Authenticating Game Worn Jerseys

Game Worn Expo
2020 San Jose Hockey Game Worn and Collectibles Expo
January 22, 2020

The following has been provided by Milton Byron

There are several steps to the authentication process. This covers all the research that you do, like doing your homework, which is something that we always suggest a collector do. Included in this process is trying to photo match the jersey exactly. As an expert that authenticates game worm jersey, I would use everything I learned during the authenticating process and then would use my skills as an expert in carefully looking over the jersey in person. An expert that does authentications should never do it via just having photos of the jersey. He should have the jersey in his hands so as to not miss anything that a potential forger would have done to the jersey to make it appear as game worn. Also when it is in your hands you can examine the inside wear patterns, check for number or name changes, look at the fight strap for fight use and check for the piling in the elbows or salt in the fight strap to name a few things.

Not seeing the jersey in person during the authentication process is a huge mistake. In the legal system you cannot bring a photo of the murder weapon to court, you need the actual item so that it can be examined inside and out by both defense and the prosecution; like showing a picture of the glove in the famous OJ trial…when he tried to put it on it didn’t fit. Same thing here if you don’t have the jersey in hand, you cannot just look at photographs and say the marks that are in the photo are the same on the jersey and then proclaim it as “game worn”.  The photo match step is an important part of the authentication process, but should not be final unless an expert authenticator actual has the jersey in his hands and can examine it first hand.  Only then he can make the call and render his opinion as to the authenticity of the jersey.

As an authenticator, yes, you could be be right just using photographs, but all it takes is one to slip and a mistake is made. That’s why I always had to have the jersey in my hands. The famous Custom Crafted specials were faked to look like what was worn on the ice. Although there were marks on jerseys where they would be on a real game worn jersey, if an authenticator just used a photograph of the jersey rather than having the jersey in their hands, they could be missing important factors in determining the authenticity. Once I saw the Custom Crafted specials in person, it was obvious that the wear had been faked.  But had I used just photographs of the jersey, I could have made that mistake.

In the early 1980s when I started in this hobby, there was basically no one authenticating hockey jerseys.  If there was anyone authenticating hockey jerseys, I never heard of them and I only had Murf Denny’s catalogs and at that time, he never provided authentication. As time went on, I did see Dave Meidema supplying LOAs for baseball and other sports.  However, in the hockey world we really didn’t do anything. Discussing this with Murf, we felt in the beginning there was no way to guarantee that a LOA would be kept with the correct jersey.   What would stop someone from using our LOA from a good jersey with a fake jersey?   Made sense to me as at the time I was still working as a cop.

The LOA phenomenon in our hobby really came about when the autograph world started promoting LOAs with every signature. That is when cross-over collectors, meaning they did autographed baseballs, bats and stuff, started asking for jersey LOAs and it became a standard procedure for all jerseys.

When someone would ask if a jersey came with a letter, I always said “What Letter do you want there are 26 of them”.  It was always that my word was my bond. I took pride in what I did and certainly was very confident in my abilities when it came to game worn hockey jerseys. I conducted my authentication process just like I would when I was a Police detective. So my word was and is always good. An issue that I had early on with LOAs was the false sense of security that it could give a collector. That’s why, back then and it is still true today, I always said no matter where it comes from and no matter what LOA is with it, you still have to do your homework.

But the collectors wanted something so I knew I had to come up with a LOA that would cover the collector’s needs and protect me legally. I went to a lawyer and we came up with the brief but straight forward wording of my LOA, “To the best of my knowledge”, “in my opinion”or I used “to the best of my ability”, this is a game worn Eric Lindros jersey, PERIOD.  This gave me room to honor what I say, if you get a jersey that you have new information about I can review the new information and change my findings. Honestly I do not remember ever having to do that, but I am old.

Moving forward from that point, other dealers started writing LOAs for their jerseys. Some added information that I really never did. Not that I did not have the information, I just wanted to keep it simple and less time consuming as possible. An authenticity process could take months. Back then we did not have the internet so it was a long task going through photos, cards, newspapers, books and videos. Sometime I had to go out and find the reference material that I needed, which is why I built a large library in my old office. But this was on something that would be a tough item, most items where actually very easy for me because I had seen so many jerseys over the years that I knew by sight that it was game worn. Another factor in the process is that I had access to the teams, players and trainers. I could ask the trainers or even the players, although asking a player most times you have to take it with a grain of salt and is a topic for another post. I hung out at the spectrum with the Flyers trainers weekly and would go into the visitor’s locker room and examine the jerseys. So looking back, maybe I should have put more effort into the LOA, but another thing that I always say is I couldn’t care less who authenticated a jersey or who wrote a letter for it, I wanted to see it cause I basically only trusted myself and later in my business my right hand Bill Stahl, who learned from me.

Honestly back years ago when LOAs first came around, I felt they where useless and a ploy to bump the price of a jersey up cause it came with a LOA, and I was right, it did. That is why I laugh at people who boast about working with certain auction house’s and websites– to me that really doesn’t mean much, cause if not you it would be someone else. Sure I wrote LOAs for many of the top auction houses and most only care if I wrote the letter, not that the item was real. Mark Juteau at Classic is the one of the exception to this, he does a outstanding job and is one of the leaders in our industry for sure.

