The NYPL thefts are currently being investigated by the FBI.
It is the best-documented stolen artifact in baseball history, an 1879 contract between player Ezra Sutton and Harry Wright’s Boston Red Stockings that was donated to the New York Public Library in 1921 by the widow of Hall of Famer A. G. Spalding. The contract was the property of baseball pioneer Harry Wright and part of his personal archive that was bequeathed to the National League in 1896 as part of his last will and testament; It was documented by NYPL staff in correspondence to baseball historian Dr. Harold Seymour in the 1950s; It was referenced in newspaper articles published in The Sporting News and the Christian Science Monitor in 1922; It appeared in a public exhibition at the NYPL in 1922; It was documented in the original research notes of Dorothy Seymour Mills, who examined the contract in the NYPL (her notes are now housed at Cornell University); It is even confirmed by the current testimony of Mills today as she recalls holding the very same contract in her hands in the 1950s when it was part of volume two of the Harry Wright Correspondence Scrapbooks once housed in the famous A. G. Spalding Collection.
However, despite all of that documentation, that same contract currently appears on the website of Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, as a lot in its upcoming April baseball auction in consignment from author and songwriter Seth Swirsky who is also selling the infamous “Buckner Ball” from the 1986 World Series and the original letter that banished “Shoeless” Joe Jackson from Baseball back in 1921. Heritage says the contract is “currently being reviewed by our catalogers,” and that a “written description will be available along with high resolution images soon.”
The controversy over the thefts at the NYPL in the 1970s came to a head in July of 2009, when Hunt Auctions offered a “rare cache of letters written to Harry Wright” in Major League Baseball’s All-Star FanFest auction. Reporting byNew York Times sportswriter Jack Curry and testimony from Dorothy Seymour Mills proved that several letters in the Hunt auction were footnoted in the work she and her husband performed on early baseball history and thus confirmed that the “rare cache” of documents belonged to the NYPL. The Federal Bureau of Investigation stepped in and commenced an official investigation into the purloined letters that were targeted as part of the 1970s heist at the Fifth Avenue Branch of the Library.
This 1879 contract of Ezra Sutton was once pasted into the Spalding Collection's manuscript scrapbboks, but today it appears for sale at Heritage.
At the time of the 2009 auction, it was also determined by this writer that several additional items sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 by New York Yankees limited partner, Barry Halper, were also documented in Dorothy Seymour Mills’s work as property of the NYPL. One of those items was Ezra Sutton’s 1879 c0ntract, which was purchased at Sotheby’s by collector Swirsky.
Before it appeared in the Sotheby’s catalog in 1999, the last public appearance of the Sutton contract was in the background of a photo of Halper, published in the 1984 New York Yankees yearbook. The contract was pictured in a frame hanging on the wall next to Halper’s desk in his Livingston, NJ, home. The agreement was also mentioned as “the earliest known player contract” in a 1995 feature article about Halper in Sports Illustrated called, “The Sultan of Swap.”
Beverly Hills songwriter Seth Swirsky purchased the contract for almost $5,000 at Sotheby’s in 1999 and, for the past decade, featured the contract as part of his collection on his website, Seth.com. In July of 2009, this writer first informed Swirsky that the contract was property of the NYPL, and in June of 2010, Hauls of Shame sent Swirsky all of the documentation illustrating that the contract was once part of the Spalding Collection.
This letter from NYPL "Keeper of Manuscripts," Robert Hill, to Dr. Harold Seymour in 1953 documents that the Sutton contract is property of the NYPL. A copy of this letter was presented to the contracts current owner Seth Swirsky.(Courtesy of the Rare and Manuscripts Collection, Cornell University)
Swirsky spoke to Hauls of Shame off the record and declined public comment on his ownership of the contract for the article. When Swirsky was first informed of the title issues with his Sotheby’s purchase in July of 2009, he removed the contract from his website Seth.com. The scan of the contract on the Heritage website is the first public appearance of the document since Swirsky’s removal of it from his own website.
As of June, 2010, it was unclear if the FBI or US Attorney’s had contacted Swirsky and taken possession of the stolen document. FBI special agent Jim Margolin at that time could neither confirm or deny that the Bureau had taken possession of the contract. Sources indicate that in the course of its nearly three-year investigation the FBI has taken possession of several stolen items, including all of the letters offered by Hunt Auctions in 2009. The current offering of the consigned contract on the Heritage website confirms that, despite the overwhelming evidence showing that the contract is NYPL property, the FBI and US Attorney have not yet taken action to recover the document for the NYPL.
Barry Halper died in 2005, and when the controversy over the sale of Harry Wright’s letters arose during the 2009 MLB sale, the Boston Herald contacted Halper associate and lead consultant for the 1999 Halper sale, Rob Lifson, president of RobertEdward Auctions, and asked him where Halper had acquired the stolen 1879 contract of Ezra Sutton. Lifson told Herald reporter, Dave Wedge, that he recalled Halper had acquired it in the “mid-1970s” from pioneer dealer Goodwin Goldfaden. In the summer of 2010 Hauls of Shame interviewed Goldfaden, who stated that he did not recall ever selling Halper the contract that was reported to have been the earliest baseball contract known to exist. Goldfaden also confirmed that Halper was one of his regular customers. Goldfaden denied comment on whether he had been questioned by FBI agents. Goldfaden passed away last month at the age of ninety-seven.
This article from the Christian Science Monitor in 1922 documents that the 1879 Sutton contract appeared in a public exhibition at NYPL, "At the end of the case along the east wall...."
In the summer of 2009, when it was confirmed that Hunt Auctions was selling Harry Wright’s stolen NYPL letters, chatter in the baseball collecting community focused on long-standing hobby rumors that auctioneer Rob Lifson had at one time been arrested for stealing rare items from the NYPL and that collector Barry Halper, a long-time customer and associate of Lifson’s, had acquired many of the stolen items in his collection from Lifson. In the past, one high placed hobby executive even went so far as to suggest that Halper had to post bail for Lifson after he was apprehended. Adding to the suspicions about Lifson’s role in the thefts were the documented sales of many other items stolen from the NYPL collection that appeared in sales of Robert Edward Auctions and in the 1999 Halper sale at Sotheby’s, in which Lifson was Halper’s hand-picked lead consultant for the $20 million auction extravaganza.
