By Peter J. Nash
April 24, 2016
As Bill Mastro sits in a Federal jail cell, the now infamous Honus Wagner card that played a part in putting him there is on display in all its trimmed and fraudulently graded glory at the Phoenix Art Museum. The card is on loan courtesy of MLB owner, Ken Kendrick, the Chairman of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who purchased the card for $2.8 million several years ago despite the fact that many in the hobby had stated publicly their belief that Mastro had deceptively trimmed the card to enhance its condition and value in the 1980s. Mastro confessed to the crime that others had accused him of in recent times after the government caught him admitting to master-minding the trim-job on wire taps made possible by his longtime friend and business associate Dan Knoll.
Despite the fact that Mastro’s card doctoring has exposed the memorabilia industry as a mine field of fraud and deception, there is no reference to these realities visible to those who bought a ticket for the “The Ultimate Collection” exhibition of Kendrick’s PSA-graded baseball cards at the Phoenix Art Museum. The card has been on display since March 9th and ends its public display today. According to the museum’s Communications Director, Nikki DeLeone, there is no disclaimer identifying the Wagner card’s sordid past and its fraudulent status as a mini-crime scene. In fact, the museum exhibition signage visible to patrons still refers to the card as a legitimate PSA graded “NM-MT 8.”
The Phoenix Art Museum's display of Kendrick's fraudulent & trimmed Wagner (left) presents it to the public as a legitimate "PSA NM-MT 8" with no mention of its sordid past.
That’s because Collectors Universe (CLCT), the public company that is accused of fraudulently grading the card in the 1990s, hasn’t done anything to rectify its fatally flawed authentication of the card that the company built its reputation upon and falsely advertised for decades as the hobby’s most pristine and famous baseball card.
MLB owner Ken Kendrick has no incentive to point out PSA’s on-going perpetration of the Wagner fraud since he’s considered the PSA-poster boy for its grading services which constitute a near monopoly in the industry. According to a recent Collectors Universe annual shareholders report, the company graded over 1.2 million baseball cards in 2014. Kendrick boasts of having the highest graded PSA-graded cards in existence, including his Wagner and has bought into PSA’s marketing model of collecting the highest graded cards for premium prices. In PSA’s 2011 Sports Market Report Kendrick revealed how he has fallen victim to PSA’s marketing schemes as he stated:
“I’m proud to have this high-caliber collection. I’m a competitive guy. I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I wasn’t a competitive person, so I have been competitive with other collectors to make my collection the best of its type. Don’t get me wrong, there are other folks out there who have extraordinary collections. But, if you look at the top 20 most desirable cards, and look at the grading of my top 20 cards, I can say that this collection is the best one that exists in the world.”
Kendrick also made a similar statement in PSA President Joe Orlando’s book, Top 200 Sportscards, stating that he owns every one of the top ten cards in the highest grades known to exist. Kendrick’s statement, however, is patently false, as collectors believe his fraudulently graded T-206 Wagner should be re-holdered and graded “Altered and Authentic.” This designation, however, would likely cause the now infamous Wagner card to plummet in value as Kendrick finds himself at the end of a PSA-Mastro orchestrated Ponzi-scheme.
Sales of the fraudulent Wagner have been orchestrated with the involvement of Bill Mastro, Rob Lifson, David Kohler and J.P Cohen. Sources say all parties committed fraud when they sold the trimmed card as a "PSA NM-MT 8."
Previously, this scheme worked perfectly because Mastro and his ex-partner Rob Lifson were involved in every transaction from 1991 to 2000 and since that time PSA has been involved in every other sale with the involvement of PSA supporters David Kohler of SCP Auctions and J. P. Cohen of Memory Lane. One hobby source told us that in working together all of the parties were able to orchestrate sales of the card from collector to collector with every one of them making a profit on the sales which either Mastro or PSA operatives played a part in the transaction. The source added, “They were all just waiting for a sucker like Kendrick to come along and fleece him. They always wanted big bucks guys to come in who would bury the card. Looks like Kendrick was a dream come true for them.”
Supporting this claim is the fact that Brian Seigel bought the card from Mastro and Lifson and later stated in PSA advertisements that he would never have bought the card “without PSAs seal of approval.” Seigel allegedly kept the card in PSAs possession during his ownership which ended when Kohler orchestrated a private sale to ex-MLB knuckleballer Tom Candiotti. According to a report published by the Associated Press, Kohler and SCP also claimed they had purchased a small interest in the card along with Candiotti. A source tells Hauls of Shame, however, that Candiotti had already sold his PSA-graded card collection to Ken Kendrick and was possibly a front for the PSA-backed Kohler and SCP. Candiotti now works for Kendrick as a color-commentator on Diamondbacks telecasts.
After that $2.35 million transaction, the card was purchased by Kendrick with Kohler and Cohen involved in the sale according to a PSA profile of Kendrick which states: “Having been offered the opportunity to acquire the Wagner card through the combined efforts of David Kohler at SCP and J. P. Cohen at Memory Lane, Ken said that when he became the official owner of the most revered card in the hobby, he simply felt that it completed his elite grouping.”
The extent of Kendrick’s relationship with the convicted felon and auctioneer J. P. Cohen is unclear but, like Kohler, Cohen has been a long-time customer and supporter of PSA’s grading services. Sources also indicate that Kohler has told SCP consignors that he is close with PSA management and that he can get cards graded at higher levels than his competitors. That being said, PSA also appears to have gone out of its way to avoid correcting its flawed grading of the card since PSA operatives have liability and prior ownership interests in the card. As a result of PSA’s inaction, Kendrick is claiming his card hasn’t lost any value.
Kendrick recently said as much to an Arizona Republic writer who reported: “The Wagner card, incidentally, was shaved along its borders by an auction-house owner to improve its appearance. When artwork or valuable collectibles are altered, their values tend to drop, but Kendrick said he doesn’t think his card’s worth was diminished.” That’s easy for Kendrick to say when his card is still displayed in its “PSA NM-MT 8″ holder. Kendrick has also vowed to never sell the card which will be passed along to his kids.
Some have speculated that PSA and Kendrick have worked out a deal to keep the card in the “NM-MT 8″ holder because under the Collectors Universe guarantee, the company would have to reimburse Kendrick for a grading that was flawed. This scenario was publicly aired in 2014 by Collectors Universe coin grader and former Collectors Universe stockholder, Steve Cyrkin, who posted a comment on his Autograph Magazine Live website stating, “Not only was the (Honus Wagner) card graded by PSA way back in 1991, PSA offered to buy it back from the current owner (Ken Kendrick) for what he paid for it, $2.8 million.”
Collectors Universe coin grader Steve Cyrkin made public statements claiming that PSA offered to buy back the trimmed Wagner from Ken Kendrick.
Posting his comments after Bill Mastro’s trimming admission was revealed by the Government, Cyrkin wrote, “PSA guarantees the authenticity of sports cards, so I can’t understand why would management knowingly create a huge liability. It (the Wagner card) was worth almost half a million dollars when they graded it.”
Despite Cyrkin’s statements, Bill Hughes, the PSA employee who originally graded the card has already admitted that he knew the Wagner card had been trimmed by Mastro. In response, Collectors Universe founder David Hall publicly stated that Hughes was lying but several hobby insiders knew for sure it was trimmed because Mastro actually told them he had altered it. Hall also called Bill Mastro a liar but a 2006 Mastro video recently posted on YouTube shows PSA President Joe Orlando singing the praises of Mastro and comparing PSA to his company. While that same auction house was found to have been engaging in rampant shill-bidding and assorted other fraudulent activities Orlando says, “When you go through all the elements of running an auction house, really I think just one word—quality—expresses how I would describe Mastro Auctions.”
