Though collectors of collectibles, art and memorabilia sometimes consider the definition of term “authenticity” to be an esoteric term for theoretical discussion and ‘How many angels can stand on a pinhead?’ chatboard debate, it is surprisingly simple and straightforward. Thus, this simple and straightforward post.
In all areas of collecting, from trading cards to oil paintings to ancient artifacts, something is authentic if its true identity is described accurately and sincerely. There is truth in advertising. Whether it is an eBay listing or the placard label next to a painting in a museum, the description of the item matches what the item really is. It is as simple as that.
If you pay good money for an “original 1930 Babe Ruth photograph by legendary photographer Charles Conlon” you expect to receive an original 1930 Babe Ruth photo by Charles Conlon. You do not expect a 1970 reprint or a photo by a different photographer.
An item does not have to be rare, expensive or old to be authentic. It just has to be accurately and sincerely described. A 2 cent 2013 reprint is authentic if described as a 2 cent 2013 reprint.
I use the word ‘sincerely’ to give no excuse to sellers who try to pull the wool over the potential buyers’ eyes with intentionally confusing, ambiguous, vague or/or diverting language in an attempt to sell something they know is a reprint. One can both be “technically correct” and deceptive– and judges in false advertising cases are the first to know this.
Errors in the description of an item are considered significant when they significantly affect the financial value or reasonable non-financial expectations of the buyer. An example of the reasonable non-financial expectations would involve a collector who specializes in real photo post cards of her home state of Iowa and makes it crystal clear to the seller that she only wants postcards depicting Iowa. Even if there is no financial issue, she would have reason to be disappointed if the purchased postcard turned out to show Oklahoma or Minnesota.
Many errors in description are minor and have little to no material effect. If that 1930 Babe Ruth photo turns out to be from 1933, it may not affect the financial value or desirability to the purchaser. Some would call this “No harm, no foul.”
Counterfeit: a reprint or reproduction that was intentionally made to fool others into believing it is original.
Forgery: an item that was intentionally made to fool others into believing it is something it is not. This includes counterfeits, but also fantasy or made up items. An example of a fantasy would be a 1958 Bowman Mickey Mantle. Bowman did not make baseball cards after 1955, so a 1958 Bowman Mantle never existed.
Fake: an item that is seriously misidentified. This includes forgeries and counterfeits. It also includes items, even original items, that are innocently but badly misidentified by collectors or sellers who are uninformed.
When in doubt about seller’s or maker’s intent, it is best to call a bad sale or auction item a fake instead of a forgery or counterfeit. All three words mean an item is not genuine, but forgery and counterfeit implies intentional illegality.
Real photo postcards are postcards with genuine photographic images on the fronts. They do not have “ink-and-printing-press” images but are actual photographs on photopaper. They were designed and printed on the backs to be mailed, often having handwritten letters, addresses and postage stamps on the back.
Real photo postcards with baseball subjects are popularly collected by vintage baseball card and memorabilia collectors, and prime examples of famous players and teams can fetch big bucks at auction. However, real photo postcards can be found with a wide range of subjects, including other sports, movie stars, politicians, nature and animals. Vintage real photo postcards, including of non-sport subjects, is a major collecting area all around the world.
Most real photo postcards were essentially family photographs and snapshots intended to be given to relatives and friends or to be put in the family album. The factory made real photo postcard photopaper that happened to be a convenient size for such purposes. These family photos and snapshots will show standard family poses, including little Jimmy in his school uniform, the family picnicking or a wedding reception.
Some real photo postcards were used for advertising or sold to the public at stores and are equivalent to trading cards– and, thus, actively collected by trading card collectors. Many of these show celebrities such as movie stars, sports stars and politicians. You can find examples picturing everyone from Ty Cobb to Red Grange to Greta Garbo to Thomas Edison.
Some famous sports photographers sold real photo postcards. This includes George Burke (the photographer for the Goudey and Play Ball sets), Carl Horner (the photographer for many early 1900s cards including the T206 Honus Wagner) and legendary boxing photographer Charles Dana.
Dating Real Photo Postcards
Real photos are dated by the back designs and text and, as shown later, authenticated by some basic knowledge of old photography.
In the United States real photo postcards originated in 1901. The American design of postcards was regulated by United States law and can be dated in general by the text and designs. Below is a brief description of the vintage designs.
Post Card Era (1901-1907) The use of the term “POST CARD” was granted by the government to private printers on December 24 1901. Earlier cards were called ‘Private Mailing Cards.’ Only the address was allowed to be written on the back of the card during Post Card Era. A blank panel was put on the front for messages.
Divided Back Era (1907- ) Postcards with a divided back began March 1 1907. The address was to be written on the right side and the left side was for writing messages. This is the same style used today. The early images were ‘full bleed,’ meaning that they went all the way to the edge of the card. White borders were popularly introduced around 1915. In more modern times, both full bleed and white borders were made, but the white borders almost always date mid 1910s and after.
Giving an ApproximateDate to a Real Photo Postcard by the Stampbox Markings
Many real photo postcards have text identifying the brand of paper. If this text exists, they will be found in the stampbox. The stampbox is the little square in the upper right hand corner that the stamps are placed on.
If a real photo postcard has the stampbox text, the below chart will help determine the general period in which the postcard was made. (Chart courtesy of the2Buds.com).
Postally mailed postcards will have the dated postage cancellation stamp. No better way to date postcard. In fact, the blank backed Pinkerton Postcards were confirmed to be vintage (there were doubts by some collectors), because a few were found to have been used as postcards with 1910s postmarks on the backs.
