on his name and found a picture of another card with a signature that is exactly the same as the one on my card. Take a look at it and you’ll see that not only is the signature exactly the same (but in a different color ink), it is the same size, at the same angle, and almost the same location on the card.

So I am now convinced that the autograph on my Joe Montana card that I received through the mail about 15 years ago is not actually an autograph, but a fake autograph that was generated by an autopen machine. And it really sickens me. I would have rather gotten no response at all from Montana than to get a fake autograph sent back to me. I took a lot of pride in the card and stored it in a top loader with all of my “best” cards for all of these years. What’s worse is that a lot of people probably have autographs like this and still think that they are real. Even worse, unsuspecting people are probably buying these fake autographs everyday. The marketplace is likely flooded with autopen-generated autographs of many different people.

I think that there should be uproar about athletes using autopen machines from fans and collectors. I can totally understand if an athlete gets so many autograph requests that he doesn’t have the time to fulfill them all. But I cannot understand why they would send back a fake autograph. Don’t they realize that fake autographs will make people more upset than not getting an autograph at all?

My biggest concern, however, is with the sticker autographs that are on many cards today. These are usually signed by the athletes at home and sent back to the card companies, where they are then placed onto “certified autograph” cards. I suppose that it would be difficult for someone to get away with using an autopen on the stickers, since every autograph would look exactly the same. But what’s to stop an athlete from hiring somebody who does a good job of forging their signature? How would the card companies (and collectors) be able to detect this? The implications are scary…

So, thanks a lot Joe Montana. For all of these years, I thought that you were a great guy for signing my card and mailing it back to me. I was wrong. I don’t want to use profanity on this blog, but there are a lot of vulgar words that would describe my feelings about you right now. You’ve shattered my faith in the honesty and ethics of every athlete out there.



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  1. I first saw an auto pen machine while stationed in Tampa at the Air Base after returning from Afghanistan in ’06. The awards approval General there had literally thousands of awards to sign each week and so an auto pen was used. There was an INSANE amount of security involved though.

    I’ve never even considered that someone could or would use one for sports cards…

    After this post, I will NEVER try to obtain a card TTM. I’m really glad you posted this and I plan to do some research on the subject myself…

  2. While it is true that many sports icons use auto pens, it is also true that 98% of them do not. Don’t let the 2% stop you from TTM requests. But also remember usually superstars don’t sign TTM.

  3. Yeah, I had the same experience with Joe Montana. His dad/wife/brother/2nd cousin usually signs his stuff. I did get a real one back from Kareem Abdul Jabbar though.

  4. Joe has been on the autograph circuit lately if you want to catch him there. I got his autograph at a MountedMemories show two years ago at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Of course he’s not the cheapest autograph to pay for, but it’s still cheaper than buying an autograph card on eBay and this way you get to meet him.

    Great blog!

  5. Wow. I got an auto of Joe Montana TTM around the same time you did. I have always suspected it was fake due to the fact he got it back to me within 2 weeks.

    I don’t try the mail much anymore, but when I do, I usually go for “mid-range” players that I like. I figure they are most likely to be doing their own signing.

    Nice blog.

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