Come back soon, always work in progress.

The Autopen                                                                                                                                                                                                           

I thought I would start this section off with the autopen signature.  The autopen was a topic for debate by novice collectors and other through-the-mail collectors.  There is no debate, this signature is a machine signed signature, period.  The autopen is most common on the standard TTM (through-the-mail) photo.  It can also be found on several other items including 8x10 photos, 16x20 photos, and books.  While it is a little rare to find a large photo (8x10 etc.) with the autopen, it is not all that uncommon to find a bookplate with the machine signature.  This was done because if Ali were to make an appearance (book signing) and he wasn't well enough to sign, he, or his people would give out pre-signed bookplates.  The only thing was the bookplates weren't hand signed, they were mechanically signed. 

The autopen is easy to spot, as it has never changed in style, it has however changed in size.  I have seen the autopen in every color (black, blue, silver, and gold) and signed with every type of pen (thick marker, thin marker, pen, paint pen) you could think of.  I have even seen the autopen look shaky, this is another reason that people assume it's real.  The signature appears shaky because of mechanical error, usually when the pen or the arm don't move across the surface smoothly.

Below you will see examples of the autopen signature.

                         The common autopen from a TTM request.               Another photo with a smaller autopen sig.                 Same photo & autopen, different location.

                              Bookplate with an autopen signature given out at a book signing.                      Autopen on a book page along with his daughter's signature.

                                   This autopen was authenticated.                           This one would pass as authentic.                         Another example of an autopen on an 8x10.      



In the late 90's, Operation Bullpen Phase II brought down many forgery rings, included in these busts was a forger by the name of Scott Olson. Olson's hand is the one responsible for the phony Ali autograph commonly called "the Operation Bullpen forgery". One of the reasons that these forged autographs were accepted as real was because another boxer named Chuck Wepner backed them. If an ex heavyweight who knew Ali and actually fought him said that the signatures were good, that means they are real, right? As everyone who bought them learned, very wrong. Come to find out, Olson and Wepner were working together in this forgery scheme which took hundreds of thousands of dollars from unsuspecting collectors and dealers. This is the most publicized Ali forgery ever yet it can still be found for sale by dealers with little searching.

This forgery is most common on photos (8x10's and larger) and gloves, I don't recall seeing it on any other items. You will find it with the added inscription of "AKA Cassius Clay" or simply "Muhammad Ali". Special care has to be taken with this forgery because it has been authenticated by numerous experts and sold as real through many auction houses and are accompanied by COA's.

As you can see from the pictures, this forgery is short and choppy. Most every authentic Ali signature has both small m's written out fully, these do not. Ali's autograph is more rounded on the top of his letters, as you can see form the examples, these are pointed. Also, the last name appears to be an 'a' all by itself, unlike authentic examples.

There is a wonderful book written on this subject by Kevin Nelson.  I have read this book from cover to cover and have even read the Ali section several times, it has taught me a great deal.  I recommend this book and it is a 'must read' for anyone interested in autographs and forgeries. 

That book can be purchased here:

Below are several excerpts from Kevin's book, they are used with permission form Mr. Nelson.

Yet another source was Ali's agent, Harlan Werner, who called Fitzsimmons in February 2001 concerned about the widespread forging of his famous client's autograph.  Werner told Fitzsimmons that he had long believed that Madison Sports sold counterfeits, and that the company claimed to get its Ali memorabilia from Chuck Wepner.

Then, in late 1995 or early 1996, Wepner asked his partner to print some copies of a boxing poster called "Champions Forever." The original idea was to get the boxers to sign the posters printed by Olson, and then sell them. But both Olson and Wepner agreed the logistics of this were impossible.  You'd have to get all five men together again, or take copies around to each of them individually.  That'd take forever.   Finally it was decided that the thing to do was forge the signatures and sell the posters as if they 'd actually been autographed by the fighters.  As for who would vouch for the authenticity of the sigs, that was obvious.  Wepner's reputation - the fact that he knew all these guys and had sparred and fought against three of them - would provide the cover.

