Counterfeit baseball cards are a real concern for baseball card enthusiasts. Learning how to identify counterfeit baseball cards is necessary to protect yourself against scams and fraud. These fake baseball cards generally fall into three categories: unauthorized reproductions presented as genuine, authorized reproductions presented as genuine, and fantasy cards. The tips below will help any collector become familiar with the steps necessary to protect themselves from counterfeit baseball cards.
The most important tool in identifying counterfeit baseball cards is simply knowledge. The more a collector learns about the hobby, card companies, features and distinguishing characteristics of different baseball cards, the easier it is to spot a fake. Simply seeing and handling cards that are known to be real examples is the best education. Baseball cards have been forged almost from the start. This is especially true of the most valuable baseball cards like the T206 Honus Wagner and the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle. It might not be possible to ever examine one of these actual cards in real life, but a savvy collector will at least be familiar with what a T206 or 1952 Topps baseball common card looks and feels like. Even a hundred year old tobacco card like a T206 can be purchased for less than $15. Experience is the best teacher. Handle as many cards as possible and remember what you see.
Here are some of the basic things you should look for in learning how to spot fake baseball cards:
Card stock - Each set has its own unique stock. From the thick 1933 Goudey Gum cards to the nearly paper thin T205 or T206s, the color and stock for each issue is unique. Examine the thickness carefully. A handheld black light is also helpful. Modern fakes and reproductions generally fluoresce under a black light due to brighteners in the paper. Most older cards do not. Again, examine a common and see how it behaves. Different stocks also have different levels of opacity. Hold several different cards near a strong light and see how much light bleeds through. Generally, modern counterfeits will not have the same opaque qualities as the real card. Much like money, this is where counterfeiters often goof.
Inks - Baseball cards have been produced from real photos, engravings, printer plates and the most advanced lithography techniques. Modern fakes usually can't reproduce these techniques in a cost effective manner. Usually simple magnification will reveal ink jet dots and other print patterns that are not consistent with the actual card. Again, it helps to know what a real card looks like.
Size - This should be the easiest thing to get right, but many counterfeits (especially early tobacco cards) are often bigger or smaller than the real cards. A book like the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards is a great source for true card measurements. Very small variances may be common in certain issues, but often modern forgeries are seriously off. Make it a practice to carry a small rule with you to test card size. This may also help you detect trimmed cards as well.
Design - Wrong fonts, wrong colors, thick borders, broken or jagged lines, fuzziness, images of creases or bends, odd faint spots or discoloration, and just a sense of "wrongness" will make any collector take notice. There are many fake baseball cards that are just not that well rendered. Thieves rely on the lack of knowledge of the buyer to pass them off as real. Go with your gut. If something seems a bit off to you, maybe it's because it is a fake.
Aging - One of the most common scams involve "aging" a reprint or reproduction. Tea or coffee stains are used to simulate age toning. Sandpaper and other methods are used to round corners or provide a bit of surface wear. Small scrapes or torn areas may be used to remove the word REPRINT or hide a date. Like modern blue jeans that attempt to replicate years of wear, it is rarely done well. Any seasoned collector will spot these fake wear patterns easily, but a new baseball card collector may not.
Unkn0wn type card - Many times fantasy cards are created. These may be more difficult to verify since they never existed and have no basis for comparison. It is important for a collector to familiarize themselves with as many sets as possible and use the above techniques to see if a card could be a extremely rare unknown issue or (more likely) a fantasy card cooked up on someone's home computer. Many cards that are initially thought to be unknown type cards end up being fantasy cards that were never issued by a legitimate source.
Subject matter - It goes without saying that the most counterfeited cards are based on actual valuable ones. Just as most people do not print out one dollar bills, but go straight for the fifties and hundreds so do the baseball card crooks. You will not encounter many 1957 Topps Don Mossi knockoffs, but there seems to be a Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle or Ty Cobb around every corner. Famous and well known cards should be especially scrutinized.
These are just some of the techniques and methods that can be used by someone seeking to learn how to identify counterfeit baseball cards. Read, read, read. There are many great websites and baseball card forums to learn more about baseball cards like counterfeit T206 tobacco cards visit sellbaseballcards101 and the PSA collector forums. Buy common examples of many sets and study them. The little bit of money spent on gathering a wide range of commons to examine will easily be offset the first time you spot a counterfeit baseball card that you almost bought by mistake. The more you read and experience firsthand the less likely you fall for a counterfeit baseball card scam. Third party grading companies have helped many buyers avoid scams. These companies will occasionally miss an altered card, but it is extremely rare for them to grade an outright counterfeit. Many new collectors stick with graded cards until they gain experience with altered or counterfeit cards. Stay aware and diligent!