Sign Here, Please
One obvious way of increasing the value of an item is to have it autographed. There are players famous enough that their autograph on something as simple as a napkin has incredible value. But the most valuable signatures are the ones that are hardest to find, not necessarily the most popular or well-known sports figures. For example, a Joe DiMaggio autographed baseball can be worth $10,000–$20,000 but a baseball signed by Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe recently sold for close to $200,000.
Helmets, along with jerseys, baseballs, and bats, are the quintessential autograph items because they almost always grow in value and retain it over time.
Since it’s the autograph itself that makes any item valuable, you’ve got to go to great lengths to make certain it’s authentic. That’s easy if you’re getting the item signed yourself. Snap a picture of the athlete while the signing is happening and you’ve got surefire documentation that your signature is real. One word of caution: If you want the item to retain its resale value, hold off on the personalization. Sure, it’s tough. But while “To Healey,” might have sentimental value, it can render an autograph virtually worthless if and when the time comes to sell it.
On the other hand, if you’re buying an already signed item, you need to do some research. A quick first step is to go online and see if the player has a deal in place with a sponsor. LeBron James, for example, has an exclusive contract with Upper Deck, so if you’re looking at something that’s not from Upper Deck with his signature on it, question it. There’s always a chance that your player could have been out at night and signed something for a fan—but ask questions.
If you still have doubts, go to an expert. There are autograph verification companies that analyze everything from the ink on an autograph to the way it’s written.
My fave is PSA/DNA (psacard.com), a service from Professional Sports Authenticator. This company has records of thousands of autographs on file for comparison. PSA/DNA also has a feature called QuickOpinion where, for about $10, they will evaluate an autograph within 24–48 hours. It’s a great idea when you’re just not sure and want some sort of verification.
The best rule of thumb when it comes to authenticity is pure common sense. Start with the price—if there’s a guy selling 10 hockey sticks signed by Wayne Gretzky out of his garage for $50 each, it’s likely
too good to be true.