By Peter J. Nash
August 14, 2015
Hauls of Shame has been saying it for years, but Jimmy Spence confirmed it in a letter filed recently in the Bill Mastro auction fraud case in Chicago. In the letter submitted to the Judge who will be sentencing Mastro on August 20th, Spence stated that his mentor devised and instituted the 3rd party authentication business that now controls the hobby and also stated that despite Mastro’s pleading guilty to engaging in shill bidding and mail fraud, he believes that his good friend is responsible for “pioneering” what he calls the “standard of integrity in the autographed memorabilia business.”
In addition, Spence told the Judge that he has accompanied Mastro on religious pilgrimages and believes that the disgraced auctioneer does not deserve any jail time after defrauding countless customers and hobbyists. In fact, Spence’s letter is one of many supporting Mastro’s plea for leniency from the Judge who has also received letters from Mastro’s victims which describe him as a sociopath and unrepentant criminal who took advantage of and swindled close friends and associates. Spence describes Mastro’s pioneering work in the authentication business as an endeavor that protected collectors, but the evidence that has come to light during the Mastro investigation starkly contradicts Spence’s assertions.
Jimmy Spence of JSA wrote this letter in support of Bill Mastro in 2012 but it has only made its way to the Judge sentencing Bill Mastro in the last few weeks.
While Mastro and Spence claimed that authenticators were enhancing the auction process for buyers, the system devised by Mastro simply created a delivery system by which a closely knit and incestuous network of business partners could create a false sense of security among collectors via marketing while at the same time increasing revenues and assuring that the same collectors could never return fake merchandise to auctioneers after a sale. In his letter to Mastro’s Judge, Spence claims that the authentication system created “universal trust and unprecedented value” but collectors who have contacted Hauls of Shame since Mastro’s 2012 indictment sing a different tune although many of them have refused to go public with their stories as victims of the Mastro syndicate. A source confirmed for us the story of one victimized collector who has refused to write a letter to Mastro’s Judge to request a harsher sentence and restitution. The same collector also declined to contact FBI agents to detail Mastro’s sales of bogus autographs certified authentic by Jimmy Spence. That being said, we think it is important to present this story to the collecting community while not revealing the identity of the collector who, we are told, wishes to remain anonymous.
In the year 2000, the collector paid over $10,000 in a MastroNet sale for an autographed Babe Ruth photograph authenticated by Jimmy Spence of PSA/DNA. Based upon the letter of authenticity he received from the authenticator endorsed by Bill Mastro, the collector felt secure that he had just purchased a genuine signature of the Bambino. He kept the signed photo in his collection for thirteen years and in 2013 decided to consign it to Dave Kohler and SCP Auctions in California where it appeared as lot in an SCP catalog. But when the photo was examined by Spence’s old partner, Steve Grad of PSA/DNA, it was not issued a letter of authenticity by the company, despite having the previously issued PSA/DNA letter signed by Spence in 2000. Our source says the collector was shocked and when he spoke with the SCP auction representative he was told that he should put the item on eBay with his old LOA from Jimmy Spence.
The Ruth photo purchased at Mastro in 2000 with a Spence/PSA LOA appeared in a 2013 SCP catalog (left). The Ruth signatured matched the style of other Ruth signatures used in PSA advertisements in SCD and other publications (right).
This news was even more stunning to the collector because the Ruth signature on his photo was almost identical to others authenticated by PSA/DNA for over a decade and even utilized in company advertisements and testimonials. The collector, in turn, did not think the advice from SCP was ethical and decided to consign the photo again to Hunt Auctions which used Jimmy Spence and his new company JSA to authenticate auction lots. The collector figured that Spence would have to stand by his original authentication, but he was subsequently informed by Hunt employees that Spence had also failed the item he had previously authenticated for Mastro. The Hunt auction representative also accidentally sent the owner of the photo high resolution scans of the Ruth signature and evidence of the word “Sincerely” having been removed from the photograph.
The reality of the situation, however, was that by 2013 reporting by Hauls of Shame had illustrated how both Spence, Grad and PSA/DNA had been authenticating hundreds of thousands of dollars in Ruth forgeries for several decades. By 2013, both authentication companies had no other choice but to fail these items when they were presented for examination and the owners of the items were left holding some very expensive bags.
Jimmy Spence rejected the Ruth signature he authenticated in 2000 for Mastro and hi-res scans sent to the owner by Hunt Auctions revealed the word "Sincerely" had been removed from the photo. Despite knowing this, PSA President Joe Orlando (right) told the owner he should try to unload the fake on eBay with the original Spence LOA from his company.
The collector who owned the Ruth forgery from the 2013 SCP sale allegedly decided to contact Joe Orlando, the president of PSA/DNA, in order to request relief or a refund from the company for its documented admission of authenticating the bogus item in 2000. According to our source, Orlando told the collector that hobbyists, himself included, were some times burned by fakes and it was necessary in such situations to just take the loss and move on. Orlando told him that the PSA/DNA letter of authenticity did not guarantee any refund or recourse for him and that PSA/DNA had never reimbursed a customer for an item that was previously authenticated and later was confirmed to be a forgery. Incredibly, the source revealed to Hauls of Shame that Orlando suggested that the collector “put the fake photo on eBay with the old Spence letter of authenticity” to see if he could sell it there. The collector we’re told was both shocked and appalled at Orlando’s suggestion which he viewed as outright fraud and deception. Orlando is known for signing off on official PSA letters and articles by stating, “Never get cheated.”
PSA and JSA have been authenticating scores of big-ticket Ruth fakes for decades as evidenced by the fakes featured in this montage, all of which are bogus. PSA now shows this type of Ruth forgery on its website while suggesting that customers unload the fakes on eBay.
This episode surely doesn’t support Spence’s claims in his letter supporting Bill Mastro that the authentication business is built “on a solid foundation based on integrity and morality.” In fact, it documents the level of fraud and dishonesty that exists in both companies at their highest levels. This situation and scores of others reported previously by Hauls of Shame also demonstrate the level of self-dealing between so-called experts and auction houses and the monopoly status that both PSA and JSA enjoy in the field of authentication. That monopoly status has been described as a cartel in several Federal anti-trust lawsuits filed recently against PSA and JSA by Nelson Deedle and Todd Mueller.
The 3rd party authentication companies are totally unregulated and our source tells us that the collector victimized by Mastro’s auction with the bogus Ruth photo told Joe Orlando it was his goal to have the authenticators face federal regulation and that their LOA’s should have bold-faced language stating that the opinions detailed on the PSA and JSA certificates give collectors no real guarantee or protection. Our source said, “It should be like the Surgeon General’s notice on cigarettes, letting collectors know that these letters don’t guarantee anything and are written by people with no formal training or actual expertise.” The collector allegedly contacted his local congresswoman in New York’s 17th District, Nita Lowey, asking for relief and to have the Federal government investigate and regulate the authenticators. Hauls of Shame called Lowy’s office in Washington for comment but they did not respond to our inquiry.
Reaction to Jimmy Spence’s letter supporting Mastro and requesting no jail time for the disgraced auctioneer was overwhelming. Collectors, dealers, media representatives and hobby executives across the board found Spence’s letter both reprehensible and unbelievable. One high placed hobby executive told us, “That Spence letter is absolutely ridiculous, what was he thinking?” Another executive was not surprised by the letter stating, “For him to have written that letter just shows how much dirt Bill Mastro must have on him having controlled him for so long.” Mastro was famous for telling collectors he had to “twist” Spence’s arm for LOA’s on auction consignments and even wrote a letter to this writer in the 1990s claiming “the so-called autograph experts we have in our business don’t know shit.”
Bill Mastro is on record in a handwritten letter stating he felt that authenticators didn't "know shit" in 1994 and afterwards devised the 3rd party authentication system utilizing and promoting his own friendly experts like (l to r bottom) Steve Grad, John Reznikoff, Roger Epperson, Zach Rullo and Jimmy Spence.
The most vocal hobby critic of Mastro and his sentencing is collector and New York defense attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, who has represented several parties involved in the Mastro investigation and is also one of Mastro’s shill-bidding victims. After reading Spence’s letter Lichtman told us, “Spence’s letter was stunning because he’s ostensibly in the business of protecting hobbyists from fraud — yet here he is front and center supporting the biggest fraud in the hobby. Spence obviously doesn’t care that this looks bad for him and people who submit autographs for his authentication should keep this in mind. If he’s willing to support a thief like Bill Mastro what else is he capable of in this hobby?”
When told that our source claims that Joe Orlando told a collector to unload a Spence authenticated fake Lichtman responded, “I’d be greatly disappointed to learn that Joe Orlando told a collector to sell a fake Ruth autograph on eBay. If true, I suppose we can’t be surprised that Spence and Mastro were involved as well.”