Josh Evans, founder of Lelands auction house in New York City, says he knew first-hand about the trimmed Wagner card. According to Evans, Mastro told him directly that he’d trimmed the card after he purchased it with his ex-partner Rob Lifson in Bob Sevchuk’s card shop in 1985. In a prior interview Evans recalled, “He (Mastro) told me on several occasions and then he’d say, ‘Now just shut up and stop talking about it’.” Lifson also knew the card was trimmed and committed fraud when he sold the card with Mastro in 2000 to collector Brain Seigel for $1.2 million. Lifson, however, avoided any penalty for his participation in the fraud when he ratted out Mastro to the Feds for shill-bidding after both men terminated their business partnership over a decade ago.
Hauls of Shame reached out to Ken Kendrick to address Cyrkin’s claims and to ask why he is still publicly exhibiting the tainted card in its fraudulent PSA holder. Arizona Diamondbacks PR director, Josh Rawitch, responded to our inquiry and stated that Kendrick would “respectfully decline comment” on the status of the card’s grade and the alleged offers to buy the card back by PSA.
SCP Auctions did not respond to our inquiries to verify the Associated Press reports stating that SCP had an ownership interest in the Wagner card with Tom Candiotti and whether they retained ownership upon the sale to Kendrick. SCP’s Dan Imler did, however, respond to our unrelated inquiry regarding their current offering of a Harry Wright document that was stolen from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection. Imler responded stating, “I never heard back from the FBI agent. Can you provide some proof that this was stolen from NYPL? We want to do the right thing and help get it back to whom it belongs but I need someone in Law enforcement to give me some information on this matter.”
Speaking of the FBI, sources indicate that in the wake of the Mastro convictions the FBI is still following the exploits of PSA and Collectors Universe regarding card grading and the PSA/DNA autograph authentications. Sources also indicate that the FBI will likely have further interest in video depositions taken of PSA President Joe Orlando and alleged authenticator Steve Grad in the Johnson v. RR Auctions case. Court filings at the Santa Barbara Superior Court indicate that the depositions of the PSA employees may be available to view on the RR Auction Lawsuit website as early as next Friday. Previously RR Auctions lost a motion for a protective order to take video depositions down from the site. PSA’s attorney (who also represents RR) filed a similar motion to block the videos from being posted. Our readers might recall that attorney, Keith Attlesey, being mentioned in a previous Hauls of Shame report threatening litigation when we reported that PSA was founded on a fraud with the grading of the trimmed Wagner. That lawsuit was never filed since Bill Mastro confirmed that our published statement was true and accurate.
By Peter J. Nash
April 15, 2016
Willie Ratner unknowingly founded this exclusive club as a youth when he secured his copy of the card straight out of a pack of Sweet Caporal cigarettes. Jefferson Burdick gained entry when he received one as a gift from a friend and then afterwards donated his treasure to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A 19-year-old Bill Mastro became a member when he paid a world-record price of $1,500 for his first one in 1972, only to resell it shortly thereafter to buy a new car. Lew Lipset entered the club after pooling his entire savings of $35,000 to buy a collection from a Navy doctor that included a near pristine example. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky partnered with his boss Bruce McNall to join the club when they paid $451,000 for an alleged pristine example at Sotheby’s in 1992.
In 2007, Arizona Diamondback owner Ken Kendrick dropped $2.8 million for Gretzky’s former card so that he could join the hobby’s most exclusive assemblage of high-rollers. Unfortunately for Kendrick, his Wagner has been certified a fraud by the FBI who revealed through wire-taps that the card had been fraudulently trimmed by the recently incarcerated Bill Mastro.
That being said, here’s a never before published look at the current and past owners of the fraudulent and legitimate cards that have afforded their owner’s entrance into the exclusive: “T206 Wagner Club.”
Ken Kendrick's PSA-graded and fraudulently trimmed Wagner (center) is currently on display at the Phoenix Museum through April 24. The museum's display gives no disclaimer for visitors regarding the fraudulent nature of the card.
As reported by Hauls of Shame in 2013, there are at least sixty copies of the storied tobacco card known to exist and there are even more individuals who can boast of once owning an actual Honus–It’s surely not the rarest card, but it is by far the most desirable and most valuable slice of cardboard known to man. The combined value of the 60-plus existing specimens easily exceeds $25 million.
The T206 Honus Wagner has become a legendary piece of American folklore and some might argue the face of the billion dollar baseball memorabilia industry. The allure of the Wagner has also given rise to the commission of crimes ranging from Bill Mastro’s trimming of the Gretzky-McNall copy to a heist executed by a group of thieves who stole actor Charlie Sheen’s Wagner when it was on display at ESPN’s “All Star Cafe” in Times Square back in 1996.
Still, many others have joined the club simply by chance, chalking up their membership through an inheritance or a lucky draw in a sweepstakes give-away. The stories of the past and present members of the club and how they acquired each and every one of the “Holy Grails” are noteworthy and sometimes notorious. The allure and mystery surrounding the card is such that Forbes columnist David Seideman has even suggested that some of the owners like Mastro and McNall may have been cursed by their ownership of the hobby’s greatest prize.
The sixty or so Wagner cards known to exist have been possessed by multiple collectors who’ve owned the card dating back to the days when kids collected them out of cigarette packs in the Dead-Ball era. Ever since the Wagner cards were produced and subsequently withdrawn from the T206 set by the American Tobacco Company in 1909, the legend of the Honus Wagner card has grown and taken on a life of its own.
The past & present members of "The Wagner Club" have been showing off their "Holy Grails" since the 1930s.
The collectors who have been drawn to the Wagner card and the notoriety it brings are a diverse and eclectic group of men (and women) with one thing in common: They have either willingly or unwillingly become a part of hobby history.
THE CURRENT MEMBERS OF “THE WAGNER CLUB”:
The Wagner Club is led by (l. to r.): Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick; OakTree Capital's Richard Masson; ESPN's Keith Olbermann and the family of deceased hobby pioneer Larry Fritsch.
1. Ken Kendrick- Owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks and owner of the infamous PSA-8 Mastro-Wagner. Even though his Wagner card was trimmed by Bill Mastro to enhance its condition, PSA graded it a NM-MT 8 despite having knowledge it was trimmed. And although Mastro’s fraud played a part in his recent criminal conviction, Kendrick is currently showing off the controversial card at the Phoenix Art Museum with no disclaimer to museum visitors that they are viewing a miniature crime scene as the tainted cardboard still sits in its original fraudulent PSA holder. The museum still identifies the card for patrons as “the famous PSA 8 NM-MT.” In reality, the fraudulently trimmed card should have been re-holdered by PSA with a designation as “Altered-Authentic.”
2. Thomas Tull- Movie producer and newly minted billionaire whose company, Legendary Entertainment, released the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 in 2013 as well as the Hangover films and the recent Batman films. Tull also owns a minority stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers and recently purchased Bill Mazerowski’s 1960 World Series-winning bat and uniform at Hunt Auctions. and also purchased Don Spence’s PSA-registered card collection for what has been rumored as a figure topping $10 million. Tull claims to own a 1912 Wagner game-used jersey and he purchased the “Dreier Wagner” after it was brokered by Legendary Auctions for over $1.2 million. Tull’s Wagner was said to have been originally owned by an Irish immigrant living in Harlem who acquired it in the 1910’s.
3. Richard Masson- Masson keeps a low-profile in the hobby and has run under the radar of most despite the fact that he owns what is perhaps the finest baseball card collection in the world
4. Corey Shanus- The hobby’s premier 19th century collector owns a raw/ungraded example in excellent condition, His Wagner was sold in a Trader Speaks auction by Richard Gelman the son of hobby legend Woody Gelman. There is speculation that Shanus’ card has a Piedmont back.
5. Keith Olbermann- The ESPN broadcaster at one time owned three copies of the Wagner card, but sources indicate that he unloaded one of them. Olbermann has made his way into several MLB dugouts showing off his trimmed SGC-Authentic copy to Braves pitcher Tim Hudson and several Washington Nationals players.