Lifson made overtures to several in the hobby to suppress public mention of his apprehension at the NYPL with one of them being, Leon Luckey, the moderator of Internet collector forum Net54. Luckey had made it known that he resented Lifson’s public persona as a hobby crusader and he privately told others that he heard Lifson was responsible for the NYPL thefts. It wasn’t until Luckey received cease and desist letters from Lifson’s attorney that he instituted a hands-off policy in regard to Lifson on his forum. Luckey confirmed this to one former Net54 member when he told him, “I want to know who the heck stole them because I have a real good feeling of who I think it is-and I had to sign a cease and desist order and I can’t talk about him.” He also told the former member, “One of the suspects is the White Knight. There is certainly an auctioneer or a functioneer, I don’t want to be specific, that portrays himself above reproach and I don’t think anybody is above reproach.” While Luckey was pointing the finger at Lifson and his alleged wrongdoing, he was carrying his own baggage with a past conviction on drug-related charges. In the past, Luckey, himself, was a target for another former Net54 member, Scott Elkins, who attacked Luckey on his own forum stating that Luckey was an “ex-felon” and “current drug dealer” without offering any supporting evidence.
One current Net54 member had this to say about the Luckey-Lifson relationship, “It’s Conditional love… For $500 a month anyone can buy LL’s board protection. The hypocrite and cheap version of a hobby godfather.” The board member asked that he be quoted anonymously for fear of being banned by Luckey.
After being sent the cease and desist order, Lifson’s auction house has since become one of Luckey’s regular advertisers on Net54, where other members also freely post images of stolen NYPL items in their possession. One collector named Ken Wirt regularly posts images of a rare cabinet photo of baseball pioneer Alexander Joy Cartwright, that is listed on the NYPLs “Missing List.” The card was purchased in Lifson’s 2007 auction of the remainder of Barry Halper’s collection and the exact same photo is credited in numerous baseball reference books to the NYPLs Spalding Collection. In his auction description, Lifson even described the photo as “the only traditional cabinet card photo of Cartwright that we have ever seen or heard of.” He added, “It is possible it is unique.” Another Net54 member, Corey Shanus, publicly displayed several rare letters stolen from the NYPL Knickerbocker Club Scrapbooks in a coffee-table baseball book published by the Smithsonian and, yet another member, Barry Sloate, has been linked to other stolen NYPL artifacts including additional Knickerbocker documents, score-sheets from the 1850s and a rare pamphlet from the 1852 Eagle Ball Club of New York City.
Three large scrapbooks of Harry Wright's correspondence vanished from the NYPL in the 1970s, but even surviving scrapbooks still in the collection have been compromised. This scrapbook (still at NYPL) shows evidence of vandalism and theft. Harry Wright's resignation letter to the Knickerbocker Club was stolen from this scrapbook. (Spalding Collection, NYPL)
As the controversy intensified in the summer of 2009, speculation about Lifson’s alleged role in the heist increased as well. In response, Lifson’s friend, New York Daily News writer, MichaelO’Keeffe, provided a forum for Lifson to address the rumor and innuendo. In 2004, Lifson was a primary source for O’Keeffe’s book, The Card,which featured an entire chapter about Lifson entitled “A White Knight,” portraying Lifson as one of the hobby’s good guys who “wages a daily battle for respectability, fighting against the evils that lurk within the hobby.” O’Keeffe also wrote, “There is too much graft, too much fraud, too much money being changed in too few hands to think otherwise. Lifson put what is going on in simple terms. ‘It’s called stealing,’ he said.”
In O’Keeffe’s article from July of 2009, Lifson addressed the issue of his own involvement in the NYPL thefts stating, “I want to set the record straight regarding untrue accusations promoted (via rumor and innuendo) by a very few individuals who wish to attempt to hurt my reputation by suggesting that I am responsible in any way for the theft of any of the missing items that have been stolen over the years from the New York Public Library. It’s simply not true.”
At the time he published Lifson’s statement O’Keeffe, an apparently biased Lifson supporter, defended the auctioneer and revealed to this writer his thoughts on the alleged thefts. O’Keeffe was dismissive of the claims made against Lifson and said, “On one level, I look at it, I guess, as, so what?” He further stated, “We all did stupid things back in the day,” and continued saying, “When you’re a kid you do stupid things, so I would hate for someone to dig up something I did when I was seventeen, even with the caveat I think you mentioned yesterday, which is a legitimate point, that Rob (Lifson) says that he was the boy genius of memorabilia even in 1979. Well, if he was also attempting to steal stuff or doing stupid things at the library (NYPL) , yeah, then that’s relevant, but a lot of water is under the bridge after that.” (Click here for:OKeeffe Audio 1) At the time O’Keeffe made this statement, Lifson was actively promoting sales of his bookonthe REA website.
But then in December of 2010, Lifson confessed to Sports Illustrated that he had stolen items from the New York Public Library and that he’d been caught. The article claimed that Lifson told SI.com: “Thirty two years ago, he (Lifson) says, he was a precocious minor with too much money and freedom; one day while doing research at the library, high on a mix of drugs and alcohol, he secreted two photographs under a piece of cardboard attached to the outside of his briefcase. He was caught before he could leave the room.”
Back in 1979, Time Magazine reporter David Aikmanwrote about a theftat the NYPL in which a “baseball card thief was caught when a guard saw him slipping the cards into a bubble gum box taped to his briefcase.” The culprit, according to Aikman’s original notes, was a nineteen year-old college student who also had substantial cash on his person when he was apprehended and claimed to have made that money selling baseball cards in just one day. At the time Lifson was a nineteen year-old college student at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and was considered one of the top dealers in the country for rare 19th century baseball items and cards. (Lifson’s company website states that, “By 1973, Lifson was one of the most active dealers in the country and already recognized as the most knowledgeable vintage card scholars in the field.”) By 1979, he was also the primary dealer supplying Barry Halper. Time reported that, when apprehended, the thief “had $5,500 in cash on him as well as a cache of smiling infielders.” In the article, Richard Couper, the president and CEO of the NYPL, described budget woes and security deficiencies at the Fifth Avenue Branch. Couper said, “The swipers here know what they are doing. We don’t even have enough money to inventory the materials.”
This writer has been investigating the NYPL thefts and Lifson’s alleged involvement in the crimes for the past fifteen years and can confirm that in another confession made by Lifson in 2002, the auctioneer contradicted the accounts he most recently gave to the New York Daily News and SI.com in 2009. In a phone conversation in 2002, (Click here for:Audio of Lifson Confession) Lifson told this writer:
“It’s really a total non-issue, you know, I mean literally nothing, you know. I can even tell you what it is, I’m not embarassed, well, everybody can make a mistake. I, as a kid, went in there (the NY Public Library) you know to see the collection (Spalding Collection) and do check listing and stuff and I was so overwhelmed with what I saw, there I was, stoned, ok, and I was a kid, and I took a CDV, and you know they have incredible security, ya know, they saw me , and they saw me palm a CDV and the second I left, they just stopped me and took it away and you know, I got in trouble.”
