By Peter J. Nash
April 17, 2014
After attempting to sell an alleged “Game Used” Shoeless Joe Jackson Black Betsy bat without mentioning specifically that MEARS and PSA/DNA were at odds over whether it was actually game used, REA and Rob Lifson posted an addendum to the premiere auction lot in its current sale stating that, “No game use can be determined.”
REA and Lifson now try to say that they can’t be “100% sure” that the bat was game used by Jackson but they fail to note that there isn’t even 1% of a chance Jackson ever held the bat in his hands.
Lifson and REA have now backtracked from their claims of “Game Use” made on ESPN and appear to now be at odds with the letter opinion provided by PSA/DNA. The reversal of REA’s original position, however, does not address the fact that PSA/DNA still has no evidence whatsoever to support its claims of game use by Jackson. So, although REA now claims that Jackson game use cannot be determined, they still see fit to keep the bat in the auction. In addition, by leaving the lot in the sale, REA and Lifson are violating their own auction rules and regulations by selling an item that has two conflicting letters issued by authentication companies.
As presented in the REA catalog as rule number “17″ devoted to “Grading, condition, authenticity and warranty of lots,” REA and Lifson state:
“There will always be experts that will have differing opinions. In many cases more than one authentication service has reviewed a given item. As has always been the case at REA, in all cases where the retained authenticators were not in unanimous agreement regarding authenticity, those items were not accepted for auction.”
Based upon their own rules, REA should never have allowed the Jackson bat into the auction in the first place. But not only did they accept the consignment, they also falsely claimed in the lot description that MEARS and Troy Kinunen had agreed with John Taube and Vince Malta of PSA/DNA that the bat was “game used” by Jackson. That claim by REA was entirely false and appears to have been written in a manner to deceive bidders. By posting an addendum to the lot REA does not go far enough in addressing the authenticity issues with this bat and REA’s violation of its own rules and regulations.
All of this comes from Lifson and REA who also claim in their auction rules to be interested in “protecting the integrity of the auction process.”
In addition to concealing the true opinion of MEARS in the original lot description, REA also concealed the provenance of the “Black Betsy” style bat which is also accompanied by a third expert letter of opinion issued by SCD Authentic in 2004. That letter, which REA chose not to include on the auction site, accompanied the bat in 2004 when it was sold by Vintage Authentics which is operated by Steve Jensen, the dealer who was recently convicted in a Federal case that charged him with selling fake “game used” memorabilia.
The Jackson bat currently for sale at REA appeared in a 2004 Vintage Authentics auction graded A10 by SCD and was featured (and illustrated) in an SCD article written by Dave Bushing.
Jensen and Vintage Authentics appeared linked to the same Black Betsy bat in a 2004 article published in Sports Collectors Digest and written by bat and equipment expert Dave Bushing. In the article Bushing describes the bat (which is also illustrated) and never indicates “game use” by Joe Jackson stating that, “There (was) no player name on the barrel and no provenance aside from photographs of Jackson with the exact style bat.” The bat was scheduled to be part of Jensen’s Fall 2004 auction which specialized in game used items. Jensen told Bushing at the time, “Since they (SCD Authentic) started grading all of their game used bats, the amount of game used material in our auction has tripled.” At the time, Bushing and Troy Kinunen were the bat experts working for SCD Authentic.
Hauls of Shame contacted Jensen at his Vintage Authentics offices in Minnesota and he remembered having the same bat and was surprised that PSA was now claiming “game use” by Jackson. Jensen said the bat sold in his 2004 auction for “about $20,000.” Said Jensen, “It would be a big leap of faith to say that. It (the bat) didn’t have anything written on it, no Jackson name to say it was game used or even his.” Jensen sold the bat with the SCD Authentic letter that accompanies the bat in the REA sale today. It appears that the dealer who is currently serving three years probation for his recent guilty plea is more on point in his analysis of the bat than REA and the so-called experts John Taube and Vince Malta at PSA/DNA. Jensen added in disbelief, “So, somehow this bat got another letter and became game used?”
PSA/DNA’s current letter of opinion stating that the bat was game used by Jackson is dated September 23, 2013, and it is unclear if it was submitted by the consignor or REA for its current auction. Both PSA and PSA/DNA have faced accusations that they give big clients and major auction houses preferential treatment when it comes to issuing high grades and determinations of authenticity and game use. The letter of opinion issued for this Black Betsy bat is representative of what many identify as PSA/DNA’s questionable business practices. The fact that there is no clear-cut evidence whatsoever supporting PSA’s claim of game use for Jackson just supports the worst fears of many hobby insiders and collectors who rely on PSA opinions.
PSA President Joe Orlando (left) says that his experts would never "stretch the truth" but that's exactly what John Taube (center) did with the Black Betsy bat consignment to REA.
REA’s submission of the bat to PSA/DNA in itself is problematic when considering all of Rob Lifson’s claims that his auction house is above board and beyond reproach in virtually every category. In this case, by the time the bat was consigned, Lifson was already aware of the MEARS opinion stating that the bat was nothing more than a professional model H&B bat with a Black Betsy finish. Knowing this, Lifson did exactly what he said his auction house would never do, shop for a positive opinion on an item. In REA’s own auction criteria they claim:
“REA does not compromise on the quality of authentication for the sake of “getting items in the auction.” We use only the best authenticators, and do not “work the authentication system,” shopping for a positive opinion on items (what we call “the mix ‘n match” approach to authentication). Inferior and deceptive “authentication” practices, which are so common in the industry, can reflect poorly on all items in the auction, including yours. Robert Edward Auctions does not cut corners on authentication. Bidders know this and appreciate this. REA’s approach to authentication on all items reflects positively on all lots in the auction.”
Not only have REA and Lifson violated their own regulations regarding conflicting opinions but they also have, in essence, done what they said they would never do, shopped for an opinion that would turn a generic pro-model H&B bat into one of the hobby’s holy grails— a “Shoeless” Joe Jackson game used bat. PSA/DNA appear to have been only too happy to oblige in providing a fraudulent letter of opinion alleging game use by Jackson.
Perhaps experts Taube and Malta should read their boss Joe Orlando’s blog post from 2009 entitled Stretching the Truth. On the subject of misrepresenting artifacts, Orlando wrote:
“Keep in mind that there are great items that are wonderful on their own merit AND they come with great provenance or significance. They do exist but, since they are rare, the greed factor is pushing some sellers into misrepresentation. They want to make a great item even better and more appealing than it already is. Sometimes, when things get tough, people get desperate. Is the tough economy possibly playing a role? It certainly isn’t helping matters but I am sure there may be a lot of factors at work. As a lifelong hobbyist, it is frustrating to see this occur. It not only helps devalue the truly great items in the marketplace but it also may scare off new people from collecting altogether. The reality is that there are plenty of incredible and completely authentic items to buy if you are interested in starting a collection. Sure, some items are incredibly scarce but that is no excuse for sellers to stretch the truth and ruin a good thing.”
Orlando signed off on his post saying, “Never get cheated.” That’s fitting, because his own expert employees Taube and Malta are the culprits who have stretched the truth here and, in turn, have cheated the current high-bidder on the Black-Eye Betsy bat still for sale at REA.
Any way you slice it, it’s $50,000 down the drain.
By Peter J. Nash
April 4, 2014
(Scroll to end of article for updates)
Heritage Auctions recently sold a game-used Hillerich & Bradsby baseball bat they say was swung by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in 1911 when he hit .408 as a rookie. Sources indicate that movie mogul Thomas Tull was the buyer of the bat which has the name “Joe Jackson” burned into its barrel and also side-written in grease pencil by H&B employees. Tull dropped close to a million bucks for the historic lumber that the bat experts at PSA/DNA call, “The only Joe Jackson bat in existence that is factory documented as being game used.”
Now, just a month after that record-breaking sale, Robert Edward Auctions is selling another alleged Jackson artifact with game use—one of his famous “Black Betsy” bats. This bat, however, doesn’t have Jackson’s name burned into the wood or written in grease pencil. To the naked eye, its just a prototype of a Dead-Ball era bat with a “black betsy” finish administered to its surface.
Despite that fact, the experts from PSA/DNA say this one was owned by Jackson and REA’s president, Rob Lifson, goes even further suggesting that Shoeless Joe may have used the bat in the infamous World Series of 1919. Lifson even sent his employee Brian Dwyer on to the set of ESPN’s “Mint Condition” to show it off and tell host Cary Chow that, “He (Jackson) could have very well used it in the 1919 World Series.” Chow responded, “Which I assume has got to boost the value?”
REA's Brian Dwyer brought the alleged Joe Jackson "Black Betsy" bat on to the set of ESPN's "Mint Condition" and made unfounded claims the bat was game used by Jackson.
Bingo! Dwyer told Chow the bat was “game used” just like the million dollar Heritage bat. The REA offering also comes with a letter of authenticity from PSA/DNA bat experts John Taube and Vince Malta who claim the war club was “authentic and game used by Jackson.” The PSA opinion catapults this bat into an exclusive category far removed from examples which can only be “attributed to Shoeless Joe Jackson.” These “attributed” examples that have been examined by PSA/DNA have historically fetched prices in the $10,000-20,000 range—a far cry from Heritage’s million-dollar Jackson gamer.
But although REA and PSA/DNA have christened the bat as “game used,” it significantly differs from the Heritage bat which was actually cracked via game-use by Jackson and sent back to the Hillerich & Bradsby factory in Louisville, Kentucky. Unlike the alleged Black Betsy featured in the REA catalog, the Heritage bat has an H&B provenance and was handled by an H&B employee who added the “Joe Jackson” name on the barrel and the vault marking “J13″ on the knob and barrel head. The rest is memorabilia history.
The 1911 Jackson bat sold by Heritage came with a PSA/DNA letter detailing two "J13" vault markings and the "Joe Jackson" name burned into the barrel. In contrast, the alleged Jackson bat being offered by REA is blank without the "J13" marks or Jackson name.
Although the 1911 Jackson rookie-bat is said to be one of the rarest baseball artifacts in existence, REA is hoping that their bat follows in its footsteps with a blessing from the boys at PSA/DNA. According to the experts, the REA bat is “one of only six Joe Jackson game used bats in private hands known to exist” and auctioneer Rob Lifson claims in the lot description that “the offered bat is VIRTUALLY IDENTICAL to what is generally regarded as the finest Joe Jackson pro-model bat in the hobby,” the 1911 bat that just sold at Heritage for $956,000. In addition, Lifson says that Troy Kinunen of MEARS, who also filed a report on the bat, states that the bat is a “100% verifiable game-used Black Betsy bat.”
But how could the bat be “VIRTUALLY IDENTICAL” if it doesn’t even feature “Shoeless” Joe’s name or the H&B factory vault markings?
It ain’t so. And it’s not even close.
Upon reviewing the images of the bat and reading the fine print in the REA catalog, its clear that this “Black Betsy” offering has no verifiable provenance and no identifying markings that show the bat was made for or used by Jackson. There is no script or block-letter name burned into the barrel or even a grease pencil factory notation with Jackson’s name written upon its return to the H&B factory.
Period photos show that "Shoeless" Joe Jackson used the two-tone "Black-Betsy" style bat during his entire MLB career from 1908 to 1920. The bat appearing below the photos is an H&B Jackson "Black Betsy" signature model that originated from a 1980's "find" at the Louisville Slugger factory.
In an attempt to minimize the lack of a Jackson identification on the bat, REA notes in its lot description: “Both PSA/DNA and MEARS emphasize in their respective letters (sic) that aside from Jackson, few other major league players used a “Black Betsy” bat, and of those who did, their bat specifications (size, weight, knob, barrel dimensions etc.) were noticeably different than Jackson’s.” PSA also added, “The ‘Black Betsy’ finish, though not unique to Jackson, was very rare on professional players’ bats.”
Despite the confidence the auction house has in PSA/DNA’s definitive assertions, Hauls of Shame couldn’t get past this particular claim of “Black Betsy” game use without further examining the veracity of REA’s claims. We’re not sure what resources the companies utilized in preparing their reports, but in one day of reviewing auction websites, BlackBetsy.com, the Library of Congress photo archive and even the MEARS website, we found substantial photographic evidence illustrating that many players other than Joe Jackson used what appears to be the exact same “Black Betsy” style bat.
Researcher and Joe Jackson historian, Mike Nola, who operates BlackBetsy.com, told us, “I am not sure how anyone can attribute the REA (bat) as having been game-used by Joe Jackson. There were many players during that era that ordered Jackson style bats with thick handles and darkly stained.”
Other players used what appears to be a "Black Betsy" style bat including(Clockwise): Bob Fothergill; a White Sox batboy; Bob Killifer; Glenn Killinger(NY Giants); Carl Mays; Buck Weaver; Rabbit Maranville; Joe Jackson; Nap Lajoie & Walton Cruise (St Louis); Ray Schalk; Dave Robertson; Maranville and Swede Risberg.
Nola provided us with an image of Jackson’s teammate, Buck Weaver, using such a bat and even PSA/DNA has stated that they’ve examined two bats with a “Black Betsy” finish attributed to Hank Gowdy and Chick Gandil. However, the PSA/DNA “Leter of Grading and Authenticity” says that Gowdy and Gandil “did not use the J13 model and both players had endorsement contracts with Hillerich & Bradsby, indicating bats produced for them bearing their branded facsimile signature on the barrel.” In conclusion, PSA claims, “This bat (in REA) was manufactured for Joe Jackson.”
In addition to Joe Jackson, his White Sox teammates Hap Felsch and Swede Risberg also used Black Betsy style bats. PSA notes that they have examined another similar finish on a Chick Gandil bat they previously authenticated.
How could the experts at PSA/DNA make such a definitive claim considering all of the images existing of players other than Jackson who were swinging what appears to be the same model bat? In regard to H&B player endorsements, Louisville Slugger Museum curator Nathan Stalvey told us that the Museum and H&B factory have only one document related to Joe Jackson and its his 1915 endorsement contract for his own branded signature on bats.
And speaking of Jackson’s White Sox teammate, Chick Gandil, what about additional photos we found showing that his other teammates Hap Felsch and Swede Risberg appear to be holding (along with Jackson) the same two-tone Black Betsy style bats as well?
Back in 2011, Robert Edward Auctions offered a different Black Betsy style bat which sold for a modest $18,800 because it was advertised only as a “1916-1917 “Black Betsy Bat Attributed to Joe Jackson.” The same bat was also sold by Mastro Auctions in 2008 for over $25,000. The bat had something in common with the current REA Jackson bat offering in that it also had no identifiable markings that linked the lumber to ownership or game use by Jackson.
In the lot description REA sang a different tune clearly stating nothing more than attribution: “Because there are basically no available H&B records predating 1920, and the fact that Jackson’s name is not stamped on the barrel (there is no barrel stamping as this is how Jackson’s “Black Betsy” models were produced), MEARS has conservatively graded and evaluated this bat as a “Black Betsy” bat with attribution to Joe Jackson.”
The REA Black Betsy "attributed" to Shoeless Joe Jackson sold for $18,000 in 2011 while a "Game Used" version currently being offered by REA has a reserve price of $50,000. Both bats are nearly identical and have no markings linking then to Jackson.
As far as we could tell, there is virtually no discernible difference between this 2011 REA offering “attributed” to Jackson and the current REA bat being offered as a “Black Betsy” gamer. In fact, the MEARS letter posted on the current REA auction site identifies the bat as a “Professional Model” that is only “attributed to Joe Jackson.”
In their letter of opinion, MEARS never says the bat was game used by Jackson and when we asked Troy Kinunen what he thought about the “game-used” claim made by PSA he replied, “The title of the item in my letter (of opinion) speaks for itself.” Kinunen believes the bat is a 100% authentic “Black Betsy” model, but by no means a 100% authentic bat actually swung by Jackson.
Kinunen’s letter of opinion for the 2011 REA “Black Betsy” bat is also consistent with his current stance. He said, “There are no known catalogs, records, or ledgers showing other players being offered the Black Betsy model bat in these dimensions with a blank barrel, but it is possible. We know that other players did use bats with the black betsy finish, but those examples were found with the players name stamped on the barrel.”
Again, Kinunen’s statements do not address the recent photographic evidence we have compiled showing that many more MLB players utilized the same dark finish on their own Black Betsy style bats, including Jackson’s own teammates. Unlike PSA/DNA, however, Kinunen does not claim that he can put the bat in Jackson’s hand at any time between 1919-1922.
Troy Kinnunen of MEARS (left) says the REA bat is just "attributed to" Joe Jackson while John Taube (center) and Vince Malta (right) of PSA/DNA say it was "game-used by Jackson. Vince Malta of PSA/DNA has authored a reference guide for Louisville Slugger bats.
MEARS clrearly states that the current REA bat is a game used pro-model “Black Betsy” that could have been used by any Major Leaguer, but Rob Lifson chose to highlight Kinunnen’s statement that it is “a 100% verifiable game used Black Betsy bat.” In what can only be described as an exercise in deceptive creating writing, Lifson attempts to couple Kinnunen’s statement with the PSA opinion to elevate the bat to game-used status without ever mentioning that the actual MEARS letter fails to say the bat was ever game used by Jackson.
When Lifson sold the 2011 bat that was merely “attributed to Joe Jackson” bidders and collectors had the final word and the bat sold for only $18,800. Meanwhile, the current alleged “game used” Black Betsy bat in the REA auction has a hefty reserve and opening bid price of $50,000. Why?
It’s that one line in the PSA/DNA report where Taube and Malta say REA’s bat “was game used by Jackson during the referenced labeling.” With one sentence, it appears that the PSA experts have transformed a rather generic relic from the Dead-Ball era into one of the hobby’s holy grails.
It appears that PSA/DNA is relying solely on their comparisons of this bat to other alleged authentic Jackson “Black Betsy” bats they have examined, including the million dollar Jackson “rookie bat.” PSA/DNA in its letter states that the bat itself is a “J13″ model although “no model number appears on the bat.” But PSA also states that “the handle, knob, and barrel dimensions conform to the vault marked and side written J13 Joe Jackson bat that appears in our database.” In addition, PSA reveals that they also factored in their opinion that “the length of the bat (at 35.5 in.) matches the vault marked J13 and the weight at 40.1 ounces today is in the range of weights of the three Jackson bats noted below.” Having compared the bats they conclude that “the dimensions as well as the “Black Betsy” finish also duplicate three Joe Jackson professional model bats in our database.”
This 1915 letter sent to Joe Jackson by H&B shows that Jackson requested bats at a reduced weight.
