By Peter J. Nash
May 18, 2015
Rob Lifson, the New Jersey auctioneer who was caught decades ago stealing rare 19th century photographs from the New York Public Library, said his apprehension was an isolated incident and that he never swiped any other artifacts from the library’s famous Spalding Collection. But new evidence revealed in a front page story published by a University of Pennsylvania newspaper in 1978 shows that even before he was caught stealing at the NYPL, Lifson already had in his possession a rare card of the 1873 Boston Red Stockings team which fit the exact description of two cards that had vanished from the institution. At the time Lifson was caught stealing, the library’s copies of the cards were considered the only examples known to exist.
In addition, two veteran hobby sources have confirmed for Hauls of Shame that Lifson sold at least two rare 1873 Boston cards prior to 1980 and that two decades later, in 2000 and 2001, he sold an example of the same card two times at Robert Edward Auctions. Lifson also sold that same card privately to collector Jim Copeland prior to 1990 and ended up bidding on the card with his paddle (#58) when it was again offered at Sotheby’s in 1991 and failed to reach its $8,000 reserve price. Additionally, Lifson sold a different example of the 1873 card in his 1994 and 2005 auctions and yet another card that appeared in his 2006 auction. The card Lifson offered in the 2006 auction sold for over $16,000. As of 2015, there have been only ten 1873 Boston cards confirmed to exist and five of those examples surfaced after 2000 with no provenance issues or visible evidence of NYPL ownership marks having been removed.
For years Lifson denied any involvement in the NYPL thefts and in 2009 he lied to NY Daily News reporter Michael O’Keeffe denying he ever stole from the library. Lifson, however, has also made several conflicting confessions; one in which he stated he only stole a single CDV photograph and another with Sports Illustrated in which he said he had “secreted” a few rare images at the time he was caught. Both of those accounts, however, are at odds with a 1979 TIME Magazine article and reporters notes regarding the thefts written by David Aikman which stated that a 19 year-old college student was caught stealing a “cache of smiling infielders.” Aikman’s report claimed that the culprit had $5,000 cash on his person when apprehended and that the thief told the NYPL peace officer who arrested him that he’d made the cash selling baseball cards in “just one day.”
The year before Lifson was caught at the NYPL he was a Wharton School freshman and the subject of a November 1978 feature story about his impressive baseball card collection. The UPenn paper noted that “students of Lifson’s age were more likely to deal illegal substances than the pictures of Mickey Mantle” and Lifson told reporter, Joel Siegel, that the oldest card in his collection was one that featured the 1873 Boston Red Stockings. According to 19th century photo historian, Jimmy Leiderman, the card, which was larger than a carte-de-visite (CDV) and smaller than a traditional cabinet card, was actually known as a “Victoria Card” and included portraits of A. G. Spalding and Harry Wright, the two men who were part of the 1873 team and had preserved both of the cards donated to the NYPL in 1921. While there were at least two specimens identified on the Spalding Collection inventory, both of those 3 1/4″ x 5″ cards had vanished from the library and it is suspected that one or two other 1873 cards could also have been included in personal scrapbooks of Harry Wright and A. G. Spalding which were also stolen from the library. These cards have always been considered exceedingly scarce and there were less than (5) copies known to exist by the time the library created its internal “Missing List” of stolen items in 1987.
Rob Lifson was caught stealing CDVs at the NYPL in 1979 but a UPenn paper shows that by 1978 he already owned one of the rarest cards listed on the NYPL "Missing List" (inset). The rare 1873 Boston team card was described as the Wharton student's oldest card. The 1873 card pictured (inset) was sold by Lifson at least two different times.
The report from November 21, 1978, called Lifson “card crazy” and described how the 18-year old had gone “as far as Chicago and Detroit in search of items for his collection.” The article also said that the Wharton freshman’s “real collecting interests lie in the cards printed in the 1880’s.” Lifson told Siegel that the 19th century cards he collected were “rare but not expensive” and that “not many people collected them.” Lifson also told the writer he had no idea how much his collection of over 100,000 cards was worth including the card the paper highlighted stating: “His oldest card is an 1873 team picture of the Boston Red Sox.”
By 1978, the only published references documenting the existence of the 1873 Boston cards (produced by Wilson & Co. and photographed by the Richardson Studio) appeared in the NYPLs 1921 Spalding Collection inventory catalog and the UPenn newspaper article describing Lifson’s collection. Both of the NYPL’s Boston cards were specifically identified in the Spalding inventory and baseball researcher Charles Mears later placed them in “Box 4″ and labeled the back of each card with a handwritten “4″ in the top corner.
By 1978, Rob Lifson was considered one of the country’s premier baseball card dealers specializing in 19th and early 20th century rarities and by the time he entered Wharton he had already appeared on the CBS Evening News and was featured as a whiz-kid collector by National Geographic. By his own admission he was considered a “card scholar” by many in the hobby and had developed close ties some of the most prolific collectors including deceased New York Yankee limited partner Barry Halper, deceased stock broker George Lyons (the brother of film critic Jeffrey Lyons) and another prominent collector of Boston-related items. While it was well known that Lifson was Halper’s primary dealer by 1978, another collector who focused on 19th century rarities, the late New York advertising executive Bruce Dorskind, had made public statements that Lifson was also George Lyons’ main supplier. That being said, by 1983 Halper, Lyons and the other collector all owned examples of the 1873 Boston card and sources indicate that all of them originated with Lifson. The only card owned by the trio that was photographically documented by 1983 was Halper’s card which appeared as an illustration in the SABR pictorial publication called The National Pastime edited by John Thorn and Mark Rucker (The card was misidentified as being from Lew Lipset).
George Lyons (bottom left) wrote about his acquisition of an 1873 Boston team card in a 1979 issue of The Trader Speaks (top). Barry Halper (center, left) owned his card as early as 1982. Sources say these cards were supplied by Rob Lifson (center, right) who was caught stealing from the collection of A.G. Spalding (right) in 1979.
George Lyons’ 1873 card was not illustrated but he wrote about his acquisition for his column in The Trader Speaks. In the February, 1979, issue Lyons wrote, “Last month I purchased two of the oldest baseball cards I’ve ever seen. One is a team photo of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings picturing the Wright Brothers…on an early advertising circular…..The other is of the 1873 Bostons. In this case, the twelve players are pictured individually in ovals with their names beneath.” Noting the rarity of the cards he compared them both to a then-$500 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card and commented, “Can you imagine what these are worth!” Lyons, now deceased, wrote his column and acquired his 1873 card before Lifson was caught stealing at the NYPLs Fifth Avenue branch. In addition, several copies of the 1869 Red Stockings trade card had also vanished from the library.
In this same time period the other prominent collector also purchased his 1873 card. That collector, who is still living, has his Boston card in his possession and recently told Hauls of Shame, “I know I got mine in the late 1970s and it was from either Rob Lifson or (Bill) Mastro.”
So, how many of these rare cards were actually circulating as of 1983 and where did they all come from?
Our research indicates that: Two copies had resided in the NYPLs Spalding Collection since 1921 and vanished sometime before 1987; Rob Lifson owned a copy of the card he told the UPenn reporter about in November of 1978; A source says George Lyons acquired his copy in a deal with Lifson in January of 1979 and that same source says Barry Halper also acquired his card from Lifson which was illustrated in the 1983 SABR publication. Meanwhile, the prominent collector recalls buying his card from either Lifson or his then-associate Bill Mastro. So, the question arises: Did the two stolen cards from the NYPL end up with either Lifson, Lyons, Halper or the other collector? Or were there actually six different copies known at that time (as opposed to four)? To answer those questions accurately we have to examine all of the 1873 cards that have surfaced through 2015 including the example graded by SGC (30 Good 2) which was offered for sale by Heritage Auctions last week and went for $17,925. That same card sold previously (ungraded) at Lelands in 2002 for $5,955 and had a very small area of paper loss in the upper left hand corner which was lower than the placement of where the NYPL box number would be and the abrasion smaller than the size of the library’s rectangular stamp.
Nine of the ten known examples of the 1873 Boston card appear above. It is certain that two of these examples are from the NYPLs Spalding Collection. (Top Row l to r): Mastro 2003/2007; REA 2006; Copeland-Sotheby's 1991 and REA 2000, 2001; REA 1994 and 2005; Halper-Sotheby's-Clean Sweep 1999. (Bottom Row l to r): Lipset 2001; Sotheby's 1992 and Legendary 2010; Lelands 2002 and HA 2015 (SGC graded); Hunt 2006 (Deacon White Estate).
While there were only a handful of examples known in the early 1980s, today we are certain that at least ten examples of the 1873 card exist and we have secured photographic evidence of nine examples with the tenth copy belonging to the veteran collector who bought his card in the 1970s.
All of the evidence available to us today suggests that the four Victoria cards appearing in the bottom row of our illustration above can be ruled out as being missing from the NYPL. One card surfaced at Hunt Auctions as part of the estate of Hall of Famer Deacon White and two others surfaced in sales at Lelands in 2002 and Legendary in 2010 (also sold at Sotheby’s in 1992). The first card in the bottom row can also be ruled out and was sold in 2003 by hobby veteran Lew Lipset who made some telling observations about the 1873 cards in his lot description. Lipset wrote of his card, “The back shows no bleach marks, as found on several copies of this card, or abrasions…” Lipset was familiar with the evidence of bleaching on the backs of cards stolen from the NYPL and had experienced them first-hand in his hobby career. The same went for tell-tale abrasions which also eliminated or obscured the NYPL ownership stamps or the handwritten numbers placed in the upper left corner of most every card. Lipset’s card showed no visible evidence of NYPL ownership and he also mentioned in his description that another 1873 Boston CDV had recently been sold for close to $18,000 because it was a “graded very good copy” of the rarity.
When Lew Lipset sold a legitimate 1873 Boston card (left) he noted that other cards had bleach marks or abrasions on their backs. The PSA-graded example that was sold by Mastro for $17,000+ shows tell-tale signs of being stolen from the NYPL. The reverse of the card is bleached in both areas where the NYPL storage number and stamp were placed. When compared to a CDV still in the NYPL collection (right) the evidence is overwhelming.
The card identified by Lipset was sold by Mastro Auctions for $17,900 and was graded and encapsulated in a PSA plastic holder marked “VG 3″ with a serial number of “11542078.” Mastro described the example as one of only two such cards ever graded by PSA. In fact, both of those graded 1873 cards appear to be two of the first CDV-style cards ever encapsulated by the company at a time when advanced collectors had not yet embraced the grading and slabbing of CDVs or cabinet cards. What was most interesting about the slabbed Boston card sold by Mastro was, however, the fact that the reverse of the card did show the tell-tale signs of NYPL ownership marks that had been bleached out just as Lipset had described. Upon examination through the barrier of its plastic tomb it is clearly visible to the naked eye where the numeral was placed in the corner and where the rectangular NYPL blue stamp was once placed as well. Mastro even noted as much in the description stating, “A portion of the reverse has a few abrasions (including a 1/4″ vestige of the penciled numeral, “4“).”
The back of the $18,000 Boston team CDV sold by Mastro shows sections that bleached out NYPL marks. The lot description notes the remnants of a "4" in the left corner and enhancements of the image reveal remnants of the "4" and the rectangular NYPL stamp. Another NYPL card marked with a "4" appears above for comparison as well as the NYPL inventory page showing the cards were located in boxes "4" and "11" (top) .
Mastro’s observation in the catalog described the bleached fountain pen notation “4″ and confirms that the card was NYPL property having been stored in “Box 4″ of the Spalding Collection as identified by Charles Mears. While the numeric notations were executed in a distinct handwriting style it was unknown that Mears was the author until historian John Thorn uncovered a 1922 Spalding Collection inventory booklet that Mears had marked up and identified himself (“Names by C. W. Mears”) as the person who catalogued the Spalding items and documented the specific storage boxes where each photo could be found. Thorn examined the booklet in the early 1980s and made a photocopy of its entire contents before it also vanished from the library. According to NYPL sources, Thorn’s photocopy is the only surviving proof of Mears’ work but the library and the FBI have been unable to locate the original.
Charles Mears numbered each Spalding Collection photo in conjunction with its corresponding storage box (inset). He also noted his work in a master copy of the 1922 Spalding Collection inventory booklet (left) where Mears identified himself as the author of the notations (center). Historian John Thorn discovered his master booklet in the 1980s and photocopied its contents before it vanished from the NYPL.
A source who was active collecting in the late 1970s and early 1980s told Hauls of Shame he believes that this example sold by Mastro is the card that was owned by George Lyons and described in his 1979 Trader Speaks column. Around the same time period, Lyons also owned a Cap Anson Stevens cabinet card that was stolen from the library with similar bleaching to obscure the NYPL marks and our source believes the Anson cabinet and the 1873 card were sold to him by Lifson in the late 1970s. In 2003, collector Hal Lewis bought the same 1873 card in the Mastro sale for $17,900 and in 2007 another owner sold it through Mastro again where it realized a sales price of $17,956.
The next highly suspect 1873 Boston card is very likely the second missing NYPL example. Again, Rob Lifson figures prominently in this card’s provenance and it has passed through his hands (and his auction house) on three different occasions and once privately when he sold it to collector Jim Copeland around 1989. In a 1991 issue of The Old Judge, Lew Lipset, stated that Lifson had sold Copeland “a million dollars” worth of items from his personal collection and Copeland’s 19th century holdings included several rarities fitting the description on missing NYPL items including the 1873 card. Copeland’s card, however, differed from the 1873 cards Lipset later described as being bleached but did have “abrasions” on the reverse. When Rob Lifson offered this example at REA in 1993 he described his former “Copeland Card” as exhibiting “Minor paper loss on reverse from at one time being removed from an album…” When it appeared at auction in 1991 Sotheby’s said it was “removed from an album so it has a bit of paper removed from its blank back.” Neither Lifson or Sotheby’s consultant Bill Mastro had any direct knowledge that the card had actually been removed from a scrapbook.
Another 1873 card suspected as NYPL property was bought c.1990 by Jim Copeland (left) from Rob Lifson (right). Lew Lipset's TOJ detailed Lifson's sale of "one million dollars" of 19th c. material to Copeland (right).
Since the time of the Copeland auction this particular card has bounced around the hobby like a hot potato and has always been under suspicion of being stolen. If it was actually taken from the library in the 1970s it then went from Lifson to Copeland sometime between 1989 to 1991. It then resurfaced in two other public auctions conducted by Lifson and REA in 2000 and 2001 where it sold for a fraction of its 1991 Sotheby’s estimate at less than $2,000. The same card has also appeared for sale on eBay and via the late dealer “Broadway Rick” Kohl. For the past decade the card’s whereabouts have been unknown. It should be noted that the reverse of this example of the 1873 card was never illustrated in any of the REA or Sotheby’s sales and Hauls of Shame has not been able to locate an image of the back. One collector who previously owned the card told us, “As I recall, the back paper loss was one section in the middle that wasn’t too big.” Another former owner of the same card told us, “I do remember the photo clarity was poor and there was a paper loss on the back, maybe half-dollar size.”
Barry Halper's 1873 Boston card (right) appeared on 1982 SABR contact sheets with other items missing from the NYPLs Spalding Collection including (l to r) cdv's of Deacon White, Ross Barnes and John Ryan.
The third likeliest suspect as one of the two missing NYPL Boston cards is the example that spent several decades in the Barry Halper Collection. The card was first documented on the original SABR contact sheets from a photo shoot John Thorn and Mark Rucker conducted in 1982 at Halper’s residence in Livingston, NJ. Thorn and Rucker were in the process of compiling images for inclusion in the SABR National Pastime publication which was a review of 19th century baseball photography. Halper’s example is highly suspect because it appears among other rare photographs that fit the description of other missing items from the NYPLs Spalding Collection including ultra-rare cdv’s of Deacon White, Ross Barnes and John Ryan. Halper’s 1873 Boston card that was photographed by Thorn and Rucker was later offered for sale in 1999 at Sotheby’s along with a rare and trimmed 1872 Boston BBC trade card. The two cards sold together for only $5,175 and in 2000 dealer Steve Verkman offered the 1873 card for sale in an SCD advertisement. The last known owner of the Halper copy had the card graded and encapsulated by PSA as a “PR-FR 1″ and the former owner confirmed for Hauls of Shame that the back of the card exhibited visible paper loss.
Another suspect 1873 Boston BBC card appeared in REAs 1994 sale (left) and was described as having “minor paper loss on reverse from one time being removed from an album.” The same card sold again at REA in 2005 in a graded PSA holder for $9,280.
The fourth suspect 1873 Boston card appeared in 1994 and 2005 sales conducted by Lifson and REA and is in question primarily for its lot description which, like the Copeland-Lifson example, describes damage on the back of the card as, “a small amount of paper loss (approximately 10%, not affecting the several lines of copyright text) to the reverse from having once been affixed, and then removed from a scrapbook.” The card was encapsulated and graded “Authentic” by PSA and sold for $9,280 but Lifson and REA did not include an image of the damage on the reverse of the card.
The fifth through tenth examples known to exist all appear to be legitimate non-NYPL examples of the 1873 card and show minimal or no back damage with no evidence of bleaching whatsoever. The veteran collector who purchased his card in the 1970s told us his card has a clean back with no paper loss. These cards also have no blatant provenance issues with one of the cards originating from the estate of Hall of Famer Deacon White. In addition, only one of these six cards has been linked to the known library thieves in the hobby, in particular, Lifson. These facts significantly increase the probability that the cards Lifson handled directly could very well have included the two examples stolen from the library.
We contacted the former UPenn writer, Joel Siegel, to see if he had any further recollections about the story he wrote about the “card-crazy” freshman nearly thirty-seven years ago. Siegel, who is currently the managing editor for NY 1 and the former political editor for the New York Daily News said he couldn’t recall the story but said, “The name rings a bell.” Siegel added, “I gravitated to off-beat stories about strange and interesting subjects. I once wrote about a student who was called the ‘domino wizard’ and I suppose the baseball card collecting freshman was just as interesting.” Siegel, who had left the college paper by the spring of 1979, also had no recollection of Lifson’s apprehension at the NYPL or hearing of the incident making the news at UPenn.
Hauls of Shame sent a copy of the 1978 UPenn article to the NYPL and askedthe library’s Director of Media Relations, Angela Montefinise, whether the institution would investigate which of the ten existing copies of the 1873 card were stolen from the library? Montefinise responded stating, “The Library’s goal is to retrieve all items from its collection and make those items available to the public. It has procedures in place when a possible item comes to its attention, and it continues to follow those procedures, actively pursuing items when possible.” Montefinise could not comment on the status of the FBI investigation into the Spalding Collection thefts which commenced in 2009 and the New York office of the FBI says the Bureau will not divulge whether the NYPL probe is still active. The NYPL, FBI and US Attorney are currently embroiled in a legal battle with a Long Island woman to recover a million-dollar Benjamin Franklin manuscript that was also stolen from the library.
By Peter J. Nash
April 24, 2015
Last month it was revealed in court papers that former Mastro Auctions exec Doug Allen was accused by the Detroit Public Library of stealing two photos from its Ernie Harwell Collection. This month, Allen’s former partner and documented library thief, Rob Lifson, of Robert Edward Auctions in Watchung, New Jersey, is selling two photos that fit the description of items stolen from the New York Public Library and appear on its Spalding Collection “Missing List.” The list was created after library officials took an 1987 inventory of the donated Spalding photographic holdings and found that over one hundred rarities were missing including an 1879 cabinet card image of A. G. Spalding and his Chicago White Stockings and a cabinet card of the 1879 Boston team listed as “Unidentified group with Harry Wright.”
The 1879 Chicago photograph is being sold by REA as “newly discovered” and was identified in the published 1922 NYPL Spalding inventory as “White Stockings of Chicago. 1870. California Team” with the names of every player identified on the cabinet mount. The date of 1870, however, was a typographical error as the White Stockings only had a California tour in 1879 and all of the players listed appear in the photograph. REA’s Boston cabinet card features the same image that NYPL officials were unable to identify in 1922 and described as “Cincinnati, Boston or Philadelphia?” for (3) photographs. Two of those items went missing from the library but the one surviving NYPL copy features the same image as the REA auction lot depicting Wright and his 1879 club.
It’s been nearly 100 years since the original NYPL Spalding inventory identified the 1879 White Stockings photo as NYPL property and the example being offered by REA and its President, Rob Lifson, represents the first appearance of any photograph fitting the description of that missing Spalding treasure. In its current auction catalog Lifson and REA describe the lot as:
“Exceedingly rare team cabinet card capturing eleven members of the Chicago White Stockings’ “California Tour” team in 1879, including Cap Anson and A. G. Spalding. This is the first example of this extraordinary Chicago team cabinet we have ever seen or handled….”
REA's current lot description calls the 1879 Chicago White Stocking cabinet photo a "newly discovered example" that neither REA or auction President Rob Lifson had ever handled or seen before.
According to REA, the newly discovered rarity came from outside of the hobby and not from an established or well known collector. In the lot description REA details the provenance of the photo without mentioning the consignor’s identity:
“This card was part of a small but very exciting new find of three nineteenth-century cabinet cards that came to us last fall. (Two of the cards, an 1878 Boston team cabinet and a 1879 White Stockings team cabinet, sold in our fall auction.) All three cards had, for decades, been in the possession of a noncollector’s family. The only time these cards have even had a “brush” with the modern collecting world was in 1989, when members of the family, curious as to what the cards were and if they had any value, decided to have them appraised. Because they lived in California, they brought them to Richard Wolfers Auctions in San Francisco and were told by a representative of the company that the cards were valuable and worth thousands of dollars. At that time, the owner decided not to sell them and instead gave them to her grandson, a young 8-year old collector who was passionate about baseball, with instructions to keep them in a safe deposit box at the bank. The grandson, our consignor, has now decided that the time has come to sell them.”
REA also claims that they had seen the same image on the 19th century baseball uniform website, Threads of the Game, but what REA fails to mention, however, is that they provided the image for that same website after they acquired a digital copy from their consignor. The written description of the same 1879 Chicago photograph has been accessible in the published inventory of the Spalding Collection since 1922.
The REA auction lot of the 1879 Chicago cabinet fits the description of an item listed in the 1922 NYPL Spalding inventory and the 1987 "Missing List" created after losses were discovered by NYPL officials.
Considering the fact that REA’s Rob Lifson has claimed in the past to have handled more rare cabinet cards and CDV’s than any other dealer or auctioneer, the fact that he says he’s never seen this cabinet photo should at least open up a dialogue as to how his consignor’s family acquired the rare photograph? In addition, considering the fact Lifson, himself, was apprehended stealing CDV’s and cabinet cards from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection in 1979, it should also be addressed why he never mentioned the documentation of the missing NYPL copy in his lot description? Could lot number five in REA’s “blockbuster” Spring auction be A. G. Spalding’s missing “California Team” treasure?
Dealer Rhys Yeakley sold this "1915 re-shoot of the original" 1879 White Stockings photo. Unlike the REA auction lot, this image appears to be from a larger 'Imperial' size photo. (Photo courtesy of Rhys Yeakley)
Although REA fails to identify or mention the existence of the missing NYPL example, this writer has been aware of the photographic image since 2009 when a copy of the 1879 photo was forwarded to the FBI and included in a 300-page report detailing the library heist in the 1970’s and the whereabouts of scores of stolen Spalding artifacts. At the time, memorabilia dealer Rhys Yeakley of Prewarsports.com had offered on his website what he described as a “1915 re-shoot” of one of the original 1879 albumen prints depicting Spalding’s “California Team.” Yeakley’s offering of the 1879 team photo provided the NYPL and the FBI a visual representation of the missing artifact and at the time was the only known resource to document what investigators needed to look for in the NYPL recovery process.
