On this page, you will find examples of everything considered to be not authentic. This will include autopens, pre-prints, secretarials or ghost signers, known forgeries, and other forgeries.
I will start this section off with the autopen signature. The autopen was a topic for debate by novice collectors and other through-the-mail (TTM) collectors. There is no debate, this is a machine signed signature. The autopen is most common on the standard 3x5 TTM photo, but can also be found on other items including 8x10 photos, 16x20 photos, and books. While it is a little rare to find a large photo (8x10 etc.) with the autopen, it is not all that uncommon to find a bookplate with the machine signature. I believe, this was done because if Ali were to make an appearance (book signing) and he wasn't well enough to sign, he (or his people) would give out pre-signed bookplates. The only thing was the bookplates weren't hand signed, they were mechanically signed. I also believe the autopen wasn't created to deceive, rather to fill the demand for Ali's autograph. As the years went on, Ali wasn't as able to fulfill all the autograph requests he received. The autopen made sure that everyone who requested an autograph, received one.
The autopen is easy to spot, as it has never changed in style, it has however changed in size. The autopen can be found in every color (black, blue, silver, and gold) and signed with every type of pen (thick marker, thin marker, pen, paint pen) you could think of. There are times when the autopen look shaky, this is another reason that people assume it's real. The signature appears shaky because of mechanical error, usually when the pen or the arm don't move across the surface smoothly.
Below you will see examples of the autopen signature.
The standard autopen on the TTM 3x5
The small autopen on the TTM photo
Paint pen, autopen in different location
Autopen on Sports Illustrated
Bookplate with autopen signature
Letter signed by autopen
Autopen on magazine
8x10 with autopen signature
8x10 with autopen signature
Autopen passed as authentic
8x10 with autopen signature
This autopen was deemed authentic
Operation Bullpen Forgery
In the late 90's, Operation Bullpen brought down 18 forgery rings, included in these busts was a forger by the name of Scott Olson. Olson's hand is the one responsible for the phony Ali autograph commonly called "the Operation Bullpen forgery". One of the reasons that these counterfeit autographs were accepted as real was because a retired boxer named Chuck Wepner backed them. If an ex heavyweight who knew Ali and actually fought him said that the signatures were good, that means they are real, right? As everyone who bought them learned, very wrong. Come to find out, Olson and Wepner were working together in this forgery scheme which took hundreds of thousands of dollars from unsuspecting collectors and dealers. This is the most publicized Ali forgery ever yet it can still be found for sale by dealers with little searching.
This forgery is most common on photos (8x10's and larger) and gloves, I don't recall seeing it on any other items. You will find it with the added inscription of "AKA Cassius Clay" or simply "Muhammad Ali". Special care has to be taken with this bogus signature because it has been authenticated by numerous experts and sold as real through many auction houses and are accompanied by COA's.
As you can see from the pictures, this fabrication is short and choppy. Most authentic Ali signature has both small m's written out fully, even in the early 90's, these do not. Ali's autograph is more rounded on the top of his letters, as you can see from the examples, these are pointed. Also, the last name appears to be an 'a' all by itself, unlike authentic examples from the same era.
There is a wonderful book written on this subject by Kevin Nelson. I have read this book from cover to cover and have read the Ali section several times, it has taught me a great deal. I recommend this book and it is a 'must read' for anyone interested in autographs and forgeries.
Below are several excerpts from Kevin's book, they are used with permission form Mr. Nelson.
Yet another source was Ali's agent, Harlan Werner, who called Fitzsimmons in February 2001 concerned about the widespread forging of his famous client's autograph. Werner told Fitzsimmons that he had long believed that Madison Sports sold counterfeits, and that the company claimed to get its Ali memorabilia from Chuck Wepner.
Then, in late 1995 or early 1996, Wepner asked his partner to print some copies of a boxing poster called "Champions Forever." The original idea was to get the boxers to sign the posters printed by Olson, and then sell them. But both Olson and Wepner agreed the logistics of this were impossible. You'd have to get all five men together again, or take copies around to each of them individually. That'd take forever. Finally it was decided that the thing to do was forge the signatures and sell the posters as if they 'd actually been autographed by the fighters. As for who would vouch for the authenticity of the sigs, that was obvious. Wepner's reputation - the fact that he knew all these guys and had sparred and fought against three of them - would provide the cover.
Olson estimated that over the years he forged close to 10,000 items for Ginsberg, mainly of Muhammad Ali.
"It was crazy. We went on for years after that. people saying, 'I want to buy five hundred Ali photographs. I want to buy one thousand Ali photographs.'" To meet these demands, John did the forging, Brian did the selling, and Chuck did the vouching.
For Wepner and Ginsberg, Olson forged mainly Ali, "but we branched out into other guys," mostly other big-name fighters like the ones on the Champions Forever poster.
Olson and Wepner charged Ginsberg ten to fifty dollars per forgery, and Ginsberg sold them to the public for whatever the market would bear - as much as $1,000 apiece or more, depending on the item.
Here I will show examples of, what are in my opinion, non-authentic Muhammad Ali signatures. While not as common as the biggest examples, I have seen all of these styles multiple times. So by reviewing them here, you should be able to easily recognize them should you come across them during your collecting.
This particular imitation Ali signature has been around since the early 1990's. Personally, I have only seen this style on photographs, such as 8x10's. Some will come with COA's from shops and even from what appear to be 3rd parties.
Here is another style that is in my opinion a forgery, I first recall seeing this style appear on ebay in 2008/2009. Just about all of these appeared to hit the market at around the same time and spread after several subsequent sales. These phony signatures seem to originate from Missouri, as this is where the first recorded ebay sales were from. This spurious signature can be found on many different items including gloves, posters, sports cards, books, and photos. Many of these items, if not all of them, have been authenticated by (at the time) a major (now defunct) 3rd party authentication company. Also, most of the certification numbers were sequential, meaning that they were submitted at the same time. To me, this means that they most likely came from one source. A recent search of the ebay user ID where most of these came from, resulted in a 'not found'. See the examples below.
Preprints are pictures or other items that have a printed signature on them. You need to watch out for these items, especially with online transactions. Without the item in hand, sometimes it is hard to tell if the signature is genuine or printed. If you have the item in hand, tilt it in the light and you can see if it stands out from the surface of the item. If you're still not sure, look at it under a black light. Below you will see some examples of several different preprinted items.
Muhammad Ali Cologne Preprint
Below you will see the Muhammad Ali Cologne preprint. The issue that makes this item particularly dangerous is the fact that Ali often personalized these photos. During the launch of Ali's scent line, he would make appearances at department stores. For these events he was armed with a stack of promo 8x10's with a printed signature and Ali would add the fan's name and date around the printed autograph. Now, the inscription around the signature is in fact authentic Ali handwriting but the signature itself is not. So, if you just want some writing by Ali, you can usually pick these photos up cheap.
Ali was one of the biggest names in the world and as a result, every company wanted his endorsement. So as you can imagine, there is no shortage of Ali licensed products from boxing gear to roach traps and most of them came adorned with the champ's facsimile signature.
Here are some more examples of preprints. Some of these could definitely fool people, especially if the item is not in hand.
Flyer with a preprint signature (right)
1964 Clay letter with a stamped signature
3x5 Exhibit Card
Stamped Promo Card
Preprinted bookplate found in a book