Lifson expanded on the incident adding,” It wasn’t premeditated it was just a stupid, stupid dumb thing done as a kid, you know 20 some odd years ago when I was on.. When I was high, ya know. I signed in with my real name and everything and I didn’t know what I was going to see, ya know, and there I just made a mistake and I’ll not spend any time apologizing for it ya know, decades later. It’s not a concern, anybody, anybody who wants to talk to me about that I’m happy to talk to ‘em. Anybody who, who would be so small-minded as to hold that against me, fine, that’s, they can do that, you know, ah. When it comes to ethics and , ya know ah, ah, doing the right thing, I, I hold myself to a much higher standard than anybody else in this field.” Lifson again stressed that the incident happened when he was a “young kid” and also added, “Hey, people make mistakes, that’s why they’re called people, ya know and when you talk about something done as a teenager, ya know, as a kid, you know, holy Jesus, if anybody would hold that against me, ya know, God…”
When asked about the allegations that he was supplying Barry Halper with stolen materials from the NYPL for years and that Halper had to post bail when he was apprehended, Lifson stated the claims were, “totally fabricated, absurd.”
While Lifson stressed in his confession that he was just “a kid” when apprehended at the NYPL, he was a 19 year-old Ivy Leaguer who had three years earlier, at the age of sixteen, purchased the collection of pioneer collector Dr. Lawrence Kurzrok from his widow, Estelle, for “over $20,000.” Recently Lifson called that acquisition “probably the largest vintage baseball card deal in the history of collecting at the time in terms of dollars.” Kurzroc lived at 9 East 96th St. in Manhattan and Lifson was known to visit him on several occasions. By his own account in recent interviews Lifson says he, “Did a lot of dealing with Dr. Kurzrok for many years.”
Living in Rydal, PA, Lifson travelled the eastern seaboard regularly in his role as collector and dealer and was known to run ads soliciting materials in a wide range of publications including Ebony and Popular Mechanics. In some of his advertisements Lifson made the claim that he had, “Unlimited capital available for my wants.” Lifson’s father, Kalman, and his two brothers, Nathan Lifson and Burton Lifson, were linked to a “Waffle Iron” fortune as principals of the Dominion Electrical Manufacturing Company. Author William Georgesays the company was known as the “world’s largest independent appliance manufacturer” by the time the Lifson family was bought out of the business in 1959. Lifson’s father, a Harvard educated attorney, also later became the president of CW Electronics Corporation, a world leader in electronic components. Hobby veteran, Ted Taylor, was like a mentor to Lifson when he was a teen and was witness to the Lifson’s wealth. Taylor told us, ” Rob was a very enthusiastic kid bordering on annoying and he always had loads of cash. It was amazing. His house was huge, too, in a very exclusive neighborhood. At that young age he just loved the rare 19th century material and would show it off at the early Philadelphia card shows.”
To date, the NYPL thefts have remained an enigma despite significant circumstantial evidence linking both Halper and Lifson to the sales of specific items missing from the Spalding Collection, including Harry Wright’s letters, documents from the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club and rare and valuable 19th century photographs including CDVs like the one Lifson confessed to stealing. One CDV currently on the NYPLs “Missing List” (along with one hundred other photos) is an 1870 image of A. G. Spalding’s Forest City team. There are only four examples known to exist, and they have sold at auction for upwards of $20,000. One of them is likely the NYPLs donated copy.
After Halper’s death in 2005, his widow consigned to Lifson’s auction items that constituted a small collection found in his home that REA described as personal items with sentimental value. Included in that group were two photographs stolen fron the Boston Public Library’s McGreevy Collection and several stolen photographs from the NYPL including portraits of Harry Wright, Alexander Cartwright and Andrew Peck. The image of Peck was a CDV that had the NYPL ownership stamp defaced to conceal the mark. Both photos from the BPL were recovered after they were reported by this writer and the Peck CDV was also recovered by the NYPL. REA, however, ended up selling the other portraits that appeared on the NYPL “Missing List.”
A big challenge for investigators is that Halper passed away in 2005 so is unavailable to be interviewed. However, an interview conducted by Hauls of Shame with a well-respected and prominent figure in the baseball community has finally shed some new light on the thefts that occurred decades ago. The source spoke with Hauls of Shame candidly about personal knowledge of the thefts but requested that we not quote or identify our source in any article we would publish. The source disclosed to us that in the early 1980s Barry Halper was questioned by a family member of the source as to what the origins were of some rare items Halper had shown him. Said the source, “Barry bragged to (my relative) that a lot of his collection came from that (the New York Public Library).” The source continued, “Barry said it was there for the taking and Barry was quite proud of it. (My relative) absolutely could not tolerate it.” We asked the source to confirm that the thefts were from the NYPL and the source stated, “Yes, the New York Public Library, he used to talk about how he did it.” When asked to delve further into details the source stated, “These were conversations he and (my relative) had, and obviously, (my relative) and I talked about it, but I can’t remember that Barry himself, but he also hired other people to do it and told them and how to go do this, so it was just something that once we knew, that was the end of the relationship (with Halper). It always amazes me because he was trading on he was always bigger than life, and people just let him get away with it and I just couldn’t believe it.”
We asked if the source had ever reported this information to anyone, and the source responded in the positive, without noting exactly who had been informed.” “It always amazed me that Barry continued to do what he did and never got-no one ever stopped him. Anything that you could tell me about Barry, would not surprise me, because he was totally, he had no morals at all on that stuff, it was just his for the taking he felt. And there wasn’t anything, and anyone who would come after him when, as I say (my relative) just walked away , now he did report it but Barry always, you know, he figured his money was more important and he could just buy anybody off.” This anonymous source also indicated that the only knowledge the source possessed of Halper’s part as the mastermind of the NYPL thefts was Halper himself, since the source was “without any proof other than Barry telling (my relative).”
(Left) Lot 206 in the 1999 Sotheby's Halper Auction was an 1875 letter written to Harry Wright by Morgan Bulkeley awarding the Boston BBC the championship pennant of 1875. The document is signed by Hall of Famers Wright and Bulkeley. (Right) Original research notes written by Dorothy Seymour Mills in the 1950's that indicate Lot 206 in the Halper Auction was once part of the NYPL Wright Correspondence scrapbook Volume "1, p.21." The research note, now housed at Cornell University, directly quotes portions of the letter that appeared in the Sotheby's sale in 1999. (Courtesy Cornell University Rare and Manuscript Division)
Added to the revelation about Halper implicating himself is the direct evidence of Halper’s ownership and sale of so many items stolen from the NYPLs Spalding Collection. In 1977 Halper showed Bill Madden of The Sporting News, what Madden referred to as Harry Wright’s “collection of written correspondence.” Keeping the letters in “plastic covered pages of yet another scrapbook,” Halper showed off specific letters that are believed to be missing from the NYPL Collection. In fact, in addition to the 1879 Ezra Sutton contract, three entire scrapbook volumes 1, 3 and 4 of the Wright Correspondence Collection went missing sometime before 1983. Each volume is estimated to have housed at least five hundred documents each as compared to the second volume which is still part of the collection, though appears to have been cherry-picked of the Sutton contract and other assorted documents. Halper’s 1999 sale included additional items originating from NYPLs Wright scrapbooks and also documented in the original notes of Dorothy Seymour Mills housed at Cornell. The most striking example is the letter sent to Wright in 1875 awarding the Boston team the championship pennant. Mills’ original notes document that this letter was pasted into “volume 1, page 21,” but it appeared as lot 206 in the Sotheby’s 1999 catalog for the Halper sale. Halper sold the letter, just one of the approximately 1,500 missing from the NYPL, for $14,950. The auction also featured many other items originating from the NYPL including documents and photographs related to Wright, Henry Chadwick and the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club.