Current Wagner owners include (L to R): Thomas Tull, Legendary Entertainment; Gary Cypres; Joel Platt, Sports Immortals Museum; The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
6. Mark McCrae- West-Coast collector who acquired via Bill Mastro a high-grade Wagner that once belonged to Dr. Robert Goode of Columbus, Indiana.
7. The Fritsch Family- Legendary collector and dealer Larry Fritsch acquired his high-grade Wagner from the same find as the Mastro-McCrae copy. When Fritsch passed away in 2010 his Wagner was bequeathed to his surviving family members.
8. Unknown Buyer- Hobby veteran and dealer Mike Wheat acquired this copy from Ken Blazek via a Lew Lipset auction. Blazek acquired the card originally from Bill Mastro in 1974 and told the Sport Fan: “I showed it to my wife, expecting her to respond with a great number of complimentary and congratulatory comments.” Instead, Blazek said when she saw the Wagner all she said was, “It’s creased.” Wheat sold the card to in a private transaction to a buyer who he would not identify by name.
9. Gary Cypress- the CEO of the Banner Finance Co., his ungraded and trimmed copy of Wagner card is on display at the private Sports Museum of Los Angeles which he also owns and operates.
10. Joel Platt- The legendary collector who acquired Wagner artifacts from the Flying Dutchman’s widow in the 1950s tracked down his copy of the Wagner in the mid-1980s in New York City. Platt recalls, “I may very well be the only collector who was offered two different Wagners in two days.” Platt chose the second offering which was accompanied by an Eddie Plank. ”I paid between 20 and 30,000 for the pair from Bill Hognach at a show.” The Wagner is currently stored in a vault at Platt’s Sports Immortals Museum in Florida.
Current Wagner owners (L to R): Dr. Nick DePace; Tri-Star winner "Scott J."; Levy Bleam (w/Joe Orlando); and Scott Brockelman
11. Dr. Nick DePace- The New Jersey cardiologist purchased the example sold by the Sisters of Notre Dame order at Heritage Auctions after the winning bidder reneged on his commitment to buy the card for $220,000. After he purchased the card he told The Philadelphia Inquirer: ”This is the most famous Honus Wagner card now because it’s going to help thousands of people, and that’s more than any other Honus Wagner card has ever done.”
12. Paul Dunigan Jr.- His Wagner was inherited from his deceased father Paul Dunigan Sr. a prolific collector of 19th century cabinet photos and other rarities and the former owner of an adult entertainment empire in Massachusetts.
13. Bill Heitman- the hobby pioneer inherited his Wagner from his father who acquired it in the early days of the hobby.
14. Levi Bleam- a veteran hobby dealer who operates 707 Sportscards in Pennsylvania, once auctioned off the “1/2 Wagner” in an SCD ad. That Wagner was missing the right side of the card but was encapsulated by PSA. In addition to selling that example, a source told us Bleam held onto another “keeper” in much better shape which he had acquired years ago, making the PSA Registry winner a member of the Wagner Club as well.
15. Scott Ireland- his high-grade copy of the Wagner card was also part of the August Jacobs find that included the cards that ended up with Fritsch and McCrae.
16. The Metropolitan Museum of Art- The Met received Jefferson Burdick’s Wagner as part of his donation to the institution in the 1950s and 1960s.
Wagner owners include (L to R): Bill Heitman, Paul Dunigan Jr., Scott Ireland's PSA-5 Wagner and baseball legend Joe Garagiola.
17. The New York Public Library- The NYPL joined the club when Leopold Morse Goulston donated his T206 cards to the library in the 1940’s. Despite losing millions in baseball artifacts from the 1970s heist from the Spalding Collection, the Honus Wagner card survived. The fact that Jefferson Burdick documented the card as being in the NYPL collection, likely protected the card from theft.
18. The Baseball Hall of Fame- The Cooperstown institution owns two copies of the Wagner card that were once owned by Barry Halper, Lew Lipset and Bill Mastro. The first card was donated by Halper in the 1980s and the second was purchased from Halper in 1998 along with bogus uniforms attributed to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Mickey Mantle. At least the Wagner was real and unaltered, although it was an over-sized example with unusually thick borders.
19. The British Museum- The UK ended up with the donation of Sir Edgar Wharton-Tigar’s collection which included a Wagner that originated from the collection of legendary collector Charles Bray.
21. Joe Garagiola- the ex-MLB player and broadcaster who passed away last month acquired a copy of the Wagner card from Bill Heitman in a legendary 1980’s trade. It is unclear whether he retained the card or sold it and sources indicate his estate may hold the answers to his ownership of the card.
22. Scott J. (from Lake Benton, FL)- the semi-anonymous “Scott J” won his Wagner in a Tr-Star Entertainment sweepstakes in 2005 when he pulled a redemption coupon out of a pack of baseball cards in the “Hidden Treasure” promotion.
23. Scott Brockelman- a dealer and auctioneer (Brockleman Auctions/Brockelman & Luckey Auctions) joined the club after buying his copy in a Memory Lane auction for close to $250,000.
24. The Anonymous “Jumbo Wagner” Owner- An individual from the world of finance who, according to Ken Goldin, asked for anonymity, when he purchased the high grade “Jumbo Wagner” from Goldin Auctions in April of 2013 for $2.1 million.
25. The Anonymous Hoboken Resident- In 2012, an article in Hoboken Magazine revealed the Wagner of an owner living in the New Jersey city who inherited his card from a grandfather who “Had an affiliation to the Major League Baseball” and acquired the card “around 1953.” The secretive club member says he’ll never sell his card and added, “Nobody knows I have it except for a handful of people, and I prefer to keep it that way.” At least he shared an image.
FORMER MEMBERS OF THE WAGNER CLUB:
Wagner Club originals include (L to R) Willie Ratner; Woody Gelman; Jefferson Burdick; Charles Bray; Frank Nagy and Irv Lerner.
THE OLD TIMERS-
Dating back to the Dead-Ball era when some were just kids, the first members of the club gained entry at a much more affordable level. Willie Ratner, owner of the “Original Wagner” showed his treasure off in a Newark newspaper in 1930 while Jefferson Burdick documented his in the American Card Catalog in 1939. Other early members included Sgt. John P. Wagner, Charles Bray, Preston Orem, Frank Nagy, Wirt Gammon, Ted Colzaretti, Sir Edward Wharton-Tigar, Dr. William Lowell, Dr. Hubert Heitman, Irv Lerner, Dick Herring, and others.
Dealers who have owned and sold Wagners include (L to R): Lew Lipset; Rob Lifson; Josh Evans of Lelands; J.P. Cohen of Memory Lane; and David Kohler of SCP (far right) pictured with former Wagner owner David Finkelstein (2nd from left).
When the hobby became as much a business as it was a pastime in the 1970s qnd 1980s, a new generation of hybrid collector-dealers arrived on the scene who began unearthing and wheeling and dealing Wagners like they were going out of style. Bill Mastro and Rob Lifson led the way while Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen and Josh Evans followed their lead. Between the five auctioneers, they accounted for over 50% of the Wagner sales and discoveries in that era. Also contributing to that phenomenon were other dealers who owned and sold Wagners including Buddy Kurzwiel and Rick Barudin of the Sports Corner, Lew Lipset, Jay Barry, Richard Gelman, Bill Hognach, George Lyons, Duane Garrett, Mark Friedland, Jerry Zuckerman, David Kohler, Ken Goldin, Greg Manning, Steve Verkman, John Brigandi.
The true card collectors naturally gravitated to the Wagner card in a quest to complete what hobby pioneer Bill Heitman called “The Monster”–the T206 set. Other collectors were drawn to the Wagner as it became the ultimate status symbol in the hobby. Barry Halper led the way in the late 1970s through the 1980s acquiring multiple copies while others followed his lead acquiring their own copies including Bill Haber, Larry Fritsch, George Lyons, John Cinquegrana, Tom Collier, Jay Barry, Joe and Karen Michalowicz, Dr. Robert Goode, Lew Newman, Wally Snitko, Scott Winslow, Stephen Soloway, Mike Cramer, Mike Gidwitz, David Finkelstein, Dentist Paul Kahan, and Steve Miceli.