The image captured on the 2nd generation print appears to be an Imperial size cabinet much larger than the example being offered by REA. When we asked Yeakley if he could recall where his photo originated he told us, “I think it came from the Helms Museum when that collection was being sold on eBay maybe 5-6 years ago.”
In 2009 an image of the 1879 Chicago cabinet was submitted to the FBI and NYPL in a report (left) documenting the thefts. The report was submitted after the NY Times (right) reported that Spalding items were offered in an MLB auction.
The FBI investigation was commenced when a “rare cache” of 19th century letters sent to baseball pioneer Harry Wright appeared in a 2009 MLB All Star Game auction. The letters were once part of several scrapbook volumes of Wright’s correspondence that vanished from the NYPL in the 1970s and the New York Times published several articles quoting historian Dorothy Seymour Mills who confirmed that several letters in the sale were cited by her and her late husband in published works. Since 2009 the FBI has been investigating the NYPL thefts and has attempted to recover items with Spalding Collection provenance but they have been highly unsuccessful in their recovery efforts. To date the NYPL has only recovered a handful of thousands of stolen items that are now in private hands.
Lifson & REA have sold items stolen from NYPL's Spalding Collection: (Top Row l to r) 1872 signed Warren CDVs of Geo. Wright, Ross Barnes and Cal McVey; 1875 Hartford BBC CDV; Andrew Peck signed cabinet card (Second Row l to r) Harry Wright cabinet cards by MacIntire, Randall & Warren; Alexander Cartwright Tabor cabinet photo; 1874 AG Spalding letter to Harry Wright (Third Row l to r) 1889 Geo Stallings letter to Wright; 1873 Boston BBC CDV, Rob Lifson, Barry Halper (Bottom Row) Knick Challenge letters from Excelsior, Star and Hamilton teams.
While Lifson is the only individual ever apprehended stealing artifacts from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection, his company, Robert Edward Auctions, has also sold more items documented as being stolen from the NYPL than any other auction house. The 1999 Halper Collection sale at Sotheby’s actually contained more stolen items but Lifson also oversaw that sale as Sotheby’s hand-picked consultant in-charge. Lifson wrote up the lot descriptions and handled scores of stolen item that were being sold by his long-time associate and top client, New York Yankees partner Barry Halper.
When Lifson first opened his auction house in 1991 he advertised his knack to “unearth rare baseball items” but is it a coincidence that so many items matching descriptions of missing Spalding items have made their way into his auctions? That being said, there is also another rarity being sold in Lifson’s current auction that fits the description of an additional NYPL missing artifact featuring Harry Wright.
REA describes another 1879 cabinet card in its auction as "One of the most extraordinary nineteenth-century team cabinets we have ever seen! This is the only example of this team cabinet we have ever seen, let alone handled.".
Originating from what REA calls a different consignor is an 1879 cabinet card of Wright’s Boston Red Stockings that REA and Lifson describe as:
“One of the most extraordinary nineteenth-century team cabinets we have ever seen! This is the only example of this team cabinet we have ever seen, let alone handled (though from collectors we are aware of the existence of at least one other example in damaged condition)…”
It’s yet another example of REA receiving an ultra-rare consignment that fits the description of a photograph missing from the Spalding Collection. The 1922 library inventory identifies three photographs as “Unidentified group with Harry Wright” and baseball researcher Charles Mears marked his own inventory booklet and noted that the same 3 photos were stored in boxes 4, 5 and 11 and that one of them was “identified by C. W. Mears.”
An example of REA's 1879 Boston cabinet card in a larger (Imperial) format appears as part of the Spalding Collection at the NYPL but it appears that perhaps two other cabinets like it are currently missing.
Oddly enough, box 11 also housed some of the collection’s over-sized cabinet photographs and the example that is marked on the reverse with a handwritten “11″ by Mears features the exact same image that is found on REA’s “most extraordinary” example. The other two photos identified as “Unidentified groups with Harry Wright” (once stored in boxes 4 and 5) are missing from the collection. All of the evidence suggests that the “unidentified group” from the NYPL inventory was Wright’s 1879 club.
Hauls of Shame has also located another copy of the 1879 Boston cabinet photo that was sold by Bill Mastro and “The Best of Yesterday” in a 1995 SCD phone auction. That photo is mounted on a cabinet card that does not identify the photographer and Mastro described the card as having “blank reverse.” The REA cabinet photo, the larger NYPL copy and the cabinet card sold by Mastro are the only three 1879 cabinets we could confirm exist.
A second example of the 1879 Boston cabinet card (left) was sold by Bill Mastro in a 1995 SCD phone auction (right).
The FBI and the NYPL have both been notified of the 1879 photographs appearing in the REA sale and when asked about the status of the six-year investigation into the NYPL heist, the FBI’s Supervisory Special Agent in the Bureau’s New York Press office, Chris Sinos, declined comment on whether the Spalding Collection probe is still “on-going.” It is unlikely that the FBI or the NYPL will take any action or claim title to the items that may have been stolen from the Fifth Avenue Branch in New York City. Library President Tony Marx has done little to reclaim the millions of dollars in artifacts that the institution failed to protect, preserve and recover in the name of the baseball pioneer whose widow bequeathed them to the City of New York in 1921. Angela Montefinise, the NYPL’s Director of Media Relations, told us “The Library’s goal is to retrieve all items from its collection and make those items available to the public. It has procedures in place when a possible item comes to its attention, and it continues to follow those procedures, actively pursuing items when possible.” Montefinise and the NYPL declined comment as to whether the FBI investigation is still in effect and did not answer any questions we had regarding specific items that have been returned to the library. In addition, Jaqueline Bausch, the library’s VP and Deputy General Counsel denied a New York State Freedom of Information Law request made by Hauls of Shame stating that the New York Public Library is a “private and not for profit corporation.”
The NYPL and the FBI have returned stolen artifacts to consignors who could not establish clear title or provenance for their items and in other cases have claimed that the objects did not show NYPL ownership marks. The two photos in the current REA sale do not display any visible NYPL stamps or identifying marks, but it is documented that Rob Lifson has used at least one conservator named Louise Kuflik to remove NYPL marks from a stolen Spalding Collection cabinet photo. The 1879 Boston cabinet does, however, show evidence of the removal of writing on the back as REA identifies, “the presence of faint traces of erased pencil on the blank reverse (close inspection reveals that “Boston 1878″ was written at one time)
Hauls of Shame contacted Spalding descendant, Keith Spalding Robbins, and informed him of the sale of the suspect 1879 Chicago photo and the NYPL rejection of our FOIL request. Robbins told us, “The NYPL is a most perplexing place. The thefts of the items from the Spalding archives (highlight) two issues. One, of Library misappropriation of donated items and, two, (it’s supply) of foundational items that have spawned a billion-dollar sports memorabilia industry that both private vendors privately benefit (from).” Robbins also feels that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred should be involved in the recovery process and added, “What is just as displeasing is the new commissioner’s silence on the issue, and thus it begs the question is he the CEO of Baseball or the Commissioner of the best interests of the game?”
The surviving Spalding Collection photo of the 1879 Boston team was originally donated to the National League as the property of Harry Wright and it clearly features his handwriting on the reverse of the photo identifying each player. The two missing 1879 Boston team photos were also bequeathed to organized baseball. Back in 2009 when the stolen Wright letters appeared in the MLB All-Star Game auction, auctioneer David Hunt said the “rare cache” of letters was consigned by a man who inherited them from his grandparents. At the time Wright’s great great granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, told New York Times reporter Jack Curry, “It seems odd to me. Why would someone have them if they weren’t related to him? Why would they be in their grandmother’s attic?”
The same question can be asked about REA’s offerings of these two rare 1879 photographs featuring Spalding and Wright. Where did these grandmas and grandpas obtain their photos of MLB’s founding fathers?
(Editor’s Note: The co-chairman of SABR’s Pictorial History Research Committee, Mark Fimoff , has informed us that a cropped image of the 1879 White Stockings appeared in “The Baseball Anthology – 125 Years,” Joseph Wallace, Aberdale Press, 1994, p. 77 with a credit to Culver Pictures.)
By Peter J. Nash
April 23, 2015
(Scroll to bottom for Update):
Internet auction bidding has exceeded $1 million for what Robert Edward Auctions calls the “Oceanside Wagner,” a high-grade PSA-3 example of the famous T206 Honus Wagner tobacco card slated to be sold on Saturday. According to the auction house lot description, the card was “entirely unknown to the modern collecting world for nearly a century until it was discovered in the basement of an Oceanside, New York, home in 2008 alongside hundreds of other 1910-era tobacco cards.”
The rather scarce Wagner card, however, was actually discovered 16 years earlier in Rockville Centre, New York, in a Civil War-era children’s desk that once belonged to Frederick Tietz Jr., the only son of a silk importer who lived in a mansion in the Richmond Hill section of Queens. The card’s only link to Oceanside is that Tietz’ grandson resides in that town and discovered the card in 1992 when moving the antique desk. In an interview last week Keith Pearsall told Hauls of Shame, “My grandfather was born in 1899 and as a kid collected all kinds of cards and the male relatives in the family doted on him and gave him cards from their cigarette packs. When I moved the desk, which had T-206 cards glued to its underside, a cigar box fell out and it was packed with almost an entire set of the T-206’s, including the Wagner.” Since the time the discovery was made public in 1993, Sports Collectors Digest dubbed the card “The Pearsall Wagner,” but the card could just as easily have been named “The Kid From Queens Wagner” or even “The Show ‘n Tell Wagner.” Says Pearsall, “I once let my daughter Deb take the Wagner into school for show and tell. What a commotion that caused.”
The 1918 draft card of Frederick Tietz Jr., the original owner of REAs "Oceanside Wagner." The $1 million card appears on FOX Business News 106 years after Tietz obtained the card in Richmond Hill, Queens.
Having re-named the same card the “Oceanside Wagner,” REA devotes space in its lot description explaining the phenomenon of identifying the 60 to 70 surviving copies of the hobby’s “holy grail” with names like the “The Jumbo Wagner” and “The Die-Cut Wagner.” Of the phenomenon the auction house says:
“Every T206 Wagner naturally has a great story, sharing the Wagner legend that is now part of classic American folklore, and every Wagner also has an additional story relating to its provenance. Collectors have always been fascinated with all aspects of the history of Wagners: how they were discovered, where they have been purchased, when, for how much, where they have been, how they have happened to survive. Sometimes there are more questions than answers, and sometimes a Wagner is special in ways that no other examples share.”
But the naming of Wagner cards has also created some confusion as auction houses like REA have taken liberties to re-name Wagners previously identified or sold under different monikers. Another case in point is SCP Auctions’ recent offering of what they called the “Chesapeake Wagner,” a card that had already been named “The Cooperstown Wagner” by REA for a 1995 auction. That same card was also sold in 1993 at Nutmeg Auctions in Connecticut after the owners of a Cooperstown memorabilia shop named Mickey’s Place outbid ESPN broadcaster Keith Olbermann to take home the Wagner. That card was publicly displayed for two years in the store located less than one block from the Baseball Hall of Fame, thus giving it the name– “The Cooperstown Wagner.”
REA sold the "Cooperstown Wagner" in 1995 (left) but the same card was re-named and re-sold as the "Chesapeake Wagner" by SCP in 2014.
But despite the well-documented provenance of that card, SCP’s David Kohler, who actually purchased the “Cooperstown Wagner” from REA in 1995, never mentioned the previous sales and decided to re-name the Wagner to reflect the background of the card’s most recent owner (and SCP consignor) from Chesapeake, Virginia. In doing so, SCP and Kohler buried a chapter of the Wagner card’s actual provenance in an attempt to make the card appear fresher to the market. Unlike paintings and fine art bolstered by detailed provenance records, the auctioneers selling the “Mona Lisa of Cards” rarely document the Wagner’s true chain of ownership. It appears that REA is continuing this tradition by leading collectors to believe that the “Oceanside Wagner” was discovered in a basement in 2008.
The existence of REA’s current “Oceanside Wagner” was first made public in a 1993 issue of Sports Collectors Digest. The report published in SCD stated, “Another T-206 Honus Wagner card has surfaced in the hobby, this one in the New York area.” The news came from Keith Pearsall who was representing his family after inheriting the collection of tobacco cards his grandfather had shown him in the 1960s. At the time of the 1993 report, SCD said the “Pearsall Wagner” was not for sale and that the family wanted to exhibit the treasure that could actually be traced back to its original owner.
The discovery of the "Pearsall Wagner" was reported in SCD in 1993 (left). In 2008, the card sold for $791,000 and was graded "VG 40" by SGC (center). The same card was re-graded "PSA-3" and is for sale at REA (right).
A decade later in 2004, an article was published in the Long Island Herald revealing how the Wagner card was originally discovered when “Pearsall and his sister, Susan Farrell, moved their grandfather’s belongings from their parents’ Rockville Centre home in 1992.” The tobacco cards were revealed when “an old box fell apart in Pearsall’s hands” and he recognized the famous Wagner card. Pearsall then took the Wagner to a local card shop owned by Norman Siegal who verified it was the real deal.
Realizing his grandfather’s card was extremely valuable, Pearsall sought out appraisals for his treasure from the Smithsonian, Christie’s, the Baseball Hall of Fame and even collector Barry Halper who inquired if the card was for sale. Pearsall even recalls speaking with dealer Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen and being offered $15,000 for the card despite the fact that Rosen told him it was a fake. In addition to being interviewed by SCD, mainstream media outlets like Bloomberg News and Charles Kuralt’s CBS radio show invited Pearsall on to talk about his discovery. According to the Herald report, Kuralt’s interview with Pearsall “was heard by a sick boy who, through the Baltimore-based Grant-A-Wish Foundation, asked to meet Pearsall and see his Wagner card.” Pearsall granted the sick boy his wish and told the Herald reporter, “The boy could have asked to have seen John Glenn or Ronald Reagan, and I work for the Town of Hempstead. I’m a civil servant, a regular guy, and I just happen to have hit the lottery in a unique form.”
Those first interviews and requests spurred Pearsall on to exhibit his card at fundraisers and charity events “to raise money for causes he supported.” According to Pearsall, his most memorable experience drew a large crowd for the Grant-A-Wish Foundation. Pearsall said ”1,000 people an hour came to view (the) Wagner card, including baseball greats Willie Mays and Jim Palmer.” Said Pearsall, “Willie Mays danced with my mother that night, and told me, ‘You know, I knew Honus Wagner.”
The “Pearsall Wagner” spent most of its time in Pearsall’s safe deposit box and according to the LI Herald article by Joseph Kellard, his insurance carrier “require(d) that he routinely switch the card from one bank to another and that armed security accompany him to certain events — to display them for a cause in his hometown.” Pearsall’s interview with Kellard was even conducted inside a bank vault. Living in Oceanside, Pearsall and his Wagner participated in other local fundraisers and an article published in the LI Herald in 2004 estimated that the “Pearsall Wagner” was “worth possibly $1 million.”
Writer Joseph Kellard recalled his 2004 bank-vault interview with Keith Pearsall on Facebook (left). Antiques Roadshow appraiser Philip Weiss (center) sold collector Eric Brehm (right) the "Pearsall Wagner" for $791,000.
Four years after those fundraisers, the Pearsall family finally decided to consign the T-206 Wagner to Philip Weiss Auctions in their own backyard of Oceanside. Auction house owner Philip Weiss, who also works as an appraiser on PBS‘ Antiques Roadshow, knew the Pearsall family for decades and had even coached their son in Little League and Junior hockey. Weiss assured Pearsall he could sell the Wagner for a substantial price even though the auction was scheduled after Black Monday and the stock market crash of 2008. Despite those circumstances, Weiss came through for the family with some spirited bidding as evidenced on a video of the sale posted on YouTube. The video shows Pearsall and his wife rejoicing after Colorado collector Eric Brehm placed the last bid via phone for $700,000 (plus a $91,000 buyers premium). In it’s current lot description, REA does not identify the Pearsall family or Philip Weiss Auctions by name but does say that the Wagner was “carefully saved for generations in the family of the original owner (and) was presented as part of a New York-based estate auction.”
Auctioneer Philip Weiss (left) conducts the live sale for the "Pearsall Wagner" in 2008. Owner Keith Pearsall (right) sits in the audience as a bidder in the back of the room raises his paddle for a $600,000 bid.
Many owners selling their Wagner cards choose to remain anonymous in auction listings and REA makes no mention of Eric Brehm’s purchase of the card from Weiss in 2008. Brehm re-entered the hobby in 2006, after a 20-year collecting hiatus, and focused on the T-206 set also known as “The Monster.” Of the classic tobacco issue, Brehm told fellow collectors on Net54, ” It is to baseball card collecting what Mount Everest is to mountain climbing: it is there, it is big, it is beautiful, it is mysterious, it is the king of its domain, and it is very, very challenging. I can’t imagine I would ever be able to collect the whole set but it is fun to work on it anyhow — the journey in this case being perhaps more important than arriving at the summit.” Having acquired his Wagner in 2008, Brehm reached his personal Everest quickly and after owning the card for the past seven years stands to make a substantial profit on his original investment.
Several news outlets including the NY Daily News, CBS and New Jersey’s Star Ledger have already repeated REA’s innacurate account of the Wagner card’s provenance but high-end collectors in the market for a Wagner card might want to pay particular attention to REA’s claims regarding the condition of the “Oceanside Wagner” against the existing population of Wagner cards. REA says:
“The offered card is one of only four examples graded at this level by PSA with three additional VG examples graded by SGC. Only four examples grade higher (all by PSA): one NM-MT 8, one EX 5, one EX 5 (MC), and one VG-EX 4. By any measure, this is one of the highest-grade examples of the T206 Wagner in existence!”
REAs Brian Dwyer, appeared with the Wagner on ESPN’s Mint Condition calling the Wagner “one of the finest examples in existence” and claimed that “only four cards are rated higher.” REA and Dwyer may be accurate in respect to the Wagner cards graded by SGC and PSA, but they fail to reference the overall population of cards in relation to the “Oceanside Wagner” and go too far in stating the card is “one of the highest grade examples.” Hauls of Shame has documented images of at least 60 copies of genuine Wagner cards and of those examples there are at least (14) examples in better condition and (2) in at least the same condition as the card being sold by REA. ( T206Resource.com has an online gallery showing 43 examples of the Wagner card).
Wagners in better condition than "Oceanside Wagner" (bottom row in red): (Top Row l to r): 1.)The Met's Burdick Wagner; 2.) Baseball Hall of Fame ; 3.) Larry Fritsch; 4.) Jacobs-Mastro-Goode Wagner 5.) "Gelman-Shanus Wagner"; 6.) Unverified copy-1999 Mastro ad. (Second Row l to r) 7.) "The Jumbo Wagner" PSA-5 (MC); 8.) Scott Ireland's PSA-5; 9.)The trimmed "Gretzky-McNall Wagner" 10.) Frank Nagy SGC 40 VG; (Third Row l to r) 11.);"Miceli-Forman-Cohen Wagner" SGC VG-40; 12.) "MastroNet Wagner" PSA-3; 13.)The "McKie-Halper-Finkelstein-Goodwin Wagner" SGC VG-40; 14.) "Drier-Tull Wagner" PSA-4/SGC 50; (Bottom Row l to r) 15.) Sotheby's sale 1992; 16.) "1977 Trader Speaks Wagner" (w/Piedmont back); 17.) "1983 Beckett Guide Wagner"
The high-grade Wagners that outshine the REA example include museum pieces like Jefferson Burdick’s card at the Met and the Hall of Fame copy purchased from Barry Halper in 1998. Others are buried in prominent collections owned by Larry Fritsch’s family, New York collector Corey Shanus, a west coast collector who owns the Mastro-Goode Wagner, Vermont collector Scott Ireland (who owns a PSA-5) and a PSA 4/SGC 50 example owned by movie mogul Thomas Tull.
Three other SGC VG-40 examples of the Frank Nagy, Tom Miceli and Fred McKie Wagners join a PSA VG-3 card sold by MastroNet in 2000 to comprise a group of cards in comparable condition. In addition, an ungraded Wagner sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby’s in 1992; the “1977 Trader Speaks Wagner” (w/Piedmont back); and the “1983 Beckett Price Guide Wagner” all appear to be in better condition than REA’s Wagner which has a small crease. An argument could also be made that all of these cards mentioned are in better condition than the trimmed PSA-8 “Gretzky-McNall Wagner” which should be designated with the lowest “Altered/Authentic” grade.
In relation to the condition of other known “authentic” and lower grade Wagners, REA also states:
“Of the forty-six T206 Wagners listed on the combined PSA and SGC population reports (which may be a bit high as several examples have been crossed between the two companies over the years), twenty-three grade Poor or “Authentic,” one grades Fair, and eleven grade Good.”
This overview illustrates that the the “Oceanside/Pearsall Wagner” falls near the 25th percentile of known Wagners. That’s a far cry from being one of the finest condition Wagner cards in existence. In terms of value, the current bid of approximately $1 million, appears to be where it should in relation to the most recent sales of cards graded higher. On ESPN’s Mint Condition REAs Brian Dwyer (who used to work as a card grader for SGC) said the auction house expects the card to bring $1.5 million or more. Dwyer also told the NY Daily News that the card would “appeal to guys not necessar(il)y in the hobby” and would be “attractive to guys who look at it as an investment.” To date, only the trimmed-Mastro Wagner and the superior PSA-5 (MC) “Jumbo Wagner” have surpassed the $2 million mark. The only other million dollar sales include the PSA-4 “Drier Wagner” which was sold to movie mogul Thomas Tull for about $1.5 million and the SGC VG-40 example which was sold by Goodwin & Co. in 2012 for $1,232,466. Based upon those sales, it appears that anyone bidding over a million dollars for REA’s “Oceanside Wagner” could be overpaying to join the exclusive “Wagner Club.”
REAs Rob Lifson (left) and his partner Bill Mastro (center) defrauded Brian Seigel when they sold him the trimmed-PSA-8 "Gretzky-McNall Wagner" (right) in 2000. Back in 1996 at Christie's Lifson bid against Mastro and took home the fraudulent Wagner card for $651,500. Lifson said he was only bidding for his friend, Mike Gidwitz (right).
The last time REA sold a million-dollar Wagner was back in 2000 when the company was a subsidiary of MastroNet. REAs President, Rob Lifson, and his former partner Bill Mastro, made headlines selling the PSA-8 card for $1.26 million just fifteen years after they bought it from Allan Ray for $25,000. Both men have handled more Wagner cards than any other dealers or auctioneers in the industry and when Lifson opened REA in 1991, he said he’d already handled “eleven T206 Wagners” including the PSA-8 example. Lifson and REA identify that card in the current catalog as the “most valuable and famous” Wagner due to the fact it was later sold to Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick in 2007 for $2.8 million. Lifson and REA, however, do not identify that card as the highest graded Wagner with its PSA-8 designation because Mastro recently admitted in a plea agreement that he fraudulently trimmed the card to enhance its condition and value. The Federal Government indicted Mastro in 2012 for mail fraud and also for fraudulently promoting and advertising the trimmed Wagner card as the finest example known.