Other tips between for telling the difference between genuine vintage examples and modern reprints
As old postcards can easily be reprinted on home computer printers these days, the following are some additional tips for telling the difference between vintage and modern reprints. As you might expect the counterfeit ones will be of primo subjects, such as Babe Ruth, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Jim Thorpe. Needless to say, it is good practice to buy from reputable sellers who guarantee authenticity. If you want a second opinion, PSA and SGC grade real photo postcards.
* Silvering in the image as sign of old age. Silvering is when it appears as if the silver has come to surface of the image. If it exists, it is more noticeable at the edges and in the dark areas of the image, and when viewed at a specific angle to the light. If you change the angle of the photo to a light source, the silvering will become stronger and darker, sometimes disappearing. It can range in intensity and often resembles a silvery patina.
The key is that silvering is an aging process and appears after decades. The presence of silvering is very strong evidence of a real photo postcard’s old age.
* Early real photo postcards are on thinner stock have matte backs, though the fronts can be glossy. If the back has a smooth, plasticy surface, it is modern. Kodak introduce plastic resin-coated paper in 1968.
* Cyantotype real photo postcards. You will occasionally see real photo postcards with bright blue images. These are cyanotype photos, with cyan meaning light blue. Cyanotype was an old type process. Cyanotypes, even antique ones, don’t get silvering.
* If the front and back have a multi-color dot pattern under strong magnification, as on a modern baseball card or computer print, it is more than probably modern reprint, likely made on someone’s home computer.
As well known to my friends and family, I am a non-linear thinker and talker, and this article follows the pattern. Offered here are aleatory notes, thoughts and tips on authentication related topics. * * * A concern I often hear from collectors is that computer and digital printing technology is getting so advanced that some day they will be able to make a counterfeit T206 Honus Wagner completely indistinguishable from the original. The answer is no, this is not correct. Modern digital printing indeed looks better and better and is more and more detailed at the naked eye, holding-the-card-in-your-hand level. However, it looks less and less like the original 1909 T206 lithography at the microscopic level. And it is at the microscopic level that printing is identified and dated and such cards are ultimately authenticated. The paradox with printing technology and the duplication of old prints is that the more closely it looks like the original at the naked eye level, the less it looks like the original at the microscopic level. Today’s computer printers use a fine pattern of tiny dots to reproduce graphics, with the finer the dot pattern the more detailed and realistic the reproduced graphics at the naked eye level. However, this fine dots maze looks very different under the microscope from the original, antiquated T206 printing–and the finer the dot pattern gets, the less it looks like the original printing at the microscopic level.
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If the identifying, dating and microscopic inspection of old printing is something that interest you, I wrote the following guide book. Well illustrated in color, it covers the major forms of antique and commercial printing and was written for collectors and dealers of antique trading cards, posters, ads, signs, premiums and even fine art. It is in pdf format and you can download it for free.
Fake detection tip If a seller is selling online a rare and expensive baseball card with obviously scissors clipped corners that he describes as “natural corner wear,” there is a more than probable chance you’re looking at a fake. With homemade fakes, one of the harder things to do is to mimic natural corner rounding due to wear. The forger often clips the corners at straight angles then roughs them up a bit. In many cases, the corners remain obviously hand cut. Of course genuine cards can have clipped corners, but anyone experienced with cards can tell the difference between clipping and natural wear. Even if the there is the odd chance the card for sale is real, why would you choose to make expensive purchases from a seller who can’t identify obvious trimming? Shouldn’t you be buying from the seller who knows what he is doing? * * * * Identifying Common Cracker Jack Reprints The 1914-15 Cracker Jacks cards used no white ink and this helps in identifying many reprints. The white (actually off white) on the card is created by the absence of ink on the white (actually off white) color of the cardstock. In other words, the white borders and any white in the player picture is the color of the cardstock. If the Cracker Jack player picture has a large white section of his uniform that directly touches the border, there should be little or no difference in tone between the border white and the white of the uniform. They should seamlessly blend one into the other. On the common reprints, a giveaway is that the border is distinctly different than the white in the player image. You can clearly see this when the border ends and the touching white in the player picture starts.
* * * * Scams regularly involve greed from both sides
As has been noted by numerous experienced collectors, baseball card scams often involve greed on both sides of the equation–from the buyer and the seller, not just the seller.
Since the dawn of scamming, it is a common scammer’s technique to appear ignorant about what he is selling (often a forgery he made himself!), and have the buyer believe he is getting a steal from a dim bulb of a seller. The scammer will say something on the order of: “This card looks real to me. But as I’m not an expert, I am calling it a reprint to be safe and offer it at a deep discount” or “I found this Sweet Caporal Honus Wagner card. A local card shop says it looks like the real deal and is worth lots of money. But I don’t know for sure so I’m offering it for $5,000.” The purchaser in these sales correctly believes there is a rube involved in the sale, but incorrectly believes it is the seller. The purchaser also thinks he is getting a steal of a deal from a rube. This is why some collectors feel little pity for such buyers. The buyers are trying to get a steal and think they are taking advantage of the ignorant. * * * * For science geeks, this is an old article I wrote on the advanced science used in authentication and forgery detection of art, artifacts and collectibles, including baseball memorabilia. It covers carbon dating, infrared radiation, x-rays and even dendrology (the study of trees rings). Technically, baseball cards can be radiometrically dated (carbon dating is the best known form of radiometric dating), but it is cost prohibitive. The article also shows how there are limits to science in authentication. The Science of Forgery Derection
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A simple technique for dating a pinback as antique
If you are at an antique store or garage sale and see a cool antique looking pinback, a simple way to identify it as genuinely antique, and not a modern reproduction or fantasy item, is to check the back. If the back and needle is corroded and rusted brown, you can be confident it is antique.