Former Wagner owners include (L to r): Steve Miceli; Wayne Varner; Vincent Russo; Mike Aronstein and Keith Olbermann.
Throughout the years collectors who set up tables at shows and operated small businesses and auctions found themselves in the Wagner Club and sometimes their tenure was short. Fitting this description is Pittsburgh’s Wayne Varner who won the well-known Wagner scrap or strip sheet that surfaced in the late 1970s when he and partners Bob Zipplemann, Ken Blazek and Mike Wheat acquired the relic from a man they said purchased material from Honus Wagner’s former residence. The four men decided they would let the luck of the draw determine which one of the four would own the relic. It was Varner’s lucky day. Other collectors who owned Honus for a short time include: Alan Ray, Mike Aronstein, Fred McKie, Barry Sloate, Herman Kaufman, John Cinquegruana, David Festberg, Joe Esposito, Vin Russo, Tom Catal, Mike Wheat.
More former Wagner Club members: Ken Goldin (Goldin Auctions); the son of a Wagner owner; Bill Goodwin (Goodwin & Co.); Mike Cramer
Wayne Gretzky set the bar high for high profile Wagner Club members when he purchased his with Bruce McNall for $451,000 at Sotheby’s in 1991. By the time he sold his interest in the card after McNall went to prison, actor and Hollywood bad-boy Charlie Sheen had purchased his own Wagner via Josh Evans at Lelands. Sheen’s copy was later stolen from ESPN’s All-Star Cafe in Times Square where it was on loan. Ex-MLB star knuckleballer Tom Candiotti purchased Gretzky’s former Wagner for $2 million in 2004 and then resold the same card to Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick for $2.8 million in 2007. Only one notable celebrity trumped the alleged quality of Gretzky’s Wagner as former ESPN and MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann at one time owned three copies of low-grade Wagner cards. Sources indicate Olbermann still has two copies in his collection, one of which is a trimmed copy that sold at Mastro Auctions in the early 2000s.
Prominent CEO's bought into the "Wagner Club" including (L to R) Jim Copeland; Brian Seigel, Chad and Doug Dreier; and ex-MLB knucleballer Tom Candiotti.
THE HEAVY HITTERS-
CEOs and captains of industry heading Fortune 500 companies and other large corporations have also come to the table for entry into baseball collecting’s most exclusive club. The first so-called “Whale” to venture into the hobby was West-coast sporting goods magnate Jim Copeland who purchased the most notorious Wagner from Bill Mastro in 1987. Brian Seigel, the CEO of an asset management company, bought Copeland’s Wagner in 2000 for $1.26 million. Another well-heeled collector in the club was the “Southern Gentleman” collector Jim Montgomery who was followed by Chad Dreier, the CEO of Ryland Homes, who purchased a high-grade copy with his son Doug Dreier, in 2004. Others who have snagged Wagners include John Rogers of the now defunct Rogers Photo Archive who purchased the “Jumbo Wagner” for $1.6 million in 2002 and ex-MLB knuckleball pitcher Tom Candiotti who purchased the fraudulent Gretzky-McNall Wagner from Brian Seigel for $2.35 million in 2007.
Postal employee Patricia Gibbs (left) won the Gretzky-McNall Wagner in a Wal-Mart Sweepstakes and sold her card at Christie's; An previously unknown Wagner (center) was inherited by a NJ man and was revealed in a 2012 magazine article; Another Wagner appeared on the Shop at Home Network in 1997 as a proposed prize.
GOLDEN TICKETS AND INHERITANCES-
Postal worker Patricia Gibbs became the second woman to join the “Wagner Club” when she won the Gretzky-McNall copy in a 1995 Wal-Mart Sweepstakes spearheaded by Treat Entertainment. Score Board Inc. purchased a Wagner to be included in a “golden-ticket” promotion to give away a Wagner on the Shop at Home Network via Don West in 1997. In 2002, the Shop at Home Network also purchased and gave away the T206-Wagner Proof Strip as a prize to 15-year old Jordan Marquez of Bakersfield, California. The Marquez family sold the card at REA. The Pearsall Family and the Jacobs Family of Long Island inherited their Wagners from a relative (August Jacobs had three Wagners). Two other (anonymous) families consigned the inherited “Wallet Wagner” and “The Long Island Wagner” to Lelands.
No Dice: Wagner fakes have included (left to right): A Joe Strong of Hamilton Ontario, thought he found one; The State of West Virginia thought they discovered one in a safe deposit box; The Cobb-Edwards Wagner has been the most controversial fake; DuMochelles Auction house in Detroit sold a fake in 1991 for $14,000.
WAGNER CLUB REJECTIONS: FAKES, FRAUDS AND COUNTERFEITS-
Reports of alleged Wagner discoveries have been covered in the hobby and mainstream press for the past several decades as the popularity of the Wagner card and its legend has grown. Most of those reports, however, ended up with disappointed people who thought they had hit the Wagner lottery when in reality all they had were worthless reprints or counterfeits. In one instance, Joe Strong of Hamilton, Ontario, claimed he discovered a Wagner in a group of cards he paid $800 for. He and card grader Guy Stoppard offered the card online for $15,000, but it was clear the offering was a reprint. The state of West Virginia once discovered an alleged Wagner in an abandoned safety deposit box but found out their card was a reprint as well.
Despite the fakes and frauds, the legend of the Wagner endures and the exclusive club of owners changes over each decade as collectors pass away or pass along their treasured cardboard to new generations of collectors.
If you have any factual corrections for this report or additional information about the current whereabouts of Wagner cards mentioned (or unmentioned) in this article, please email us at: Tips@haulsofshame.com
UPDATE (April 16): One of our readers provided us with an image of an old news clipping showing that Darren Prince (“The Prince of Cards”) from Livingston, NJ, owned a Wagner.
According to this news clipping, Darren Prince of Livingston, NJ, owned a Wagner card c. 1988.
Yet another Wagner owner was identified by one of our readers; Rochester, MI, attorney E. Powell Miller is the owner of the card known as the”Connecticut Wagner.”
Attorney E. Powell Miller owns the "Connecticut Wagner."
If you know of any others please email us at: Tips@haulsofshame.com
By Peter J. Nash
February 1, 2016
All hell has broken loose in the hobby now that the Mastro shill bid list was released in Doug Allen’s court filings for his upcoming sentencing in Chicago Federal Court. The list was originally generated by the Government in its case against Bill Mastro and his shill bidding henchmen. The list includes the names of several prominent hobby figures who are identified as shill-bidders and consignors of lots that were illegally shill-bid by friends or associates.
-Mastro Auctions executives Bill Mastro, Doug Allen, Mark Theotokis and William Boehme appear all over the list which includes auction sales spanning from 2007 to 2008 with a small section devoted to auctions in 2002. In the course of the FBI investigation of Mastro it was revealed that the auction company had destroyed previous bidding records before 2007.
-Dan Knoll, a former Mastro associate, appears on the list shilling several auction lots. One source familiar with the Mastro case suggested that Knoll’s shill bidding may have given the government extra leverage against him to make him wear the wire that picked up Mastro’s admission that he had, in fact, fraudulently trimmed the now infamous Gretzky-McNall T206 Honus Wagner card.