The 1879 Ezra Sutton contract appearing on the Heritage website as a consignment from Seth Swirsky is further proof linking Halper to the thefts. When made aware of the Heritage offering Dorothy Seymour Mills responded with this comment: “I don’t know how much clearer the record can be that the Ezra Sutton contract is owned by the NYPL. Surely the notes I took on it, which you found in my own handwriting, prove that it was part of the NYPL collection back in the 1950s, when Seymour and I were working on the first volume of our Baseball series for Oxford University Press.”
Barry Halper sits at his desk in his Livingston, NJ, home c.1984. The stolen contract of Ezra Sutton appears hanging on the wall over his left shoulder. The contact was likely stolen from NYPL in the mid-70s.
Chris Ivy,the Director of Sports Auctions at Heritage, did not return a call for comment. Heritage is offering another item believed to be NYPL property and originating from the Harry Wright scrapbooks, volume 3. It is an 1884 telegram addressed to Wright when he was manager of the Philadelphia Nationals.
Seth Swirsky did not return calls for comment to explain why he consigned the contract to Heritage while he had knowledge of the supporting evidence showing it is NYPL property and was aware of the Hauls of Shame article in June of 2010. It is unclear why Swirsky has not returned the contract to the library, or why he has declined to pursue Sotheby’s or the Halper Estate for restitution. Swirsky idolized Halper while he was living and once stated on a collector forum, “Barry was always there to help collectors and the collecting community. No derision should come this great man’s way.” He added, “Thank God for Barry Halper.”
The legacy of Halper, the once revered founding father of baseball collecting, has also been tarnished by multiple instances of his selling the Baseball Hall of Fame and MLB counterfeit artifacts including what he claimed was “Shoeless Joe” Jackson’s 1919 Black Sox jersey. Recently, the once prominent “Barry Halper Gallery” at the Hall of Fame appears to have been removed and replaced by a “Learning Center.”
When contacted for the library’s reaction to the offering of the Sutton contract, Angela Montefinise, NYPLs Director of Public Relations declined comment because of “the on-going investigation.” Special agent Jim Margolin from the FBI’s New York press office also stated he could not comment on the contract specifically, but did confirm that the FBI investigation into the NYPL thefts was “active and on-going.”
New York Yankees front-office officials, Randy Levine and Lon Trost, did not respond to our inquiry for comment about Halper, the deceased limited partner, whose ownership interest was passed on to his widow, Sharon Halper. As stated on the NYPL website the Yankees and the library have had a good relationship as, “The Yankees have partnered with the Library to help kids all over this great city, renovating the children’s room at the Bronx Library Center, sponsoring the Library’s Summer Reading program, and underwriting the purchase of thousands of books for Bronx libraries.”
Dorothy Seymour Mills told us from her home in Florida, “It’s hard to believe that the amount of readily available proof of Halper’s thefts, including his own confession, has never resulted in the NYPL’s suing his estate or any auction houses for prompt return of the library’s property. The Sutton contract obviously belongs to baseball posterity, with the NYPL as its overseer and protector, not to individual collectors or auction houses that must have made huge sums out of it and are still trying to sell it to unsuspecting fans.”
Pam Guzzi, the great-great granddaughter of the original owner of the Sutton contract, Hall of Famer Harry Wright, was shocked when she got the news that the contract had not yet been returned to the library and was again being sold. Said Guzzi, “It appears painfully obvious that the contract between Ezra Sutton and my great-great grandfather, Harry Wright, was among the articles belonging to, and subsequently stolen from, the New York Public Library. It is incredulous to me, that this document now appears on the auction block and I hope and pray and plead with the “powers that be” that the document be removed and returned to the NYPL. Harry Wright was known as a gentleman, a man of honesty and with great integrity and sense of fairness and I know with every fiber of my being that he would detest what has become of the baseball collecting “hobby” world. And I use the term, “hobby” very loosely, as I see it more as a money making scheme than a hobby. I hope that the NYPL and the FBI will bring these items back home to the Library where they belong.”
Guzzi, the direct descendant of the man known as the “Father of Professional Baseball” also commented on the standards of the memorabilia industry, stating, “I hope that new, stronger regulations will be put in place within the collecting world to provide stricter regulations regarding authentication of historical documents and inspection of such items to ensure that none are determined as stolen property. It is sickening that items that have been so well documented as stolen are somehow still able to make their way to the auction block and no one is being held accountable.”
UPDATE (Monday Feb. 6): FBI Pays Visit to NYPL; Heritage Will Withdraw Rare Stolen 1879 Contract: Hauls of Shame has learned that the FBI visited the New York Public Library on Friday in relation to the Spalding Collection investigation. It was not clear whether that visit was directly related to Heritage Auction Galleries’posting of the stolen Sutton contract on their auction website. Also, late Friday, Chris Ivy, of Heritage, responded to Hauls of Shame’s inquiry, and on Sunday afternoon issued this statement: “The Ezra Sutton contract will not be included in the auction and we are going to work to have the piece donated to the NYPL on behalf of Seth Swirsky.” Ivy also stated the FBI had not contacted Heritage and also added that, “No decision has been made regarding the (Harry Wright) telegram.”
Hall of Famer signatures are a staple on First Day Covers from 1939, but are they real?
Before the year 2000, Jimmy Spence was a relatively unknown in the hobby until, almost overnight, he became the self-proclaimed ”guru” of baseball autograph authentication for PSA/DNA with the likes of hobby heavyweights Bill Mastro and Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen singing his praises. Mastro raved about Spence’s “skill and work ethic” and the Mint-man went a step further extolling the virtues of Spence’s uncanny ability to help line his pockets with cash. Rosen said, ”When I get my stuff PSA/DNA’d not only do I know its real, it’s much easier to sell. Not to mention the extra thousands I make.”
Thanks to Mastro’s genius in devising the plan to institute a third-party authentication system to protect auction houses like his from liability and from ever holding the bag after selling a forged autographed item, Spence became, in some people’s minds, the Babe Ruth of autograph authentication. Even Sports Collectors Digest reported in its September, 2000, issue: “Spence is the Main Man at PSA/DNA.”