Similarly, rusty staples on antique items are signs of authenticity. Many antique booklets, magazines, calendars and tickets were stapled. Antique staples have rusted dark, with the rust sometimes spreading to the paper. If the staples are bright and shiny, that is evidence the item is a modern reproduction or at least has been re-stapled. I’ve seen many modern reproductions offered online that are given away in part by the shiny staples.
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Authenticating playing and game cards Many playing and game cards, such as the 1913 National Game and Polo Ground issues, have factory cut round corners that make identifying reprints and counterfeits easy, even in online pictures. The corners on the originals were die cut a consistent size and curve. Known official reprints will have a noticeably different corner size, while homemade versions will be obviously scissors cut and usually of different size. If someone is offering one of these playing cards online it is easy to check the authenticity by comparing the corners to a picture of a known authentic card, say one in a PSA or SGC holder.
Die cut shaped cards in general are harder to deceptively forge, because it is hard to cut the shapes to perfectly mimic the original machine cut–especially if the forger is doing it by hand.
* * * * * The Issue of Restoring baseball cards The restoration of baseball cards is a regular hot topic of debate with collectors, and it seems the restoration of high end cards is becoming more common. Some collectors are adamantly against any alterations, some have no issue with it and some say it depends on the situation. I am not here to give the ‘final ethical word’ on the topic, but to look at various aspects of the issue. The common strong and often visceral reaction against restoration and any form of alteration is based in two reasons. First, the hobby has a long history of deceptive (undisclosed) alterations as part of scamming: trimming, bleaching and other alterations without disclosure at sale. Many collectors consider this equivalent to counterfeiting and forgery. This problem is still ongoing, with unethical resellers who only care about money, altering and trying to sneak cards past profession graders. This is one of the scummy parts of the hobby. For some people, it is anything for a dollar. The second reason is many collectors like old cards that have honest wear and aging. These collectors think they there is nothing wrong with an old card showing its age–after all they are collecting old items not twenty first century Upper Decks inserts. To them, there is nothing wrong with ‘honest wear,’ so there is nothing to fix. Many collectors are generally against alterations, but are not zealots about it and feel that there are times where restoration is reasonable. Many collectors say it is ethical to remove items and substances that are not original parts of the cards. They say it is fine to remove a of piece scotch tape, glue or paint on a 1952 Topps, because it is not an original part of card. There are also cases of major damage, such as a card that has a substantial tear or fungus, where conservation will not only make the card look nicer but will prevent further damage. Left to their own devices, fungus spreads and tears only get bigger over time. One question baseball card collectors often ask is why is restoration so frowned upon in the baseball card hobby, but seemingly accepted and common practice with paintings and movie posters. It is true that restoration is more accepted in those areas, but realize that, as in the baseball hobby, opinions and sentiments vary from collector to collector. Another thing to keep in mind is that movie posters and paintings have different uses and are of different materials.
A movie poster and painting are display items, usually large and designed to be hung on the wall for everyone to see. Baseball cards are little and spend most of their lives in boxes and drawers. Few people want a 2×3 foot display item on the wall next to the dining room table or over the living room couch to be covered in coffee stains, scrapes and scotch tape marks. Also, movie posters and paintings are often made of materials that are delicate and must be conserved to preserve them and to withstand display. Movie posters are on thin paper, and old paint and the backing on paintings often have deterioration problems that must be fixed. Old oil paintings were originally varnished, with the varnish turning brown over the years. Removing and replacing the dingy varnish not only makes the painting look as it originally did, it often reveals the real colors of the painting. A green appearing flower may turn out to be bright blue.
It should also be noted that as part of restoration and conservation, movie posters are usually ‘linen backed’ (backed in linen) so are easy to identify as restored. As far as valuation of restored versus unrestored posters and paintings go, an advanced vintage movie memorabilia collector told me that a grade Vg movie poster restored to Near Mint looking condition will be valued more than the Vg grade but less than unrestored Near Mint. Painting collectors look for restoration, because it does affect value. All other things the same, a restored painting will be worth less than an unrestored one. So, while restoration is more accepted, there still is a valuation and sentimental difference between restored and unrestored. One inescapable constant is that all alterations and restoration have to be disclosed at sale. Not only is this the ethical thing to do, it is the law. This is in all areas of collecting, including movie posters and paintings. If a seller knows a physical fact about the item will likely change the value in the minds of the buyers, that is a fact that has to be stated. It is up to the bidders, not the auctioneer, to decide what facts will affect the final bid value. I end by noting that a veteran collector once said that collectors are temporary caretakers not owners of the items, and that is what people should keep in mind when deciding what to do with a card. Or, as I say, these are historical artifacts and serious collectors are historians. There may be legitimate reasons to restore an item–such as for preservation for future generations or to fix major damage–but a card or other item should never be altered for purely monetary reasons. When things are done strictly and only to make a buck, all forms of unethical and seedy behavior soon follow.
This post contains assorted topics on CDVs and Cabinet Cards, baseball card proofs, a curious Honus Wagner fake, essential tips for beginning collectors, and a common misdating caused by collector psychology.
Are CDVs and Cabinet Cards Baseball Cards? The Answer is Yes, No and Maybe
Though personal definitions may change in detail from collector to collector, the general definition of a baseball card (short for baseball trading card) is a card (look up the dictionary definition) with a baseball theme that was commercially issued, or at least intended to be commercially issued, as a collectible for the general public. The commercial part means they were sold as a product in and of itself (such as with today’s cards), with a product (Topps and gum, T206s in packs of cigarettes) or otherwise in relationship to a product, service or similar (premiums, advertising trade cards, etc).
