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Any dealer will tell you that this is a very common question, and certainly not an easy one to answer. The simple answer from the dealers point of view is "you don't, but i do!" After all the dealer has very likely spent many years learning his trade, possibly spent hours researching the signature, maybe asked another dealer for second opinion, or has perhaps stood for half a day outside a stage door or nightclub waiting for the said person to come along and provide his signature, but he is not likely to spend an hour explaining all that to you is he!
If you are only just starting out in collecting, or indeed maybe you have been doing this for years, there is one simple rule that you must always adhere too when first looking at a signature with a view to purchase. Remember this rule, stick by it every time and i guarantee you will buy far less fakes than you may have done in the past.
So what is this rule? Well, it can be a little difficult to get your head around at first, and will will constantly fall back to your own ways, so you may need to keep reminding yourself about it. Remember this....... always assume that every signature you look at with a view to purchase is not authentic, and never ever allow any story or suggestion from the seller to influence you. You must always allow the signature only (ie. not the story, COA, photoproof or anything else) to prove to you that it is authentic. Only if the signature itself can prove to you that is good, then and only then should you consider any background story or provenance.
Stick with that rule, and i promise you that you will buy far fewer fakes than you have in the past. Of course if you are buying an item from a reputable dealer who is a Registered UACC or AFTAL dealer (and always double check this), then you have far less to worry about, but you should never simply accept a COA or a story as 'proof' that what you are being offered is authentic. Building a relationship with a dealer is very important, so dont say you dont believe them when they say they obtained the signature in person, but do take time to look for the obvious, check their membership details, talk to them about the item or ask questions about the hobby in general, get to know them and you will find they can be a fountain of knowledge and help.
There are of course many things that you need to consider when buying, and i cannot cover them all here, but keep the above in mind, and i will tell you more of what to look for in a future blog.