-REA Auction head Rob Lifson, who knew Mastro had trimmed the Wagner card and committed fraud when he sold the same card at auction with Mastro in 2000, appears on the list as consigning his own property to a 2002 Mastro sale which was shill-bid by Andrew “Flip” Filipowski. At the time Lifson was an owner of MastroNet Inc. and a fellow board member with Filipowski. After the list was made public, Lifson posted on Net54 stating he had no knowledge of the shill-bidding: “I (as the consignor) had nothing to do with the shill bidding, did not work with anyone to get my lot shilled, and most certainly did not want my lot shilled. There is much additional fascinating information about this lot and the case in general which I choose not to share here (as this is not the time and place) but I will add this: The consignor-portion of the funds stolen by Mastro Auctions via shill bidding against the high left bid on this lot were sent to me against my wishes and were immediately returned by wire (as opposed to check as my attorney said he was concerned they might just not cash the check) and the FBI was given all information, and this played a significant role in launching the entire investigation. As I have said, there is much additional information, but please excuse that I will not be posting more about this right now.”
-Rob Lifson was scheduled to appear as a witness for the government in the Mastro trial before plea deals were accepted by all of the indicted parties. It is well known within the hobby that Lifson ratted-out his former partner, Bill Mastro and avoided prosecution for his own alleged involvement in illegal activities (including fraudulently advertising and promoting the condition of the Wagner card) while working as an executive at MastroNet. The shill bidding list also revealed that Lifson purchased one of the shilled items consigned by his partner Bill Mastro in the 2002 auction. Lifson paid $1,321.35 for a 1910 “Won In The Ninth” pinback button which was shill bid by “Frank DiRoberto.” Lifson is not listed as a victim by the government on that lot.
-Keith Olbermann was listed as the victim and buyer of Lifson’s consigned lot and appears to have been victimized on several other Mastro purchases. Also appearing as a buyer and victim on several lots was director Penny Marshall and New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner who lost over $30,000 bidding on baseball card sets.
-Net54 moderator, Leon Luckey, appears on the list as a victim but several sources have disputed his “victim” status. One source who is familiar with the Mastro case told us that Luckey, a convicted felon and former drug dealer, was a serial shill-bidder in sales that Mastro destroyed the bidding records for. As for the items on the released list, Luckey bought shilled lots that were consigned by Net54 member JC Clarke. Another source told us he believes Luckey was involved in Clarke’s shill-bid scheme and said, “The government determined him to be a victim because someone bid before his last bid. Nothing more. However the fact that the only lots he won were Clarke lots — combined with his almost delusional protection of Clarke, one of the worst fraudsters the hobby has ever seen, seems to lead to the unmistakable conclusion that he was buying the lots back for JC.” Our readers will also recall that Luckey and Clarke have something else in common: they both attempted to sell 1869 Peck and Snyder trade cards that were stolen from the NYPLs Spalding Collection. The FBI thwarted both sales.
Other Net54 members who were implicated on the list include attorney Peter Spaeth, Ron Goldberg, Greg Schwartz, Peter Garcia and Frank Foremny. Net54 members have been tough on Spaeth but as one former 54 member told us, “Oddly enough there seems to be a code of silence on calling JC Clarke on the carpet.” That’s probably because Luckey has banned most every member who has pointed out his hobby indiscretions.
The Mastro shill-bidding list includes PSA expert John Reznikoff (far left); Heritage employee Peter Calderone (2nd left); PSA expert Kevin Keating (center). Victims on the list include Keith Olbermann (right) and NY Yankee owner Hal Steinbrenner (far right)
-John Reznikoff, a PSA employee who is listed on Collectors Universe’s “board of experts” was exposed as a serial shill bidder and the consignor of scores of items which were shill bid in tandem with Mastro and his employees. Reznikoff is currently under fire in the Michael Johnson vs. RR Auctions litigation where allegations of shill-bidding have been leveled against RR Auction owner Bob Eaton. Sources indicate that Reznikoff’s shill bidding activity at RR is similar to his conduct with Mastro and even worse. One source who says he has knowledge that Reznikoff is currently being investigated by the FBI told us, “Rez is in deep trouble.” As Hauls of Shame reported last year, a deceased RR Auctions employee named Kay Burris executed a sworn affidavit before her death describing illegal shill-bidding at the auction house which she claimed involved Bob Eaton and 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.”
In 2015 we reported, “Burris went 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.”
The Burris affidavit also stated:
“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.”
-Zach Rullo, another Collectors Universe employee who works as a PSA/DNA authenticator with Steve Grad was also exposed for shilling lots in the Mastro sales. Rullo and Grad were close with Bill Mastro who was instrumental in giving both of them their start in the authentication business with Mastro Auctions and PSA.
-Kevin Keating, a West Point graduate and another expert employed by PSA appears on the list as a shill-bidder placing bids with Mastro executive Doug Allen on items owned by the auction house under the name “Historical Collectibles.”
-Dave Forman, the President of SGC is also identified on the list as having multiple lots shilled by his brother. Back in 2010, Forman filed a counterclaim against Mastro alleging that the auction house shill-bid items and used his account to place unauthorized bids.
President Obama sits in the bus alleged to be the actual vehicle Rosa Parks launched the civil rights movement from. Convicted felon Bill Mastro and Rob Lifson sold the bus to the Henry Ford Museum for $492,000 but its authenticity has been challenged. To the right is the cover of author Ron Keurajian's new book, "Collecting Historical Autographs."
-Goldin Auctions owner Ken Goldin is implicated on the list along with Daryl Abromowitz for shilling multiple lots in the Mastro sales as is Heritage Auctions employee Peter Calderone who was a Mastro employee at the time he shilled auction lots. It is interesting to note that many of the illegal shilling techniques administered at Mastro auctions in Illinois are currently utilized by Heritage legally in Texas. Another Heritage employee included on the list as a shill bidder was Nicholas Dawes who also appears on the PBS TV show Antiques Roadshow as an appraiser. Other veteran auctioneers and dealers identified on the list include Ron Oser, Jerry Zuckerman, Andy Imperato and Irv Lerner.
The shill-bidding list was a hot topic in hobby circles over the weekend and one of the best observations we heard on the situation came from author and prominent Michigan attorney Ron Keurajian who told us, “There appears to be a continuing pattern of shill bidding, fraud, racketeering, and strong-arm tactics by the same core group of auctioneers, dealers, and authenticators all in an attempt to monopolize the sports memorabilia trade. Criminal prosecution under the RICO Act should be pursued by government and those who have been victimized should consider civil actions also allowed by the act.”
-Rob Lifson announced last week that he is retiring from the auction business and allegedly selling REA to his employee Brian Dwyer. In a statement released on the REA blog Lifson said one thing that caught our eye: “I am just retiring from auctions, not dying! My health is great and I am fortunate to have been very successful financially for many decades. I still enjoy the field very much and may actually expand my involvement in some ways, as well as become more involved with other types of collectibles (I have a special interest in political and civil rights collectibles, among other areas, for example).” Lifson’s interest in Civil Rights collectibles is notable in that when Lifson was partners with Bill Mastro he claimed to have discovered the actual bus that made civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks famous. That bus was authenticated and offered by MastroNet in 2002 and purchased by the Henry Ford Museum for $492,000. Independent investigations conducted by Hauls of Shame, however, have indicated that there was no credible evidence to support such a claim by Lifson and Mastro who are believed to have committed outright fraud in representing the bus was the vehicle that Parks refused to give up her seat on. In addition, several sources have told Hauls of Shame they believe that both the Smithsonian and the Henry Ford Museum were shill bid when competing for the bus in the MastroNet auction. Lifson, however, did not report Mastro’s shill bidding to the FBI in that instance. With the shilling so rampant at MastroNet, as evidenced in the government document, it is very likely that the auction house victimized the two deep-pocketed institutions. As Lifson allegedly retires from the auction business he leaves a legacy as the auctioneer who has sold the most bogus baseball material in auction history and is the only auctioneer ever to be caught stealing rare artifacts from a public institution.
