Say it ain’t so, Joe
A client received a baseball signed by many players from the 1919 Blacksox team, including shoeless Joe Jackson. The baseball had been “authenticated” by a professional autograph evaluator. When questions arose regarding the expert, we were asked to examine a the baseball and signatures from a scientific standpoint to determine if it was authentic.
There is, of course, a great deal of lore concerning “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and his autographs. Since he couldn’t read or write, he learned to draw his signature and in many instances, his wife signed memorabilia on his behalf.
As with any collectible or work of art, it’s not possible to collect large samples. Using a custom made diamond scribe and working under the microscope, we isolated minute samples from the tails of letters in the signature. Pictures were taken before and after sampling, and even under the microscope, it was difficult to see where a sample had been collected.
Our library contains reference texts that describe ink compositions used through the course of history, so we had a good idea of the types of inks that might be encountered. Furthermore, our physical reference collections contain stock certificates and other documents with known dates, written with period inks from these very years. Analysis of the minute ink samples by a variety of microanalytical methods, where we studied the colorant as well as the vehicle, showed that the ink composition was inconsistent with any of the inks expected from this period. Ultimately, the dealer was confronted with the ball and our report, whereby he reluctantly agreed to refund the purchase.