I have been burned several times when I first started out collecting Muhammad Ali autographs on eBay and it made me feel sick. The reason that I was burned is because I was new to the hobby and didn’t know what to look out for. Now I know - and want to pass this knowledge on to empower you to avoid the same mistakes that I made. I also hope that my free eBay guide "How to Buy Muhammad Ali Autographs on eBay" will encourage my fellow Ali collectors to visit my eBay store and view it as a safe and enjoyable place to purchase their vintage Muhammad Ali memorabilia. Collecting Muhammad Ali memorabilia is exciting and a great investment, if you know what you're doing.
My area of expertise is vintage Cassius Clay and Muhammad Ali autographs. By vintage I mean autographs Ali signed while he was still a professional boxer.
When you search on eBay for Muhammad Ali, you often see authentic Muhammad Ali autographed gloves or posters that are offered with a COA (Certificate of Authenticity) or LOA (Letter of Authenticity) from companies like Steiner or Superstar Greetings. These authentic autographed items are great, but they were all signed well after Ali retired.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love some of the later Ali autographs, as that is when he began writing his familiar quotes and small drawings. However, I don’t have too much of an interest in the modern SuperStar Greetings and Steiner gloves or photos as they are more common. However, these companies are very reputable and you can be assured you are getting an authentic Ali autograph as long as you verify that the company issued the COA/LOA. There have been some fake Steiner COA's on eBay so I recommend that you actually verify with Steiner that they issued the COA/LOA before purchasing. They should have a record of their authentications.
There are more fake Muhammad Ali autgraphs being offered for sale on eBay - right now - than authentic ones and that's just plain scary.
If you are considering purchasing a Muhammad Ali or Cassius Clay autograph on eBay, I want you to read this statement again and let is sink in.
1) Know who you are buying from
2) Remember that you get what you pay for
3) Does it look like an authentic Ali autograph?
4) Is the LOA/COA from a reputable boxing expert or authentication company?
6) TRUST YOUR INSTINCT!
The first thing to do when you are about to bid on a Muhammad Ali autograph is realize that that there are a lot of fakes on eBay and that you need to do some further investigating.
Next, read the item description throughly – STUDY IT. Never purchase a Muhammad Ali autograph that doesn’t have a crystal clear pictures of the signature. Does the signature come with a LOA/COA? If so, from whom? Is it from a company, individual or boxing expert? If it’s from a company is it PSA/DNA, Global, Online Authentics, JSA, Steiner or SuperStar Greetings? If the LOA/COA is from one of the above companies, the market will consider it authentic (I will discuss this later). If the LOA/COA is not from one of the above companies, I personally hold no value to the COA/LOA unless it’s from boxing experts Harry Shaffer, Craig Hamilton, Steve Jackson or Mark Ogren. Is there a letter of provenance from the seller describing in detail when & where the Ali autograph was obtained?
If the LOA/COA/letter of provenance is from an individual, what does it state? If it doesn’t indicate that the person got the Ali autograph himself and the date and circumstances surrounding the autograph, I personally hold no value to the COA/LOA.
If the autograph doesn’t come with any kind of LOA/COA what does the item description tell you about the autograph? Is there a photograph of Ali actually signing the exact item listed? Does the item description give details on when or where it was signed? You need to be cautious when purchasing an Ali signature from an individual when there is not a LOA/COA from one of the companies or boxing experts I listed above. However, if you know what to look for you can find authentic Ali signatures without an LOA/COA. Let me give you an example and the exact steps I followed before purchasing.
I recently came across an Ali autographed religious pamphlet on eBay. It was being sold by an individual with no LOA/COA. My first step after the item caught my interest was to read virtually all of the sellers feedback. The seller had 100% feedback with over (200) transactions. Every piece of feedback was positive in terms of fast shipping, item exactly as described, ect. I knew this seller had integrity based on their feedback. I looked at the other items she was currently listing as well as items she had sold in the past. She had never sold Ali autographs before or any type of sports memorabilia and I took that into consideration.