As you see, a baseball card is not defined just by its physical makeup, but its useage nature and intent. Even though it fits any dictionary’s definition of a physical card, no one I know considers a baseball player’s business card to be a baseball trading card.
All this leads to baseball cartes de visite (often referred to by the acronym CDVs), cabinet cards and similar early photo cards. These 1800s to early 1900s photo cards (a paper photograph affixed to a cardboard backing) fit the physical definition of card. Baseball CDVs in particular look very much look like baseball cards.
The second question of the trading card equation is if CDVs and cabinet cards fit the commercial issue for general public collecting definition of a trading card. The answer here is some do, some don’t and for many the answer is unknown and unknowable.
CDVs and cabinet cards were just standard photograph formats and were made for different purposes. Some were indeed used by tobacco and other companies as premiums or advertisements, and some were sold directly to the public as collectibles. For these, there is the advertising right on the cards and/or we know how their distribution history. Collecting commercially issued CDVs of celebrities, from Abraham Lincoln to Prince Albert, was a popular hobby in the Victorian era.
Most of the baseball CDVs and cabinet cards, however, were family or personal photos not issued to the general public. If you find a CDV or cabinet card of a high school or college baseball player or town ball team, it was more than probably a family photo or similar. Even many card photos of star Major League players were made for personal, private use of the player or teams. By the trading card definition, these are not baseball cards. Collectible and often valuable, sure, but not trading cards.
A problem for those who like things to be well defined and to fit into air tight categorizes is that for some of the
old baseball photo cards it is not know how they were issued. They may be of a famous early team or player and made by a well known photography studio, but it is unknown if it was made for the player or team’s personal use, or as a collectible sold to the public. Baseball card collectors tend to like clear cut answers, but, in the area of early baseball photographs and ephemera, things are often ambiguous and murky.
This in part explains why determining what card is the first card is impossible and a never ending debate. Beyond the debates over a card’s exact date of origin, whether or not it really depicts baseball and the fact that there are likely early photo cards yet to be uncovered, it is often impossible to know if the card was a commercially issued item for the general public or a photo made as a personal memento for the player or team. We can make intelligent guesses, but the are still guesses. I half-jokingly call this area of eternal debate ‘baseball card theory.’
This also explains why, even though there are earlier baseball CDVs and card photographs, the Peck & Snyders are still considered by many to the first known baseball cards (emphasis on the word known, as in known to be). Unlike earlier photo cards, it is known that the Peck & Snider Reds were used for commercial purposes and issued as general public collectibles. Some have advertising on back and we know that some were sold through Peck & Snyder’s mail order catalog.
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1800s Harper’s Woodcuts, or woodcut prints from the popular New York magazine Harper’s Weekly, are popularly collected today. The images show nineteenth century life, including sports, US Presidents and other celebrities, war, high society, nature and street life. The woodcuts of baseball are popular with vintage baseball card and memorabilia collectors due to the images of famous early players and teams, including Cap Anson, King Kelly, Billy Sunday and the 1869 Cincinnati Reds.
Though issued in black and white, some of the prints have been hand colored over the years by the owners. As age is important to collectors, prints that were colored in the 1800s are more valuable than those colored recently.
The problem is that modern ideas lead collectors to misdate the coloring. Due to their notions about the old fashioned Victorian era, most people automatically assume that vintage 1800s coloring will be subtle, soft, pallid and conservative. However, 1800s coloring was typically bright, gaudy, bold and even tacky to modern taste. As Victorian people did not have color televisions, motion pictures or video games, and were restricted in their travel (and paint choices), they liked their images of exotic places and faraway celebrities to be colored bold and exciting. A learned forger might knowingly use historically incorrect colors, as he knows the average person today would consider authentic 1800s coloring to be fake.
My work and research as an art and artifact scholar is in two areas: authentication and theory (psychology and philosophy of perception and interpretation, etc). They are usually two distinctly separate areas, but this is a case where they overlap. The misdating of the colors on these collectibles is a matter of cognitive biases. I have used the above woodcut colors example in both collector’s guides and cognitive psychology texts.
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A Fake Honus Wagner card with an interesting history
From time to time one sees offered for sale this Freeman Cigar Co. Card depicting Honus (Hans) Wagner. Though usually sold as vintage, it is a modern fantasy card.
There are authentic early 1900s Hans Wagner cigar tobacco labels designed to be affixed to cigar boxes. The labels are rare, and come in various designs. The most expensive examples are usually offered by major auction houses or dealers. In similar fashion to the T206 Wagner, this brand of tobacco was apparently never issued to the public. All the labels known to exist were not used. One of the labels has a close design to this fake card.
About 1993, a manufacture of collectible tin signs (all those Ted Williams Moxie and Joe Jackson H & B reprints) made a sign based on the design of the just mentioned tobacco label. This man was selling the signs as modern collectibles, not representing themselves as vintage. The sign was not an exact copy of the label. He added the ‘5 Cent Cigar’ text at the bottom for artistic balance. He also he used a different text font in parts because he could not find a modern duplicate of the original.
A numbers of years later a man used a computer printer to reprint the tin signs as the tobacco cards, roughing and scuffing the cards to make them appear old. He sold them at flea markets to unsuspecting collectors who knew the legend of Honus Wagner and thought they had struck gold.
When shown a picture of one of the cards, the tin sign maker himself said it could not be genuine as it had his 1993 design.