But what really irks Lichtman and many other collectors more than anything else is Spence’s mention of Mastro’s finding religion after his downfall and Mastro’s lawyers presentation of his faith-based charitable works in pleas to the Judge for a lighter sentence. Lichtman told us, ” Religion is the last refuge of a scoundrel and Bill Mastro is no different. But as typical of Bill, he even can’t stop committing fraud in his religion. As noted in the indictment one of his shill bidding accounts was in the name of a priest. Think about how low that is for a second. But that’s Bill Mastro, breaking records all the way down to hell.”
Despite all of the outrage in the hobby over talk of a light sentence for Mastro it appears that many of his victims, including the collector with the bogus $10,000 Ruth photo, have not written to the Judge to detail the full scope of fraud committed by Mastro and his company. Lichtman is not surprised by the apathy and non-action in the hobby and told us, “The great majority of Mastro’s victims won’t write letters to the judge for a handful of reasons. Most people believe fraud is part of the hobby and thus they don’t mind being ripped off. Many others conspired with Mastro to shill their own consignments and thus don’t dare put in a letter to the Court for fear of being outed as a co-conspirator by Mastro’s lawyers and lastly, there’s a segment of the hobby that believes they may have a minuscule chance of making a dollar with Mastro in the years to come and don’t want to spoil that chance. Pitiful excuses all.”
On Thursday the Government submitted its papers for the Mastro sentencing and it included a 2008 conversation between Mastro and a Confidential Witness about baseball cards he was selling that were graded by PSA:
Mastro: I really don’t give a shit if the stuff’s real or not. Okay. I don’t care if its trimmed. I don’t care if it’s real. I, if I look at it and I think it’s real, I want the authenticators to look at it and think it’s real. You think that all these PSA cards we’re auctioning are, aren’t unaltered? They’re all altered. The alteration going on, it is unbelievable in our hobby right now. Okay. There’s not a sheet that gets auctioned off that isn’t cut up. Every sheets getting cut up. Goud(e)y sheets, Diamond Star sheets, basketball sheets, every sheet you see in the auction is being bought by someone who is cutting them up.
Joe Orlando of PSA did not respond to our request for comment about his alleged instructions to the collector to sell the fake Babe Ruth autograph on eBay or the Mastro conversation detailed in the Government’s report. James Spence of JSA has never responded to any of our requests for comment including our inquiries about the 100 worst authentications of both PSA/DNA and JSA.
By Peter J. Nash
July 31, 2015
The Hall of Fame pitcher nicknamed the “Christian Gentleman” may be rolling over in his grave tonight as Goldin Auctions sells off what PSA and JSA have certified as an authentic baseball bat alleged to have been “game-used” by Christy Mathewson in the 1905 World Series and signed and dated by his manager, John J. McGraw. But there is no proof whatsoever that suggests Mathewson ever swung the $500,000 bat and several experts have opined that the signature of McGraw is a poorly executed forgery. The authentication of the bogus signature by Steve Grad and Jimmy Spence is yet another prime example of why both authentication companies are facing allegations of fraud, incompetence, racketeering and operating a monopoly in three federal anti-trust lawsuits filed by Nelson Deedle, Todd Mueller and Michael Johnson. Sources indicate that several collectors have alerted the FBI about the sale.
Author Ron Keurajian told Hauls of Shame he is of the opinion that the inscription and signature of McGraw is a forgery and added, “Whatever moron buys that bat deserves to get burned.” When compared to authentic examplars of McGraw’s signature executed between 1900 and 1910, the signature on the bat exhibits tell-tale signs of forgery as if the autograph was drawn slowly. Supporting Keurajian’s analysis is additional information of the bats alleged provenance which shows that the previous owner of the bat, Terrence Zastrow, prepared a sketchy sworn affidavit with virtually no detail documenting that the bat actually was owned at one time by Mathewson. Making matters worse is information submitted to Hauls of Shame detailing how Zastrow was once indicted for counterfeiting coins and was caught on wiretaps admitting how he defrauded the US Government. When Hauls of Shame asked Ken Goldin if he knew of Zastrow’s indictment and counterfeiting history the auctioneer said, ” If you are referring to something from 1972 I think many people have a past, yourself included. If you wish to discuss the bat, you should talk to MEARS who researched it extensively and awarded it an A-10 their highest grade, or PSA who awarded a GU-10 their highest grade.”
The McGraw signature on the Goldin Auctions bat has been identified as a forgery by several experts who claim the handwriting contrasts genuine examples executed between 1900 and 1910. In addition, the written date "Oct. 14 '05" significantly contrasts how McGraw wrote "Oct." and the number (5).
When we spoke to Troy Kinunen of MEARS he admitted that he authenticated the bat after the autograph was certified authentic by the third party company and that he assumed the signature and inscription were real. Because of that assumption he told us, “I was able to attribute it to Mathewson because the bat had no name on it and that’s way the bats from 1905 would appear. The fact that the writing on the bat had the exact date placed it at the World Series.” When asked if he had seen any evidence that could unequivocally show that Mathewson owned the bat he said, “No, but I was told that the bat was given to a family by Mathewson.” Incredibly, both MEARS and PSA claim that another reason the bat is authentic is because Mathewson did not sign the bat. In the PSA letter of authenticity John Taube writes, “players don’t sign their own equipment.” MEARS says, “The fact that the bat was signed by teammates, not Christy Mathewson himself, lends to the fact this was Mathewson’s bat which was signed by his teammates and intended to be a keepsake…”
It’s hard to believe both PSA and MEARS actually believe this and it’s interesting to note that they both make the same point as if MEARS based their 2015 letter on the 2013 letter by PSA. If this were actually true, the majority of “game used” items both companies have authenticated would not exist.
This sworn affidavit prepared and signed by Terrence Zastrow reveals nothing about the actual provenance and authenticity of the alleged Mathewson bat. Hobby sources are asking how PSA and MEARS could consider the affidavit when Zastrow is known as an admitted counterfeiter of US coins.
But what is most stunning about the PSA, MEARS and JSA authentications is the sworn affidavit of Terrence Zastrow. Hauls of Shame requested the affidavit referenced in the Goldin lot description but Goldin would not furnish a copy of the document which states that Zastrow was the owner of the bat as of July 24, 2013 and that when Zastrow “came into possession oof said bat” he was “told that said bat had been given to Christy Mathewson by his team mates on October 14, 1905.” Zastrow states that “Mathewson gave said bat to a member of a Chicago family” but fails to identify the family or the individual. He then adds that the bat was in the possession of the alleged family “until June 2013.”
In a nutshell, there is no verifiable evidence in Zastrow’s affidavit that supports either the Mathewson ownership or “game use” of the bat. In fact, MEARS, on its web page states the criteria to render an “A-10″ grade on a bat. MEARS says, “A bat being graded A-10 matches known factory production details, exhibits significant signs of player use, has unquestionable provenance or an abundance of unique and player specific traits in combination with manufacturer’s characteristics proving that the bat could only have been used by the examined player.”
It appears that both MEARS and PSA simply accepted the autograph authentications by PSA/DNA and JSA in addition to the claims of direct provenance and ownership by Mathewson to elevate the bat to a $500,000 museum quality artifact. The truth of the matter is that MEARS and PSA can only identify the bat as a vintage and authentic Hillerich bat from the turn of the century. Neither outfit provides any convincing evidence that shows otherwise, including photographic evidence which shows Mathewson holding a bat in 1908.
A photo sold this year by Heritage shows Mathewson holding his bat during the 1905 World Series (left). The handle of the bat appears to be thicker than the bat being sold by Goldin (right).
Last week, a major collector contacted Hauls of Shame and provided us with an actual authentic photo of Mathewson holding his bat during the 1905 World Series. The collector noted that the knob and handle “looked thicker than the bat that Goldin is selling.” The image is not clear enough to reveal the exact details and wood grain but it does cast more doubt on Goldin’s alleged treasure.
Additional views of the alleged Goldin Mathewson bat (left) next to the genuine bat shown being held in Mathewson's hands during the 1905 World Series.
The image was just recently sold by Heritage Auctions as part of the estate of Mathewson’s catcher Roger Bresnahan and was readily available to PSA, MEARS and JSA. The 1905 image does, however, show that the bat in Matty’s hands does not have large piece of wood missing from the knob. One industry executive we spoke with said, “That photo shows a bat without any wood loss on the knob. If it was such a keepsake and retired after the 1905 Series how would that have been damaged? That’s a problem, but not as big a problem as having no evidence it was Matty’s bat.”