Next I took a good hard look at the photographs the seller posted. They were crystal clear pictures of the Ali signed pamphlet with a close up of the autograph. This is where some knowledge about Muhammad Ali autographs comes into play. I am very familiar with the religious pamphlets that Ali famously signs and hands out. Ali always puts the date under his signature on these particular items. I compared the signature with many exemplars that I had and knew it was authentic. The seller also provided a picture of Ali handing out the pamphlets and a picture of the seller with Ali which is a bonus.
I next took several minutes and read and re-read the item description. In this description the seller, who I already estabished had integrity, provided the exact date, place and circumstances surrounding the Ali Autograph. I also sent her an email with a question about the item. I always do this just to see how quickly the seller responds and to get a overall feeling about the seller. She responded quickly to my email. At this point, and at this point only, purchasing this particular Ali autograph felt right to me. I trusted my instinct.
Based on the above, I bid and purchased the Ali autograph from this seller who had no experience in regards to selling Ali autographs and provided no LOA/COA. However, I was confident in my purchase. I received the item quickly and it was exactly as described.
Please be informed though that just because a seller has a good story and includes a few photographs of Ali, you still might not be getting an authentic Ali autograph. When I first started buying Ali autographs on eBay, I was burned several times when sellers would include a picture of Ali signing a glove or some other item. I later realized that these are just “stock” photographs used to sell fake items over and over. You have probably seen the picture of Ali sitting in front of 100 glove signing away. Yes, it was him in that picture but he certainly wasn’t signing the glove you just purchased.
Also, be aware when a seller says that they will include a photograph of Ali signing. I have been burned by this before. What I received was a scanned copy of Ali signing an item that wasn’t the one that I purchased. I learned the hard way that you should aways email the seller and ask them if it's an original photograph of Ali signing the exact item you are considering purchasing. Suprisingly, a big time seller with excellent feedback sent me the worthless scanned photograph.
Muhammad Ali has probably signed more autographs that any person in history, dead or alive. Muhammad Ali autographs are also probably the most forged. Muhammad Ali is arguably the most famous person in the world and his autographs have always been, and will continue to be in high demand. This makes things interesting as it’s difficult to authenticate a vintage Muhammad Ali autograph. The two boxing autograph experts whose opinion I trusted most, stopped authenticating Muhammad Ali autographs because of the enormous amount of forgeries. They didn’t want to soil their hard earned reputation by possibly authenticing fakes.
So with most of the individual experts gone, what are we left with? Here’s your options. I will only discuss companies or boxing experts that issue an LOA/COA where the eBay market considers them authentic. What I mean by this is if you have an LOA/COA from one of these companies, the Ali autograph will be considered authentic by prospective eBay buyers. Ebay has even these companies listed as "approved" authentication companies on their website. The companies are: 1) PSA/DNA 2) James Spence Authentication 3) Online Authentics & 4) Global Authentication Inc. The problem I have is these companies don't specialize in Muhammad Ali autographs and history has proven their "opinion" is not always correct. I have seen many Muhammad Ali autographs offered on eBay throughout the years with an LOA/COA from one of these companies that I personally wouldn't purchase because I thought it wasn't authentic. Again, these companies are just offering their opinion and their opinion does not guarantee that the Muhammad Ali autograph is an authentic one. These companies also provide authentication for virtually all of the major sports memorabilia auctions outside of eBay.
It’s kind of a monopoly, but those are the only established companies and boxing experts authenticating vintage Muhammad Ali autographs at this time.
The procedure to get your vintage Muhammad Ali autograph authenticated by one of these companies or boxing experts is as follows: Print and fill out their request form from the companies website. Ship the item you want authenticated, payment, return shipping label and order form to their office. Make sure that you insure the item when you ship it and also insure the return shipping label. In a couple of weeks, they will ship your item back along with a LOA/COA if they consider your autograph to be "likely genuine". Their prices vary based on how fancy of a LOA/COA you want. Typically, the prices for authenticating Muhammad Ali autographs are higher than other living athletes. Some of the companies also attend trade shows where you can bring your items and have them authenticated onsite.
