Joe DiMaggio’s Disappearing Signature

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

As a baseball icon, Joe DiMaggio was asked to sign a number of jerseys for a memorabilia dealer. After returning and selling one batch of jerseys, a second batch was signed and sent to the same dealer. Within a short period of time, ink from the second batch of signatures began to bleed into the shirt. An insurance claim was filed, and several laboratories, including one university, were asked to determine why the ink was fading. After these laboratories could not arrive at an answer, Microtrace was contacted.

Our analysis started with extraction and thin layer chromatography of the inks on jerseys from the two batches. It turned out that jerseys from both the “good” and “bad” batches were signed with similar inks, which were consistent with a permanent marker that was submitted as a reference sample.

The throwback jerseys were purportedly 100% wool. A detailed microscopical analysis of fibers in the jersey that bled showed that while wool was present, so was polyester and cotton. Considering this to be of potential relevance, we conducted a similar analysis of the jersey from the first batch, which showed a similar fiber furnish.

Given that the ink and jersey material were indistinguishable, a variety of other questions were considered: jersey storage conditions and even a spill. Ultimately, based on work conducted for clients in fiber and textile industries, we requested permission to look at the finishing agents present on the jerseys. A series of extractions were conducted to isolate any coatings that may have been present. The residue from these coatings were then identified by infrared microspectroscopy, which showed that one set of jerseys was coated with fatty acid esters and the other was coated with a silicone oil. The chemistry of the dyes used in permanent markers suggested that they could be soluble in the fatty acid ester coating, and indeed, a brief experiment showed conclusively that the permanent marker was soluble in the coating on the second batch of jerseys. A review of our work by a third party laboratory confirmed these results. In the meantime, Mr. DiMaggio had passed away, significantly altering the value of the settlement.

To learn more about Microtrace’s analytical capabilities with historical collectables, click here.

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