Skip to content

Some Thoughts About ‘Real,’ ‘Fake,’ and Value

Click to enlarge

Good morning! Happy Canada Day to all our Canadian readers, and happy Bobby Bonilla Day to all my fellow Mets fans.

The photo shown above was taken in my dining room yesterday afternoon. The woman in the shot is Sarah Hanley, an art appraiser. She’s inspecting the one valuable piece of art that I own: a signed, limited-edition lithograph by the great Alexander Calder, called Animals. That litho has recently been the subject of an unusual storyline that’s been unfolding here at Uni Watch HQ — a storyline that’s interesting on its own terms and also relates a bit to the uni-verse, so I want to talk about that today.

First, a bit of background: My brother Henry and his wife, Mimi — both now deceased — were 12 years older than me. In 1985, Mimi went to an art gallery, purchased the Calder litho (it had been produced by a New York print house 10 years earlier), and gave it to Henry as a present. It occupied a nice spot on their living room wall, and there’s something about it that always seemed very “Henry and Mimi” to me — it captured something about their visual sensibility. Henry died in 1988 (cancer), but Mimi kept the print on the wall. She died of a sudden illness in 1993, which was a terrible blow to our family. There were a few things from her home that I wanted as keepsakes, and the Calder print was one of them. I kept it in a closet for five or six years because I wasn’t yet ready to deal with the emotions it brought up, but I eventually put it on my own wall.

I recently needed to get the print appraised for insurance purposes (something I should have done many years ago but had always been lazy about). I asked an art-connected friend if he could recommend an appraiser, which led me to Sarah Hanley — the woman in the photo at the top of this page. About 10 days ago I emailed her, explained that I wanted to hire her, and attached some photos of the Calder print, along with pics of the original receipt and paperwork (which I had acquired along with the print upon Mimi’s death).

Sarah responded with some unexpected news: Based on the photos I sent her, she thought there was a good chance that the print might be an unauthorized fake, with a forged signature. Apparently there’s an active market for phony lithographs in general and phony Calders in particular, and a few things about my print made her suspect that it might not be the real deal. She didn’t want to charge me to assess a piece that might not be legitimate, so she turned down the appraisal job unless or until I could substantiate the piece’s authenticity. She also suggested a few ways that I could do that, such as by contacting the Calder Foundation or getting in touch with the print house that made the original lithograph set back in 1976. (Contacting the gallery where Mimi purchased the litho would also be an obvious move, but they’re no longer in business.)

This set off a bunch of different thoughts and emotions in my head. On the one hand, it was disappointing to learn that the print might be the product of fraud. On the other hand, I didn’t pay anything for it, I never had any intention of selling it, and it still looked great on my wall, so did its authenticity really matter?

Most of all, though, I was consumed by one thought: This is a way more interesting story now! I know very little about the art world, and even less about the art forgery world, so Sarah’s preliminary assessment of the print opened up all sorts of interesting questions, such as: How did the fake print make its way to the gallery where Mimi bought it? Was the gallery owner in on the scam? How many other fake versions of this print were floating around out there? The thought of possibly being tangentially involved in a forgery ring was oddly exciting.

This revelation about the print also challenged my conception of Mimi, who was always a very savvy, sophisticated person — or so I thought. The notion that she might have gotten suckered on a pricey purchase definitely didn’t square with my memory of her, which I found upsetting and entertaining in roughly equal measure.

Mary and I talked about all this for much of that day. That night, we watched Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art, a recent Netflix documentary about a 1995 scam involving bogus paintings that sold for millions of dollars — not quite the same thing as my potentially fake lithograph, but definitely related, and completely fascinating.

The next morning, per Sarah’s suggestion, I emailed the print house that had created the original set of lithographs and explained my situation to them. The shop’s founder, who had personally struck the original prints from the original plates in 1976, is deceased, but his son now runs the company. I figured he probably couldn’t be bothered with an inquiry about a possibly fraudulent print sold in a now-defunct gallery 36 years ago, so I didn’t expect a response. To my surprise, he wrote back less than an hour later.

He said he couldn’t be 100% sure of the print’s authenticity without seeing it in person. But based on certain subtle details in the photos that I sent him, he said he was 99.5% convinced that it was legitimate. He added that he understood why Sarah had been cautious, but he was fairly certain that her concerns were unfounded. The print was not a fake.

I conveyed this news back to Sarah, who said the printmaker’s assessment was good enough for her and that she’d now be willing to do the full appraisal. We made an appointment for her to come see the print in person, which happened yesterday.

This entire cycle from Sarah’s “I think it might be a forgery” to the printmaker’s “I’m 99.5% certain it’s not a forgery” didn’t take long — about 24 hours. But what an intriguing 24 hours that was! I confess that part of me was a bit disappointed when the printmaker dismissed Sarah’s initial assessment, because that meant the story was no longer as interesting. For a moment, it had seemed like the reality I’d always assumed to be the case (about the print, about Mimi, etc.) might actually be something else. Now it turned out that everything truly was as it had always appeared to be, which was less exciting.