Ending this CHIN MUSIC episode on a rare positive note:
-Ron Keurajian recently completed a new book for collectors on how to spot forgeries of non-sports and historical autographs. Similar to his excellent book on the signatures of Baseball Hall of Famers, Keurajian lends his expertise to the examination of the signatures of historical figures ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Barak Obama. Collecting Historical Autographs: What To Buy, What To Pay and How To Spot Fakes will be available to collectors this Summer and is being published by McFarland and Co..
By Peter J. Nash
December 18, 2015
Hobbyists and autograph experts have for years alleged that the proliferation of Babe Ruth forgeries in the marketplace has been bolstered by the shoddy work of the authentication companies PSA/DNA and JSA. In the six previous installments of our “Operation Bambino” investigation, Hauls of Shame has illustrated how both companies have authenticated perhaps millions of dollars in fake Ruth signatures for decades. Now, in Lelands current auction we have identified yet another bogus Ruth that further exposes an entire group of big ticket single-signed baseballs as forgeries created by what several experts believe is the same forger. When Hauls of Shame informed Lelands of the possible fake and showed the auction house four other Ruth forgeries almost identical to their offered lot, the auction house pulled the alleged treasure from its sale.
In part 2 of our special investigation we identified several different handwriting styles of forgers creating bogus Ruth single-signed baseballs and one of those styles was identified by illustrating different baseball that had sold in Mastro, REA and Grey Flannel auctions. One of the balls identified by us ended up in Lelands current sale and when compared to the other similar baseballs it is clear that both PSA/DNA and JSA have been authenticating forgeries of Ruth signatures that have fetched anywhere between $20,000 and $300,000 at auction.
This style Babe Ruth forgery appears on at least seven big-ticket auction lots that have been sold with either JSA or PSA/DNA letters of authenticity. The ball pulled from the Lelands sale appears highlighted in red.
Representatives from Lelands agreed with our determination and proceeded to remove the alleged forgery from the current sale. Our second installment of the “Operation Bambino” series had already identified these balls as forgeries in a distinctive handwriting style of a specific forger that contrasted two other styles of Ruth forgeries. Even when viewed by hobbyists without any background in handwriting analysis it is quite evident that these style signatures are highly problematic.
This group photo appeared in our second part of the Operation Bambino series and identified each of these baseballs as Ruth forgeries. The ball pulled from the Lelands sale appears on the left side of the middle row.
Each signature is executed methodically and appears almost identical to every other example. The signatures are also placed on the same section of each ball’s “sweet spot.” But what’s even more troubling is that PSA/DNA declined to write an LOA for one of these forgeries when it appeared in a Mastro auction back in 2008. In its lot description Mastro said:
“We emphatically assert that this is truly one of the finest Babe Ruth “singles” in the hobby. (The relic’s legitimacy is so certain, in our view, that Mastro Auctions is presenting the Mint-condition gem without a PSA letter, as that company declined to provide one.)”
The bogus ball was authenticated, however, by James Spence Authentication (JSA).
This Ruth forgery was sold by Mastro in 2008 with an LOA from JSA. PSA/DNA declined to authenticate the ball at the time, thus suggesting that PSA may have known these balls were forgeries as early as 2008. The "mint" ball sold for just under $20,000 in the Mastro sale.
We asked Lelands, “Have they (PSA/DNA) been aware these are fake since at least 2008? Please ask, because they surely won’t give answers to me or any customers of theirs.” Mike Hefner of Lelands responded saying, “I have not spoken with Steve Grad for over a year.” Leland’s founder Josh Evans thanked us for informing him about the fake and said, “We are pulling it.” Lelands could not divulge who the unlucky consignor/victim is.
The ball that was being sold by Lelands was accompanied by a PSA/DNA LOA dated in 2003 and signed by both James Spence and Steve Grad at a time when both were employed as experts by the company that operates under the Collectors Universe umbrella. The same authenticated ball appeared in a May 2004 auction conducted by Grey Flannel where it sold for $41,672. Grey Flannel describe the ball as “a blazer.”
This is the PSA/DNA LOA that accompanies the forged Babe Ruth baseball appearing in Lelands current auction catalog. The LOA was signed by both James Spence and Steve Grad.
We showed the entire group of forgeries to several experts, dealers and collectors we respect and asked for their observations and opinions. They responded stating:
-”So where were these (Ruth balls) the last 4 decades ? Even back in the 1970’s & 80’s when SS Ruth balls were selling for a couple grand I NEVER even remembered anything in this condition being offered for sale by any dealer or auction company.”
-”It certainly appears they are all done by the same hand. Amazing, (I) never really saw a nice clean ball signed by Ruth until the 90’s.”
-”The signature on that ball is a very poor forgery of Ruth. It’s a joke that PSA or JSA authenticated it but not surprising.”
-”Can you imagine how many flat items this forger has created and flooded the market with?”
Our on-going investigation has revealed many more troubling aspects of the third party authentication system first orchestrated by Bill Mastro, MastroNet Inc. and PSA way back in 1999. No doubt there are likely millions of dollars in forged Ruth balls in private hands accompanied by worthless (and perhaps fraudulent) LOAs issued by both PSA and JSA. Mastro just began serving a prison sentence which resulted from an FBI investigation into fraud at Mastro Auctions and Legendary Auctions. One collector told us, “If you own a high grade Ruth ball, you gotta be very nervous. If you bought one from Mastro you’re living on the edge.”
Experts allege that this group of Ruth "blazers" is full of fakes and forgeries. These balls have broken auction sales records and have all been authenticated by PSA and JSA. These balls, when compared to the forgery pulled from Lelands, illustrate the handwriting of an additional forger who is fleecing collectors.
As illustrated by our previous Bambino reports many of the record-breaking Ruth balls that have sold for several hundred thousand dollars have been forged in a hand different than the ball pulled from Lelands. Each of these Ruth forgeries was executed in a distinct and contrasting hand, different than Ruth, himself, and also different than the other multiple forgers.
We informed Babe Ruth’s granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, about the PSA-certed Ruth forgery pulled from the Lelands sale and she told us, “I am always telling people to stay away from these guys. People are buying their sales pitch and getting ripped off. I have now come to the point to tell fans to beware of all Babe Ruth autographs. It is a sad state of affairs. People will not buy a piece unless it is PSA-DNA certified.” Ruth-Tosetti has been outspoken about the Ruth-forgery epidemic and has been in touch with the FBI in an attempt to help clean up the troubled autograph authentication industry. Ruth- Tosetti added, ”This PSA-DNA has dirtied the collecting market. What a shame. I applaud the FBI in their continued help in bringing these guys to justice. To my grandfather’s fans, BUYER BEWARE! Do your homework and know who you are dealing with.”
Linda Ruth-Tosetti (left) has strong words for PSA President Joe Orlando and his senior authenticator Steve Grad (second from right). James Spence of JSA (far right) authenticated the fake Ruth ball withdrawn from the current Lelands sale.
Both of the embattled authentication companies are also currently fighting lawsuits filed by dealers Nelson Deedle and Todd Mueller alleging both fraud and racketeering. In addition, in another lawsuit filed against RR Auctions by Michael Johnson, PSA President Joe Orlando and senior authenticator Steve Grad had been avoiding service of subpoenas compelling testimony in that case, but have since been served papers to appear at depositions. Since being served, however, their attorney Keith Attlesey has refused to produce both clients for their scheduled depositions. Sources indicate that PSA is concerned that Grad’s steady authentication of fraudulent materials will be a topic of interest in the depositions. Despite his shortcomings as an authenticator and his well-documented history of certifying fakes as genuine, Grad also serves as the on-air autograph expert for the popular cable TV show Pawn Stars on the History Channel. One industry executive told us, “Grad is a hack but he seriously thinks he’s a TV star now. I’ve heard he’s got too big for his britches even with PSA. I wouldn’t be surprised if PSA cans him before the authorities have a shot at putting him out of commission.”
