Cameras and microphones tend to find Steve Grad, which is fine by him.
Grad, Principle Authenticator for Beckett Authentication Services, called into Newstalk 1010 AM in Toronto, Canada, while on location for Fan Expo Canada late last month.
Grad spoke about his history and the state of the hobby. Below are some excerpts from the conversation as well as the link to the whole talk.
On getting into the authentication business
I started getting into autographs when I was 8 years old. I just turned 49 recently. It’s been a lifelong thing. I started chasing autographs, running around the ballpark. Once you learn how to do it, you get this sickness – a mix up of passion and sickness. You want to keep doing it more and you learn more and do it more. Next thing you know, I’m in hotels and airports and training camps. It kind of just builds a knowledge base in my head. Then I also have a good feel for vintage stuff, and I had been around it so much in my life. With Babe Ruth, Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, you get a database built up in your head. It just worked out for me. I was in the right place at the right time in terms of authentication. That’s how the TV thing worked out. I am able to be on Pawn Stars and bring that to TV now. I find it fascinating. People ask me, “You look at autographs for a living? There is a real job for that?” Yeah there is, believe it or not.
On forensics being part of the authentication process
In the last 15-20 years, the forensics has been abused too much. There are real forensic guys who are fantastic at what they do, and they bring out their tools and heavy equipment. Then there are guys who claim to be forensic (experts) but just put a rubber stamp on things. That’s bad for my industry, to be honest with you. I match up handwriting and then working from there. People say to me, “Well you had to go to school for that?” There really isn’t a school to learn to be an autograph authenticator. I think you either know it, or you don’t know it. There is a big separation there. I feel as if I know it pretty well, and I have been able to do it successfully for many years now. I enjoy looking at all this stuff. It is a gigantic business. It’s really crazy to see what it has turned into since I was a little kid. I’m going to comic cons, sports shows, sport shops and all kids of different places to authenticate autographs because people need that verification to sell the item.
On his method of authenticating
You just start comparing the letters and how (the signer) did things – spacing and sizing. If you have an intuition about stuff, and I do with autographs, you are able to analyze that.
On autographs being lower quality today
You take any hockey Hall of Famer, especially the old guys, and they all wrote so nice. Gordie How is a great example. Bobby Hull, who still signs, their autographs are beautiful. Now you see someone like Alexander Ovechkin, it’s just scribble. I think a lot of these young guys just don’t even care. And I think years ago, I think people were taught to take pride in signing their name, making it look nice and legible. Harmon Killabrew is a great example of that. You can look at his signature and read every letter. And now the players, I don’t think they really care. They think everybody is trying to sell it. Also, everybody is in their face for stuff to sign. For them, it kind of gets old after a while. I don’t think (young athletes) think about (lasting legacy of autographs). They get mobbed so much. Vladimir Guerrero Jr is a great example. His autograph has been garbage. I have said that since Day 1. There is not much there, it is pretty ugly. He knows most people he is signing for are going to sell it. If he is signing a ball for a guy in the stands, the likelihood of that being sold if pretty high. It is very rare you will find a player that signs anything legibly anymore. I don’t know if they are capable of it. Same with celebrities, too. Most of them sign chicken scratch.
Full audio here.