But with no factory records available, how can there be any definitive determination made based upon the length, width and weight of the suspect bats? While there are no known period records at H&B for pre-1920 Jackson orders, there does exist one letter sent to Jackson from H&B in 1915 which actually shows that Jackson was changing the weight of his bats during that season. The document shows that Jackson requested three bats to be made at a lesser weight than his previous orders (the actual weight is not specified in the letter.) In response, H&B sent him those bats but noted it was “a very hard proposition to get good driving wood in the weights that (Jackson) asked for.” So, in addition, the bat company also sent Jackson, via Wells Fargo Express, three bats which were made “from the weight that (Jackson) formerly used.” H&B suggested that if Jackson would “continue to use this weight bat,” as opposed to his recent order of reduced weight bats, he would ultimately have “much better results.”
We don’t know what Jackson chose to do after he received that order of reduced weight bats. We do not know what his ordering preferences were from 1911 to 1915, nor do we know the changes he may have requested later in his MLB career from 1916 through 1920. The existence of this letter underscores the fact that the bat authenticators at PSA/DNA can’t be sure of anything when it comes to pre-1920 H&B player bats. While Taube and Malta have made considerable research contributions that help collectors date H&B bats and determine whether bats are professional or store models, most of their conclusions regarding game-used bats are nothing more than guess work and hyperbole. Joe Jackson could have used hundreds of H&B bats during his baseball career and its virtually impossible for the bat experts to say with certainty that a bat they’ve examined was actually held in his hands in the course of a baseball game.
Based upon their research, PSA experts Vince Malta and John Taube have established the manufacturing date of the current REA Jackson bat as “1919-1922″ and the “attributed” Jackson bat sold at REA in 2011 as dating from “1916-1917.” Since both of those bats do not have Jackson’s name burned in the barrel, both PSA/DNA and MEARS have theorized that Jackson’s bats during this period were blank.
What is even more troubling about these more recent determinations by the bat experts is a report they filed in 2008 when they authenticated another Jackson “Black Betsy” bat for SCP Auctions and Sotheby’s. That offering is proof that John Taube already knew of the existence of a professional autograph model of Jackson’s “Black Betsy” bat. That same bat was offered with a PSA/DNA report as a “1917-1921″ H&B pro model featuring Jackson’s name burned into the barrel appearing as a script “Joe Jackson” signature with a trade mark designation underneath. The bat had long been considered the only known authentic Jackson “Black Betsy” bat in existence dating back to its first public sale by Lelands in 1994 as part of the Dennis Goldstein Collection.
Although PSA and MEARS are currently certifying blank barrel H&B "Black Betsy" bats as Joe Jackson gamers, the autograph model offered by Lelands in 1994 and SCP in 2008 stands in direct conflict with their opinions.
The Lelands catalog described the bat as the “only authentic Joe Jackson bat from his Major League playing days ever to be offered for public sale. The true Black Betsy is a Louisville Slugger 125 with dot-dash-dot labeling.” Lelands also noted that the 35.5 inch and 40 ounce bat actually had a verifiable provenance and “came directly from the famed Hillerich & Bradsby find” in 1979. Lelands said the bats were “discovered in the yard of Hillerich & Bradsby and sold by a company executive.” The bat was sold to current SABR VP and author Bill Nowlin as “the only known verifiably authentic Joe Jackson game used bat.”
At the time the “Black Betsy” sold in 1994 there was no recognized entity that authenticated bats outside of hobby equipment experts Dan Knoll and Dave Bushing. It was during that time period that Joe Jackson bats became a prime target for forgery and fraud. At the time, New York Yankee partner and collector Barry Halper claimed to own a game used Jackson “Black Betsy” and said he purchased it from the sluggers widow at her home in the 1950’s along with his 1919 White Sox jersey. Both of those items were sold by Halper to MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame as part of an $8.5 million acquisition of Halper’s top artifacts in 1998, but after a Hauls Of Shame investigative report was published in 2010, it was determined that the jersey was a forgery constructed with elements produced after Jackson’s playing days and the alleged “Black Betsy” was nothing more than a Spalding store model bat that was never used or owned by Jackson.
Barry Halper claimed to own Jackson's Black Betsy bat but the example he sold to MLB and the Hall of Fame was bogus and nothing more than a Spalding store model bat. Halper had Billy Martin swing the bat in a film about his collection and the 1998 purchase of the bat was celebrated in the press by Bill Madden of the Daily News (Inset)
If the Hall of Fame had done their due diligence, they would have discovered that by 1998, the only recognized authentic Joe Jackson bat belonged to Rounder Records founder, Bill Nowlin. Nowlin’s bat was even publicly displayed as the only known Jackson example along with others from his collection at the Ted Williams Museum in Florida. The bat was displayed at the museum for several years until Nowlin decided to sell the bat for close to $300,000 in the 2008 SCP/Sotheby’s auction. At the time of that sale PSA/DNA issued a report and letter of authenticity for the bat SCP/Sotheby’s described as “one of only two known bats and the only full name signature model manufactured by Louisville Slugger Inc. that can be attributed to being used by Joe Jackson during his active Major League career.” The other bat referenced was the 1911 side written bat sold at Heritage.
Now, in 2014, Robert Edward Auctions says that the “rarity of an authentic Joe Jackson bat cannot be overstated” and that both PSA/DNA and MEARS now claim that there are “six Joe Jackson game used bats in private hands.” According to Lifson and the experts, the population of this ultra rare “game used” artifact has tripled since the sale of Bill Nowlin’s Black Betsy model at SCP/Sotheby’s just six years ago.
Bill Nowlin shows Ted Williams his Jackson "Black Betsy" in a story by SCD. The bat was exhibited for several years at the Ted Williams Hitters Museum in Florida. Nowlin believed that his bat was the only on verifiably "game used."
To illustrate just how far the auctioneers and authenticators are willing to push the envelope in the unregulated memorabilia industry we point to Rob Lifson’s own 2005 endorsement of SCD Authentic’s “Grading Scale For Bats.” Lifson’s views on game used bats nine years ago starkly contrast his current stance working with PSA/DNA and MEARS. Back then, Lifson believed that although the bats he was offering his customers “were most likely game-used bats, there was no way to know with certainty the precise history of any given game bat.” Lifson added that, “There was no way to know if perhaps a given bat was used only in batting practice, or given away as a gift, having never been used at all, or borrowed by another player for use.” Lifson was correct in his determination that, “It can often be very difficult or impossible to distinguish game-used bats from those intended for use but never actually used by the player in a Major League game.” Nine years later, Lifson and REA are willing to say that the Joe Jackson style bat has verifiable game use and suggest that he may have used it in the 1919 World Series.
In his 2005 endorsement of SCD Authentic's bat grading services, REA's Rob Lifson expressed views on "game used" bats that starkly contrast his current auction policies.
Knowing that he has conflicting reports issued by two experts with different opinions, Lifson has done everything in his power to conceal that fact from the general public who have seen the bat touted on ESPN as an unquestioned Shoeless Joe gamer. Like all auctioneers, Lifson and REA will ultimately hide behind the opinion of their third-party authenticator and plead ignorance when it comes to the process of evaluating bats and explaining the conflicting opinions of his two expert reports. REA does include slightly out of focus and grainy images of the MEARS letter of opinion on its website, so collectors who read the information carefully can see the fraud that REA is attempting to perpetrate with the aid of PSA/DNA. Yes, for PSA and REA to say the bat being offered is a game used Jackson bat is outright and intentional fraud. Neither PSA or REA have any evidence to back up their claims and the existence of the MEARS opinion should have put both on notice that a “game-used” designation would be highly problematic.
The REA bat for sale is not a new hobby discovery as it was publicly displayed at the MEARS booth at the National Convention in 2012 as a consignment to MEARS and comes with an c.2005 LOA from SCD Authentic that REA does not post on its auction site. Troy Kinunen told Hauls of Shame this week that the bat was consigned to MEARS but never sold. ”We never owned or purchased that bat and we returned it to the consignor.” MEARS issued their letter of opinion on July 27, 2012 and the owner at that time was fully aware that Kinunen had determined that the bat was not game used by Jackson. It wasn’t until the bat was submitted to PSA/DNA on September 23, 2013, that the bat transformed into an iconic baseball artifact.
REA fails to mention that the MEARS letter of opinion for the Jackson "Black Betsy" fails to cite "game use." The bat first surfaced as a consignment to MEARS at the 2012 National where it was displayed at the MEARS booth.
Hauls of Shame contacted PSA/DNA expert John Taube to ask for an explanation of his determination that REA’s Black Betsy style bat was actually used by Jackson in Major League games, but he did not return calls for comment. We also contacted Vince Malta at his San Francisco realty office, but Malta did not return our calls requesting an interview.
Like the other bat authenticators including Troy Kinunen and Dave Bushing, John Taube also buys and sells bats as a dealer and is the owner of J. T. Sports, a company he founded in 1991, before he started working for PSA/DNA. Taube was originally authenticating bats for Grey Flannel Auctions when PSA entered an agreement with the company to start a bat authentication division. Bats were sent to Grey Flannel for authentication by Taube and Vince Malta who would issue a PSA/DNA letter of authenticity. At the time PSA President Joe Orlando told SCD, “The combination of PSA’s brand name, John Taube and Vince Malta’s expertise and Grey Flannel’s hobby presence form an unrivaled service.”
PSA/DNA issued an LOA stating that REA's Black Betsy bat was "game used" by Joe Jackson. PSA authenticator John Taube (center) also buys and sells bats through his company J.T. Sports.
Having buyers, sellers and dealers in positions as the “experts” who are also authenticating their own material is a system riddled with conflicts of interest. PSA stipulated that their autograph authenticators divest their interests as dealers but they have not made the same request with Taube and Malta. It’s a dangerous proposition for experts to be in such a position to make or break artifacts that could be worth upwards of a million dollars with their seal of approval. The current REA Jackson bat is a prime example of the big flaws in the system and clear-cut evidence of bats being fraudulently authenticated and sold. One industry source told us the REA Jackson bat could have ramifications beyond this one sale. He said, “This has the very real potential to call into question the value of both collections and personal and professional reputations.”
When it comes to bats, collectors put their faith in the experts and auction house executives expecting they are not being taken advantage of. When Bill Nowlin bought his own Black Betsy at Lelands in 1994 he relied solely on Lelands’ representation that the bat was genuine and that it came from the original 1980’s Louisville Slugger “find.” Nowlin, a renowned SABR baseball researcher, never thought to research the bat himself and looking back now says, “I should have asked for more information at the time.” Nowlin got lucky picking up his own Black Betsy since it appears to be the genuine article, but he wasn’t as lucky with others. ”I later learned that one or two other bats I bought from dealers were not legitimate,” says Nowlin.
This H&B pro model black betsy style bat was purchased at a yard sale and is the spitting image of the bat REA is currently offering. It's further proof that the experts at PSA/DNA have no evidence to claim the REA bat is "game used." (Courtesy BlackBetsy.com)
While writing this article we were contacted again by Mike Nola at BlackBetsy.com and he passed along some images that were sent to him of a Black Betsy style bat that was purchased in a yard sale and looks exactly like the bat being offered by REA. Nola told us. “The yard sale bat has about as much potential as being used by Joe Jackson as the REA bat does. They both are Joe Jackson style bats, with blank barrels, both appear to be professional model bats, both have similar specs to a Joe Jackson gamer, but so do other bats ordered by players other than Joe Jackson.” For Nola and many other collectors we spoke with the PSA/DNA determination of game use lacks any credibility. Nola summed up the situation saying, “There is just too much reasonable doubt here for me or anyone else in their right mind to pay more than $1,500 or so for either of these bats.”
At the time this article was published the fraudulent REA Jackson bat already had two bids and stands at $55,000. Calls to REA president Rob Lifson for an explanation as to why he and PSA/DNA are trying to pass off the generic Black Betsy as game used were not returned.
Who knows, maybe the yard sale purchaser can send his bat into REA on consignment. We hear they can turn “Shoeless Joe” stuff into gold.
UPDATE (Mon. April 7th): High Bid of $55,000 Retracted on REA’s Fraudulent Shoeless Joe Jackson Bat; REA Said MEARS Expert Certed Black Betsy Bat As “Game Used” When He Didn’t; When Will Misrepresented Bat Be Removed From Sale?
Since the time this article was published last week, the high bid of $55,000 appears to have been removed or retracted for Robert Edward Auction’s premier lot, the alleged “game used” Shoeless Joe Jackson bat. A call to the auction house this morning for details on the lot’s downward turn was not returned.
REA not only tried to conceal the fact that the PSA/DNA and MEARS reports clashed, they lied outright and said MEARS called the bat "game used" when they didn't.
A Hauls of Shame reader also pointed out that REA and Rob Lifson didn’t just attempt to conceal the fact that the PSA/DNA and MEARS reports clashed, they actually lied and wrote that MEARS certified the bat as “game used” along with PSA/DNA when they did not in their 2012 letter of opinion. MEARS expert Troy Kinunen did not return calls and emails requesting comment on REA’s false claim regarding his opinion. REA officials did not respond to our inquiry as to whether the bat would be removed from the sale.
UPDATE (April 7th 4:25 PM): Auction Adds Addendum to Joe Jackson Bat Lot; REA Now Says No Way To Prove Game Use:
Late this afternoon REA posted this addendum on Lot 3, the alleged Shoeless Joe Jackson “game used” bat:
While MEARS has authenticated and graded this bat as a “Game used Black Betsy model bat attributed to have been used by Joe Jackson” and PSA DNA has authenticated and graded the bat as a “Black Betsy professional model bat that is “authentic and was game used by Jackson during the referenced labeling”, REA does not believe there is any way to prove with certainty (as is the case with virtually all vintage bats attributed to use by any player) actual game use by Joe Jackson.
The addendum represents a 360-degree turn-around for REA and Rob Lifson who appear to be siding with the more conservative determination made by MEARS as opposed to the fraudulent determination made by PSA/DNA that the bat was “game used” by Joe Jackson. PSA/DNA has no evidence whatsoever that can put the bat in Jackson’s hands at any time during his career. Although REA has posted the addendum, they have still not corrected the line in the lot description which falsely claims that MEARS said the bat was game used by Jackson and one of only six game used examples known to exist.
By Peter J. Nash
March 17, 2014
Nuf Ced McGreevy was grinning in this photo traveling with the 1907 Red Sox to a Spring Training game in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He'd likely be smiling today knowing that his stolen photo has been recovered by the BPL.
As officials at the New York Public Library sit back and watch as the stolen baseball artifacts donated by pioneer Albert Goodwill Spalding are given away to memorabilia peddlers by the FBI and US Attorneys, officials at the Boston Public Library have recovered yet another treasure from the donated collection of baseball’s greatest fan, Michael T. “Nuf Ced” McGreevy.
As documented in a McGreevy biography contributed by this writer to the new SABR book, New Century New Team: The 1901 Boston Americans, close to one-third of the BPL’s “McGreevey Collection” was stolen in the late 1970s. Over the past few decades, however, many recoveries have been made, and thanks to an honest collector, another photo that used to hang on the wall at Nuf Ced’s original “3rd Base Saloon” has been recovered by library officials. The oversize sepia photograph is one of the true gems of McGreevy’s treasure-trove and shows him accompanying Jimmy Collins, “Chick” Stahl, Cy Young and the rest of the 1907 Red Sox on a trolley headed to a Spring Training game at Hot Springs, Arkansas. The recovered photograph also appears in the new SABR book edited by Bill Nowlin.
The photograph was reproduced in a 1907 edition of the Boston Herald and was also publicly displayed in a Filene’s Department Store window in 1939 to celebrate baseball’s mythical 100th birthday. The silver-gelatin print was recently identified by its owner as one of McGreevy’s lost pictures. The BPL oval stamp had been erased and defaced to conceal the library ownership, but when the collector realized what he possessed was stolen property he decided to return the antique image to its rightful owner and asked that his identity not be revealed.
The long-lost BPL photo of Nuf Ced and the 1907 Red Sox was recently returned to the library by a collector. The photo last appeared publicly in a Filene's store window in 1939 (see red outline, right).
In turning over the rare photo the collector took a total loss on the item that has an estimated value of at least $5,000. It is not known what his purchase price was but sources indicate that the stolen photo was once in the possession of deceased New York Yankee partner Barry Halper. The photograph also appeared for sale in an advertisement placed by T & K Sports Memorabilia of Fall River, MA, in Sports Collectors Digest in October of 1984.
The BPL photo "In Training at Hot Springs 1907" appeared in a 1984 SCD advertisement (left and inset) placed by T & K Memorabilia of Fall River, Mass. The photo was offered with at least six other cabinet photos stolen from the McGreevy Collection.
BPL Print Department representative, Aaron Schmidt, confirmed for Haulsofshame.com that the photograph had been returned to the library and was added to the BPL’s Flikr page featuring McGreevy’s entire collection (minus approximately 35 photos still missing).
The McGreevy scrapbooks at the BPL show a Boston Herald clipping of the same photo which was published sometime in March, 1907, during spring training and reveals that the BPL photo may also include the last known image of Sox manager "Chick" Stahl who committed suicide on March 28, 1907 (Courtesy BPL).
It appears that the photograph at one time was misidentified as dating from 1906, but the same photo was published in the Boston Herald in March of 1907. McGreevy’s donated scrapbook contains the original clipping that identifies the Red Sox are headed to a game from their hotel in Little Rock. The handwritten entry in the scrapbook dates the Herald issue as being published on March 6, 1907, but this date has not been verified. The haunting photo is one of the last known images taken of Red Sox manager “Chick” Stahl who would commit suicide three weeks later by drinking four ounces of carbolic acid.
In recent times the BPL has recovered other important photographs including one of “Nig” Cuppy from 1901 and another of Jimmy Collins posing with boxer John L. Sullivan in 1904. The Collins photograph was traced back to the collection of Barry Halper as was another recovered photo of Collins and three Red Sox teammates which appeared in a Lelands auction. That same photo, which is currently featured on the cover of the SABR book New Century New Team, also appeared for sale in an 1984 SCD ad from T & K Memorabilia and was later identified as BPL property in a 2000 Lelands sale by baseball researcher and collector Bob Richardson.
A photo of the 1901 Red Sox was stolen from the BPL's McGreevey Collection and appeared in a 2000 Lelands auction (left). The same photo was returned to the library and appears on the cover of the new SABR book "New Century, New Team: The 1901 Boston American." (right).
The 1901 spring training photo featuring Jimmy Collins, Fred Parent, Hobe Ferris and Buck Freeman was removed from the Lelands sale and returned to the BPL after Richardson informed the library the photo was stolen from the McGreevey Collection. The Lelands “Charlie Sheen Auction” lot description even described the McGreevy provenance of the photo stating: “Back is stamped, “The McGreevy Collection, Gift of March 28, 1923.” Prior to appearing in the Lelands sale, the same photo was sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 along with several other stolen BPL photos owned by Barry Halper and cataloged by auction consultant Rob Lifson. Interestingly enough, the same photo also appeared for sale for $75 in the 1984 “T & K Sports” SCD ad which described it as, “1901 Boston inf…..stamped on the back “The M.T. McGreevy Collec. Gift of Mar. 28, 1923″ stamped on front “Cab. 23-5(9).15.”