Spence was excited about being affiliated with a big company like PSA/DNA. He told SCD, ”They’re a solid company with a great reputation, and this is nice for me because I can do this with confidence, and stay away from litigation on a personal level, which I’ve been subject to in the past.”
In that SCD interview Spence also boasted of the resources PSA provided to protect collectors and to insure that what he authenticated was the real-deal. Spence said, “I have a certificate in forensic document examination. It was a course that I recently completed. I also have training in a video spectral comparator, a $20,000 machine with all sorts of magnification capabilities and different lights that are used, such as UV. It’s in my office and I use it regularly. It’s helped me determine the origin or the make of a certain item. A lot of times, the labels of a ball have been rubbed out, and I’ve been able to uncover that.”
Early in 2001 Spence made his rounds as PSA’s main man and travelled to Watchung, New Jersey, to authenticate items for Rob Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions. Lifson had recently merged his auction house with his old-friend Bill Mastro’s companyto form the auction-biz behemoth MastroNet. Spence, armed with the technology of his spectral comparator and the peace of mind afforded by PSA backing up his opinions, authenticated-away on hundreds of baseball-only items ranging from Babe Ruth signed baseballs to a baseball card signed by Ty Cobb.
This 1939 first day cover from the Hall of Fame's Innnaugural Induction Ceremonies is alleged to have been signed by all eleven inductees. The envelope sold for nearly $20,000 at Robert Edward Auctions in 2001 with an LOA from James Spence.
One of the items was a true gem that REA called an “extraordinary 1939 Hall of Fame first day cover (that was) signed in black ink by each of the eleven living members of the Hall of Fame present that day.” What made this item truly extraordinary, however, was that it was accompanied by a letter from Ty Cobb regarding the actual envelope Jimmy Spence was examining.
Robert Edward Auctions wrote this in their lot description: “Apparently, the former owner, Robert Ballard, obtained many of the signatures (or possibly all) by mail, and Cobb was one of the last signatures needed on the envelope. With that in mind, Ballard sent Cobb the envelope in 1939 asking him to please sign it and return it to him. Cobb, obviously, complied with the request and for Ballard the matter was forgotten. Imagine, however, Ballard’s surprise four years later upon receiving this perplexing letter from Cobb. The one-page handwritten letter, dated Aug. 28, 1943 on Ty Cobb, Menlo Park stationery, reads:
“Dear Sir, I have a letter of yours dated Sept-6th-1939 regarding first day covers autographed by 9 members of the Hall of Fame, as you stated only Connie Mack and myself had not signed. Such as this disturbs me very much, but yet I have in my mind that these have been returned to you. I would like very much to know from you if I did send them back. I have many letters that go astray, some in the mail, some arrive here in my absence and get misplaced. In going through some old mail I found your letter. If I did not return to you write me and tell me whose signatures were on the envelope or cover. Hope I have taken care of this matter. Sincerely, Ty Cobb.”
Ty Cobb wrote this letter to Robert Ballard in 1943 in regard to first day covers Ballard was collecting with HOFer signatures.
The Cobb letter, coupled with the 1939 signed cover, was a collectors dream. It’s not often that autographed items are accompanied by additional documentation that bolsters its provenance and authenticity, let alone a letter from Cobb himself to the original collector. When Jimmy Spence examined the cover along with Mike Gutierrez, of MastroNet, he determined that each signature on the document was a “10″ on a scale of “10.” REA theorized that Ballard had acquired all of his signatures through the mail and, based upon the 1943 letter, stated that Cobb and Mack were the last two signatures Ballard secured.
Hauls of Shame first examined this autographed postal cover last week while researching existing items alleged to have been signed in conjunction with the 1939 Hall of Fame Inductions. At first glance we just assumed the item was iron-clad, but as we took a closer look questions followed. We studied the Cobb letter carefully and it looked authentic, but several signatures on the cover were problematic, just like the suspected forgeries recently exposed on a 1939 Hall of Fame program that had sold for over $41,000 at Heritage Auction Galleries this past summer.
Like the Heritage program, the signature of Napoleon Lajoie appeared as “Larrry” with three r’s. The Honus Wagner signature looked extremely labored and almost drawn or traced. The Cobb looked unusual and the others appeared to be signed with hesitations and almost identical pen pressures. Only the Eddie Collins and Babe Ruth autographs appeared to be signed with any speed or fluidity.
We consulted with another expert we respect and he concurred that the Cobb letter was, in fact, authentic, but he emphatically stated that, in his opinion, the entire cover was a forgery. The Cobb letter flew in the face of all conventional logic, but our hunch was right, the signatures appeared to be forgeries, and nothing could change that.
The cover sold at REA in April of 2001 for $19,200 and, according to expert opinions, the winning bidder likely purchased a certifiably bogus item authenticated by James Spence of PSA/DNA and Mike Gutierrez of MastroNet.
So how could Spence and Co. have been duped so easily? Did Spence put the item through his $20,000 video spectral comparator? What exemplars did he utilize? Or did he just take one look at the accompanying Cobb letter and issue an opinion without giving a thorough examination? The authentic Cobb letter presented a conundrum and summoned a hypothetical question. “If this cover is a forgery, where is the genuine item Cobb alludes to in his 1943 letter, signed by everyone but him and Connie Mack?”
Having just paged through scores of old auction catalogues to find each and every offering of a signed first day cover or Baseball Centennial program at auction, I picked up a catalogue from a Mastro auction from April, 1999, and flipped through it quickly. Within seconds a page caught my eye, as it showed the same first day cover and the exact same Cobb letter being offered as lot 824 by Mastro as, the “Fantastic Hall of Fame Cover and Ty Cobb Letter.”
Looking closely at the cover something just didn’t add up, it just didn’t look exactly the same as the REA cover. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, and I even thought for a moment that it might have been another cover altogether that Ballard had. So, I copied both covers and put them side by side. I could not believe my eyes.
The cover offered in 2001 at REA featured a dark "10" signature of Honus Wagner authenticated by Jimmy Spence (bottom). Two years earlier the same cover sold at Mastro Fine Sports with a Wagner signature that was so faint it was barely visible in the auction catalog.
The Honus Wagner signature that appeared on the 2001 REA cover had vanished right before my eyes. Poof. Gone.
Noted in the 1999 auction lot description was another absolute stunner in regard to the Cooperstown cover: “Offered with LOAs by James Spence and Mike Gutierrez.” So, when Spence and Gutierrez authenticated the cover for REA it was their second look at the same, rare item.
And Honus’ John Hancock was actually present back in 1999 as the auction description also noted: “The Wagner signature along the left border is somewhat faded but fully intact and legible.” However, the image in the Mastro catalog showed that the signature was so faint that it was barely visible and looked more like it had been removed or erased. None of the other alleged signatures showed any visible signs of fading. In fact, Spence noted they were “9’s/10.”