REA’s Rob Lifson also fraudulently promoted the trimmed Wagner when he and Mastro were partners at MastroNet in 2000. Lifson and Mastro together defrauded bidders and collector Brian Seigel who purchased the trimmed Wagner in the REA auction for $1.26 million. After the sale Seigel said he would not have purchased the card “without PSA’s seal of approval.” At the time of the sale, Lifson not only had full knowledge that Mastro had trimmed the Wagner, but sources claim that Lifson was also the majority owner of the card at the time of the sale having purchased the card at Christie’s in 1996 with his friend Michael Gidwitz for $641,000. Gidwitz has declined Hauls of Shame’s requests for comment about the claims regarding his ownership of the card with Lifson. Lifson and Mastro split three years after selling the fraudulent Wagner and in the years that followed Lifson was an informant against his ex-partner and was scheduled to appear as a Government witness in a trial that was scheduled for 2014. That trial, however, never occurred since all of the Mastro defendants accepted plea agreements and are currently awaiting sentencing in June.
PSA issued a press release rejoicing in REA's million dollar sale of the trimmed Wagner in 2000 (left). REA's Brian Dwyer (right) says the owner of the fraudulent Wagner, Ken Kendrick (center), could still turn a profit on his card.
Despite the well-known Wagner fraud linked to his boss, REA’s Brian Dwyer told NY Daily News reporter Michael O’Keeffe, “If Kendrick were to sell that (Wagner) card now, he would not lose money.” O’Keeffe, a Lifson associate who utilized the auctioneer as his primary source for his book, The Card, published an article about the REA offering last week and while he detailed Mastro’s trimming of the Wagner, he again made no mention of the part Lifson played in the fraud and added, “Dwyer doesn’t think Mastro’s admission matters.”
Other well-known hobbysists like ESPN’s Keith Olbermann think the admission does matter and have called the card a fraud while questioning the credibility of PSA for giving the “deceptively altered” card a high-grade. When Mastro accepted his plea deal Olbermann wrote that PSA had received “enormous publicity–and undeserved credibility for encasing the card in the first of its plastic slabs.”
Many collectors agree that if Kendrick’s Wagner was properly re-holdered as “Altered” and “Authentic” he would have little chance to ever recoup his original investment. Attorney and outspoken card collector Jeffrey Lichtman told us, “That card in an “A” holder would not sell for $2.8 million — the 8/Gretzky-McNall flip and holder is part of the iconic nature of the card.” But Lichtman doesn’t think that will ever happen adding, “I don’t think Kendrick has any such responsibility to turn the card in for an accurate flip — solely because it’s not required pursuant to the submission documents. And who would want their card put into an “A” holder from an 8? The card is obviously well enough known to be altered anyway, so it doesn’t make a difference.” Kendrick is on the record saying he doesn’t plan to sell any of his cards and intends to pass them on as “a legacy to (his) children.”
Collectors Universe removed any mention of the fraudulent PSA-8 Wagner from all annual reports and SEC filings after the Mastro indictments in 2012, but PSA currently features the trimmed card on its website’s “record breakers” page noting SCP’s private sale to Kendrick. Highlighting the incestuous relationship between PSA and auction houses, that page also features an advertisement and link for REA’s current auction.
The current PSA website features the $2.8 million Wagner trimmed by Bill Mastro on the "PSA Record Breakers" page along with an advertisement for Robert Edward Auction's current sale.
Several industry executives we spoke with believe that REA’s re-naming of the “Pearsall Wagner” and its presentation of an inaccurate provenance history is simply a matter of Rob Lifson not wanting to give recognition to a competitor and to create the impression that the card is “fresher to the market” than it really is. (Lifson also fails to mention he previously sold a $100,000 Ty Cobb T-206 card and a $30,000 Eddie Plank T-206 card which also appear in his current sale) But the re-naming could also be the result of REAs desire to distance itself from the link that exists between the “Pearsall Wagner” and the Mastro-trimmed Wagner sold by REA in 2001. In 2004, the Long Island Herald reported how the fame of that card contributed to Keith Pearsall realizing he had actually made the important discovery of his own “lottery ticket” back in 1992. The Herald reported that upon seeing the Wagner card, “Pearsall’s eyes grew larger as he recalled reading that hockey great Wayne Gretzky had purchased the same card a year before for $451,000.”
Twenty three years after he discovered his unaltered Wagner tucked away in his grandfather’s desk, Keith Pearsall is aware of Bill Mastro’s trimming of the other infamous Wagner card and his pending prison sentence for auction fraud. He says his grandfather wouldn’t have approved of trimming and altering cards for profit adding, “My granddad was the straightest shooter ever, he wouldn’t stand for any type of dishonesty.” Pearsall also reflected on his Wagner journey and the hobby itself telling us, “Gretzky buying that card at Sotheby’s made it famous but I’m glad we had a friend like Phil Weiss sell our card for us. To tell you the truth, with all the fraud in that industry, I’m kinda glad we got rid of the Honus Wagner when we did.”
UPDATE (May 1, 2015): Wagner Doctor Bill Mastro Scheduled For Sentencing In Chicago On August 20th; REA Wagner Falls Short Of Company Expectations And Fetches $1.32 Million
Despite speculating that the “Pearsall-Oceanside Wagner” would sell for $1.5 million and even $2 million on FOX Business News, REA’s Brian Dwyer and Rob Lifson couldn’t coax any buyers to bid on the card during the last day of the auction on April 25th and it sold for a hammer price of $1.1 million. With the buyers premium of 20% added on, an anonymous buyer snagged the card once owned by Frederick Tietz Jr. of Richmond Hill, Queens, for a total of $1.32 million.
The price realized was very close to the sum that the trimmed and fraudulent “Gretzky-McNall Wagner” sold for at Robert Edward Auctions in 2000 when Lifson and his ex-partner Bill Mastro sold the altered card to unsuspecting collector Brian Seigel for $1.26 million. Just after REA closed out its 2015 Spring sale, a Federal Court Judge in Chicago announced this week that Bill Mastro is scheduled to be sentenced on August 20th. Court papers reveal that the sentencing is being scheduled now because Mastro waived his rights to contest the Government’s calculations of losses suffered by his victims of auction fraud and shill-bidding. No date was given by Judge Ronald Guzman for the sentencing of Mastro’s co-defendants.
By Peter J. Nash
March 13, 2015
(Scroll to Bottom for Update)
In our last report we detailed several issues that sources said would surface in the RR Class Action Lawsuit related to allegations of shill-bidding and fraud and the reported suicide of RR’s CFO and bookkeeper Karen “Kay” Burris. Late Thursday the class action website posted a 2008 affidavit written by Burris for her attorney that alleges a myriad of criminal activity that occurred at the New Hampshire auction house and shows that the former RR employee feared for her safety after experiencing “veiled threats” from her boss (and RR owner) Bob Eaton. Just two weeks after signing the 12-page affidavit making the serious allegations against Eaton and his company Burris was found dead in her home in what the current Amherst Chief of Police described to Hauls of Shame as a “self-inflicted gun-shot wound.”
Sources indicate that Plaintiff Michael Johnson and his attorneys posted the affidavit on the lawsuit website after it was officially submitted as evidence in the Santa Barbara, California, court house serving as the venue for the litigation. Before the detailed affidavit was posted on the website, Hauls of Shame contacted the Amherst Police Department to confirm details of Burris’ death and to ask whether any statement written by her alleging wrongdoing by RR Auctions was ever entered as evidence in the case. Chief of Police Mark Reams told us he had never seen any such statement and that evidence in the case presented by RR after the company fired her showed that “she embezzled money from the company.” Chief Reams also stated that Burris’ husband settled a civil case with RR by paying back funds claimed by the auction house. Reams was the officer called to the Burris household and found the ex-RR bookkeeper dead and the victim of what he described as a “self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.” Reams also confirmed that he did not have any autopsy report in the Burris case file and was not aware of any claims that Burris feared for her life before she was found dead. In 2012, Reams replaced former Police Chief, Peter Lyon, who was his superior at the time of Burris’ death.
Karen Burris signed an affidavit just weeks before her death stating that she feared for her own safety and the safety of her family as a result of divulging information detailing alleged fraud and shill-bidding at RR Auctions.
The 2008 Burris affidavit posted on the class action website, however, appears to shed some more light on her relationship with RR and Eaton and shows that Burris did, in fact, fear for the safety of herself and her family. Burris also stated that her lawyer John Kacavas was going to “vigorously” defend her against RR’s claims of “financial improprieties.”
We followed up with Chief Reams and sent him a copy of the Burris affidavit for comment and he responded, “I am not in a position to review the affidavit, but can say that the alleged embezzlement was reported to our agency on 3/6/2008 at which point we initiated an investigation. Mrs. Burris died less than one month later on 4/2/2008 in the midst of that investigation.” Reams also confirmed that Burris died ”prior to the issuance of an arrest warrant.”
The 12-page affidavit prepared and signed by Karen Burris (left) was posted on the RR Class Action Lawsuit website on Thursday. Amherst Police Chief Mark Reams (right) says the police had no knowledge of Burris' statement at the time of her death and is currently "not in a position to review" the affidavit.
At the beginning of the document she gives an overview of her career at the auction house and the scope of the illegal activities she alleges:
“I believe that for the past five-plus years I have been working as a key employee of a privately-held company that systematically and knowingly defrauded certain buyers and sellers via its international auctions of important documents, important autographs and historical ephemera. I also believe that R&R and its principals have organized a group (of) industry insiders and associates that regularly colluded via phone, email, the U. S. Postal Service, and private couriers to regularly fix bidding in its monthly international auctions to affect the outcomes in favor of certain buyers at times; and certain sellers at other times.”
Burris continues her narrative and describes how she worked for the company for close to six years and rose from the position of office manager to CFO and bookkeeper after receiving training from Bob Eaton’s mother, Janet Eaton, who held both of those positions before she left work after developing cancer. Burris noted her work with Eaton, Bobby Livingston, Bill White and Elizabeth Otto and also revealed that Otto had “intimate knowledge of several years of R&R’s and Bob Eaton’s chicanery with allowing items into auction knowing their respective authenticity was either questionable, or many times knowingly fake.”
The Burris’ affidavit reveals that the CFO became part of the Eaton family “inner circle” and assumed a myriad of responsibilities which put her in a position to witness what she alleges are auction house improprieties:
“During the course of my employment with R&R I was provided almost daily briefings which included intimate details of illegal and dubious practices designed to defraud R&R clients (consignors) and the general public (bidders and successful buyers). On numerous occasions and on behalf of the family, I was asked to solve problems on a case by case basis, ranging from: Inquiries of claimed theft and fraud from former and current bidders/clients; from the US Justice Department regarding several instances where items appearing in R&R’s auctions were deemed stolen from the US National Archives; to members of the U.S. Congress and other luminaries claiming the same with their respective personal items either bought or sold via R&R; to numerous attorneys for their respective clients whereby “official notice” was demanded claiming ownership of various documents in R&R’s possession…..”
The Burris affidavit alleges that PSA/DNA authenticator John Reznikoff engaged in shill-bidding on his own consignments and that his monthly proceeds from RR auction sales ranged from the "$1,000's to $100,000."
Burris’ affidavit gives the most intimate details in relation to what she describes as rampant illegal shill-bidding at the auction house which she claims involved Bob Eaton and PSA authenticator and RR consultant John Reznikoff. In regard to Reznikoff Burris stated:
“A major consignor (to) R&R is allowed to bid on his own items to move up bids to the point that he is willing to sell the item. A special procedure was designed by Bob Eaton to permit collusion on prices, bid rigging; and profits for items placed into R&R auctions by Reznikoff. Reznikoff’s bidder number is 204.”
Burris goes on to describe further how Eaton and John Reznikoff engaged in shill bidding activity similar to the actions that took down auction kingpin Bill Mastro and Mastro Auctions:
“In any given auction, if Reznikoff “wins” his own item in a particular auction because he or Eaton could not max-out the bidding on that item with an unknowing bidder (or bidders), it is processed internally by Bill White differently than all other winning bids are processed- there is no sales invoice generated for him and the item shows as unsold on the “after auction profit list.” This system was designed by Bob Eaton, in direct collaboration with Reznikoff , so that Reznikoff was guaranteed a profit to his personal liking on any particular item; and a “no sale-no commission” policy so that he would continue to supply a higher quality (supposedly) number of items when R&R couldn’t get or didn’t have enough in any given auction. I know of numerous instances of this occurring over the past five years. Reznikoff consigns to almost every auction and has usually 10 or more items in each. Monthly consignor checks to Reznikoff range in value from $100’s to $100,000 each month. He bids on his own items with the full knowledge and consent of Bob Eaton and Carla Eaton.”
Burris also revealed her intimate knowledge of the bidding process and the RR computer system:
“To get the R&R bid logs one needs an administrative password- log-in to the website using that password and then you can click on any item, see the current high bidder, the maximum that they have on an item and there is a button you can use to see the bid log. It gives the name, number and amount of the bid as well as the time it was placed. Under the administrative password there is also a report called “auction totals.” When selected this generates a complete report of the current sales totals for the auction in process. It was designed as part of the web bidding process and implemented by Steve Long. Steve Long was told that when designing the report to ensure that the total omitted any high bids by the house auction bidder 0. These are the reserve bids. However, the totals on the administrative report generated off the website are subsequently not correct as they include bids from those consignors who are bidding on their own items on either their own bidder number of the bidder number given to them specifically to bid on their own items. The true auction sales report is generated in the company’s internal system after the auction by Bill White- after he has taken out the fictitious bids.”
Burris alleges that Heritage CEO Brian Halperin (left) was shill-bid by Eaton and RR on a Charles Schulz item (2nd from left) that sold for close to $40,000.
In one passage Burris details how Heritage Auctions executive Brian Halperin was shill-bid on a Charles Schulz autographed item:
“Some consignors have been given separate bidder numbers specifically so that they can use those to bid on their own items…Joe Long, uses an account set up in the name “Gerry Long”. A “Gerry Long” bid on “Joe Long” items and to my knowledge has never bid on anyone else’s items. In this February 2008 auction Gerry Long bid on the Charles Schulz item, item 594 catalog 330 and the eventual sales price was $38,569.09 (with bidder’s premium) “Joe Long” was the actual consignor of this Schulz item. This item was ultimately purchased by the CEO of Heritage Auctions, Mr. Brian Halperin, so much so that an avid R&R bidder, Mrs Charles Schulz herself, deemed the final price too high for the value of this particular Schulz item.”
In another passage Burris described in great detail how another RR client named Simone Peterson was defrauded by Eaton:
“When I first worked there, bidder 5461 was used to bid against maximum bids. I noticed it because I always took the bids placed by a regular client named Simone Peterson (NY) bidder 6132. Simone is an insisting collector on items that start out at $100. I noticed that many times she was being bid against by bidder 5461 who never won the item but always took her to one or two bids below her maximum. In this way, she paid huge ridiculous amounts for items because Eaton knew what she would be willing to pay for any given item because of the maximum bids she already placed on the item that he could see on his computer screen. He knowingly and amusedly took advantage of her “addiction” for especially desired items—almost as a sport. At some point I checked on who the “counter” bidder was in these bidding wars with my “client” Simone and realized that it was not an actual person or persons, but rather an account kept by R&R to bid in its own auctions. At the time bidder 5461 had a name: O. Wright from Kitty Hawk.”
Burris claims that RR sold a large number of fake items alleged to have been signed by famous artists like Pissarro (left). According to Burris, many fake Pissarro prints were consigned to RR by attorney Danny Brams (right).
Burris’ affidavit also deals with issues of authenticity and alleges that RR and Eaton at times knowingly sold non-genuine autographed items including an Elvis Presley signed guitar, a Beatles album and a large group of material consigned by attorney Danny Brams from Florida:
“R&R has sold numerous (more than 100) items purportedly signed by Chagall, Miro, Picasso and Dali. Most of these were consigned by Dan Brams dba as Paper Treasures. They came to my attention originally when I fielded questions about them from bidders concerned about their authenticity. A number of these were returned to R&R when subsequent review by art experts confirmed their non-authenticity. Bob Eaton and I had a conversation about not taking these items anymore and while he agreed that they were problems with these items, that Dan Brams had an explanation for them so we would continue to list them. Among these items, as an example, R&R sold a Pissaro Item 377, Catalog 269, selling price $5,850, which was recently returned by the purchaser after it had been examined by the Pissaro Institute and determined to be non-authentic. R&R has sold 100s of these prints/book photos and has issued refunds on all that have been returned. However, there are still dozens of these in the hands of R&R winning bidders and the potential loss for the continued refunds would be in the $100,000’s.”
Sources indicate that several FBI agents have received copies of the Burris’ statement and according to one hobbyist familiar with the RR lawsuit the FBI has shown an interest in the case and in the recent news that former Mastro Auctions IT director William Boehm also worked for RR. Boehm, who plead guilty to one count of lying to FBI agents after destroying Mastro bidding records, was scheduled to be sentenced in Chicago Federal Court earlier this month but sources say sentencing has been postponed until at least June.
Here is the entire Karen Burris Affidavit.
UPDATE (Sat. March 14, 2015): Johnson Motion For Class Certification Denied But Press Release Reveals New Action Against RR Related To Shill-Bidding
In Santa Barbara Superior Court yesterday, Judge Donna Geck denied a motion for the certification of Michael Johnson’s proposed class action on behalf of California consumers who purchased bogus items from R&R Auction in New Hampshire. Last night, the RR Auction Lawsuit website posted a press release in response to the decision which stated:
“The Court did not rule on the merits of Mr. Johnson’s claims, but instead, determined that the case could not procedurally be tried as a class action because of individualized issues involving autographed items purchased by the members of the proposed class. Essentially, the Court ruled that anyone that was sold forged items during 2008-2012 would have the ability to pursue their own individual claims against R&R. In addition to the ability for others to now pursue their own cases against R&R Auction for the purchase of inauthentic items, the Burris evidence demonstrates that another class action or suit in State or Federal Courts may be filed against R&R for shill bidding.”
According to sources familiar with class action certifications the denial of the motion did not relate specifically to the sheer numbers of alleged victims in the class but the fact that RR customers had claims for different items with different sales prices and damage amounts. The ruling opens the door for many individual suits against RR to be filed in the near future. Johnson’s attorneys at Christman, Kelley & Clarke, say they will continue their litigation against RR for the sale of bogus autographed memorabilia and, according to the press release, will include new claims ”recently discovered from a former R&R employee that R&R Auction engaged in a systematic scheme to defraud its customers by engaging in “shill bidding” through conspiring with others to bid on memorabilia it auctions on its website with the intent to artificially increase its price or desirability.” The basis for Johnson’s new claims is identified in the press release as being “a copy of a signed and notarized affidavit from Karen Burris, a former RR Auction employee who passed away shortly after executing the affidavit. Ms. Burris’ sworn affidavit implicates R&R Auction in a variety of illegal activities, including shill bidding and the knowing sale of forged memorabilia to its customers.”
The press release also indicates that Mr. Johnson’s attorney will “amend his complaint to assert these additional violations of consumer protection laws.” Those laws prohibit the sale of bogus autographed memorabilia, and provide for the recovery of damages and penalties which could equal 10 times actual damages. Johnson’s attorneys state that based upon his “estimated actual damages of $130,000″ Johnson will seek “a civil penalty of at least $1.3 million.” In the press release Matthew Clarke of Christman Kelley & Clarke said, “This is another step in the right direction of ultimately making Mr. Johnson whole and holding R&R Auction accountable for its fraudulent and deceptive business practices.”
RR Auction did not publish a press release on the company website but Steve Cyrkin of Autograph Magazine Live published a post claiming that he received a press release from RR which stated:
“Lawyers for Michael Johnson, the son of an oil industry tycoon, effectively admitted defeat today in Santa Barbara County Superior Court after Judge Donna Geck issued a tentative ruling denying Johnson’s motion for class action certification in a lawsuit filed in October 2012 in which Johnson alleged that $84,000 in autographed items he’d purchased through R&R were later found to be inauthentic.”
Cyrkin’s post of the RR release also stated:
“In what R&R’s attorney’s predict will be a fatal blow to Johnson’s suit, now on its second set of lawyers, Judge Geck issued a six-page tentative ruling Wednesday denying class action status to the case “Because of the findings that the class is not ascertainable, the class is not numerous and individual issues predominate over common issues.”
Hauls of Shame will continue post any new information about the case as it becomes available.
(Editor’s Note: Amherst Police Chief Mark Reams states that he had no knowledge of details related to the 2008 settlement between the Burris family, Karen Burris’ estate and RR Auction. Reams called Hauls of Shame to clarify what he said and noted that the only details he was aware of were published in New Hampshire newspapers.)
By Peter J. Nash
March 4, 2015
It’s not a baseball memorabilia dispute but every baseball collector will be familiar with the names of the characters getting dragged into the RR Auction class action lawsuit. The litigation, initiated by collector Michael Johnson, has been brewing for over three years in Santa Barbara Superior Court and the lawsuit is on track to receive California class certification in the next few weeks. Take a look at your PSA/DNA LOA’s and you’ll see the facsimile signatures of the so-called experts who have been dodging subpoenas in the case for months now including PSA President Joe Orlando; Pawn Stars regular Steve Grad, and John Reznikoff. Even the former kingpin of the memorabilia and auction industry, Bill Mastro, is on the list to be deposed as he awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to mail fraud last year in a Chicago Federal Court.
Orlando and Grad are still currently evading service of subpoenas while the deposition of PSA authenticator Bob Eaton has been up on a video link at the RR Auction lawsuit website since January. Grad’s video-taped deposition is highly anticipated in the hobby considering he fabricated his professional bio and was exposed lying under oath about his education in another litigation. The deposition of Eaton, who is also the owner of RR Auctions and claims to do $25 million annually in revenue, is a must-see for anyone who buys, sells or collects autographs. One collector who watched the video told us, “It’s hard to believe that a PSA/DNA LOA with his name on it could be worth the paper it’s written on after watching that video.”
Eaton’s name and facsimile signature were recently reported as having been removed from PSA/DNA LOA’s and sources have confirmed that recently issued PSA certifications make no mention of Eaton. In his deposition Eaton said he was no longer affiliated with PSA and that his company no longer offers a “lifetime guarantee” or even letters of authenticity on items they sell. Eaton couldn’t recall who prints his monthly auction catalogs and also couldn’t remember filing lawsuits within the hobby and against former employees.
Bill Mastro was instrumental in bolstering the careers of authenticators (l to r) Steve Grad, John Reznikoff and Roger Epperson. Epperson was recently exposed for authenticating a large group of Michael Jackson forgeries some of which ended up in RR auction sales. Many of the forgeries were sourced to actor Corey Feldman but the actor denied ever owning them and claimed a photo accompanying the forgeries had his head photo-shopped onto the image (right).
Eaton also said he had no knowledge of his “entertainment expert” Roger Epperson authenticating or consigning Michael Jackson forgeries to his auction house despite evidence suggesting that he did. Eaton’s consignment director, Elizabeth Otto, however, admitted under oath that Epperson and PSA experts Grad, Reznikoff and Eaton consign their own authenticated materials to the New Hampshire auction house. Otto also stated that the autograph submission protocol at RR and PSA/DNA is “anonymous” and that experts do not know the identity of consignors, but sources indicate that internal RR documents contradict Otto’s testimony.
Otto also said that Bob Eaton was not on the “PSA payroll” or compensated by PSA for having his name and signature appear on PSA LOAs but she could not directly answer why Eaton would work for PSA without compensation. In her deposition Otto also claimed that William Boehm, another associate of Bill Mastro who plead guilty and is also awaiting sentencing in the Mastro case, had acted as the webmaster and outside IT consultant for the auction website. RR’s Vice President Bobby Livingston went a step further in his deposition and said that Boehm was a freelancer who worked for RR and “oversees the function of the auction software.” Boehm was working for RR after he was indicted for lying to FBI agents about destroying auction bidding records and company computers for Bill Mastro.