Olson estimated that over the years he forged close to 10,000 items for Ginsberg, mainly of Muhammad Ali.

"It was crazy. We went on for years after that. people saying, 'I want to buy five hundred Ali photographs. I want to buy one thousand Ali photographs.'" To meet these demands, John did the forging, Brian did the selling, and Chuck did the vouching.

For Wepner and Ginsberg, Olson forged mainly Ali, "but we branched out into other guys," mostly other big-name fighters like the ones on the Champions Forever poster.

Olson and Wepner charged Ginsberg ten to fifty dollars per forgery, and Ginsberg sold them to the public for whatever the market would bear - as much as $1,000 apiece or more, depending on the item.








1992 Pro Line Card                                                                                                                                                                                                     

The Pro Line autographed card is one of the most perplexing forgeries out there.  Unlike the Operation Bullpen forgeries, the Pro Line fakes have yet to be officially exposed.  If you'll notice, all of the cards have the 'Certified Authentic' stamp in the bottom right corner, though it is my opinion that they are not authentic.  As mentioned in the previous Pro Line guide, unsigned, embossed cards made it out the back door and into the wrong hands.  Below you will see several examples of these cards.  In my opinion all of these examples bare fake Ali signatures.  There are even examples that have been passed as authentic by authenticators, so one needs to know what to look out for.

To read more about the Pro Line card, see the 'General Guide' page.    




Other Forgeries

In this section I will list more signatures that are in my opinion, forgeries.  These forgeries are not as common as the ones listed above but thy are still a threat to the collector and have been seen numerous times for sale.

Here is a style that is in my opinion a forgery.  This one is relatively new compared to some of the others mentioned. Just about all of these appeared to hit the market at the same time and spread after several subsequent sales. These phony signatures seem to originate from Missouri, as this is where the first recorded sales of all the items were from. This particular style of forgery can be found on many different items including gloves, posters, sports cards, and photos. Many of these items, if not all of them, have been authenticated by a major authenticator and most of the certification numbers are sequential, meaning that they were submitted at the same time. This means, that they most likely came from one source.  See the examples below.



This forgery most likely originates from somewhere in Michigan, just about every one of these I have seen for sale online is from that state.  Many have been from different sellers, so it is possible that they were sold locally by a dealer and spread from there. I  have only seen this style of forgery on gloves, so it’s a little easier to look out for, unlike some of the others.  I have not seen any of these gloves authenticated but as the case is with many forgeries, they do usually come with COA’s.



Secretarial Signatures

Secretarial or Ghost signed Signatures are simply, autographs signed by someone other than Ali for Ali.  Think of the people signing as living autopen machines.  As the autopen, these were not meant to defraud anyone, they were used to fulfill the demand of autographs.  Once Ali retired, he signed mail requests himself.  So the vast majority of these secretarial signatures were during his boxing daysEven early on Ali used ghost signers.  I have been in contact with someone who worked security at the 5th Street Gym and he confirms the use of a ghost signer when Ali was busy. 

Here are some examples of secretarial signatures.  Notice how some of them are personalized and inscribed.  Most likely to fulfill a through-the-mail autograph request.

                                                                                                                  This one has been authenticated.


Looking at various signed bookplates, there are some signatures that in my opinion, clearly aren't Ali's, I believe these bookplates have been ghost signed.  Probably signed before a book signing or kept on hand 'just n case' Ali wasn't feeling up to it on the day of the event.  Below are some examples.




Preprints are pictures or other items that have a printed signature on them.  You need to watch out for these items, especially with online transactions.  Without the item in hand, sometimes it is hard to tell if the signature is genuine or printed.  If you have the item in hand, tilt it in the light and you can see if it stands out from the surface of the item.  If you're still not sure, look at it under a black light.  Below you will see some examples of several different preprinted items.