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Photo matching links game-used memorabilia with specific years and games

More and more collectors are turning to photo matching in an effort to obtain specific information about their game-used memorabilia.
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By Bert Lehman

Anytime a piece of game-used memorabilia can be traced back to a specific year or game it is newsworthy. When that piece of game-used memorabilia is a bat belonging to Hall of Famer Ty Cobb, the collecting hobby takes notice.

 Side-by-side comparisons of a Ty Cobb bat that was photo matched to an image featuring Cobb while he played for the Philadelphia A’s. (Images courtesy Resolution Photomatching)

Side-by-side comparisons of a Ty Cobb bat that was photo matched to an image featuring Cobb while he played for the Philadelphia A’s. (Images courtesy Resolution Photomatching)

That’s exactly what happened when Resolution Photomatching recently was able to match a Cobb bat owned by a private collector to a photo of Cobb when he played for the Philadelphia Athletics. Cobb played for the Athletics in 1927 and 1928, the final two years of his career.

“When we first found the image it was extremely clear for an image of that age. It showed the grain pattern as well as a couple of marks that matched up perfectly with the bat owned by our client. It was definitely an amazing thing to see,” said John Robinson, founder and owner of Resolution Photomatching based out of Seattle, Washington.

Not only was Robinson excited, the owner of the Cobb bat was also excited.

“He was elated,” Robinson said. “As soon as we sent over the images he was extremely appreciative and extremely excited.”

Robinson said the owner of the bat prefers to remain anonymous. He also said he is not sure what the owner’s plans are for the bat.

The standard time it takes Resolution Photomatching to research, match and authenticate an item is about two weeks, Robinson said. He added that’s about the amount of time it took with the Cobb bat.

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“Once we confirm that the characteristics are clearly enough visibly and clearly unique to this specific bat then we were able to make the photo match,” Robinson said.

Resolution Photomatching is no stranger to authenticating high-profile memorabilia. The Classic Auction, currently being hosted by Leland’s Auctions, is highlighted by a Joe DiMaggio game-worn uniform that can be traced back and authenticated to five specific games in 1950 and one game in 1951, including home run games. Sports Collectors Digest provided details about this jersey on page 50 of the Jan. 18, 2019 issue of SCD.

 (Images courtesy Resolution Photomatching)

(Images courtesy Resolution Photomatching)

“Photo matching to home run games always adds a lot of value, so I’m excited to see how this one does when it reaches auction,” Robinson said. “It was a fun match to make. The pinstripe alignment is the main thing we used, both on the front and back, and on the shoulders and sleeves of the jersey.”

Robinson said photo matching has been around for a number of years. It started when individual collectors tried to do their own searches to find images that matched their memorabilia item.

“But there wasn’t a whole lot of legitimacy or consistency as far as what did in fact constitute a photo match and there was no centralized company or anything like that doing side-by-side photo matching where they do the side-by-side comparison analysis,” Robinson said.

Robinson said he collected game-used bats when he was a kid.

“I started getting involved in the game-used community and learned about these homemade photo matches and realized later on down the road that there was really a demand for someone to do this professionally,” he said.

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A little over two years ago Robinson formed Resolution Photomatching, which he said was the first company to offer side-by-side photo matching.

“There is an image of the player using the item next to an image of the item that the owner and the collector owns,” Robinson said. “Then we circle the unique characteristics and show the photo match that way.”

Robinson said when comparing the item to images, unique characteristics of the item are looked for on the images.

“The big key there is conclusive and unique,” Robinson said. “It’s very important that research is done to determine that the characteristic views to make the photo match are guaranteed unique only to that specific item.”

Robinson said it is also important for the collector to verify the photo matching by viewing the image closely to determine if the photo match is accurate.

“That’s the great thing about photo matching, is that the collector can see for themselves that their item is authentic,” he said. “That’s one thing that I can’t stress enough to collectors, is whether someone calls something a photo match or not, do your own looking and do your own due diligence to look at the item and see that it is in fact a photo match.”

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When asked how accurate photo matching is for authentication purposes, Robinson said, “It’s the most accurate form of authentication there is for a game-used item. Other authentication methods are opinion based, whereas Resolution photo matching is fact based. I always say collectors can take our word for the authenticity of the item or not, but the proof is right there for the collector to see in the photo and in the photo match itself.”

Robinson said the most common items collectors want photo matched are jerseys, bats and helmets. Other items include gloves, hats, shoes and cleats.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we’re working with a lot of the major auction houses,” Robinson said. “Resolution Photomatching is consistently setting records at auction houses for the highest prices realized. What I take that to mean is collectors are really demanding a photo match in order to believe with certainty that their item is in fact authentic.”

He said a photo matched Magic Johnson jersey recently sold in an SCP Auctions auction for $126,000, which doubled the previous record for a Johnson jersey.

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Even though Resolution Photomatching has been linked to some high-dollar items sold at auction, Robinson said the majority of the photo matches completed by the company are for individual collectors.

“The bread and butter of our business is really individual collectors submitting items from their collection,” Robinson said. “It’s easy to do. There’s no shipping required. And it adds a lot of value to game-used items.”

As far as how much it costs to have an item photo matched, Robinson said there is a formula used to determine the cost, with the primary metric in that formula being the estimated value added by a photo match.

“There is a photo match price,” he said. “If a photo match cannot be made it’s typically about half off. You get half of your money refunded if a photo match cannot be made. There is a discount if the exact date of use is already known.”

Included in that cost, collectors will receive a letter describing the photo match, including a side-by-side photo match graphic.

“It also explains a description of the item, a description of what we saw to determine a conclusive photo match and a description of the game or the date, if that is available with the image,” he said. “What happened in that game and the stats of the player from that game. And then they get to see the image itself that was used to make the photo match.”

A unique aspect of the side-by-side images documenting the photo match is it can enhance the display of the piece of memorabilia.

“These days a lot of collectors are actually displaying the Resolution Photomatching letters with their items in their display rooms,” Robinson said. “I think the reason for that is it really creates an amazing visual.”

Robinson said he knows some in the hobby might be skeptical of photo matching, but that skepticism is important to eliminate fraud in the hobby, such as altering items to make them to appear game-used.

“That’s another great thing about photo matching because I think that’s a risk when you are looking at opinion grading,” he said. “When other authenticators were to say, ‘It appears these characteristics are consistent with being game-used,’ I think there is some susceptibility to doctoring of supposed game-use. With a photo match, the characteristics we use to determine a conclusive photo match are so unique and we confirm that they can only be unique to that specific jersey. That really is not something that is a risk for photo matching.

“Even a very slight difference is something that we would pick up on and we would say, ‘This is not a conclusive photo match,’” Robinson said. 

Resolution Photomatching has 15-20 photo and video sources to search for a match.

“What I always say, if a matching image is out there, we’re going to find it,” Robinson said.

He added that the growth of photo matching over the past couple of years has been significant.

“That difference has been based seeing concretely in the value of what the items are selling for, with the Resolution photo match versus without a Resolution photo match.”

He added, “As far as the future goes for photo matching, I think that demand for photo matching will continue to increase over the coming years to where more collectors will refuse to buy a game-used item unless it does have a photo match.”