Stephen Hawking Signed Book Autograph With Thumb Print and Photo
Game Life predominantly posts video game related news and items, however, on the occasion we post things out of the game world, especially when it comes to brilliant human beings like Stephen W. Hawking. There’s no surprise that the first thing we did was try to find the most interesting item(s) on the web for Mr.Hawking and we came up with something pretty incredible. Someone is offering a Stephen Hawking signed book autograph with thumb print and photo, and everything is under one auction.
Is the Seller Reputable?
Here’s the thing with autographs. It’s extremely hard to tell if an autograph is real or fake, especially if it’s an autograph that’s being sold over the internet. As a collector of autographs myself, I take some steps to do my own due diligence, and because we’re dealing with eBay I start with the sellers feedback to see if there are any red flags. I want to check to see if:
A). Has the seller sold any similar items where he received negative feedback on?
B). How is his overall rating? Is he/she trustworthy? Can other items do they sell?
C). If the seller has negative ratings, what are said in the comment field?
After sorting through the sellers feedback, I wasn’t able to see any red flags. The seller is very reputable with what he sells as there’s no fraudulent transaction or sold that was unofficial/fake. I’ve also checked to see that they’ve been selling since 2008 and have Power Seller status. So I know I’m dealing with a professional here. I pulled out of many auctions in the past because the seller’ feedback gave strong signals that they are dishonest such as people mentioning they received items that are either fake or unofficial.
This is the question I asked myself when looking at this auction. Are these items (Stephen Hawking signed book autograph) real? Well, that is something you won’t know, nor any professional. The reason being is that you cannot guarantee an autograph to be 100% authentic unless there’s an actual photo of the celebrity signing the exact photo. This is why business like PSA/DNA, JSA and Beckett Authentication aren’t reliable and here is why.
PSA/DNA, JSA and Beckett Authentication
Around 6 years ago I attended Comic Con and specifically went there to meet Charles Martinet (voice of Super Mario). I had a copy of Super Mario 64 with me to get signed. At the time, I got a photo with Charles, however, I did not take a photo of him signing my game. I feel it’s just very disrespectful and creepy to do this. Nonetheless, I paid the $40 cash price required to obtain an autograph from Mr.Martinet.
A year later I decided to downsize my gaming collection and thought about selling my Charles Martinet Super Mario 64 game signed. I started searching online which authentication sites have credibility. I ran into so many but the three main ones were PSA/DNA, JSA and Beckett Authentication Services. Out of the three I went with PSA as they’ve been around for a lot longer and seem to be the ones everyone goes with.
I went through the entire process of filling out their form in which you have to enter the total cost for their service (Determining the price of your autograph submission, order type, etc…). It was quite pricey to get the autograph authenticated but I went through with it as I figured it would add value.
It took around 2 weeks to get back to me as I upgraded to express services and what I received was shocking. Not only did they deem my Super Mario 64 Signed by Charles Martinet not authentic, but they gave an explanation that made no sense. It was around the lines of the spacing in the signature to be inconsistent with his other signings. There was some other mentions but in short I received a fail.
How could this happen when I “supposedly” used the most reputable autograph authentication service out there?
I was physically there at the table, shook Charles hand, had a conversation with him and saw him use his gold marker to sign my game. But the “experts” at PSA said the autograph was not authentic. This made me lose faith entirely in the authentication industry. If the best of the best screwed up and got it wrong, how could anyone else have credibility?
PSA’s History of Mistakes
After receiving receiving the “failed” letter I decided to do searches online to see if anyone else has experienced the same thing. To my surprise this “PSA error” seems to be a common thing.
Actually, very common.
Not only have collectors called PSA for their rating failures, but they’ve created online websites pinpointing exactly how PSA (and JSA) make mistakes routinely. Many of which have experienced the same exact situation as I have with my Super Mario 64 signed failure. For example, here’s one collector who sent in a genuine Jonathan Singleton signature (Rip-Off Report link here):
I hate psa/dna,I hate psa/dna!!!!!I have dealt with them 4 times this year and let me tell you that they are scam artists and they are constantly ripping people off.I recently sent in some cards and it came back……SURPRISE SURPRISE…..NOT AUTHENTIC!
I obtained a Jonathan Singleton signature in person here in P.R. because he was playing here,he was really great signing my cards and I sent them in and psa/dna says they are fake,as well as my Kris Bryant,Oscar Taveras cards.This is the last time i send in cards to them,but the thing is,there is always a credit in psa/dna because they never authentic my cards,making me send in 1-2 cards just to eleminiate the credit.psa/dna must be shut down,they don’t know authentication from their #$#@!
There’s more cases from the Rip-Off Report site here. It’s quite alarming that people continue to send in items to get graded. Here are a list of other sites dedicated to calling out PSA, with Haulsofshame.com being the biggest one:
- The Worst 100: PSA & JSA’s All-Time Greatest Authentication Blunders
- PSA/DNA AUTHENTICATION ERRORS…
- PSA DNA Reviews and Complaints
From my reads, there’s a lot of “insider” cases and fabrication for self-interest mentioned in this. Many collectors have reported that PSA created a funnel to eventually send your item in through the enticement of “Quick Opinion” which is their flagship digital service.
