|Already in 2006 I wrote an article on Tolkien signatures, of which the first part mainly focused on facsimile autographs and the second part gave tips for buying authentic Tolkien autographs on ebay. Back then there were already some ebay sellers who did sell fake Tolkien signed books online, but today it seems to have become a common practice. Organizations like the UACC (Universal Autograph Collector's Club) and the FBI in the United States have estimated that as much as 80% of the autographs for sale online are not authentic. When I look at my own database of sold Tolkien items of the last year 80% looks like a correct figure, since 8 in 10 Tolkien signatures sold on ebay I marked as 'fake,' and 1 in 10 as 'probably fake'... that leaves me with only 10% authentic autographs. Not so surprising really, since there are just not that many genuine Tolkien autographs out there.
The main problem is that some people have discovered how valuable a Tolkien signature is and also that there is enough demand for them as well. So on ebay there has been a steady flow of fake Tolkien letters, signed books and even forged Tolkien related items (like Tolkien's typewriter, fake drawings, self portraits,…). The market has literary been flooded with items and while a group of Tolkien collectors try to warn buyers, try to get auctions pulled and even went so far as to buy the items to be able to leave negative feedback, ebay remains deaf to their comments and actions. The result is that fake Tolkien signatures, letters and signed books keep being offered for sale on ebay on a weekly basis.
First I thought to write an open letter to ebay. Maybe try and get some legal action on the way... since in the end I believe the biggest lot of the forgeries mainly come from one or two sources. But I have to admit that this problem does not only happen for Tolkien signed books, since I can easily find articles on other forged authors' autographs. Same story goes for art forgeries. Many have tried to get ebay to stop allowing forgeries, but not many have booked results so far.
So how can you protect yourself from fake Tolkien autographs, Tolkien signature forgeries and the like? One thing is certain, there is a fresh flow of new forgeries and we can even see fake Tolkien signed letters re-appear on the market these days. It has been a lot of work from a strong group of Tolkien collectors at tolkienguide.com to constantly contact auction houses, book dealers and get fake Tolkien signatures be pulled out of the market. The sad thing is they have all become victims and were not aware they had bought a forged item - so once a group of people show them why the signature is not real they don't have a problem to pull an auction or listing. I have to admit that it is amazing sometimes how professional the smaller booksellers and auction houses are and I can only praise them.
But in the end it will take many years to clean out the mass of fakes Tolkien signatures and forgeries. This is a truly sad thing for multiple reasons. First of all, because most fake Tolkien items are forged letters. People like to read Tolkien's letters to learn more about the author, to find out how he really was, what he liked and what his beliefs were... even what he liked to eat, read, drink and speak. A forged letter does not only fake a signature but also adds false information about the author in the world. Secondly, the persons selling fake signatures don't mind singing Tolkien related books (like books about faeries, old English text books, books from personal friends like C.S. Lewis), and also this is very bad for the study of which books Tolkien knew or owned. Thirdly, many true Tolkien fans have been lied to and think they own a piece of history and most have spend their hardly earned money in something worthless - buying forged signed Tolkien books is probably the worst investment you can do.
Lastly, the amount of signed object is becoming larger every week and while normally a Tolkien signature, letter or signed book was rare to find, the constant flow of these items has largely devalued the genuine items. In fact the complete range of Tolkien collectables has dropped in value as has the historical value, since now it is constantly being mixed with fake information. It is a bad situation that needs to be stopped.
How to avoid buying fake Tolkien signatures on ebay?
1. Never ever buy a signed Tolkien book from a private auction.
2. Disregard Certificates of Authenticity (COA's). Unfortunately, they are not worth the paper they are written on.
3. Always look for a money back garantee and that youi can use Paypal to pay for your objects
4. Do some research about the dealer, look at his ratings and past sales. How many signed Tolkien books can one person sell in a year and stay realistic?
5. Do some research about the item itself, makes the letter any sense? (for example fake type signed letters sometimes have errors Tolkien would never make - Gondalf? Smoug??)
6. Do some research on the autograph. Ok they vary over time but hey, sometimes fakes can be spotted from a mile away!
7. Find a few reputable dealers that you can trust. The higher the number of dealers you're buying from, the more chance you have of buying some un-authentic material.
8. There is no such thing as 'cheap' Tolkien signatures... if it is cheap stay away from it. But then again if it is a cheap, genuine signature, buy it right away ;) - no just kidding, if there is a cheap signature and it is genuine then it will not remain that way very long and there will be a good bidding war going on!
9. Oh yes... Tolkien would never write his name wrong and there for never signs with "Tolkein"
10. And original art by Tolkien will NEVER be sold on ebay...
I could go one telling you tips, but in the end the most important thing is that at the moment you can only trust 1 in 10 of the signed Tolkien items to be genuine. So the chance is always higher that it is fake. So, let us have a look now tat some of the items that have been sold on ebay and tell you exactly why they are not genuine. Maybe this is a better way... I'm going to stop showing people genuine autographs and try and explain what to look for to find genuine signatures, but will start to show fakes in order to show what to avoid!
Examples of fake Tolkien authographs and items that were sold on ebay.
|The Great Divorce written by C.S. Lewis not signed by J.R.R. Tolkien.
This is of course a fake item and the forgery is in all respect a very bad one.
The first problem is the typical blue ink that keeps coming back, and is now closely linked with forged signatures... since many of the forgeries of Tolkien's autograph have all been written in this type of blue ink.
Next to the obvious mistakes in the signature itself, as well as in the stroke under it, Tolkien (even when he was signing quickly) would have made such a mess on a page.
