How Experts Authenticate -- Or Debunk -- Jerseys Billed As 'Game Worn'

Rick Gregg
November 20, 2018 - 10:04 pm
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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- It’s one thing for a collector to say Michael Jordan actually wore the No. 23 Bulls jersey serving as the centerpiece of his Man Cave. It’s another to be able to prove it.

These days, he just might be able to. Third-party authentication services are devoting teams of analysts to “photo-matching” -- that is, lining up individual jerseys to pictures of athletes in specific games.

“Getty Images is what they commonly use,” says Tony Giese of Heritage Auctions, considered the largest collectibles auctioneer in the world. “They can make high-resolution photos, then count the mesh holes in jerseys and actually match (them). Certain threads on a football jersey, they can match up wear, repairs, hit marks, grass marks, that sort of thing.”

It’s an expensive process, but being able to establish specific provenance can really pay off.

“A Michael Jordan jersey is a great example of that,” says Giese. “Take a $20,000 jersey. Now, it’s $200,000 if it’s photo-matched. It’s so difficult to do it, but if it’s done, it’s really taken that (value) and driven it way, way, way up.”

Even though Giese deals primarily in high-value, rare memorabilia, he and Heritage had a prime position right inside the entrance to this past weekend’s Chicago Sports Spectacular. There’s a reason for that.

“When I started six years ago at Heritage,” he says, “we would have memorabilia and cards in the same auction. It’s gotten to the point that the card auctions have just really taken off. Last year we did $100 million in sales -- a lot of that is in cards.”

Specifically, high-quality cards from the 1950s and 1960s.

“Of course, the high-graded stuff is hard to find,” he says, “because back then people would play with the cards, they’d flip the cards, they’d put them in their bicycle spokes.  Highly graded ‘50s and ‘60s cards have never been better.”

That, too, is thanks to better technology and third-party authenticators, who take a flat fee to opine not only on whether a card is real or fake -- but on just how well-preserved a card is.

“Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” says Giese, “I could tell you it’s mint, or near mint. Some other guy’s going to say ‘ex-mint.’ Now, there’s actually a third-party grading company. There’s actually multiple ones that will grade a baseball card. The centering, the corners, the clarity. All that stuff is factored in, and it’s really taken the market and made it more legitimate.”

Heritage is based in Dallas, but has an office in Chicago, and collectors interested in appraisals or auctions can reach the company at www.ha.com.