PSA’s “Quick Opinion” and Stephen Hawking signed book Result
The idea behind PSA’s “Quick Opinion” is to submit an eBay item to get a quick opinion from an expert. Taken from their website:
“PSA/DNA QuickOpinion provides collectors with a fast, inexpensive way to have online autograph auction listings reviewed by the industry’s leading authentication firm for their opinion. Within approximately 48 hours, PSA/DNA authenticators will evaluate the autograph images and provide their candid reaction as it pertains to authenticity.”
From my readings in the anti-PSA sites mentioned above; collectors have mentioned that PSA predominantly renders a decision that requires you to send the item as this is their way of up-selling you. Of course that is any large corporations main goal is to increase the bottom line. If PSA would always give a solid verdict for the “QuickOpinion” then no one would be sending in their signings. PSA/DNA is of course one of the businesses owned by parent company “Collectors Universe” which happens to be listed on the NASDAQ exchange (link). Like any company that is public, the #1 mission is to keep shareholders happy.
How do you do that?
By milking the system as much as you can. This is my only theory behind these “failures” and “up-sells”, that it’s entirely in the interest of the shareholders. Because of course, “failures” and “up-sells” means more money in the company.
With that said, I decided to do my own “QuickOpinion” submission for this auction mentioned above. Here is the result:
No surprise, they were not able to render a verdict thus enticing me to send in items if I decide to buy it. I decided to dig a bit deeper and see what else I can come up with. I’ve seen PSA on the “Pawn Stars” before so it seems that now they authenticate all types of autographs, not just “sports” related autographs as shown on their website.
So I decided to see if they have any “benchmark” for Stephen Hawking as this is where they place a lot of their judgement calls based on past signatures that were authenticated (makes sense). So I did a search for “Stephen Hawking” on their site and they do not have any single autograph to compare it to.
Why is that?
Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with ALS back in 1964. Through the years I can imagine how many books he autographed, as well as how many of those signatures changed over the years as his condition was weighing down on him. As a Stephen Hawking follower, I know that his signatures vary and come in all shapes and forms. It would be close to impossible to compare his autograph to one single signature has he eventually had to switch to doing “thumb prints” since he wasn’t able to use his hands anymore.
So why did PSA ask that they would need to view this item in person if they have no record on their site of comparing the signature to previous Stephen W. Hawking signatures? What kind of expert could look at this auction and determine if everything is legit or not? There isn’t anyone at PSA/DNA, JSA or Beckett that would be able to authenticate a Stephen Hawking signature which brings me to this point.
You have to do your own due diligence and searching because you’ll probably find more things about a signature than someone at PSA. So let’s break down this auction.
Stephen Hawking Signed Book Autograph With Thumb Print and Photo
Here’s the complete description from the auction page:
Listed are two books, one of which has an incredibly rare Stephen W. Hawking signature and the other book holding Stephen W. Hawking’s rare thumb print. The last item is a personal University of Cambridge letter from Stephen W. Hawking’s written on behalf of his assistant. The letter also comes with a photograph of Professor Hawking and his signature stamped on the back of the photo.The entire collection displayed here is as rare as it gets with obtaining anything remotely close to a signature of Stephen W. Hawking. Due to Professor Hawking’s condition, he didn’t sign many items and throughout the years his signature has changed immensely, with each signature being very different from the other which is why you won’t see many signatures alike. Stephen then went to using his thumb print as an alternative which was only handed out to close relatives/assistants.Stephen W. Hawking would also receive thousands of letters in which he would reply back with a picture of himself with his name “stamped” in the back as well as a letter from his assistant. Below are the descriptions of each item.“A Brief History of Time 1st Edition Book” signed by Stephen W. Hawking:This book was acquired from the estate library of the Lewis Stetson Allen family. Lewis Stetson was the great grandson of John Batterson Stetson, creator of the iconic Stetson hat. This book was signed and delivered personally to Mr. Lewis Stetson Allen from Stephen Hawking’s personal assistant. It was very common for prominent figures to have personal libraries with their stamp inside the book. Lewis Allen Stetson was a renowned banker, businessman, and philanthropist who was well-connected, and active around the world. This is not a “stamp” of Stephen W. Hawking or signed on behalf of Stephen’s wife or assistant; this is signed by Stephen himself. This is the 13th printing of the First Edition of his classic “A Brief History of Time”.“The Universe in a Nutshell” thumb print from Stephen W. Hawking:This book was acquired from a couple who were well connected with Stephen Hawking through Aunt Sandy who was employed by Professor Hawking as one of his head carers and worked with him in his home (original letter of provenance will come with this book revealing the full name). Sandy had two of these books thumb printed in Professor Hawking’s home for her nephews, as witnessed by Karen Sime, Professor Hawking’s personal assistant at the time. A thumb print of Stephen Hawking was incredibly rare to obtain as he didn’t do it for just anyone. A personal photo with Stephen Hawking of Sandy will be added to the book.“University of Cambridge” Letter and Photograph Signed Stamped from Stephen W. Hawking:This letter is from the personal office of Professor Stephen W. Hawking at the University of Cambridge. Taken from hawking.org.uk, Stephen was the Director of Research at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) and Founder of the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology (CTC) at the University of Cambridge. For over thirty years he has lead the General Relativity group in DAMTP and he has been Principal Investigator of the COSMOS National Cosmology Supercomputer since 1997. Stephen is also the Emeritus Lucasian Professor for Cambridge, a prestigious title that boasts Isaac Newton, Paul Dirac and Charles Babbage amongst its previous holders. During his time at Cambridge Professor Hawking has written a large number of publications. While at the University of Cambridge, Professor Hawking would receive thousands of letters. Because Professor Hawking wasn’t able to reply personally, he would ask his assistant (Anthea Bain) to send letters on behalf of him. I am not sure if every letter was replied with a photograph with his stamped signature, but this letter in the auction was.