Ken Goldin acknowledged Zastrow’s past as a counterfeiter but also stated, “My consignor is not Zastrow or a relative. This bat has been in an esteemed private collection for two years.” Based on Goldin’s response it appears that Zastrow sold the bat to the collector and it is interesting to note that Goldin includes another letter addressed to Marshall Fogel referencing a different family that owned a Mathewson jersey they received as a gift. That letter has absolutely nothing to do with the Zastrow bat and appears to be included in an attempt to deceive bidders. Several sources told Hauls of Shame that the consignor of the bat is New Jersey collector Dr. Richard Angrist. Angrist’s name appears on the copy of the Fogel letter which is included in Goldin’s 23 page report on the bat.
Terrence Zastrow was indicted for counterfeiting US coins in 1973 and was caught admitting to creating and selling fake coins on a wiretap as noted in the 1973 indictment (excerpts above).
Hauls of Shame contacted Zastrow’s son, Justin Zastrow, to ask whether his father could explain his affidavit but he did not respond to our voice mail. The Zastrow family owns and operates Authentic Investment Inc. which is described as “a family owned company.” PSA, Joe Orlando and John Taube have a long history of not responding to our requests for comment.
Troy Kinunen of MEARS told us he stands behind his authentication of the bat and that he only heard of Zastrow’s past as a coin counterfieter a few days ago. Kinnunen said he had done business with the Zastrow’s previously. A private detective we spoke with told us, ” I found that the Zastrow case isn’t online, but it is in a box in the Federal Records Center or the National Archives and Records Administration. It’s case 553, case number 1:1973-cr-553, U.S. District Court, Northern Illinois, Chicago location.”
The current bid on the alleged Mathewson bat at Goldin’s sale in Chicago is $140,000 with five alleged bids.
UPDATE (SAT. Aug. 1st): According to Goldin Auctions the alleged Mathewson bat sold for $218,700. In addition, Ken Goldin contacted HOS and wanted to clarify one issue about the Fogel letter included with the lot. Goldin told us: “Goldin did not supply anything regarding Marshall Fogel. When the item was consigned to us it came with 23 pages of documents handed to us by the consignor. The letter regarding Fogel was not something that we supplied, but is part of the authentication papers of PSA DNA.” Goldin also stated that the sale of the bat at $218,700 was a real sale and that the bat met its reserve price although it sold for less than half of the $500,000 Goldin expected.
(This is the first of a two-part Special Report from the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago, look for our follow up report after the Goldin Auctions sale tonight)
By Peter J. Nash
July 26, 2015
Letters to HOF founder Stephen Carlton Clark, an heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, appear to have been stolen from the NBL. His granddaughter, Jane Forbes Clark (inset), the current Chairman of the HOF, has been silent on the issue of the thefts.
It’s been a few years since a Haulsofshame.com investigation revealed that a large cross-section of papers donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame by Commissioner Ford Frick had been wrongfully removed from the National Baseball Library and were subsequently sold on the “black market” for baseball artifacts. That being said, there was no mention of that scandal in the glowing profile about Hall Chairman Jane Forbes Clark published yesterday in the New York Times.
In his Times profile, writer Richard Sandomir failed to mention anything about the massive thefts and also chose not to reference another 2013 report about the Hall of Fame thefts which uncovered additional proof showing that documents from Cooperstown’s internal files have also been compromised. Our report showed evidence in past auction offerings of letters addressed to Hall of Fame officials including one written in 1946 by Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie, which was sold by Huggins & Scott.
Earlier this year, Clark and Hall President Jeff Idelson failed to respond to our Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request related to the sale of a stolen 1909 Pittsburgh Pirate photo and now a new discovery shows that yet another letter sent by Lajoie to the Hall of Fame appears to have been stolen from the museum’s internal files. This letter, however, was sent to Jane Clark’s own grandfather and Hall of Fame founder, Stephen Carlton Clark.
The letter Lajoie wrote in 1947 was a thank you for a birthday telegram that had been sent to him by Clark, an heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune and one of the richest men in America. The letter appeared in a 2006 Hunt Auctions sale of baseball memorabilia and sold for close to $2,000. The significance of the letter went unnoticed at the time, but its inclusion in the auction was clear-cut evidence suggesting that files related to the Hall’s founder have also been compromised as part of the multi-million dollar heist of baseball documents from the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown.
Clark financially backed the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum concept after it was presented to him by his employee, Alexander Cleland, in the Spring of 1934, and his own baseball artifacts and lithographs served as the nucleus of the fledgling institution’s early collection. With the assistance of Cleland, Clark enlisted the support of Ford Frick and organized Baseball itself, and the museum formally opened during Baseball’s Centenial celebration in the Summer of 1939. When the museum first opened its doors it attracted thousands of visitors but by the time Clark passed away in 1960 the institution was hosting hundreds of thousands of visitors making pilgrimages to what had become known as baseball’s shrine in the tiny village of Cooperstown.
In addition to founding the Hall, Clark was also a world renowned collector of art who, along with his brother, Robert Sterling Clark, amassed one of the finest collections of paintings ever held in private hands. Clark helped found the Museum of Modern Art in New York City with Nelson A. Rockefeller and also served as MOMA’s Chairman of the Board. Clark also served as a trustee at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he bequeathed a large portion of his collection which would today be valued at close to a billion dollars. The remainder of his collection was left to Yale University including the famous Van Gogh painting, The Night Cafe, which alone is currently valued at close to $150 million. However, despite his renowned philanthropy and collecting, when the New York Times published his obituary in 1960, he was remembered more for having put on display the misshapen and time-worn ball that was said to have been used by Abner Doubleday on what the Times then reported was the “field where baseball is believed to have originated in 1839.”
Most recently Clark’s name has been in the news regarding another theft-related issue in which his acquisition of Van Gogh’s The Night Cafe has been the subject of litigation. Clark has been accused of originally obtaining the painting illegally as looted artwork via a money laundering scheme. Pierre Konowoloff, a descendant of Russian industrialist Ivan Morozov filed a lawsuit against Yale University claiming that the Van Gogh painting Clark bequeathed to the school in 1960 was stolen from his family by the Bolsheviks during the Russian revolution. Konowaloff claims that Clark was aware the painting was stolen property when he purchased it from the legendary Knoedler Galleries in New York City in 1933. (In 2011, Knoedler closed its doors after several lawsuits were filed accusing the gallery of selling fakes.) Yale also filed suit against Konowaloff to block him from claiming ownership of the famous painting. In March of 2013, Konowoloff’s attorney, Allen Gerson, filed an affidavit stating he was approaching Russian officials to see “whether the sale of The Night Cafe to Stephen C. Clark conformed to then prevailing Russian law and policy” and whether the controversy over the painting would have any impact on the Russian Federation’s “relationship with the United States.”
This letter written by HOFer Nap Lajoie was sent to millionaire Stephen C. Clark in 1947 and then sold in 2006 at Hunt Auctions in Exton, PA.
In stark contrast to his multi-million dollar artworks, the $2,000 purloined letter sent to Clark by Hall of Famer Napoleon “Larry” Lajoie was simply a thank you letter to the officers and directors of the museum for sending him a birthday telegram. The letter appeared as lot 742 in Hunt Auctions’ February 2006 sale and sold for a hammer price of $1,600. Hunt’s auction description mistakenly described it as “regarding an invitation to the Hall of Fame.” Such a letter, written to the then Hall of Fame President would be maintained in the files of either the National Baseball Library or the family papers of Jane Forbes Clark. To the best of our knowledge, Clark has not sold or dispersed her grandfather’s papers and such a letter written to the president of the Hall of Fame would be property of the museum and library, which operates as a 501 (c) (3) educational institution and public trust under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General of New York State.
In the past, Jane Clark has actually reclaimed and purchased Hall of Fame correspondence that had ended up in private hands. In 2007, she purchased at Sotheby’s several letters written by Hall of Famers to her grandfather’s employee, Alexander Cleland, which were once part of an archive preserved by his family known as The “Cleland Papers.” After he retired in the early 1940s, Cleland took his files that contained documents and letters related to the founding of the Hall. The entire collection, consisting of hundreds of documents, sold at auction in 1996 but the 2007 offering included only a handful of letters.
Those letters were written to Cleland by Lajoie and fellow Hall of Famers like Honus Wagner, Cy Young, Tris Speaker, and Ford Frick and were purchased personally by Clark for close to $60,000. Clark paid $6,600 for the one lot featuring a Lajoie letter. Clark told reporters after the sale, “My grandfather founded the Hall of Fame, and these papers are important to my grandfather, and to the Hall of Fame in terms of being some of the original documents that began the Hall of Fame as we know it today.” When asked by Sports Collectors Digest how these documents ended up into private hands in the first place Clark responded, “We’re not entirely sure, but we think that when Mr. Cleland left he took boxes of documents with him. And those have been, we think, with his family and we are very happy to get them.” Clark’s response appeared to suggest that it was the Hall’s contention that Cleland had no right to remove those papers from his office when he retired in 1941.