As one collector told us after watching all of the RR video testimony, “This class action lawsuit really shows the behind the scenes collusion between the auction houses and the third-party authenticators.” Another veteran collector said, “This very well could be the beginning of the end for PSA/DNA.” But if that’s the case, what is the RR Auction class action really all about and how is PSA/DNA involved in the litigation? And why are the lawyers who represent PSA and its parent company, the publicly held corporation Collectors Universe (CLCT), also representing Bob Eaton and RR Auctions?
The RR Class Action lawsuit website details the items purchased by Michael Johnson which were rejected by PSA/DNA including alleged autographs of The Eagles, Eric Clapton and the Moody Blues.
The original underlying claims made in the lawsuit relate to collector Michael Johnson’s RR auction purchases of over $100,000 of autographed Rock n’ Roll memorabilia including album covers, guitars and drum heads allegedly signed by the likes of Vanilla Fudge, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Paul McCartney, Cream, Eric Clapton, the Moody Blues and the Rolling Stones. According to the complaint and the lawsuit website, Johnson had all of the material sent to PSA/DNA for letters of authenticity to be issued, but all of the items were deemed non-genuine by PSA and expert Steve Grad. After he was notified that the items he won from RR were failed, Johnson complained to Eaton and RR vice president Bobby Livingston and subsequent email exchanges between Livingston and his boss show that Eaton called Johnson a “nut case.” The exchanges also reveal that RR had discussions with PSA which resulted in another email exchange which referred to Johnson’s items and stated: “PSA-Now They Are Real.”
A portion of an email between RR owner Bob Eaton and VP Bobby Livingston reveals that PSA/DNA reversed its opinions on the items they failed. The RR email states, "PSA-Now they are real."
The email exchanges were turned over to Johnson’s attorneys in discovery and they reveal the inner workings of the auction house’s authentication process and the incestuous relationship between RR and PSA/DNA, the company that auction house owner Bob Eaton has served as an expert for and is listed on hundreds of thousands of letters of authenticity. RR didn’t immediately refund Johnson’s money and in doing so, RR and Eaton opened up the door for the filing of the class action lawsuit amid claims that many other California residents who bid on items in RR’s auction sales were also the victims of fraud and deception that stemmed from the authentication processes utilized and manipulated by RR and PSA/DNA. A closer examination of the email threads turned over by RR also reveals that the documents received in discovery may have been doctored or fraudulently altered to delete information which included direct email exchanges between RR and PSA/DNA including its President Joe Orlando and senior authenticator Steve Grad. Adding to the controversy and conflicts of interest is the fact that RR and PSA/DNA are represented by the same attorneys, Keith Attlesey and Suzanne Storm of the California lawfirm Attlesey & Storm.
While Bob Eaton's name and signature have been removed from PSA/DNA LOAs, he still appears as an expert on Jimmy Spence's (inset) website for his company JSA.
While Eaton still appears as an expert on Jimmy Spence’s website for the authentication company JSA, his name and signature appear to have been removed from the PSA/DNA LOAs after he was noticed for his deposition back in October. The last LOA we could find with his facsimile signature was issued in November of 2014. Eaton’s name had appeared on PSA/DNA LOA’s under the Collectors Universe umbrella for over a decade since he joined PSA in late 2003. Prior to 2004, the PSA/DNA letters only included the names and signatures of Jimmy Spence and Steve Grad but by 2005 Spence had left PSA and the new LOA’s issued by the company included the names of Grad, Reznikoff, Zach Rullo, Roger Epperson and Eaton as the members of the “PSA Authentication Team.”
It is interesting to note that Eaton and the PSA team authenticated scores of Babe Ruth forgeries that were sold by Mastro Auctions and MastroNet during that same time period and it is no surprise that Bill Mastro, the godfather of the third-party authentication system, is listed on the class action website for an upcoming deposition. It was Mastro who was instrumental in installing Jimmy Spence and ex-Mastro employee Steve Grad as the lead authenticators for PSA/DNA and it was Mastro and his MastroNet partner Rob Lifson who devised language and regulations in the MastroNet catalogs between 2000 and 2003 which insulated the auction house from liability for selling forgeries and successfully set up a system to market and distribute forgeries throughout the hobby with little recourse for collectors.
Bob Eaton was included as a PSA/DNA expert on all LOAs issued by Collectors Universe from 2005 until 2014. After Eaton was noticed for his deposition in the class action lawsuit, his name stopped appearing on PSA/DNA LOA's as evidenced on a January 2015 LOA (right). Eaton's facsimile signature appears on a 2005 PSA/DNA LOA certifying a Babe Ruth forgery as a genuine signature (right) .
There has been little in-depth reporting about the Johnson case and the “hobby press” hasn’t really acknowledged the legal wranglings. Most of the chatter about the case has surfaced on autograph forums and long-time PSA supporter, Steve Cyrkin, made the most notable public comments about the case recently before he was added to the class action website’s list of individuals scheduled to be deposed. Cyrkin addressed the lawsuit and said:
“If you’re perplexed why this lawsuit was filed, since R&R offered to refund Johnson’s money and all grading and shipping fees, this may make it easier to understand: There’s a California law covering signed sports memorabilia, Calif. Civil Code 1739.7, that specifies 10-times losses plus legal fees and costs for selling fake signed memorabilia. I hear it has been successfully used in cases involving non-sports signed memorabilia as well. I think that Johnson is trying to use this law to try shakedown R&R. R&R offered Johnson his money back and more according to the deposition testimony, so I can’t imagine any judge or jury awarding a civil penalty. I think that at best all Johnson will get is what’s specified under R&R’s terms and conditions in force when he bought the items.”
Cyrkin even published the California statute he was referring to which states:
“(g) Any consumer injured by the failure of a dealer to provide a certificate of authenticity containing the information required by this section, or by a dealer’s furnishing of a certificate of authenticity that is false, shall be entitled to recover, in addition to actual damages, a civil penalty in an amount equal to 10 times actual damages, plus court costs, reasonable attorney’s fees, interest, and expert witness fees, if applicable, incurred by the consumer in the action. The court, in its discretion, may award additional damages based on the egregiousness of the dealer’s conduct. The remedy specified in this section is in addition to, and not in lieu of, any other remedy that may be provided by law.”
Cyrkin made his public statements just before he lost three motions in California Superior Court as a defendant in a defamation suit filed against him by autograph dealer Todd Mueller of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Mueller’s suit alleges malicious defamation and business interference and sources familiar with that litigation allege that documents obtained in discovery by Mueller’s attorneys (the same firm representing Johnson) evidence collusion between PSA/DNA and auction houses and also suggest that Cyrkin, Orlando, Grad, Epperson, Reznikoff and Jimmy Spence of JSA worked in concert to destroy Mueller’s reputation and his business to further their position as a monopoly in the authentication industry.
Cyrkin, who is a co-founder of PSA and currently employed by the company in its coin division declined comment about his public statements regarding Johnson’s alleged “shakedown” of RR Auctions. Cyrkin is the moderator of the website Autograph Magazine Live and is known throughout the hobby as a notorious seller of forged items through his now defunct company Starbrite Autographs. Cyrkin has also claimed in court papers to have several mental disorders and he also has as a history of legal troubles including a $500,000 judgment entered against him by the Provident Life and Accident Insurance Co. for committing insurance fraud. Johnson and his attorney, Dugan Kelly, declined to comment or respond to Cyrkin’s allegations of a “shakedown” but did say there could be additional filings in the class action suit against RR later this week.
The depositions of Bob Eaton, Bobby Livingston, Bill White and Elizabeth Otto are currently on the RR lawsuit website (top row). On deck are (l to r) Steve Grad, Joe Orlando, John Reznikoff, Steve Cyrkin and Bill Mastro.
Hauls of Shame interviewed several parties familiar with the details of the RR class action and the Mueller litigation who disagree with Cyrkin’s commentary and, based upon those interviews, we’ve determined that there are multiple issues that could interest the FBI in relation to the RR Auctions and PSA/DNA:
1. Allegations of collusion between RR Auctions and PSA/DNA.
2. RR’s alleged sale of bogus autographs accompanied by RR and/or PSA/DNA LOA’s.
3. Allegations that RR Auctions’ office manager Karen “Kay” Burris may have been a murder victim contrary to reports that she committed suicide just weeks after RR filed police reports and a lawsuit against her alleging the embezzlement of $111,000. Sources say that Burris had first-hand knowledge of fraud and shill-bidding at RR and that Eaton and RR Auctions settled out of court with Burris’ family after her death.
4. Allegations of collusion and racketeering between PSA/DNA employees and major auction houses.
5. Questions about the professional qualifications of PSA/DNA authenticators and how its “so-called experts” could render opinions on the 400,000+ autographed items per year. In its 2014 Annual Report Collectors Universe states that PSA/DNA employs “6 autograph experts with an average of 25 years of experience in the autograph memorabilia market, as well as outside consultants that (they) use on a contract basis.”
Hauls of Shame has confirmed that at least two FBI agents have expressed interest in reviewing the RR class action lawsuit depositions as well as the upcoming depositions of PSA/DNA employees. Bob Eaton was asked in his deposition if he was currently being investigated by the FBI and he responded that he was unaware of any such investigation. A Federal agent has also made it known to several hobbyists that the New York office of the FBI would like to hear from any collectors who feel they have been victimized by any third-party authentication company and said they can report their experiences by calling 718-286-7100. We requested interviews with Joe Orlando and Bob Eaton but neither executive responded to comment on the on-going litigation.
As far as the civil litigation is concerned, one major dealer with over thirty years in the autograph industry is skeptical that the RR class action could ever impact PSA/DNA or Collectors Universe in a significant way. He told us, “I do not see depositions or a court case on the horizon, the parties (at PSA) that have refused service will continue to do so until they throw so much money at this that they will make it go away. Too much at stake to forfeit a monopoly, unfortunately that is the reality.”
By Peter J. Nash
February 18, 2015
Scroll to Bottom for Update:
“Shoeless” Joe seemed to be everywhere last week blowing up Twitter and making the rounds on the nightly news. As reported by the likes of ABC News, CBS News and FoxSports, Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, is selling what Sports Auction Director Chris Ivy claims is “now known as the only “Shoeless” Joe Jackson signed photograph in existence.” Reporter John Seewer first interviewed Ivy for the Associated Press and his story subsequently hit the wire and was later carried by hundreds of news outlets without mentioning that another alleged Jackson-signed photograph was sold by Sotheby’s for $43,000 in 1999 and was authenticated by Heritage’s current consignment director, Mike Gutierrez. Heritage and Ivy did not disclose any of this information to the Associated Press reporter and despite PSA/DNA President Joe Orlando telling the AP his company’s job is “to be the skeptic, especially if it is too good to be true,” other experts in the field believe that the Jackson signature is not genuine.
Ron Keurajian, the author of Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide has a very different opinion about the Heritage offering and told us, “I have maintained that there are no Joe Jackson signed photographs in existence. After viewing the 1911 Jackson photograph I see no reason to change my opinion. The Dallas Police Department should be made aware of the pending sale.” Keurajian’s opinion that Jackson signed photos do not exist was published in his book which was released by McFarland in 2012.
In January, Chris Ivy appeared on the TV-show A Piece of the Game and in direct opposition to Keurajian’s published opinion described the Jackson photo as “the only signed Joe Jackson photo in existence” and the work of a photographer named Frank W. Smith. But the other Jackson photograph that was sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 was also taken by the same photographer who was working for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Leader and had utilized similar images of the Cleveland Naps players to create a composite photograph depicting all of their signatures—including Joe Jackson. When Heritage Auctions revealed their autographed photo collection to attendees of last year’s National Convention in Cleveland, they sourced the “find” of signed 1911 Cleveland photographs to the family of Frank W. Smith. However, as revealed in the AP report, the consignor is actually a woman named Sharon Bowen who claims her late husband, William Bowen, purchased the photos from a family that was allegedly friends with Smith. Heritage’s current catalog describes the collection as “Named for the Cleveland Plain Dealer photographer who assembled the remarkable collection, The Frank W. Smith Collection is a truly peerless amalgamation of one-of-a-kind vintage photography and the flawless autographs of the subjects captured.” Heritage’s of the collection adds:
“Among the targets of Smith’s lens and autograph requests appear some of the true immortals of the game, most notably the legendary “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, the illiterate superstar whose path to Hall of Fame immortality was derailed by the scandal of the 1919 World Series fix. His labored pencil signature on Smith’s skilled portrait establishes the pristine relic as the only known Joe Jackson signed photo in existence.”
Heritage is offering what they call "The Frank W. Smith Collection" featuring an alleged pencil-signature of Shoeless Joe Jackson on one of his 1911 photographs. The Jackson photo was one of dozens found in a photo album allegedly discovered in a barn outside Cleveland.
Although it’s not specifically noted in the actual lot description, Heritage reveals that its alleged Jackson signature is signed in pencil and, as reported in the past week, several experts have questioned the autograph’s authenticity. The pencil signature is uncharacteristically over-sized and takes up a good portion of the 8×10 silver gelatin photograph—all red flags that any handwriting expert would take into account before rendering an opinion. The AP report also states that PSA examined the pen pressure to render its opinion when the actual photograph was signed in pencil and would leave a much different impression than a steel-tipped pen. In addition, the Heritage signature starkly contrasts the Jackson signatures executed on the Sotheby’s photo shot by Smith and on the 1912 team composite photograph which was also featured as a supplement to the Cleveland Leader newspaper in 1912. The signatures included on Smith’s 1912 composite resemble the actual handwriting of the players depicted including many of the same players appearing in Heritage’s photo album.
Photographer Frank W. Smith created a composite cabinet photo of the 1912 Cleveland team featuring the signatures of each player. The composite was published as a supplement to the "Cleveland Leader" and credited to Smith (right). The composites show facsimile signatures of Joe Jackson, Nap Lajoie and other Cleveland players.
The fact that Heritage did not acknowledge or inform its bidders of a very public sale of another alleged signed Jackson photograph at Sotheby’s is troubling considering its consignment director, Mike Gutierrez, authenticated all of the autographed items for the 1999 Sotheby’s sale of the Barry Halper Collection. That same Jackson photograph was also known by Gutierrez and other authenticators five years earlier when it was sold at Robert Edward Auctions in 1994 a year after this writer purchased it at Lelands as a photograph “signed by his wife.” It was purchased for $1,200 (which Lelands says was once owned by sportswriter Gene Schoor) with no expectation it had been signed by Jackson, but when world renowned handwriting expert Charles Hamilton examined the photo in person he claimed it was a genuine Jackson signature.
The Jackson signature which appears on Frank W. Smith's 1912 Cleveland team composite (top left) is similar to another ink-signed portrait also taken by Smith and sold at Sotheby's in 1999 (top right). Heritage's alleged Jackson pencil-signature on a 1911 Smith photograph starkly contrasts the signatures on the Smith composites.
Hamilton stated that the signature had been enhanced with what he called “photographer’s ink” used by newspapers to darken signatures for publication. At the time in 1993 I was working with Hamilton and co-writing a reference book on baseball autographs and we had both just examined copies of the first authentic Jackson signatures found on promissory notes sourced back to Jackson relatives and friends. Hamilton told me he believed that underneath the black photographers ink he might find Jackson’s genuine signature and asked if he could use an eraser to lightly remove the covering. When he was finished the original purple-tinted ink that had been applied to the photo in 1912 was revealed.
After examining the signature closely and comparing it to the signatures on the mortgage notes Hamilton stated his opinion that the signature was executed in Jackson’s hand. Hamilton also noted the fact that the signature was clearly much more uniform and neat than the other signatures he had compared it to but he still identified the scrawl as the product of Jackson’s hand. Hamilton was also aware that the Jackson portrait was part of a larger composite that was likely published due to the presence of the photographer’s ink that was most likely applied by the photographer Frank W. Smith or someone in his employ.
The 1912 Jackson photo by Smith was sold at Lelands in 1993 as Mrs. Jackson's signature (top left). Charles Hamilton authenticated the signature as Jackson's own in a certification signed in March of 1994 (top right). The photo was then sold to collector Barry Halper (bottom right) in a REA sale in Sept. of 1994 (bottom left).
In March of 1994, Hamilton wrote a certification stating that the Jackson signature was “an authentic, original signature of Jackson” and “entirely different from the signatures signed for Jackson by his wife.” Hamilton added, “Every single letter is different, and matches very closely the signatures known to be genuine on his orders to pay dated from Savannah, Ga.” Later, in September of 1994, I consigned the photograph to Rob Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions where it was described as “the only unquestionably authentic Joe Jackson autograph in existence” and was sold to Lifson’s top client and New York Yankee minority partner Barry Halper. Lifson further described the Jackson portrait as “the most astounding of all autographed baseball photographs and one of the most incredible “find” stories of all time.”
The surviving 1912 team composite created by Smith featured all of the signatures of the Cleveland team and it is interesting to note that the surviving cabinet photo he created in 1912 has a very similar (almost identical) portrait of Jackson with a similar signature that has clearly been enhanced with the same type of photographer’s ink. It is important to note that the photo Halper purchased in 1994 and the Heritage Jackson photo being sold in 2014 are both sourced to Frank W. Smith and although they were allegedly executed within one year of each other, they look totally different.
The REA-Sotheby's Jackson signature (left) and the current Heritage offering (right) contrast some of the earliest genuine signatures executed by Jackson from 1914 to 1917.
Ron Keurajian, however, disagrees with Hamilton’s opinion and stated such in his 2012 book where he says he has never seen an authentic photograph signed by Jackson. In our interview with Keurajian last week he confirmed his opinion and extended it to the current photograph of Jackson being offered by Heritage. In offering his dissenting opinion of both photographs he is disputing the authentications of the deceased Hamilton, one of the most prominent handwriting experts of all time, and Steve Grad, the lead authenticator for PSA/DNA a subsidiary of the public company Collectors Universe and the current on-air expert used by the History Channel’s hit Cable-TV show Pawn Stars.
Grad and PSA/DNA, along with Heritage, also appear to be disputing Hamilton’s opinion in that they claim the current auction lot is the only signed Jackson photo in existence. Although former PSA/DNA authenticator and current Heritage consignment director Mike Gutierrez rubber-stamped Hamilton’s opinion for Sotheby’s in 1999 to facilitate a $43,000 sale for Barry Halper—PSA and Grad have made public statements dismissing the existence of the well-documented artifact.
Comparing Grad’s skills as an authenticator to Charles Hamilton, however, is almost impossible to do. In his 1996 New York Times obituary Hamilton was credited with “inventing the term philography” and was said to have authored 17 books on handwriting analysis and autographs. In the early 1990s several baseball collectors had Hamilton examine their collections and he uncovered scores of forgeries that had been authenticated by current Heritage employees Mike Gutierrez and Mark Jordan.
The late handwriting expert Charles Hamilton (left) advertised in Sports Collectors Digest in 1996. Steve Grad (center) is the lead authenticator at PSA/DNA. In his book "Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs" (right) Ron Keurajian says that Joe Jackson signed photos are non-existent.
Although Hamilton’s experience with baseball material was limited, he was recognized throughout the world as the leading handwriting expert who had uncovered frauds including the “Hitler Diaries” and worked with law enforcement on the “Zodiac Killer” and “Son of Sam” cases. Steve Grad’s claim to fame is his experience chasing celebrities and athletes down for in-person autographs and for being mentored by former hobby kingpin Bill Mastro who recently plead guilty to auction fraud and is awaiting sentencing in March. In a 2011 deposition Grad admitted he had no formal training in handwriting analysis and credited Mastro with training him as an authenticator and teaching him how to spot fakes and forgeries. In the same deposition Grad confirmed that he had fabricated his professional resume as he lied under oath about his educational background claiming to be a college graduate when, in fact, he is not.
In further contrast to Grad’s background, Ron Keurajian is a well-respected portfolio manager and attorney who does not work professionally as an authenticator but has dedicated several decades of his life to the study and analysis of baseball and historical autographs and handwriting. In addition to publishing the most comprehensive work dedicated to the handwriting and autographs of Baseball Hall of Famers Keurajian is currently working on his second book dedicated to historical autographs in every major field of interest. Keurajian is also credited with uncovering several major frauds including the exposing a forged Ty Cobb diary that was purchased by MLB and displayed at the Baseball Hall of Fame as well as many other bogus autographs that had been certified genuine by PSA/DNA including laser copy and auto-pen signatures. The most egregious errors and instances of authentication malpractice committed by Grad and PSA have been documented in Hauls of Shame’s 2013 Worst 100 authentication blunders report. In light of these very public blunders by Grad and PSA many collectors of high-end materials seek out Keurajan’s opinion and put little faith in the LOA’s issued by PSA/DNA. One of the top autograph collectors in the country told Hauls of Shame yesterday that he would not be bidding on the Jackson photo based on Keurajian’s opinion.
The authenticity of the Christy Mathewson signature in the Frank Smith Collection has also been challenged by experts. Above the Heritage Matty signature is displayed next to authentic Mathewson signatures ranging from 1908 through the teens.
Keurajian isn’t the only autograph aficionado who has questioned the authenticity of the Jackson photos and the balance of photographs in Heritage’s Frank W. Smith Collection. Several veteran dealers and collectors told us they questioned the authenticity of the photos signed by Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, Nap Lajoie and Rube Marquard. In particular, the alleged signatures of Mathewson and McGraw exhibit troubling warning signs in relation to spacing and letter formation and contrast genuine examples of their signatures executed during the same time period.
Authentic signatures of John J. McGraw executed between 1900 and 1927 (in red) contrast the alleged McGraw signature being sold by Heritage.
In addition, the signatures of other Cleveland players have also been questioned and have created even more doubt about the veracity of the Heritage and PSA/DNA claims. Questions have been raised regarding the use of pencil on some photos and the pen notations on others do not appear to have faded the way vintage c.1911 ink should have. Others have noted that while most all of the Cleveland player signatures resemble authentic examples, they fall short and in many cases appear to have been signed slowly and deliberately.
Alleged signatures of Cleveland players from Heritage's Smith Collection appear above facsimile signatures that Smith actually used in a team composite he created in 1912.
One prominent dealer we spoke with said he was instructing clients to stay away from the Heritage lots and told us, “Look at the salutations on the lot of non-Hall of Famers and compare those. It becomes very obvious that something is amiss without even looking at the Jackson, Mathewson or Nap (Lajoie), especially the number of “Yours Truly” and (the) lack of inscriptions.” It is interesting to note that Heritage pictures three other photographs from Smith featuring non-baseball subjects from Cleveland and all three of those photos feature personalized inscriptions by the subjects to Smith. Not one of the “Smith Collection” baseball player photographs are personalized and it appears that none of the photos removed from the album feature Smith’s stamp on the reverse. In addition, PSA/DNA and Heritage make an assumption, supported by no evidence, about the additional pencil writing on the Jackson photo stating, “Jackson’s writing abilities began and ended at his signature, and thus it was photographer Frank Smith himself who added the inscription, “Alexandria, Mar. 1911″ below.” As far as we know, neither PSA or Heritage have any exemplars of Smith’s actual handwriting.
In its catalog Heritage pictures three photos personally inscribed to Frank Smith with his stamp on the reverse (right). None of the baseball photos are inscribed to Smith and the Jackson photo does not have Smith's stamp on its reverse. .
