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I put this short article together to help make both collectors and dealers more aware of the forger and his fakes on the UK market. Its a never ending problem here in the UK and elsewhere, although less so in the USA after the FBI closed down many of their fake memorabilia shops.
Many have been ripped off by the fraudsters that create and sell the fake autographed memorabilia on eBay, the internet and even on the high street. I am sure you have all seen the many mainly small time forgers in the UK on eBay and elsewhere, but few frauds were as big as the one created by the Marino brothers in the USA. They created a business worth millions of $ on the back of fake signed items, the gullibility of the buying public, and the greed of memorabilia shop owners, many of which were well aware of the fraud.
After a very long investigation, the FBI finally took action in a sting they called "operation Bullpen" which resulted in a haul of fake signed memorabilia large enough to fill a warehouse. Some of this fake signed memorabilia and autographs are still being sold on eBay and elsewhere, but not on the scale that the Marino brothers achieved. You can find out a lot more about Operation Bullpen by clicking here.
The Marino family are now gone, and today the forgers are mostly just one man bands, who sell it on to mug dealers (who of course think they are buying the real thing from a genuine source) who then sell it on to high street framing shops, via eBay or more recently Gumtree (also owned by ebay) or any of the other internet auction style sites, free ads in newspapers (often pretending to be collectors selling some of their collection) and increasingly in those High Street second hand ‘Cheque Changer’ style shops which seem to be on every High Street.
Some of these forgers are very clever, creating a little world of their own, where they claim to be working in the music business, or perhaps at Pinewood studios, or the news media. Most have a very plausible story, which if fully checked out, would of course have some very large holes in it! But of course it can’t be checked, as the forger will tell you that he can’t tell you too much, or he would get the sack!
These forgers normally sell these fakes to other small time sellers rather than sell them on directly to the public themselves, this way they are much less likely to get caught. The buyers are often totally fooled by their lies, and in some cases are even convinced that the forger is supplying them alone. In truth of course, he will be offering the same fakes to anyone he can find, as long as they are not the buyers next door neighbour of course.
The buyers are further fooled by the COA’s that some of these crooks provide, or the photos of the forger with various well known celebrities. Some of the buyers are aware that what they are buying is fake, but believe that as they are getting a COA with each item, that will mean that they are not responsible for them if they are later told they are fake, but how wrong they are!
But, as a seller, you and you alone are totally responsible for not just what you sell, but also for taking due care in ensuring that what you have bought, is what it purports to be. This was made very clear in the judges summing up in the Sporting Icons trial of 2008, as this was part of the defence that both Faisal Medani and Graeme Walker used in an effort to avoid a jail sentence. The good news was that their plan failed, and they both received jail sentences!
It is sometimes painfully obvious to even the non collector, that some of the items being sold on eBay for instance are fake, but Trading Standards and the Police are always loath to do anything about it, which is a disgrace, especially as some of these one man band forgers are raking in £5000 plus per week, and all tax free of course!
But of course, the Police or TS cannot put forward a prosecution based on "surely it must be fake, it looks nothing like the real thing to me" the case has to based on fact, and that means that they have to actually prove to a jury, "beyond reasonable doubt" that the items are fake, and that the seller produced them himself, or was at least aware of those facts.
Most forgers are fairly clever, but some will often miss spell names, sign photos that were not available until after the stars death, or sign photos of vintage stars with a felt tip pen. I have personally seen Laurel and Hardy photos signed in felt tip pen, and this forger was one of the worst I have ever seen, and only survived about 6 months before a Trading Standards office in wales decided to take some swift action.
The forger turned out to be a woman living in the worst conditions I have ever seen (I was directly involved in the case and attended the house on the day the warrant was served), and although tens of thousands of £’s had gone through her account, she claimed it was not her money, and was all done by a mysterious man called ‘Jason’ although she could not offer a shred of evidence that Jason even existed! She was let off with a suspended sentence and you can details of this here.
Here are the Laurel and Hardy signatures on the vintage sepia 10” x 8” that was found during the raid on Louise Marney’s house. She actually managed to sell these to a collector!
As you can see, they are not very good! and most obviously, signed in felt tip pen, which were not even available when Hardy was alive, and very unusual when Stan was around. Despite this, she had been able to sell this item as authentic, and possibly dozens of other similar ones to buyers on eBay.
What was even more surprising was that when we found the photo it was still with the letter from the customer who had returned it for a refund. The customer had written a short but concise letter requesting a refund, as she believed the signatures must be fake, as she had reason to believe that the photo was produced after both Stan and Ollie had passed away, so therefore the signatures must be fake. No mention of the very wobbly signatures or the felt tip pen at all.
Another forger who lives very north of Watford, is currently turning out some very good Laurel and Hardy forgeries.
A number have turned up on eBay over the past few of years, maybe longer, and I suspect the forger has also targeted the usual second hand shops, antique markets, and small local auctions (a favourite for the lone forger, as these auction houses normally have little or no knowledge of autographs).