Hall of Fame Chairman, Jane Forbes Clark, purchased several letters related to the founding of the Hall of Fame for over $60,000 at Sotheby's in 2007.
Before the entire Cleland collection was sold at auction at Christie’s in 1996, author James Vlasich utilized them as a resource for his book, A Legend For The Legendary and presented a complete copy of the Cleland Papers to the National Baseball Library where they are now available for historians and researchers. We have verified that the 1947 letter from Lajoie to Stephen C. Clark was never part of the Cleland Papers collection.
Haulsofshame.com has also obtained a copy of another letter sent to Stephen Clark by Ty Cobb in 1948. The body of the letter was written by Cobb’s wife but signed by Cobb, himself, and thanks Clark for sending him a framed photograph of his Hall of Fame plaque. In addition, Cobb mentions to Clark his regrets in not being to donate more “mementos, uniforms, shoes etc.” He wrote, “I was unable to do what I would like to have for I had just given them away to boys who had asked for them, also the moths got some of the uniforms.” The letter does not currently appear on the NBL’s ABNER database as part of the correspondence collections and is also suspected to have been wrongfully removed from the institution. The NBL files at Cooperstown still include other letters sent to Clark from Japanese baseball fans and one from J. G. Taylor Spink of The Sporting News asking Clark to induct President Franklin Delano Roosevelt into the Hall of Fame.
Ty Cobb sent letters to Stephen Clark (left) and Hall President Paul Kerr (right). All of the letters are missing from the Hall and believed to have been stolen from the museum's internal files.
The Cobb letter sent to Clark is similar to other letters Cobb wrote to his right-hand man, Paul Kerr, who became Hall President after his death in 1960. The Cobb letters to Kerr, which were usually lengthy missives, have appeared for sale in virtually every major baseball auction dating back to the early 1990s. Like the letters to Clark and the scores of other letters written to other Hall officials, the Kerr letters are believed to have been stolen from the NBL.
We called Jane Forbes Clark several times earlier this year at her Clark Estates offices in Rockefeller Center to inquire whether her family had ever sold or liquidated any of her grandfather’s correspondence or personal papers, and whether the family maintains a collection of papers that have never been made available to the public. There were no special provisions in Stephen C. Clark’s will to seal or restrict access to his surviving papers and letters. We also called Clark to inquire as to whether the handful of letters appearing on the NBLs ABNER database were the only Clark related documents housed at the Hall of Fame. Clark did not respond to our inquiries.
We also called and sent emails to Hall of Fame’s Director of Communications, Brad Horn, to see if he had any explanation as to how an internal museum document like the Clark letter could end up in a Hunt Auctions sale? Horn did not respond to our multiple inquiries either.
The Clarks of Cooperstown by Nicholas Fox-Weber is the definitive biography of Stephen C. Clark. Clark owned Van Gogh's painting, "The Night Cafe" and left it to the Yale University Art Museum.
Correspondence either to or from Stephen Clark is exceedingly scarce and only a very limited quantity of documents have been made available to researchers and authors. Clark’s biographer, Nicholas Fox Weber, author of The Clark’s of Cooperstown, told us that the only correspondence he found in the course of his research was found in the files of the Museum of Modern Art, the Clark Institute and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In particular, the Met’s archive notes specifically on its website its objective to “preserve in perpetuity” the “official correspondence of the Museum, to make the collection accessible and provide research support, and to further an informed and enduring understanding of the Museum’s history.” Considering Clark was involved intimately with both institutions, it appears the Cooperstown archive did not adhere to the same standards as the Met.
When Weber inquired of long-time Clark representative, and former Hall president, Ed Stack, as to whether the family maintained their own archive of Clark papers, Stack “politely declined his request.” Weber did, however, have the rare opportunity to interview Clark’s granddaughter Jane.
Although Clark cooperated with Weber, some controversy ensued when the book was released and the Met chose not to include it in the museum bookshop. According to The New York Times, Weber’s editor was told “that some eyebrows at the museum had been raised by the book’s undercurrents of gay behavior.” Publishers Weekly reported, “Someone at the Museum didn’t like the references to Alfred (Corning) Clark’s double life.” Weber’s research of Jane Forbes Clark’s great-grandfather revealed that Alfred Corning Clark engaged in several homosexual relationships while still married and raising a family. Weber told the Times the Met’s actions qualified “completely as censorship” and added, “Why the Met in 2007 would be so put off by this element of the book is astonishing.”
Clear cut evidence of the magnitude of the HOF thefts are these three rare cabinet photos which were identified as HOF property when offered at auction. Sources indicate that at least two of these gems featuring HOFers Christy Mathewson, Nap Lajoie ans Smilin' Mickey Welch have been returned to Cooperstown. Each photograph has an estimated value between $10-20,000.
Jane Clark’s silence related to the Hall of Fame thefts is stunning considering the findings of investigations conducted by Haulsofshame.com over the course of the past three years illustrating the magnitude of the heist of documents and photographs from the NBL. In a 2012 article published by Deadspin, we identified another Lajoie-related item that was stolen from the Hall of Fame and offered for sale at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas. It was a rare Carl Horner cabinet photograph of Lajoie that had a vandalized library accession number and other identifying marks showing it was Cooperstown’s property. At the time the article was published the photo already had a bid of $4,250 and Heritage estimated it would sell in excess of $15,000. Heritage withdrew the photograph from the sale less than an hour after the article was published. Other stolen photographs of Christy Mathewson and Smilin’ Mickey Welch valued at over $10,000 each were identified in sales at Mastro Auctions and Robert Edward Auctions and have since been returned to Cooperstown.
In addition to the 1947 Lajoie letter addressed to Stephen C. Clark, documents and correspondence originating from the August Herrmann Papers and Frederick Long Papers collections have also appeared for sale both publicly and privately. The appearance of these documents for sale, with no mention of provenance whatsoever, illustrates further how severely the National Baseball Library’s collections have been compromised. The sale of the Lajoie letter has been reported to the Cooperstown Police Department and an incident report has been filed along with several others recently filed by Chief Michael Covert for stolen items ranging from an 1870 CDV photograph of the Philadelphia Athletics to an 1886 cabinet photograph of the New York Giants.
By Peter J. Nash
July 23, 2015
Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, removed a valuable 1869 Red Stockings Peck & Snyder trade card from its upcoming sale at next weeks National Convention after Hauls of Shame published a report showing that the card was stolen from the New York Public Library’s famous Spalding Collection. The card, owned by Net54 moderator Leon Luckey, was purchased at a 2000 MastroNet auction conducted by partners Bill Mastro and Rob Lifson and represents only one of several copies of the same card that have made their way out the front door of the Fifth Avenue branch of the library.
Luckey recently locked a thread about the scandal on his collector internet forum as members were highly critical of his conduct in offering the card for sale while knowing it was suspected to have been stolen from the library. Based upon Heritage’s lot description, which mentions that the card shows evidence of a stamp on the reverse, it is clear that both Luckey and Heritage were aware that the card was very likely stolen property, yet failed to inform prospective auction bidders. In fact, one source familiar with the FBI investigation into the provenance of the card told Hauls of Shame that Luckey was actually informed that the card was stolen when it was returned to him at the convention last year.
Leon Luckey posted a high resolution scan of the back of his 1869 P&S card from 2007 to 2010 (left) but intentionally reduced the resolution by at least 30% in 2010 (right). The reduction in the image quality made it impossible to identify the remnants of the NYPL ownership stamp.
In addition, Hauls of Shame has uncovered evidence which shows that Luckey also removed high-resolution scans of the back of his card from his website in May of 2010 after we published several follow-up articles about the NYPL thefts first highlighted in the New York Times in July in 2009. Luckey reduced the resolution by at least 30% rendering it nearly impossible to identify the NYPL ownership stamp on the reverse.
Heritage’s removal of the card made national news when the New York Daily News reported that the “FBI is working with NYPL officials to determine if (the) rare 1869 trade card that had been offered by the Texas auction house was stolen from the library’s Spalding Collection decades ago.” Daily News reporter Michael O’Keeffe failed to acknowledge that Hauls of Shame broke the story first based upon visual evidence posted in our last report. O’Keeffe also quoted Heritage’s Chris Ivy as saying, “Heritage Auctions has no interest in selling stolen material.” Heritage has previously removed two other items stolen from the NYPL, an 1879 player contract of Ezra Sutton and an 1894 season pass which once belonged to baseball pioneer Henry Chadwick.