The most interesting thing about all of this, at least from my perspective, is how it raises questions about the meaning of value. For me, the litho’s primary value is sentimental and emotional, not monetary. I suppose it’s cool to know that that’s really Alexander Calder’s signature on there, but it means much more to me to know that this artwork was connected to my brother and sister-in-law, not to Calder. It really makes no difference to me whether it’s “real” or “fake” — from where I sit, those terms are essentially constructs that are irrelevant to my experience of the object (except to the extent that the “fake” narrative was a bit more interesting and fun). I’ve always believed that value is where you find it, and this story is a great example of that.

So what does all this have to do with the uni-verse? A few thoughts:

• We all know by now that there’s a lot of fraud in the sports memorabilia market, just like in the art market. That doesn’t mean either of those markets is inherently corrupt, but it indicates that there’s often a lot of money to be made by fooling people. And the reason for that, it seems to me, is that when you’re buying a painting or a game-used jersey, you may think you’re buying a piece of history, but what you’re really buying is a fantasy — the fantasy that an Important Person wore this jersey (or signed this lithograph, as the case might be), and that your possession of this Important Person’s object somehow brings you and your life a teeny bit closer to that level of Importance. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that — it’s certainly one way to find value in an object. But indulging in fantasy often leaves people vulnerable to being exploited, because they become emotionally invested in the fantasy and want to believe that it’s true. That’s an interesting social mechanism to think about.

• We also know there’s a ton of fraud taking place on the retail merch scene, with counterfeit jerseys flooding the market. Of course, no Important Person has worn either the “real” retail jerseys or the “fake” ones — they’re just polyester shirts. But some people are nonetheless so invested in the fantasy of certain jerseys being more “authentic” (or “official,” or whatever term you might prefer). Interesting.

• Similarly: When people use a seam ripper to remove the maker’s mark from a cap, there’s inevitably someone on social media who says, “Now it’s not authentic anymore — you’ve ruined it.” Again, the cap is a retail item, not game-used, but some people are still so invested in the notion of a certain logo making the cap “authentic” or “official” that it offends their sensibilities when someone else removes the maker’s mark. I find that to be a completely fascinating reaction — one that speaks to two very different notions of value.

As for my print, Sarah took a lot of photos, measurements, and notes, and will get back to me later with an appraisal, which I’ll then provide to my insurance company. But I have to say, at one point in this process I was asking myself, “Should I even bother with the appraisal? If the print was damaged or stolen, would I even want to replace it? Or is it truly irreplaceable because it’s the only one that Mimi bought? Or if I did want to replace it, would I be fine with a fake version instead of a real one?” I eventually decided to go ahead with the appraisal, but I’m still wrestling with those questions.

Okay, that’s enough for this topic, at least for now. Thanks for listening.

• • • • •


• • • • •

Click to enlarge

Niners throwbacks: One of the worst-kept secrets of the year was finally made official last night, as the 49ers unveiled their red throwbacks. This jersey and pants, shown above, will be worn with a throwback helmet featuring the team’s throwback helmet logo and Saloon-font nose bumper.

The red throwbacks will debut in the team’s home opener in Week Three, when the Niners host the Packers. It will also be worn for Weeks Seven (against the Colts), 10 (Rams), and 15 (Falcons), plus the 49ers will also wear their white throwbacks for road games in Weeks 13 (Seahawks) and 16 (Titans). Add it all together and San Francisco will be wearing throwback uniforms for six of its 17 games this season.

The red and white designs are both really meta-throwbacks, since the original version was worn in the 1950s and was then revived for the team’s 1994 championship season.

(My thanks to our own Brinke Guthrie for his assistance with this section.)

• • • • •


• • • • •

Click to enlarge

ITEM! July pin launch: With the Olympics set to take place later this month, our latest pin is based on classic Olympic pictograms (something that pin designer Todd Radom and I are both very fond of). Looks great, no? And note that the gold medal winner’s striped socks are in Uni Watch colors!

This is a numbered edition of 200 pins. You can order yours here.

Need to get caught up? Here are this year’s pins for January, February, April, May, and June (sorry, March is sold out!), plus our remaining pins from last year are available at a discounted price.

• • • • •


• • • • •

Blasts from the advertising past: Former Uni Watch Tickerer Mike Chamernik recently came across this 1994 commercial that is literally an ad for ads. More specifically it’s an ad that tries to make the case for more advertising in sports. Pretty gross.

In a related item, reader Zac Neubauer recently pointed me toward a scene in the 2016 biopic The Founder, which tells the story of how Ray Kroc bought out the McDonald brothers and created the McDonald’s fast-food empire. I didn’t see the movie when it came out (and still haven’t seen the whole thing), but the scene Zac singled out is right up Uni Watch’s alley.