Neither PSA or JSA have ever responded to Hauls of Shame’s inquiries about forgeries their so-called “experts” have certified authentic. The one time PSA did respond to HOS was in 2013 with a letter from attorney Keith Attlesey threatening a lawsuit for a report we published stating that the company was “founded on a fraud.” Our statement, however, was based upon the fact that the first baseball card they graded (the Gretzky-McNall T-206 Wagner) had been trimmed by auctioneer Bill Mastro and that the PSA employee grading the card, Bill Hughes, knew it had been trimmed. Shortly after Attlsey sent us his cease and desist letter, Mastro admitted to fraudulently trimming the now infamous T-206 Honus Wagner card as part of a plea agreement with the government. It should be noted that while PSAs card division was, in fact, founded on a fraud, its autograph division was also founded on a similar fraud based upon the company’s authentications of gem-mint Ruth single-singed balls that are considered forgeries by many experts in the field. Sources we spoke with could not confirm whether the FBI is currently investigating PSA and JSA for their ties to fraudulent Babe Ruth memorabilia.
By Peter J. Nash
November 13, 2015
Scroll to bottom for Update:
Net54 moderator Leon Luckey wants out and according to several collectors who have spoken with him, he is trying to unload the collector forum he owns and moderates for lots of cash. According to several sources Luckey wants to sell his forum to Beckett, the privately held company that offers card grading services and operates as a collectibles industry media outlet and publisher. Luckey resides close to Dallas, Texas, and Beckett’s main offices are also located in Dallas.
Luckey, 54, has been the focus of hobby drama for the past few months since Hauls of Shame broke the story that he was selling a rare Peck & Snyder trade card that was stolen from the New York Public Library. Despite a recent article published in the New York Daily News, which attempted to portray Luckey as a generous collector who willingly returned the stolen property to the library, several of his Net54 members called him on the carpet for his hypocrisy and alleged shady dealings with Heritage Auctions after it was revealed that he knew the card had been stolen before he entered it in the sale.
In response to the onslaught of criticism, Luckey banned member John McDaniel (known as Wonka) and just yesterday banned another member who has been very critical of his dealings, the New York defense attorney and collector Jeffrey Lichtman. Lichtman and McDaniel publicy scolded and exposed Luckey and as one investigator familiar with the NYPL theft case told this writer “they shamed him into returning the stolen card to the NYPL.” Lichtman has also been very critical about Luckey’s long-time support of disgraced auctioneer Bill Mastro who was recently sentenced to a 20-month prison term.
Luckey lost out on a six-figure payday when Hauls of Shame publicly exposed his card as stolen property and his members also called him out for falsely portraying the reason for the sale of his collection being to pay for his daughter’s college education. Luckey’s collection sold for close to $1 million (before HA commissions) even after returning the stolen card to the Spalding Collection in New York City. Yesterday morning, a source with inside information contacted us with the exclusive story confirming that Luckey is attempting to sell Net54 to Beckett for a possible $650,000 which would constitute another big payday for the former drug dealer who amassed a sizable baseball card collection in the years after receiving two drug convictions.
Our source, a Net54 member in contact with several hobbyists who have spoken directly with Luckey, is disturbed by the potential sale but not surprised that Luckey is attempting to cash out. ”He’s a twice convicted drug dealer who hasn’t worked in years since he was fired from his last job. It’s his last chance to make some real money in his lifetime. He hated moderating the board, he’s tired of people talking about his stolen Peck and Snyder card and his lying about selling his collection solely to fund his daughter’s college education–as opposed to what was stated in the Heritage catalog,” said our source.
After HOS exposed Leon Luckey's 1869 Reds card as being stolen from the NYPL, Net54 member John McDonald (inset known as "Wonka") further highlighted Luckey's hypocrisy as a self-proclaimed hobby fraud-fighter and was quickly booted off the forum by Luckey.
Luckey has posted a slew of false and libelous statements about Hauls of Shame including claims that the comments section is not real, that our sources are non-existent and that this writer has actually set up Net54 accounts under fictitious names that post on his site. In reality, a good portion of our commentors and readers are actually members of Net54 just like our very real source featured in this report.
As for Luckey’s banning of prominent members on his board who were critical of him, our source told us, “He’s gotten so angry and bitter that he’s banning people left and right and now Net54 is populated by idiots and crooks and rarely do you see a post from a longtime knowledgeable collector with a significant collection. And when he’s not talking about which collector he is going to assault when he sees him, he’s talking about Beckett buying Net54, he can’t believe they are going to pay $650,000 for it. That’s what he’s telling people, why do you think he’s all of a sudden talking about Beckett? He was the same with Heritage when he was begging them for a job. But, of course, they wouldn’t hire him and if he knew how the Heritage people actually talk about him he’d have a heart attack. They know he’s a low life, all the experienced collectors know it, too. So, he’s left with novices who hang on his every word. But where else can an unemployed twice convicted drug dealer get anyone to listen to him?”
Chris Olds of Beckett Media did not respond to our request to confirm or deny Beckett’s interest in purchasing Net54.
UPDATE: Luckey Responds and Source Provides Additional Information About The Banishment Of Prominent Net 54 Member
Leon Luckey responded to our report today with a post on Net54 stating, “Pretty close to the only thing true is he spelled my name correctly. I have told many close friends there would be some repercussions to the actions that needed to be taken. I will agree that unfortunately it had gotten to be about the money (somewhat) and I didn’t take these steps sooner. So far so good.”
Another source familiar with Luckey’s recent banishment of longtime Net54 member and prominent collector, John McDaniel, forwarded us the post that pushed Luckey over the edge and caused him to ban him from his forum. Several Net54 members have been publicly and privately equating Luckey’s proclivity to banish members who are critical of his actions to a form of censorship. The post that got McDaniel banned was removed by Luckey and our source saved it as a screen shot before it vanished from the website. In the post McDaniel questions Luckey’s honesty in particular regarding exchanges both had with an FBI agent working the case to recover Luckey’s stolen Peck & Snyder card. Here is the full post:
A Net54 member saved the post that got John McDaniel banned from the forum before Leon Luckey removed it from his website.
(Editor’s Note: Upon receiving information in our comments section from a reader, it appears that Chris Olds recently left Beckett. Our email was not bounced back and we will contact Beckett for comment again.)
By Peter J. Nash
October 14, 2015
-Bill Mastro was sentenced to 20 months in a Federal prison over the summer and his former IT director, William Boehm, was sentenced to probation and house arrest for lying to FBI agents about destroying Mastro’s auction records in an attempt to conceal the auction house’s long-running shill bidding schemes during an FBI investigation that commenced back in 2008.
-William Boehme is scheduled for a deposition in the next 60 days related to the California lawsuit filed against RR Auctions. When Boehm left Mastro Auctions after lying to FBI agents he went on to work as the IT director at RR Auctions and shill bidding allegations have also been made against that auction house dating back to an affidavit written by deceased RR employee Karen Burris in 2008.
-Judge Donna Geck recently issued a preliminary ruling in the Michael Johnson v. RR Auctions lawsuit in Santa Barbara, California, and the court’s website includes a document that contains some bombshell information revealing that RR Auctions and its founder, Bob Eaton, have admitted to destroying bidding records which “pertain to allegations of shill bidding” made by Johnson.
Convicted ex-Mastro IT director, William Boehm, is scheduled for a deposition in the Johnson v RR Auctions.
-Joe Orlando and Steve Grad, of PSA/DNA, are scheduled for their own depositions in the Johnson case but sources indicate their attorney Keith Attlesey (also the lawyer for RR Auctions) is concerned about Johnson posting the videos of the depositions on the RR Auction Lawsuit website and has forced Johnson’s attorneys to file motions to compel their testimony.
-Steve Grad appeared in person last summer at the Chicago Federal Courthouse where his former boss and mentor Bill Mastro was sentenced to prison time. Grad was showing support for the man who elevated him to expert status after being promoted from the mail room at Mastro Auctions in the late 1990s.
