Saturday, October 13, 2012

OPINION - Autopens

Have you ever sent off an autograph request through the mail?  When you got your card back have you ever questioned the authenticity of your signature?

With the onslaught of requests (that a player just would not be able to keep up with) some atheletes have resorted to using an autopen.  What is an autopen you ask?  It's a machine used for the automatic signing of a signature.  After a metal template (or matrix as its called) is loaded into the machine, the autopen then writes the signature out in pen.  It's the signature of the player, but it's not the actual player sitting down and doing the signing for each item.

An automated pen.

Many athletes have adopted the autopen.  Nolan Ryan, Muhammed Ali and Wayne Gretzky to name just a few.

Here's a quick article showing a couple of Gretzky's autos superimposed.  You can see the exactness of the signatures.  No question it was done with an autopen - nobody can duplicate their signature so exactly.

Note the "start/stop" ink buildups.  A clear sign of an autopen.

Now while I would be a little disappointed receiving an autopen signature show up in the mail, I can kind of understand the need for it.  Would I rather have that than potentially nothing?  I guess.  The sheer volume of requests would put me so far back in line I might never see the item come back.

But that's for through the mail requests.  Something where I send something out in hopes........I repeat IN HOPES of getting something in return.

Now what if you found something of sort in your pack of hockey cards?

Things change right?

Well, there's a really interesting debate going on about the authenticity of an athlete's signature as it appears in multiple products this season.  It appears that the signature was not done, hand, by the player himself.

Take a look at these signatures...

That's the signature belonging to Anaheim Ducks rising star Devante Smith-Pelly.  While the signatures do have a feeling of variation, the similarities of them are very - very telling.

Some feel that the use of a stamp of some sort is being used.  This would explain the differences in pen pressure and the odd ink spot.

In this instance, it looks like the stamp slipped which has left a thicker auto (but is still consistent with the above examples).

Somebody even took the time to note some of the areas that are most consistent from signature to signature on cards from the various products.

After seeing this, take a look at the signatures above.

They all have it - undeniable.

Now can a player have this consistent a signature?  No.  I just signed my names 10 times and while I think I have a pretty consistent autograph, there is no question that the nuances in my sig vary - a lot.

For a player to have this consistent a signature - even if they are taking their time.....but remember, they are signing thousands of hockey cards for card companies - is impossible.  But I'm no handwriting expert.

Now if I bought a pack of hockey cards with Devante's signature in it would I be excited?  Not anymore.  The immediate question of authenticity comes into play.  I wouldn't know if Smith-Pelly held the card at all (or if it was just an assistant or friend applying the stamp.

Now, nothing has been confirmed, this is all speculation at this point, but the evidence is growing.  Upper Deck has not commented on this matter yet, but if it is proven that a stamp was used, I would be pretty ticked as a company.  They pay good money for these athletes signatures, the least they could do is sign the cards themselves.

What was also mentioned (and I find very interesting) is that DSP's auto card was pulled from this year's Dominion release.  Panini has yet to specify why, but wouldn't it be interesting if this were the reason.  His cards were removed from the product very late in the production process as Panini did not replace his card slot with another player.

At the end of the day, I think that if a player has committed to signing for a particular card company, they should honor that contract by signing the cards themselves - plain and simple.  By implementing something like a stamp or autopen, you are essentially telling your fans - the people who buy these cards - that they are worth the time or effort.

I'll be keeping my eye on this story - it's the first of its kind I've heard about and might be a fork in the hobby card road.  Where will things go from here?


  1. Very interesting topic, I have to say I would rather have a really cool insert unsigned, than have an auto-pen or worse a stamp! I think it defeats the purpose of an autograph entirely. Why do I want some automated machine signing my card, that's not special. What makes a signature special is who is holding the pen, not what the pen does.

  2. Good post. I've steered my collection over the past couple of years away from game used and towards autographs.... And with all the hullaballoo about fakes recently, I felt justified. Now? I guess it's back to opc base cards...... Got 'em, need 'em......

  3. If that is what is happening, and it seems pretty apparent it is, then I can only describe it as SUPER LAME!

    As you said, it will be very interesting to see what Upper Deck has to say about this, since they were basically founded on the principle of having a guaranteed authentic card.

  4. If, in fact, it's a rubber stamp, and the contract specifically calls for a handwritten signature, this could be viewed, I imagine, as a possible fraud. Very interesting. Thanks for putting it out there.

    1. Exactly. That's why I'm really interested to see what comes of this story.

      If a "Ho hum" attitude comes from the card companies, it would just open the door wide open for others to do it too.

      I'd love to hear from UD and DSP on the matter.

  5. Thanks for sharing. I remember when they figured out that Jack Kemp used an autopen back in 1991 on his Proline cards. Since then, it's always been sitting in the back of my mind.

    First the relic card issue... and now this. There's not a doubt in my mind (or is it just wishful thinking) that it's a very small percentage of athletes who use an autopen. But then again... there's the old saying... a few bad apples can spoil the bunch.

    1. It's true. Pulling an auto card might bring with it a different feeling now.

      Is it real? Did he sign it?

      I do think that it is a very small percentage, but I wouldn't be surprised if it grows over the next 5 years.

  6. Great post!

    I completely understand the use of an auto-pen for TTM requests, but to do that for something the player is paid for is ridiculous, if that's what actually happened here.

    Definitely agree with you that if I were to pull any of Smith-Pelly's sigs from a pack this year, I wouldn't be excited at all.

    I'm definitely curious to see where this goes. If he did use an auto-pen, what are the repercussions going to be?

  7. Very interesting! I'm on the same boat as you are in terms of interest to see where this goes.

    Feel bad for whoever decided to do a PC on him.

  8. Thanks. Spread the word. Perhaps a class action lawsuit is in least to help keep things honest! Short cuts here....short cuts there...wonder what else. Not the things that a kids' idol should be doing!

  9. The auto pen is not a recent invention. When physical securities were issued there was a company named The Signature Company that would use a less sophisticated system of 40 inked, pen tips to sign the physical inventory. Often the number needed at original issue totaled in the thousands.