In this scene, set in 1954, Ray Kroc is at the construction site of one of the first franchised McDonald’s outlets, in Des Plaines, Ill., when his bookkeeper, Joan Martino, arrives and says they’ve received a letter from the McDonald brothers, who at this point in the story still have final approval on anything Kroc wants to do with their brand. Kroc tells Martino to read the letter out loud while he continues to oversee the construction site:

Martino [reading the letter]: “Dear Ray: Thank you for your letter suggesting that we strike a deal with Coca-Cola to sponsor the menu boards at the new Des Plaines location — an intriguing notion indeed. As you rightly point out, such an arrangement would provide a steady source of revenue to the store at no additional labor cost. However…”

Kroc [cutting her off]: However? However what?

Martino: “However, this is a concept that goes beyond our core beliefs. McDonald’s was founded on the idea of family and not strict commerce…”

[Kroc storms off. Cut to a shot of Kroc in a phone booth, talking to Dick McDonald about the menu boards.]

Kroc: Lemme explain. It’ll be real small, right along the bottom, very discreet.

McDonald: We’re just not comfortable with the notion of turning our menu into an advertisement.

Kroc: See, it’s not an ad. It’s sponsorship.

McDonald: It’s distasteful.

Kroc [exasperated]: It’s free money!

McDonald: There are plenty of things we could do to make a quick buck, but that doesn’t mean we should.

Kroc: Loads of restaurants do it!

McDonald: Well, we don’t.


Obviously, that’s all very Hollywood. But still: “It’s not an ad — it’s sponsorship.” No word on whether the movie’s script was written by a Uni Watch fan.

• • • • •


• • • • •
The Ticker
By Paul

Indigenous Appropriation News: Radnor High in Pennsylvania is changing its team name from “Red Raiders” to “Raptors,” a move that has been controversial among alums (from Timmy Donahue). … The rest of these are from Kary Klismet: Colorado governor Jared Polis has signed into law a bill recently passed by the state legislature to ban schools from using Native American team names and mascots. … The Coxsackie-Athens school district in upstate New York will no longer call its teams the Indians.

Baseball News: The Eugene Emeralds wore Pride Night uniforms last Friday. … The latest episode of the great design podcast 99% Invisible is about ownership, and includes a section about a Barry Bonds home run ball (from Andrew Cosentino). … Umps will not check pitchers for foreign substances at the All-Star Game. Of course, the umps will have their own foreign substances debuting that night, as their uniforms will be ad-clad.

Football News: Former Panthers TE Greg Olsen has mixed feelings about his old No. 88 being worn by rookie WR Terrace Marshall (thanks, Brinke). … Never knew that USFL refs wore Pony-branded socks. … Virginia Tech will now sell beer at football games (from Andrew Cosentino). … Here’s a 1963 shot of Longhorns K Tony Crosby, who kicked straight-on and shoeless. But what really gets my attention in that photo is the official’s uni! Here’s another shot that shows the front view as well as the back, along with an article about unconventional college officiating attire (from Mike Barnes and Timothy Brown).

Soccer News: New third shirt for Manchester United (from Charles George). … Speaking of ManU, here’s a note from our own Anthony Emerson: “It appears new Manchester United signing Jadon Sancho will wear No. 7, meaning current wearer Edinson Cavani will need a new number. 7 is usually reserved for United’s best player, and was previously worn by David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.” … New home, road, and change shirts for Belgian club Gent (from Ed Zelaski). … Also from Ed: New home shirt for Bundesliga club Greuther Fürth. … NWSL expansion club Angel City FC has revealed its crest and team colors. Here’s a detailed explainer for the crest design (thanks to all who shared). … New Pride-themed shirt for Brazilian side Bahia (from Trevor Williams). … Top-level Italian side Napoli will make their own kits, and without a shirt ad, next season (from Michael Zerbib). … The Columbus Crew are taking blue collar fetishism to a new level at their new stadium, whose new features include the following: “Paying homage to the [team’s] original logo with men in hard hats, a fan will operate a jackhammer on a slab of concrete after each Crew goal, similar to how the supporters of the Portland Timbers use a chainsaw on a log” (thanks to all who shared). … Aston Villa’s 2021-22 home kit has leaked (from S.J. Moomaw). … New home kit for German side Schalke 04 (from Trevor Williams). … Also from Trevor: New kits for La Liga club Sevilla. … One more from Trevor: New kits for Welsh club Wrexham. … New kits for top-tier French side AS Monaco (Ed Zelaski again). … New crest and kits for Welsh side Swansea City (thanks to all who shared). … New away kit for third-tier English side Bolton Wanderers (from Matt Magliozzi). … Members of Ukraine’s cabinet all wore Euro 2020 shirts yesterday. “It looks like the prime minister, Denys Shmyhal, was wearing striker Andriy Yarmolenko’s actual shirt from the last game,” says our own Jamie Rathjen.

Olympics News: Swimmers’ caps that accommodate Afro hairstyles have been barred from the Olympics, with the authorities saying elite athletes “don’t require caps of such size” (from Jeremy Brahm).

Grab Bag: The University of Tennessee is adding an additional campus to its university system. Martin Methodist will now be UT Southern, with its teams called the FireHawks. Here’s an interview with the artist who created the school’s new logo (from James Spears and Kary Klismet). … Also from Kary: Dixie State University in Utah wanted to rename itself as Utah Polytechnic State University, but community members complained that they didn’t know what “polytechnic” meant, so now the school is simply going with Utah Tech.