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Essential Tips for Beginning Collectors of Most Anything
While experienced collectors may already know most of the following tips, I get many inquiries from total beginners, including many who have gotten burned by buying fakes. Considering this, I think it’s a good thing to periodically bring out my age old “Essential Tips for Beginning Collectors of Most Anything.” I’ve used this list, and variations of it, in numerous of my collecting and authentication books:
Whether it involves trading cards, celebrity autographs, movie posters, fine art prints, postcards or antique figurines, collecting can be good clean fun for boys and girls of all ages. However, all areas of collecting have problems. The following is a brief but important list of tips that the beginner should read before jumping into a hobby with open pocketbook. 1) Start by knowing that there are reprints, counterfeits, fakes and scams out there. If you start by knowing you should be doing your homework, having healthy skepticism of sellers’ grand claims and getting second opinions, you will be infinitely better off than the beginner who assumes everything is authentic and all sellers are honest. 2) Learn all you can about material you wish to collect and the hobby in general. The more you learn and more experience you have, the better off you are. Most forgers and scammers aren’t trying to fool the knowledgeable. They’re trying to make a quick buck from the ignorant. Besides, half the fun of collecting is learning about the material and its history. 3) Realize that novices in any area of collecting are more likely to overestimate, rather than underestimate the value of items they own or are about to buy. 4) Get second opinions and seek advice when needed. This can range from a formal opinion from a top expert to input from a collecting friend. Collectors, including experienced collectors, who seek advice and input are almost always better off than those who are too proud or embarrassed to ask questions. 5) Start by buying inexpensive items. Put off the thousands dollar Babe Ruth baseball cards and Elvis Presley autographs for another day. Without exception, all beginners make mistakes, as that is a natural part of learning. From paying too much to misjudging rarity to buying fakes or reprints. It only makes sense that a collector should want to make the inevitable beginner’s mistakes on $10 rather that $5,000 purchases. 6) Gather a list of good sellers. A good seller is someone who is knowledgeable and honest. A good seller fixes a legitimate problem when it arises and has a good authenticity guarantee and return policy. It is fine to perfectly fine to purchase a $9 trading card or piece of memorabilia from an eBay stranger, but it is best to buy expensive and rare items online from good sellers, including those you have dealt with or those who otherwise have strong reputations. Ask other collectors who they like. Discover good sellers on your own by buying a few inexpensive items from an eBay seller and seeing how good are the transactions. The seller you bought that $9 item from may be added to your list of good sellers.
7) If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.
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When in doubt assume a baseball card is not a proof
The trading card hobby puts a premium on proof cards. Proofs are pre-production test cards the card printers use to check graphics and text before the final print run. Antique card proofs are often blank backed, sometimes on different stock than the final cards, often with hand cut borders and little pencil written crosses on the borders. Proofs sell for good money as they are rare and offer a look at the creation of the cards.
The collector should be aware that many cards resembling that proofs are not proofs. The manufacturers sometimes accidentally printed cards with blank backs and inserted them into the packs of gum or tobacco. As a kid I pulled a blank backed card from a Topps pack. These are not proofs, but printing errors.
There are also ‘cards’ that were long ago scissors cut from vintage advertising posters, tobacco albums and kids’ notebooks. As these cutouts have hand cut borders, blank backs and different than normal stocks, they are often mistakenly called proofs.
Collectors will also come across printer’s scraps, often of T206 baseball cards. These scraps came from a printer’s rejected sheet, often with
poorly printed images, bad color registration and other graphics problems– which is why it was rejected, or scrapped, by the printer. These rejected sheets were rescued from the trash bin by workers, often to be taken home for the kids. The individual scrap cards that we see today were hand cut from the sheets. As the cards are hand cut, often oversized and usually with printing defects, they are often mistaken for proofs. As with the above mentioned blank backed cards, scraps are simply factory mistakes.
As you can see there are lots of non-proof cards that resemble proofs. When in doubt it is best to bid on an unusual card assuming it is not a proof, because it likely is not. Scraps and other printing mistakes are collectible, but are much more plentiful and inexpensive than genuine proofs.
This article shows methods for using an inexpensive black light in the authentication and fake detection of baseball cards and related ephemera.
For card collectors, black light is primarily used with Pre-World War II cards because it can identify modern paper and cardstock and, thus, modern reprints and fakes of Pre-War cards. However, as this article shows, black light is also useful when examining modern items.
What is a black light and how does it work?
A black light is a light, often resembling a little flashlight, that gives off longwave ultraviolet light. The common nickname for longwave UV is black light.A black light allows the collector to see things invisible in normal daylight.
Ultraviolet light and black light are outside of the human’s visible spectrum, meaning it cannot be seen by human eyes. However, in a dark room materials can fluoresce (glow) under black light. Most of us have experienced black lights that make the whites on our shirts or shoes or rock posters glow brightly. Some materials fluoresce brightly, some not at all and the rest somewhere in between. The fluorescence varies in color. Under ultraviolet light, minerals, plastics, paints and antique glass can fluoresce red, yellow, green, purple, white and orange.
Without going much into the science, the fluorescence, or visible light that is emitted from a material when black light is shined on it, happens at the atomic level. You are adding energy to the atoms then observing what light the atoms gives back. The color and brightness depends on the atomic makeup. Physicists and chemists can go as far as identifying the specific chemicals in materials by shining ultraviolet on them. Happily, you don’t have to be a scientist or even know the science to effectively use a black light. For collectors, it is as easy as observing the fluorescence and knowing what it means.
Tips on effective use of black light
A black light must be used in a dark room, the darker the better. Take a minute or three to let your eyes get adjusted to the dark. The cards should being examined on something that does not fluoresce. Something that does not fluoresce will appear black under black light. If your background fluoresces too brightly, it can be hard to judge the fluorescence of the cards or memorabilia.