The letter from Cambridge University is definitely authentic. There would be no reason for someone to fake / replicate the letter, especially if it doesn’t have a claim of a signature / thumb print from Stephen W. Hawking. A quick Google search will also show other letters sent to Mr.Hawking from students and fans around the world. As well, it was quite common for Stephen Hawking’s personal assistants to respond to letters and use a “signature stamp print” on either letters/photos on behalf of Mr.Hawking. It’s quite a remarkable letter now as it comes straight from the office of Stephen Hawking.
The Stephen Hawking Signed book (A Brief History of Time) is an interesting one. The signature is dedicated to someone named Lewis with Mr.Hawking’s initials (S W H). The auction states that the book belonged to Lewis Stetson Allen, grandson of the creator of the Stetson hats. Doing a some research I was able to find that he use to work at the John B. Stetson Company which was a family owned business and then moved on to become a prominent figure in the banking industry. This would state that he was well connected and had a connection with Mr.Hawking, hence the signing of the book. On the front cover of the book shows the tag mark from Lewis’ personal library.
The question is, did Stephen Hawking sign this book? No one will know. In a biography of Stephen Hawking by Kitty Ferguson it states on page 105 that in 1974 on induction to the Royal Society Stephen could write his name with great effort but it took him a long time. It is mentioned that Stephen Hawking stopped using his clicker in 2008 as he wasn’t able to move his hands anymore (link). Given the state that Stephen Hawking was in 1998, his reduced ability to sign (hence his use of shorter inscriptions & his own initials instead of his full name) I see similarity in the pen strokes, the trail-offs, and the formation and shape of the letters , and that the signed book is a first edition shows that Stephen Hawking could still sign things. However, it must have been a difficult and tedious task for him by that time, hence the initials. Presumably, Mr.Hawking and Lewis might have met at one point and it’s uncharacteristic of Stephen to just write his initials, hence the great effort of writing Lewis’ name in a message. Nonetheless, it’s spectacular item.
“The Universe in a Nutshell” thumb print from Stephen Hawking is a rare find as well (not as rare as his signature). I always liked his thumb print signature as I felt that it really brought you closer to the man that through something as his signature. As strange as that sounds, Stephen had no choice eventually to use his thumb print when personalizing his books. I’ve seen some of these “thumb print” books for sale and they do fetch a high price. I’ve seen some with and without the “RIGHT THUMB-PRINT OF S W HAWKING WITNESSED BY …” stamp. Perhaps the later assistants to the professor didn’t go through such heights to authenticate a signature, however, in this auction it does come with a authenticate stamp by his personal assistant at the time “Karen Sime”. I did a quick Google search to see if anyone by that name did assist Stephen Hawking and I was able to come up with a positive search (link). As well as a mention of Karen Sime in a published book:
In the published book, it mentions she was his personal assistant around the time of Stephen’s work with “The Universe in a Nutshell”, so the dates add up. I have no doubt that this thumb print is authentic and the seller also has provenance added with the book.
All in all, you can go a long way when you do research on auctions of such degree, and although there are experts at PSA which I don’t doubt, some transactions and insights are highly questionable. Do you think someone at PSA/JSA/Beckett would have taken the time to do the research I did? Probably not as they receive hundreds of requests a day to authenticate items (hence their search options to benchmark autographs). As well, requesting to get an opinion from an auction like this where you can’t possibly authenticate the thumb print seems odd that they wouldn’t mention anything in their decision from “QuickOpinion” and request for me to send the items in.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this thorough posts and analysis about my experience with PSA and including a review on one of the coolest auctions I’ve seen in a long time. As a big Stephen Hawking fan myself I would love to own all three of these items and if I were to sell them (which would be never), I’d ask a heck of a lot more than the current asking price. There is a best-offer option which is insane to think that the seller would accept anything less then $10,200. I do see two offers on the auction so it is getting interest.
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