The 1869 card removed from the Heritage sale was sold to Luckey by Mastro and Lifson in 2000 but it was also sold previously by Lifson in another Robert Edward Auctions sale in 1997. O’Keeffe and the Daily News failed to report that fact and that they had published an article in 2009 about the NYPL thefts in which Lifson lied to O’Keeffe and stated he never stole materials from the NYPL collection. Lifson, however, later admitted on SI.com that he had been caught stealing from the Spalding Collection when he was a student the Wharton School of Business at UPenn. Lifson also oversaw the sale of scores of other stolen items from the NYPL when he acted as the consultant to Sotheby’s 1999 Barry Halper Collection sale. Lifson was a long-time supplier and a close confidant of Halper who has also been accused of masterminding the NYPL heist in the 1970s.
Halper, the deceased former New York Yankee partner, was also a close friend of New York Daily News reporter Bill Madden who acted as his personal PR representative and published dozens of articles and personal profiles of the collector spanning from the 1970s through 1999 when Halper sold a portion of his collection to MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame for $8 million. Several million dollars of that material, however, including a jersey and bat attributed to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, were exposed as fakes by Hauls of Shame in 2010, and since that time Madden, O’Keeffe and editor Teri Thompson have protected both the deceased Halper and his associate Lifson. O’Keeffe even published an article recently lauding the disgraced Halper as a collecting inspiration for Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson.
Bill Madden revealed Halper's ownership of the stolen Harry Wright correspondence in his 1977 TSN column and the KC Star reported that Halper allegedly paid $3 for his 1869 Reds Peck & Snyder card (inset right).
Madden wrote about Barry Halper’s ownership of a framed 1869 Red Stocking photograph in a 1977 Sporting News article that also identified Halper as the owner of the Harry Wright Correspondence Collection which had been stolen from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection. Three large scrapbook volumes filled with thousands of letters addressed to Wright vanished from the library and ended up in Halper’s possession in 1977 as evidenced in Madden’s report. Six years later in 1983, an article published in the Kansas City Star highlighted Halper’s Peck & Snyder card and quoted him stating how he allegedly acquired his copy of the card. The Star stated, “Halper paid $3 for the first baseball card ever printed, a picture of professional baseball’s first team–the Cincinnati Red Stockings.” Said Halper, “It was just sitting there at an antique sale. I don’t think there’s another one. It may be worth more than $10,000 today.” Halper also told the writer, “I try to get what I want.”
By 1983 there were only a few documented examples of the rare 1869 Reds card known to exist and two of them belonged to Rob Lifson’s top clients Halper and George Lyons. Lyons revealed his 1979 acquisition of the card in his Trader Speaks column along with a rare 1873 Victoria card of the Boston Red Stockings which is also believed to have been stolen from the Spalding Collection. Lyons’ acquisition of both cards took place just months before Rob Lifson was apprehended stealing items from the NYPL. A third Peck & Snyder card was offered for sale in a Trader Speaks auction in 1980 by New Jersey dealer Rick Barudin who claimed that the card was one of “only 7 known to exist.” That card re-appeared for sale in a 1995 Bill Mastro “Best of Yesterday” auction published in Sports Collectors Digest. Oddly enough, Mastro notes in his lot description that the back of the card had “some deliberate places of unexplained wear.”
The NYPL currently has four Peck & Snyder trade cards of the 1869 Reds. 1.) Pasted in Harry Wright's scrapbook. 2.) Recovered by FBI c. 2009 with no visible stamp on the reverse. 3.) A trimmed copy pasted into Henry Chadwick's scrapbook. 4.) A trimmed copy with no visible NYPL stamp on the reverse which appears on the NYPL website.
Back in 1985, dealer Lew Lipset claimed in his Old Judge newsletter that he had knowledge of “10 to 12″ existing 1869 Reds cards. Today there are approximately 35 copies of the Peck & Snyder Red Stocking trade card known to exist and the New York Public Library currently has four examples in their possession. The library once had at least seven copies in its collection including three examples that were stolen, one of which being the Heritage auction lot in Leon Luckey’s possession. The second stolen copy was removed from a Legendary auction in 2012 and is currently in the possession of dealer JC Clarke. The third stolen copy has never surfaced publicly since it was credited to the NYPL in the 1960 book Baseball: The Early Years by Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills. The library also recovered another stolen copy via the FBI in 2009, but prior sales of that example are unknown.
This NYPL copy of the 1869 Reds card was documented as library property in the 1960 book Baseball: The Early Years ny the Seymours. The card has never surfaced publicly since the book was published in 1960.
The example that was withdrawn from Legendary Auctions at the 2012 National Convention was traced back to the estate of a deceased post card collector from New York City. As reported in our last article, Leon Luckey’s card can be traced back to Lifson’s 1997 Robert Edward Auctions sale and a Christie’s sale in 1996. Lifson’s 1997 lot description made no mention of the ink spots on the back of the card and called it “one of the finest examples of this great rarity known to exist.” When the same card was offered at Christie’s in September of 1996 it did not sell as bidders failed to meet the high reserve price.
A source with intimate knowledge of the Barry Halper collection back in 1996 tells Hauls of Shame he believes Halper consigned the 1869 Reds card to his friend Don Flanagan, at Christie’s, and then after it failed to sell consigned it to Lifson’s sale in 1997. In that same REA sale, Halper also consigned his most prized possession, the uniform Lou Gehrig wore when he made his “Luckiest Man” speech at Yankee Stadium. Lifson, however, made no reference to Halper’s ownership of the uniform in his lot description. In the mid-1990s Halper sold many choice items in his collection after his family business, Halper Brothers Paper Products, went bankrupt and he was embroiled in litigation with his cousins who owned the company with him. Halper claimed to have acquired the Gehrig uniform directly from the slugger’s widow in her apartment but, as will be revealed in our upcoming book The Madoff of Memorabilia, Halper’s acquisition story was a total fabrication.
In 1999 Halper sold a different 1869 Reds Peck & Snyder card when Lifson worked as the special consultant to Sotheby’s for the Halper Collection sale. That example of the card is also under suspicion as being stolen from the NYPL and in the Sotheby’s catalog Lifson did not show an image of (or describe the condition of) the back of the card which sold for $9,775.
The stolen 1869 Reds trade card appeared in REAs 1997 sale (top left) after it failed to sell in a 1996 Christie's auction (top right). A source claims that Barry Halper consigned the card to his friends Don Flanagan (bottom left) and Rob Lifson (center). Current owner Leon Luckey (bottom right) is left holding a very expensive bag.
If Leon Luckey’s card traces back directly to both Halper and Lifson, it will represent more damaging evidence suggesting that both men worked together to rob millions in treasures from the NYPL collection in the 1970s. Our source added, “Why doesn’t Luckey demand that Lifson produce the consignment records for that 1997 lot? REA doesn’t destroy bidder and consignor records, so it should take only seconds for Lifson to show that Halper did or did not consign that stolen item to REA. Lifson admitting to selling Halper the card in the first place is another story. Good luck with that.”
Net54 members that have been very critical of Luckey’s actions in selling the stolen card feel as if they’ve been censored by their moderator and have let him know as much in the comments section of our previous report. Very few of the Net54 members, however, have mentioned Lifson’s name and his well known past as the only library thief ever apprehended in the act at the 5th Avenue branch of the NYPL. One Net54 member told us, “They are all afraid of getting banned from his auctions or being harassed by his lawyers.” Another Net54 member came to Luckey’s defense telling us, “Compared to Lifson Leon is a saint. He didn’t rob the NYPL and he’s an amateur compared to Lifson in terms of having doctored and altered baseball cards during his career as a dealer.”
The NYPL did not respond to our inquiry asking for an update on the status of the recovery of Luckey’s stolen card. Sources indicate that the card is still in the Net54 moderator’s possession. The NYPL also failed to respond to our inquiry asking to explain why they had recently filed a lawsuit and were pursuing criminal prosecution against a woman who tried to sell a Benjamin Franklin manuscript stolen from the library.
In the comments section of our last report Harry Wright’s great-great granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, expressed her family’s dismay with the NYPL scandal stating:
“How “lucky” for Mr. Luckey that he can count on profits from these stolen goods to send his children to college while most of the rest of us have to work hard at earning an honest living and our children have to take out loans to do the same. And some these artifacts at one point belonged to my ancestor, Harry Wright. Too bad they ended up at they NYPL only to be stolen for some criminals and an auction house with no integrity to benefit from. Even if my family had them in our possession, they would not end up at auction so I could pay for my own children’s college! These items belong in, and were intended to remain in the public eye for all to see and learn about. They are a part of American History. Too bad my great-great grandfather didn’t pass them along to family to care for. I am sure he felt he was preserving important baseball history by doing what he did. It is a beyond shameful what can happen to the intentions of such an honorable man!”