One fascinating aspect of the Heritage photographs is that they are attributed to Frank W. Smith who was credited as the creator of the team composite photograph published in the Cleveland Leader in 1912. Any authenticator examining the 1911 Smith photographs at Heritage would have to compare all of the signatures to the facsimiles on the 1912 Smith composite. After comparing them, any authenticator would come to the conclusion that the alleged 1911 and 1912 Joe Jackson signatures contrast each other significantly. Why?
Frank Smith created this composite cabinet photo of the 1912 Cleveland team which incorporated facsimile signatures of each player including Joe Jackson. It is believed that Smith enhanced each of the signatures for publication.
If all of the other Cleveland player facsimiles were actual signatures that had been enhanced or “gone over” with darker ink is it possible that Jackson did not sign his portrait photo and that Smith (or someone else) executed a signature for him in his absence. If that was the case, why would Smith have executed a signature that did not look like other signatures signed by Jackson on mortgage documents and his draft card? And if Jackson had actually signed the 1911 photo for Smith (one year earlier) why wouldn’t Smith have copied that signature example for his 1912 team composite? Lastly, if Smith (or someone working for him) actually signed Joe Jackson’s name, what’s to say that Smith didn’t sign (or copy) all of the Cleveland player signatures himself?
Another clue that could shed some more light on the authenticity of the Cleveland and New York player autographs is the “F. W. Smith Photographer” stamp that Heritage displayed in its video clip via the Associated Press. That stamp lists Smith’s business address as “1330 East 124th Place, Cleveland, Ohio” and it appears the stamp is featured on the back of one of the three non-baseball photos pictured in the Heritage catalog (but not included for sale). An item published in the Cleveland Leader, however, shows that Smith purchased that same property on October 24, 1913,thus suggesting that any photos bearing this stamp were created in 1913 or later. If any of the baseball photos Heritage is selling have this stamp, it is likely they were prints created two years after spring training and it would be highly unlikely that they were actually signed in 1911 .
Heritage shows an "F.W. Smith" photographer's stamp (inset) in an AP video clip, but that stamp shows an address of a location that Smith didn't buy until 1913 as evidenced by a report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in October of 1913 (inset).
Students of handwriting analysis and recognized experts rarely rely on the provenance or the “story” that accompanies a signed item that is submitted for an opinion. Experts like Charles Hamilton or Ron Keurajian rarely need to hear a story to render an opinion and focus on the actual handwriting. The same can not be said for PSA/DNA and Steve Grad who have regularly been exposed authenticating fakes because they relied on the source of a signed item rather than the handwriting itself. Grad’s most stunning authentication of a forgery based upon provenance was found in the LOA he wrote for an 1899 letter said to be written by HOFer Ed Delahanty which sold for $35,000 at Hunt Auctions. Although the signature was mispelled “D-e-l-e-h-a-n-t-y” and written in a different hand, Grad authenticated it because it originated from the archives of the H&B Bat Company in Louisville, KY. The vintage letter had actually been written on behalf of Delahanty by his manager, Billy Shettsline.
Heritage has also fallen victim to similar authentication mishaps with several baseballs they’ve sold as having been “game-used” in famous contests. In 2013, they claimed to have the last out ball of the 1917 World Series sourced to White Sox pitcher Red Faber with an affidavit from Faber’s family, but that ball was manufactured in 1926 as evidenced by the Spalding manufacturing stamps. In Heritage’s current auction they have another fraudulent offering with great provenance from the family of Roger Bresnahan which they claim is the “last out ball” from the 1905 World Series. The ball is accompanied by a 1905 news article quoting Bresnahan as saying he put the ball in his pocket after the game’s last strikeout, but the baseball being sold is a Reach American League ball and the last game of that World Series was played in New York at a National League Park. It would be impossible, under Major League rules at the time, for an AL ball to have been used in a championship game at the New York grounds. In addition, the inscription on the ball is not in Bresnahan’s hand and the last out of that game was a ground out by Lave Cross to short, not a strikeout.
While the provenance of the photo collection cannot turn forged signatures into genuine examples, we were still interested to verify the information Heritage has made public about their “find” in a Cleveland barn. We called the consignor, Sharon Bowen, at her home in Cleveland, Ohio, and spoke to her daughter who scheduled an interview for Monday morning. Bowen, however, was not available when we called and did not return our call. Bowen’s late husband was a former executive director of the Salvation Army in Cleveland and also the development director at the Cleveland Natural History Museum and it’s likely her acquisition story is legitimate. Many questions have been raised, however, about the original seller who sold the cache of photos to her husband for only $15,000 just five years ago.
PSA/DNA's Steve Grad and Joe Orlando took to Twitter to promote Heritage's Joe Jackson signed photo and ABC News' coverage of the offering.
We called Chris Ivy of Heritage to ask him why he described the Jackson photo as the only one in existence and why he failed to disclose to the AP reporter the existence of the other Jackson photo previously authenticated by his own employee, but he failed to respond to our inquiry. We also wanted to ask Ivy if the photos of the Cleveland and New York players had any “F.W. Smith” stamps on the backs of the photos and why the three non-baseball photos inscribed to Frank W. Smith and pictured in the catalog were not being sold and who owns them?
We also contacted the Associated Press and reporter John Seewer and informed the news organization of Heritage’s failure to disclose knowledge of the Sotheby’s sale and the controversy regarding the authenticity of the Heritage offering. AP writer Marilynn Marichione responded to our inquiry and informed us that AP news managers were “looking into it.”
While the AP and other news organizations flooded the news cycle and social media with inaccurate stories giving more credibility to the questioned Jackson photo and creating a platform for an unpaid PSA/DNA advertisement, veteran collectors we spoke with were almost unanimous in their opinions that the Heritage photos are not genuine. Despite the fact that PSA President Joe Orlando told the AP that “the stars aligned” for Stcve Grad’s authentication of the photo, one collector who owns a genuine Jackson signature on a legal document told us, “I think the PSA folks messed up certing these photos, but that would not be something new.” Most all collectors and dealers we spoke with did not want their names published because of Heritage’s practice of banning individuals from bidding in auctions who are critical of items for sale or the company’s business practices.
One prominent dealer told us that if the current owner of the Sotheby’s Jackson signed photo wanted to consign his item to Heritage it would “Be accepted with open arms by Chris Ivy who would then secure a PSA/DNA LOA from Grad and Orlando; advertise it nationally as “the only known ink autograph of Joe Jackson” and then set the auction estimate at $200,000. Meanwhile, the 1911 Jackson photo in Heritage’s current “Platinum Night Auction” currently has an alleged online bid of $90,000 before live bidding starts Saturday night in New York City.
(UPDATE: Feb. 20, 2015) AP Issues Clarfication On “Shoeless” Joe Story But Makes No Mention Of Dispute Over Authenticity Of Heritage Lot; Source Says FBI Is Investigating Jackson Photo & Balance Of Questioned Frank W. Smith Collection
Late yesterday the Associated Press issued a clarification in regard to their original report about the alleged “Shoeless” Joe Jackson photo being offered for sale tomorrow in New York City at Heritage Auctions’ “Platinum Night Auction.” In the clarification published by ABC News and several other news outlets the AP stated:
“In a story Feb. 9, The Associated Press reported that a century-old image was the first photo signed by Shoeless Joe Jackson to be authenticated by autograph experts, according to Heritage Auctions. The story should have made clear that a Jackson-signed photo, authenticated by a handwriting expert, was sold by Sotheby’s in 1999 and that memorabilia experts have since disputed the validity of the signature on that photo.”
Although the AP addressed the inaccuracy of its original report regarding the existence of another alleged Jackson signed photo at Sotheby’s in 1999, it made no mention of the controversy over its authenticity and the stated opinion that it is not genuine by expert and SABR award-winning author, Ron Keurajian. Keurajian confirmed that AP reporter John Seewer did not contact him for comment but BlackBetsy.com operator and Joe Jackson historian Mike Nola confirmed that Seewer did contact him seeking information about the 1999 Sotheby’s sale. Seewer and Heritage Auctions have still not responded to inquiries made by Hauls of Shame.
A source familiar with the controversy over the much-hyped Heritage auction lot confirmed for Hauls of Shame that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the authenticity of the Jackson photo and other photographs in the Frank Smith Collection. The source said he spoke directly with an FBI agent about the auction offerings including many other single-signed baseballs also identified as possible forgeries.
By Peter J. Nash
February 9, 2015
Legend had it that “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was an illiterate incapable of signing his own name and filmmaker John Sayles contributed to this perception in his film Eight Men Out when he portrayed Jackson signing a fictional 1920 confession with a shaky and tremulous “X.”
Sayles’ portrayal of the disgraced slugger, however, was based more on folklore than fact, for the real Joseph Jefferson Jackson was capable of signing his own name as evidenced by a wide array of surviving legal documents executed during his lifetime. Mortgage documents, promissory notes, contracts, real estate agreements, court transcripts and identification documents issued by the state of South Carolina have survived and are the best tangible proof that Jackson could actually sign his name. These genuine documents serve as proof that authentic signatures do exist of the legendary player who was banned from the game and has been denied entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Fueled by the legend and the folklore, the value of Jackson-signed items has skyrocketed over the past few decades as evidenced by the sale of a signed 1916 promissory note that recently fetched close to $130,000. But with sales prices of Jackson signatures are setting records, acquiring a Jackson signature still remains a very dangerous proposition for any collector hoping to secure an authentic scrawl of the Greenville native.
It all started back in the late 1980’s when real Jackson signatures were virtually non-existent and highly sought after by major collectors like Barry Halper. Halper believed he had a genuine Jackson signature but it was actually a ghost-signed version penned by his wife. It wasn’t until 1989 that Katie Jackson’s signatures were dismissed as secretarial and a year later autograph auctioneer Herman Darvick offered what he claimed was an authentic signature of Jackson allegedly cut from a legal document. The signature looked entirely different than any of the signatures that Mrs. Jackson had sent back to collectors who had written to her husband at their home in Greenville, South Carolina.
In 1991 Bill Madden reported on Barry Halper's alleged acquisition of a genuine Joe Jackson signature in a Herman Darvick auction. Halper previously thought a signature executed by Jackson's wife (Katie) was authentic (inset in red). Madden published an image of Jackson's real signature on his drivers license.
Halper’s quest to acquire Jackson’s signature in Darvick’s auction was covered on the pages of The Sporting News by his close friend and personal PR-man, Bill Madden. Halper had already boasted to Madden about owning Jackson’s Black Sox jersey from 1919 and his famous “Black Betsy” bat, both of which he said he acquired from Jackson relatives in the mid 1980’s. But Halper had come to the realization he didn’t own an authentic Jackson signature and when Darvick’s appeared he was prepared to pursue it aggressively to fill the hole in his collection.
When it was all said and done, however, Halper lost the signature in a fierce bidding war with New York dealer and auctioneer, Josh Evans, of Lelands, who ended up winning it for $23,100. Halper regretted losing out on the signature and after the sale approached Evans with an offer to trade him game-used jerseys of Yogi Berra, Warren Spahn and Jim Palmer for the Jackson signature. Evans took him up on the offer and Halper subsequently told Madden, “I hated parting with those uniforms, I have others of all three players. Who knows if I’ll ever have another chance at an authentic “Shoeless”‘ Joe Jackson autograph?”
On the left are authentic Jackson signatures from legal documents spanning from 1915 to 1951. On the right are four highly questionable offerings by Herman Darvick that several experts have deemed Jackson forgeries.
After Halper’s acquisition, Leland’s advertised their purchase at Darvick’s auction as being the “largest sum ever paid for any 19th or 20th century autograph. Darvick claimed that the Jackson cut signature he sold originated from a Jackson relative, but during that same time period a close Jackson family friend sold an authentic cache of Jackson signed legal documents and financial instruments to Dan Knoll, a prominent memorabilia dealer from Chicago. The first of those documents, a 1916 mortgage promisory note signed by Jackson, made its way into a 1993 Lelands sale where the auctioneer described the document as the “first verifiably authentic Joe Jackson autograph offered.” When world renowned handwriting expert, Charles Hamilton, examined the genuine Lelands document, he deemed the $23,000 Darvick cut signature a forgery. The genuine Lelands document was purchased at auction by Barry Halper for over $25,000. Several other authentic Jackson mortgage notes followed the Lelands offering and appeared for sale throughout the 1990’s but during that same time period Herman Darvick sold several other highly questionable Jackson’s including another cut signature, a baseball, a photograph and a signed book.
The three authentic Jackson signatures at the top of this illustration starkly contrast the four Jackson forgeries sold by dealer Herman Darvick. The forgeries were executed on clipped legal documents, a baseball and a book.
When examined and compared closely to the unimpeachable examples of Jackson’s genuine signature on legal documents, all of the alleged Jackson signatures sold by Darvick exhibit tell-tale signs of forgery. The Darvick examples appear to be slowly executed, almost drawn, with laborious heavy strokes that lack the spontaneity and flow of genuine Jackson signatures. One of the most telling characteristics of the forgeries is found in the last end stroke of Jackson’s “n” which tapers to a needle-like point in most all of Jackson’s authentic signatures, but stops abruptly with a thick ink build-up in the forged examples. Although Jackson appears to be very deliberate in what some say is his “drawing” of his own signature, the authentic examples all share a common flow and spontaneity.
We asked several experts to examine the alleged Jackson autographs sold by Darvick and give us their opinions:
-Ron Keurajian, author of Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, said: “Joe Jackson’s autograph is an extreme rarity and limited to signed legal documents or signatures removed therefrom. The Jackson signed book, featured on the History Channel’s Pawn Stars, is, in my opinion, a forgery, and a poorly executed one at that.” As for Darvick’s signed photo and ball, Keurajian does not believe there are any genuine signatures of Jackson that exist on either baseballs or photographs.
-Josh Evans recalled his purchase of the first Jackson cut from Darvick’s auction in 1990 and told us, “I always regretted that one. I never actually saw it before I bought it if you can believe that (the good old days). I heard about it the day before and bid based on Darvick’s rep. I sold it to Halper and we spoke about it being questionable but he never agreed.” HOS has been unable to determine when Halper disposed of the Jackson forgery and who subsequently acquired it.
-Mike Nola, is not a handwriting or autograph expert but he is a Jackson historian who curates the website BlackBetsy.com, and he told us: “He (Jackson) could not really sign his name. He was simply following a pattern taught to him by (his wife) Katie. If you look closely at each of his known signatures, they all differ in some way because he was drawing the signature and no two would be exactly alike.”
-Olan Chiles, was a well known collector of autographs on checks and lived in Greenville, SC. as a youth. A veteran autograph collector with over thirty years experience knew Chiles who told him first hand accounts of meeting Jackson in person. The collector told us: ”Olan told me he used to visit Jackson and his wife often at their liquor store and always asked for an autograph. He would be handed a pre-signed item (signed by the wife). In all the time he knew Jackson he was NEVER able to acquire an authentic autograph, which tells me that the signing process for him must have been so laborious that he only did it when he absolutely had to.”
As for Darvick’s examples of Jackson he said, “I did not like any of them” and added, “The point I was trying to make initially (regarding Chiles) is that (if) someone who was positioned so close to Jackson and was unable to secure an autograph, this leads me to believe that the group the family cut loose represents probably the only authentic Joe Jackson signatures in the public domain. His signature is just too easy to replicate.”
Herman Darvick appears on JSA's website as one of the company "experts" and notes his sale of the "first authentic signature of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson.
Herman Darvick has worked as an authenticator for PSA/DNA and is currently listed on the SGC website as a staff member and on the JSA website as one of Jimmy Spence’s experts with his “field of expertise” being “historical” and “political” autographs. The Darvick bio on the JSA site also references the Joe Jackson forgery stating that Darvick handled “the first authentic signature of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson ever sold.” An embarrassing episode for both Darvick and JSA occurred recently when the History Channel’s hit cable-TV show Pawn Stars featured a Darvick-authenticated Jackson autograph signed on a book (the bottom signature in the above illustration). Pawn shop owner Rick Harrison allegedly purchased the book for $13,000 with an LOA from Darvick and was then told by PSA/DNA it was their opinion that the signature was not genuine.
When the Pawn Stars episode aired Mike Nola added some additional information about Jackson’s signing habits when he posted on a collector forum: “I interviewed Eugene Estes (and that name means little to history, except that he witnessed Joe signing his will). Mr. Estes told me that Joe struggled to sign his name, that he practiced on the back on an envelope three times before setting pen to paper on the Will. Mr. Estes said Joe stopped several times during the signing, which in my opinion would make it looked “traced”. Now, I am not saying PSA got it wrong, but there is enough reasonable doubt in my mind that if I were Rick Harrison, I’d have it forensically tested for period ink and that the ink had been on the page for a period of between 1947 (when the book was published) and December 5, 1951 (The date Joe Jackson ceased to be a living entity). The signature on the book looks different than the one that appears on his will, but the one on his will appears different that the one that appears on his 1941 mortgage note and that one appears different that the one on his 1949 drivers license. In other words…..all his signatures differ somewhat, since he was just tracing a pattern taught to him by his wife Katie. I sent Rick Harrison an email and told him as much.”
Darvick originally authenticated and sold an alleged Jackson-signed book (left) that ended up in the hands of Pawn Stars star Rick Harrison who sent the book to PSA/DNA and Steve Grad who issued a rejection letter (right). Jackson's genuine signature from 1946 appears at the bottom, right.
Since the time Hauls of Shame reported and identified the book authenticated by Darvick as a forgery, the JSA authenticator posted several comments on this site defending his certification stating, “If anyone was going to forge Joe Jackson’s signature on the book, he/she would have used Mrs. Jackson’s Joe Jackson signature to copy. Her signing of her husbands name appeared in many collections as an authentic Joe Jackson autograph. Collectors had never seen a real Joe Jackson signature before I sold this signature which was cut from as building document with a partial date (of) April 1936 typed on the verso.” Declining to address the signature itself and its rejection by PSA/DNA, Darvick added, “The signed Joe Jackson book was signed by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson as I stated in my April 1994 COA.” As for Darvick’s sale of the $23,100 Jackson forgery in 1990 he said, “At the time of my 1990 auction, no one, no baseball autograph dealer, no sports auction house, NO ONE questioned the authenticity of the Joe Jackson I sold.”
Contrary to Herman Darvick's claim, genuine Jackson signatures on his 1949 drivers license (left) and his 1920 White Sox contract (right) were known and publicly displayed before his sale in 1990.
But Darvick’s claim that “collectors had never seen a real Joe Jackson signature before (his)” is entirely false. Before Darvick sold his cut to Lelands in December of 1990 there was already an authentic Jackson-signed 1920 contract on public display at the Chicago Historical Society in the fall of 1989. Darvick already knew this as evidenced in Bill Madden’s 1991 article about the Darvick sale which quotes autograph aficionado Clarence Jerabek as having seen Jackson’s authentic signature on that contract and on several legal documents. Jaribeck told Madden, “Through Shoeless Joe’s relatives, I got to see what an actual signature looked like. It’s on a copy of a drivers licence that is signed by both Joe and his wife.” In addition, Jerabek had already published an article about Jackson’s ability to sign his name in Pen and Quill.
By 1990, several hobbyists had also seen genuine signed documents owned by Jackson family members and friends including Lester Irwin and Joe Anders. Darvick actually contacted Jerabek before he sold his cut in 1990 as documented in The Sporting News which quoted Jerebek as saying, “Darvick asked me what I thought it was worth and I told him at least $1,500 to $2,000. When he went back to the owner, however, the guy told him to put it up for auction.” Madden said in his article that Darvick’s Jackson cut was “obtained by a collector from a relative of Jackson” but Hauls of Shame’s interviews with Jackson family members and Joe Anders, a family friend who was given the signed cache of legal and financial documents from the family, show otherwise. No Jackson family member we could locate ever sold a cut signature to a collector. Interestingly enough, Darvick never mentioned anything about the provenance of his alleged Jackson cut in his auction catalog and when we sent Darvick emails asking him to reveal the source of his Jackson cut signature he did not respond.
Jackson signed this letter along with the 1917 White Sox requesting their World Series money from August Herrmann and Ban Johnson. The unquestionably authentic document was discovered in the HOF's August Herrmann Papers Collection. Jackson's signature (inset in red) shows less spacing between letters when compared to most of the financial documents he signed during the same era.
“Shoeless” Joe appears to have had difficulty signing his name regularly during his lifetime and its well-documented he avoided putting pen to paper whenever he could, thus delegating signing duties to his wife Katie. The verifiable authentic signatures attributed to Jackson on legal documents and contracts (illustrated in this article) are the only examples we can be confident are authentic. We’ll never be as sure about the other alleged signatures on baseballs and other mediums like photographs, even if they come with a PSA or JSA certificate of authenticity. At best, even with strong provenance, some experts will always consider these Jackson signatures “unauthenticatible.” One signed item, however, that is unquestionably authentic and signed by Jackson in the presence of his White Sox teammates is a 1917 team-signed letter to American League President Ban Johnson. The letter was signed by Jackson and every player requesting their share of the World Series receipts for their victory over John J. McGraw’s Giants. The document had remained hidden in the files of the National Baseball Library’s August Herrmann Papers Collection until Hauls of Shame uncovered it a few years ago while researching stolen documents from the same collection. The document is the most clear and convincing evidence that Jackson could and did sign his name along with his teammates on items that did not required a signature in conjunction with a financial transaction.
Alleged partial and full samples of Jackson's signature were found on an envelope said to have originated from the Jackson family. Those samples were sliced into three different examples which were encapsulated in graded holders by PSA/DNA. Another fragment signed just "Joe" was offered in SCD in 1999 (bottom).
Aside from the iron-clad signatures on the legal and financial documents originating from Jackson’s family and friends, other more dubious examples have surfaced for sale in the auction marketplace. When the authentic- signed Jackson documents surfaced in the early 1990s there were several other signatures and fragments of signatures that were alleged to have Jackson family provenance as well. Three such signatures were found on the back of an envelope and another just signed “Joe” was said to have originated from a small note pad that once belonged to Jackson. The three examples of writing included on the envelope were originally sold in 1997 by Mastro & Steinbach Auctions as originating “directly from the Joe Jackson estate” and years later the envelope was cut into three pieces which were ultimately encapsulated and authenticated in three separate PSA/DNA holders. The “Jo” example was paired with a partial Pete Rose signature (“Pete”) in a PSA holder. The “Joe” partial notebook signature was offered in SCD by Frank Foremny in 1999.
In addition to the cut signatures manufactured from the one envelope (which are considered by most experts as genuine) both PSA/DNA and JSA authenticated another alleged Jackson cut that was purchased by the Leaf Trading Card Company and inserted into a 2010 Joe Jackson relic card. The card ended up selling at Heritage Auction Galleries in 2011 for $26,290 with LOA’s from b0th JSA and PSA/DNA. In their promotional materials, Leaf estimated that the value of the alleged autograph was between $70,000 and $100,000. This alleged Jackson signature has been identified as a forgery by several experts we interviewed.
Another alleged Jackson signature was sold publicly for $72,000 at Legendary Auctions in August of 2010 with an LOA (and Grade of 9) from PSA/DNA and Steve Grad. The alleged Jackson pencil signature was signed on a page from an autograph album that Legendary stated, “Has changed ownership a couple of times since its origin in the ’40’s” allthough it was originally acquired by a young girl from Greenville, SC., in that era. The woman, Sarah Taft, allegedly had Jackson sign the album but none of the other pages in the volume are signed except for one by her father Eddie Taft.