Mammoth albumen prints of the 1889 (left) and 1892 (right) Boston teams were stolen from the BPL's McGreevey Collection and appeared in the 1999 Halper sale at Sotheby's. The 1889 photo was pictured in the catalog with the BPL ownership mark "Cab.23.59.15" (inset). Both photographs are still missing from the BPL.
Halper and Lifson’s offerings of materials stolen from the BPL were well documented in the Sotheby’s catalog and included two mammoth plate albumen photographs of the 1889 and 1889 Boston Base Ball Club featuring “King” Kelly. The 1889 photo appeared as lot 291 with the BPL’s ownership stamp reading “Cab.23.59.15″ appearing in the upper right corner which represented the actual cabinet the photo was stored in at the library. The 1892 Boston photo offered as lot 303 at Sotheby’s was photographed by the BPL before it was stolen and exhibits the exact same damage captured on the library’s second generation print. Despite the fact that the 1889 photo has been widely exposed as being stolen in the press and the fact that BPL officials have located the owner of the 1892 photo, both artifacts still remain on the BPL missing list.
Photos of the 1891 Boston (left) and 1882 Buffalo (center) teams were stolen from the BPL and were consigned to REA by Halper's widow in 2006. The photos included defaced BPL ownership stamps that are found on other images that have not been stolen from the McGreevy Collection (right).
Additional evidence linking Halper to items stolen from the BPL and NYPL surfaced after his death in 2006 when his widow, Sharon Halper, consigned items she found in her house including two more mammoth size cabinet photos of the 1891 Boston and 1882 Buffalo teams. Both of those photos featured obscured and defaced BPL ownership stamps that were visible under close inspection. Additional 19th century CDV and cabinet cards of sporting goods pioneer Andrew Peck also showed defaced NYPL stamps and other items like a proclaimed unique cabinet photo of Alexander Joy Cartwright also fit the description of items on the NYPL Spalding Collection’s missing list. After this writer told REA’s Rob Lifson that the Peck CDV was stolen from the NYPL he returned it via the FBI but went ahead and sold the other stolen NYPL items in his auction. The 1891 Boston and 1882 Buffalo photos never made it into the REA sale after they were also identified by this writer as stolen items and reported to BPL official Aaron Schmidt. Sources indicate that Lifson, President of Robert Edward Auctions, disputed the library ownership claims at first but ultimately turned the photos over to the library on behalf of Halper’s widow.
The recovery of the BPL’s stolen 1904 photo of Jimmy Collins and John L. Sullivan has helped shed some more light on the timeline of the “McGreevey Collection” thefts. The famous photo of the Red Sox manager sitting in the dugout with heavyweight champ was sold by Halper and Lifson at Sotheby’s in 1999 but also appeared in print twenty years earlier with a credit to the BPL in a coffee table book authored by Daniel Okrent and Harris Lewine known as The Ultimate Baseball Book. The book was commercially released in 1979 by Houghton-Miflin and the illustrations were researched and compiled in 1978. In his acknowledgements Daniel Okrent recognized Eugene Zepp of the Boston Public Library for being “generous with (his) time and advice” and the book was one of the first to highlight images from the little known “McGreevey Collection.” Before Okrent and Lewine discovered the depth of the BPL’s collection and exposed it to a wider audience of baseball fans and collectors, only authors including Harold Seymour, Dorothy Seymour-Mills and Robert Smith had ever published images from the BPL collection in their works.
In an interview with Hauls of Shame Zepp confirmed that the 1904 Collins-Sullivan photo was the first McGreevy item to be discovered missing in early 1983. Said Zepp, “Someone came in looking to view that photo which was one of our most popular images but I couldn’t locate the original and realized it was missing.” Zepp worked in the BPL’s Print Department from 1971 to 1983 and the discovery that the Collins photo was missing, coupled with the publication of the same photo in Okrent’s book in 1979, pinpointed the thefts occurring sometime between 1979 and 1982.
In the course of an internal library investigation a South Boston resident named Emil Pagliarulo was identified as a “person of interest.” Zepp described Pagliarulo as a “big burly guy who showed a great interest in the McGreevey Collection.” As for other patrons Zepp said, “I don’t remember many people I was very suspicious of and from 1979 to 1981 the library was very understaffed and there was no security.” According to Zepp patrons only had to sign a log book to view the baseball pictures in the Print Department and there was no requirement to show ID. ”You could have written any name in the visitor book at that time,” said Zepp. Zepp added that he has always been baffled how anyone could have smuggled out photographs that were so large.
Rob Lifson (center, bottom) loaned items from his collection for "The Ultimate Baseball Book" in 1978. Author Daniel Okrent (top center) acknowledged Lifson in the book along with the BPL's Eugene Zepp who provided Okrent with images from the McGreevey Collection including the 1904 photo of Jimmy Collins and John L. Sullivan (right).
Sources with more recent knowledge of the BPL probe say that there was another suspect who was thanked along with Eugene Zepp in Daniel Okrent’s 1979 book. Okrent expressed “special gratitude” to several memorabilia collectors in the acknowledgements including the 19-year-old Rob Lifson who contributed items from his personal collection for a special color section in the book devoted to “Baseball Art, 1876-1978.” The section pictured Lifson’s baseball cards issued by Old Judge, Mayo, Allen & Ginter, Cracker Jack, Sporting Life, Goudey and others as well as sheet music, advertisements and a rare celluloid button honoring the 1915 World Champion Red Sox.
At the time Lifson assisted Okrent and Lewine with their book project in 1978 he was considered one of the top memorabilia and baseball card dealers in the country and his recognition alongside the curators at institutions like the Boston Public Library and the Baseball Hall of Fame added to his reputation as a hobby whiz-kid. In recent years Lifson told a Smithsonian publication, “When I was a kid, I used to go to bookstores and libraries to find books that featured information about baseball memorabilia.” But shortly after the Ultimate Baseball Book was published Lifson, then a student at the Wharton School of Business at UPenn, was apprehended stealing what was described in TIME Magazine as a large cache of rare photos from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection. TIME reported that the unnamed thief was caught when a guard saw him slipping the cards into a bubble gum box taped to his briefcase.” When Lifson was apprehended he had $5,000 cash on his person and the NYPL security official told TIME writer David Aikman that Lifson said he had made the cash selling baseball cards in just one day. Recent revelations confirming Lifson’s involvement in the NYPL thefts has only fueled more speculation that he was also involved in the BPL heist.
Former owners of stolen BPL photos (l to r): Paul Dunigan, adult bookshop owner; Dealer Alan "Mr. Mint" Rosen; Magician Wayne Miller; and Yankee partner Barry Halper (with Joe DiMaggio).
In 1979 Lifson was also known as the primary dealer supplying Barry Halper and it was during that same time period that at least sixty of the rare photographs from the “McGreevey Collection” vanished, many of which later surfaced publicly in the Halper Collection. By the time Halper chose to sell his BPL items in 1999, he stipulated that Sotheby’s hire Lifson as the consultant in charge of the auction due to their personal history and Lifson’s intimate knowledge of Halper’s holdings.
Many of the stolen McGreevy photos were dispersed throughout the hobby in the early 1980s through various dealers including T&K of Fall River and Wayne Miller of Columbia, Maryland. Hauls of Shame contacted Miller this week to ask him where he acquired his BPL items but he declined to divulge that information. Miller, who left the hobby in the 1990s to pursue a career as a magician was only willing to say, “I flew to Boston and returned everything.” A source with knowledge of the BPL investigation told Hauls of Shame that Miller purchased at least nineteen BPL photos from New York dealer Lew Lipset. Miller is also said to have sold several other BPL photos to T & K in Fall River and Hall’s Nostalgia in Arlington, Massachusetts.
The same source says that Lipset purchased his BPL items from Paul Dunigan of Lowell, Massachusetts, a collector who also regularly traded and purchased items from Barry Halper. In 2011, Dunigan’s son sold a 1901 BPL photo of “Nig” Cuppy on eBay that was purchased and returned to the library by a collector in Iowa named David Maus. Several sources allege that Halper was selling the stolen BPL materials before they started showing up at baseball card shows and in advertisements placed in Sports Collectors Digest. Over time, however, Halper ended up reacquiring stolen BPL items that resurfaced in the marketplace including photos he purchased from the group of material Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen and Lew Lipset partnered on and acquired from Dunigan.
In the 1980s Sinclair Hitchings (left), the BPL's "Keeper of Prints," helped recover dozens of photos stolen from the library's print department (center). Collector Barry Halper (right) ended up owning most of the stolen photos Hitchings was unable to recover.
Collector and SABR member Bob Richardson was one of the first in the hobby to recognize McGreevy’s items being sold at card shows in the early 1980’s and working with the BPL’s “Keeper of Prints,” Sinclair Hitchings, he helped recover dozens of missing pictures including the ones that ended up with Wayne Miller. In some cases Hitchings established a library fund which enabled Richardson to buy back stolen items from dealer tables at card shows with BPL funds.
In the course of the BPL’s own investigation of the McGreevy heist, Barry Halper was contacted and questioned but denied ever owning any McGreevy photos. Sources indicate that the BPL is in possession of documentation that shows Halper’s denials in writing. But the evidence that’s surfaced since Halper’s death in 2005 suggests that he lied and the clearly marked BPL items he sold at Sotheby’s and kept in his personal stash support the contention that Halper was well aware he was buying and selling stolen artifacts with a BPL provenance. Some hobby veterans have even suggested that Halper’s practice of selling and repurchasing stolen BPL materials was a vehicle by which he laundered and legitimized the contraband. In addition, BPL items that were worth a few hundred dollars when they were stolen were eventually sold for thousands by the time Halper liquidated his holdings in the 1999 Sotheby’s sale.
Fifteen years after Halper’s Sotheby’s sale many of those same stolen photos remain in private hands. Despite the fact that the BPL has identified the current owner of the missing Imperial cabinet photo of the 1892 Boston team the collector has refused to turn it over. Despite the fact that Halper’s stolen 1889 Boston team cabinet photo has been pictured several times in the Boston Herald no one has come forward yet to return it.
Some collectors don’t want to lose the money they’ve invested in the stolen artifacts and others are just plain addicted to the stuff and content to enjoy Nuf Ced’s treasures in the privacy of their own homes. The honest collector who did the right thing and returned McGreevy’s Red Sox gem to the library is the exception to the rule, but the City of Boston is glad he had a conscience.
Its been thirty five years in the making but little by little “Nuf Ced” McGreevy’s donated legacy is making its way back to the library on Copley Plaza. Call it the luck of the Irish.
By Peter J. Nash
February 20, 2014
Heritage is selling what they say is the most important baseball artifact in existence, Babe Ruth's 1923 WS pocket watch. But is it the actual watch that was presented to the Babe in 1923 and why did Barry Halper say he owned one too?
It’s the stuff that legends are made of.
The great “Bambino” passes along one of his treasured World Series awards as a gift to a close friend who, in turn, passes it along to his nephew who used to caddie for the “Sultan of Swat” at a golf course in Queens, New York. The former caddy’s widow says Babe Ruth was a life-long friend and that her husband even left his own wedding reception to visit the golf course clubhouse where the Babe toasted his nuptials. Over the years the Babe signed baseballs and photos for the family and at some point they even acquired what they claim is the Babe’s own locker key-tag marked with the number “3.”
It’s a remarkable story and in today’s sports auction landscape its just the type of tale that aggressive auctioneers want to hear when consignors bring them their personal treasures to sell. Just recently the Babe’s 1920 Yankee road jersey was purchased for $4.4 million by movie mogul Thomas Tull so, when someone told Heritage Auctions they had the Babe’s World Series hardware from 1923, auction director Chris Ivy saw dollar signs….big ones. As reported by the Associated Press, Heritage and Ivy say they have Babe Ruth’s World Series pocket watch from 1923 and they predict it could fetch close to a million dollars at auction thanks to the priceless story attached to it. It’s just further proof that George Herman “Babe” Ruth is still the king of the billion dollar baseball memorabilia industry.
Up on the auction block at Heritage with an alleged current bid of $425,000 (Heritage regularly places their own house bids on lots in order to get them closer to secret reserves) is a 14k gold Gruen “Verithin Pentagon” pocket watch that was allegedly presented to Babe Ruth in recognition of his first world championship in Yankee pinstripes. The auction house with its headquarters in Dallas, Texas, is pulling out all stops to promote its consignment as the auction catalog states, “As Babe Ruth’s personal award for the first World Championship in New York Yankees franchise history, this is arguably the most important article of sports memorabilia that exists.” Even Forbes is telling its readers they should buy the Babe’s pocket watch.
It all sounds too good to be true. All that’s missing is a Heritage press conference introducing the Babe’s old caddie recounting his first person tale of Ruth’s mulligans and his relationship with his hero. But that’s impossible, since Lewis Fern passed away last August at the ripe old age of 95 with full military honors. Fern not only caddied for the Babe, but he was also a World War II veteran who served his country as an Army Captain and paratrooper. Considering the timing of his passing, you might think his heirs are the ones putting his treasured Babe Ruth watch up for sale as part of his estate, but that’s not the case. That’s where this Ruthian story gets kind of complicated.
Charlie Schwefel was friends with Ruth and was photographed with him in the press (top right). Ruth and Schwefel signed this photo (left) for his nephew, David Fern, whose brother, Lewis Fern, caddied for Ruth when he played at the St. Albans Golf Club in Queens (bottom right). The watch being sold by HA has "To My Pal Charles Schwefel" engraved on the interior case (bottom left). (Photos courtesy of the Fern Family).
Heritage claims that when Ruth was battling cancer in 1948 he “asked his close friend Charlie Schwefel if he might want anything from his collection to remember him by.” Schwefel, the auction house claims, “Asked for his dying friend’s pocket watch.” But the story isn’t told by Schwefel or his immediate family because, according to Heritage, Schwefel kept the watch for only two years and then passed it along to his nephew, Lewis Fern, who they say caddied for Ruth many times at the St. Albans Golf Club in Queens, New York, in the 1930’s. Heritage is relying on a letter of provenance in their possession signed by Fern and they say he “kept the watch for decades until it was privately sold into one of the finest sports collections in the world in 1988, where it has remained hidden away until now.”
In a press release Heritage describes in more detail the watch and its Ruth provenance stating, “The “Babe Ruth” engraving at the upper edge was added by the Babe himself just prior to gifting the symbolic memento to Schwefel. The rear case pops open to reveal further engraving, most notably the original text announcing, “Presented by Baseball Commissioner to George H. Ruth.” Just above we find the rest of Ruth’s late 1940s addition, reading, “To My Pal Charles Schwefel.”
The 1923 Yankee World Series watches were all hand engraved and unique. The details of the heads of each player and the ornamentation surrounding the word "Yankees" illustrate this best (see red highlight). The alleged Ruth watch offered by Heritage (left) is missing areas of engraved shading on each side of the engraved words "World's Champions" on the genuine watches of Yankee exec Ed Barrow
Each of the watches presented to Ruth and his Yankee teammates is an expertly crafted timepiece which incorporates a hand engraved scene of a pitcher tossing a ball to a batter and a catcher. Every detail depicted on each watch case, ranging from the face of each player to the folds of each uniform, is unique to each timepiece. But the most notable difference between other genuine 1923 Yankee watches and the Heritage Ruth watch is the two missing sections of engraved shading to the left and right of the “Worlds Champions” inscription. This shading appears on every watch we examined including examples presented to players Wally Schang, Charles O’Leary and Harvey Hendrick.
Inside the authentic watches, there is yet another section which was engraved in block letters to identify the actual player being honored; it is the only element found on each watch that links it to the ownership of the individual players. It is also the easiest element for forgers to replicate and transform authentic awards presented to utility players and scrubs into the hardware awarded to the greats of the game.
That being said, Heritage’s Chris Ivy also told the AP, “No one knew where the piece had been. No one has ever seen it for public sale or public auction. The fact that there was no news about it for so many decades, it was just thought that at some point it had been lost to time.” Considering Ivy’s statement, how could he and Heritage ever know that Babe Ruth personally added engraving for his friend to the watch up for sale? How could they ever know if Ruth had his own name engraved on the outside case of the watch when none of the other surviving 1923 watches has a players name in the same spot?
Then, add to Heritage’s speculation the fact that the Babe’s own granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, has long believed that her grandfather’s World Series awards were wrongfully removed from a family safe deposit box at the time of Claire Ruth’s death in 1976.
Not to mention that the 1984 New York Yankees Yearbook featured a list of Yankee partner Barry Halper’s top 29 Ruth items and included “Babe Ruth’s 1923 World Series gold pocket watch” as the number “4″ relic in an article written by Bill Madden. In 1989, Phil Pepe of the New York Daily News also listed the pocket watch among Halper’s greatest Ruthian treasures. Halper was obsessed with collecting Ruth items and told Pepe, “People know I’m a fanatic when it comes to Babe Ruth. So they call me and offer me things.”
The 1984 Yankee Yearbook lists Barry Halper's 1923 Ruth pocket watch as the number "4" item in his Ruth collection. In 1989, the watch was also mentioned as one of Halper's best Ruth items by Phil Pepe of the Daily News.
And if all that’s not enough to spark some speculation about the Heritage offering, there is the long-standing baseball legend which says Leo “The Lip” Durocher was caught stealing one of the Babe’s prized watches from his hotel room when he was with the Yanks in 1925. In his 2001 autobiography, Elden Auker, also claimed that Ruth had a fist-fight with Durocher after he’d caught him stealing marked bills from his hotel room. Years after Ruth’s death Durocher denied ever swiping his watch as he told a reporter, “You didn’t have to steal Babe’s watch,” he said. “If you liked it, he gave it to you.”
So where did this particular 1923 World Series pocket watch come from and what is its actual chain of ownership? The recent Associated Press report sheds some light on the subject by revealing some information about the current consignor of the watch. AP says, “The present owner, who wished to remain anonymous, declined to be interviewed. He said through Heritage that he acquired the watch for around $200,000 and was parting with it now to help fund charitable organizations important to him.”
Hauls of Shame interviewed Lewis Fern’s son, Dwight Fern, of Atlanta, Georgia, who had a conflicting recollection of the sale of his father’s watch. When asked if the watch sold for $200,000 Fern said, “That’s not true, he sold it to somebody in Atlanta, I don’t know who, and it wasn’t $200,000, it was like $85,000. Maybe they passed it on from there.”
The person from Atlanta he sold it to was gynecologist Dr. Goodman Espy III via collector and dealer Darrel O’Mary. In an interview with Hauls of Shame Espy said he couldn’t remember exactly what he paid for the watch and referred us to Darrell O’Mary who he said had the letter signed by Fern. O’Mary spoke about the deal and said, “Back in the early days when he was so inspired to build a collection, Dr. Espy didn’t have much knowledge and I sort of became (his) gate keeper for any potential purchases.” As for the discrepancy on the sales price O’Mary declined comment and said he never owned the Ruth pocket watch and added, “I can not weigh in on that. I just cannot professionally do it.” The sale of the watch was one of the largest transactions in baseball memorabilia history at a time when Bill Mastro had just sold his trimmed T206 Honus Wagner for a record price of $110,000.