Keep an eye out for our upcoming “NYPL Hot 100 List” featuring the top 100 artifacts stolen from the Spalding Collection (Leon Luckey’s stolen card is in the Top 10). If you have additional information about Luckey’s stolen Peck & Snyder card or any others stolen from the NYPL please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Peter J. Nash
July 13, 2015
Last year at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, an FBI agent took possession of an 1869 Red Stocking trade card owned by Net54 moderator Leon Luckey suspecting that the relic had been stolen from the New York Public Library’s famous Spalding Collection. Sources indicate that the agent wanted to examine the back of the card for evidence of an NYPL stamp and that after examining it, the card was returned to Luckey, the co-owner of Brockelman & Luckey Auctions.
During the convention, a collector inadvertently posted on YouTube a video which caught Luckey talking to his partner Brockelman about the card in question as the collector was filming the materials displayed in Luckey’s showcases. That same card which was returned to Luckey is now appearing in the current Heritage auction as part of the sale of his type-card collection. Heritage, however, has posted a high-resolution scan of the back of Luckey’s 1869 card and the image clearly reveals an NYPL stamp featuring one of the library’s sculpted marble lions which are named patience and fortitude and have stood guard at the entrance of the 5th Avenue branch since it opened in 1911. The evidence of the stamp on the back of the card is unimpeachable evidence that Luckey’s prized possession was stolen from A.G. Spalding’s collection which has been housed at the library since 1921. The library has suffered staggering multi-million dollar losses as a result of a 1970s heist that has been reported on in the New York Times and the New York Post.
Leon Luckey's 1869 P&S trade card of the Red Stockings shows the remnants of a red stamp on the reverse.
Why the FBI returned the stolen relic to Luckey last year after examining it is unclear. What is clear, however, are the remnants of the red NYPL stamp that definitively document it as property of the City of New York. When we examined the scan of the back and viewed it as a negative image (similar to an x-ray) the word “Library” from the oval NYPL stamp was clearly visible along with the circle that follows the word.
A closer x-ray view of the back of the HA card (left) reveals the word "Library" and a following circle that match the NYPL oval stamp (right) exactly.
Hauls of Shame also sent the Heritage back scan to a skilled SABR member who overlayed it on top of an NYPL stamp found on another card in the Spalding Collection. The result was an exact match for every visible point of emphasis on both the Peck & Snyder card and the oval NYPL stamp.
An oval red stamp that appears on the backs of other NYPL Spalding photos (left) appears to show points of emphasis which are identical to the remnants left on the card being sold by Heritage (right).
The remnants and the full stamp exhibit the exact same lettering, graphics and lion outline and definitively prove that Heritage is, yet again, selling property stolen from one of the nation’s most prestigious research libraries.
When the NYPL lion stamp is overlay-ed on the image of the surface on the reverse of Leon Luckey's card, the result shows an exact match confirming that the Heritage auction lot was stolen from the NYPL.
Luckey’s card is an 1869 trade card issued by the Peck & Snyder sporting goods company and depicts the members of the champion Cincinnati Red Stockings who went undefeated that season. The card is one of several examples that were stolen from the NYPL including another card which was confiscated by the FBI at the National Convention in 2012 when it was being sold by Legendary Auctions. The FBI examined the card under an ultraviolet light which revealed another blue rectangular stamp used by the library to document ownership of Spalding items. That card was offered for sale by auctioneer Doug Allen who has recently plead guilty to charges of wire fraud in an FBI probe into corruption in the memorabilia industry. The stolen card currently for sale at Heritage was also previously sold by Allen and his former partner Bill Mastro at MastroNet in 2000. Mastro has also plead guilty to wire fraud in the same case and Luckey’s stolen card can be traced back to Mastro’s former partner, Rob Lifson, who sold the stolen card in his own Robert Edward Auctions sale in 1997.
The stolen 1869 P&S card was sold by Rob Lifson (left) at REA in 1997 and again by Lifson and Bill Mastro (center left) at MastroNet in 2000, Net54 moderator Leon Luckey (center right) allegedly purchased the card from MastroNet and consigned it to Chris Ivy (right) of Heritage in 2015.
Lifson, of course, is notorious as the only individual to ever be apprehended while stealing similar 19th century photographs and cards from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection. When Lifson was caught stealing in 1979 TIME Magazine reported that he had $5,000 cash on his person and that the thief claimed to have made that cash selling cards in “just one day.” Many of the stolen NYPL relics ended up in the collection of Lifson’s top client Barry Halper and sources indicate that the current card for sale at Heritage was offered at Christie’s in 1996 and prior to that was part of the Halper Collection.
Luckey and Chris Ivy of Heritage Auction Galleries were hoping that the 1869 rarity would fetch a six-figure price considering the auction house calls the card the highest graded example in existence. But after Hauls of Shame alerted the NYPL and the FBI of the presence of the library stamp on the reverse their plans to cash in on the stolen treasure began to unravel. In fact, sources indicate that both Luckey and Ivy were aware that the card had the NYPL stamp and was stolen property as Ivy and Heritage noted in the lot description: “Fragments of some type of red stamp appear on the upper part of the verso. There is surface marring or erasure on the back in the same upper quadrant. This could be a library stamp, a collector stamp or the mark of some retailer.” There is no question that the stamp is a library stamp—an NYPL stamp featuring a lion. Heritage’s false claims that the ink remnants could be from a “collector” or “retail” stamp are wholly disingenuous and demonstrate what appears to be outright consumer fraud.
Further suggesting that Luckey had prior knowledge his card was stolen is evidence that shows the Net54 moderator had displayed the back of his card with a high resolution scan until May 2010 when he intentionally changed the scan to a low resolution image that made it impossible to examine the remnants of the red stamp on the reverse. Luckey basically admits his knowledge that the card is stolen in the course of his 2014 conversation with his partner Scott Brockelman that was posted by collector Jerry Spillman on YouTube. In that conversation Luckey states that the FBI agent (who he referred to as a “Private detective, NYPL”) was “confident” that his card was stolen from the library. Luckey and his partner also allude to knowing who stole the card originally in this exchange:
“Luckey: He (the FBI Agent) is like, man, you don’t really have to worry about it, you didn’t steal it. (unintelligible)
Brockelman: Well, I know, but they obviously know who did. I have a pretty good idea. I’m sure they probably do.”
Luckey also references a conversation he had with New York defense attorney and collector Jeffrey Lichtman stating: “Lichtman says no way they (the FBI) could take it, he says it’s been way too long.” Luckey also claims that dealer Kevin Struss owned the card previously stating, “Well, Kevin Struss had it, he sold it to Montgomery in ‘97. Just talked to Kevin, he said he can’t remember exactly where he got it. He says he might, he probably has a record of where he got it (unintelligible), he didn’t know offhand. Kevin sold it to him…” Struss likely bought the card after it was sold by Rob Lifson in the 1997 REA auction.
The 2014 conversation between Leon Luckey and his partner was posted on YotTube (left) and mentions the 2012 FBI seizure of another stolen 1869 trade card with an NYPL stamp. The stamp was defaced but an ultraviolet light revealed that it was NYPL property (right).
Luckey also references the FBI seizure of the other 1869 Reds card from Legendary’s 2012 auction stating:
“Take a picture of the back and bring out, like they did at the last (unintelligible) a few years ago. Where I saw, they had a Peck and Snyder, from JC, it had a faint mark on the back, and they put it under some kind of instrument, and it brought it out perfectly. It said NYPL, I did not see that. So, some kind of infrared, so...”
The “JC” that Luckey refers to is J.C. Clarke who apparently was the consignor of the other stolen card to the Legendary sale. The card was pulled from the sale and then returned to Clarke and it is unclear if it was ever actually returned to the NYPL.
We sent the transcript of the conversation to one of the nation’s top card collectors who is also a Net54 member and he responded to us stating, “The Brockelman paranoia in that transcript is startling. For such beacons in the hobby (Luckey and him) seem most concerned about keeping a stolen card. No mention of any loss by the NYPL.”
Angela Montefinise, the NYPL’s Director of Communications said she could not comment on the current FBI investigation into this particular card but a source familiar with the probe said the library is aggressively pursuing recovery of the six-figure Spalding treasure.
Hauls of Shame asked Chris Ivy of Heritage Auctions for comment on why he was selling another item stolen from the NYPL but the auction house’s sports director failed to respond to our inquiry. Heritage has a long history selling stolen goods from the NYPL including the 1879 player contract of Ezra Sutton signed by Harry Wright and Henry Chadwick’s 1894 NY Giant season pass.