Before the alleged Honus Wagner signature reappeared in 2001, the cover sold for $16,200 at Mastro’s auction. When Spence wrote his LOA for REA two years later, without mentioning anything about the Wagner signature other than it was now graded a “10″ out of “10,” the cover appreciated in value by about $4,000.
It appears that in this instance Spence and PSA did the following:
1. Authenticated a forged/re-traced Honus Wagner signature as a “10″ that two years earlier they had authenticated as a faded and barely visible autograph.
2. Failed to utilize the technology available to them by using the machinery that Spence alleged could uncover forgeries by seeing what was under examined signatures.
3. Failed to indicate why the Wagner signature was light and faded in 1999 when the other signatures were so dark and considered mint, and then failed to connect the dots in 2001, when the Wagner transformed into a mint ”10″.
4. Failed to observe that the Wagner signature was not authentic and then failed to take a closer look at the additional ten signatures to determine if they were also forgeries (including the fact that the Larry Lajoie signature featured three r’s in “Larry.”)
5. Failed to refer back to genuine exemplars of signed 1939 first day covers to determine if the REA auction lot was authentic.
Spence allegedly first examined the Ballard cover before he had become the full-time PSA guru. Sometime, in early 1999, Spence showed up at the offices of Mastro Fine Sports to authenticate items for Bill Mastro’s upcoming auction extravaganza featuring 1,176 lots of baseball treasures, including the 1939 cover and Cobb letter. It is likely that Spence even took a photograph of the 1939 cover for his exemplar files. Considering that authentic first day covers signed by all of the Hall of Fame inductees are extremely rare and valuable, why wouldn’t he have?
Later that same year, in September of 1999, another alleged example of a signed 1939 cover sold at Sotheby’s as part of the Barry Halper Collection for $48,300. (Mike Gutierrez was also hired by Rob Lifson and Sotheby’s to authenticate items, including that cover, for the Halper sale.) Considering the value and rarity of the item, how could both Spence and Gutierrez miss the appearing/disappearing Wagner signature when they examined the cover for the second time on behalf of REA in 2001? (Gutierrez is currently listed as an authenticator for JSA on the company website.) What’s more, it was accompanied again by the spectacular Cobb letter that boosted its provenance, so wouldn’t they have immediately remembered authenticating it just two years earlier?
With the visual documetation that the Wagner signature “magically appeared” in the 2001 REA auction, important questions are raised in regard to who originallyconsigned and purchased the cover at Mastro in 1999 and who consigned it to REA in 2001? In addition, did any of these parties have a relationship with either Spence or Gutierrez at that time?
These two first day covers addressed to Robert Ballard appeared in the same auction as the dubious first day cover allegedly signed by the original eleven living inductees to Cooperstown.
When I browsed the 1999 Mastro catalog and found the original first day cover offering I noticed something else that was suspicious. Just a few lots before the first day cover Mastro offered were two additional covers that featured single signatures of Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson and they were both addressed to the same collector, Robert Ballard of Syracuse, New York.
Had Spence and Gutierrez taken note of this at the time?
This Babe Ruth single-signed first day cover was addressed to Robert Ballard and was sold at a MastroWest Auction in June of 1999.
Looking through other Mastro catalogs I found two more first day covers also addressed to Ballard and signed by Ruth and Johnson. Again, both bore single signatures. Referring back to Ty Cobb’s 1943 letter to Ballard I wanted to check exactly what Cobb had allegedly said in regard to Ballard’s multi-signed cover.
“Dear Sir, I have a letter of yours dated Sept-6th-1939 regarding first day covers autographed by 9 members of the Hall of Fame, as you stated only Connie Mack and myself had not signed. Such as this disturbs me very much, but yet I have in my mind that these have been returned to you.
It appears that Cobb was specifically referring to Ballard’s original letter referencing ”covers” in the plural. It doesn’t appear that Ballard sent Cobb just a single cover signed by everyone except Cobb and Connie Mack. It appears that he sent multiple covers to the players and, if the additional covers found addressed to Ballard and signed by Ruth and Johnson are any indication, it is possible that Ballard was only requesting single signatures on separate covers from each Hall of Famer. The fact that he had two authentic examples from Ruth and Johnson suggests that Ballard may have only sent two (or more) covers to Cobb for his single signature.
Further supporting this theory is the opinion of experts that the cover REA sold for nearly $20,000 could be a forgery. Clearly it is much more likely that the Honus Wagner signature was not just an abnormally faded and “magical” autograph. More likely it was a forgery attempt gone bad and erased and removed by the forger at some point before it was sold by Mastro in 1999.
This negative image of the Wagner signature as it appeared on the cover in 1999 illustrates evidence of the faint alleged signature which is likely a forgery attempt gone bad that was later removed by the forger. The cover from the 2001 REA auction with the enhanced/forged Wagner signature appears on the left.
While not definitive, this scenario is, no doubt, something that the authenticators should have been considering closely as they passed judgment on the 1939 HOF cover. Referring to himself as the “man behind the letter” in PSA/DNA advertisements at the time, Spence boasted of “20 years of hobby experience” and that his clients would have “the peace of mind that your autographed memorabilia will be opined genuine by one of the leading sports signature experts.”
This November, 2002, ad from SCD advertises Spence and his PSA/DNA counterpart Steve Grad as "Pillars of Integrity" with "More than 40 years combined expertise in the industry."
However, the case of the mysterious appearing and disappearing Honus Wagner signature suggests otherwise. Is James Spence actually an expert? What are his credentials?
In a deposition that was taken on March 1, 2000, in Harrisburg, PA, by attorney, Michael J. Wilson, Spence spoke of his credentials at that time and his claims that he had studied with world-renowned handwriting expert Charles Hamilton:
Spence: Most recently, I have a Certificate in forensic document examination.
Attorney: From where did you obtain that certificate?
Spence: It’s from a fellow by the name of Andrew Bradley of Denver, Colorado.
Attorney: You obtained it sometime or after February 23, 2000?
Attorney: Is the course a correspondence course?
Spence: Yes, it is.
Attorney: Who or what is certifying you?
Spence: I believe he gives a certificate from his own establishment. I don’t know if it’s in any way connected with any government or state agency.
Attorney: All this came up within the context of an earlier question to you concerning the topic of informal training in handwriting analysis.
Spence: That is correct.
Attorney: So in the mid ‘94′ you underwent this first encounter with Mr. Hamilton. Can you tell me how many times you physically met with the man between that first meeting somewhere in ‘94′ until the time of his death somewhere in ‘98′?
Spence:Perhaps five to seven times.
Attorney: Were you alone on each of those instances?
Spence: Each time I went with _______.