When we asked O’Mary who actually discovered the watch he said, “I can’t remember if Mr. Fern called me or Dr. Espy but at the time he was excited about it and very liquid and that was by far the most he’d ever spent for an item. He was thrilled to get it.” Both men were also very comfortable with Lewis Fern’s representations about the watch and O’Mary recalls, “Lewis Fern was just such a gentleman and class individual, we never doubted its authenticity.” O’Mary says that neither he or Espy were aware at the time of the purchase that Barry Halper claimed he already owned the Babe’s 1923 Series watch.
Lewis Fern (left) sold the 1923 WS watch for at least $85,000 in 1988. In a handwritten note from a family album (center) Fern recalls Ruth giving him the watch which was photographed before it was sold (right).
At the time of the sale O’Mary recorded Fern’s recollections about the watch in his own writing and had Fern sign the document. This is the same letter that Heritage currently quotes in its lot description but when we asked O’Mary for a copy of that document he declined and said, “Just out of courtesy I’d have to get permission from the auction house.” O’Mary did, however, confirm that Fern was told “This should have been yours all along” when he was given the watch by the Schwefel family. O’Mary said, “That actually came out of (Lewis) Fern’s mouth.”
When we asked Heritage’s Chris Ivy for Fern’s “letter of provenance” described in the lot description he refused to produce a copy and replied, “A copy of the letter will be provided to the winning bidder and the description in the catalog accurately reflects its contents.”
Ivy’s reluctance to make the letter public led to our interview of Fern’s widow, Marion Fern, who offered another account which conflicted with the Heritage auction description. Fern told us the watch was given to her husband by Elsie Schwefel when one of her sons had passed away. ”My husband was with (Billy Schwefel’s) mother during part of the funeral and evidently she was supposed to give the watch to Billy, that was one of the sons, and Billy had died, so she passed it on to my husband who they were all close with.” Dwight Fern recalled that Schwefel funeral took place in the early 1960’s.
Dwight Fern also noted that he recalled seeing the Ruth pocket watch when he was a child. “I think I was about seven years old, I never saw the engraving to Charlie Schwefel. I never saw that but the rest of the engraving was there.” Fern provided us with an image taken of the watch when it was still in his father’s possession. That image shows the “Babe Ruth” engraving on the exterior of the watch but when asked if his father took a picture of the interior engraving Fern said he just learned about that engraving in the Associated Press reports that appeared nationally. ”I don’t think he did because that was new to me when I read that in the article. The engraving was on the inside and I never opened it up like that,” said Fern. Also appearing in the picture of the watch was a handwritten note written by Louis Fern that differs from the accounts given by his wife, O’Mary and Heritage. Fern wrote, “Babe Ruth gave me his World Series (1923) watch-’he liked me’ I caddied for him.”
Television producer and author, Cyndi Todd, of Atlanta, Georgia, has been working on a biography of Lewis Fern called A Paratroopers Purpose and in her interviews with him before his death discussed his relationship with the Babe and the pocket watch. ”The Babe Ruth story is one of the cornerstones of my book,” said Todd who added, “Lew told me that he got the watch from his Aunt Elsie after his Uncle Charlie passed away.”
The alleged Ruth watch being offered by Heritage (outlined in red) joins seven other surviving and authentic watches that have been sold at public auction. The watches were presented to Yankee players and executives after the 1923 World Series.
While Fern got his watch from his Aunt Elsie, the Yankee players and executives got their gold pocket watches from Judge Landis and it wasn’t until 1927 that the Babe received his first World Series ring. Ruth later added rings with world titles in 1928 and 1932, rounding out his collection with a total of three diamond-studded rings along with the 1923 gold pocket watch. All of them, except for the Babe’s alleged 1927 ring currently in Charlie Sheen’s possession, had remained AWOL until the 1923 pocket watch recently appeared in an Associated Press report and on the cover of the catalog for Heritage’s “Platinum Night’ auction in New York City on February 22nd.
Authentic and surviving examples of the 1923 Yankee pocket watch created by Gruen are exceedingly scarce and only a handful (approximately eight) have appeared for sale at public auction in the past few decades. Even the museum at Yankee Stadium could only manage a replica watch for its display. Genuine examples attributed to Yankee executives Ed Barrow, Mark Roth, Paul Krichell and R. J. Connery, however, have surfaced as well as one presented to team trainer “Doc” Woods. To date, the only player watches known to have survived in private hands are the ones Judge Landis presented to to Wally Schang, Charles O’Leary and George Pipgras. In 1991, Sports Illustrated published a story chronicling how Pipgras’ 1923 watch was stolen from him at gunpoint in the 1930’s and found over 50 years later by a pawn shop owner who sold it back to the family for $500. The Baseball Hall of Fame also has a player watch presented to Harvey Hendrick and another that belonged to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
The engraving on Heritage's Ruth watch (top left) starkly contrasts the engraving found on the genuine watches presented to Yankee executives Ed Barrow, R. J. Connery and Mark Roth.
The “long-lost” example currently being offered by Heritage clearly has a credible provenance story that shows how the watch was transferred from Charlie Schwefel to his nephew Lewis Fern. There are, however, several inconsistencies in that story that could very well be the product of some exaggeration or family legend that developed over the decades. Putting that story and those facts aside, however, this 1923 pocket watch has other visible issues totally unrelated to its chain ownership. The most interesting issue appears to be the interior engraving that starkly contrasts the work inscribed into the 14K surfaces of the known genuine examples presented to the Yankee executives. The next prominent issue is that the Heritage offering has case and movement serial numbers that also do not appear to correspond with all of the other existing 1923 Yankee Gruen watches.
The serial number engraved on the Heritage Ruth watch is not in the same sequence as the numbers engraved on previous authentic watches sold by Heritage which were once presented to Yankee execs Ed Barrow, Mark Roth and R. J. Connery.
The serial number engraved on Heritage’s Ruth watch (1060722) is approximately 3,500 numbers away from the series of numbers found on the other genuine 1923 Yankee watches previously sold by Heritage. Unconfirmed reports state that Gruen sold about 50,000 “Verithin” model watches annually which would mean that the alleged Ruth watch was made months after all of the other known examples.
The serial number on the Gruen movement of the Ruth watch is "526564" while the watch presented to Mark Roth has the number "518470."
In addition, the serial number found on the actual Gruen movement inside the gold case of the Ruth watch is separated from the other known examples by close to 8,000 digits, thus further suggesting the Heritage offering was created well after the others were assembled. Why?
For comparison, another 14k Gruen Verithin Pentagon pocketwatch was offered on eBay recently and was engraved with an inscription dated “March 25, 1925.” The watch was a 21st birthday present and was accompanied by the original presentation box and the Gruen certificate which included the record of its $100 sales price.
A similar Gruen Verithin watch was offered on eBay and was inscribed with a date of March 1925. The case number was "1070849" and the movement number was "541668." The watch came with its original papers and was priced at $100 in 1925.
The case number on the watch, which was presented and engraved in March of 1925, was “1070849″ and the watch movement serial number was “541668.” The Yankee watches were presented to the players on Opening Day which fell on April 23, 1924. With the known genuine Yankee watches having case numbers ranging between “1057335″ and “1057343″ and movement numbers in the “518470″ range, the 1925 eBay watch further suggests that the Heritage Ruth watch was assembled after the other Yankee watches were created because its case number is “1060722″ and its movement number is “526564.”
The Gruen Watch Company was founded in the late 19th century and at the time the Yankees were presented with their watches, Fred Gruen had already taken control of the Cincinnati company after the death of his father who founded the company. All of the Gruen watch cases and movements were imported from Switzerland and assembled in Ohio and Toronto. A local Cincinnati jeweler named Frank Herschede was the dealer who actually sold Baseball the Gruen watches as referenced in a Cincinnati newspaper that published an image of one of the Yankee watches before they were presented by Judge Landis.
In January 1924 the New York Times reported the Yankee World Series watches might be presented to the team at Spring Training (left). Yank exec Paul Krichell's 1923 Yankee watch survived with its original presentation box from Cincinnati jeweler Frank Herschede. An item from a 1924 Cincinnati newspaper (right) illustrated one of the engraved watches sold by the firm.
It is possible that the Gruen watches sold by Herschede were chosen by the Commissioner’s office because the Chairman of Baseball’s National Commission, August Herrmann, had been based in Cincinnati since the turn of the century and Herschede was also a stockholder in his Cincinnati Reds franchise. The August Herrmann Papers collection at the National Baseball Library includes files of correspondence from Herschede as well as the papers of Judge Landis and his office during 1923 and 1924. It’s possible there might be some additional documentation of Landis’ purchase of the watches for the Yankees, however, the National Baseball Library has been closed to the public since two key library employees, Tim Wiles and Freddie Berowski, recently left the Hall to take positions at other libraries.
That being said, when we questioned Heritage’s Chris Ivy regarding the fact that the interior engraving on the Ruth watch contrasted the engraving found on other executive and player watches, Ivy claimed to have documentation in his possession proving the watch was the exact same one presented to Ruth by Judge Landis on Opening Day 1924.
The NY Times reported Judge Landis cancelled the Yankee watch ceremony on Opening Day (1924) but later reports (center) show that he did present them. Jacob Ruppert also gave gold watch fobs to his champs (right).
“In addition to the Fern letter, we also have correspondence from the period that not only confirms that the watch is engraved exactly as instructed by the Yankees organization and the Commissioner’s office, but provides additional data and facts that support that the watch that we are offering is 100% authentic and was the watch issued to Babe Ruth for the 1923 NY Yankees championship,” said Ivy in an email. Ivy, however, is not willing to make that information or the Fern letter public and added,”We also have data that ties this Ruth watch to the other presented 1923 championship watches in a very specific and clear manner.” According to Ivy the only person or persons who will be privy to this information are, “the winning bidder as well as any interested and qualified bidders that contact us prior to the auction close.”
While Ivy and Heritage have issued strong statements about their evidence, they still have no answer for the past claims that Barry Halper once owned Ruth’s 1923 pocket watch. With the inconsistencies in the known provenance stories and the fact that Heritage is apparently unwilling to share information they claim proves Ruth was presented their watch on Opening Day 1924, we can only look to the surviving pocket watches to try and unravel the mystery of Ruth’s Yankee bling.
We consulted with one of the nation’s top experts on Gruen watches and presented him with all of the evidence we’ve compiled related to the ten Yankee watches known to have survived. Charlie Cleves, from Bellevue, Kentucky, is the owner of Cleves and Lonnemann Jewelers and is also one of the few people in the country who have acheived the rank of “Certified Master Watchmaker 21st Century (CNW21)” after passing testing administered by the American Watchmaker and Clockmaker Institute’s Board of Examiners. Cleves, who also has his own collection of Gruen “Pentagon” watches, examined images of all the known examples focusing on the engraving and manufacturing elements of each timepiece.
Cleves began with his analysis of the inconsistencies in the engraving and although he was somewhat concerned with the contrasting engraving on the Ruth watch told us, “Gruen had at least ten different engravers on their line during this time period and they would have different styles in their work. The engraving alone isn’t enough to rule this out.”
As far as the great disparity in the serial numbers on the watch movements as compared to the other Yankee executive watches Cleves said, “I would expect the movement serial number to fall in line with the other ones, but this discrepency could be explained away by the fact that Gruen would put a new movement in your watch if you sent it in for repairs.” So that could explain that issue.
But when it came to the the 3,500-plus number disparity in the serial numbers of the actual gold watch case and the known executive watches, Cleves told us, “I’m very concerned with this aspect.” Cleves did determine that all of the Yankee watches were made during 1924 but then added, “The simpler, more probable explanation is that it is a slightly higher case and movement number and it was made four or five months after the original ones.” The original ones Cleves was referring to were the Yankee executive watches sold by Heritage in previous sales. Cleves added, “Did he lose his watch or decide he needed a second one?”
Watch expert Charlie Cleves (inset) was able to determine the dates the 1923 Yankee watches were manufactured by examining the serial numbers on the watch cases.
If Cleves’ analysis is correct and the Yankee executive watches inscribed “Presented by New York Yankees” were made at the same time as the player watches inscribed “Presented by the Commissioner,” then it is highly improbable that the million-dollar Heritage watch given to Lewis Fern is the same watch presented to the Bambino on April 24, 1924. Based upon Cleves analysis, could the pocket watch have been a second one ordered by Ruth or the Yankees? When we asked Daryl O’Mary what he thought about the conflicting serial numbers he told us, “Let’s just say if this could have been a duplicate watch, I’m confident that Lewis Fern knew nothing about it.” As for the contrasting engraving issues O’Mary added, “I know Dr. Espy has not had any type of engraving added to it, I would swear under oath to that.”
Since everything seems to boil down to the actual 14k gold case serial numbers, is it possible that the Yankee executive watches were made months before the watches presented to the Yankees on Opening Day? One more mystery tied to this Ruthian saga is the fact that none of the Yankee player watches sold at public auction have included any images of the engraving and serial numbers found on the interior cases. Neither Lelands or Hunt Auctions provided photos in three different sales of Wally Schang’s watch. Hunt never pictured the interior case on trainer “Doc” Woods’ watch in 2004 and Charles O’Leary’s watch sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby’s in 1999 also failed to include a picture of the case. We couldn’t find any images of the other 1923 Ruth watch that Halper claimed to own in the 1984 Yankee Yearbook. That being said, many of Halper’s prominent Ruth artifacts ranging from his rookie Red Sox uniform to a lock of his hair have been exposed as counterfeits in reports that we published at Deadspin and the New York Post.
The Babe’s own granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, has been doing her own tracking of her family’s lost heirlooms and told us she called the Baseball Hall of Fame and found that they had only one player watch in the collection which was presented to Harvey Hendrick. Tosetti, however, could not determine what the serial number was. ”The Hall of Fame told me it was either out on loan or in a display case and that it wasn’t possible to get the numbers,” said Tosetti.
Tosetti even called up the grandson of Babe’s old teammate George Pipgras to see if he could share the serial number on the watch returned to his family after being stolen in the 1930’s. When Tosetti called Pipgras’ grandson, George Simpson in Inverness, Florida, he was unwilling to help solve the mystery and said his son in Jacksonville had the 1923 watch and Pipgras’ 1927 Series ring and that he was also unwilling to help. Tosetti told us, “He just blew me off and actually hung up on me. Geez, if Babe was alive to hear this he’d give them a piece of his mind. Here’s a family that recovered their watch due to the generosity of others and this is how they act?”
Linda Ruth-Tosetti (left) has been searching for Babe's World Series awards; Dr. Goodman Espy and his ex-wife Cheryl (center); Heritage CEO, Steve Ivy (right).
Hauls of Shame also contacted the Pipgras-Simpson family and attempted to get a confirmation on the case serial number from George W. “Pip” Simpson, but the undercover cop who was recently in the news after shooting a suspect in a drug bust declined comment. George Simpson Sr. told us he hung up on the Babe’s granddaughter because he didn’t believe it was really her. ”How am I supposed to tell if it was really her,” said Simpson. Without any confirmation on the case serial numbers on the Pipgras, O’Leary, Schang and Hendrick awards, we still can’t be sure that the watch Heritage is offering is the Babe’s first Yankee hardware. Unfortunately, this mystery will continue until this information is researched further and verified. Could Heritage have confirmed this information and still be holding it back from prospective bidders and the general public? If it is revealed that the case numbers on player watches are close to the “1060722″ number on Ruth’s watch its safe to say that Lewis Fern really did have the genuine article. This mystery would be solved.
One thing that is not a mystery, however, is the fact that Heritage Auctions may not even have clear title to sell their million-dollar Ruthian treasure. In the course of our interview with consignor Dr. Goodman Espy he asked that his name not appear in our report because he had not revealed his ownership of the 1923 watch in a recent divorce proceeding with his ex-wife Cheryl Petros Espy of Atlanta, Georgia. When we simply asked Heritage’s Chris Ivy for the Fern letter and pointed out the inconsistencies in the engraving he threatened Hauls of Shame on Espy’s behalf stating, “Should you move forward to write and publish an article that includes inaccurate, misleading, and/or irresponsible speculation that causes financial harm, or otherwise, to our consignor, then you will simply be opening yourself up to further legal repercussions should he choose to pursue them.”
In response, we asked Heritage’s CEO, Steve Ivy, if he knew about the Espy divorce and if the auction house had verified that their client had clear title to offer the watch for sale. We also asked Ivy to address the prior claims made by Barry Halper that he actually owned Babe Ruth’s 1923 watch four years before Espy did? Ivy did not respond to our inquiry.
When contacted at her home in Atlanta, the consignor’s ex-wife, Cheryl Petros Espy, confirmed that her husband did not disclose his ownership of the Ruth pocket watch in their divorce proceeding but declined further comment.
(If you own the 1923 Babe Ruth World Series watch Barry Halper claimed to have in the 1980s or if you own another 1923 Yankee player watch with visible serial numbers please contact us at: Tips@Haulsofshame.com )
UPDATE (Feb 21): Heritage Auctions posted this update to the lot description of the 1923 World Series Pocket Watch:
1923 New York Yankees World Championship Watch Presented to Babe Ruth. Update: We are pleased to announce that in addition to a copy of the original signed letter of provenance from Lewis Fern, we have added the following documentation to the files that will accompany the watch:
1) Copies of fourteen pages of correspondence between the New York Yankees, the office of the Commissioner of Baseball and the watch company dating from late 1923 to early 1924 regarding the ordering of Championship watches. The precise manner of engraving is confirmed by this paperwork, as are the details of the watches’ construction that are specific to the 1923 championship watch order. Only eleven of the thirty-nine watches delivered to the team exhibit a full first name and middle initial as requested in the letter. George H. Ruth is one of those eleven.
2) A letter of provenance from the son of Lewis Fern, who sold the watch to our consignor over twenty years ago. This letter confirms all details of the elder Fern’s own letter of provenance as well as the fact that the watch remains identical in appearance to his earliest recollections of it as a child in the 1950’s.
3) We have discovered that the Championship watches issued to the 1923 Yankees, both front office and player versions, were very lightly hand-scratched with a five-digit code beneath the serial number. The codes are represented by a “46XXX” number and are consistent on all inspected examples, including the Ruth representation. We have determined that this coding was done prior to presentation to the recipients and appears to be present only on Yankee watches and absent on all other Gruen Verithin Pentagon examples we have located in our research. We will include photographic imagery of the other known Yankee watches to illustrate this trait that links each to the same specific population.