It is best for the cards to be removed from any top loader, glass, plastic sleeve or other holder. The holder itself can fluoresce or otherwise mask the card’s fluorescence. Shine the black light on all sides of the cards. Some trading cards and photographs have coatings on one side that can block fluorescence.
For comparison purposes, you may wish to have a shard of modern computer paper that fluoresces brightly. Between the black table and bright shard, you will have a range on the spectrum for comparison.
Practice using the black light. See what items from all years look like under black light. Feel free to look at magazines, books, paper, glass vases, plastic. Some around the house materials that fluoresce brightly include granular laundry detergent, vaseline, plastic items, textiles and some reading glasses.
Identification of Reprints and Forgeries of Pre-War Cards
A black light is effective in identifying many, though not all, modern paper and cardboard stocks, and this is its most common use with trading card and paper ephemera collectors. If a so-called 1933 Goudey, 1909 T206 or 1925 postcard can be identified as being made from modern cardstock, it is obvious that it is a modern made fake. For many modern fakes, identification is as simple as shining a black light on them.
Starting in the late 1940s, manufacturers of many products began adding `optical brighteners’ and other new chemicals to their products. Optical brighteners are invisible dyes that fluoresce brightly under ultraviolet light. They were used to make products appear brighter in normal daylight, which contains some ultraviolet light. Optical brighteners were added to laundry detergent and clothes to help drown out stains and to give the often advertised `whiter than white whites.’ Optical brighteners were added to plastic toys to makes them brighter and more colorful. Paper manufacturers joined the act as well, adding optical brighteners to many, though not all, of their white papers stocks.
A black light can identify many trading cards, posters, photos and other paper items that contain optical brighteners. In a dark room and under black light optical brighteners will usually fluoresce a very bright light blue or bright white. To find out what this looks like shine a recently made white trading card, family snapshot or most types of today’s computer paper under a black light.
If paper or cardstock stock fluoresces very bright as just described, it almost certainly was made after the mid 1940s.
It is important to note that not all modern papers and stocks will fluoresce this way as optical brighteners are not added to all modern paper. For example, many modern wire photos have no optical brighteners. This means that if a paper does not fluoresce brightly this does not mean it is necessarily old. However, with few exceptions, if a paper object fluoresces very brightly, it could not have been made before World War II.
The beauty of this black light test is you can use it on items where you are not an expert. You may be no expert on 1920s German Expressionist movie posters, World War I postcards or American Civil War etchings, but you can still identify many modern reprints of those items. The infamous Hitler Diaries were identified as forgeries in part because black light showed that it contained materials that were were too modern.
In the same way, the black light can also identify modern reproductions of antique cloth items, as the cloth and even stitching sometimes fluoresces very brightly if made after WWII. Game used and military uniform experts often use black light.
Identification of restoration and alterations
Black light is helpful in identifying many types of restoration and alteration to cards, posters, paintings, prints, furniture, photos, vases and more. These items can be altered by the addition of paper, glue, paint, varnish and/or other material. Items are typically restored to fix damage and make things appear in better condition.
As the added material often fluoresces differently than the rest of the item, the restoration can often be identified under black light. The restored part will stand out by either being brighter or darker than the rest of the material under black light. With paintings, restoration often appears as black spots and forged signatures often fluoresce much brighter than the rest of the painting.
To identify alterations, one should also look for visible light differences in texture, gloss, and opacity. In normal visible daylight light, when a print is put at an angle nearing 180 degrees to a desk lamp, the added paint, ink or paper will often have a different texture and gloss from the rest of the card surface. The added material also may be physically raised from the rest of the surface or an erased area will have different gloss. You might be able to feel the area with your fingertip.
Opacity is the ‘see through’ effect when you hold an item up to a light in visible light. If material is added to a poster or print, it will often appear darker than the rest of the translucent collectible.
Some dealers and collectors remove autographs from baseballs for aesthetic or financial reasons. For example, a single signed Joe DiMaggio baseball can be worth more than the same ball with the bat boy’s signature beneath. There is one or more companies that will remove autographs. While the removal may be difficult to see under normal daylight, the restoration shows up clearly under black light.
In some cases, baseball card forgeries are alterations to original cards. For example, a inexpensive baseball card may be changed into a rare and valuable variation by changing text, such as with the 1990 Fleer NNOF Frank Thomas and T206 Maggie spelling error. Close examination under black and visible light will usually give it away.
In a few cases, the forger covered the entire baseball card in a clear substance to try and cover up the alteration handiwork. The substance however gives the card a different gloss and black light fluorescence than other cards in the issue. Once, a beginning collector did not notice the altered text of one of cards, but was curious that the card was much glossier than his other cards from the same set. Examination by an expert revealed the alteration.
Another Way to Identify Reprints and Counterfeits Using Visible and Black Light.
A standard and effective way to detect trading card counterfeits and reprints is by directly comparing the card in question with one or more known genuine examples. Granted, it is uncommon for the collector to already own duplicates, especially if it is a 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth or 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle. However, good judgment can be made when comparing a card to different cards from the same issue. Comparing the Ruth to a bunch of low grade Goudey commons and the Mantle to a handful of other 1952 Topps.
A T206 Ty Cobb, and even a T206 Honus Wagner, was printed on the same sheet as T206 commons. The printers did not bring out special cardstock and VIP inks for the superstars. When you are studying the qualities of T206 commons, you are also studying the qualities of the T206 Wagner and Ed Plank.
