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A Complete Guide To Certificates Of Authenticity

16 November - 2021
by Vincent Moleveld


The art of collecting can be a rewarding hobby. What starts with one or two items can quickly cover entire rooms. Whether you’re a huge fan or someone after priceless paraphernalia, the joy found in hunting and acquiring rare items can be indescribable. 

But what makes a piece of paper greater than another? What can make a t-shirt sell for millions of dollars? The answer to these questions is simple—a signature.

A celebrities’ signature can be the deciding factor that elevates the status of whatever they’re signed on—from a random item to a coveted piece. A sketch can become worth millions of dollars if a famous artist scribbled their name on it. A free pamphlet becomes part of museum display should a famous actress autograph it.

But sadly, this increase in worth has invited the attention of counterfeiters and forgers looking to make quick money. Fans and collectors may find themselves victims to offers that sound too good to be true. It’s not uncommon to hear news of people spending thousands of dollars to only realize that the item they bought turns out to be fake. Is there a way to protect yourself from these scoundrels?

A good start can be by learning about certificates of authority (COA) and knowing what to look for in them. Learn more here and get a better understanding of this crucial document.

What Is A Certificate Of Authenticity?

A certificate of authority is a document that confirms the origin of an item and proves its authenticity. While you may think this only applies to high-end art being sold in galleries, COAs can be provided for various items, including but not limited to cars, branded clothes, celebrity autographs, and others.

These documents are treated as official records and as a kind of receipt to show that a proper exchange was done. A COA is also a perfect example of proof of provenance. This means that the item’s origins are recorded and its owners can be traced, which makes checking references easier. Aside from having the item itself, the certificate is an affirmation of your investment and the possible worth the item may hold somewhere in the future.

Why Do You Need One?

COAs are crucial for the transaction of various items. It keeps you safe from fraudulent activities and ensures businesses uphold their statuses as trusted sources of genuine paraphernalia.

With the global counterfeiting industry reaching an annual gross worth of around USD$500 billion, the increased need for more scrutinizing methods of verification has only increased. Although there have been other measures to stymie the efforts of counterfeiters, there are little signs of them slowing down.

What Should A Certificate Of Authenticity Contain?

A COA contains a list of different items that prove the authenticity of an item. Knowing what it should contain is the first step to spotting possible signs of a counterfeit product. After this, it becomes a matter of you performing simple analysis and contacting references that are listed on the certificate.

While templates can vary slightly from place to place, the ones used by art pieces are the more rigid examples of what a COA needs. Shown below is a look as to what the COA for artwork looks like:

  • Name of the artist
  • Title of the artwork
  • Date of completion
  • Artwork dimensions
  • Medium used
  • Picture of the artwork
  • Statement of authenticity
  • Signature and date
  • Special instructions

How Can You Tell The Difference? 

One topic that bears further explanation is that of celebrity signatures. Popular to sell and lucrative to exploit, signature forgeries are quickly becoming the preferred method of counterfeiters. They can easily slip through scrutiny as signatures can be duplicated, faded, or even change ever so slightly over time.

The best way to prove the authenticity of a signature is to bear witness as it’s happening. Unfortunately, such isn’t the case when chasing after high-profile actors and musicians. 

But before you go spending money on getting verification from reliable organizations, there’s a multitude of things you can do yourself. These can include:

  • Make Comparisons

Seeing the difference between a real and fake signature can become clearer when comparing each other. Finding a picture of the real signature online is easily done and can be the first step to spotting inconsistencies.

  • Check The Medium Used In Signing

You can look up what type of pen and paper were used during the signing. The way paper or cloth changes color over time and the way ink dries can also be revealing of possible forgeries.

  • Scrutinize Supply

Truly authentic celebrity signatures are still a rare thing to find. A way to find these versus a secretary signed or mass-produced one can be by noting down how often a dealer sells them. Being able to resupply in a month or two with new items can be seen as a sign of possible counterfeiting.

  • Doubt Any Lack Of Transparency

A big red flag to watch out for is when dealers promise to sell but only under the conditions of extreme privacy. The intention to sell rare items shouldn’t be a problem to openly share unless certain aspects don’t stand up to scrutiny. These things should also be open for all to bid on.

If dealers are also not open to showing a COA or other requested documentation, then it’s time for you to back out.

  • Use Context Clues

In an effort to build up hype for a particular item, dealers may resort to exaggerating certain details. A bit of research can quickly spot errors in consistency.


It’s easy to get blinded when going after something you’re passionate about. It's also a shame that there are plenty of people willing to capitalize on that passion.

But there are a few things you can do to avoid becoming a victim. Taking the time to learn about proper documentation and references will help strengthen efforts to fight counterfeit businesses. Moreover, learning the telltale signs of forgeries can open your eyes to finding inconsistencies. Consider the ideas mentioned here as you identify the authenticity of an item.