Leon Luckey has recently come under fire from some members of his Net54 forum after he stated he “appreciated” a recent gift he accepted from Bill Mastro and that he would not be writing a “victim letter” to the Judge who will decide how long Mastro’s prison sentence will be. In years past Luckey has been a staunch supporter of both Bill Mastro and Doug Allen and has also been accused of bidding on his own items in Mastro auctions as a co-conspirator in Mastro’s shill-bidding schemes. New York defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman recently called out Luckey on his forum stating, “Hey, don’t blame me for holding up a mirror to your face and forcing you to eat your own words. You complain about fraud in the hobby and yet when push comes to shove you’ve defended Mastro and Allen for years. For years.”
Ironically, Luckey has his own criminal record as a confessed drug dealer and convicted felon who was caught distributing narcotics in 1986 as well as having 5-50 lbs of marijuana in his possession. He had also been arrested for distributing narcotics three years earlier. Luckey, however, has responded to his critics like Lichtman stating on Net54, ” I venture to guess I do more than 99.9% of the people in the hobby (you are right there too) to weed out fraud. I can’t stand it. Not sure if you have ever seen where I have said, ‘If you are doing something bad in the hobby I will be your worst friend,’ but I have said it many times. I have helped numerous authorities to work fraud cases in the hobby….Secret Service, Dept. Of Homeland Security, Postal Agents, Postal Inspectors, local authorities etc.”
Despite the overwhelming visual evidence showing that the card was stolen from the NYPL and his own words captured on the video at the National, Luckey responded today to criticism from forum member John McDaniel who told him, “There’s the whole Peck & Snyder card mess that’s traveling the hobby rumor circles of you potentially having a card connected to Mastro that may have been stolen from the NYPL.”
Luckey responded stating, “The Peck and Snyder card has been examined and no mark is discernible. Just like it says in the description. “There is surface marring or erasure on the back in the same upper quadrant. This could be a library stamp, a collector stamp or the mark of some retailer.” It has been examined and whatever was erased can’t be made out with any known equipment today. It has been tested. I only know where I got it and have an invoice for it. If you know more please let us know. I know the provenance of it for the last 25 yrs and that is all.”
Apparently selling stolen property donated to institutions doesn’t phase Luckey and with his 1869 card still for sale on the Heritage website it appears he isn’t willing to help the FBI (who he claims to have on his speed dial) recover this particular stolen treasure.
Here is the full transcript of the Luckey-Brockelman conversation referenced in the article:
Transcript: Leon Luckey and Scott Brockelman at National Convention in 2014 from video posted on YouTube by collector Jerry Spillman
Luckey: Brian said ‘I will bring you a picture.’
Brockelman: Huh? for What?
Luckey: Peck and Snyder.
Brockelman: What do you mean?
Luckey: Picture of the back. (lowered voice) (unintelligible) NYPL. Oh you didn’t hear?
Brockelman: Well I knew, I mean, what’s, I didn’t know he’s, what, we are bringing this guy around, what, inspecting everybody’s cards now?
Luckey: I don’t know, if I want to say to him, I can say no. So he looked at it. Thinks it. (lowered voice) Private detective, NYPL.
Brockelman: Well, when, it was first. If he thinks that he certainly has the equipment.
Luckey: He says he’s confident.
Brockelman: Why wouldn’t he have (unintelligible) the picture with him forever.
Luckey: Well he’s going to do it now.
Brockelman: And I was thinking…
Luckey: Take a picture of the back and bring out, like they did at the last (unintelligible) a few years ago. Where I saw, they had a Peck and Snyder, from JC, it had a faint mark on the back, and they put it under some kind of instrument, and it brought it out perfectly. It said NYPL, I did not see that. So, some kind of infrared, so…
Brockelman: But, why wouldn’t you have already had that with you, obviously they knew they were coming here to do that.
Luckey: He had no idea, no, they weren’t coming here to do that. He just said ‘Can I see it?’
Brockelman: No, no, they were coming here to do that. Unintelligible…
Luckey: Maybe, maybe.
Brockelman: So they just took it away from you?
Luckey: Well I gave it to (unintelligible) to look at under a…
Brockelman: Well they sure as hell not going to give it back to you. I would, they would need to have a form from the library that says uh, that we are…..
Luckey: Well, no, no. I think I will get it back for now, I just don’t know the long term prognosis.
Luckey: Lichtman says no way they could take it, he says it’s been way too long.
Brockelman: I don’t know.
Luckey: I don’t know. 10k is what I have into it. I don’t know, it’s a little unsettling the whole thing.
Brockelman: No, I don’t think they just happen to come over here and say ‘look at that’.
Luckey: Maybe not.
Brockelman: I think they already have…
Luckey: Although he didn’t bring his stuff. He’s borrowing somebody else’s so I don’t know.
Customer: Do you have any cabinet cards.
Woman: Cabinets, (unintelligible)
Luckey: He’s like, man, you don’t really have to worry about it, you didn’t steal it. (unintelligible)
Man’s voice: You taking pictures, huh?
Brockelman: Well, I know, but they obviously know who did. I have a pretty good idea. I’m sure they probably do.
Luckey: Well, Kevin Struss had it, he sold it to Montgomery in ‘97. Just talked to Kevin, he said he can’t remember exactly where he got it. He says he might, he probably has a record of where he got it (unintelligible), he didn’t know offhand. Kevin sold it to him (unintelligible)
Brockelman: I’m….I just can’t believe that they just happen to come up to your table. (Unintelligible)
Luckey: Well, they just found one, one or two years ago, last year…..
Voice: Hey Frank, what’s going on.
Frank: How are we doing?
Frank: Leon, how are you?
UPDATE (July 14th 4:50 PM): Heritage has withdrawn the stolen Peck & Snyder card from its current sale.
By Peter J. Nash
June 29, 2015
“Too Late” Davis will finally get his dying wish and have a fitting headstone placed above his unmarked grave at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. The pending fulfillment of the wish is 115 years late, but that’s all the more fitting for the baseball pioneer nicknamed “Too Late” by his Knickerbocker Base Ball Club colleagues. Over the weekend at the SABR45 conference in Chicago it was announced that a newly formed committee devoted to placing grave markers over 19th century players buried in unmarked graves would make Davis their first official project.
Bob Gregory, the Chairman of the newly formed 19th Century Baseball Grave Marker Committee, distributed a flyer to SABR members revealing the plans to erect a monument over Davis’ gravesite and detailed how members could contribute to the project. Gregory said, “Donations may be made in any amount, large or small, but to help initiate the project, a $25 donation is suggested; approximately the equivalent of one dollar at the time of Davis’ passing in 1899.” The announcement was a long time coming as plans for the monument date all the way back to the 19th century when Davis was still living and as recent as 2004 when it was first discovered that Davis was, in fact, buried in an unmarked grave.
James Whyte Davis, whose career in baseball spanned from the 1850’s to the 1870s, wrote a letter in 1893 to New York Giants owner Edward B. Talcott which was published in the New York Sun and included the manner in which he saw fit to be honored by the baseball fraternity:
“My good friend,
Referring to our lately conversation on Baseball I now comply with your request to write you a letter on the subject then proposed by me and which you so readily and kindly offered to take charge of, after my death, namely, to procure subscriptions to place a Headstone on my grave.
My wish is that Baseball players be invited to subscribe Ten Cents each and no matter how small a sum is collected, it will be sufficient to place an oak board with an inscription on my resting place, but whatever it may be, I would like it as durable as possible without any ornamentation—simply something that “he who runs may read.”…
All relations and immediate friends are well informed that I desire to be buried in my baseball suit, and wrapped in the original flag of the old Knickerbockers 1845, now festooned over my bureau and for the past eighteen years and interred with the least possible cost.
I suggest the following inscription in wood or in stone:
Wrapped in the Original Flag Of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of N.Y.,Here lies the body of James Whyte Davis, A member for thirty years. He was not “Too Late,” Reaching the “Home Plate.” Born March 2, 1826. Died ______ ….”
Unfortunately for Davis, Talcott and the National League never got around to honoring him with a monument after he passed away in 1899 and he ended up buried in Brooklyn’s storied cemetery without any recognition at all.
James Whyte's letter to NY Giant owner Edward B. Talcott was published in the NY Sun and stirred up some controversy amongst baseball fans (left). Davis was one of the best-known figures in 19th century baseball with his likeness included in the famous 1865 baseball print published by Leslie's (right).
In 2004, while researching for my book Baseball Legends of Green-Wood Cemetery, I discovered that the majority of Davis’ Knickerbocker teammates were interred in the same Brooklyn cemetery and was able to confirm that Davis’ last resting place was also in Green-Wood. But unlike my discoveries of monuments erected above the graves of his other teammates like Duncan Curry and Fraley Niebuhr, my search for Davis’ final resting place ended with the realization that his final wish was never fulfilled and that he’d been buried in an unmarked grave in the “public section” of the cemetery.