In nearly all cases, counterfeits and reprints are significantly different than the real card in one and usually more than one way.
Comparing cards in both visual and black light is highly effective in identifying modern counterfeits. If you know how to properly compare cards, you should be able to identify a fake 1986-7 Fleer Michael Jordan and 1979-80 OPC Wayne Gretzky.
Before examination, the collector should be aware of variations within an issue. A genuine 1956 Topps baseball card can be found on dark grey or light grey cardboard. While the 1887 Old Judges are usually sepia in color, pink examples can be found. The examiner must also take into consideration reasonable variations due to aging and wear. A stained card may be darker than others. An extremely worn or trimmed card may be shorter and lighter in weight than others in the issue. A card that has glue on back will allow less light through when put up to the light. The collector will often have to make a judgment call when taking these variations into effect. This is why having experience with a variety of cards is important.
The following is a short list of things to look at. You are welcome to add your own observations to the list.
Obvious Differences: This can include text or copyright date indicating the card is a reprint, major size difference, wrong back. Many of these problems are obvious even in an online scan.
If you are experienced with an issue, perhaps you have collected Goudeys for the last few years, most reprints and counterfeits within that issue will be obvious. They simply will look bad even at first glance. The experienced eye is one of the most sophisticated scientific tools.
Black light Test. Studying the degree and color of fluorescence under a black light is an unbeatable tool for comparing ink and cardboard. If you spread out in the dark a pile of 1983 Topps with the exception that one is a 1983 OPC, the OPC will be easy to pick out with black light. The OPC is made out of a different card stock and fluoresces many times brighter than the Topps stock. This is the way it often works for reprints and counterfeits. Reprints and counterfeits were made with different cardstock and often fluoresce differently than the genuine cards. The reprint may fluoresce darker, lighter or with a different color. In some cases, a reprint and an original may fluoresce the same, but in most cases the black light will pick out the reprints with ease.
Visual light appearance of card stock and surfaces: This includes color, texture, feel, etc. The correct gloss is hard to one of the hardest things duplicate on a reprint, and most reprints will have different gloss than the original. Make sure to check both sides. A T206 and 1951 Bowman, for examples, have different textures front versus back. Make sure to check the thickness, color and appearance of the card’s thickness or edge. The edge often shows the cardstock to be different.
Visual Light Opacity: As already mentioned, opacity is measured by the amount of light that shines through an item, or the ‘see through’ effect.
Cardstock and ink vary in opacity. Some allow much light through, some allow none, while there rest will fall somewhere in between. Most dark cardboard will let through little if any light. White stocks will usually let through more. While two cardboard samples may look identical in color, texture and thickness, they may have different opacity. This could be because they were made they were made in different plants, at a different time and/or were made from different substances.
Testing opacity is a great way to compare cardstock and ink. The same cards should have the same or similar opacity.
Opacity tests should be done with more than one card from the issue. Comparisons should take into consideration variations due to age, staining, soiling and other wear, along with known card stock variations in the issue. It must be taken into consideration that normal differences in ink on the card will affect opacity. If one genuine T206 card has a darker picture (a dark uniformed player against dark background), it should let less light through than a genuine T206 card with a lighter picture (a white uniformed player against a light sky).
In nearly all cases, the differences between a questioned card and genuine examples will be significant enough that the collector will be nearly certain it is a fake.
Purchasing a black light
The collector should purchase a longwave ultraviolet light (‘black light’), as opposed to a shortwave ultraviolet light (often called UVC or germicidal light). Shortwave is important in a few specialty areas, including identifying stamps and gem, but longwave is the safest and all you need for the purposes of this article.
Black lights will usually be advertised as longwave, will have a wavelength of about 300-400 nanometers/nm (shortwave is usually 254nm) and are much more plentiful and cheaper than shortwave lights. A black light can be purchased for well under $20, while a decent shortwave light is in the $100+ range. This article pictures the two most common styles of black lights for sale, with shortwave lights usually looking significantly different.
Safety of black light
Black light is used by many collectors and hobbyists and is safe to use. In fact, sunlight and office and home lights give off UV. The key is to not stare directly at the light source, just as you shouldn’t stare at any light.
Ending This Article With Some Interesting If Useless Facts About Ultraviolet Light
There is a wide range of ultraviolet light, with black light only being a section of it. Ultraviolet research and use is a fascinating and varied area and the following are just a few interesting facts.
** Astrophysicists study the ultraviolet light emitted by planets, stars and galaxies to identify the chemical makeup and ages. Some distant stars can only be seen, and thus discovered, in the ultraviolet range. As the earth’s atmosphere blocks much ultraviolet, the ultraviolet is recorded and photographed from space stations and rockets.
** The Dane Niels Finsen won the 1903 Nobel Prize for Medicine for his use of ultraviolet in treating diseases, and ultraviolet light is used in many areas of medicine.
** Some animals can see black light and this vision has practical uses. Bees and butterflies identify flowers by markings that can only be seen in ultraviolet, and this is important for finding species of flowers in the shade and dark. Reindeer use their ultraviolet vision to find their staple food lichen and to avoid their predators, Polar Bears. Polar Bear urine can be seen in the ultraviolet range. Scorpions have ultraviolet sensors in their tails that tell them when it is safe to go outside at night.
** The goldfish is the only animal known to be able to see both ultraviolet and infrared light. Infrared is a range of light invisible to human eyes on the other side of the visible light spectrum.
** Ultraviolet is used in many areas of art, including ultraviolet photography, uv fluorescent paintings and murals, and black light theater where the costumes, body paint and props fluoresce. Image google “ultraviolet fluorescent portraits” and “blacklight murals” to see some interesting stuff.
