IT'S A FAKE: APPLYING THE STAGES OF GRIEF TO AUTOGRAPH COLLECTING
By: Frank D. Rich, Lead Writer
Visit any place on the internet where people talk about autographs and it won’t take you long to find the post. You know the one and its heartbreaking every time it happens.
Someone has proudly shared a photo of one of their favorite autographs. Maybe it’s brand new, or they’ve had it for years, but the facts are devastating either way. The autograph is not authentic. It’s a forgery.
Now think about that same post and what happens next. Members start to respond, letting the person know the autograph is not authentic. Replies may start out politely, but before long become "blunt" to put it mildly.
And then the person who posted the photo responds.
Instead of the congratulatory replies they were expecting, person after person has told them their pride and joy is a forgery. What they thought was real is not. Their connection to the person they thought signed the item severed. The money they spent on the autograph wasted. They’ve been taken advantage of, or even worse, someone they care about was taken advantage of when they purchased the autograph for them as a gift (especially tragic when that person has since passed away and the autograph holds even more meaning to them.)
This is emotional. This is loss. This is grief.
The Kübler-Ross Model, commonly referred to as the Five Stages of Grief, was developed to illustrate the emotions experienced by terminally ill patients prior to death, but has since been applied to other situations such as children grieving in divorce, the loss of a serious relationship, substance abuse and incarceration.
“The five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost." wrote Dr. Kübler-Ross. "They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief.”
Although there doesn't seem to be empirical research or evidence supporting the five stages, I see all but "Bargaining" play out in just about every forgery thread I’ve ever read. Understanding these stages and responding accordingly plays a major part in building and maintaining strong collecting communities.
The person does not believe the replies stating the autograph is a forgery and remains convinced it is authentic. They often state the autograph was obtained in-person or from a source above reproach.
When the person can no longer continue denying the facts they become frustrated. This often takes the form of insults, or questioning the knowledge, authority or competency of those responding.
The hostile nature of the person’s responses become sullen as they recognize their autograph is more likely than not a forgery.
The person has come to believe what everyone has told them is true. They may apologize for their earlier posts or thank the people who responded for helping them.
Now, why is this important in building strong and supportive autograph collecting communities?
Let’s go back to that thread and think about the responses which were less than kind. If someone you knew, a family member, friend or colleague had experienced some type of loss, how would you talk to them? How would you like people to talk to you if you had just experienced a loss of some kind?
I am not implying that learning an autograph is a forgery is the same as losing a loved one or divorce, but the emotional experience is also rooted in loss. The chance of a thread escalating, especially during the "Anger" stage, is very high. Recognize what the collector is going through and don’t feed the fire. Of course there is no onus on any collector, in any group, to think of the feelings of others in their responses, but those who do not and claim to be fostering a sense of community are hypocritical at best.
Equally as important as considering the person’s feelings before responding is recognizing your own level of knowledge in your niche of collecting. Consider if you are qualified to give advice before posting. Acknowledge that your response is your opinion, and ideally why you feel that way. Posting a photo of an autograph from the same signer you received in-person for comparison is also generally helpful. Responses by people who are not qualified that are framed as definitive, or “jumping on the bandwagon” because others have said the autograph is a forgery doesn’t help anyone. Education is the key.
Another reason to assess your knowledge level before responding is even professionals aren't able to correctly authenticate every signature. The Cardboard Connection writes in it's feature "Autograph Authentication for Sports Memorabilia Collectors" that "Most reputable authenticators, themselves, will admit that even under the best circumstances, their findings are merely an opinion. It is not concrete proof of a genuine autograph."
I tend to place the majority of the responsibility here on those who have the most experience but that does not absolve the new collector from doing their part as well. If you are a new collector, or new to a particular collecting group, it’s important to understand from the start that your autograph may not be authentic and people will let you know. Get to know the people who are the most knowledgeable in your niche or group and appreciate their time and expertise when they give you feedback.
The bottom line is if you did not get the autograph yourself, in person, there is never a guarantee it is an authentic signature. It’s the rare collector who has never purchased a forged autograph and that is an important message for communities to share and collectors of all levels to never forget.