Buying Autographs Without Getting Ripped Off!

Buying Autographs Without Getting Ripped Off!

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella Signed Document from 15th Century

As a collector and vest pocket dealer of over 35 years, it amazes me that people buy historical and presidential autographs without doing their due diligence.  Before spending thousands of dollars for a signed letter or document, do some much needed research.

Google offers an incredible amount of information and research on its platform.  Whenever I need to do some research of an earlier sale, I go on Google.  It's real easy and will save you money in the long run.

Whether eBay, a dealer's website or even through auction, you need to do some research to make sure you are getting a fair deal for your money. You would be surprised at what you may find out.

When listing autographed letters or documents for sale, some dealers try to embellish the description just to inflate the price tremendously.  In one case, a dealer is known to over describe his offerings to the point where it becomes fabrication. In one case, he mentioned the autographed letter was regarding a fellow officer. The problem was the person died several years earlier.

He will even drag the comparison stating the mentioned party is a second cousin once removed of John Adam's nephew's sister-in-law or something like that!  Of course, I am being facetious, but you get the point.  Who cares??

J.P. Morgan Signed Bond

Seriously though, in one familiar case, the dealer will offer a ship's passage document and the dealer will manufacture or embellish the history and add something that doesn't exist.  A dealer, in one instance, mentioned that a ship signed by an early president carried enslaved people between the ports. 

Doing research, I found nothing of that sort.  But, the document sold for a multiple what it sold for earlier at auction.

Also, be careful when buying at auctions.  With auction buyer's premiums hovering around 25% to 30%, the final selling price may be a sticker shock when all is said and done.

Consider this!  Many auctions allow the seller the right to establish a hidden reserve unknown to the bidder or buyer to protect his/her lot.  Keep in mind that the seller will need to account for the seller's commission when setting that reserve price to net out his desired price.

So, if the seller needs $1000 for a lot and the auction charges a 15% seller's premium, the seller sets a reserve of $1150.

Likewise, if the auction buyer's premium is 25%, the buyer will have to pay a minimum reserved price of $1437.50 for a lot.  The seller only nets $1000 when settled. The auction house walks away with $437.50 on the sale.  Nice take!

Colonial Currency of Thirteen Colonies

Now, if you bought that item for $1437.50 and need to sell it later on and recoup your money from it, GOOD LUCK!

With online auction sites, like eBay, one thing I found is that sellers think they are sitting on a gold mine.  Seriously, many items are being offered for double, triple, even five times their worth.

Going back to auctions, one thing I have noticed is that some dealers set up their own auctions and sell their inventory through this format. Add to that they tack on about 25% to their selling/auction price.  A nice day for them!

Are you bidding against a real bidder or the book. You don't know and probably never will.

This is why you need to prep yourself with what's the most you will pay and feel comfortable.  If you get it, great.  If not, there's next time and you didn't feel you overpaid.

George Washington

To be a successful collector, you need patience and don't fall into the dealer/auctioneer trap!

There are times when I will bid on a group of items with serious intent to buy, but if I detect a game being played or a high reserve, I back off.

In past years, when more impulsive, I would buy or "win" an auction lot, only to find out, I paid way too much!

Going back to the dealer with the stories, in one case, I found through the grapevine that he originally sold 3 very rare letters to a collector at huge markups.

When the collector was forced to sell at auction, on one letter, he took a bloodbath!

He bought the letter for over $250,000 and later sold it at a nationally known auction house for a net of $30,000!

Before buying, be patient, be careful and be smart.  If you follow that, you will do well.  If not, well, I'm sorry.