-Collectors Universe recently released its quarterly report to stockholders and indicated that the current lawsuits filed against PSA/DNA and JSA by Todd Mueller and Nelson Deedle would not adversely effect the public company’s bottom line. The report under the title of “Legal Proceedings” says, “We are named from time to time as a defendant in lawsuits that arise in the ordinary course of business. We do not believe that any of such lawsuits that are currently pending are likely to have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations.”
-Doug Allen and Mark Thoetikis, co-defendants and former employees of Bill Mastro, had their sentencing postponed again in Chicago Federal Court. The sentencing is now set for December.
Michael O'Keeffe (left) survived firings at the NYDN; Brad Horn (center) is out at the HOF; and Steve Grad (right) of PSA//DNA is still certing forgeries
-New York Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman recently cleaned house at the struggling NY newspaper by letting go of many long-time sportswriters including the late Barry Halper’s good friend and publicist Bill Madden. Also let go by the paper was Sports editor Teri Thompson who co-authored the hobby-themed book The Card with News sportswriter Michael O’Keeffe. Unlike Thompson and Madden, O’Keeffe was not relieved of his duties at the paper which has been rumored to be contemplating publishing the paper only a few days a week. Reports claim the Daily News is losing $30 million annually. One prominent journalist and card carrying member of the BBWAA told us, “If you can believe it, it looks like that SOB (O’Keeffe) avoided the ax.”
-Baseball Hall of Fame Communications Director, Brad Horn, recently denied reports that he was leaving the Hall but an inside source tells us that the HOF brass has informed employees that Brad will be leaving in May. Horn is known throughout the hobby for his “no-comments” regarding the massive thefts from the Cooperstown shrine. Horn is also known for appearing on the Collectors Universe website with a testimonial on behalf of the Hall stating, “We see the fans that collect cards and who have their own memorabilia collections come to Cooperstown with a tremendous respect for the preservation component of what we do. Our relationship with PSA and PSA/DNA has helped us give the fans the opportunity to connect with that love and passion. There is a great synergy between those who visit the Hall of Fame and those who collect and use the services of PSA and PSA/DNA.” Perhaps Horn’s successor will do a better job addressing issues like how the Hall defrauded patrons when they publicly exhibited Ken Kendrick’s trimmed T-206 Honus Wagner card and heralded it for its condition despite having information stating the card was a hobby fraud.
-Rob Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions are keeping their streak alive for offering and selling bogus autographs at auction in their new Fall 2015 sale. One of the most egregious fakes being sold is an alleged Cap Anson autograph on a vaudeville contract. Even autograph novices realize that these signatures are secreterial and have no resemblance whatsoever to genuine examples of Anson’s signature. Not surprisingly, the bogus lot comes with an LOA from PSA/DNA.
An HOS report in 2013 identified the alleged Anson vaudeville contract signatures as bogus secreterial examples that exhibited virtually no resemblance to the HOFers own handwriting (top left). Despite knowledge of this published report, auctioneer Rob Lifson of REA (right) continues to sell bogus materials.
-HOS readers will remember another fake Cap Anson signature certed by PSA and featured on our “Worst 100 Authentications of PSA and JSA.” That alleged signature was a period identification of Anson on the back of a cabinet card stolen from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection. The fake currently being sold by Lifson and REA was highlighted in a previous HOS report in 2013 that illustrated various genuine exemplars of Anson’s signature vs. the “vaudeville secreterials.”
The Anson fake being sold by REA (bottom right) and the fake featured in our 2013 report were both authenticated by PSA/DNA despite having no resemblence to the authentiic example illustrated in Ron Keurajian's book (top right). PSA certed the REA fake 2 months after our report was published.
-REA had another big-ticket fake in its current auction catalog, a single-signed Frank Chance ball authenticated by JSA and Jimmy Spence. The ball was previously sold by Rob Lifson’s ex-partner, Bill Mastro and REA says the consignor bought the ball in a Mastro sale in 1999 for $21,836.99. The alleged signed gem has been identified by several experts as a forgery that hardly resembles the handwriting of Chance who died in September of 1924. In addition, we were told that the baseball the Chance signature was forged on was manufactured after Frank Chance died. After we posted that info on Twitter it appears that this gem has been “withdrawn” from the REA sale.
-Frank Chance’s alleged signature is on a “Tober International League” baseball and we couldn’t help but notice that is the same type of ball that had another big ticket forgery sold by Lifson and REA– a $60,000 Jesse Burkett single-signed ball. Experts we spoke with believe the signatures of Chance and Burkett were penned by the same forger. It’s probably just a wild coincidence that a few of the only surviving “Tober International League” balls in excellent condition happen to feature the signatures of two of the rarest Hall of Famers. One astute observer was amused by the REA offering saying, “Take a Chance on Chance.”
Experts say these two forgeries of Frank Chance and Jesse Burkett were done by the same forger. We were also told that Frank Chance died before this Tober ball was manufactured and posted the info on Twitter (inset).
-Tober was a company that manufactured baseballs in Springfield, MA, and Hartford, CT, at the turn of the century and through the 1920s. We’re told that the ball featuring Chance’s signature was manufactured in Manchester, CT after the Cub’s “Peerless Leader” passed away. We’re also told that if the ball was signed during Chance’s lifetime it would likely be on a “Bob-Tober” ball. Look out for more on this issue in future reports.
-REA is also offering a Babe Ruth signed book that experts say is not genuine and is an easily identifiable fake. The book, which REA says originated from the Barry Halper Collection, features a forgery on the cover which resembles another Ruth forgery on a book that was recently rejected by PSA/DNA when it was submitted for a Heritage Auctions sale. JSA and Jimmy Spence authenticated the forgery on the Ruth book currently in the REA sale despite the fact that the signature has all the tell-tale signs of a bogus Babe.
The alleged Ruth signature on the Ruth book featured in the REA sale (center) has been identified as a forgery similar to a slew of fakes previously identified in HOS reports. PSA/DNA recently rejected a similar fake when it was submitted for inclusion in a Heritage sale (left).
-JSA authenticated several other items experts have identified as forgeries in the current REA sale including: an exhibit card signed by Negro Leaguers (including Oscar Charlston), a signed T-206 “Home Run” Baker card; and a Jimmie Foxx cut signature in an Upper Deck product.
The alleged signed T-206 by "Home Run" Baker (center) has been identified as a forgery by experts and REA is selling it despite warnings in Ron Keurajian's book which features a genuine post-stroke signature of Baker (right). The real autograph was sent to a collector by Mrs. Baker in 1962 (right).
-Frank “Home Run” Baker may have signed some T-206 cards but experts say the example in REA’s sale is also a phony. Supporting that claim is author Ron Keurajian’s book which illustrates a genuine “post-stroke” signature that was sent by Baker’s wife to a collector in 1962. Signed T-206’s are very popular and valuable but many on the market are fakes including this Baker which is laughable but currently has an “honest-auto bid” of close to $5,000. As some say, “There’s a sucker born every REA catalog.” We’re guessing REA has a copy of Keurajian’s book and that just makes these offerings even more pathetic.
REAs Al Reach letter lot includes a portrait of the pioneer that fits the description of an example stolen from the NYPL (center). A negative of the stolen photo (right) helped prove that the middle example was stolen.
-REA also has one curious item in a lot featuring a signed letter by baseball pioneer Al Reach. Auctioneer Rob Lifson and REA are quite vague as to whether the letter is accompanied by a genuine cabinet photo of Reach or a modern reproduction of an original. This is curious because the image REA features on its website is too small to enlarge but appears to be a cabinet photo of Reach that was stolen from the New York Public Library and sold previously by Barry Halper, Mastro and Wolfers Auctions. HOS has written about the stolen Reach photos extensively and also about Rob Lifson’s history as a library thief. Hopefully, REA will reveal whether the photo is an original and post a hi-res image of the Reach portrait.
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.
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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