When a collector says that they don’t make baseball cards like they used to they’re saying more than they likely realize. This article shows the unique antiquated methods by which 1800s baseball cards were printed, and how early baseball cards, fine art and photography overlap.
Printed baseball cards as original artworks
Today, we take for granted the photorealistic images printed on and in everything from baseball cards to calendars to posters to magazines. We can even make our own, using our digital cameras, scanners and phones and home computer printers. As many know, this ‘halftone photomechanical’ printing method translates the image, whether it is of a photo for a 1975 Topps card or a painting for 1953 Topps, into a fine minute dot pattern. You can see the dot pattern under strong magnification, and it is this fine pattern that make the images look realistic from normal eye distance.
However, in the centuries old history of printing this halftone reproduction of photographic images is relatively modern. It was invented in the 1870s, but not used commercially until the turn of the 20th century. Before then, photorealistic images in ink and printing press prints were not possible. If you look at the pictures in 1800s newspapers, magazines and books, the pictures are often attractive but resemble hand drawn sketches. If you examine them under magnification you will see that they are made up of solid lines and marks.
In the fine arts, antiques and antiquities world, “handmade prints” or “original prints” are prints where the graphics were made directly onto the printing plate by the artist or craftsman by hand or handheld tools. This is the way Rembrandt, Albrecht Durer and modern artists such as Picasso, Renoir and Chagall made their original prints that hang on museum walls. Handmade prints are considered the highest form of printmaking, and are considered as original of artworks as paintings and sculptures.
This handmade way is also the way early baseball cards and related baseball ephemera (posters, tobacco albums advertising signs, Spalding and Reach guide illustrations, etc) were made. With handmade lithography, such as with the 1880s Allen & Ginters and many trade cards, the graphics were made onto the printing stone by brush, pens and special handheld tools. These lithographs resemble little paintings, even up close, and are prized by collectors for their beauty and brilliant colors. With woodcut, woodengraving and intaglio (engraving, etching) prints, such as with the Harper’s Woodcuts, 1885 Red Sox Tobacco cards and numerous trade cards. the graphics were cut or carved into wood blocks or metal plates. This was a long and laborious processes and publishers and card issuers employed professional artists and craftsmen.
So when you own an 1800s Allen & Ginter or Goodwin Champions cigarette card, baseball trade card, advertising sign or Harper’s Woodcut, realize that you own a handmade artwork that pre-dates modern reproduction methods and it is as original as the Rembrandt or Picasso that hangs in the Louvre.
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1800s real photo cards
Beyond the ink-and-printing press trading cards, the other 1800s baseball cards are actual photographs. This includes the 1880s Old Judges, Gypsy Queens, Peck & Sniders, Lone Jacks, Newsboy Cabinets and other cards with photorealistic images.
Again, this was before printing presses could reproduce photorealistic images. The only way baseball card manufacturers could produce cards with photorealistic images of the players was to issue actual photographs.
Real photo images are created via the chemical interaction of sunlight and photochemicals, so there is no printed dot or ink pattern even under the microscope. This is part of the way these baseball cards are authenticated. If an Old Judge or Gypsy Queen image has a dot pattern, you know that it is a reprint.
These photo cards were made with an early photographic process called albumen. This was the standard paper photographic process of the day and most paper photos of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria and such are albumen. As an antique and commercially discontinued process, the following are some of the interesting aspects of the process and baseball cards:
— The albumen photopaper was extremely thin and fragile and would roll up like a cigarette with time, so it had to be pasted to cardboard backing. You will see that the 1800s photocards have cardboard backing and cabinet cards are by definition a photographic print pasted to a larger cardboard backing. As the paper shrank over time (causing the cigarette to roll if unbacked), many N172 Old Judges have a noticeable bow. You will occasionally find “skinned” cards, where the albumen photo was peeled off from the backing. As you would expect, these are graded as poor.
— Albumen means egg whites, and that is what was used to affix the photochemicals to photopaper. Photographic paper needs a clear substance to hold the chemicals to the paper and to allow the images to develop. 1800s photopaper manufacturers owned large chicken farms to produce all that albumen. By the 1900s gelatin had replaced albumen.
— Albumen photos and baseball cards are well known for their old fashioned sepia tones. This was a product of aging, and the images were originally much closer to black-and-white with some purplish tones. You will occasionally find a well preserved example with the original tones.
— Almost all 1800s real photo baseball cards are posed studio images, either portraits or fake action photos. The posed action shots often have painted backdrops, rugs as fake grass on wooden floors and balls hanging from strings. It is sometimes comical. This is all because it was not possible to to make instant
snapshots, much less live game action shots. The subjects had to stay perfectly still or the image would be blurry. In many American Civil War photographs, when the required exposure time needed was even longer, you will often see props and stands behind the standing soldier used to keep him still.
— A rarely used method of adding color dye to the photopaper was invented in the 1880s. Though possible to find blue and yellow albumen photographs, pink was technically the easiest to make and you will see a number of pink Old Judge cards. The down side of this novelty color is that the pink cards are usually underdeveloped.
— Realize that in the 1800s, many people who lived outside of the big cities followed the big teams and stars in the newspapers and magazines but never saw the games, much less the players, in person. Before television, easy travel and magazines with realistic pictures, pulling an Old Judge or Gypsy Queen photographic card from a pack of cigarettes was often a fan’s first time seeing what a star such as King Kelly or Cap Anson really looked like. It was akin to meeting the player in person.
David Cycleback is an internationally known art and artifacts scholar who grew up collecting baseball cards and following the Milwaukee Brewers. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org