The higher price of Ali autograph authentication is due to the facts that I laid out in the first paragraph of this chapter. If your autograph is not considered by the company to be authentic, they will send you a summary on the characteristics of your autograph and why it is not deemed genuine. On occasion, your autograph might be considered to be inconclusive. Typically I have found (at least from the companies listed above) that they send out a pretty standard form saying the slant, flow, pressure ect. is not consistent. The boxing experts listed above will actually communicate with you and often provide some of the exemplars that they actually used when making their decision.
A LOA/COA from one of the above companies or boxing experts can increase the value of your vintage Muhammad Ali signature, but usually not by too much. Over the years, I've seen tons of rare Muhammad Ali/Cassius Clay autographs sell on eBay for high price - even without an LOA. If it's authentic, the people in the know won't hesitate to bid even without an LOA.
Do I recommend that you get a letter of authenticity from one of the above companies or boxing experts? Yes, I do. It can instantly add value and legitimacy to your item in the eyes of an eBay buyer. The large authentication companies have the most credibility on eBay but Craig Hamilton, Harry Shaffer, Steve Jackson and Mark Ogren have more expertise - especially with vintage Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali autographs.
However, don’t be discouraged if you submit your vintage Muhammad Ali autograph to one of the above authentication companies and they deem it "likely not genuine". They do make mistakes - lots of them. Here is a disclosure posted on one of the above authentication companies website: “The authentication of previously signed autographs is not an exact science and the possibility for error does exist. (Company) does not claim accuracy of its results 100% of the time. There is no express guarantee in connection with the (Company) and (Company) disclaims any liabilities for errors.”
What should I do if I submit my Ali autograph to one of the above companies and they deem it "likely not genuine"? Consult with a different authentication company or better yet, one of the boxing experts that is listed above for another opinion. Again, these companies and experts are just offering their opinion on the autograph and you must realize that their opinion is not always correct. What a person at one authentication company thinks can be different from what another person at another authentication company thinks.
Expect to pay between $75 (basic COA) to $500 (Super LOA) to get your vintage Muhammad Ali autographs authenticated by one of the above companies or boxing experts plus the cost for insured shipping both ways. I recently sent a vintage Cassius Clay autograph to one of these major authentication companies and the total cost was over $275. Depending on price, they will include a picture of your Ali autograph in the LOA and attach a sticker/hologram to your item to verify they deemed your autograph "likely genuine". I recommend that you either have them place the sticker/hologram on the back of the item, unless you consider the item to be rare. If the item is rare, have the company place the sticker/hologram on the back of the COA/LOA so it doesn't interfere with the appeal of your item or potentially cause any damage. The major authentication companies should keep an online record that they deemed it "likely genuine" on their website for further verification.
The price of vintage Muhammad Ali autographs, and all memorabilia relating to him, has skyrocked in the last few years. I remember the good old days when I could purchase a properly authenticated vintage Muhammad Ali signature for a couple hundred bucks. Those days are gone! Even the recently signed Steiner authenticated gloves are selling for approximately $900 retail. Vintage Cassius Clay autographs, properly authenticated, can sell for thousands. Ali’s recently signed items, with quotes or drawings, typically sell for hundreds of dollars.
Why has the value of a vintage Muhammad Ali autograph increased so much recently? I won’t get into Ali the man because if you are reading this you know all about what he stood for and accomplished not only as a boxer but as a person. What I will discuss is his renaissance. This began when he lit the flame at the opening games of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Everyone who saw it was deeply touched by the event. Then came the movie Ali staring Will Smith and Jamie Foxx. Next the advertisements started hitting for Apple Computer & Adidas. Ali just recently received the Medal of Freedom from President Bush. It’s the highest civilian honor bestowed on a individual. The Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky just opened up and the grand opening gala was attended by politicians, professional athletes, celebrities, musicians, artists, poets, dignitaries and Ali fans from all over the world. I was fortunate enough to attend and it was spectacular. Ali is getting older and Parkinson’s Syndrome has obviously weakened his body. He doesn’t sign as many autographs as he used to.