Attorney: Why were you returning to Mr. Hamilton with Mr. _____ at those times?
Spence: Because Mr. _____ had a very large collection.
The truth of the matter is, however, that Spence only accompanied the collector one time to see Charles Hamiltonand he never worked with him or received any formal training or advice. This writer was working closely with Hamilton on a weekly basis in 1994 and knows of only one visit by Spence to see Hamilton. The collector Spence mentioned in his deposition declined comment. It is believed that the collector was just dropping off materials for authentication at the time of the one visit with Spence.
In addition to allegedly misrepresenting his credentials, the formal training in handwriting analysis Spence completed appears problematic as well. A source who is familiar with PSA operations revealed more information about Spence’s training and told us, ”He does not have a certificate in forensic document authentication. That is not correct. The certificate just says that he completed a correspondence course in document examination, which was offered by a man named Andrew Bradley, the same correspondence course that PSA authenticators were required to take.”
Before James Spence became an authenticator he worked as a fitness instructor at Club Med and for Cunard Cruise Lines, as a salesman for American Van Equipment and as a ladder salesman for the Lynn Ladder Company until he was fired from the Orwigsberg, PA, firm in 1991. In all of this time Spence had no formal training that could qualify him as a handwriting expert. In PSA/DNA advertisements published as early as 2002, Spence and his then PSA counterpart, Steve Grad, boasted of having “40 years combined expertise in the industry.”
Between 1989 and 1991 Spence worked on the side as a baseball dealer setting up tables at shows and after he was fired from the Lynn Ladder Company he began working in the baseball memorabilia industry as “Show-Off Collectibles,” specializing in “custom matting, sports and sports autographs.” Documents show that by 1994 Spence was selling autographs for “Show-Off” that were “Guaranteed Authentic for Life.” By 1997 he was operating as ”James Spence III Vintage Autographs” and it wasn’t until 2000 that he completed the mail order course offered by Andrew Bradley that issued him the certificate mentioned in his deposition.
The embattled Spence has made a host of outrageous errors over the past few years and they have been documented thoroughly in a Barron’s article, “Kinda Sorta Genuine,” and on websites like Autograph Alert and Net54, a collectors internet forum. Spence’s greatest misses are abundant. JSA authenticated a letter allegedly written by Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty that sold for over $30,000, however, the letter was secreterial and written by his manager, BillyShettsline, who actually misspelled the stars last name “D-e-l-e-h-a-n-t-y” on the document. Spence also authenticated an 1891 telegram as being signed by HOFer Harry Wright, but it was the copy of the telegram the recipient recieved, thus making it impossible to have been signed by Wright. He authenticated a rare signature of boxing great Jack Johnson on a 1948 trading card despite the fact that Johnson died in 1946. In 2006, Autograph Alert reported that Spence had authenticated a document as having been signed by WWII Admiral Chester Nimitz, when it was actually signed by Admiral Karl Donitz and signed ten years after Nimitz had actually died. He’s also authenticated facsimile signatures on photos of boxer Mike Tyson as genuine and he was exposed on several occasions for deeming items as forgeries after he had previously authenticated them as genuine.
Spence’s most recent atrocity involves an entire 1927 ball alleged to be signed by Babe Ruth and his fellow Yankees. Long-time vintage Yankee collector David Atkatz recently discovered that the 1927 team-signed ball in his collection was, in fact, a forgery. The ball, ostensibly signed by Ruth, Gehrig, and the rest of Murderer’s Row, had been purchased at auction in 2000, and it, too, had been accompanied by a Spence “Letter of Authenticity.” In a posting on the Net54 website some collectors reacted to news of the forgery as if there had been a death in their hobby circle. Said one collector, “Sorry for your loss. This is frightening… to say the least,” while another posted “THIS IS SICKENING… from a treasure to a trash can.” Atkatz told us that ” it was an excellent forgery, and many–including myself–were fooled. I have learned, though, that hobby professionals knew of this forger’s work years before it was vetted by Spence.”
Spence authenticated this Lou Gehrig forgery in 1999 for Mastro. It was the work of the same forger who had created David Atkatz' ball which was determined a forgery just recently. At the time Spence authenticated this Gehrig ball, it was common knowledge amongst auctioneers, dealers and experts that the ball was a forgery. It sold for close to $15,000 with a Spence LOA.
Sources indicate that Spence was also aware of this forger’s work as early as 1995, however, he still authenticated the 1927 Yankee ball in 2000. There were even advertisements placed in Sports Collectors Digest in 1997 by one of Spence’s competitors, Richard Galasso, featuring the forgers work and warning collectors to be wary.
As reported byHaulsofshame.com last year, these blunders have caught the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and agents are well aware of the questionable authentications of Spence and PSA for millions of dollars worth of alleged fakes ranging from gem-mint Babe Ruth signed baseballs to the recently exposed 1939 Hall of Fame Induction forgeries uncovered by Hauls of Shame and several hobby experts. Spence’s shoddy work and expensive errors are being exposed at an alarming rate and continue to dog the so-called expert who still has the blessing of eBay and every major auction house in the business. The Honus Wagner signature debacle perfectly illustrates the problems with third-party authentication and the slippery slope that authenticators like Spence rest upon. At what point are their errors considered “honest mistakes” and at what point are they scrutinized for possible “criminal intent”?
Meanwhile, as instances of authenticator malpractice are being exposed on such a regular basis, some collectors who viewed the third-party authentication system as the standard of the industry are having second thoughts. Some thought they were getting a guarantee they were buying a genuine item even though JSA and PSA guarantee nothing. Now they are wondering how many other LOA’s certified by JSA and PSA aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.
One collector put it this way for us, saying, “Spence can take something that’s worthless and then based only on his say so and his fancy signature on a letter, it becomes worth thousands of dollars. That’s a dangerous power for someone who has made so many mistakes.”
Another collector remarked that Spence and other authenticators were Houdini-like in their creation of LOAs and thought a few lines from actor Michael Caine in the film, ThePrestige, summed up the authentication controversies best: ”"The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it into something extraordinary. But you wouldn’t clap yet, because making something disappear isn’t enough. You have to bring it back. Now you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because, of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.”
This 1939 first day cover appeared in the same 1999 auction that featured the vanished Wagner signature. An alleged Wagner signature appears on this example which also had an LOA from James Spence. It sold for close to $10,000 but it only featured eight of the eleven original living inductees to Cooperstown. Upon closer examination of the signatures, however, experts are of the opinion that it may be a forgery as well.
(Stay Tuned for our next report regarding the 1939 HOF Induction forgeries, which will show how many existing signed first day covers are suspected fakes, including the example sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby’s for over $48,000 in 1999.)
This picture of the HOFers at the 1939 Induction features forgeries of Nap Lajoie and Cy Young.