• • • • •
Our latest raffle winner is Patrick Sharon, who’s won himself a Brooklyn Branches T-shirt. Congrats to him, and thanks to Brooklyn Branches creator Ron Ruelle for sponsoring this one!

Comments (67)

    Probably says something about me that I looked at this month’s pin and thought there should be a raised fist.

    Interesting story about the print, and condolences on the loss of your brother and sister-in-law. It’s nice to have something special to remember them.

    As for the sports memorabilia, I wouldn’t want to purchase an autographed item unless it was signed in front of me. Forgery is an issue for sure, but a bigger reason is that meeting the athlete is the best part of the experience and the autograph is something to remember the experience. I also like them to personalize when they sign, which collectors say hurts the value. But I’m not getting the signature for the value, but for the experience.

    Might have a typo here: their just polyester shirts.

    Agreed. I don’t think I’d ever buy an autographed sports item of any sort. For me, having an autograph is simply the tangible outcome of getting the autograph, which is the real thing of value to me. For me, an autograph, such as Frank Howard’s signature on a cap and a bottle of whisky, is just a physical memento of the time I got to meet Hondo and briefly chat with him. I have Bruce Campbell’s autograph – and a little self-portrait sketch next to it – in his first memoir, but that’s simply a reminder of the delightful evening I spent in a small crowd chatting with him about his career. Had I not met Campbell, I wouldn’t pay a single dollar more for an autographed copy of his book than for a non-autographed copy.

    I agree, I find memorabilia to be sterile and somewhat greedy. What you’re describing is a souvenir and I sincerely appreciate that approach a lot more.

    How many teams have done home AND road versions of throwbacks in the same season?

    Surely the Bucs will bring back the creamsicles for a game or two in 2022, but I can’t see them doing the all white version with orange (’76) or red (after that) numbers. (I’d call that the ‘road version,’ but as you surely know, they wore the white at home in ’76).

    Just curious. Seems like usually a team will roll out a throwback, but it will only be one version of it.

    And most teams also had them for the 75th anniversary season (1994).

    I don’t remember that, and I was there. Which teams in 1994 had both home and road versions of their throwbacks?

    “How many teams have done home AND road versions of throwbacks in the same season?”

    The 2010 Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL. Regular alternate uniform basically a home throwback. Had a road throwback as every CFL team had 1 1970s throwback in 2010. In addition, they also wore a Regina Roughriders throwback from prior to 1950s as part of the team’s 100th anniversary:


    McDonald’s serves Coca-Cola products, so wouldn’t a Coke logo on the menu board really be a maker’s mark?

    Also on the topic of “The Founder,” it was written by Robert Siegel if you’re interested in trying to see if he can be contacted and ask if he’s a Uni-Watch reader. Could definitely make for an interesting lead if he is.

    I’ve looked up “maker’s mark” in three different online dictionaries, and neither a Coca-Cola logo on a menu nor a Nike/Addias/UW logo on a uniform qualify. (A maker’s mark is stamped on jewelry to identify the goldsmith or silversmith.)

    These logos are more correctly referred to as “trademarks”, and a business paying another entity to display their trademark somewhere is an advertisement, even if one wants to consider a Nike logo on a MLB or NFL jersey to be a more acceptable form of advertising than, say, the NBA’s ad patches.

    Right. A maker’s mark on the menu board would be the logo of the menu board manufacturer.

    Even if you have to get the DVD from Netflix by signing up for a month, I recommend the documentary “Who the Fuck is Jackson Pollock?”

    It’s topic is very similar to yours.

    I second the recommendation on the Pollock film. It’s been awhile since I watched it, but the basically the documentary deals with a painting that may or may not be an original JP.

    The answer to that question determines whether the painting is either pretty much worthless or valued at tens of millions of dollars.

    I have zero interest in seeking out authentic or signed artwork/memoribilia (ok, maybe a Leroy Neiman) but rather I buy what looks good to me. I’m glad you enjoy the print both because of its sentimental value and it visually appeals to you. Your opinion won’t change if it turns out to be worth $50 or $50,000. Also, thank you for the Branches T-shirt.

    Patrick, if you’re a Neiman fan, you might enjoy this recent episode of the great podcast ‘Side Door,’ which is all about Neiman:

    I did enjoy that episode. Learned a lot. Made me look up his Playboy work. Never realized that was his.
    Either I overvalued his work or there are a lot of art snobs in the world. But, then again, I enjoy what I like and there ARE a lot of art snobs in the world.

    The 49ers throwbacks are beautiful on their own. But they also prove that you can fit 5 stripes (3 white, 2 red…) onto the sleeves of an NFL jersey cut to the current template. It’s the only issue I have with the current set – the reduction from 3 white stripes to 2. It doesn’t look the way a Niners jersey should.

    Exactly this. The 2 stripes makes no sense to me when the Niners should have 3 stripes on the sleeve.

    I thought today’s entry was really thought-provoking. Something that struck me was the difference between memorabilia and merchandise.

