What’s Will Been Up To? A Tale of 3 Estate Sales

Will Seippel, our WorthPoint CEO and founder always has something interesting going on, whether it’s running the company, selling on eBay, or searching for treasures. Every so often we like to check in with Will to see what he has been up to. Follow along as Will gives us a behind the scenes peek into the world of Will.

Authentic autograph of 1952 Olympic winners Emil and Dana Zatopek, picturing Emil chasing Dana with a javelin.

Over the past 90 days, I have run into a large quantity of autographs at 3 different estate sales. This was odd as I rarely run into large autograph collections, and to run into 3 in that span of time was truly odd. I approach autographs carefully because what I do not know would fill a book. I also know fakes are rampant in that industry and it is generally buyer beware. Following are a few comments on how I dealt with this situation and pointers to pass on to our readers.

First Tale

The first collection was part of a larger private estate sale I was called in to bid on. For those of you who watch my sales, I got some killer movie posters from this particular sale that I have been selling since last summer, but I have almost concluded that supply. While I know a lot about posters and could make an intelligent offer, the autographs concerned me. Especially the high dollar ones.

This was an especially tough sale to deal with because they had hired an estate liquidator that pushed very hard to get the highest dollar. I have learned, by going to Antiques Roadshow, to ask a lot of questions such as, “Where did your deceased husband buy these?” My concerns were:

  • the quantity of the autographs;
  • the deceased’s lack of expertise;
  • many were bought online;
  • most had COA’s (Certificate of Authentications) by firms I had not heard of.

The agent was also pushing for a VERY strong price with no “money back guarantees.” Essentially, I was the insurance policy. The total “ask” was more than $15,000. While there may have been 500 autographs, and perhaps more, the value was concentrated in some key ones. Since a lot were bought online without the better authentications, I had to assume that 40% of the autographs were fake, and perhaps higher. This problem would be concentrated in the higher end autographs, because no one bothers to fake the sergeant from the television series F Troop, Larry Storch.

Hence my first move was to take a picture of the Franklin Roosevelt and Lou Gehrig autographs. I did not like the Gehrig because it had a frame and looked like it had been packaged to wow an unknowledgeable buyer. The Roosevelt was a pre-presidency one and on a document, so it had potential, although I am wary of secretarial signatures.

With the snap of my cell phone, I sent the Gehrig off to a sports expert and the other to Steve Sipe, our autograph dealer, and they came back with thumbs down., but he Roosevelt had potential. Well a 50/50 outcome and not good. I passed on my concern to the widow and agent and they offered to get a dozen looked at by an unnamed group. After spending $3,000, they came back with 7 bad and 5 good; the averages got worse and the price did not change. I ran. Someone I know bought them and they are not happy as the total faked was about 60%. Ouch! I did get the widow to toss in the nude celebrity photo/autographs for free with the posters I bought. Apparently, those were largely obtained in person, they were 95%+ correct, and are bringing $20-$100 each for over 100 autographs.

Second Tale

The second collection was found at another estate sale. Again, ask questions! The deceased was also a retired executive. His conglomerate sponsored sporting events back in the 1960’s and he would get the autographs of the celebrities. This was a good sign. He also was a very focused collector and sought to get the autographs first hand and did that for the next 50 years. He had amassed perhaps 10,000 autographs. Since most were obtained first hand AND they were personalized, the likelihood of outright fakes was low. My concern was then limited to secretarial autographs and autopens (signed by machines). Generally, autopens do not do personalized autographs. Thus, my expected “good” outcome was 80%+. There were a lot of lower dollar autographs that range from $10 -$40 and there were a number that run in the $100+ range.

My favorite one so far is from a Czech couple (Zatopek’s) that both won gold in the 1952 Olympics. There’s was a sweet tale, because they were born almost at the same time and won the gold minutes apart. Emil won triple gold that year for running and Dana for the javelin. Emil, at the last minute ran the marathon that year, won the gold, and is claimed by many to be the best runner of all times. His jest was that he inspired her. Dana challenged him to see if other women could be so inspired, hence on the autograph, she is chasing him with the javelin. Eventually, Emil spoke out too much for the Communists in charge of the Czech Republic and was sentenced to hard labor. Thus, all did not end well for the fantasy marriage.

I purchased about 4,000 autographs at the sale and purposely showed up for the second and last day of the sale. Although I may have missed some great things, the price was right and I paid somewhere between $1-$2 an item. I was sure the “bad” rate would be low and I hoped I walked out with some great items, including 100+ letters from the infamous baseball league “The Girls of Summer.” I quickly sold the autographed Outer Limit cards and a handful of the Olympians and made most of my money back!

Third Tale

The third collection involved yet another estate. I went in with a friend and bought out the photo and paper trove of a deceased celebrity. This was mostly sight unseen with only a few photos of the collection. It had not been stored properly so condition was an issue, but it was a large collection and priced “only” at several thousand dollars.  There was a lot there for the money and the thought was that a celebrity generally would not have forged autographs from other celebrities.

This past weekend I took the items to Steve Sipe of Global Authentications in LA. I asked Steve and another of his experts to go through the highlights of what I had gotten from the 3 collections and tell me the good or bad news!  The results were:

  • While we passed on the bulk of the collection in the first estate sale, 90% plus of the nudes were authentic! Cha-ching! They were tossed in on the poster collection and will bring $5K-$10K. Finding out things were bought in person and were personalized, matters, as well as finding the spouse that wants to get rid of the hubby’s nude/naughty collection.
  • The large estate on the final day of the sale. Almost 99%+ of the collection is good. The only “bad” ones were signed by someone for Michael Jordan and those were authorized and still have residual value. We are getting certificates on the high-end ones and off to the races. The lower value $10-$40 ones I will sell uncertified and note as such about their origin, and make use of eBay’s 30-day money back guarantee. There is a large number of actors, astronauts, and Olympians in this collection, so stay tuned. The last day of a true estate sale that is full of items can bring some great opportunities.
  • The celebrity estate was a mixed event. I say that as an understatement because the return on the paper/ephemera from the sale will be better than expected, after having looked at the items. There was over 100 pounds when examined and condensed, better than expected. The autographs were about 50%+ good and of high quality. We will let Steve finish this work but 1-2 gems will cover the entire purchase. Steve also found a space document from Alan Shepard that is very significant in a scrapbook and we will talk about it another day. For now, we are content with some great Marlon Brandos, Clint Eastwoods and Gregory Pecks. There were quite a few autopen-signed photos that had a personalization added. The saving grace here is we bought in bulk, bought for the ephemera, and the autographs that are good will be a very pleasant surprise. Then…there is the space document….

Steve, thank you for your help! Steve gives discounts for WorthPoint subscribers. Check him out on this website!

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