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While Authenticating Remember to Think Outside the Heart-Shaped Box

authentication case study: Nirvana Heart Shaped Box t-shirt


While Authenticating Remember to Think Outside the Heart-Shaped Box

Last week, on Reddit/VintageTees, a user posted photos of his yard sale haul, and it ignited a firestorm of comments regarding authenticity.

Let’s use this as a case study, examine the situation closely and learn something from it. I know I did.

Yes, that’s a Nirvana HSB t-shirt among the pile, which basically means this lucky son of a gun scored it for $10. Some applauded the haul, but it wasn’t long before the shirt’s authenticity was called into question. If you visit the post currently, here’s the comment at the very top with the most reactions:

and then there was this:

The number of comments about it being fake were enough to have the original poster, change his mind about the t-shirt’s authenticity.

He reached out to me via DM on IG and explained the situation. I took a quick glance and the tee seemed legit to me. I was sure the Giant by Tee Jays tag didn’t match any of the fake tags in our archive. The print looked good too, but beyond that I didn’t do a deep dive into it.

I absolutely understand being skeptical of vintage Nirvana tees. They are among the most faked, especially HSBs, because they are worth a small fortune.

Plus, there’s already a Thai-Based fake HSB tee with a fake Giant by Tee Jays tag – so it’s an understandable knee-jerk reaction to dismiss this one as being fake.

In situations like these I always consult niche tee experts so I recommended that he use Legiteem8 and submit it to Hikki, who lives, eats and breathes Nirvana t-shirts.

Shortly after he sent me a screen shot of the authentication, and Hikki passed it, with a $2500 appraisal. I congratulated him, and thought that would be the end of it.

He took to Reddit again to proudly update that he had the t-shirt authenticated.

And that’s when things really heated up – another handful of Redditors doubled down on it being fake.

Full disclosure: I co-founded Legiteem8 a few years ago. On March 1st, I stepped down from my management and day-to-day roles. I am no longer the Chief Authentication Officer, manage the team, or perform authentications for the app. I own shares but I now operate independently via Defunkd. But given I had recommended Hikki for this authentication, AND I also brought him into the app when we launched I wanted to give this a deep-dive. Keep in mind, Hikki is in Japan, and doesn’t speak English. He uses an online translator, quite well I might add, to communicate. So he can’t defend himself in these public forums, which is unfair.

Here’s a spattering of some of the comments:

After reading them I did a quick scan if I could find any other example of a HSB on a Giant Tee Jays tag. I started with the online platforms, eBay, Etsy, and couldn’t find one. Then I shifted to WorthPoint data, and went back over a decade. The only ones I could find were indeed on a Giant Tultex tag.

Wait, did Hikki did get this wrong?!

I continued to dig and started looking through our own archive. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner.


There it was, proof that there is indeed, a HSB t-shirt on a Giant by Tee Jays tag. Please note the timestamp, from 2013. This was well before the era that fake Giant tags existed. The seller, Kyle from Stormcrow, who is as honest as the days are long.

He had it listed for $250, because, well, these t-shirts were not an easy sell until after 2014.

The full listing is here.

Now, I’m sure there’s a few of you who doubted this shirt’s authenticity are thinking…”Yeah, but this guy still owns some shares of Legiteem8, he could have doctored the listing, and edited the timestamp.”

Fair enough. In the modern era of fake news and trickery we have to think like that.

The version of this listing from 2013, is here and should clear things up.

And for those of you who are still skeptical, that I could have swapped the image on Defunkd’s archive before I posted this, and that it might be reflected at, here’s proof that stored the image of the tag in 2013.


If you’re still doubting that there’s no such thing as genuine Nirvana HSB t-shirt with a Giant Tee Jays tag, there is only one plausible explanation. You believe that in 2013, there was a sophisticated bootleg operation that made t-shirts that were indistinguishable from their authenticate counterparts (which modern counterfeiters still can’t do!) You also believe that this was done before these t-shirts were ever worth anything significant, these counterfeiters went out of their way to make them.

Or, you admit the existence of legit HSB/GIANT TEE JAYS combos, and you got it wrong, and that’s okay. Some aspects of vintage t-Shirt authentication are extremely challenging – this certainly was, because it’s quite obvious that these tags on an HSB tag are rare – I could only find one other example.

Other commentors called the t-shirt into question because of the Brockum copyright and the Giant tag. This is another interesting observation, and one that deserves more research. Why would a Brockum tee be on a competitor’s tag? It’s not the first time I’ve seen examples of this. I reached out to our pal Brett W. who worked for Wild Oats. And funny enough, Wild Oats also printed t-shirts for Brockum. That in itself shows you how layered the t-shirt printing industry can be.

“This is just conjecture, but I imagine it would be something like this. Brockum had the rights to Metallica and did a lot of designs. When Giant offered Metallica a boatload more money, all the film positives for printing the shirts were sent to Giant. Giant probably forgot to change a few copyrights in their haste to get printing.”

In this instance, given the existence of fake Giant Tee Jays Nirvana HSB tees, these commenters assumed this was one of them. Now, a simple tag comparison between fake Giant Tee Jays tags and the one on this item should have been done.

Fake Giant Tee Jays Tags

Fake Giant By Tee Jays T-Shirt Tags

Giant Tee Jays Tag on the HSB T-Shirt in Question

There’s no match with any of the known fakes. This should have given pause to those making the fake claims.

Now for the print comparison.

Fake Nirvana HSB on Tee Jays Tag Print

Giant Tee Jays Tag on the HSB T-Shirt in Question

Again, clearly no match. The fact that the print is perfect, should have also had them second guessing their fake claim. But they confidently pressed on.

Tag anomaly aside, anyone who had used this authentication guide could have easily solved this on their own. (Sorry for the shameless plug.)

This is indicative of a bigger problem with authentication in public forums, like this Reddit group (they’ve recently been deleting “Legit checks” because they are a pain in the butt) as well as “Vintage T Shirts And Retro Clothing Buy/Sell Community!” on Facebook. While I’m a regular in both of these forums and they are great little communities, there’s a lot of toxic comments surrounding legit checks. I’m assuming this is why the Reddit mods started deleting legit check threads, and good on ’em!

I constantly see authenticity drama, and people making completely false and blanket statements about vintage t-shirt authentication. There is a lot of misinformation floating around out there. So please do your due diligence, consult experts…

And think outside the box. Quite often, peculiar details about a vintage t-shirt don’t always equate to them being fake. Look for alternative reasons, and seek out answers, before jumping to conclusions.

Before you comment remember there’s a person on the other end of that authentication whose reputation you are damaging.

Finally, why not be happy for people when they find awesome t-shirts in the wild?! There was actually quite a few Redditors that were rooting for this user, and a few who bravely argued with those who claimed it was fake. Hikki and I salute you!

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Jimmy founded Defunkd in 2004 when he started selling vintage t-shirts online. 20 years of experience later and he hasn't looked back since. Actually, he looks back all the time given he's a sucker for nostalgia. For more, check the history of Defunkd and Jimmy's Expertise.

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