Recognizing PRE-PRINTED autographs from AUTHENTIC ones

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Even though, the industry's largest "authenticator" has recently passed a number of preprinted autographs as "authentic", recognizing a preprint is generally pretty easy. First, what is a pre-print? Pre-printed autographs are signatures that are actually part of the photo, and are, therefore, not authentic autographs. Preprinted autographs can be massed produced and, unfortunately, often find themselves into eBay auctions and other venues.

Here is an example of a preprinted signature often sold online and mistaken as the real thing:

Because it is often very difficult to recognize a pre-print in a scan, many sellers try to pass off preprints as real autographs. Some even take it a step further by intentionally creating preprints, listing them in the "autograph" categories, and burying the fact that they are pre-printed in the text of the description. Be very careful to read all descriptions thoroughly, making sure the "autograph" being offered is not a pre-printed signature. If the title or description says, "preprint", preprinted", "PP", "copy", "facsimile" or "part of the photo", that means it is a pre-printed autograph and, therefore, not genuine.

Additionally, many collectors enjoying collecting signatures through-the-mail (TTM). Unfortunately, some of the TTM signatures are preprints. If you think an autograph in your collection may be a pre-print, here are some tips for determining whether it indeed is:

  1. Hold the photo up near eye level at an angle towards a source of light and look at the signature. If the signature appears to be "under" the gloss, or if the signature disappears altogether, that's a strong indication that it is preprinted into the photo. A hand-written signature will appear "on top" of the gloss and will not disappear when held at an angle towards light.
  2. Do an internet search of that particular person's signature. Of course, all preprints are identical so if you see other "signed" photos of that person that are identical to yours (identical signature placement, etc.), you know it's a preprint.
  3. This one should be used as a last resort. If you just can't decide if a signature is a preprint (some are harder to detect than others), find a small corner of the autograph and dab a tiny amount of alcohol or nail polish remover onto it with a Q-Tip. If the Q-Tip removes that section of the autograph, then it is obviously not a pre-print. Some collectors also wet their finger and rub it across a portion of the signature. If the signature smears, it is hand-written. Again, you'll obviously want to use these methods as a last resort.
These tips are helpful to use after-the-fact. However, you can help protect yourself from purchasing a preprinted, or otherwise un-authentic, autograph in the first place by viewing our eBay Guide on, "Avoiding Fake Signatures". You may also find our other Guides useful: "Recognizing Autopenned Signatures" and "Common Autograph Abbreviations".

Thank you for reading and Happy Collecting!

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