Hoping to deliver Davis his dying wish I formulated a loose plan to establish something called the “Elysian Fields Monument Trust” which I hoped could work in conjunction with Green-Wood’s excellent “Saved In Time” program to refurbish and erect monuments for long-lost pioneers of the game like Davis. I enlisted the help of historian John Thorn, who jumped on board immediately, but our plans never took flight with the two of us being the only contributors to the cause. I thought it would be fitting to collect 10c from each current MLB player, but that plan never materialized. A decade later, the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) brought the original idea to fruition when they worked with Green-Wood to refurbish the monument of Brooklyn Excelsior pitcher Jim Creighton. But despite the interest and support for Creighton, James Whyte Davis was still buried in an unmarked grave.
The public announcement made by SABR this weekend was originally initiated this past Spring when John Thorn attended SABR’s Frederic Ivor-Campbell 19th Century Conference in Cooperstown and had a dinner discussion about Davis’ plight with Ralph Carhart and Marjorie Adams, the great granddaughter of Davis’ former teammate “Doc” Adams. As a result of the informal meeting, Thorn reached out to several SABR members and started the ball rolling to develop a formal plan to institute the new program to aid players without headstones or markers, with “Too Late” Davis being the first project on the agenda.
After corresponding with several SABR members, 19th Century Committee Chairman Peter Mancuso secured the support of SABR and its Executive Director, Marc Appleman, while Ralph Carhart discussed details with Jeff Richman of Green-Wood to get the go-ahead to start work on the Davis headstone. In an email sent to interested SABR members back in May Mancuso said, “SABR’s authorization and support will also increase exponentially the publicity (and in turn donations) necessary to the project’s mission. Marc Appleman has already offered to announce this new project initiative during his report at SABR’s Annual Business Meeting at SABR 45 in Chicago next month.”
While Davis’ prospects look good for finally having a suitable headstone above the grave site where he was buried in the original Knickerbocker team flag, there is a much more troubling reality for Davis’ personal archive which included the team correspondence, score books, rule books and meeting books spanning from the 1840s to the 1870s. As described in John Thorn’s book Baseball In The Garden Of Eden, Davis left his Knickerbocker treasure trove to his good friend and baseball scribe Henry Chadwick. Chadwick, in turn, left Davis’ Knickerbocker archive (along with his own) to Albert Goodwill Spalding in 1908 and after Spalding’s death in 1915 his widow bequeathed the entire collection of baseball history to the New York Public Library.
Jame Whyte Davis' archive of Knick BBC correspondence was compromised at the NYPL when thieves cut and sliced important letters and documents out of NYPL scrapbook volumes housing the Spalding Collection. In some cases portions of scrapbook pages were cut out (left) while in others portions of letters were cut and removed from documents which remained pasted in scrapbooks.
Sadly, many of the treasures that Davis’ generously passed on to Chadwick have become victims of vandalism and theft as greedy dealers and collectors schemed in the 1970s to wrongfully remove hundreds of rare and important documents that Davis had preserved for posterity. With the aid of sharp objects, the thieves excised rare letters from the Knickerbocker Correspondence Collection scrapbooks and score pages from important matches in the team’s score books. They also swiped rare pamphlets and rule books issued by the ball club. The evidence of some of the thefts is clearly visible in the scrapbooks and bound volumes which still show the aftermath of the cutting and slicing which enabled the robbers to safely abscond with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of baseball treasures.
The Knick scrapbooks at the NYPL include correspondence written to and by James Whyte Davis and examination of the actual scrapbooks today reveals numerous instances of vandalism and theft where portions of pages and entire letters have been removed from the volumes.
Missing from Davis’ contribution to the Spalding Collection are numerous “Challenge Letters” to and from the Knickerbocker BBC requesting matches against the top teams of the era as well as important club membership and resignation letters, one of which was written by the “Father of Professional Baseball,” Harry Wright, when he left the Knicks for the rival Gotham Club in 1863. Also missing are important score sheets from the famous June 19, 1846 Knick match against the “New York Club” as well as other items listed on the original 1922 inventory including the Knick By-Laws and Constitutions from 1858 and 1866. The thieves even managed to smuggle out the original panoramic photograph of Davis on the field with the Knickerbockers and the Brooklyn Excelsiors in 1859. The image is one of the most important in baseball history as it represents the earliest image of baseball teams on an actual playing field. It is also very likely that the uniform Davis is wearing in the photograph is the same garment that he was “wrapped in” when he was buried at Green-Wood in 1899.
This original photo of the Knickerbockers and Brooklyn Excelsiors taken in 1859 is currently missing from the NYPL. James Whyte Davis appears in the photo (circled in red) and enlarged to the far left.
The thefts from Davis’ archive are tantamount to grave-robbing but little action has been taken by the baseball research community to spearhead any effort to recover and restore the NYPL’s Knickerbocker archive to its original splendor. In fact, it is actual SABR members and advertisers for the most part who have acted as the buyers and sellers of the stolen materials from the Davis and Chadwick baseball libraries.
One such SABR member even went so far to reveal on collector forum Net54 his knowledge of the whereabouts of the original letter Davis wrote expressing his wishes to be buried in the Knickerbocker flag. The member, a Brooklyn memorabilia dealer named Barry Sloate, said that the letter (which was likely stolen from Davis’ NYPL archive) was “in the same place for many years” and later joked, “So, if his wish came true, all we have to do is dig him up and the flag is ours!”
SABR member Barry Sloate (right) revealed knowledge of a stolen Davis letter on Net54 as well as joking that he could dig up the body of James Whyte Davis to secure the Knickerbocker flag he was buried in.
Interestingly enough, Sloate is also the dealer who claimed on the same internet forum that he had owned and sold many artifacts stolen from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection including: the 1852 By-Laws of the Eagle Base Ball Club; (8) challenge letters to and from the Knickerbocker BBC; a tintype photograph of Harry Wright; and a host of score pages stolen from Henry Chadwick’s personal score book from the late 1850s. (Only the 1852 Eagle By-Laws have been recovered by the NYPL). When questioned about his ownership and sale of the stolen materials on the same collector forum in 2009, Sloate responded stating, “As for pieces I have sold in the past I have sold dozens of rare items and I will admit I do not know the provenance of any of them. I hope all of them were good but like I said, I do not know their source.” Responding in particular to the sale of one of the stolen Knickerbocker challenge letters in his own auction Sloate added, “The person who consigned the Knickerbocker letter is now deceased. I can not go back to him anymore.”
The photograph of the Knickerbocker Score Book at the NYPL shows evidence of score sheets being cut from the spine of the volume. One sheet excised from the volume was from a June 19, 1846 match. The image of that same page was documented in several baseball books before it was stolen.
The first signs of the thefts of Davis’ Knickerbocker materials from the NYPL surfaced in 1983 when John Thorn discovered that the important score pages for the famous June 19, 1846 match between the Knicks and the New Yorks had been sliced out from the spine of the NYPL volume housing the team score books. Luckily for researchers these pages had been previously photographed by authors like Dr. Harold Seymour, Dorothy Seymour Mills and Robert Smith who had included images of the score sheets in published works.
In a Hauls of Shame interview in 2010 Thorn described his discovery stating, “I was surprised to find that the game of June 19, 1846 was not present, nor was the second game played that day, whose date had erroneously been “revised” to June 20. Inquiring of an NYPL staffer about this I was informed in writing that in the microfilming process the “second game” had been missed, and I was supplied with a clear photocopy. But there was no comment about the absence of the game of June 19. I returned to the NYPL in about 1987 to view the game books again, and saw clearly that the page on which the June 19, 1846 game would have been recorded had been excised by a razor blade or Exacto knife.” As far as the value of the stolen sheets today Thorn added, “One can’t place a price on this any more than one could have placed a price on the Mona Lisa after it was stolen from the Louvre back in 1911. The only person who would buy it would be one who could pay big bucks for an object he could never display to friends.”
Perhaps, some of the publicity that may come with SABR’s planned placement of a headstone at his grave will shine an additional light to help locate the whereabouts of “Too Late” Davis’ plundered Knickerbocker treasures.
Anyone who would like to contribute to the Davis monument fund can make a tax exempt donation with a check payable to: “SABR” with “19cBB Grave Marker Project” written on the check’s memo line. The checks can be sent to:
Society For American Baseball Research
Cronkite School at A.S.U.
555 N. Central Ave #416
Phoenix, AZ 850041
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.
Older Posts »
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.)