UPDATE (Feb 22): Hauls of Shame presented watch expert Charlie Cleves with Heritage’s updated information concerning the 5-digit numerals and he responded saying:
“The number inscribed underneath the serial number is usually put on by jewelry stores or watchmakers who work on watches. In this case it could have been put on by Herschede Jewelers when the hand engraving was done if they were the ones who engraved the cases and not the factory. If it is a job number put on by the jeweler and this watch was made the same time as the other one then the numbers would all be sequential. If there is a gap between this watch and the rest of them then I would think it was made at a later date (4 or 5 months later). It could be a number put on by Herschede to track the watch for warranty purposes. We still put a number very small on every watch we sell. We can always look up the number and know exactly what the price was, date of purchase and the person who bought it. So if it was something that Herschede routinely did then it would also be on a watch they made later and have a slightly higher number than the other ones.”
We then asked, “Would the actual serial number on the case be the most accurate element to determine the date of manufacturing?
“We can date watches we sold by our numbers we put in them going all the way back to 1932. The biggest problem arises from the fact that some watches sat 10 years in our showcase before they were sold to the customer. When you look up some of the Bulova watches that are date coded with the year of manufacturing it will be coded 1966(m6) and our card may say we sold it in 1972. Once Herschede went out of business I’m sure all of there files were destroyed. When the companies were going strong their serial numbers would be the best way to date a watch. Gruen was definitely tops in their field in the 20’s.”
By Peter J. Nash
February 10, 2014
Heritage's Chris Ivy (bottom right) is selling Roger Connor's payroll receipt (center) which was sent to the HOF in 1970 by sportswriter Red Foley (top left). Lew Lipset (top right) sold the same doc in 1989 when he was partners with HA's Mike Gutierrez (inset, center right).
As Hall of Famer Yogi Berra once said: “It’s Deja-vu all over again.”
Last year Hauls of Shame published an investigative report about the Baseball Hall of Fame thefts which identified several rare documents believed stolen from Cooperstown and traced them back to hobby veteran Lew Lipset and his Four Base Hits auctions back in 1989 and 1990.
The report included a copy of a 1970 letter sent by Hall director Ken Smith to New York sportswriter Red Foley acknowledging the receipt of fourteen 19th century New York Giant payroll receipts bearing the ultra-rare signatures of several Hall of Famers including Mickey Welch, Buck Ewing, James O’Rourke, Jesse Burkett and Roger Connor.
Now, one of those same documents, the signed Roger Connor receipt, has surfaced in Heritage Auction Galleries’ Platinum Night event scheduled in New York City for February 22nd. Like the Buck Ewing receipt from the same group, which sold for over $35,000 in a Mastro Auction in 2004, the Connor document represents an extremely valuable autographed rarity which could command a sales price of $50,000. Heritage describes the document as “just the third representation to surface in the modern collecting hobby.”
The problem is, the document also fits the exact description of a signed Roger Connor receipt sent to the Hall in 1970 by Red Foley and the auctioneer who sold that same Connor autograph in 1989 for $3,800 has no recollection of where he acquired the document, along with the others including O’Rourke, Ewing and Welch. The document sent by Foley (and the others) are all currently missing from the National Baseball Library.
In a 1970 letter addressed to Red Foley, HOF Director Ken Smith acknowledged the receipt of a group of (14) New York team payroll documents signed by HOFers including Roger Connor.
When Hauls of Shame interviewed Lew Lipset last year he confirmed that he sold the rare Giant documents and also revealed that the winning bidder on a few of the lots was auctioneer Duane Garrett from Richard Wolfers Auctions. Lipset said that the Buck Ewing document sold for $3,625 in September of 1989 and the O’Rourke and Welch receipts sold for $4,500 and $4,400 respectively early in 1990. The Ewing document was subsequently authenticated and encapsulated by PSA/DNA and sold in a 2004 Mastro Auction and currently appears on the PSA “Autograph Facts” website as an exemplar of Ewing’s signature. When asked about the sale price of the Connor autograph, Lipset said he did not have any information indicating the price realized in his November 1990 sale.
Heritage is selling this payroll receipt signed by HOFer Roger Connor in the 2014 Platunum Night Auction in New York City on February 22nd.
When Lipset offered the documents for sale he noted that the ends of the documents were trimmed or clipped. When he sold the Buck Ewing autograph Lipset noted the document was “Partially cut at right, not affecting signature.” As we reported last year, it is likely that the documents were cut to remove the National Baseball Library accession information which would have indicated the year of donation and the sequence of the item’s donation during that time period.
In regard to his acquisition of the rare autographs Lipset told us, “I remember when I got ‘em. It was one of those too good to be true things. I didn’t give a thought to the fact that they could be stolen.” But as for who he acquired the stolen documents from Lipset responded, “I have no recollection where I got these but I remember I was suspicious not because of the origin but if they were real and I brought them to Mike Gutierrez, who told me they were good. It is also my recollection that they were in my collection for a few years before I sold them, so I would have purchased them a few years before the auctions.” We also asked Lipset if he had any records that might show the identity of the seller and he answered, “I have no check records from that far back, so I have no idea.”
Payroll receipts signed by Ewing, Welch, O'Rourke, Burkett and Connor (left) are all identified in the 1970 HOF letter to Red Foley. All except the Burkett also appeared in Lew Lipset's auctions in 1989 and 1990 (right)
Lipset, however, also revealed that he had a partnership at that time with Mike Gutierrez, who is now well-known as the prime suspect in the 1980’s Hall of Fame thefts and the subject of an FBI investigation due to the fact he sold a stolen Babe Ruth photo to New York dealer Josh Evans in 1988. According to ex-Hall employees the investigation was dropped because the institution feared bad publicity and backlash from past and future donors of artifacts to the museum. Gutierrez is currently working for Heritage’s Chris Ivy as one of his consignment directors.
Lipset and Gutierrez have a long history of partnering on memorabilia deals and the purchases of collections over the years. Gutierrez even served as the point-man for Lipset’s autograph survey published in the late 1980s in his hobby newsletter, The Old Judge. In one of his surveys Lipset also reveals that Gutierrez made several trips to the Hall of Fame to seek out exemplars for the survey and autograph price guide published in Lipset’s Old Judge newsletter.
In our report last year, we asked Lipset about his relationship with Gutierrez and he indicated that both men have not spoken in years. But Lipset did recall the days when they were close and even mentioned taking a trip to the National Baseball Library with Gutierrez in the late 1980s. Lipset told us, “The one time I went to the Hall with Mike, we weren’t there very long. We were in Tom Heitz’ office discussing Mike’s idea and I don’t believe anywhere else. I don’t think Mike was off by himself, but then I don’t really remember.” The “idea” Lipset mentioned was a proposal Gutierrez made to Hall officials to permit him access to contact information for Hall of Fame families and relatives in order to purchase memorabilia and then donate portions of those purchases to the Hall since the museum is not permitted to purchase artifacts.
Mike Gutierrez (left) was suspected of stealing items from the National Baseball Library (center, left) in the 1980s and made a trip with Lew Lipset (right, center) to meet with NBL librarian Tom Heitz. Chris Ivy of Heritage (right) has sold items stolen from the NBL.
The museum policy that bars the Hall from buying material directly was actually referred to in the 1970 letter sent by Ken Smith to Red Foley. In that letter, Smith made it clear to Foley that the generosity of the donor, a friend of Foley’s cousin identified as “Mrs. McSherry,” was greatly appreciated. Smith wrote, ”The museum does not purchase display and library material” and made a point to thank Foley upon his receipt of the documents in Cooperstown: “I certainly appreciate yours and your cousin’s kindness in remembering the Hall of Fame as a place where these signatures would be welcome.”
The revelation in our report published last year of Smith’s letter to Foley being found in the Hall of Fame files should have prompted Hall officials to investigate the situation and report the loss to the authorities. All items donated to the Hall are property of New York State, not the Hall of Fame or the Clark family who founded the institution in the 1930s. When we asked if the accession records could be reviewed to confirm the 1970 donation of the payroll documents Hall spokesman Brad Horn denied us access to the records and would not reveal if the Hall was in possession of other similar receipts as the 1970 letter to Foley indicated that there may have been additional “coupons” in Mrs. McSherry’s possession.
The failure of the Hall of Fame to properly report thefts and safeguard the treasures they have been entrusted to protect and preserve was illuminated even more when a CDV photograph of the 1870 Philadelphia Athletics, which was verified as stolen from the National Baseball Library, was sold at Legendary Auctions in 2012. Despite our production of unimpeachable photographic evidence proving the photo was stolen from the library, Hall of Fame officials did nothing to either claim title to or challenge the sale of the donated artifact. The A’s CDV had been photographed by the Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) in 1983 while it was still part of the Hall of Fame’s collection. The rare card ended up selling for about $1,600 (about $8,000 less than a legitimate one Legendary sold in 2010).
An 1886 cabinet photo of the NY Giants was photographed at the NBL in 1983 by SABR (left). The same albumen print (removed and remounted) then appeared in auctions conducted by Lew Lipset in 2006 and Heritage in 2010. The 1983 photo and the current auction photos show the exact same unique imperfections highlighted in red.
That CDV had no direct link to Mike Gutierrez or Lew Lipset and first appeared at auction in a 1994 Robert Edward Auctions sale conducted by Rob Lifson the self-confessed institutional thief who was apprehended stealing CDV’s at the New York Public Library in the late 1970s. Other items photographed by SABR in 1983 do, however, appear to be Hall of Fame property and have been sold in auctions conducted by Lew Lipset. Lipset sold 1886 and 1894 cabinet photos of the NY Giants team and a Horner portrait of John J. McGraw that appear on contact sheets from SABR’s 1983 photo-shoot at the Hall.
When we asked Lipset back in December of 2012 where he acquired the 1886 Giant team cabinet photo his response was identical to the answer he gave about the 19th century payroll receipts. Lipset again told us, “I know I had the 1886 in my collection for years before I put it in the auction. Its the same one as in the SABR publication. I have no record or recollection where I got it from.” After Lipset unloaded the photo in his own sale it ended up selling again at Heritage who auctioned the same cabinet card for over $10,000.
Lipset’s past partnership with Gutierrez and his handling of items stolen from the Hall with no recollection whatsoever of how he came into possession of them has created a body of circumstantial evidence that would lead many to believe he knew the items he was selling were stolen. Our research indicates there are many more suspect items that Lipset and Guttierrez have been partners on. One of those items is Keith Olbermann’s $63,000 Harry Wright cricket CDV that was removed from Robert Edward Auctions sale last year. That CDV was purchased by Lipset and Gutierrez at a 1989 Butterfield & Butterfield auction as part of a photo album alleged to have originated from Wright family relatives. But the album had no verifiable Wright provenance and Gutierrez was the auction consultant for Butterfield at the time. Gutierrez also alerted Lipset that the photos were being sold and asked that he front the money to purchase them. Lipset confirmed this last year when he told us, “I do remember the Butterfield auction. Mike was working for Butterfield as a consultant and he called me with a description of the album. I told him to “buy it”. We were partners on it.”
A Harry Wright CDV found in a family photo album is suspected to have been stolen from the HOF and other letters written to August Herrmann have been removed from Heritage Auctions after being identified as stolen letters.
The evidence, however, suggests that the CDV album may have belonged to Harry Wright’s brother George and may also have been part of a very substantial donation Wright’s son Irving Wright made to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1941. Its just another situation where Gutierrez and Lipset are linked to items suspected to have been stolen with no verifiable or legitimate provenance. The same could be said for Gutierrez’ employer Heritage Auctions which has removed and also sold numerous documents believed to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame’s famous August Herrmann Papers Collection.
Despite all of the evidence suggesting the links between Gutierrez and Lipset and stolen items like the signed Roger Connor document in the current Heritage sale, the Baseball Hall of Fame continues to violate its charter by failing to protect and recover the artifacts entrusted to their care. The Hall’s failure to pursue recovery and establish title for items stolen from its library has not yet prompted the filing of any action against the museum by the office of the New York State Attorney General. The Hall of Fame’s Director of Communications, Craig Muder, responded to our inquiry about the Heritage sale and said, “The Museum has no comment on this.”
In response to our inquiry, Chris Ivy sent us this answer (in its entirety) via email:
“Heritage has no interest in selling stolen collectibles. Every consignor to our auctions signs a consignment agreement noting that they have legal claim of ownership and that is the case with this item as well. On rare occasion, we are contacted by authorities drawing legal ownership into question. Certainly if the Baseball Hall of Fame or any governmental agency were to contact us about this item we would take the appropriate steps. This has not happened. I can assure that we will not sell this item if any evidence supporting your claims of disputed ownership is supplied by the parties in question.”
HOS asked Heritage CEO, Steve Ivy (left) and his son, Chris Ivy (right) to comment on the auction house's offering of the Connor document and the links HA employee and Antiques Roadshow appraiser, Mike Gutierrez, has to the Hall of Fame thefts.
In response, Hauls of Shame sent Ivy and his father, Heritage founder and CEO, Steve Ivy this email (in its entirety):
“In regard to the issue of disputed ownership I published an excerpt from a letter written by HOF director Ken Smith in 1970 which specifically documented his receipt and possession of a group of NY Baseball Club pay receipts. That document identifies a signed Roger Connor receipt and several others sent to the Hall by Red Foley. I cannot locate any such Connor receipt (or any others) in the collection of the National Baseball Library. You describe the Connor receipt as an “elite rarity” that was “located in the archives of the New York Giants.” What evidence or information do you have to support your stated claim that this document was in a New York Giant archive? Where was that archive? What research has the auction house conducted to assure its bidders that this item is legitimate?
You do realize your consignor’s claim of title is meaningless considering the same item was offered previously by Lew Lipset who claims he has no idea where he acquired the document before it was sold his own auction. I should also note that Mr. Lipset claims to have accompanied your employee Mike Gutierrez on a trip to the National Baseball Library shortly before the time he sold the Connor check in his own auction and had Gutierrez authenticate the signature for him.
Considering the rarity of the item and the dubious provenance beginning with Lew Lipset’s sale of the same Connor receipt are you still comfortable selling it?
Or is it that, even if it appears to be stolen from the Hall of Fame, Heritage is fine with selling the document simply because the Hall will not claim title and dispute the sale (as has been the case with numerous other items that you have even previously removed from sales)? I understand your dilemma regarding the Hall not disputing the sale, but wouldn’t the strong evidence supporting the claim that this is the property of New York State, deter Heritage from even getting involved with the sale of such an item?
When Legendary Auctions recently offered an 1870 CDV of the Phila A’s we published an article showing the exact same item (with the same unique imperfections) documented as HOF property in a photograph taken by SABR inside the museum in 1983. Even with that overwhelming evidence the HOF declined to claim title or dispute the sale. Is it Heritage’s belief that the inaction of the Hall in regard to past items like the A’s CDV has now somehow made these items free and clear of future title issues for your customers?
Aren’t you really just saying that even if an item is identified as stolen you have no problem selling it because the victim of the theft is not pursuing recovery? Just wanted you to clarify that based on your statement that Heritage “has no interest in selling stolen collectibles.” If the Hall doesn’t pursue recovery of a stolen item, isn’t it still stolen?
I have been blocked by Hall officials from viewing the museum accession records from 1970 to identify the donation number assigned to the Connor receipt in 1970. Have you attempted to access that information from the Hall of Fame? Do you feel an obligation to contact the Hall of Fame considering the evidence suggesting this document was stolen from the Hall’s archive?”
Steve Ivy responded to our inquiry via email:
“We have an obligation to both the consignor, and any potential buyer, as covered by our consignment agreement, and terms of sale. As outlined in Chris’s email, we also have an obligation to deal with any 3rd party that may have a claim, and we do so when such situations occur. We can’t address what ultimately amounts to conjecture, as you are asking us to do, as that may harm the consignor who has warranted good title. As you are aware, we also warrant good title to any potential buyer, and clearly have the financial wherewithal to back it up. You obviously have no standing in this matter. Your continued attempts to create issues where none exist (at least to our knowledge) to promote your own interests is transparent to all who know you.”
It appears Ivy believes an item still has good title even if the prior seller claims he has no idea where he acquired the item and was also partners with the prime suspect in the Hall of Fame thefts at the time he sold it. Ivy also fails to address Heritage’s prior sale of the $10,000 cabinet photo of the 1886 Giants which was stolen from the Hall of Fame and also previously sold by Lew Lipset. Ivy is also aware that Lipset could not recall where he acquired that stolen item either. Ivy appears to have no problem with his company selling stolen property.
We responded to Ivy and asked for one more clarification: ”Based upon your response is it safe to say you and your son Chris just made that thing up about the Connor receipt being “located in the archives of the New York Giants”?
Incident reports related to the New York BBC payroll receipts, including the Roger Connor receipt, are said to have been filed with Chief Michael Covert of the Cooperstown Police Department. Lew Lipset, who recently retired from the hobby as an active dealer and auctioneer, was contacted last night at his home in Carefree, Arizona, and still had no recollection where he picked up the Connor autograph. When asked if he had figured out how he acquired the $250,000 worth of signed documents since we spoke last year Lipset replied, “I still don’t remember.” Lipset is said to be working on a hobby memoir chronicling his career as a dealer and collector since the 1970s. It is not clear whether Lipset’s memoir will reveal more about his relationship with Mike Gutierrez or the source of the 19th-century payroll receipts he sold in his own auctions.
By Peter J. Nash
February 3, 2014
Robert Fraser (top l.) and John McDaniel III (top r.) slandered John Rogers after an FBI search yielded fake jerseys owned by Barry Halper (bottom r.) and sold by Rob Lifson (bottom l.).
The big hobby news last week next to the Eli Manning memorabilia scandal was the FBI search of the Arkansas home and office of longtime hobbyist John Rogers. Sources with knowledge of the investigation confirmed that agents from the Chicago office of the FBI working on the Mastro case led the search which yielded a trove of memorabilia including items sold by REA and SCP and other bogus flannels sold to Rogers by New Jersey auctioneer Rob Lifson. A report tonight from Arkansas also reports that some items have already been returned to Rogers.
The group of baseball jerseys seized in the raid were once part of the collection of hobby fraudster and Lifson associate Barry Halper and were items that authenticators rejected at the time Lifson sold Halper’s collection at Sotheby’s in 1999. Included were several bogus jerseys that Halper held out to the public as genuine including jerseys he falsely claimed were worn by Lou Gehrig at Columbia University and Hartford.
A source told us that employees of Rogers’ business indicated the search was “professional and civil” and that the agents were “very accommodating.” Another source who witnessed the search said the visit had “absolutely nothing to do with the Rogers Photo Archive business” and only dealt with memorabilia collected by Mr. Rogers. News outlets in Arkansas reported that the FBI took possession of at least ten boxes of materials and Hauls of Shame has since learned that inside some of those boxes were items attributed to baseball pioneer Henry Chadwick. Rogers also purchased that material from Lifson in 2009 as part of a $550,000 court-ordered and forced sale of property that once belonged to this writer. It is not known what specific Chadwick-related materials were taken by the FBI but Rogers’ original purchase included assorted types of ephemera, documents and scrapbooks. Rogers declined to comment on the FBI searches of his home and business.