Alleged cut signatures of Jackson were included in a 2010 Leaf relic card and a 2013 Legendary Auction with LOA's from JSA and PSA/DNA. Experts who examined both of these signatures, however, are of the opinion they are forgeries when compared to genuine examples of Jackson's signature from his 1915 Draft Card (bottom left) and a 1946 mortgage note (bottom right).
All of the experts we spoke with are of the opinion that the alleged Jackson signed page sold at Legendary is a forgery. In fact, one expert believes that the forger used the authentic signature on Jackson’s last will and testament as his template. When we asked Ron Keurajian about the signature, he referred us to his book which states that the only authentic Jackson signatures he’s seen are found on legal documents. One long-time dealer added, “PSA and JSA have no clue on Jackson’s signature outside of the obvious legitimate legal documents.”
The AP featured an alleged Jackson photo authenticated by PSA/DNA and currently for sale at Heritage. Another Jackson photo sold at Sotheby's in 1999 for $43,000 (right).
In our next report on Jackson’s handwriting we’ll examine the photographs alleged to have been signed by Jackson. In particular, we will focus on the PSA/DNA authenticated photo appearing in Heritage’s Platinum Night Auction later this month and compare it with another Jackson signed photograph sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 for $43,000.
By Peter J. Nash
February 5, 2015
Last week, Allan H. “Bud” Selig officially stepped down as Baseball’s czar and passed the reins to his hand-picked successor, Rob Manfred. Selig served as MLB’s ninth Commissioner since the office was created in 1920 by Garry Herrmann’s National Commission and in stepping down he gives up an annual salary of over $22 million–that’s about 440 times greater than Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis’ $50,000 salary to clean up the 1919 Black Sox scandal. To put it in perspective, Selig’s compensation as MLB’s head honcho for just one season about equaled the record-breaking $29 million fine Landis leveled as a Federal Judge against Standard Oil and John D. Rockefeller in 1907 . Baseball has been very, very good to Bud Selig. So good, in fact, that some sources list his current net worth at $400,000,000. Not bad for a guy once ridiculed as a disheveled used car salesman from Milwaukee and not bad for baseball owners who have seen their annual revenues rise from $2 billion to $9 billion under his watch.
Although he’s retiring from his MLB post, Selig isn’t leaving the game for good and will still rake in $6 million a year as a special adviser to Manfred as “Commissioner Emeritus.” A good portion of the 80-year old Selig’s new duties will likely revolve around legacy building, a process which the former Milwaukee Brewers owner had already kick-started as his days as Commissioner were dwindling. As Rob Neyer writes at FoxSports, Selig isn’t fond of criticism and in the past has phoned writers who have called him out on a variety of issues. He’s also been known to apply pressure on other writers who Neyer says were “told by their bosses to take it easy on the poor old Commissioner.” Now that he’s relinquished his power, Selig wants to make sure that he’s remembered as one of the game’s immortal executives.
Back in 2011, Selig announced he’d be establishing a sports history department at his alma-mater, the University of Wisconsin, and that he’d also spend time on campus to write his memoirs. More recently he’s enlisted the services of his good friend, Doris Kearns Goodwin, to insure that his life-story is in capable hands but Selig’s legend won’t be complete without one last lifetime honor that has eluded even Marvin Miller. Unlike Baseball’s pioneering labor reformer, however, Bud Selig is actually on the fast-track for enshrinement at Cooperstown despite his failures. As he leaves his MLB post only a few writers have been critical of his reign and have said “good riddance” to him like Rolling Stone’s Dan Epstein. On the contrary, Selig is for the most part being hailed as baseball’s “great reformer” by the likes of Jon Heyman at CBS Sports and the “greatest Commissioner of all-time” by Bill Madden.
With all of the accolades being heaped upon Selig recently we thought it would be interesting to gauge his legacy and career as Commissioner by examining the artifacts and memorabilia issues that were generated during his tenure. Can the memorabilia tell us more about Selig and his legacy than some of the card-carrying members of the BBWAA can?
The most obvious artifact linked to Selig’s legacy is the trophy he most recently presented to now-retired Yankees Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. When Selig appeared with the hardware at the 2013 World Series he gazed into the gleaming silver and gold Tiffany & Co. trophy bearing his name and then presented Rivera with the “Commissioners Historic Achievement Award.” As Selig glanced away from the trophy he looked to Rivera and said, “Whether they like it or not, players are role models–they are. And can you imagine for this generation, this is our role model.”
The trophy represented what Selig described as a special recognition of Rivera’s “major impact on the sport” and his “contributions of historical significance in Major League Baseball.” For Selig, the award meant even more as he was turning his attention to defining his place in baseball history and his presentation of his own award reinforced his preoccupation with curating his own legacy as he told reporters, “In the life of a Commissioner you have a lot of good days, bad days, whatever, and I can tell you how much this has meant to me and this is for me a very special day.” When Selig presented Mariano Rivera with the trophy he told the closer, “Thanks for all the class and all the dignity.”
Some of Selig’s detractors have argued it is both class and dignity that have eluded both MLB and the Commissioner during his tenure and considering the past recipients of Selig’s “historic” trophy include Steroid-Era cheats like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, its hard to make a case for Selig’s integrity being fully in tact. His choices of Rivera and Jeter as the last players to receive the award he created are indicative of Selig’s desire to distance himself from his past decisions and associate himself with players who had never been questioned as PED-cheaters.
Selig presented his first trophy to Mark McGwire for reviving the game in 1998 and his last to Derek Jeter in 2014. Selig colluded with his fellow owners in the 1980's and Commissioner Fay Vincent was critical of his theft from MLB players.
That being said, Selig can only hope that his record as Commissioner in the Steroid-Era will be whitewashed the same way his involvement as a complicit team owner in the collusion conspiracy of the 1980s was. Selig and his fellow owners, under the watch of Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, were found guilty of colluding with each other to keep player salaries down and their wrongdoing prompted an arbitrator to award $280 million in damages to the free-agent players. The collusion saga prompted the next Commissioner, Fay Vincent, to read Selig and his fellow owners the riot act. In an interview with Hauls of Shame last week Vincent recalled, “I laid it out to them and told them they stole $280 million from the players and got caught and that the Union got stronger because of it. But not one of them to this day, including Selig, ever admitted what they did. So it’s no surprise that today collusion is basically forgotten.” In the aftermath of collusion and after Vincent introduced a memorandum setting forth MLB’s drug policy, including illegal steroids, Selig conspired again with his fellow owners in true Machiavellian fashion spearheading the ousting of Vincent and the appointment of himself as “interim Commissioner” in 1992.
Ironically, Selig today uses the excuse that he couldn’t fight or expose PED-cheaters because the Marvin Miller influenced Players Union fought testing so vehemently, but very few writers today (besides blogger Murray Chass) follow up that claim and point out that Selig and his owner-partners were responsible for that circumstance as a result of their greed and unfair treatment of their employee-players. Undoubtedly it was Selig and his fellow owners who set the table for the Steroid-Era. Fay Vincent recalls, “Most people forget that back then the owners controlled all labor negotiations and that Committee was headed by Bud Selig, even before he became Commissioner.” Today, Vincent still recalls how hard it was to push drug testing after collusion. “I couldn’t even get Steve Howe removed after eight drug violations because the Union had became even stronger,” said Vincent. As for the Union finally conceding to testing in the aftermath of the Steroid-Era Vincent added, ”It wasn’t until after steroids were out of control that Don Fehr gave into testing because he saw that Congress was going to step in.”
When looking at Selig’s place in history an argument can be made that he has much more in common with the notoriously cheap and devious owner of the Chicago White Sox, Charles Comiskey, than he does with Fay Vincent, Bart Giamatti or even Judge Landis. Interestingly enough, it was another White Sox owner, and Selig’s closest ally, Jerry Reinsdorf, who provided the arbitrator with the smoking gun to facilitate the $280 million collusion award to the players—a memo he sent to owner Bill Giles showing in detail how he colluded in a proposed deal for player Lance Parrish. Today, Fay Vincent views Selig’s legacy differently but feels he will soon join the “Old Roman” Comiskey in Cooperstown. Vincent told us, “It will happen soon, Bud will get into the Hall of Fame right away. But what people should be questioning is this. What is the standard for the induction of a Commissioner? With Bowie Kuhn in the Hall it looks more like a popularity contest.”
Marvin Miller told Vincent as much just before he passed away. The ex-Commissioner recalled, “It was very sad. Marvin told me, ‘Fay, don’t feel sorry for me. I don’t really care. I’m never going to get 3/4 of the vote. Baseball is vindictive and the players will end up forgetting what I did.’ Marvin knew he wasn’t popular enough to get in. Bud’s got the support of the voters.” Selig also has the support of Hall of Fame operatives like Bill Madden who have even suggested that Miller lacked “character” and “integrity” and that he “all but sabotaged his Hall of Fame-worthy career by refusing to help baseball get rid of steroids.”
As Selig exits the MLB stage, numerous baseball writers and sympathetic MLB mouthpieces are remembering everything positive he’s done for the game but have largely ignored his role in collusion and given him a pass on PED’s focusing solely on the game’s record financial growth. It’s difficult to argue with their observations as ballpark attendance, which dipped by 20 million fans after the strike in 1994, has jumped back up to and surpassed the 73 million mark in 2014. But in terms of real growth in attendance figures, Selig has merely restored attendance figures to what they were the year before the Player’s Strike in 1994. In 1993, MLB saw 70,256,459 fans pass through turnstiles and twenty-two years later 73,739,622 fans went to the ballpark in 2014.
Bud Selig’s legacy, however, is much more difficult to define than by just calculating MLB Advanced Media revenues and ticket sales. Oddly enough, baseball historians can take a close look at Selig’s relationship with the baseball artifacts and memorabilia during his tenure to get a different perspective on his reign as Commissioner. Some might even say that the Tiffany and Co. silver trophy he created is a tangible symbol of Selig’s own complicity in compromising the integrity of the game itself.
Bud Selig presented the trophy he created to Mariano Rivera during the 2013 World Series. The Hall of Fame's collection includes the trophy presented to Lou Gehrig by his teammates on "Gehrig Day" in 1940
Players and Commissioners fade away and die, but the trophies and trinkets associated with their carreers survive and sometimes end up in Cooperstown. There’s Lou Gehrig’s trophy presented by his teammates on “Gehrig Day” in 1941 at one end of the spectrum and Eddie Cicotte’s 1917 World Series uniform emblem and pocket watch on the other. The artifacts themselves sometimes reveal more about the historical subjects than the contemporary accounts published in newspapers. If the “Commissioner’s Trophy” presented to Mark McGwire is ever put on display at Cooperstown it will no doubt say more about Selig’s legacy than writers could ever express in print.
Although Selig won’t be able to spin-doctor his long-term legacy from the grave and will be critically exposed by future historians like Judge Landis has, it appears that while Selig is still living his legacy is largely secure and he is already said to be a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. All indications point to Selig being honored in Cooperstown with a bronze plaque hanging right next to Bowie Kuhn’s while Marvin Miller will continue to be shut out. And speaking of the legacies of Miller and Selig, a source close to the Player’s Union speculates that another chapter in Selig’s story may one day emerge showing how his operatives pressured HOF Veterans Committee voters in private not to cast their ballot for Miller while supporting his induction publicly.
Back in 2011, SBNation’s Grant Brisbee noted that the trophy Selig created resembled a “big ol’ you-know-what” and that players receiving it were, in fact, getting the shaft, literally. He asked, “Is the award emblematic of how out of touch Selig is, or somehow poignant in its irrelevancy?” Or is the award a symbol in the Post-Steroid Era of what Brisbee called, “A reminder of just how naive most of us were” as McGwire and Sosa juiced up and saved the game, just like Babe Ruth had after the Black Sox scandal in 1919? Selig’s supporters note that the game has experienced unprecedented financial growth and record revenues under his tenure, but wasn’t most of that record growth the direct product of McGwire and Sosa saving the game during the “March on Maris” in 1998?
Mark McGwire memorabilia arrived at the HOF with much fanfare in 1998 (left). Todd McFarlane paid $3 million for McGwire's 70th HR Ball (center). Barry Bonds' record breaking ball was donated to the HOF with an asterisk added to it (right).
Selig, in fact, hatched the scheme to commission his trophy at Tiffany & Co. in 1998 with Big Mac and Sosa slated as the first honorees after both were widely credited with reviving baseball after the devastating strike in 1994. For Selig and his fellow MLB owners, the hitting exploits of McGwire and Sosa got the turnstiles at MLB ballparks humming again and filled up MLB’s cash coffers at a record clip. The Home-Run mania also shifted the focus away from fans vilifying Selig for the part he played in the game’s labor woes. How could Selig not honor the two living legends who were already being honored in the “Great Home Run Chase” exhibits installed at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown? It also wasn’t lost on Selig that he’d been booed at every Hall of Fame Induction ceremony since the strike. Caught up in the home run hysteria, Selig was McGwire and Sosa’s biggest cheerleader and he exploited their accomplishments accordingly.
When McGwire’s 70th home-run ball went up for auction in 1999, comic-book icon Todd McFarlane bought it for over $3 million as the most prized baseball artifact of all-time but in just fourteen years the value of the ball has plummeted drastically. Memorabilia experts say the ball isn’t even worth $100,000 today. In 2010, even McFarlane acknowledged the depreciated value of the McGwire ball when he told the Chicago Tribune, “It’s like a car that loses its value the minute you drive it out of the lot — well, I just crashed the car. But people are still going to want the car James Dean was driving in when he got killed. So it’s still cool. It’s infamous.” In its infamy, the McGwire ball might just be the single artifact that defines Selig’s legacy moving into the future.
Recipients of MLB's Commisioner's Trophy for Historic Achievement have included (clockwise): Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa; Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. A-Rod was on his was to winning one but MLB's probe into his relationship with PED dealer Tony Bosch stood in the way.
The McGwire ball and the presentation of Selig’s trophy to “Big Mac” also serve as a link to another recipient of the award, Barry Bonds. Bonds was honored in 2002 after breaking the single-season MLB Home-Run record set by McGwire in 1998 and, at the time, was well on his way to breaking the all-time Home-Run mark held by Selig’s close friend and former employee Hank Aaron.
McFarlane also purchased the ball hit for Bonds’ 73rd record-breaking home run for $450,000. Oddly enough, Selig didn’t present a “Historic Achievement Award” to Bonds for breaking Aaron’s milestone. Selig and Aaron are close friends and sources indicate his relationship with Aaron greatly influenced his unprecedented investigation into Alex Rodriguez. A healthy Rodriguez could have made a run at Aaron’s and Bonds’ all-time home run marks but his 211-game suspension last season has made that an impossibility.
There’s no shot that Rodriguez will ever take home a Selig trophy for his career achievements the way Roger Clemens did before he was implicated in the Mitchell Report. A-Rod will never get his hands on the trophy that Selig has also presented to Vin Scully, Ichiro Suzuki, Roberto Clemente (posthumously), Rachel Robinson and Ken Griffey Jr. All things considered, after Griffey received the award from Selig at the 2011 World Series Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports called the award “baseball’s version of a gold watch to notable players.”
MLB's history with Tiffany & Co. dates back to the creation of the "Hall Cup" in 1888 and extends to the re-design of the current World Series Trophy by Tiffany in 1999 (center). Selig's "Historic Achievement Award" was created by Tiffany in 1998 for Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
Baseball’s historic awards and trophies have run the gamut of everything from Gold Gloves to Silver Slugger bats and represent greatness for players who take home the Cy Young awards and League MVPs in the course of their careers. The ultimate prizes in the game, however, have always been awarded to teams winning the World Championship dating back to times before a World Series even existed. Baseball’s history with Tiffany and Co. dates back to 1888 when the company was commissioned to create the “Hall Cup” awarded to Jim Mutrie’s New York Giants as the winners of the National League Championship. It wasn’t until Selig got the idea to create his own Commissioner’s “Historic Achievement” trophy that MLB also re-connected with Tiffany to re-design the Commissioner’s World Series Trophy as well. The Hall Cup is currently on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in the World Series exhibition room.
Just as the Hall Cup has made its way to Cooperstown, so will Selig’s silver-shafted trophies as future generations of fans will be able to decide for themselves whether Selig was an enabler or a crusader in both the Steroid and Post-Steroid-Eras. Of course, the memorabilia that made its way to Cooperstown during Selig’s tenure is tainted and in retrospect it’s an embarrassment that the Hall of Fame dedicated its plaque gallery to a special exhibition including McGwire and Sosa’s bats, balls and uniforms in 1998. It’s even more of an embarrassment for Selig and MLB that Barry Bonds’ record breaking baseball arrived in Cooperstown with a big asterisk carved into the cowhide–compliments of designer Mark Ecko. And it was Selig who orchestrated the $8 million purchase of artifacts from Yankee partner Barry Halper’s collection in 1998 only to find out nearly a decade later that several of the big-ticket items he purchased, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s 1919 road jersey, Jackson’s “Black Betsy” bat and Mickey Mantle’s 1951 Yankee rookie jersey were poorly executed forgeries that were fraudulently displayed for millions of fans.
Bud Selig helped orchestrate MLB's purchase of $8 million in memorabilia from Barry Halper including a fake 1919 Joe Jackson jersey (left) and a fake 1951 Mickey Mantle jersey (right).
Neither Selig’s office nor the Hall of Fame conducted any suitable due diligence to ensure that the items they were purchasing from Halper were genuine. Halper lied to them saying he purchased his Jackson items from his widow in the 1950s but Selig & Co. could have read The Sporting News at the National Baseball Library to learn that Halper told Bill Madden he’d acquired the jersey from Jackson relatives as a “recent purchase” in 1985. Madden, however, never mentioned that information when he reported MLB’s purchase of Halper’s trove in 1998 for the New York Daily News. After Hauls of Shame published a report in 2010 illustrating the Jackson jersey was a fake and attributed to the wrong White Sox uniform manufacturer, the Hall revealed they had sent the same garment out for testing and found that the jersey was constructed with materials that didn’t exist during Jackson’s MLB career. While Bud Selig had continued MLB’s “lifetime ban” of Joe Jackson into the afterlife, he also succeeded in facilitating the entry of his fake jersey into the hallowed Halls of Cooperstown.
In 1998 Selig and MLB purchased several million dollars in fakes from Yankee partner Barry Halper and donated them to the HOF. The fakes were heralded by Bill Madden in the Daily News and in an MLB press release Selig said Halper's items would be in Cooperstown "for all time."
When Selig and MLB purchased Halper’s alleged treasures in 1998, the Commissioner’s Office issued a press release in which Selig stated, “This important baseball collection belongs in the Hall of Fame and that is where it will be for all time.” In line with Selig’s sentiments, Halper was also honored by Hall Chairman Jane Forbes Clark with a permanent museum exhibition space named after him and a plaque honoring him for his “dedication to preserving baseball history.” After Halper’s fakes were exposed in numerous published reports the man who Selig and his fellow owners helped oust from the Commissioner’s Office years earlier weighed in on the scandal. Fay Vincent, MLB’s former commissioner and an honorary director of the Baseball Hall of Fame, said, “Given the evidence that has come to light in the past several years, the Hall of Fame should immediately reconsider the naming of that gallery to honor Barry Halper. I do not think he deserves the honor.” By the time Vincent’s statement was published by Deadspin in July 0f 2011, the “Halper Gallery” and the plaque honoring the now deceased Yankee partner had been removed from the Hall’s floor plan.
Jane Forbes Clark (left) dedicated a research center at the HOF to Bud Selig (center) but neither Selig, MLB or the HOF have taken any action to recover documents stolen from the August Herrmann Papers collection (right).
Just as the Halper Gallery vanished, Selig was working with the Hall of Fame to establish a “Commissioner’s Research Center” at the Bart Giamatti Research Center in the National Baseball Library. When the ribbons were cut for the alleged “center”, however, former Hall of Fame employee Gabe Schechter published a piece exposing that the dedication of the space was just “for show” and only a symbolic gesture from Hall Chairman Jane Forbes Clark for “her Commissioner” who had chosen to hold the “‘Winter Owners’ Meetings” in Cooperstown. As Schechter noted on his blog, the ceremony gave “each party a chance to suck up to the other” and added, “The Hall of Fame, having finally shed the Doubleday Myth, managed to create another one with the dedication of an empty, inaccessible space in honor of Selig.”
Of the “Research Center” Clark said: “The Selig Center for the Archives of Major League Baseball Commissioners” will ensure a permanent home for the documentation and preservation of the Office of the Commissioner’s contributions to baseball history. This archive will provide a central location for the study and research of the importance of the Office of the Commissioner, and its role in shaping and advancing the National Pastime for nearly a century.” The great irony, here, is that while both Clark and Selig were talking preservation and history they sat back and did nothing to investigate the massive thefts at the National Baseball Library from archives including the papers of former Commissioner Ford Frick and the August Herrmann Papers collection which constitutes the first and most important archive generated by Major League Baseball before the Commissioner’s office was established in 1920. Although there is overwhelming evidence of the thefts and donated materials are being sold at public auctions regularly, neither Selig, MLB Security or the Hall of Fame has taken any substantial action to recover or claim title to the stolen materials. In fact, one source familiar with Hall operations told Hauls of Shame that library employees have been instructed to look for evidence suggesting that items may not have been stolen from the library, rather than pursuing recovery.
In 2009 the New York Times reported that letters stolen from the NYPL's Harry Wright archive were being sold in MLB's All-Star Game auction. The letters, including a famous letter written by Jim Devlin to Wright in 1877 (right), were pulled from the auction after the FBI opened an investigation.
In addition to standing idle as MLB’s own baseball history was looted from the Hall and peddled off at auction, another memorabilia-themed travesty occurred during Selig’s reign when MLB’s 2009 All-Star Game auction featured over fifty rare documents that had originally been bequeathed to the National League in 1895 by baseball pioneer Harry Wright. The letters were once part of Wright’s personal baseball library and archive which he intended to be a nucleus for a collection devoted to the game’s history, but thousand’s of Wright’s letters were stolen from the New York Public Library after they were donated in 1921 by the widow of ex-National League President A. G. Spalding.
As revealed first in a Sporting News article published in 1977 by Bill Madden, the owner of the stolen archive of Wright’s correspondence was none other than New York Yankees minority owner Barry Halper. Halper brazenly showed off the documents to Madden who identified the treasure trove as once belonging to Harry Wright and in the years that followed Halper sold off the archive for big money at Sotheby’s in 1999, including the sale of a letter presenting Wright and his Boston Red Stockings the 1875 Pennant. That same letter was cited in the works of Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills who later confirmed the document was donated to the NYPL and had been stolen.
The Harry Wright correspondence appearing in the 2009 MLB auction was also believed to have originated with Halper and when the New York Times reported that the stolen letters were pulled from the MLB auction Selig declined comment. Times reporter Jack Curry wrote, “Major League Baseball is in an awkward position of having to explain why it coordinated an auction in which it was selling potentially stolen letters.” Bob DuPuy, MLB’s president and chief operating officer at the time issued a statement saying, “Since 2001, Major League Baseball has run an internally-operated authentication program to protect against the illegal sale of baseball merchandise to our fans. We are pleased that reputable companies like Hunt Auctions use sound judgment in deciding to withdraw merchandise that is not properly documented.”
But after a five-year investigation was conducted by the FBI, the NYPL recovered none of the stolen Wright documents. In fact, the investigators and the NYPL actually allowed the sale of the stolen documents from the Hunt Auctions consignor to a dealer for over $35,000. Two of the historic handwritten letters sold were written by disgraced player Jim Devlin, who was banned from the game by President William Hulbert for his part in one of the game’s earliest gambling scandals. Both of those missives were specifically cited in published works by Seymour and also specifically documented as NYPL property in original research notes now housed at Cornell University.
