Game-Worn Jerseys: 5 Things to Look For

When you buy sports memorabilia, you should know what you’re purchasing. The sports memorabilia market is different from the sports card market. In many ways, it’s easier to buy baseball cards or basketball cards because you know what you’re getting and can examine the card. When it comes to sports memorabilia and autographed items, though, you have to do a little digging to authenticate the item.

Don’t buy sports memorabilia before you know that what you’re buying is the real deal. If you buy from an established auction house like Goldin Auctions,  you can be sure the item — whether it’s a jersey, a ball or whatever — has been authenticated. Even if it’s not signed, a game-worn jersey still adds value to any collection. Here are some tips to help you separate the bargains from the scams:

Tips for How to Buy Sports Memorabilia

  1. Game-worn vs. game-issued, team-issued or game-prepped. Only a game-worn jersey has been worn by a player in an actual big-league game. Other jerseys may be back-ups, used in preseason games or prepared for a player who never wore it. Teams have many reasons for having extra jerseys. Some players are traded. Some are sent back to the minor leagues. Teams may dump unused jerseys on the market at the end of a season. When you buy sports memorabilia, make sure you can authenticate that it’s game-worn.
  2. Read the fine print. Dealers who sell game-worn jerseys want you to know the items are genuine. Authentication markedly enhances a jersey’s value. Look in the jersey’s description for the proof, called provenance, of the game-worn claim. If it merely suggests that the player wore it, beware, regardless how it looks. Unscrupulous dealers have stained or rubbed dirt on a jersey to fool you. Since making a false claim is a federal offense, dishonest dealers would rather trick you. If you don’t see the proof, it’s not there.
  3. Authenticating game-worn jerseys. On the other hand, just because a dealer can’t produce a letter of authenticity, especially for older jerseys, that doesn’t mean the jersey is a fake. A written guarantee of authentication is just as good. Examine the tagging — for customized alterations and the size — of the jersey for further proof. If you want to have a jersey authenticated when you buy sports memorabilia, take it to MEARS or MeiGray (hockey jerseys only).
  4. Examine the jersey for use and wear. Use shows itself in the way a jersey was tucked in. A game-worn jersey hasn’t been tampered with, so the numbers shouldn’t look like they’ve been changed. The use throughout the jersey should be the same, so you can compare the number on the back to the team name on the front. It should look the same. Wear of a jersey describes how it’s been handled and laundered. Don’t look for wear; look for use. For old jerseys, see if you can detect the scent of mothballs, instead of detergent.
  5. Buy from a reputable dealer. All honest dealers of game-worn jerseys offer a money-back guarantee if you can prove the jersey is a fake. Think about it: if a large sports auction house didn’t stand behind its memorabilia, who would buy from them?

Don’t buy from a pushy dealer on Craigslist. Instead, take your time and do your homework. That’s the way to buy sports memorabilia that’s both authentic and valuable.