Back in 2011 when this writer published a front page expose on Barry Halper in the New York Post, the Lifson sale to Rogers was described in more detail at Hauls of Shame:
“…that collection of material was sold by the same auction house for over $500,000, which paid down the judgment considerably. It should also be noted that the same auction house made claims challenging the authenticity of items in that collection. Despite these claims, Rob Lifson sold the entire group of material to a collector who states that Lifson positively promoted the items and touted them as historically significant. When asked by the buyer if there were any items he could point to that were deemed inauthentic, Lifson told him he was not aware of any. The auction house also charged the buyer a premium of nearly $100,000 as a sellers fee…”
In addition to the material Rogers purchased from REA, the FBI also took custody of a Grey Flannel-authenticated Jackie Robinson warm-up jacket and a PSA-slabbed Babe Ruth cut signature that were recently sold to Rogers by David Kohler of SCP Auctions. One of Rogers’ employees said the collector purchased the jacket for $21,000 and the Ruth autograph for over $8,000. Rounding out the items taken by agents were blank Dale Murphy baseball bats and a signed Derek Jeter jersey from Steiner Sports among other items. Sources indicate that the other bogus jerseys Rogers purchased from Lifson and Sharon Halper (widow of Barry Halper and current owner/partner of the New York Yankees) included fakes attributed to George Wright, “Iron Man” McGinnity and many other Hall of Famers. Reports from the scene confirmed that the FBI had not removed any of the 200 million photographs found in the Rogers Archive. An auction executive we spoke with also said, “I don’t think (the search) relates to the photos.”
Sources also indicate that when Lifson sold the Halper jerseys to Rogers he stated they did not pass authentication by Grey Flannel in 1999, but that he believed many of them, including a bogus Lou Gehrig jersey, were authentic. Grey Flannel’s Andy Imperato, Richard Russek and Lifson, however, also authenticated and sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of other fakes at Sotheby’s in the Halper sale including jerseys attributed to Ed Delahanty, Cap Anson, Buck Ewing, John J. McGraw, Wilbert Robinson, Hugh Jennings, Jimmy Collins, Jim Thorpe, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle and a host of others. The Halper fakes had bogus provenance stories attached to them that were also fabricated by Barry Halper and similar to other false statements he gave to Major League Baseball and the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 when he sold them a counterfeit jersey, bat and glove he said once belonged to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
An FBI search of John Rogers' office and home yielded a fake Lou Gehrig Columbia jersey (left) once owned by Barry Halper (bottom right); Henry-Chadwick (inset) related items Rogers purchased from REA; and blank baseball bats (top middle); a Jackie Robinson jacket (top r.) and a Babe Ruth autograph (bottom r.)
Soon after the FBI search took place collectors with close ties to Lifson and REA gathered at the collector forum Net54 to proceed to attack Rogers who also owns one of the worlds largest photograph collections housed in the Rogers Archive. The forum, which also counts Rogers as a member, is moderated by convicted felon and former drug dealer Leon Luckey, who also co-owns Brockelman & Luckey Auctions. Luckey’s forum served as a platform for collectors to take shots at Rogers and publish false claims made in an attempt to link him to forgeries sold by the notorious Coaches Corner Auctions.
Collector John McDaniel III, of Philadelphia PA., a close associate and loyal customer of auctioneer Rob Lifson, kicked off the slander session by posting a 2009 Sports Collectors Digest article which claimed that Rogers had consigned a baseball signed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to Coaches Corner Auctions, the outfit notorious for selling outlandish fakes and frauds at discounted prices. After posting the 2009 SCD page McDaniel presented Rogers as a Coaches Corner consignor and wrote, “Hmmm…Coaches Corner….memorabilia….connected to a person known and accused for bogus memorabilia.”
Net54 moderator Dan Bretta then chimed in and added, “There’s only one reason someone consigns something to CC…they know it’s a fake” and also stated, “(I) really had no idea that John Rogers was mixed up with CC (Coaches Corner).”
The comments posted by McDaniel and Bretta were then met by another written by attorney Adam Warshaw suggesting that Rogers was not only a Coaches Corner consignor but compared him to admitted criminal Bill Mastro and accused him of actual criminal activity as he wrote, “Maybe he (Rogers) is the criminal mastermind behind everything. Mastro shmastro, it was Mr Rogers’ neighborhood.”
Jay Miller, a prominent collector and co-author of The Photographic Baseball Cards Of Goodwin & Co., contributed his own post saying the accusations that Rogers is a supplier to Coaches Corner were “Hilarious.” But McDaniel, Bretta, Warshaw and others failed to reveal the shortcomings of the SCD article and the veracity of the accusations they leveled in the public forum. As confirmed by Net54 member Shelly Jaffe, the Coaches Corner LOA was a fake too. Rogers never consigned material to Coaches Corner Auctions and was, in fact, a victim of fraud at the hands of either an unknown third party or the auction house itself. The SCD article was patently false and the ball was never owned by Rogers who never did business with the notorious auction house.
Jaffe was the only Net54 member to point out that the Coaches Corner LOA’s were forgeries and that Rogers had nothing to do with them. ”He (Rogers) received an email from me asking if that piece of garbage was his. He emailed CC and they took it down. He said someone used his cert. It was so bad I had to think he really had nothing to do with it.” In addition, one Net54 member who requested to remain anonymous told Hauls of Shame, “These guys are jealous of Rogers and Rogers has ruffled a lot of feathers over the years. We all know those Coaches Corner LOAs are fakes just like the memorabilia in their auctions. But that didn’t stop them from throwing him under the bus with false accusations.” In regard s to the Net54 free for all Jaffe added, “Once the chumming begins you have no idea how many sharks are on here.” Rogers declined comment for this article when we contacted him last Friday.
The common thread linking the individuals who are slandering Rogers appears to be Rob Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions. John McDaniel III is a Lifson fan-boy and purchased over $165,000 worth of material in REA’s last sale and also consigned over $70,000 in baseball cards. McDaniel is also one of the most shameless apologists in his defense of Lifson’s deceased associate, Barry Halper. In a recent post McDaniel alluded to his support of Halper characterizing Hauls of Shame’s reporting as, “Dragging dead people like Halper thru the mud for their fake items.” In the past McDaniel has taken his defense of Halper even further stating, “Did Halper have stuff that was questionable, sadly, no doubt. I also think many of us would have had bad items had we built and acquired a collection of that size. In fact, Halper would have been and was a big target for the unsavory of the world to work their trade.”
One long-time hobby veteran we spoke with said this of McDaniel, “His head is so far up Rob Lifson’s you-know-what, its ridiculous. Now that’s the bromance.”
Like McDaniel, Robert W. Fraser is another close Lifson confidant who has also used Lifson’s lawyer’s services at his behest while Dan Bretta is a Net54 moderator who is aware of several cease and desist letters sent by Lifson’s attorney, Barry Kozyra, threatening legal action if members make negative comments about his client who is also well-known in the hobby as an admitted thief of rare baseball artifacts.
Ex-felon Robert Fraser attempted to link John Rogers to the notorious Coaches Corner Auctions by posting a babe Ruth bat accompanied by a forged Rogers LOA. Net54 members Chris Williams and James Wymers knew the Rogers LOA was a forgery back in 2012 as evidenced in Williams' Autograph Magazine column (inset).
The false accusations made by McDaniel and Bretta opened the door for Fraser, a convicted felon from Westwood, New Jersey, to post additional statements to slander Rogers. Fraser posted another bogus item sold by Coaches Corner that was described as coming with a letter of authenticity written by Rogers. The baseball bat, alleged to have been signed by Babe Ruth to actor Gary Cooper was a fake and was never consigned or owned by Rogers. The letter with the bat was also a fraud and it appears that Rogers was a victim of fraud and not a perpetrator.
The statements directed at Rogers in this instance were made by Robert Fraser who in 2005 was criminally convicted of insurance fraud, multiple violations of the fraud act and perjury. Fraser said Rogers provided an LOA for a bogus item and wrote, “Coach’s Corner (is) praising John Rogers for a letter he wrote about a signed Babe Ruth bat they were selling.” Fraser noted how Coaches Corner described the bat signed to Gary Cooper as, “A one of a kind (that) also has a letter from famous John Rogers of Arkansas.” Fraser then referred again to Rogers writing, “Famous for what? Yeah right give me a break!”
Further proof that Net54 members falsely tied Rogers to Coaches Corner comes from member Christopher Williams’ own Autograph Magazine article published on July 27, 2012. Willliams, who is considered the resident expert on the criminal enterprise of Coaches Corner Auctions, identified the same forged Babe Ruth bat to Cooper and another Net54 member named James Wymer commented, “I wonder if the John Rogers letter sports a nifty forgery of his signature.”
When we asked Jay Miller what he found “hilarious” about the accusations that Rogers was supplying Coaches Corner he declined comment. Sources indicate that McDaniel, Bretta, Fraser and others knew full well that the Rogers LOA’s were forgeries, yet chose to post the accusations anyway. Fraser, who had his real estate licence revoked because of his criminal record, now works for Terrie O’Connor Realty in Saddle River, NJ, and has a history of committing perjury and making false accusations. Fraser has made several public statements that show he has lied to Federal agents and fabricated several stories making false and unfounded allegations about this writer and others. By lying to Federal agents, Fraser has opened himself up to criminal prosecution as well as civil litigation and penalties. Fraser’s wild accusations have been so outlandish and bizarre that several auction executives who have spoken with him have questioned seriously if he is mentally ill. His friend Rob Lifson echoed this sentiment a few years back when Fraser received a cease and desist letter from John Rogers after harassing him. Responding to reports of Fraser’s strange behavior, Lifson wrote to Rogers via email, “Fraser is obsessed with Peter Nash.”
John Rogers purchased this tintype of Henry Chadwick from Rob Lifson but Net54 members said the image did not include Henry Chadwick. A close up of a known photo of Chadwick (far right) appears next to a close up of the tintype image.
It’s ironic that the FBI seized materials in Rogers’ collection related to Henry Chadwick and that Rogers is being attacked on the collector forum Net54. After Rogers paid Rob Lifson close to $600,000 in 2009 for a large groups of items, including the same Chadwick materials, he posted a rare 1860’s tintype photograph of Chadwick on Net54 to see if any members could identify the other men in the image with Chadwick. But to Rogers’ surprise several members responded to his post stating that they believed the photo did not depict Chadwick and was a fraud, despite the fact that the tintype originated from Henry Chadwick’s great-granddaughter, Fran Henry, who identified her own grandmother’s identification of Chadwick in pencil on the image and claimed it was an image of Chadwick. It is likely that same tintype photo is included in the group of items taken from Roger’s home or office by the FBI.
Net54 members had strong opinions about the image. SABR’s photographic committee chairman Mark Fimoff claimed the man did not resemble Chadwick after comparing the noses to other photos saying, “There is no perceivable resemblance between these two noses.” Fimoff also dismissed the tintype because the name “H. Chadwick” was written in pencil on the image. Fimoff said, “I would never write my grandfather’s name on a vintage family photo since we all know who he is.”
Dealer Barry Sloate dismissed it as well saying, “This kind of spurious photo identification is not enough for me. My opinion is it is not Henry Chadwick.”
Collector Corey R. Shanus said, “I think there is little chance it is Chadwick” and 19th century photo collector Jimmy Leiderman agreed with Shanus adding, “I have to agree with Corey that the writing is simply a novice job to deceive.”
Interestingly enough, two years after the Chadwick image was challenged on Net54 the same Mark Fimoff helped expose a 19th century daguerreotype owned by Shanus as a notable fraud. The image fooled the hobby and historians alike but visual evidence presented in a SABR newsletter showed that the men pictured in the image were not Alexander Joy Cartwright and his teammates from the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. Shanus, who originally acquired the image from the Cartwright family in Hawaii, had held the image out as an authentic example depicting Cartwright and placed the image in Ken Burns‘ PBS film, BASEBALL, scores of baseball books and even an exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Despite all of the visual evidence showing that his image does not depict Cartwright, Shanus did not admit that his prized dag, once highlighted by Smithsonian, is a fraud.
Corey Shanus still claims this bogus daguerreotype depicts HOFer Alexander Cartwright depite the fact it bears no resemblance to a real portrait of Cartwright (inset center). Shanus' collection is also riddled with items stolen from the NYPL lincluding two 19th century Knickerbocker letters (above, right) he showed of in the book "Smithsonian Baseball."
Shanus’ collection is also notorious for including artifacts that were owned by Henry Chadwick and later stolen from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection. Shanus showed off two Knickerbocker Base Ball Club documents stolen from Chadwick’s collection in the 2005 coffee-table book Smithsonian Baseball. Those documents were bequeathed to the NYPL in 1921 by the widow of A. G. Spalding and are also the subject of an on-going FBI investigation. So far, there have been no reports of Shanus’ home in Purchase, NY, being raided by FBI agents as part of the same Federal investigation.
Shanus has also filed suit against the only person ever apprehended stealing rare artifacts from the NYPL, Rob Lifson of Robert Edward Auctions. Shanus filed a complaint against Lifson in 2011 alleging that Lifson and his auction house sold him counterfeit items including an 1853 Knickerbocker trophy ball (alleged to have been presented to Henry Chadwick) and an 1861 trophy ball from a match between Brooklyn and New York “all-stars.” (This writer purchased that same 1861 ball at Sotheby’s Halper sale in 1999 for over $60,000. Shanus notes in his complaint that these items were once owned by this writer.) Shanus also accuses REA of defrauding him and inflating memorabilia prices by falsely reporting record sales of rare baseball artifacts. The complaint does not charge Lifson with selling Shanus any items that were stolen from the NYPL’s famous Spalding Collection. Sources also indicate that Shanus claims to have unearthed evidence in discovery suggesting that Lifson has been involved in a shill-bidding scheme in his own auctions with a relative.
Lifson and REA, through their attorney, Barry Kozyra, denied the allegations and called the Shanus lawsuit frivolous and stated, “The Complaint contains numerous misstatements of fact and inaccuracies as Mr. Shanus must know as well as false suppositions.” Lifson’s attorney added, “The Complaint is frivolous as a matter of law and REA and Mr. Lifson will seek full redress through the courts for damages, attorney fees and costs from Mr. Shanus and anyone acting in concert with him or on his behalf.”
Despite Lifson’s lawyers claims that the charges against his client have no merit, Lifson has had a well-documented history of selling bogus and fraudulent materials. In the 1999 Halper sale Lifson catalogued and sold fake uniforms, misrepresented game-used equipment, forged Babe Ruth autographs and even a phony 1846 Knickerbocker baseball he claimed was genuine.
Lifson originally filed a motion to dismiss the Shanus complaint claiming that the statute of limitations for the action had expired, but U. S. District Court Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh denied the motion and a counterclaim filed by Lifson against Shanus was also thrown out of court. The case is on-going and sources indicate that attorneys for Lifson and Shanus have deposed and served subpoenas on many hobby executives in the course of the litigation. A source confirms that Lifson’s lawyer, Barry Kozyra, has been trying to serve Hunt Auctions President David Hunt but has claimed he believes Hunt “may be purposely avoiding service.”
In relation to the FBI search of Rogers’ home and business, one hobby executive we spoke with said, “Why does Rob (Lifson) get a pass?” Another told us, “When is the FBI raid of Lifson’s home and office in Watchung scheduled?”
(Editors Note: This writer has been involved in lawsuits with Robert W. Fraser, Robert Lifson and REA. This writer has also had prior business relationships with Fraser, Lifson, REA and John Rogers.)
(Correction: In the original version of this article we said that SABR’s Mark Fimoff compared “noses and ears” on a tintype and a photo of Henry Chadwick. That was incorrect. Fimoff only compared noses.)
By Peter J. Nash
January 21, 2014
Willie Ratner's Wagner first appeared in a newspaper in 1930 and later in "The Complete Book of Baseball Cards" in 1976 (above).
It was in the November 6, 1930, edition of the Newark Evening News that the legend was born. Writer Fred J. Bendel published an article about the baseball card collection of fellow News scribe Willie Ratner, a nationally renowned boxing writer who started working at the newspaper as a copy boy in 1912. Ratner was about 15 years old when the famous T206 tobacco card issue was commercially distributed in cigarette packs.
Illustrated in the newspaper that day in 1930 were an assortment of Ratner’s private stash of T205 and T206 baseball cards and in the top row, appearing for the first time in the press, was the card featuring the portrait of the great Honus Wagner. The byline of the article read: “Cards That ‘Were Hard To Get’ And Old Honus Was The Hardest.”
It appears to be the first time the Wagner card (and its scarcity) was recognized anywhere in a public forum and three decades before Jefferson Burdick noted its rarity in a later edition of the American Card Catalog in 1960 when he assigned a value of $50 to the slice of cardboard. In the December 2000 issue of VCBC, collector Keith Olbermann noted how hobby pioneer Burdick and his friend Sgt. John Wagner had “confirmed the existence of the Honus Wagner card in the mid-1930s.” In addition, writer George Vrechek, who has researched Burdick extensively and has published several important pieces on the hobby’s early days, was able to identify Burdick’s first reference of the Wagner in his Card Collectors Bulletin of 1941. Publishing a T206 checklist created by Howard Myers, Burdick remarked, “The scarcest cards are Plank and Wagner. Amounts of 50 cents and $1.00 are being offered for these.”
The Wagner card was actually first mentioned decades earlier in the Charlotte-Observer in August of 1909, just as the cards were showing up in packs of Piedmont Cigarettes in the South. The article claimed that the cards were “more sought after than gold” by young boys who purchased packs of cigarettes for the pictures of “baseball men” and then “peddled the smokeables to passers on the streets.” The report noted that the cards of Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner were especially desired but that “only a few pictures of Cobb had been found” until a shipment arrived at the Wilson Drug Store and 13 more Cobb’s surfaced. No mention was made of a Wagner card being discovered.
Sportswriters Wirt Gammon (left) and Willie Ratner (right) both collected T206 cards when they were issued commercially in tobacco products. By the time Ratner had sold his Honus Wagner to Gammon, the Tennesean was selling T206 cards in the "Ballcard Collector" for just 45 cents.
Similar to the kids down South, Willie Ratner was collecting the same tobacco cards up North in New Haven, Connecticut, until he moved to Newark in 1912 with his baseball card collection in tow. It’s likely Ratner had snagged his Wagner right out of a pack of Sweet Caporal Cigarettes a few years earlier. No doubt Ratner was caught up in the same collecting hysteria that was described in Charlotte in 1909 when it was reported in detail how kids started flipping T206 cards competitively. By the looks of Ratner’s Wagner with its creases and rounded corners its possible he was a fan of the pastime which had kids challenging each other to acquire more cards. “While the picture is flying in the air, one of the boys calls the side it will fall on, face up or down, ” the Observer reported. The writer added, “If in his guess he is correct, the picture goes to him, otherwise he has lost one of his own pictures.” In some cases a winning kid could walk away “exultant with the entire collection of his friends in his hands.”