    Memorabilia seems more entwined with the “value” concept, with its distinction coming from its creation or use (autographed, game-used, etc). I could appreciate all of Paul’s points with respect to these types of things.

    Merchandise seems like a different animal. “Fake” merch is typically identified by its objectively poorer quality. In that case, it’s more clear why someone would be unhappy with a fake. If a piece of fake merch were indistinguishable from the real thing, would it matter then? Something I’d have to think more about.

    A documentary I enjoyed watching on Norval Morrisseau, his art, and the forgeries made in my home city:
    “There Are No Fakes”



    Paul…based on what I saw yesterday, I now believe this is a stolen piece of art. I have informed law enforcement. You should expect a thorough investigation and may be subject to both fines and imprisonment. Good luck.

    I know soccer isn’t your thing, but I’m surprised the article about Italian club Napoli producing their own kits is buried in the ticker! Are there any other examples of top-level professional sports teams making their own unis?

    It’s pretty common in European soccer. Off the top of my head I can think of Roma and Southampton who have done it recently in Serie A and the Premier League and other teams who have done it in the last 30 years are Leicester, Bristol City, Portsmouth and Ipswich and I’m sure there are other examples. Some teams don’t include a makers mark and some teams create their own sportswear brands.

    One of the things that really came through for me in the “Made You Look” documentary was how this kind of fraud is so likely because essentially there is no one involved who benefits from fraud being revealed. Dealers want to sell, collectors want to buy, and looking the other way on fraud (subconsciously, at least) facilitates both. The whole situation related to the (maybe) recently rediscovered Leonardo painting Salvator Mundi is another fascinating example of this. It might be real or it might not but that was a situation in which literally hundreds of millions of dollars of “value” were created overnight once it was authenticated.

    Another great example of this and how it relates to the nature of value, and related more specifically to the sports world, is the story of the “Gretzky” T206 Honus Wagner, the world’s most valuable (and probably most famous?) baseball card. ESPN had a 30 for 30 short about it where it talked about how its sold for ever more millions of dollars over the years and served as a kind of ambassador for baseball card collecting overall… even though it’s kind of an open secret amongst everyone that it’s fake. Not in the sense of being completely fabricated, but that it’s clear from its dimensions that its edges had been cut at some point to create the appearance of near-flawless condition. But again, it doesn’t really benefit anyone involved to blow the whistle on that in any serious way.

    Another great film on this topic is the 1973 docudrama “F is for Fake” by Orson Welles. His last work as a director!

    Aside the somewhat clumsy-sounding school name proposal, it’s astounding that some Utahans could not/would not grasp the meaning of the word polytechnic. -C.

    As someone who lives in Utah, this is absolutely astounding, but unsurprising. Although, if some clever marketers can get ahead of the curve ‘U-tech’ could work on multiple levels.

    Really enjoyed today’s entry. Reminded me of a good book about J.S.G. Boggs, an artist who would hand draw currency and then attempt to trade them for goods/services. The book is titled Boggs: A Comedy of Values by Lawrence Weschler. It’s worth your time if you are interested in reading/thinking more about art and value.

    I’m not sure what it is but the Niners uniform sets always seem to grow on me later on. As a kid, I hated the Alex Smith era cardinal red and black. Especially compared to the Montana glory days. Whenever I saw old highlights of the 94 throwbacks I hated the uniforms. Especially compared to the Montana glory days.

    However, when they brought back the old throwbacks a few years ago I loved them. Even now, looking at old footage of the early 2000s, I find myself enjoying that look. Of course nothing tops the 80s version of the 49ers uniforms. But I’m not sure I’ve had a team where I grow to like their unis quite like San Fran.

    On a related note, the film Sour Grapes and the book The Billionaire’s Vinegar are two enjoyable entries on the topic of fraud/faking in wine collecting.

    Seconding the recommendation of The Billionaire’s Vinegar. Fascinating story, well told, and it digs into the various incentives/disincentives that made the fraud possible, likely, and sustained. And then of course when it comes crashing down all the abettors are shocked and outraged that something the profited from happening was happening.

    I came to the site (as I do every day) for uniform news and (as I do every month) to order this month’s pin. I was hooked by the lede, and thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it. Paul, it isn’t said often enough, but you are a tremendous writer! Thank you for sharing!

    Also, will you let us know the appraised value of the print when you find out?

    Glad you enjoyed the lede, David. Thanks for the kind words!

    I think I’ll likely keep the appraised value private. But let’s put it this way: I’m fairly certain it’s worth less than $10,000.

    For some reason, game-used memorabilia has never really had an appeal, or “value,” as you put it, to me, much less the sizable monetary value collectors put on it. Just because Mike Moustakas hit a homer in a particular jersey in a 9-2 win over the Rays in front of 13,000 people on a Tuesday doesn’t make it all that exciting to me. It’s still just an unwashed piece of laundry that probably wouldn’t fit me and doesn’t even make all that great of a story if I were to put it on the wall. Maybe if I knew Moustakas and he gave it to me personally, but not just buying it from some guy.