So what determines the value of a vintage Muhammad Ali autograph? Any vintage Muhammad Ali signature should have a LOA/COA from one of the above companies or boxing experts that I mentioned above to reflect it’s true value on the market. The most valuable Muhammad Ali autographs are the one’s that aren’t signed Muhammad Ali but Cassius Clay. Actually the most valuable Muhammad Ali signature is the one example where he actually signed his name Cassius X Clay. This was signed by Clay immediately after announcing that he embraced Islam and before Elijah Muhammad gave him the name Muhammad Ali. There is only one in existence and the last I heard it was in the possession of boxing historian Hank Kaplan before he passed away in 2007.
A Muhammad Ali autograph that is personalized (made out with the name of a person) is worth less on the market than one that is not personalized. Another factor that determines the value of an Ali autograph is what the autograph is on. If it’s on fight worn items – the value increased dramatically versus if it is just on a piece of paper.
One more factor that can determine the value of a Muhammad Ali autograph is what Ali writes along with the autograph called an inscription. An Ali autograph along with one of his famous statements such as “there will never be another” or “three time heavyweight champion” or “love is the net where hearts are caught like fish” or “The Greatest” dramatically increase the value versus just a signature. If Ali draws a smiley face or a boxing ring it increases the value as well. Another attribute which effects the value of all vintage Muhammad Ali signatures is the condition or “grade” of the signature.
So we have established that other than the lone Cassius X Clay signature signed in 1964, the early Cassius Clay autographs that have been properly authenticated by one of the above companies or boxing experts are the the most valuable.
Vintage, properly authenticated Cassius Clay signatures can sell for thousands and thousands of dollars. The earliest know Cassius Clay signatures that have been offered on the market are dated from 1958 when Clay was 16 years old. I have seen 2 of these available over the years.
Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964 after winning the heavyweight championship, upsetting an unbeatable Sonny Liston. He was given the name by Elijah Muhammad, head of the Nation of Islam. So beginning in 1964 Cassius Clay the Champion began to autograph Muhammad Ali. If a legal document was signed, his signature would be Muhammad Ali AKA Cassius Clay. If an early Muhammad Ali signature also stated “AKA Cassius Clay” it would increase the value of the autograph.
Muhammad Ali retired from boxing after losing his last fight to Trevor Berbeck in the Bahamas in 1981. In 1984 Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a neurological disorder whose symptoms include muscle tremors and slowness of speech. You will notice a dramatic change in his signature from the mid 80’s to the present day.
Here is a summary of what you should ALWAYS do before purchasing a Muhammad Ali/Cassius Clay autograph on eBay. If you follow these simple tips, you will experience all the fun and benefits of collecting Muhammad Ali autographs:
• Realize going into this that most of the Muhammad Ali autographs offered for sale on eBay are forgeries
• Know who you are buying from – analyze the sellers feedback
• Read and re-read the item description thoroughly
• NEVER buy an Ali autgraph on eBay if there is not a clear picture of the autograph that’s for sale
• If there's an LOA/COA - is it from PSA/DNA, JSA, Global Authentication, Inc., Online Authentics, Steiner, Superstar Greetings, Harry Shaffer, Craig Hamilton, Steve Jackson or Mark Ogren?
• If there's not an LOA/COA – is there other proof like an actual photo of Ali signing the item or a detailed letter of provenance describing when and where Ali signed it?
• Make sure it looks like a genuine Ali autograph and do some comparisons
• Ali autographs are a good investment as they are highly desirable and appreciating in value
• Early Cassius Clay autographs are the most valuable
• Later Ali autographs with inscriptions or drawings are worth more than just a regular Ali autograph of the same date
• There is no such thing as a $400 vintage Cassius Clay autograph
• ALWAYS email the seller and ask questions BEFORE bidding
• The bidding is fierce on eBay for Muhammad Ali autographs – many bids are placed in the last few seconds with automatic bidding software
• Take into consideration what type of item and the condition of item the Ali autograph is on
• TRUST YOUR INSTINCT!!
If you've found this guide to be helpful, please vote "yes" at the bottom of this page. If you have any suggests, comments or corrections, feel free to send me an email. I'm always interested in meeting Muhammad Ali fans and improving this guide. Please note that I do not offer professional authentication services at this time.