An article published in the Charlotte Observer in August of 1909 described the popularity of T206 cards and the affinity kids had for them. The article describes early "card-flipping" which likely contributed to the condition of Willie Ratner's Wagner (center).
By all accounts Ratner treasured the baseball cards he had amassed in the card-flipping battles of his youth and he maintained the collection well into adulthood when he shared them with his readers in Newark in 1930. His colleague Fred J. Bendel wrote, “These pictures are but a few of the collection which Willie Ratner, News boxing writer, began collecting years ago.”
In addition to covering boxing matches in his “Punching the Bag” column, Ratner not only collected the pictures of baseball players on cards, he also commiserated with real-life sports legends and stars of the silver screen like Jack Dempsey and the child actor Jackie Coogan, who he met on a cruise to Paris in 1924. Ratner even rubbed elbows with underworld crime figures and in 1929 was notably assaulted by racketeers for his “sarcastic reporting” of several “fast ones” pulled on boxing fans in Newark, which was known as a “sucker town” on the fight circuit. Luckily for Ratner, the gangsters didn’t take his Honus Wagner as a hostage.
Willie Ratner's Honus Wagner first appeared in the Nov. 6, 1930, edition of the Newark Evening News (NBL).
Ratner held onto his collection through the Great Depression and also through his tenure with the newspaper which spanned from 1912 to 1972. During this long stretch of time Ratner repeatedly turned down offers for his Honus Wagner from aspiring hobbyists like Wirt Gammon from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Gammon was a fellow newspaper writer who also published and wrote for the early hobby newsletter The Ballcard Collector and after making several offers to Ratner for the hard-to-get card decided to take a chance and send him a blank check in the mail. To his surprise, Ratner fulfilled his request for the card. According to The Complete Book of Baseball Cards, “Ratner wrote in only the original sum offered by the Tennessean—a mere pittance compared to later offers. Ratner had not been holding back, he told the buyer– he had simply wanted to keep the card. In effect he gave the card away.”
Wirt Gammon had wanted a Wagner ever since he was a little kid. In his “Gammon’s Corner” column in 1970 he fondly recalled how he collected T206 cards soon after they were released in cigarette packs sold by the American Tobacco Company. Gammon wrote, “When T205 and T206 began around 1910, I was five years old and I can remember back when I was about seven that these cards began to appear everywhere. Many smokers collected them. If not, their children collected the bright colored pictures, often begging parents to buy a pack.” Gammon recalled how he only had one relative who was a smoker and that, much to his dismay, his uncle smoked a brand that didn’t include baseball cards. Gammon also recalled that many smokers simply discarded the cards after opening their pack and he wrote, “It was nothing to walk along the street and see a baseball cigarette card on the sidewalk or the edge of the road or edge of a yard.” So that’s how he collected them. He added, “The best I could hope for was to find a card or two along the sidewalk, where some smoke-stained-fingered guy had discarded it as he opened his pack.” Gammon, however, never found a Wagner in the gutter and had to wait several decades until Willie Ratner was willing to part with his prized possession.
Wirt Gammon placed want-ads for Wagners as early as 1953 in The Sporting News (inset from "Bob Lemke's Blog"). Gammon sold his Wagner to Bill Haber in 1970 and Haber showed off the card in a 1971 issue of The Trader Speaks.
Gammon had been searching for years for his own Wagner via want ads he placed in The Sporting News and other publications with no luck until he finally acquired his “Holy Grail” from Ratner. Little did Gammon realize that like his fellow scribe he was merely a temporary caretaker of the T206 treasure and he ended up parting with the rarity when a young Brooklynite named Bill Haber offered him $500 for the card on June 1, 1970. Haber was working as the baseball director for the Topps Chewing Gum Company and was responsible for the player bios and facts found on the backs of baseball card issues. He was also one of the sixteen founding members of the Society For American Baseball Research in 1971 and according to the current SABR website he was, “considered one of the greatest biographical researchers” in baseball research history.
But Haber’s other passion was baseball cards and he was a dedicated collector who by 1970 had assembled near-complete sets of the T205, T206 and T207 issues. According to Haber it took him 19 months to assemble the sets and in his “Haber Hi-Lites” column in The Ballcard Collector, he said his “greatest stroke of luck occurred when (he) found a non-collector who had a (Eddie) Plank, and (he) bought it from him for $6.” That left Haber with only the Honus Wagner on his wish list and he then proceeded to “make a cash offer to all (he) knew had the card.” Haber recalled, “The going price when I was looking was $250. I decided it was worth $500 to me.” Wirt Gammon accepted Haber’s cash offer and after the collector “borrowed $350 from (his) wife” Gammon shipped the Wagner card up north to Brooklyn where it remained in Haber’s collection for several decades until the mid-1990’s.
Bill Haber's "Ratner-Gammon Wagner" was reproduced by Woody Gelman in one of the first Wagner card reprints in 1975 (center). (From: Old Cardboard, Issue #23, Summer 2010)
When Haber was profiled in the “Collector of the Month” feature in The Trader Speaks in February of 1971, he was pictured holding his Wagner which was still affixed to a scrap book page with other T206 cards arranged alphabetically. Based upon that image it is possible that Ratner or Gammon had maintained their original collection in a scrapbook and that a full page, including the Wagner, was passed along to Haber. By the time Haber acquired the card in 1970 it was still affixed to that page which had been removed from a larger volume. Gammon had told Haber the card was “creased and stained” but the card’s condition was an afterthought.
Haber only knew of “6 or 8″ collectors who had one at that time. In June of 1973, Haber told Dan Dischley in The Trader Speaks that his Wagner was scheduled to be featured on a TV show “dealing strictly with collecting” and hosted by Joe Garagiola before his “Monday-Game-of-the-week” telecast. (Its unclear if that show ever aired.) Haber’s Wagner was also reproduced by Woody Gelman’s company, the Nostalgia Press, in 1975 to create one of the earliest Wagner reprint cards. The card has always been easily identifiable on account of its unique creases and imperfections.
After Bill Haber's death in 1995, his Wagner appeared for sale in an SCD auction conducted by Pat Quinn and Bill Mastro of The Sports Collectors Store in Chicago.
Haber did business with most all of the prominent collectors in the 1970s and 80s including other Wagner owners like Bill Mastro and Mike Aronstein. In fact, it was a 17 year-old Mastro who attended with Haber what was considered one of the earliest card “conventions” held in Aronstein’s basement in Upstate New York in 1970. Traveling from all over the country, collectors like Mastro and Haber joined Dennis Graye, Dan Dischley, Tom Collier, Bill Zekus, Bob Jasperson, Irv Lerner, Bill Himmelman, Fred McKie and other notables in a makeshift “convention hall” located in Aronstein’s downstairs den. Haber brought along his Honus Wagner card to show off and after impressing the group tried to “get the trading wheels going.” As the room filled up, Mastro, Jasperson and Graye were described as the only attendees “under voting age” and, according to the Ballcard Collector, Haber traded Tom Collier for some 1949 Bowman PCL cards and Mastro was able to trade with Graye for a T206 Sherry Magie error card. There’s no doubt that when Mastro saw Haber’s own Wagner he wanted one for himself.
By the time he turned 19, Mastro had acquired not just one, but two Wagners. In 1972 he purchased one for a record price of $1,500 and got lucky with another as “part of an unsorted collection.” Mastro told Collectibles Illustrated, “I found the Wagner card in it and it turned out to be a freebee.” In 1981 Mastro also told Bill Madden of The Sporting News that one of his Wagners came from a priest who “found it in his attic” and that he had to sell another Wagner to finance the purchase of a car, “in a hurry.”
Bill Haber (center) purchased his Wagner from Wirt Gammon for $500 in 1970 and by 1973 a young Bill Mastro had paid a record-breaking $1,500 for another Wagner.
In contrast, Bill Haber is said to have been offered a second Wagner card for $1,000 which was in much better condition than Willie Ratner’s former card. But Haber, never obsessed with the condition of his cards, declined. In 2012, this story was recounted in response to a tribute to Haber written by Keith Olbermann and published on the Topps Archive blog. Collector Marc Seligman commented that Haber wasn’t keen on upgrading his Wagner because he “said he didn’t need doubles.” Seligman added, ”Some might have found that foolish but he wasn’t in it for the greed. He was in it for the history.” Haber’s old friend and Chicago dealer Pat Quinn echoed that sentiment more recently when he told us, “Bill never cared about the condition of his cards, they could have been chipped or even had a corner missing as long as he could complete a series or set.”
Bill Mastro, on the other hand, went on to become the country’s preeminent card dealer with an uncanny knack for tracking down multiple Wagner cards in high-grade condition and turning hefty profits. By 1981 Mastro said he had already seen twenty Wagner cards in person during his collecting career and by 1985 he’d purchased two more Wagner cards for $25,000 each. One of those cards was the now infamous Gretzky-McNall Wagner which Mastro recently admitted he’d altered and trimmed before he sold it to Jim Copeland for $110,000 in 1987. While Mastro was keeping tabs on all of the Wagners in the hobby and contributing to their skyrocketing value, Bill Haber was content to sit on his own Wagner and his completed set of T206 with no intention of selling.
Pat Quinn (shown above at the 1981 National Convention) met Bill Haber on the card show circuit in the 1970s and the relationship secured him the consignment of Haber's collection in 1996. (Sept. 1981. The Trader Speaks)
Unfortunately, Bill Haber passed away unexpectedly in 1995 after a fatal asthma attack and his widow ended up calling Pat Quinn of the Sports Collectors Store in LaGrange, Illinois, to sell his Honus Wagner card and the remainder of his collection. Quinn offered Willie Ratner’s old Wagner for sale in a telephone auction published in Sports Collectors Digest in March of 1996 and the time-worn card Haber had once paid Wirt Gammon $500 for ended up selling for close to $50,000. That’s an appreciation of close to one hundred times the purchase price in just twenty six years. In the SCD lot description Quinn wrote that the offering was, “A seldom seen opportunity for you to join the most exclusive club in sports collecting–”The Wagner Club”–it has few members and many aspirants.”
Quinn isn’t sure who ended up joining the ever so exclusive “Wagner Club” after his auction in 1996. ”I can’t remember who bought that Wagner in the SCD sale, it was such a long time ago and it was one of my last auctions,” said Quinn. It’s also unknown whether Willie Ratner’s Wagner has changed hands again since the time of Quinn’s auction or whether its been graded by either PSA or SGC. SGC President, Dave Forman recalled seeing the card in 1996 and told us, “I remember the auction but have no idea where it is now.” One things for sure, however.
Whoever the current owner is, he possesses the “Original Wagner” and an important piece of baseball and hobby history. It represents the true essence of collecting more than a near-mint condition Wagner ever could. There are other Wagners more valuable and pleasing to the eye, but this Wagner transcends its own imperfections. It’s the original.
(Editors Note: This is the first installment in a Hauls of Shame series that will document the history of all the 64+ T206 Honus Wagner cards known to exist. If you know of any others with notable provenance drop us a line at:Tips@HaulsofShame.com )
By Peter J. Nash
January 13, 2014
Gerry Schwartz purchased a T206 Magee on eBay (left) under handle of "PSA-Card." That same card appeared in June 2013 as the "Magie" error variation (right) at the Mile High Card Co.
Earlier this month we published a report about the two bogus T206 Sherry Magie error cards that were authenticated and encapsulated by PSA and then offered for sale at Mile High Card Co. and in Probstein123’s eBay auction. Joe Orlando of PSA bought back the fake sold at Mile High for over $16,000 while Rick Probstein withdrew the other fake from his sale and sent it back to the PSA offices in California.
Now new evidence has emerged showing that both of the bogus cards were originally purchased as common T206 “Magee” variations on eBay by dealer Gerry Schwartz of Shirley, New York. In addition, a source tells Hauls of Shame that one of Schwartz’ Magee cards was also submitted to Sportscard Guaranty (SGC) as an altered “Magie” error variation.
After the card was identified as a fake by SGC graders, the card was then submitted to PSA at a later date and slabbed as a genuine Magie error card. That same source specified that the card given to SGC originated with Schwartz and when asked how sure he was about Schwartz’ links to the card he replied, “It’s gospel.”
In an interview with Hauls of Shame, the President of SGC, Dave Forman, said he could not reveal customer information publicly but added, “My graders did examine a Magie card that exhibited sophisticated alteration.” Forman said, however, he could not definitively identify that card as one of the two originally purchased by Schwartz on eBay and later cracked out of their PSA and SGC holders to become “Magie” error cards. Some in the hobby have claimed that Forman was once a partner with Schwartz and when we asked him to describe his relationship Forman stated, “I did several deals with Gerry between 1993 and 1995 but there was never a formal partnership.”
One of the T206 Magie fakes ended up selling for over $16,000 in a Mile High Card Co. auction in June. When asked if Gerry Schwartz was the consignor of the fake card sold in his auction Brian Drent said, “I can neither confirm or deny whether Schwartz was the consignor of the Magie card sold in our auction.” Drent added, “After Joe Orlando contacted us and bought the card back from our buyer in Australia, that’s the last I heard about this card.” Drent indicated that when he was first made aware of the situation by Orlando, the PSA President already knew the identity of his consignor. ”I assumed that Joe was already in contact with the consignor and was dealing directly with him, I just don’t know what actually happened after Joe and I spoke.”
Hauls of Shame contacted Gerry Schwartz by phone and email and asked if he could comment or offer any additional information as to how the cards he purchased on eBay ended up being submitted to PSA as T206 Magie error cards. Schwartz did not respond to our inquiry. Schwartz purchased the two Magee cards under the eBay ID “psa-card” and has also used the ID “syzygy3.14″ dating back to 2001.
Gerry Schwartz has an eBay ID history using the names "psa-card" and "syzygy3.14" SGC President Dave Forman (right) says his graders recently examined and rejected a sophisticated Magie forgery.
Sources indicate that Schwartz has business relationships with many of the major auction houses and dealers in the country. It is also known throughout the hobby that allegations have been made by collectors who claim that Schwartz has sold altered and trimmed cards that were purchased on eBay and that in the past PSA has returned cards submitted by Schwartz because they were determined to have been trimmed. In one particular instance a creased 1916 “Holmes to Holmes Bread” Joe Jackson card that Schwartz purchased on eBay later appeared in a Robert Edward Auctions sale with its creasing much less visible than it was in its original eBay listing. Despite these controversies Net54 moderator Leon Luckey publicly vouched for Schwartz in 2009 calling him a “recommended seller.”
In addition to buying the two Magee cards on eBay Schwartz is said to have also purchased a T206 “Joe Doyle, NY” card which some believe could be similarly transformed into an ultra-rare “Joe Doyle NY Nat’l” variation. Several Doyle cards in the hobby are suspected to be fakes dating back to the example ESPN’s Keith Olbermann purchased from dealer Alan Rosen back in 1999. Olbermann purchased the card from Rosen and was refunded $21,000 when it was determined that the card was an altered counterfeit. Olbermann said in an article he wrote for VCBC, “Someone had clipped the word “Nat’l” off another T206 card and affixed it somehow to an ordinary Joe Doyle, N.Y.”
The new Magie fakes are far more sophisticated than the Doyle forgeries uncovered in the past like the Olbermann example. Back then a more professional Doyle forgery was encapsulated and deemed authentic by PSA and appeared in a company published coffee-table book called Collecting Sports Legends-The Ultimate Hobby Guide. At that time collector Corey R. Shanus asked other collectors on the Net54 collector forum: “If the entire player/team lettering on the bottom of the card is erased, can that erasure be detected? I ask because it occurs to me that if it cannot, then what’s to prevent a skilled crook from erasing a “Magee, Phila. Nat’l” and replacing it with a “Magie, Phila. Nat’l”?” Shanus asked that question five years ago and the only thing that prevented these two fakes from retaining their fraudulent authentic status was the vigilant eye of several collectors.
In 2000 SCD reported on a fake T206 Doyle purchased by Keith Olbermann (left) and years later a more sophisticated Doyle forgery was illustrated in a PSA coffee-table book from 2009 (right).
The news that Schwartz was the eBay buyer of both Magee cards was met with reactions by dealers and auction executives ranging from statements of “Wow” and “Holy sh–t” to “Keep me out of this” and “This is now a criminal matter.” One major auctioneer claimed he didn’t know Gerry Schwartz and another source prominent in the hobby told us, “My guess is that for sure there is another party (other than Schwartz) involved in the Magee fiasco but I have no idea who it is.”
Schwartz has also been associated in the past with dealer Gary Moser who claims he “was one of the first dealers to send (his) cards out and allowed a third party to determine grade.” In the past Moser has also been accused of selling altered and trimmed cards to collectors. In one such case, collector Marc Schoenen claimed that Moser had sold him, “A large number of high-grade GAI 1955 Bowman baseball cards that were independently verified later as having been trimmed, re-glossed, or a combination of both.” Schoenen confronted Moser on the Net54 board in 2008 and asked him, ”Are you planning on letting us all in on the secrets as to how you managed to perpetrate these alterations and get them past a professional grading company?” We asked Schoenen if he ever had similar problems with Schwartz and he replied, “My problems were always with Moser, specifically, but I believe they’re a tag team.” Schoenen also said he plans on having his own T206 Magie card re-examined to make sure it is authentic.
One other person who was willing to go on the record about Schwartz was outspoken collector Dan McKee who told us, “Since it seems Gerry was the buyer of the 2 Magee commons used to make the errors, then he should at least be able to tell us who he sold them to so that a trace can be started.”
Hauls of Shame has not been able to confirm whether the two T206 Magie fakes are currently being investigated by either local law enforcement or the New York office of the FBI.
(If you have any additional information on the two T206 Magie fakes or others, please contact us at: Tips@Haulsofshame.com )
By Peter J. Nash
January 6, 2014
PSA graded and authenticated two T206 Sherwood Magee cards that were fraudulently altered and transformed into bogus "Magie" error card rarities.
In a recently published report Hauls of Shame confirmed there are at least sixty-four T206 Honus Wagner cards known to exist including the trimmed PSA-8 Mastro example and the PSA-2 copy currently up for sale at Lelands.
The Wagner card along with another T206 of HOFer Eddie Plank are two of the traditional “Big Three” cards highlighted in the storied tobacco card set dubbed “The Monster” by hobby pioneer Bill Heitman. The third is the “Sherwood Magie” error card which depicts player Sherry Magee and was misspelled in early production before being corrected, thus creating another rarity with just over 100 copies known to exist.