    I do get more uptight about fake retail merch.

    Being a Wisconsinite, there are two teams’ jerseys I see a lot of on fans: Brewers and Packers. The Bucks are a more recent phenomenon, and Giannis jerseys have definitely caught on, but I tend to run in circles that sport more Brewers & Packers stuff, I guess. Particularly before the Brewers’ latest rebrand, one of the most notable differences between the two teams was how blatantly bad most fake Brewers jerseys were. DHgate Brewers jerseys just stick out like a sore thumb to me: Fonts that only approximate what the team wears, chest wordmarks riding way too low, poor patch placement, piping that’s so far off from where it’s supposed to be on the sleeves, etc. Packers jerseys, not as much, probably because there isn’t nearly as much going on with those jerseys: Three stripes on each sleeve and a fairly standard number and name font is pretty easy to get right.

    With those Brewers jerseys, though, I actually found myself making a value judgement about the person in the jersey when I saw someone wearing one: You’re terribly cheap, you have no regard for quality assurance or any eye for detail, and you probably settle for being substandard in a lot of other ways in your life as well. I don’t think I want to be friends with you or a co-worker of yours; you’re going to let me down.

    I’m a member of a few Brewers fan groups on Facebook where folks will actually go on and brag about the deals they got on these fake jerseys. I’ve challenged them a couple times with the above ideas, as well as the idea that they’re also kind of defrauding the team they claim to be a fan of. While yes, Nike authentics are insanely overpriced, it is still an interesting paradox to me, on the one hand claiming you’re a fan and supportive of the team, but on the other, out-and-out defying the team’s business practices and basically saying, “I’m going to purposely avoid truly supporting you with my dollars by doing something you don’t want me to do and getting an imitation of the merchandise you sell.” I’ve always kind of echoed something this site has always said — you’re no less of a fan in the $15 team T-shirt than the $450 jersey, so why not buy the real T-shirt instead of the fake jersey?

    When I do bring this up, the attitude from most fans I get can basically be summed up in three words: “I don’t care.” I like & want to wear a jersey, but I don’t want to pay the price, and details don’t matter to me. I don’t care who gets the money or that it’s not, in any way, going to help the team as it could be. I just want what I want and I got it.

    I just can’t get myself into that blissfully ignorant a state. In fact, I have trouble wrapping my head around people who have been told, “This is wrong, here’s clear proof (I usually will find a picture of the actual player in the jersey and point out some glaring detail errors), it doesn’t even look right” and they say, “Eh, don’t care, I’m happy.”

    I will grant you, this would probably be different for me with art because I think art is far more subjective. To me, it’s entirely possible I could end up looking at a knock-off art piece and saying, “You know what? I like the knock-off better. Cleaner lines change the message and make it bolder.” But that’s also because, with jerseys, part of what you’re paying for is emulating the pros. It’s part of the reason I like to get my jerseys with my name and number; it’s like I’m being issued the same thing the guys on the field are wearing, probably made at the same plant and maybe even made in the same batch with what gets shipped to the team. With knockoff art, you aren’t necessarily paying for an emulation. But then again, I also am not an “art fan,” per se. I don’t get a rush from knowing a particular artist had his hands on this canvas or lithograph or whatever and now it hangs in my house. Maybe that relates to how I want my name on the jersey and not some player’s. It’s about me and the worth I get from it, not the value someone else puts on it. My jersey value comes from knowing I’m wearing the exact same thing the Brewers are wearing. My art value comes from how a piece impacts me.

    This goes back to what today’s piece said: We all value things differently. I value attention to detail, quality, feeling associated with people who are recognized for their attention to detail and quality (part of the reason I prefer rooting for major-league teams rather than minor-league ones), and being a part of a group investing its resources together for a goal, even if they don’t “get there” (how many titles have the Brewers won?). I don’t value things that are poor imitations that did not show attention to detail, or people willing to settle for that.

    But that’s just me.

    I grew up near Pittsburgh and even when we moved to Virginia kept going to 3 Steelers games a season. While I was in college my father would pick me up twice a year on Saturday morning drive up and spend the day and overnight at my grandmothers in West Virginia. Most times we would stop at a local diner chain and the waitstaff would be completely decked out in fake jerseys. Part of me always noticed the inconsistencies, the sleeve striping being wrong or only partly wrapping around, slight differences in fonts of numbers etc. However I realized then that these people probably fell into one of a few groups:

    1. Didn’t care about the Steelers at all but wanted to fit in, either for social reasons or for better tips (90% of the staff and 75% of customers would be in some form of black and gold).

    2. Didn’t notice the differences, they didn’t have they Uni Watch eye for detail and didn’t notice or care they were wearing a jersey and were able to save $60 doing so.

    3. Did care but couldn’t justify the cost. Jerseys are expensive, even in those Reebok days the cheapest was probably $75, and if you can buy a knock off for $10 and ensure you have food or extra gas to visit someone its an easy trade off.

    Your basis of these people “you’re incredible cheap and will ergo let me down” appears at best shortsighted and classist. Many people do not have the extra money to pay the outrageous prices for authentic merchandise. The most authentic retail jersey, Nike Black Vapor Elite retails for $324.99 even a more modest legend jersey is $89.99 I can not fault anyone for saying that $90 is too much to pay. Jerseys are more fun to wear than t-shirts. Unlike in the art world I doubt anyone got conned into thinking this was a expensive “authentic” jersey, nor does the reproduction lessen the value of the genuine article. Let people enjoy the things that make them happy on the budget they are willing to spend.

    I also disagree with the monetary incentive for the team argument; I don’t care how many Polanco jerseys fans buy, the Pirates are not going to start spending money.

    I see where you’re coming from, and you state your case well. Yet I still will largely hold by my case.

    I suppose it’s different if you’re *made* to wear a jersey as part of your job. In that sense, the motivation may not be so much to wear a jersey to represent a team as it is “I have to do this to maintain my means to sustain myself.” In that case, yeah, I can see how cheaper is better and the jersey-buyer is looking to minimize the investment. Their end goal isn’t to support the team; it’s different. I can understand that.

    But if it’s just to fit in … well, I consider fitting in overrated. I think we need to get over that. You’re fitting in merely by showing you support the team; do it in your own way that puts your best foot forward. Some of the people who are the best at what they do definitely didn’t “fit in;” they made a point to purposely go beyond what everyone else was doing, to purposely be different.

    I also don’t consider “I want to fit in, but do it as easily as possible” a great way to fit in, either. It’s doing the bare minimum. The jersey is an Office Space piece of flair at that point. If flair isn’t your thing, then maybe Jennifer Anniston was right and it’s just not the right job for you.

    I understand where you’re coming from calling my criticism classist, but I think that’s a tad off. I bought my first custom jersey when I was just out of college and really didn’t have much money. But I wanted it *so* bad and it meant the world to me to have a real, authentic Brewers jersey with my name and number on it. So I saved, went without other things, bought it and darn near wore the thing threadbare. It was awesome.

    Is it *easier* for those with means to afford high-quality things? Of course. But ultimately, it depends on what you value. I’m not one of these people that gets up in arms when those of lower incomes have a nice cellphone or a pair of shoes. If it’s worth a lot to them, they’ve likely made other sacrifices to have that. And, like I said, there’s nothing wrong with a high-quality $15 T-shirt rather than a low-quality $30 jersey. I honestly think the T-shirt is better, and I own way more of those than I do custom jerseys.

    As for jerseys being “more fun” to wear than T-shirts … that’s what I struggle to understand. It’s not more fun for me to wear something that’s so … off. I wouldn’t want something that imperfect to reflect me. I do sometimes out of necessity; trust me, my car is a rustbucket, but I feel bad about it and just value other things more (like T-shirts, LOL). But I like to put a better foot forward than that, and to me, a good T-shirt is a better foot forward than a bad repro jersey. You’re a fan, whether you wear a jersey or not. In fact, I occasionally look at the Packers fans who still wear Chmura jerseys around, after he was found in a hot tub with high school girls late his playing career, and think, “Really?”

    As for not supporting the team’s incompetence, well, then why be a fan of the team at all? I feel like being selective is a little hypocritical. More money may allow hiring better personnel to make better decisions, or may make the team more valuable to sell to a better owner who will utilize better management decisions. I know I’ll be called Pollyannaish, but I want my money to support the team, even if it’s just a penny. I try to shop through the team store, or at least through team sponsors. I want to invest in the product; even if I know it’s a drop in the bucket, I just like the feeling I’m doing everything I can. Your case didn’t sway me there.

    However, like I say, I see where you’re coming from, and from your story, I can see a scenario where yes, a cheap jersey makes sense. I wasn’t thinking so much of that scenario as I was the fan sitting in front of me at the ballpark that’s making me stare at bad kerning and way-off sleeve piping for seven innings (that fan usually comes late and leaves early, also pet peeves of mine).

    Great piece on art and the perceived value of fake vs real. What do you want the piece to come back being valued at? I know you said you didn’t pay anything for it, and will never sell it. I’d assume if it’s “valued” higher, the insurance may increase?

    I had no idea the 49ers box shadow went all the way back to the 1950s. I always associated the box shadow with the 1980s and 90s (probably because of the team). I didn’t think the design was so old, and I didn’t know NFL teams had so much design in the 50s. It seems like most old film you see shows very basic uniforms, like the Colts, Packers, Giants, etc., which haven’t changed much since then.

    I was working camera for a Harlem Globetrotters game many years ago, which was fun because I got to be on the court a lot for a lot of their bits and jazz. I had been at a thrift store a few weeks earlier and saw a globetrotters tank so I bought it to wear for the event.

    Apparently the tank was a bootleg! One of the PLAYERS brought it up by asking how much I paid for it, to which I responded “two dollars.” He said “that’s still too much for that piece of crap!” I just shrugged because I really didn’t care. I thought it was interesting though that a player would be that tuned into the team’s merchandising efforts.