Another alarm bell would have just why Tolkien would sign a C.S. Lewis book, on the title page - a book most people suspect he probably even did not like at all. If for example Tolkien would have bought the book for himself he would have signed it on the front fly leave and for sure not with his flowing signature. If it was a present he would not have signed it on the title page either.
Another typical thing with forgeries is that most of the time the books are in a dirty condition. It seems that sometimes they want to make the books look old or they can only afford to buy cheap copies (to be able to make maximum profits).
|A Type signed letter not written and not signed by J.R.R. Tolkien.
First of all I don't like type signed letters in general. I avoid them even when there is a genuine signature on it. If you want to invest your money in letters I can only advise you to go for handwritten ones.
As for this horrible thing, it shows many problems. First of all the blue ink signature. Once again the autographs shows many flaws in style, flow and is not at all Tolkien's. The letter is dated 1966 and this is also clearly not a 1966 signature either. But there are other things that are visible why we can tell this is a forgery.
The great mass of type signed letters that are fake are all dirty and try to somehow show they are aged. The aging is done really bad, like someone has been playing with coffee, etc - very poorly done. And by the way, try to find any genuine Tolkien letter that looks aged like this and you will not find even one!
The letter in itself is also wrong because of several reasons. Tolkien would never write a text like this, the white spacing and layout is wrong. The typewriter used is wrong and the words used are so not-Tolkien.
|Another type signed letter not written and not signed by J.R.R. Tolkien.
This is another forgery that makes me angry and should be destroyed at the earliest occasion possible. Once again we see the typical blue ink fake Tolkien signature. Once more it uses a typewriter that is not Tolkien's. Once again we see the creator used some kind of aging method that looks very unnatural. There is not header, letter opening and address, not date, the text has no margin on the right and when you read the letter you can see the definitive proof this is a poor fake. Tolkien would for example never write "Moon lather"... a misspelling we have seen before in another fake Tolkien letter.
By the way the way the paper was cut on the top has also been seen several times in other letters from the same creator. Once again this letter came with a nonsense provenance story as well.
I hope this letter somehow shows why the selling of fake Tolkien items on ebay should be stopped at all costs.
|The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies by Robert Kirk
Another fake signature, in a book we all would have loved Tolkien had signed it. The ebay auction told the following:
"The is no COA with this signature but it is almost certainly by Tolkien - the ink is contemporary and has some age-fading, so this was presumably signed at the time of publication of the book (1933) when Tolkien wasn't yet famous - I believe it would have been part of Tolkien's personal library and possibly used for research purposes in writing about Middle Earth in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have shown the signature to two of the UKs highly-respected bookshops to see what they thought and both believe it to be genuine, as I do.
I bought the book from a dealer who in turn bought it from an old lady who lived in the village of Hinton Martell, Dorset. The book had apparently been stored in a trunk along with other books in her barn for around 50 years. It had previously belonged to a member of her family, Professor Parry (Cambridge) who had taught music."
Of course we asked for more info and in total managed to receive several versions of the provenance. To make a long story short... there was a Professor Parry in Cambridge, but could never have had contact with Tolkien. This is for sure not a 1933 signature and while it looks Tolkien's any 'specialist' would say it is not genuine (even from a picture). The book is once again a mess and not like books from Tolkien's personal library in nice shape and does not show a typical autograph that we find in books from J.R.R. Tolkien's working library.
In general... why do people who forge signatures always try to find a book that somehow links to Tolkien. Here it is the "Elves & Fairies," sometimes it is C.S. Lewis or other colleagues... when it looks to good to be true, well... 90% of the time that is indeed the case!
|A portrait of J.R.R. Tolkien not autographed by J.R.R. Tolkien
Ok, if this would be the real deal... how much would this be worth? In the contrary this item is absolutely worthless. It would be worth more if the seller would just have signed it himself! How low can a person go to make Tolkien fans believe they can buy a self-portrait from their beloved author.
So how can we tell this is a fake? Maybe because the seller of this item has managed to sell at least three similar self-portraits in the past year. Next to that the signature just looks horribly wrong. The description of the item I don't even dare to reproduce here, but once again the ebay seller made a good amount of money...
It was a private auction, so we could not warn the bidders. The bidders could not search the sellers history from withing the listing and who knows the seller was pushing up the price by bidding against the final buyer and make the item look more credible. Items like these make me want to get into contact with Interpol!
|Art definitely not signed by J.R.R. Tolkien
Just to end this article - let me show you how crazy it can get on ebay.
Don't know if this seller is serious at all, but the auction starts at 0,99 USD. His description then nearly copies the complete wikipedia page about Tolkien to make him look like a specialist on anything Tolkien.
But at the bottom adds the following line:
"The work is not supplied with certificate of authenticity and guarantee (as has never been subject to assessment, evaluation expertise) and then, having regard to the recognition and similarity to the stykle of the author, is proposed as a copy of copyright, falsecopyright, in the manner of the author, under Article 8 of the Law of 20 November 1971, n.1062 (Official Gazette No. 318 on December 17)"
Well, as far as I am concerned, the selling of forged items is illegal and faking someone's signature is not allowed either. Telling us about some laws no-one has heard of and citing from wikipedia does not make it suddenly look like a genuine item either. This item was of course never seen by any expert and will never ever receive a certificate of authenticity since it is a fake, and you can see this even with your eyes closed.
I'm so sorry to have to say that this is a fine display of the reality. Anything with the name Tolkien on it is valuable and people with the wrong intentions like to abuse the name Tolkien to make profit. It is sad and a pity Tolkien friends and fans spend their money on worthless items like these. I hope examples like this somehow help to avoid buying fake items online.
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