Marc Bolan and T Rex autographs, memorabilia and scams
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11 October 2007
From my personal experience the vast majority of people buying and selling on Ebay are honest and trustworthy. However, as in all walks of life, there are some whose only reason for being on Ebay is to rip you off. I have been trading (buying and selling) on Ebay for a number of years and in that time have found a number of scams and dubious practices. I hate to see people being ripped off so the following is intended as a 'rough guide' to buying on Ebay. Remember... if it looks like a fake it probably is a fake! Autographs This is by far the biggest area of concern and, for the inexperienced buyer, the biggest minefield. A lot of people on Ebay are making a lot of money by faking autographs - some fakes are obvious but many are very good. Unfortunately for Marc fans his autograph is not the most difficult to fake and turns up on a fairly regular basis on Ebay. A genuine Marc autograph will fetch upwards of £100 depending on what it is signed on. Autographed album sleeves have previously turned up in auctions but autographed photos of Marc are, surprisingly, very rare. Rarer still are fully signed T Rex items - these hardly ever turn up, and if you want a set of John's Children or Marc and Steve Took autographs together you can keep on dreaming! What to watch out for 'High Bidder: User ID kept private' Ask yourself WHY the seller would want to keep the identity of the bidders private? Personally I think this option should be banned when listing autographs as it is open to so much abuse. Sellers will, quite legitimately, have more than one Ebay user name. With hidden ID they can bid against themselves to either force up the price someone is willing to pay or just to make an item look genuine - for arguements sake if an item you are interested in has 20 bids from six different buyers then, if you have any doubts about the items authenticity, you then begin to believe that it must be genuine as it is generating so much interest from other buyers. Low starting bids with no reserve price If a Marc autograph is worth £100+ then why run the risk of having to sell it for £5 or £10? A forger can afford to sell it for £10 as it has not cost him/her anything. Auction duration / Buy It Now Ebay have 1, 3, 5, 7 and 10 day auctions. Genuine sellers want to achieve the maximum price for any given item so would not place an expensive item on a a short time duration. Forgers are keen to shift items quickly and often use short auctions. Ebay introduced 'Buy It Now' a few years ago which helps sellers to shift items quickly. This works well when the items sold are not one off items such as autographs. Sometimes the Buy It Now price is considerably higher than the start price and reflects the true value. If a Buy It Now price is suspiciously cheap then be suspicious! Certificate of Authenticity Certificate of Authenticities, or COA's as they are commonly referred to, are usually a waste of paper. They are usually created, printed and signed by the person who is selling the item - if someone is going to the trouble of forging a signature then they have no qualms about supplying a COA. If a seller is a member of a recognised body such as UACC (more about that later) then a COA may add to the items value. Beware of sellers issuing a COA for an item thay never saw signed - their usual disclaimer is that they have obtained the item from a third party. Most forgers are not that knowledgeable about the artists they forge and are usually evasive when pushed for details regarding the actual signing. Always request a receipt with the item - this probably carries more weight with the law in the event that the item is later proven to be fake. If a COA is issued it should carry a 'lifetime' guarantee as a genuine autograph does does not 'expire' and become a fake after a given period. Beware of sellers offering a refund on an items found to be fake. On the surface it seems like a good gesture on their behalf but it really means that they (a) know the item to be fake as they forged it themselves, (b) suspect the item to be fake or (c) they have not got a clue what they are selling. What the seller is really trying to do is appear to be honest and to protect their feedback. 'History' & 'Feedback' Always check who has bid on the item and beware of too many bidders with low or zero feedback. If you are suspicious about a seller then go to the 'Feedback' section and then look at the last 6 (or more) items sold by the seller. With these 6 items look at the 'History' and see if the same buyer names turn up in the bidding history but never actually win any of the auctions. Sometimes you will see a fake bidder retracting their highest bid just before the end of the auction to make sure that the genuine bidder pays their maximum bid amount - I have seen this happen! Always check the 'Feedback' rating. If someone has less than 100% positive feedback then try to find out why and what the problems were. Sometimes genuine sellers end up with negative feedback through misunderstandings or postal problems etc. I have seen sellers with 20 or more negative feedbacks and have still bought from them as they had 5,000 or more positives - it's all relative. However if a seller has negative feedback relating to the authenticity of an item then do you really want to buy autographs from him or her? And now for the 'Chicken Soup Story'...Recently I stumbled on a seller with an item I was interested in and the seller had 100+ positives and no negatives but suspicions were raised when I saw that he had only been trading for less than a month. When I checked the items he had sold via the 'Feedback' section I found he had sold over 100 chicken soup recipes for $0.01 (1 cent). Some sellers will try to pass off fake items with a seemingly good feedback rating. Buyer beware! Usually when someone has bid on an item then they have already convinced themself that the item is genuine. In which case they will give a positive feedback as long as they received the item in good condition and in a reasonable timescale. Potential buyers who are aware that an autograph is a fake simply do not bid and therefore cannot leave negative feedback. Always check what other items are for sale by the same seller - if a seller has a lot of signed items and the starting prices are very low then they are probably fakes. Scans of Autographs If the seller does not show the autograph then request a scan. If you cannot get to see a scan then AVOID! A seller will often show the autographed item in the listing but it will be so small as to be impossible to tell if it is genuine. I have never understood why someone selling a signed LP sleeve will then show the full sleeve when the value of the sleeve and the interest is in the autograph. Beware of sellers showing the front cover of a book when the autograph is on the fly page - what are they trying to hide? As always there are exceptions to the rule. Recently a signed copy of Warlock of Love was for sale on Ebay yet the seller only showed the front cover of the book - I requested a scan of the autograph and much to