Back then all I cared about was building the hobby and was the jersey game worn. I knew from being a cop that my reputation meant everything. I knew that I was building one in the hobby and I always made sure that I was right and doing the right thing. I take pride in the authenticator that I am today. I can tell you flat out I never provided a LOA for a jersey where I knew it was wrong. Let me said that again I NEVER, EVER did, even though I was offered to do so by several over the years.  But, do not ask me who.   Remember I am old and may forget exactly who it was and I would not want to get it wrong, lol. I have seen and held well over 100,000 jerseys. I do not mean seen as in a photo, card, video, magazine or at a game, but in my hands and that’s really what has made me the expert that I am.

At some point the teams got into selling jerseys and issuing LOAs, which was a nightmare at first and may still be. There were way too many mistakes and we had to throw away some LOAs that came to us wrong. I would then issue my own letter in its place. Of course I had a problem with the team LOAs. Go figure, right!  My issues where that the person signing the LOA never saw the jersey. There was a set of jerseys with no one signing the LOAs at all. It got worse as teams used stores to sell the jerseys and people with no skills at authenticating a game worn jersey would be selling them and signing the LOA.  Then there was the Unused Jersey with a LOA that said that it was not game worn, but upon examination, it had game wear. There was storys that I uncovered after looking into this that made my skin crawl. There was a team that had the general manager sign blank letters, a pile of them for the game worn jerseys the store was selling. What prevented a marketing wizard from using one of these letters, hitting a star players jersey with a puck a few times and selling it???? Scary right? Cause remember the team stores had access to a whole different collector base than we in the hobby had, and some unknowing fan walks in to buy a star player’s jersey and walks out. He now thinks he has a game worn jersey until he finds his way to us and we knock his ship outta the race with one look at the jersey. This is not just a NHL issue, the minor leagues had this going on as well. OMG then came holograms, AHHHHHHH for another day!

Before mentioning the LOAs of today I just want to again mention that one of my issues with a LOA can cause collectors to get a false sense of security and not do the homework and just rely on the LOA.  Barry Meisel and I talked at length about that when he was coming up with his system. I really believe in what he has done but even with all his precautions a forger could try and duplicate it. Now, granted as soon as Barry saw it he would know there was a problem, same as if someone took my LOA and put it with a bad jersey. My problem is that a collector can take it on face value as being real and never go any further cause he trusts us. But then years later he shows it to someone and that person sees red flags and finds out there is an issue. This is another reason for always doing your homework

So today’s LOAs are a direct result of the growth of our hobby. People looked at my LOAs and what I was doing and tried to figure out a way to better it. Which is exactly what MeiGray did like I mentioned above. Barry developed a great system to help the collectors in the need for more information about the jerseys that we were selling. He is also a leader in our hobby and a inspiration to many. He has had many slam dunk photo and video matches which were outstanding and any collector should be very pleased with the jersey, BUT you know that Barry or Stu had the jerseys in their hands, and they went through the entire authenticating process not just part of it, so when they say its game used, once I look at it (remember I only trust myself,) its game used.

Another thing about today is I think we really have to be careful about the amount of people doing research for a photo or video match and just relying on it to then write a LOA for a jersey. Finding a photo or video match is exciting for a collector for sure, but that is only one part of the entire authentication process that leads an expert to say that based on the information set forth by the jersey, the jersey is in fact game worn. I was the person that developed photo matching, Stu Oxenhorn, Rich Ellis, Randy Hays, Brad Tweeten Larry Hort, Tim Allen, Mitch Amaya and Tim Wachter. These are the guys that I was with during this time and that is all we did while at a show was try and photo match jerseys. So I know for a fact that photo and video matches are great, but if that is all you are using, you’re doing a disservice to the collector. All you have done is written a LOA that says its game worn without having the jersey in your hands. Now you can call it a Research Letter or something else, but you’re not an expert if you’re not doing the entire process that was developed by Barry, Marc, and myself to name a few, along with my crew, to protect the collector from forgers that would come in and try and fake jerseys.  So if your saying a jersey is game worn based on just pictures or video, you are a fraud. I know some will refute this, or argue the point, but it comes back to the OJ glove…the photo looked great until he tried to put the glove on.

In closing, I would like to mention something that also affected the LOA timeline for me was my family. My kids growing up were a handful, all special needs and I know a lot of guys out here got to see this first hand. But for the most part I was a single parent with help from my mother and Alicia Stahl, my executive assistant. I could have not done what I did back then without her understanding and compassion for me, my family and the business. Of course she had help from her Hubby Bill, my right hand. But I was there for everything that my kids had going, doctors, therapist, school, I was room parent, I went on the trips, I organized the parties, most of the time alone. I coached them in hockey, took them with me to shows, my boys were my world back then. I used to explain it that it was like living in a hurricane. So my point here is there is no doubt that they were one of the reasons I walked away from the hobby. There is no doubt that they affect my abilities to do certain things. But even living in chaos, the one thing I can tell you is that if I said it was game worn, it was. I never let anything get in the way of that. I know that I sometimes got waylaid in providing the LOA, and I apologize for that but I had to pick one, and I chose family. A hard and humbling lesson that I’ve learned is that no matter how hard you try to raise your kids right, you cannot make decisions nor live their lives for them.

Thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *