Monday, March 9, 2020

The Griffin: A Tale of Fake Pepsi Stickers from Argentina

Ron writes:

What does a collector do when confronted with evidence of fakery? Warn others, naturally. While that answer is fairly obvious, the best course of action usually isn't. Reputations are at stake, and the truth -- at least as the collecting community beholds it -- can be frustratingly elusive. Despite seemingly conclusive evidence, broad consent is rarely possible. There will always be some who disagree. Adding to the problem is the trickiness of blame. Often, the seller of a fake item isn't more aware of its fakeness than are his buyers. In such an instance, the best the seller can do is make the situation right to the best of his abilities. When high-value items are involved, this can be tough. Sales of fake items of lower value are easier to ameliorate. All of that said, I think our guest blogger Jonathan McElwain has done a bang-up job of outing these stickers as likely fakes. We publish this post with the hope that it'll help right the problem and encourage the involved parties to smooth things over. Should that be accomplished, or more information come to light, I'm sure Jonathan will be happy to post an update on the situation.

Jonathan writes:

The Griffin: part lion, part eagle. It’s pretty much Napoleon Dynamite’s second favorite animal, right after the Liger. It was also the key to identifying some Argentine fakes that have made their way into the market in recent years.

I’ve heard many stories about fakes and scams in this hobby. Autograph collecting is fraught with fakes. Some of the scams that have been perpetrated on toy collectors are legendary. But, I don’t actively collect in those areas, so I should be safe, right?

Sadly, no.

In 1984, a Pepsi promotion in Argentina involved hard plastic rulers and triangles, erasers, and a set of stickers. The rulers and triangles are shown below:

A few years ago, I was in need of two stickers to complete the set of eight. I had picked up the other six from sales on eBay, the Rebelscum forums, and at Room Sales during Celebration events. I was down to needing the Rebel B-Wing Fighter and the Arturito (R2-D2) stickers.

I was able to pick up both stickers and complete the set (or so I thought) in 2017. I got the B-Wing sticker at Celebration Orlando. I had prearranged the purchase before the event and was a little bummed that the sticker had a weird notch cut out of one side. I am not as sensitive to condition as some other collectors that I know, but that defect put it squarely into placeholder status for me; I would need to find a better one eventually. There were other characteristics that I should have been more concerned about when I received the sticker, but I didn’t realize it at the time.

I was able to purchase the Arturito sticker from the same seller a few months after Celebration. Upon receiving the sticker, my immediate reaction was that it didn’t look right. I compared it to the other stickers that I had, the B-Wing as well as the six that I had previously picked up. When scrutinizing the stickers, I could see that both the B-Wing and Arturito stickers shared many concerning characteristics. I felt a bit foolish for not noticing before.

It’s pretty obvious looking at the image of the assembled sticker set above that the B-Wing and Arturito stickers don’t match the others. Spoiler Alert: Both of these stickers are confirmed fakes and I’ll refer them as such in the comparison below:

1) Print Quality. Generally, the quality of printing on the fake stickers is inferior to the authentic stickers. The colors are off, small font copyright text and the Pepsi logo are not as legible, and there are relics on the fake stickers that suggest that they may derive from scans of the originals.

2) Cut. The authentic stickers are all of uniform size, with square corners and straight sides.  Presumably, they are machine cut from larger sheets. The fake stickers are smaller and hand-cut. I’ve highlighted some of the areas with visible trim lines on the fake B-Wing sticker below. The Arturito sticker doesn’t have visible trim lines, but is cut even smaller, which would hide the trim lines. None of the authentic stickers have trim lines.

3) Adhesive Paper Stock. The authentic stickers are all printed on Autofix brand adhesive paper stock, which is manufactured in Argentina. The authentic stickers each have a single vertically-oriented score line on the backs of the stickers. The fake stickers are printed on UPM brand adhesive paper with multiple score lines.

Shortly after receiving the Arturito sticker, I shared these concerns with a few friends who were also collecting this set. Others noted similar concerns with stickers obtained from the same source. The consensus was that the concerns were valid, but there wasn’t an obvious way to prove that they were fakes. One factor to consider is that these stickers cost around $20 each, pretty reasonable for a relatively obscure vintage promotional item. While these items are appealing to food collectors and to character focus collectors, they are pretty niche. I struggled with the question of why someone would bother to fake these items that are relatively inexpensive and appeal to a very small subset of collectors.

I raised these concerns with the seller. He attributed the concerns to multiple print runs and less sophistication in Argentina (leading to variations in print quality). While both of these reasons could explain away some of the concerns, I couldn’t get past the trim lines and hand-cutting. I remained convinced that the stickers were fake, but without conclusive proof.

Late last year, I joined a conversation among friends who were discussing TopToys from Argentina, parsing the known and suspected fakes among preproduction items related to the toy line. I shared my concerns about these Pepsi stickers. Within hours, Isaac Lew provided the key information to solve the riddle. The Rebel B-Wing Fighter and Arturito stickers are printed on adhesive paper stock which features a watermark on the reverse side with an image of a griffin above the letters “UPM.”  UPM (actually UPM-Kymmene Oyj) is a Finnish corporation which has used the griffin in company logos dating back more than 120 years, to 1899. The logo on the fake stickers is the current UPM corporate logo. Based on information on UPM's site, the current incarnation of the Griffin was designed by Esa Ojala in 1989 and first combined with the letters “UPM” in the mid-Nineties.

There it was, the proof that I needed! The Rebel B-Wing Fighter and Arturito stickers were printed on UPM adhesive paper stock that was at least a decade too new. They couldn’t be authentic stickers from 1984! While it was no fun to get this news, it was a relief to finally know for certain. 

I investigated the Autofix watermark on the reverse side of the authentic stickers. Autofix brand adhesive paper is still manufactured in Argentina. I was able to confirm with the company that the logo on the adhesive paper stock in the authentic stickers was the logo in use in 1984. Autofix updated to a different version of their logo in 1994, which is still in use today.

By coincidence, the same day that the information about the UPM adhesive paper stock came to light, I was interviewed for a 'Chive Cast Blog Log Pod episode. We talked mostly about cakes and transitioned over to talking about these fakes towards the end of the episode. Take a listen, if you are so inclined.

As a follow up to the podcast discussion, I wanted to share more detailed information in this post, in the hopes of spreading awareness about these fakes. If you are a collector of these stickers and have concerns about stickers in your collection, feel free to reach out to me and I would be happy to offer assistance.

For the record, I have reached out to the seller, Daniel Segovia, to follow up about these stickers, including sharing the conclusive information about the UPM adhesive paper stock. I haven’t been able to get a response. 

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