my surprise it appeared to be genuine. Beware of items signed in the dark areas of photos and sleeves - this is a well used trick by the forgers to disguise that fact that it is a fake. Authenticity by Association This is not strictly related to Marc items but I thought it worthy of a mention. How many times do you see either on Ebay or at an autograph fair a photo of a celebrity with a autograph collector. I believe most people at a memorabilia fair will see the signed picture of their favourite star; see the picture of the guy behind the stall (the seller) with the celebrity and assume that the autograph must be genuine. However a more cynical person, such as myself, would think it MAY be genuine. If the guy behind the stall had a mind to he or she could get one photo with the celebrity and then forge another dozen or more - it would be that easy. Photos with celebrities do not make a forged autograph genuine! I read an article a while back where a professional autograph hunter got to meet Paul McCartney and requested an autograph and a picture with him. McCartney, who is quite an astute fellow, said he could have either but not both. The collector chose to have the autograph. In case you were not aware - McCartneys autograph is hard to get and subsequently quite valuable but is also heavily faked. If a seller on Ebay shows a picture of a celebrity signing an autograph how do you know if that picture is showing the seller - do you know what he or she looks like? A while ago I saw a signed Buzz Aldrin photo on Ebay. The seller was in the UK and he showed a picture of Buzz signing a book yet the item he was selling was a photo. The backdrop behind Buzz related to a signing session to promote his latest book. A good knowledge of your subject is important when trying to ascertain whether an item is genuine. I know for a fact that Buzz has done a tour around the USA to promote his book but I also know that he would NOT sign any other item on a book promotion. Dedicated Autographs Most people prefer to buy autographs which are undedicated. The vast majority of Marc autographs are undedicated - and quite often without any inscription other than the autograph itself. I cannot recall seeing any fake dedicated Marc autographs. Some people are of the opinion that a forger would not fake a dedicated autograph - I tend to disagree with that as I have seen numerous Apollo/space related autographs which are dedicated forgeries. Some signers will ONLY give out dedicated autographs to stop, or reduce the value of, the autograph in the event of it being sold. I know of one Apollo astronaut who for some considerable time has not signed his official NASA portrait litho. The signed copies which do exist from a while ago are invariably dedicated - an undedicated autograph would be extremely rare. Signed Index Cards A signed index card is simply a piece of white card, or other type of plain paper, signed by a celebrity. Typically the signed item is then mounted with a photo of the celebrity. Most people buying these are happy to have an autograph and picture ready mounted and ready to put in a frame. I have two main problems with these items. First of all what you are buying is an autograph - the decoration around it is virtually irrelevant to the actual value of the item. Sellers put them into nice mounts with photos to simply make the item more attractive to YOU and more sellable for THEM - you are the quarry (a little Moz reference!). Secondly, would it not be so easy for a forger to buy a box of new index cards, practice an autograph and then simply sign a few cards - there are many, many examples of this on Ebay. I always view signed index cards with a cynical eye. However, there are always exceptions to the rule. If you collect historical autographs then signed bits of paper, quite often clipped from the bottom of a signed letter, are the only available samples. Such items are then best presented mounted up with a photograph. Could It Have Been Signed? In recent years I have come across a handful of Marc 'signed' items which simply could not be. I saw a 'signed' copy of Telegram Sam on Ebay - it was removed when I pointed out to the seller that he was showing Marc's autograph on a circa 1980 reissue copy of the single with (photographic) picture sleeve. In an autograph shop in London, which has since disappeared, I found a very nice 'signed' 10x8 pic of Marc circa 1977 - however the photo credit at the bottom of the page was for the Marc Bolan Fan Club in Trowbridge. UACC The Universal Autograph Collectors Club is one of the most respected organisations for autograph dealers. There are two levels of membership with UACC - 'member' and 'registered dealer'. The registered dealers are vetted before acceptance and have to show their registered number at Autograph fairs. Quite often they will sell on Ebay. Details about registered dealers, such as contact details etc, can be found on the UACC website (see links at the foot of this page). Beware of sellers claiming to be UACC members - if they cannot prove it then they are probably not. Records & Memorabilia I have recently seen a number of Tyrannosaurus Rex singles for sale with picture sleeves. However on closer inspection these sleeves have turned out to be the reprints made by Rumblings in the 80's. For the record, the only Tyrannosaurus Rex singles to have picture sleeves were Debora, One Inch Rock and King of the Rumbling Spires. These three sleeves were only supplied with the PROMO versions of the singles. The standard copies sold through shops had Regal Zonophone branded company sleeves. The three promo sleeves are very rare and are usually found with the promo singles - be suspicious of standard stock singles sold with promo sleeves as they are probably the repro versions. I have listed the obvious differences between the original promo sleeves and the reprinted sleeves below. Debora - sleeve is printed green on white paper One Inch Rock - black and white sleeve (the most difficult one to tell from the reprint version) Pewter Suitor - there was no UK sleeve for this one King of the Rumbling Spires - sleeve is black and white with a scallop cut to the opening (not a straight cut as Rumblings version) By The Light Of A Magical Moon - there was no UK sleeve for this one Other Rumblings reprinted items such as the 'For the Lion...' programme have turned up on Ebay in recent months - sometimes listed as reprinted but often not. The original 'For the lion...' was printed dark brown on cream paper and the Rumblings reprinted version was black on white paper. White label singles/albums are not always what they first appear to be. I have seen some copies which looked as though the original labels had been removed and replaced with white labels. Special caution should be taken with the T Rex Wax Co/EMI UK albums. I have seen records advertised simply as, for instance, 'white label Tanx LP'. When I have asked the seller about the matrix number on the run out groove it transpires that the white label is actually a Marc on Wax version of the album - and consequently worth a fraction of a genuine 1970's EMI album!
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