Historian and author, Dorothy Seymour Mills (who originally helped the FBI identify the letters as stolen property in the 2009 MLB auction) still feels that the NYPL should be held accountable. Mills told us, “If the Harry Wright letters belonging to the NYPL, a great research library, are available, the NYPL should purchase them. Instead, the management has spent the library’s money on the opposite goal: working out a plan to dismantle a large part of its research function. I blame the NYPL for not protecting these valuable documents for posterity.”
MLB purchased $125k worth of stolen documents in its A-Rod investigation (left). A dealer recently purchased stolen documents originally willed to the National League by Harry Wright in 1895 (center). Deceased Yankees minority owner Barry Halper owned and sold the stolen Wright documents and has been linked to a 1970s heist at the NYPL.Although they were fully aware of the facts and what was transpiring during the FBI investigation, MLB and Selig did nothing to protect or recover the documents that Harry Wright had originally donated to the National League in 1895. With all of the billions in revenue MLB has been raking in, Selig & Co. couldn't afford the $40,000 to reimburse the current owner of the stolen property and facilitate the return of the archive to its rightful owner, the NYPL. In essence, Harry Wright, one of the pioneers of the game and the "Father of Professional Baseball" entrusted the National League with his archive and the current MLB leadership turned their backs on the commitment that their predecessors had made in good faith.
There’s no doubt that Selig and MLB security have the resources to investigate, pressure and rectify such wrongdoing as was evidenced in the Alex Rodriguez investigation. In their pursuit of obtaining evidence against Rodriguez, MLB operatives knowingly purchased stolen documents sourced to the BioGenesis company that supplied Rodriguez with performance enhancing drugs. As reported in the Sun-Sentinel in may of 2014, MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations, Dan Halem, confirmed that MLB “had bought a ‘batch of documents’ on four flash drives” for $100,000. The Sentinel also noted that police reports in Boca Raton, Florida, showed that MLB purchased an additional $25,000 in stolen documents at the Cosmos Diner in Pompano Beach in 2013.
While Selig and MLB can’t be held accountable for the inaction and negligence of NYPL officials like Victoria Steele and Tony Marx, they could have taken the initiative to do everything in their power to restore Harry Wright’s archive to the NYPL. The first step in that process would have been to reimburse the memorabilia dealer who purchased the stolen documents in 2013. But for MLB and Selig, that small investment appears to have been too steep a price to pay. Or was it?
Sources indicate that Selig and MLB are miffed that reports over the past few years have exposed one of their own, Barry Halper, as the biggest fraudster in the history of the memorabilia industry. Selig and other MLB and HOF officials like Jane Forbes Clark have been embarrassed by the revelations that Halper categorically swindled them out of millions and caused millions of baseball fans to pay for admission to Hall of Fame exhibitions touting fake relics like the jerseys of Mickey Mantle, Cy Young and Joe Jackson.
Former MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn already has a HOF plaque (left) while Marvin Miller (center) has been shut out. All signs point to Bud Selig being inducted to the Hall in the near future.
The Commissioner’s office was previously embarassed when Bowie Kuhn’s right-hand man, Joe Reichler, was caught selling off Hall of Fame property loaned to MLB in 1983. Reichler’s sale of many vintage World Series programs to Long Island dealer Bob Sevchuk was exposed by The Sporting News and Kuhn ended up facing the scrutiny of New York Attorney General Robert Abrams. The Reichler incident was described as a major scandal by The New York Post, but that situation pales in comparison to the multi-million dollar thefts from the Hall’s Frick and Herrmann collections and the NYPL’s Harry Wright archive. Barry Halper’s ownership of large caches of stolen documents was never scrutinized because of his reputation as an MLB insider and minority partner of George Steinbrenner.
Considering the magnitude of the thefts and the failure of the recovery efforts—and the fact that an MLB team minority owner was actually linked to the thefts and sales of donated and bogus artifacts, no Commissioner has ever had a more sordid relationship with baseball artifacts and memorabilia than Bud Selig has.
A 2011 New York Post story by this writer detailed the memorabilia fraud of deceased MLB owner Barry Halper (left); Bud Selig said Abner Doubleday "invented" baseball in a 2010 letter to author Ron Keurajian (right).
How history will remember Bud Selig remains largely in the hands of baseball writers and SABR researchers like Dan Epstein. While Selig has fashioned himself as a baseball historian with a soft spot for Abner Doubleday, Epstein and others will likely remind future generations of baseball fans of his entire record in Baseball even if there isn’t much revealing information in his “research center” in Cooperstown. As for Selig’s legacy Epstein told us, “I do believe that Bud Selig was a terrible (and terribly corrupt) commissioner; but this is America, where corporate profits are used as justification (and/or motivation) for everything.” Epstein chalks up the current Selig love-fest to a form of baseball writer Stockholm syndrome and added, “It doesn’t surprise me at all that, given the game’s current rude financial health, Selig would be widely praised as being ‘good for baseball’. And really, he couldn’t have timed his exit better; had Selig left office shortly after the ‘94-’95 strike, the contraction idiocy of ‘01-’02, the move of the Expos to DC or the 2005 steroids hearings, he would be widely considered a failure today.”
As Selig exits the MLB stage, Pam Guzzi, the great-great-granddaughter of the “Father of Professional Baseball” has her own parting shot for the Commissioner. Guzzi, who has been waiting since 2009 to have Harry Wright’s stolen papers returned to the New York Public Library, told us, “With the money MLB pulls in, I find it incredulous that the members are not more willing and active in trying to protect its history and honor the wishes of its forefathers.”
Guzzi is aware that the current owner of the stolen documents is willing to play ball with MLB or the NYPL to facilitate the return of Wright’s letters. The owner, who requested anonymity, told us, “I would accept $35,000 and gladly allow these to be returned to the NYPL via MLB or some other third party. I feel that is honestly about 20%-25% of their “value” since there are two (James) Devlin letters and Harry Wright’s acceptance letter into the Cincinnati Red Stockings.” It is estimated that the fair market value of the cache of letters would be about $250,000 if the items had clear title.
If Harry Wright had not bequeathed his archive the National League in 1895, and his treasure-trove remained in his descendants possession, the Wright family would be sitting on a small fortune worth millions of dollars. Pam Guzzi is frustrated with the NYPL’s failures and Selig’s inaction especially considering the concern MLB expressed in the 2009 New York Times reports. Said Guzzi, “It would have spoken volumes to Selig’s legacy, if he had, although no legal obligation seemed apparent, felt a moral obligation to push MLB to buy the Wright letters and then donate them back to the NYPL. I implore Selig’s successor and MLB to do the right (Wright) thing and get these documents back! If I had the money. I would pay the collector myself.”
Now that Bud Selig’s legacy is being scrutinized, let’s hope that baseball historians in the future remember that when the Commissioner had the opportunity to help recover, preserve and protect the most important baseball archive in existence—he did absolutely nothing.
By Peter J. Nash
January 20, 2015
Keith Olbermann recently used the platform of his ESPN telecast to call out Antiques Roadshow appraiser Lee Dunbar for her million-dollar appraisal of a group of trimmed Mort Rogers scorecards featuring portraits of the Boston Red Stockings. In doing so, he echoed the sentiments of the very small group of collectors who either own or have expertise related to the photographic scorecard rarities. However, in criticizing Dunbar’s ignorance about the ephemeral relics, Olbermann also triggered some SABR-spelunking into his own claims on ESPN that a hundred or so Mort Rogers scorecards have survived and stood the test of time.
Digging a little deeper into the history of the scorecards, historian and author, John Thorn, inadvertently discovered that Mort Rogers, a 19th century printer by trade, may have created the very first set of cards sold nationally and designed to feature the pictures of every professional baseball player for a particular season. Based on the information Thorn unearthed in 19th century newspapers, it appears that Rogers was far ahead of his time and could very well be considered the long-lost father of the modern baseball card. Another advertisement from the New York Clipper discovered by HOS appears to support that claim and also suggests that his “invention” and its use as a scorecard was secondary as his product was marketed to the public as cards to be collected as a series. Rogers even identified each of his offerings as a “Baseball Photographic Card.”
Two weeks ago Olbermann told his ESPN audience, “There are at least two dozen different ones (Mort Rogers scorecards) known and at least one hundred in total in existence, even I have a bunch-and they’re in all the catalogs.” But based upon the numbers assigned to each card, there appear to be at least four or five dozen different cards created by the enterprising printer. More importantly, however, was Olbermann’s claim that one hundred copies have survived when Hauls of Shame could only confirm the existence of approximately forty-two score cards–not including the “bunch” in the broadcaster’s own collection.
HOS research documented 32 images of existing Mort Rogers score cards including the recent find unearthed on Antiques Roadshow (top row left). The other group of 10 trimmed Boston cards that sold in 1992 and 2000 is augmented by unaltered and complete scorecards featuring players from Boston, Philadelphia, Washington and Cleveland. The Baseball HOF has only two examples pictured above of Levi Meyerle and Davy Force.
We contacted several veteran collectors who own examples of the rare scorecards and they were also perplexed by Olbermann’s assertion. One collector said, “Funny, I had the same reaction when I heard Olbermann state there were at least 100 Mort Rogers scorecards known. He said he had “a bunch,” so I suppose he might know something we do not. However, I’ve been following these for decades and would estimate the number known at closer to 50 than 100, more than half of them (with) front covers cut down to varying degrees.”
The collector also informed us that he was aware of about ten examples of the Rogers scorecards that were not included in our grouping of images of documented examples. That would put the verified population of cards at forty-two examples—not including Olbermann’s “bunch” of cards.
The group of forty-two scorecards from games in 1871 and 1872 includes: (10) trimmed Boston cards from the 2014 Roadshow find; (10) trimmed Boston cards sold atLelands in 1992 and REA/Mastro in 2000; (3) complete score cards of Dave Birdsall (Boston), Eugene Kimball (Clev.) and Andy Leonard (Wash) sold at REA/Mastro in 2000; (2) complete score cards of Levi Meyerle (Phila.) and Davy Force (Wash.) in the Baseball Hall of Fame collection; (2) complete score cards of Harry Wright (Boston) and Dick McBride (Phila) in the Boston Athenaeum Collection; (1) complete score card of Cal McVey (Boston) once owned by dealer Jerry Smolin and sold by REA in 2014; (1) complete score card of Dave Birdsall (Boston) sold by Lelands in 2001; (1) complete score card of Harry Schafer (Boston) sold by Lew Lipset in 2000 and believed stolen from NYPLs Spalding Collection; (1) complete Harry Wright score card sold for over $12,000 at Mastro in 2003; (1) complete score card of Count Sensenderfer (Phila.) sold for over $11,000 by Heritage in 2011; (10) additional scorecards identified by a veteran collector (not including Olbermann’s).
If Olbermann actually owns more than fifty Mort Rogers scorecards, more power to him. The broadcaster did not respond to our inquiry as to how many of the 1871 cards he currently possesses. Every experienced collector that we contacted, however, thought Olbermann’s population estimate was way-off, just like Roadshow’s appraisal. That being said, Olbermann’s apparent inflation of the number of the surviving examples would likely be more on point had he made his comments back in 1871 as it appears the scorecard issue actually featured close to one hundred subjects issued in a numbered series. Keeping that in mind and based upon his recent discoveries about the scorecards John Thorn added, “Oddly, Keith’s claim that there were about 100 Mort Rogers cards in existence may yet be proven right.”
Surviving copies of the rare score cards of Dave Birdsall and AG Spalding (from the Roadshow find) reveal that player/publisher Mort Rogers (right) sold his wares at the ballpark for 5 cents and 10 cents.
For decades the Mort Rogers scorecards have been a bit of a mystery for collectors. Most of the cards are dated or identified by specific games played in 1871 or 1872 but some examples have a sales price established by Rogers at 10 cents (10c) while one example depicting Boston player, Dave Birdsall, is priced at just 5 cents (5c). The two prices suggest that the 5 cent score cards may have been issued later in 1872 to reflect a price reduction. Another curious feature is that multiple scorecards of the same player use portraits that are slightly different but appear to be from the same photo shoot. Perhaps the biggest mystery is the scarcity of the scorecards as evidenced by the holdings in the Spalding Collection at the New York Public Library. According to the 1922 library inventory for the largest collection of 19th century baseball materials only one score card of Harry Schafer was donated, and that card is currently missing. (A. G. Spalding’s personal scrapbook from the early 1870s is also missing from the collection and it is possible that some other Rogers scorecards were pasted into that volume.)
Each Mort Rogers scorecard is described on the cover as a “Baseball Photographic Card” and on PBS’ Roadshow, Lee Dunbar, described the cards as, “Some of the earliest known 1871 photographic baseball cards.” On ESPN, Olbermann said that the scorecards were so rare because “they didn’t sell that well.” But was that really true? Were they a bust and were the scorecards only sold in Boston at Red Stockings games as hobbyists have long assumed?
That’s where baseball historian John Thorn was able to shed some more light on Mort Rogers’ scorecard business and the process by which he sold them at ball games and other venues. The first discovery Thorn made was a news item published in the Cincinnati Daily Gazette on July 7, 1871, which announced Rogers’ “invention in the score card line” and shows that Rogers not only sold his scorecards at the Boston Grounds but also at visiting ballparks with pictures of the opposing players affixed to the covers. Evidence suggests that Rogers used Boston photographer J. W. Black to shoot the Red Stockings while other photographers around the country may have provided him with portraits of out-of-town players. Working against this theory, however, is the actual graphic on every card which states “Photographed by J. W. Black.” John Thorn also astutely noted that several of the portraits on the scorecards were identical to those featured on the rare team composite CDV photographs which were also issued in 1871 and sold by J. W. Pierce in Chicago.
John Thorn unearthed an 1871 report from the Cincinnati Advertiser (left) revealing Mort Rogers' plans to sell his series of photographic score cards in conjunction with a reunion game of the 1869 Red Stockings (right) and a NA game between Boston & Washington. (Courtesy of John Thorn)
The newspaper item Thorn found revealed how the scorecards made their appearance at the Union Grounds on Monday and Tuesday of that week in 1871 and how Rogers had “established an agency at Geo. Ellard’s baseball depot, on Fourth street (Cincinnati)” to sell the scorecards. The paper also announced Rogers’ plans for “doing likewise in other western cities.” During that road trip the Boston team played the Olympics of Washington in the Queen City and players from both teams also participated in a reunion game of the champion 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. Cincinnati also hosted several other NA games featuring out-of-town teams in 1871 and it is likely that Rogers’ scorecards were sold at each game.
Thorn’s next discovery from the Cleveland Leader was published a week later on July 13, 1871, and confirmed what had been reported in Cincinnati as Rogers sold his cards at the grounds of the Forest City Club of Cleveland. The paper reported, “Mort Rogers, of Boston, now with the club, has gotten out an exceedingly neat photographic score card. This series which he proposes to publish, will comprise pictures of every professional ball player in the country, and will make a valuable collection. This afternoon, score cards with photographs of each member of the Forest City Club will be for sale at the grounds.” Supporting this report is the surviving score card featuring the image of Forest City player Eugene Kimball which was sold by REA/MastroNet in 2000.
John Thorn also found a July 13, 1871, report in the Cleveland Leader that revealed Mort Rogers' score cards were sold in ballparks all around the country and were intended to feature the pictures of every professional baseball player. (Courtesy of John Thorn)
Maxson Mortimer Rogers was born in Brooklyn in 1845, the son of a fish dealer named Albert Rogers Sr., and played his earliest baseball in 1861 as a teenager for the city’s junior circuit Resolute Base Ball Club, which was also known as “Oul man Rogers and Sam Storer’s fish chowder nine.” Early in his career Rogers took on the persona of a jack-of-all-trades as a pitcher, umpire, scorer and club bookkeeper and by 1864 he was appointed the Secretary of the National Association of Baseball Players. Rogers developed into one of the game’s premiere players and a testament to his skill was his inclusion in a famous 1865 woodcut published in Leslie’s Magazine as one of New York’s “leading players” along with the stars of the Excelsior, Atlantic and Mutual ball clubs. Rogers also appeared in another iconic Civil-War era image taken of the Resolutes supposedly during an 1864 tournament in Philadelphia. The group posing with Rogers included notables such as John Wildey of the Mutuals, baseball scribe Henry Chadwick and Philadelphia native Dick McBride who at that time had been granted a furlough from the Union Army to play in the tournament.
Mort Rogers was a prominent player in the 1860's and appears (left) as President of the Resolute BBC after a game in 1864 or 1865 vs. Philadelphia. Rogers (center) was also featured in the famous 1865 Leslie's woodcut (right) honoring Jim Creighton and the "leading players" in NYC.
In 1866 Rogers relocated to Massachusetts to play for the champion Lowell Club and in 1867 he was also named the NA’s first vice president. Within a few years by 1869 Rogers established himself as one of the game’s earliest entrepreneurs when he self-published the New England Chronicle, a weekly sporting newspaper that devoted considerable space to the National Pastime. A printer by trade, Rogers was unable to sustain his newspaper endeavor and after the paper folded in 1870 he partnered with another printer and founded the Rogers & McCartney Printing Advertising House at 173 Washington Street in Boston. Evidence of the venture was found in the collection of the Library of Congress by John Thorn in the form of a woodcut produced by Rogers which incorporates a baseball scene entitled, “The Pitcher that goes often to the Well is broken at Last.”
John Thorn discovered this baseball-themed woodcut produced by Rogers & McCartney in 1870; Mort Rogers (right) was a printer by trade and operated his printing business while playing for the Star Base Ball Club and umpiring Red Stocking games in Boston.
By 1871, Rogers re-named his printing venture “Rogers & Fitts” at the same address and also umpired games for Harry Wright’s Boston Red Stockings in the brand new National Association. It was during that same year that Rogers designed and manufactured what he described as a “Base Ball Photographic Card” that featured an oval portrait of a professional ballplayer pasted onto an ornately designed lithographic card with baseball motifs that doubled as a score card. As evidenced by Thorn’s 19th century newspaper discoveries, the entrepreneur set out on an ambitious mission to disseminate his photographic cards all over the country at ballparks and baseball emporiums including the sporting goods houses of Peck & Snyder in New York City and George B. Ellard in Cincinnati. While the evidence shows that Rogers & Fitts published their scorecards from 1871 through 1872, little is known about the firm’s production numbers and sales figures. The only financial records we could find were related to Rogers’ partner, Frank E. Fitts, of Lowell, who filed for personal bankruptcy in August of 1871 and had that action discharged as of March 27, 1872.
This Rogers & Fitts score card from May 31, 1871 includes notices from Mort Rogers telling fans that his new photographic cards would be available for the June 2nd game vs. Chicago. The score card also revealed that Rogers' first card was sold at the ballpark on May 20th (Boston Athenaeum Collection).
One clue providing a window into the operation of Rogers’ printing business was also uncovered by John Thorn. MLB’s official historian discovered, in the collection of the Boston Athenaeum, a scorecard published by Rogers & Fitts for a May 31, 1871, game between the Red Stocking and Forest City clubs that pinpoints when the card business launched in Boston. The scorecard included a notice from Rogers informing fans that his photographic card, which was first introduced at the Boston Grounds on May 20th, was not ready for sale due to the “great labor needed in getting it done handsomely.” Rogers assured the fans that the cards would be ready for the June 2nd game scheduled against Chicago and added that the scorecard would again depict Harry Wright (Card No. 1) by popular demand.
An 1871 ad in the NY Clipper (left) reveals that Peck & Snyder sold team trade cards featuring the Reds of 1869 and the Atlantics of 1868, but also documents how the Mort Rogers score cards were marketed as photographic cards that featured the pictures of NA players on seven teams including Levi Meyerle of Philadelphia (center).
An 1871 Peck & Snyder advertisement discovered by Hauls of Shame in 2013 sheds even more light on how the company’s scorecards were marketed throughout the country. Originally the ad was noted for its inclusion of the Peck & Snyder trade cards of the Red Stockings and the Brooklyn Atlantics but a second look at the ad reveals more evidence confirming Thorn’s discoveries and goes even further to show that the Mort Rogers cards may have been the game’s first true set of commercially sold baseball cards. The newspaper reports unearthed by Thorn show that Mort Rogers distributed the cards to ballparks in the eastern states and in the west and the 1871 Peck & Snyder ads confirm that the cards were also distributed to and sold at retail establishments that had accounts with Rogers & Fitts. The ad also documents that Rogers created cards for (43) players on Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington and about (30-34) more unidentified players for Cleveland, Rockford and Kekionga—seven of the nine teams Rogers planned to create according to the news item in the Cleveland Ledger on July 13. Curiously absent from the Peck & Snyder ad are the photos of the players on the Haymaker Base Ball Club of Troy, New York. Which leads us to another interesting discovery via John Thorn.
Just one week after Mort Rogers packed up his scorecards and took them on the road to sell at the ballparks in the Midwest, the following item ran in the Troy Daily Whig on July 22nd:
“The members of the Haymaker Club yesterday had two group pictures taken. Each member also had a picture taken, copies of which, with score card ruling upon the backs, are to be sold at the different games of the club, the picture of each member to be sold in regular order at the successive games.”
Just two weeks after Rogers’ plans to create photographic cards depicting every single player in the National Association was published in the Cleveland papers, it appears that the Haymakers co-opted his idea and decided to create their own cards sponsored by the Burr Penfield Cigar Store in Troy.
The Troy Haymakers of 1871 created their own player scorecards just weeks after Mort Rogers announced his plans to create a photographic card for each player in the NA. The Troy scorecards were sponsored by cigar store owner Burr Penfield.
Penfield was the brother of third baseman Carroll “Cal” Penfield who hailed from Troy and played for local teams including the Enterprise and the Putnams before he joined the Haymakers in 1866. The Burr Penfield “Photographic Cards of the Haymakers” were printed by a local outfit called Hurley Brothers Printers with offices located on the same block as Penfield’s cigar emporium. It remains a mystery why the Haymakers were the only club who decided to create their own locally issued cards rather than be part of Rogers’ distribution at ballparks and stores throughout the country. It is also unclear why Rogers did not include Boss Tweed’s Mutual Club of New York City in his series but what is clear is that Rogers had to rely on the work of J. W. Black and out of town photographers to provide him with albumen prints of player portraits. As Thorn also noted, many of the portraits used by Rogers are identical to those incorporated into the 1871 team composite CDVs made by J. A. Pierce Co. in Chicago.
Mort Rogers' 1872 scorecard of Count Sensenderfer of the Philadelphia Athletics features a portrait identical to the one appearing in the 1871 A's team composite (right) sold by J.A. Pierce & Co. in Chicago.
The question as to what constitutes the first baseball card or the first baseball card set has long been a hot button topic among hobbyists, baseball researchers, dealers and auctioneers. For many years the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings trade card issued by Peck & Snyder was considered the first baseball card and in more recent times competing claims have been made in support of the c.1870 memorial trade card of pitcher Jim Creighton; the 1863 cricket-ticket CDV cards produced by Harry Wright; the 1865 CDV cards featuring Charlie Pabor and Dave Birdsall of the Union BBC of Morrisania; and the “set” of 1866 player CDVs of the Unions of Lansingburgh team created by E. S. Sterry.
Claims for "first baseball card" have been made for (l to r): an 1863 CDV cricket-ticket of Harry Wright; a memorial trade card featuring Jim Creighton; CDVs of Union BBC players Birdsall and Charlie Pabor and a "set" of 1866 player portrait CDVs of the Union of Lansingburgh team.