Over the past several decades PSA has graded dozens of the three celebrated cards but with the revelations in Federal Court that hobby kingpin Bill Mastro trimmed and altered the PSA-8 Honus Wagner card, the company founded by David Hall and headed by president Joe Orlando has come under fire as the evidence suggests PSA was founded on a fraudulent authentication of an iconic artifact. Many PSA customers and supporters, however, have claimed that the authentication of the Wagner card back in 1991 was an anomaly and that the grading company is both qualified and competent maintaining its status as the leader in the field along with SportsCard Guaranty (SGC).
But now PSA is dealing with another grading scandal to add to its list of failures after collectors uncovered two altered and bogus T206 Sherwood Magie error cards that the company authenticated, graded and encapsulated in 2013. One example sold for over $16,000 at a Mile High Cards auction in June and another was removed from eBay in November when it was exposed as a fake by collector Chris Browne. Browne uncovered images of the exact same cards in their prior PSA and SGC graded holders showing the cards with the correct “Magee” spelling before they were fraudulently altered and transformed into the “Magie” error rarity.
PSA & SGC authenticated and graded the two "Magee" cards to the left before they were removed from their holders and altered to become "Magie" error cards which were both graded and slabbed by PSA (right)
The news that such fakes could bypass the PSA experts decades after they graded the trimmed PSA-8 Wagner suggests that the services rendered by PSA may be flawed to a level almost beyond belief for collectors, dealers and auctioneers who are invested in PSA product.
PSA has had a poor track record with the T206 issue and the Magie error card in particular. In 2003, longtime T206 collector Dan McKee filed suit against PSA after the company lost his Magie error card which he had sent to the company for grading. In 2004, a California court in Orange County ruled against PSA and awarded McKee damages of $4,852. In a press release issued by McKee’s attorney, Adam Warshaw, it was also revealed that the trial testimony of Joe Orlando showed that PSA “does not take any steps to independently monitor its receivers when they open packages submitted to PSA.”
In addition to past security issues, even more prevalent are allegations that PSA has graded and encapsulated scores of altered and trimmed cards that trace back to Bill Mastro and the T206 set sold by Jim Copeland at Sotheby’s in 1991. That T206 set ended up in the collection of coin collector Kirk Harris and was subsequently given high grades by PSA who identified the near-mint cards on the PSA flips as coming from “The Harris Collection.” Harris’ T206 set was advertised by the company as the “first pedigreed T206 set” in the PSA set registry.
The recent PSA authentications of the two Magie fakes take claims of authentication malpractice and alleged fraud by the company to a new level. Considering only one-hundred or so genuine examples of the Magie error card exist, questions are now being asked as to how PSA failed to detect the alterations and turned a $200 common card into a $16,000 treasure.
EBay seller Rick Probstein (inset) offered the doctored T206 Magie error card and then withdrew it after collectors exposed it as a fake.
Several collectors had questioned the authenticity of one of the Magie error cards when it was offered last November in an eBay sale by seller Rick Probstein and at the same time another collector questioned the Magie that had been sold at Mile High in June. The Magie cards were then proven to be bogus by collector Chris Browne of Calgary, Ontario, who was able to locate the sales of the exact same cards in their previous holders as the “Magee” variations before being transformed into rarities. Browne posted his findings on collector forum Net54 and the eBay seller Probstein123 promptly removed the card from his eBay auction. Probstein also posted his reaction on the same forum and stated, “I’m still in shock that such a high profile card could get holdered, very upsetting.” When Hauls of Shame contacted Probstein he said, “I’m not surprised something like this could happen, there are a lot of crooks out there doctoring up cards.”
In his interview with Hauls of Shame Probstein said he was alerted to the problem by one of his consignors and that after reviewing Browne’s discovery and having a conversation with a grader from SGC, he ended the auction. Probstein added, “Joe Orlando contacted me and asked for the card so we shipped it back to PSA overnight.” Probstein said he has not heard back from Orlando and when asked who consigned the card to his auction he said, “That information is private.” According to Chris Browne, the same buyer purchased both of the graded cards on eBay before they were doctored. Browne added, “Joe Orlando is looking into it.”
Brian Drent, owner of Mile High Cards, told us that the bogus Magie card sold in his auction was consigned by the same person who consigned the other fake to Probstein’s eBay auction. Said Drent, “All I know is what he told me and he said he bought both cards in a group of stuff and that he’d been duped himself.” According to Drent his buyer was overseas and the card had been shipped out of the country by the time it was identified as a fake. After learning about the card’s problems Drent said, “I spoke with Joe Orlando and he immediately contacted our buyer and bought the card back from him.” Drent added, “Joe was very disturbed and very upset about it. But he took care of our buyer immediately.” In regards to the quality of the doctoring performed on the Magie card Drent said, “It wasn’t an easy thing to pick up there in the holder and it wasn’t a high-grade copy. I didn’t pay sufficient attention to it, it just never crossed our mind. I should have looked closer than I did.”
PSA founder David Hall (inset top left) and President Joe Orlando (inset top right), advertise that they can "turn your cardboard into gold." They delivered on that promise to a submitter of (2) T206 fakes exposed by Chris Browne (inset bottom).
The critical question now is who bought the two fakes when they were still “Magee” cards and who actually submitted them to PSA as altered “Magie” rarities. Chris Browne says the same person also purchased a T206 Doyle card which could also be altered to create a rarity. Hauls of Shame has not been able to determine the name of the consignor of both bogus cards and Brian Drent said his card came from a client who, “Consigns to Mile High infrequently.” Rick Probstein said he was not aware that his consignor was selling both fake cards and added, “I didn’t talk to my consignor about it, I just sent it back to PSA after Joe Orlando contacted me. My consignor hasn’t even contact me about his card. I’m sure Joe Orlando has contacted him.” Despite the fact that both fakes went undetected by PSA graders Probstein said, “Their work is impeccable.”
Allegations that PSA gives preferential treatment and higher grades to auction house executives and high-volume customers has fueled even more speculation about who actually submitted both Magie fakes for encapsulation. Sources indicate that the FBI is aware of this current situation and has also been looking into PSA business practices for both card and autograph authentication. The fact that one of the bogus cards was actually graded previously by PSA as a Magee “Ex 5″ and ended up a “Magie” with a lower grade of “Good 2″ is also problematic. PSA President Joe Orlando did not respond to our inquiry for comment on who submitted both fakes to his graders and how those graders failed to identify the counterfeit cards. Considering the scarcity of the T206 Wagner, Plank and Magie cards, submissions of these examples are far from everyday occurrences at PSA. One would think the company’s most experienced graders would be responsible for examining such cards. Identifying and outing who submitted the fakes to PSA could help uncover a sophisticated forgery ring and also shed more light on other fakes that have infiltrated the marketplace.
In 1991, PSA failed when they graded and legitimized Bill Mastro’s trimmed T206 Wagner and now twenty three years later they are encapsulating T206 cards that have had their original graphics removed and reapplied fraudulently. How much confidence can PSA customers have in the company and the PSA product found in their own collections?
Dan McKee has seen his share of Magie error cards in his collecting career and the recent revelations regarding PSA’s grading of the two fakes has him very concerned. Says McKee, “These recent T206 Magie error fakes have got to make you wonder if the one you are holding is good. I have a friend with seven of them and he is checking them with a fine tooth comb. His were all acquired within the last ten years unlike the one I have in my set which I found in the mid 1980s.”
In contrast to his feelings about PSA’s negligence when they lost his own Magie card back in 2003, McKee feels some empathy for the company. He added, “About the quality of these fakes and them getting by PSA I can only say that with the naked eye and large scans they look darn scary! Now PSA gets paid to protect us from this but these are the best I have ever seen.”
Not surprisingly, despite the major ramifications of this story, it has not been covered anywhere in the so-called “hobby press” since the time the fakes were exposed back in November.
Older Posts »
By Peter J. Nash
December 30, 2013
2013's Top 10 Stories include the Bill Mastro guilty plea; PSA & JSA's Worst 100; and the NYPL & FBI give-aways of stolen artifacts.
Guilty pleas, institutional negligence and authentication malfeasance filled the headlines for 2013 and helped increase Hauls of Shame’s readership to record highs since our inception in 2010. By the time the year is up we’ll have had over 1.5 million page views by over 600,000 unique users.
Thanks to the TPA’s, Bill Mastro, the trimmed T206 Honus Wagner and the stolen treasures from the NYPLs famous Spalding Collection, the headlines of 2013 provided compelling reading material for hobby aficionados and baseball history buffs alike.
Some of the stories infiltrated the mainstream media while others were useful for collectors trying to avoid getting ripped off online or on the auction house floor. Some of the stories even inspired threatening cease and desist notices from shyster lawyers like REA’s Barry Kozyra trying to shield clients from further ridicule and exposure.
While the baseball artifact trade remains a mine-field of fraud and deception, collectors were at least afforded the opportunity to see for themselves the exposure of forgeries and the identifications of artifacts wrongfully removed from institutions. Hopefully, the investigative reporting on this site was a welcome alternative to other hobby outlets that simply regurgitate press releases issued by their advertisers and provide cover for the usual suspects and hobby fraudsters.
2013 was business as usual for the hobby PR-machines as Joe Orlando and PSA opened themselves up to further allegations of racketeering as they continued to solicit and post paid advertisements from the very same companies that they give preferential treatment to.
Continued milquetoast reporting from hobby frauds like Rich Mueller and Rich Klein at Sports Collectors Daily illustrated how so-called hobby news outlets remain in the pocket of assorted hobby power brokers. Klein published the most embarrassing post of the year when he interviewed Joe Orlando and tossed soft-balls at him asking about his college baseball career and the “fun and interesting people he’s dealt with.” Klein decided not to ask Orlando about all of the indicted people he’s worked with; the Mastro trim-job on the PSA-8 Wagner or the rumors he’s the target of an FBI probe. Klein and Sports Collectors Daily win our “Sycophants of the Year” honors, hands down (or hands out).
The runner up for bootlicker of the year was Klein’s buddy, convicted felon Leon Luckey who continued his unabashed cronyism and continued support of his banner ad buyers/fraudsters (except for Lelands) over at Net54; Although there have been a host of allegations that Luckey is a serial-shill bidder who’s been known to bid up his own items in Mastro auctions, Luckey revealed his sheer disgust with Bill Mastro after Mastro posted a comment on Paul Lesko’s blog. Luckey chimed in with the line of the year: “Even though I have considered Bill a hobby friend, and understand I was shill bid, I didn’t have the amount of disrespect towards him which I do now, until I read his statement.”
Last but not least Sports Collecting News‘ Michael Borkin provided further evidence of bias and misconduct in the “hobby news” business when he sent an email to Hauls of Shame saying he couldn’t post our number four story of 2013 about REA selling a host of fake Babe Ruth items because: “Rob (Lifson) is a friend of mine and I don’t want to put anything on my site that slams him.”
Fortunately, a large cross section of the hobby has sought out the coverage on this site which is free from the incestuous relationships between the auctioneers, authenticators and PR flacks that control the delivery of hobby news. Our year-end list of the top 10 stories was determined by you, the readers, who have flocked to Hauls of Shame for their hobby news over the past twelve months. Thank you for your continued support.
HERE ARE THE TOP 10 STORIES OF 2013:
1. 3rd Party Authenticators PSA/DNA & JSA Exposed In Hauls of Shame’s “Worst 100 Authentications”-
PSA/DNA and JSA have made some stunning mistakes in recent history and our expose listed and illustrated the top 100 blunders made by so-called experts like Jimmy Spence and Steve Grad in great detail. The evidence suggests that Grad and Spence, who both got their start at the company founded on a fraud, are unqualified to authenticate autographs. Included in the “Worst 100″ were the infamous Sal Bando and Mike Schmidt videos and the exposure of authentication malpractice related to authentications of signatures attributed to A G Spalding, Jimmy Collins, Mickey Welch, Dan Brouthers, Cap Anson, P T Barnum, Jesse Burkett, Rocky Marciano and even Cheetah the Chimp. The response from our readers was overwhelming and the report easily surpassed all others to become the most popular story of 2013 .
2. The Bill Mastro Guilty Plea & Admission to Trimming & Altering the PSA-8 Honus Wagner Card-
As a result of an FBI investigation that lasted several years, former Mastro Auctions founder Bill Mastro plead guilty in Federal court in Chicago to one count of mail fraud but he also admitted to trimming the famous PSA-8 T206 Honus Wagner card before he sold it to Jim Copeland for $120,000 in 1987. The story was included in our on-going 10-part investigative series dedicated to the Mastro case and the trimmed T206 Wagner. Read the full story published in October here.
3. The US Attorney’s Office & NYPL Give Away Stolen Documents From Baseball Pioneer Harry Wright’s Donated Archive-
After four years of the FBI investigating the theft of Harry Wright’s papers from the NYPL’s famous Spalding Collection in the 1970’s, the stolen papers seized after being identified in MLB’s All-Star FanFest Auction in 2009 were returned to the consignor and then sold to a collector. All of this despite the fact that many of the documents were cited and sourced specifically to the NYPL collection in scholarly works and notes written by Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills. The New York Post also covered the story but our report went into much greater detail.
4. Operation Bambino: REA & Lifson Exposed Selling More Babe Ruth Forgeries Including The Infamous Gary Cooper Photograph-
Despite the fact that author Ron Keurajian identified it as a forgery and Gary Cooper’s own daughter claimed that her family never had such an item in the collection they curate, Rob Lifson and REA went ahead and sold the photo they said was inscribed by Babe Ruth to the Pride of the Yankees actor. Unlike the Cooper photo REA removed a group of Ruth signed photographs from the same sale after Hauls of Shame and other experts identified all of the JSA-certified Ruth signatures to be forgeries. The REA fiasco was covered in our on-going “Operation Bambino” investigation. For the full story click here
5. SCP Pulls Reggie Jackson’s Alleged 1977 WS Jersey When Pinstripes Don’t Match-
Reggie Jackson consigned the million-dollar jersey to SCP Auctions claiming it was the same one he wore when he hit three home runs in game 6 of the 1977 World Series, but examination of the uniform pinstripes by experts proved that it wasn’t the same one worn in that famous game that made Jackson “Mr. October.” Our report was also picked up by the New York Post in their own report of the Reggie controversy.
6. Steiner Sports Sells $373k Jackie Robinson Glove As A World Series Gamer With No Proof-
The memorabilia company ventured into the vintage market offering a glove they claimed was worn by Jackie Robinson in the 1955 and 1956 World Series and that the glove was also “known to be his last game-used glove he ever wore.” Steiner appeared on TV shows claiming that the company had definitive ‘photo matches” of Robinson wearing the very same glove during that time period.
Additional investigation, however, proved that Robinson wore several gloves in that time period and that those gloves were not the same one shown in Steiner’s and Dennis Esken’s alleged “photo matches.” At best Steiner’s glove was only possibly used by Robinson during this time period. (Additional photos examined after the auction (above) illustrated further that Robinson wore at least one different glove in 1956 because the handwritten “42″ on Steiner’s glove contrasts the numerals on the glove Robinson is actually wearing. Although Brandon Steiner said he’d update his lot description to include the correct information while the auction was still in progress he did not. The glove received no bids after the HOS story was published. For the full report click here
7. Evidence of Baseball Hall Of Fame Thefts Piles Up With Help From Red Foley & SABR; The Cover-Up Continues-
Smoking gun evidence exposing the thefts of rare artifacts from the Baseball Hall of Fame was discovered via SABR contact sheets from a 1983 photo shoot and donation documents found in National Baseball Library files. A rare 1870 CDV of the Philadelphia Athletics was identified as Hall of Fame property but also as a lot in a 2013 Legendary auctions sale while several rare payroll receipts from the New York Giant team including rarities like Buck Ewing and Mickey Welch appeared in 1990s auctions despite the fact they were sent to the Hall as a donation by New York Daily News sports writer Red Foley in 1973. To add to the Hall of Fame’s problems auctioneer Huggins & Scott offered material stolen from the Hall on a regular basis in 2013 including artifacts from the Frederick Long Collection and the Hall’s own internal files. All of these items (and more) were also included on the 2013 Hall of Fame Hot 100 List of items stolen from Cooperstown.
8. Maine Auction House Sells Rare Brooklyn CDV Listed On NYPL Missing List For $80k; Other Boston Cabinets Sold Fit Descriptions On BPL Missing List-
Saco River Auctions in Maine was never known for specializing in rare 19th century baseball artifacts but that all changed in 2013 when they offered one of the most important team photographs known to exist of the Atlantics of Brooklyn. Saco River Auctioneer Troy Thibodeau sold the possibly unique CDV created by Brooklyn photographer Williamson for $80,000 despite the fact the photograph fit the description of a Williamson photo of the Atlantics missing from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection and also originated from a small-time drug dealer in Maine. Hauls of Shame covered the story in February and later in the year identified other Saco River auction lots of 19th century photographs that were sold in 2012 and fit the description of others stolen from the Boston Public Library’s “M. T. McGreevey Collection of Baseball pictures.” One of those photos was a rare $62,000 cabinet card of “King” Kelly that is also on the BPL’s “Missing List.”
9. Keith Olbermann’s Dubious Harry Wright CDV Pulled From REA Sale; Traced Back To HOF Heist Suspect Mike Gutierrez-
A rare CDV/cricket ticket of Harry Wright owned by ESPN’s Keith Olbermann was withdrawn from Robert Edward Auctions’ Spring 2013 sale after Hauls of Shame published one report illustrating the dubious provenance of the card and another tracing the CDV back to Mike Gutierrez who claimed to have purchased the card at a Butterfield & Butterfield auction in 1990 as part of an alleged “Wright family photo album.” The photo album was sold with no provenance information and appeared to have originated from HOFer George Wright’s collection which was donated to Cooperstown by his son in the 1940s. Since the late 1980’s Gutierrez has been the prime suspect in investigations into the Hall of Fame thefts. Gutierrez was also working for Butterfield & Butterfield when he purchased the Harry Wright card as partners with dealer Lew Lipset. When the CDV, described as the “first baseball card”, was withdrawn from REA’s sale, auctioneer Rob Lifson said it was at the request of his consignor, Keith Olbermann.
10. Heritage Sale Features Fakes From The 1917 World Series & The 1927 Yankees-
Heritage’s Platinum Night auction in New York City featured the sale of Curt Schilling’s famous bloody sock from 2004 but was marred by the exposure of several fake and suspected fake items appearing for sale alongside it. One of the items was a ball they claimed was from the last out of the 1917 World Series, but an article published by Hauls of Shame proved that the ball was actually manufactured in 1926. Heritage and Chris Ivy pulled the 1917 ball from the sale along with a suspect Lou Gehrig single-signed ball but chose to sell several other alleged fake items including a 1927 Yankee signed team-ball for over $149,000; a 1932 signed Yankee team photo for over $33,000; a Home Run record ball signed by Mark McGwire for $8,962; a Babe Ruth signed B&W HOF plaque postcard for $22,000; and several other highly suspect items.
Keep on the look-out for more investigative reporting from Hauls of Shame in 2014.