1) If it sounds too good to be true – it usually is
There’s no question that great bargains do exist but becoming a “bargain hunter” can lead you down a very dangerous road – a road to forgeries and sub par quality items. In collectibles, you really do get what you pay for. If you want the best quality, you will have to pay a premium. Is it possible that a deal will come along? Sure, but do not take things at face value, do your research and protect yourself. In the end, only you know how much you are willing to pay for an item. By doing as much research about the item as you can, such as locating prior sales of like items at auction, you will build confidence as a buyer.
2) Expertise versus Origin
Always evaluate an item on its own merits first and then factor in its origin (in other words, lineage, provenance or history of the item). Anyone can fabricate a mere story about how they obtained an item, but if the item is as good as the seller claims it to be, then the item should be able to stand alone without the story. If you can find an item that combines merit with verifiable origin, history that truly supports authenticity, then you really have something.
3) Buy authenticated items
Even if you witness the signing of an item yourself, 3rd party authentication is still necessary. Here’s why. Many collectors will claim that they do not need to have the item authenticated, not only because they witnessed the event, but they also contend that they never intend on selling the item. There are two significant issues to contend with. First, if you do try to sell the item at some point in the future, potential buyers are going to require more than the word of the seller in regards to authenticity. Secondly, even if you never actually sell the items yourself, you will most likely hand them down to a relative or friend. If you do not provide authentication for those items, then the person you bequeath them to will suffer the same fate and, in most cases, be taken advantage of if he ever tries to sell.
In the end, if you buy authenticated items, you will feel secure about their authenticity and you will have a better understanding of what to pay since the authenticated items have very strong and defined market values. In addition, when it comes to professionally graded items such as sportscards, the condition of the item has already been identified. Once again, making it easier for you to not only determine condition (since it has already been done for you) but also to determine general market value. Authenticated items help relieve some of the stress associated with a purchase (especially on higher-end items) and let the buyers focus on the fun part of the hobby – building their collections without the authenticity or condition doubts.
4) Find a reputable seller/dealer
While it is true that factors such as the Internet and 3rd party authentication and grading have changed the way people do business in the current state of the market, finding a trusted seller/dealer is always a top priority. Ask around and do as much research as you can; a trusted seller/dealer can provide you with helpful information, advice and, hopefully, quality items at reasonable prices. A quality seller/dealer can help you assemble the type of collection you want. If the seller/dealer is a good one, trust him- his experience can benefit you in a number of ways.
5) Learn to recognize a reputable authenticator
There are a host of authentication services in the hobby with a host of reasons why they think their service is the best; however, many of them are not recognized or respected within the industry. The key for the collector is to be able to distinguish between services. Ask yourself a number of questions. How long has the service been in business? Do other respected sellers/dealers, collectors or marketplaces/auctions use or accept this service? How large is the collector base for that service? How many items have they authenticated? What kind of reputation do they have? How does their authentication process compare to the competition? These are mere examples but asking questions can really help separate the best from the rest. Remember that anyone can provide a letter or certificate of authenticity so you have to ask more questions, like the ones mentioned above, to be sure.