Each time these photographic cards have surfaced at auction for sale, auctioneers have pled their case for the “first baseball card” hoping to bolster bidding and in several cases the sales job worked. In particular, the claims that the 1863 Harry Wright cricket CDV produced by Jordan & Co. was ”the world’s very first baseball card” and that it was “the first card picturing a baseball player printed for the purpose of promoting the retail sale of a product to the public” propelled bidding into the high five-figures as Keith Olbermann paid $83,000 to secure the card at MastroNet/REA in 2000. In 2008, REA sold for $8,812 a c. 1865-70 CDV of Dave Birdsall which featured within his image the caption of his nickname “The Old Man.” In its lot description REA claimed: “To the best of our knowledge, Birdsall’s card is the very first baseball card with the identification of a current individual player incorporated into the design of the card. By this definition, the “The Old Man” card can lay claim to being the first baseball card.” Another card of Birdsall’s teammate, Charlie Pabor, was also issued with the nickname “The Old Woman In The Red Cap” within its image and was featured in A.G. Spalding’s 1911 book America’s National Game and is currently missing from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection.
Disputing these earlier claims to the “first baseball card” is dealer Brian Wentz of BMW Cards in Wisconsin who is currently offering for $179,000 a set of 1866 player CDVs featuring the Unions of Lansingburgh. According to Wentz all of the other alleged first cards “cannot be definitively dated to 1866 or earlier and those that can do not comprise a complete set or subset of a specific team — i.e., they were not meant to be collected as baseball cards. In our opinion then, this group of six different players from the 1866 Union team of Lansingburgh would represent the earliest known baseball cards.”
There are many conflicting opinions as to what constitutes the oldest or first baseball card or card set. John Thorn told us he considers the first baseball card an 1844 engraved ticket for the ball of New York City’s Magnolia Ball Club which incorporated a scene of a baseball game in progress on the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey. Card collectors and purists, however, require cards to meet a host of different criteria to be considered the first card or the first set. Considering the new information he has added to the debate regarding the Mort Rogers cards Thorn told us, “I would agree that the Rogers scorecards, printed in unknown quantities, is the first numbered set of baseball players.”
A strong case could be made that the Mort Rogers cards were the first true baseball card set and that they incorporate the elements present in most every classic baseball card issued since the 1880's including (clockwise) N-167 Old Judge (1886); N-172 Old Judge (1888); T-206 (1909); M-101 (1915); Cracker Jack (1915); Goudey (1934); Topps (1952) and Topps (2014).
Back in 2013, an 1860 CDV of the Brooklyn Atlantics was erroneously characterized by the mainstream media as the first baseball card and in response Keith Olbermann laid down his own ground rules for what actually constitutes a baseball card. Olbermann pointed to the c.1869 Peck & Snyder team trade cards of the Reds and Atlantics but said that “the truly big idea for baseball cards, the seemingly obvious one- make lots of cards of lots of different players” didn’t appear until the Kalamazoo Bat and Old Judge cards were sold in Goodwin Tobacco cigarette packs in 1886. Olbermann did refer to the Mort Rogers cards for featuring individual players but noted that they were only sold at Boston games and that Rogers “lost his shirt” in the endeavor.
Each Mort Rogers "Baseball Photographic Card" features a player portrait and identifies each subject by name, team, position and number in the series (all in red). This sequence shows players from the Boston, Philadelphia and Washington teams numbered from 1 to 48. (L to R.): Harry Wright, Boston #1; Levi Meyerle, Phila. #16; Davy Force, Wash. #29; Cal McVey, Boston #48.
Contrary to Olbermann’s opinion, however, the new information discovered by John Thorn about the sale of the Mort Rogers score cards nationally and the evidence from 1871 showing that Peck & Snyder marketed them more as “baseball photographic cards” than as just “score cards,” creates a strong case for the Rogers issue as the first true baseball card set. Minus the portrait cards of the Haymakers and the Mutuals, the evidence shows that the cards featured all of the players from seven of the nine National Association teams and that each one was numbered in what the Cleveland Leader called a “series” that would “make a valuable collection.” The evidence suggests that these photographic cards were produced in great quantities to service large crowds in multiple cities and were intended to be collected. As demonstrated on the recent Antiques Roadshow episode, it appears that at least one 19th century fan did just that as he saved the cards and displayed them in an album that was retained by his own family for over 140 years.
In 1871 Mort Rogers called his product "Base Ball Photographic Cards" while Sy Berger (right) and Topps marketed their product as a "Baseball Picture Card" as seen on a 1952 wrapper (center).
When former Topps vice president Sy Berger passed away in December he was hailed as the “Father of the Modern Day Baseball Card.” Berger joined Topps in Brooklyn in 1951 and a year later he worked with hobby legend Woody Gelman to create the iconic 1952 Topps set featuring 407 cards of every player in the American and National Leagues. Berger was widely credited with creating that first complete set and incorporated design elements featuring facsimile player autographs, team logos and statistics on the backs of the cards picturing Mays, Mantle and Jackie Robinson. In his obituary in the New York Times Berger was remembered as the man who “conceived the prototype for the modern baseball card.” It is interesting to note also that Topps and Berger marketed their creation as a “Baseball Picture Card” (as Bowman also did dating back to 1948), a designation so very similar to Rogers’ own “Base Ball Photographic Card.”
The former Brooklynite, Mort Rogers, came up with his scheme to peddle baseball cards more than eight decades before Sy Berger’s arrival at Topps. Rogers designed his own prototype for baseball cards and worked to create his own ground-breaking near-complete set of cards picturing the game’s true pioneers including the Wright brothers, Albert Spalding and Al Reach. Rogers’ “invention” was the product of his design skills as a printer and there’s no doubt he was way ahead of his time. As evidenced, an argument could even be made that it was Rogers who first coined the term “baseball card.” His 1871 card/scorecard issue also introduced some of the very same elements that Berger and other card pioneers like Woody Gelman had used dating back to the Goudey Gum issues of the 1930s. Every one of his cards had a uniform design and included the picture, name, team and position of each player.
The Mort Rogers scorecards are not recognized in the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards (left and center). The 1872 Warren CDV photos of Harry Wright and the Red Stockings (right) are included as baseball card issue/series.
In his own obituary, there was no mention of Mort Rogers’ baseball card creations and innovations along with the tragic details of his demise. Rogers passed away just three days after his own brother Fraley Rogers (a former Boston Red Stocking player) had committed suicide and reports stated that the printer’s brother had killed himself after he’d contracted malaria and was driven to a state of temporary insanity. Mort Rogers’ death in New York City on May 13, 1881, was attributed to his shock over his brother’s devastating suicide.
Outside of his being mentioned in auction catalogs beside each surviving “baseball photographic card” bearing his name, Mort Rogers has, for the most part, been forgotten and never properly credited for his printing innovations and his baseball card designs. The Standard Catalog Of Vintage Baseball Cards doesn’t even recognize the “1871-72 Mort Rogers Scorecards” as a baseball card issue although it does include the 1872 Warren CDV portraits of Harry Wright’s Red Stockings as an actual card series. All things considered, if Sy Berger is remembered as the “Father of the Modern Baseball Card” it may be time for Mort Rogers to receive his just due as the “Grandaddy of the American Baseball Card.”
(Editor’s Note: Although these discoveries add to the history of the Mort Rogers Scorecards there is likely much more information about the cards that has yet been unearthed. If you know of or find any new information about the cards, or know of previously unknown examples to add to the population please contact us at: Tips@haulsofshame.com)
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By Peter J. Nash
January 9, 2014
When a woman strolled onto the set of Antiques Roadshow with a long-lost archive linked to Boston’s baseball history, she never expected to hear PBS appraiser, Lee Dunbar, tell her she’d hit the jackpot. But after viewing her treasure trove which consisted of a group of ten trimmed 1871 Mort Rogers photographic scorecards, a few CDV photographs of A. G. Spalding and the 1872 Boston Red Stockings and a document bearing salutations and signatures from the famous Wright brothers (Harry and George), Spalding and other pioneer players like Dave Birdsall, Cal McVey and Harry Schafer she was told by Dunbar that her collection was worth a million bucks.
The group of materials was originally housed in a period carte-de-visite photo album and all of the player photos featured on the covers of the scorecards were at one time trimmed down to fit inside the book. The original score cards consisted of two pages, but these examples only retained the covers which were manufactured for sale by player Mort Rogers. The photographic score cards are one of the true rarities in the hobby and this newly found cache could almost double the known population. But just because they are extremely rare and historic does not mean they are worth a million dollars. Case in point is another “set” of ten similarly trimmed Mort Rogers score cards featuring the same players that has been sold twice in the last twenty five years. In August of 1992 Lelands sold the group of trimmed cards for about $26,000 and in 2000 the same group sold again in a REA/MastroNet auction for $45,202.
A group of (10) trimmed Mort Rogers score cards sold at Lelands in 1992 for $26,000 (left). The same group was resold at REA/MastroNet for $46,000 in July of 2000 (right) along with three other examples in a separate lot.
No other similar sets or groupings of the cards have ever surfaced but a handful of un-trimmed examples of full score cards featuring Harry Wright, Dave Birdsall and Cal McVey have sold at auctions ranging in price from $6,000 to $12,000 for the Wright. Another example of a Harry Wright score card is currently housed in the collection of the Boston Athenaeum.
Un-trimmed Mort Rogers score card examples of Harry Wright, Dave Birdsall and Cal McVey sold for $12,000, $6,000 and $12,000 respectively.
It appears that another full scorecard featuring Harry Schafer was sold at auction in 2000 by Lew Lipset, but that example appears on the missing list of the New York Public Library’s famous A. G. Spalding Collection and is believed to have been part of the multi-million dollar heist at the library in the 1970s. The Spalding Collection features the greatest assortment of photographic materials related to Spalding and Wright’s early Boston teams and it is notable that it is devoid of examples of the Rogers score cards. Several of A.G. Spalding’s personal scrapbooks, however, were also stolen in the late 1970s and some believe that many 19th century photo and score card rarities that have surfaced in the hobby were removed from those same missing volumes.
The NYPL's "Missing List" for the Spalding Collection includes a Mort Rogers score card of Harry Schafer. In 2000, Lew Lipset sold a Schafer score card (left) believed to be the missing example. The recent PBS show revealed the trimmed Schafer card featuring a different portrait.
As you can see, despite the extreme rarity of these full and partial photographic score cards, the historic prices realized at public auction in no way support the $1 million dollar appraisal given to the owner on Antiques Roadshow. At best, if both of the cards of the Wright’s and Spalding sold for $25,000 and each of the other cards sold for $5,000 (which is a high estimate for trimmed examples), the group would be worth about $110,000.
The PBS Spalding CDV (left) is comparable with a lesser condition CDV that Heritage sold for over $9,000 in 2009 (center left). The trimmed PBS 1872 Boston trade card is comparable with a similar card of the Phila. A's that sold for over $44,000 at auction in 2014.
Also in the Roadshow group are an untrimmed Warren CDV of Albert Spalding and a trimmed trade card featuring the 1872 Boston BBC. Heritage sold a similar Spalding CDV (in lesser condition) for $11,950 in 2009 and the only comparable sale similar to the 1872 trimmed Boston trade card was an example featuring the Phialdelphia A’s. Legendary Auctions sold the untrimmed card graded “Authentic” by SGC as being unique (although others are known) and it fetched $44,813 in May of 2014. It would be hard to make the case that the trimmed Boston card, created by George Wright and Charley Gould’s Sporting Goods company (Wright & Gould), could command a price higher than $44,000.
Lastly, the document signed by some of the members of the 1871 team and addressed to the woman who owned the Boston boarding house where the players resided, is a remarkable artifact but it is not as valuable as Roadshow claims. Appraiser Lee Dunbar told the owner, “To have this letter with Harry Wright and Spalding on it is tremendous, to have anything with their signature is phenomenal.” Spalding and Wright’s signatures are scarce and most Wright signatures on the market were stolen from the NYPLs Spalding Collection, but there are comparable signed documents that have been sold that dwarf the importance of the letter penned to the boarding house proprietor. Lee Dunbar’s former employer, Sotheby’s, handled one of these documents during the 1999 Barry Halper sale—the actual letter awarding Harry Wright the championship pennant of 1875 which was signed by Wright and National Association president (and HOFer) Morgan Bulkeley. The document was originally in one of the three Harry Wright scrapbooks stolen from the NYPL in the 1970s and was documented and cited in research notes taken by historians Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Mills who held the same document in their hands at the NYPL in the 1950s. The Seymour original notes are now part of the Seymour Collection at Cornell University. The stolen 1875 document sold for $14,950 at Sotheby’s and despite its overwhelming NYPL provenance, the letter has not been recovered by the FBI or NYPL. The Roadshow document is nowhere near as significant.
An 1875 letter awarding Harry Wright's Boston club the 1875 Pennant sold at Sotheby's in 1999. A letter written by Spalding to Wright during the World Tour of 1874 was sold at REA in 2007. Both letters were stolen from the NYPL and the 1875 letter is documented in the original research notes (center) of Dr. Harold Seymour and his wife Dorothy (inset). The notes show the letter was in Volume 1 of Wright's incoming letters on "p.21."
As for signatures of Albert Spalding one of the most historic documents ever offered was a 4-page letter he penned to Harry Wright from England when he and the Boston team were on their World Tour of 1874. That letter was also stolen from the NYPL’s Wright scrapbooks and was sold by REA and Rob Lifson in 2007 for $28,875.
Roadshow appraiser Lee Dunbar (far right) appraised the Boston collection at $1 million but the value of the artifacts, including signatures of Harry Wright and A.G. Spalding (left), falls far short of that benchmark.
The bottom line is this—–Antiques Roadshow and Dunbar have no supporting evidence to substantiate their $1 million appraisal of the collection featured on the recent broadcast. Media outlets ranging from major newspapers to TMZ have published stories disseminating the inaccurate and unsubstantiated appraisal and each of them took the PBS press releases as gospel. Only Keith Olbermann corrected the record by naming Roadshow and Dunbar as his “World’s Worst Person in Sports” on ESPNs Wednesday night telecast. Olbermann also correctly noted that no Mort Rogers scorecard had ever sold for over $15,000, a point that was seconded by MLBs official historian John Thorn on Twitter.
Just do the math: the trimmed Rogers score cards, at best, could realize $100,000-125,000; the Spalding CDV $15,000; the 1872 Boston trade card $25,000; the Red Stocking signed document $25,000-35,000. All in all, a far cry from a million dollars (even if the number is inflated for insurance purposes). Josh Evans, of Lelands Auctions, had a different take on Dunbar’s appraisal which he defended. Said Evans, “Lee Dunbar is one smart cookie. By putting a million dollar value on the collection she made baseball memorabilia a hot story that carried all the way overseas to London where I just read a great article in the Daily Mail.”
Antiques Roadshow’s recent track record regarding major baseball artifacts has been severely marred since its 2012 appraisal of a bogus 1960 Willie Mays uniform that ended up being sold to the Pawn Stars and re-sold at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills. The uniform was a salesman’s sample that was never issued to Mays. Roadshow appraiser Mike Gutierrez from Heritage Auctions authenticated and appraised the uniform at $25,000-$35,000. It was fraudulently sold as Mays’ actual uniform at Julien’s for only $12,000 and was featured on the cover of the auction house’s catalog.
The Jackson scrapbooks feature rare photos and documents that shed light on the turbulent life and times of one of baseball's greatest players. One gem is a 1917 note to Jackson from a gambler looking for some inside "dope" on the White Sox (right).
In stark contrast to the value of the PBS Boston find is the remarkable lot of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s personal scrapbooks that are currently being sold by Lelands and have a current bid just under $10,000. The scrapbooks are described by Lelands founder Josh Evans as the “Dead Sea Scrolls” of baseball memorabilia and the appearance of the long-lost volumes literally dwarfs the PBS find in terms of historic import. The three thick scrapbook volumes were compiled by Jackson and his wife Katie and span from his earliest days in the game to the time of his death.
The scrapbooks surfaced last summer after Lelands issued a million dollar reward for the original Black Sox scandal confessions of “Shoeless” Joe and his “Eight Men Out” teammates. Well known for advertising rewards in the past for Bobby Thompson’s long-lost home run ball , Josh Evans told us, “The consignor saw the reward we ran regarding the Chicago Black Sox confessions. They knew they weren’t going to get a million dollars, but it should be a great deal of money for the three scrapbooks. These could be the most (important) scrapbooks ever discovered.” When asked what separates these volumes from other great hobby finds of his career Evans responded, “He (Jackson) transcends the game as a subject of books, movies, television and of all media. He is a piece of the fabric of American folklore along with Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth, as the tragic figure of the bunch. He is baseball’s American tragedy whose role will be debated long after we are gone. And these scrapbooks are a window into his soul.”
Mike Nola, the nation’s foremost Jackson researcher who operates BlackBetsy.com, says he knew of the Jackson scrapbooks for many years and that they were passed on from Katie Jackson to her husband’s sister, Gertrude. Said Nola, “Gertrude used to pull these out for anyone wanting to see them, but then reporters started stealing pages from the scrapbook and she stopped letting anyone see them. Some great stuff in there. (I) wish I had the money to buy it, but this one will go off the charts.”
Joe Jackson's scrapbooks ended up with his sister Gertrude (left). The Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, SC, (center) is hoping to get access to the information in the scrapbooks. Josh Evans of Lelands uncovered the scrapbooks by offering a reward for the Black Sox confessions. (Photo of Gertrude Jackson courtesy of BlackBetsy.com)
As to whether the scrapbooks look like they were cherry picked at one time Evans told us, “The scrapbooks are unpicked. There are very few missing pieces, as there are only a few small missing spaces. We checked the spines and could see no missing pages. But this is best spelled out by what is there.”
Sources indicate that the scrapbooks passed from Jackson’s sister to a woman named Frances Suddeth and it is believed that her heirs are the consignors to the Lelands sale. Nola and other researchers would love to get full access to the information housed in the volumes and Nola even went so far to offer to pay Lelands for their time and effort if they could scan every page so that he could secure the information for the “Shoeless” Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, South Carolina, which is housed in the structure that was Jackson’s actual residence.
Arlene Marcley, the curator of the Jackson Museum, thinks the scrapbooks are breathtaking. Marclay can only hope a well-heeled donor might buy the scrapbooks and donate them to the non-profit institution that she helped establish and told Hauls of Shame, “Absolutely incredible. I just hope a museum gets them so they papers can be archived properly. I have a feeling they are in bad shape.” Scrapbooks from the Dead-Ball era are usually in need of significant conservation and the Jackson volumes would most likely need some archival attention. Marcley and others can only hope that the volumes don’t vanish into a collector’s vault or are purchased by a dealer who could disassemble the contents of each volume for resale purposes.
Evans and Lelands say they’d love for the museum to get access to the information in the scrapbooks and added, “We have every intention of facilitating that as long as the buyer is agreeable.” Evans even told Mike Nola that he’d cover the costs to scan the materials.
Jackson holds a trophy he won as "Best Slugger" (left) on "Murnane Day" in 1917. The Lelands lot included the original presentation card for another trophy he won during that same All-Star benefit game (bottom right) played at Fenway Park. (Correction: Jackson is actually holding the trophy won for longest throw at Fenway in 1917).
The volumes are chock full of documents and news clippings that chronicle the life and career of baseball’s most tragic figure. One remarkable artifact found in a scrapbook is the presentational card that once accompanied the trophy presented to Jackson for winning the “Longest Throw” contest held in conjunction with the 1917 benefit All-Star game played at Fenway Park to raise funds for the family of writer Tim Murnane. Photographs of Jackson holding his trophies in his residence have surfaced in recent years and it is believed the accompanying trophy is still in the possession of a Jackson relative along with Jackson’s 1917 World Series medal which he had made into a ring while he was still living.
The scrapbooks also feature important documents linked to gambling and issues related to the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Josh Evans told us, “My favorite piece is undoubtedly the unsigned typed letter written from a mysterious fan asking him for inside gambling information.” Evans added, “Dope is the old fashion term denoting illegal insider info. What a great precursor to the Black Sox scandal and the only communique that exists where Jackson is solicited. The most interesting thing is the fact that the family kept it.”
One scrapbook contains a two-page lawsuit Jackson filed against Charles Comiskey in 1924. The document included questions asked of Jackson regarding his taking money to throw games in the 1919 World Series.
In addition, one volume features a two-page lawsuit and an actual page from court pleadings detailing questions and answers concerning “Shoeless” Joe’s involvement in the fixing of games. The document originates from the 1924 lawsuit Jackson filed against White Sox owner Charles Comiskey for back salary and the lot description says the document reveals “10 questions asked of (Jackson) regarding the infamous 1919 World Series.” Lelands also says that questions five through 10 ”touch on whether he threw the series or took money to that aim, all of which he answered “no.”
Jacob Pomrenke, the chairman of SABRs Black Sox Scandal Research Committee thinks the scrapbooks are “A priceless resource with information on Jackson’s personal life that can’t be found anywhere else.” As a resource for SABR members Pomrenke also said, “What interests me most about the sample images in the Lelands auction listing are the advertisements and broadsides on Jackson’s “outlaw” career in the 1920s and ’30s. Jackson’s post-banishment baseball career hasn’t been well documented, and there are large gaps in the record on exactly when and where he played.”
The Jackson scrapbooks feature several rare vintage broadsides advertising Jackson's participation in barnstorming games after he was banished from the game.
MLBs official historian, John Thorn, was also impressed when he viewed images from the scrapbooks on the Lelands website and told us, “(The scrapbooks) are a treasure trove and the post-1920 barnstorming broadsides are amazing.”
Evans thinks there are many other significant “hidden gems” in the scrapbooks that have yet been unearthed. “Our time was limited and we did very little if any research as to the specifics of the pieces herein as such as who wrote these letters, what their relationship to Jackson (was),” said Evans. There is still more to learn from many items like “The broadsides (and) what the importance was of each individual game and (the) results and how each document played a part in his life.” According to Lelands, “The content is fairly evenly covered throughout his life from his pre major league days, earliest days in the game with the As, then Philadelphia, Cleveland and finally Chicago, to his play outside the league when he was banned and the trials and tribulations of that, to his later years at home. The key here is that almost all of it has never been seen and there is great mystery here that the scrapbooks unlock.”
When we asked Evans what he estimates the actual monetary value of the scrapbooks is he said, “These scrapbooks are worth a fortune. These are as important as any of the million or multi-million dollar pieces sold in the last few years.” When pressed on an actual number Evans was quick to respond and mused, “They are certainly worth low six figures.”
Pomrenke and other SABR members are hoping that the scrapbooks make their way back to Jackson’s hometown and Arlene Marcley. ” My hope is that the scrapbooks find a permanent home with the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, the same town where those books have spent most of their time over the last century, first with Joe’s wife, Katie, and then his sister, Gertrude,” said Pomrenke. ”If the scrapbooks do end up in a private collection, I hope the new owner will at least allow some access to Black Sox historians and researchers who are interested in learning more about Jackson’s life.”
Safe to say, there are more than a few researchers who consider the scrapbooks priceless and they can only hope to be lucky enough to get access to the information held within each brittle and dusty volume. Pomrenke summed up the thoughts of most SABR members we spoke with saying, “If the scrapbooks do end up in a private collection, I hope the new owner will at least allow some access to Black Sox historians and researchers who are interested in learning more about Jackson’s life.”