    Regarding “real”, “fake”, and “value”:

    One of my favorite YouTube channels (Tested) features Adam Savage (from “MythBusters”). Savage frequently builds/recreates props or cosplay costumes from his favorite movies & TV shows.

    One of his central themes is that when he makes something, he’s not necessarily looking for an exact replica to the original piece. Instead, he’s looking for an “experience” – when he makes a Star Wars weapon, he wants to hold it / look at it and be immersed in the world it evokes. To him, that experience matters more than the item being real, fake, slightly imperfect.

    I don’t collect a lot of sports memorabilia, but I would be willing to sacrifice “authenticated, game used” for “this evokes my memories/emotions”.

    If the litho had turned out to be fake, I would hope the “experience” of Paul fondly remembering his family would outweigh the realization that the monetary value isn’t as great as originally believed…but I’m glad it turned out positively.

    We recently had a couple of pieces appraised. A sculpture and two original drawings by an artist who gifted them to my wife’s parents 50 years ago, before the artist was famous, and we inherited them. The artist is now a big deal. If you live in Winnipeg you’ve seen his art.

    We got the pieces appraised because we “had to”, for insurance. I’m not even sure what “had to” means in this context, other than I guess its irresponsible as a fully-grown adult to own something valuable and not have it on your insurance.

    Its beautiful art, its incredibly well crafted, its kind of cool that when someone is over at our house they might know the artist or some of his other work. But I don’t love that when I look at this art (which is beautiful!) the value also creeps into my head a little. Or when visitors look at the art and they recognize the artist, the first comment isn’t “wow that’s beautiful” or “that’s awesome” but “wow that must be worth something”.

    I’m not sure of the connection to sports, but that might be because I don’t see the same beauty in sports as I do in art. I have one baseball signed by four players, I love it because my son went to baseball camp and got the ball, all my memories of that week are tied up in watching my son take BP from a hall of famer and shag fly balls from an all star, the ball represents those memories and the issue of value has never come up to “taint” the ball. But there’s nothing inherently beautiful about the ball the same way there is in a painting or sculpture. If I displayed it it would be different than displaying art. Sorry for the long ramble, my thoughts aren’t fully formed on this.

    Paul, I just want to point out how grateful I am that your brain works the way it does. I couldn’t ask for better content than what you give us daily.

    Also, I really hope the 49’ers wear red socks with those throwbacks and don’t go with the white leotard look.

    Thanks, Mance — that’s a particularly nice compliment.

    So many interesting, thoughtful comments today! Really fun topic. Good food for thought!

    I have a signed, limited-edition lithograph by USC & Raiders QB Todd Marinovich, called “Dirty Bird”. It’s a depiction of him on his backside flipping the bird to a UCLA player who is offering him a hand up. Todd has been battling his demons, but through this all he has produced some wonderful artwork. After I ordered this from him, I suggested he produce T-Shirts with the Dirty Bird. He now offers this through his website.

    As a kid growing up in suburban New York, I was often dragged into NYC with family or on school field trips to visit museums, and it was always unbearable – with one exception. I LOVED Alexander Calder’s work. His sculptures and paintings were so innovative and modern that they really spoke to a typical kid like me.

    Paul – it’s awesome you have that print! Jealous!

    Really enjoyed the piece about the Calder print, thanks very much. As Radnor High deals with indigenous appropriation, it never fails to make me shake my head when alumni are so vested in their youth, assuming they are not racist as well (a possibly dubious assumption, obviously), and object to changing the name of a school’s avatar (mascot?). My suggestion would be to freakin’ grow up, acknowledge that that was then, this is now, and just shut up. Your glory days are done and gone. If you have to be racist, do it on your own time.

    For a fascinating look at “fake” art check out this documentary on Canadian Indigenous artist Norval Morriseau called “There Are No Fakes.” It starts as an expose on the industry of forged Morrisseau paintings and takes a right turn into something unexpected.


    Love todays post. Part of why I love uni watch is that it shows how the sometimes seemingly niche or trivial thing we are all into here (uniforms) actually blends and bleeds so far into the many different (and often important!) aspects of life and society.

    Man, that ad for ads is something else. It makes me wonder how much resistance there really was to it among the public at the time. When that aired, NHL had had board ads for a while and on-ice ads were fairly new. It was just becoming widespread again to coat MLB stadium walls with corporate logos. Where teams getting a bunch of angry letters over it? We weren’t really complaining on the internet in meaningful numbers yet.

    Let’s just hope history doesn’t repeat itself with the 49ers; within two years of those ’94 throwbacks, the team incorporated most aspects of it into their regular unis, including the heavy black shading on the numbers and also added black striping to the logo and helmet stripes. They still haven’t rid themselves of the thicker black strip on the helmet logo.

    Paul- Today’s lede was absolutely outstanding in every way. Thanks for sharing this story.

    I didn’t realize that the 49ers referred its old-school font as saloon.

    I assumed it was carnival or circus.

    If you can find, by whatever’s means necessary, a copy of a movie called “The Moderns”, the main subject of the plot is the value and worth of a painting or forgery, set (mostly,) in impressionist era Paris.
    Worth the watch.

Comments are closed.