As “Operation Bambino” continues into 2012, readers have been alerting us about scores of other suspect autographed items certified as authentic by the “third-party” authenticators, PSA/DNA and JSA (James Spence Authentication).The revelations in the first three installments of Operation Bambino have stirred up quite a bit of controversy in the hobby as the accuracy of authentications of the high-end Babe Ruth single-signed balls are being seriously challenged by experienced collectors and dealers.
While Babe Ruth’s signature is considered the crown-jewel of the autograph industry, signed items from the 1939 Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies in Cooperstown are also held in high regard by collectors and command top-dollar . However, based upon some recent sales of Induction autographs at auction, it may be necessary to follow up the Ruth investigation with a seperate ”Operation Induction” probe.
The results of our cursory review of several items was, to say the least, shocking.
This signed 1939 Hall of Fame Induction Program was sold at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, last summer for over $41,000. Its alleged to be signed by all-time greats, Ruth, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Walter Johnson, George Sisler, Nap Lajoie, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Honus Wagner and others attending the ceremonies. But it wasn’t. The program features the work of a skilled forger who, unfortunately, had a hard time spelling Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie’s nickname “Larry” correctly. He penned the Frenchman’s name with three “r’s”. Here’s his work:
This autographed 1939 Induction Program sold for over $40,000 at Heritage last year. Experts say its the work of a skilled forger, as there are tell tale signs of forgery.
We asked some experts and dealers for their off the record opinions on the authenticity of the signatures on this program and all of them concurred with our conclusion. While some may still argue these signatures are genuine, as a result of the high quality of their execution, others were not fooled and noticed the tell-tale signs of forgery.
One of the first signatures we noticed as problematic was Cy Young’s (Top). Illustrated below the alleged Young signature on the Heritage item is an authentic Young signature signed on Induction Day in 1939 for a Cooperstown native. The contrast between the signatures is drastic and the forgery lacks any true resemblance to Young’s own signature signed in Cooperstown in 1939.
The next to show signs of forgery was the Larry Lajoie signature (top) which, while well executed, includes three “r’s” in “Larry.” The exemplar that appears below that signature is an authentic autograph of Lajoie also signed for a Cooperstown resident in 1939. On it’s own, with only two “r’s”, this forged signature would fool most everyone.
The Ty Cobb signature at the top of the Heritage Induction Day Program shows considerable contrast with other authentic Cobb signatures actually signed by the “Georgia Peach” in Cooperstown in 1939. The example at the bottom is considered authentic and appears on a 1939 Induction First Day Cover.
The Honus Wagner signature appearing on Heritage’s auction lot is, perhaps the best forgery of the bunch, closely mimicking the “Flying Dutchman’s” elaborate signature with fancy flourishes. In our opinion, close, but no cigar, when compared to another authentic example signed for a Cooperstown resident in person during the 1939 festivities in Cooperstown. The forgery shows signs of hesitation and an appearance of being drawn and lacks the natural flow of Wagner’s handwriting.
The alleged Babe Ruth signature appearing on the 1939 program is also well executed. The authentic Ruth signature that appears on the bottom was signed by Ruth on a First Day Cover signed in June, 1939.
Here are some additional 1939 HOF Induction items certified as authentic by James Spence and PSA/DNA. It is our opinion that they are all forgeries:
Another 1939 Induction program with alleged signatures of inductees and others. This item appeared in Heritage’s November, 2011 auction but failed to sell. Heritage offered the item with a “Full PSA/DNA LOA” and “an Auction LOA from James Spence Authentication.” The item is, however, riddled with unimpressive forgeries. We took note of one forgery in particular of Cy Young. It’s our “considered opinion” this forgery is a dead-ringer for the Young forgery executed on the $41,000 program. One would expect to see something like this item in a Coaches Corner Auction.
This 1939 Induction First Day Cover that also sold at Heritage features an authentic signature of US Postmaster General, James Farley, and a forged autograph of Honus Wagner accompanied with LOAs from JSA and PSA/DNA.
This 1939 Induction First Day Cover sold at Heritage and features a forged Larry Lajoie signature with an LOA from Steve Grad andZach Rullo of PSA/DNA.
This 1939 Induction First Day Cover features a forged Cy Young signature. It sold for over $5,000at Heritage with LOAs from JSA and PSA/DNA.
For comparison, here is an Induction Day forgery sold byCoaches Corner with a Christopher Morales LOA. In our opinion, this forgery, certified by Morales, features better signature examples of Cobb, Alexander and Walter Johnson when compared to the 1939 program that sold at Heritage for over $41,000. In contrast, the Coaches Corner forgery sold for about $900 bucks.
Not sold on our contention that these are all forgeries authenticated by PSA and JSA? Stay tuned for our next installment of “Operation Induction” and we guarantee you’ll never look at a PSA or JSA LOA the same way ever again.
(UPDATE: HERITAGE OFFERING BOGUS 1939 INDUCTION PROGRAM INCLUDED IN THIS ARTICLE: Despite this article’s claim that an alleged 1939 HOF induction program is a forgery that was first offered (and did not sell) in Heritage Auction’s 2011 Summer Auction, Heritage is again offering the same item in their upconing April auction as indicated on their current auction preview page. The program is being offered as: 1939 Hall of Fame Induction Program pages Signed by Most Honorees. The program, as the lot description states, comes with, “Full LOA from PSA/DNA. Auction LOA from James Spence Authentication.” The program features forgeries so poorly executed one would expect to find it accompanied by an LOA from FDE’s like Christopher Morales or Donald Frangiapani. As evidenced in this current article, even a forgery included in a Coaches Corner auction appears to have better execution than this Heritage offering.)
(UPDATE 2: Heritage Auction Galleries did not respond to interview requests by Hauls of Shame in regard to the forgeries they are currently offering on their auction website and the $41,000 program they sold this past summer.)
This forged signature of Hall of fame Umpire Bill Klem appears on the bogus 1939 Induction program pages being offered by Heritage Auctions.
This Ty Cobb forgery is included on Heritage's 1939 Induction autograph lot.
These forgeries of Larry Lajoie and Cy Young also appear on Heritage's 1939 induction lot that was authenticated by PSA and JSA.
These forgeries of Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Connie Mack and Lefty Grove were authenticated by JSA and PSA for the upcoming April Heritage Auction.
In his recent George Steinbrenner biography, The Last Lion of Baseball, New York Daily News sportswriter, Bill Madden, describes a 1985 Sporting News photo shoot at Yankee Stadium for “a feature story on the uniform collection of the renowned baseball memorabilia collector and limited Yankees partner Barry Halper.”
Steinbrenner agreed to host the photo shoot, which featured manager YogiBerra dressed up in what appeared to be John J. McGraw’s1905 Giants jersey and George dressed as JacobRuppert, sporting Ruppert’s alleged bowler cap and a handle-bar moustache. Also suited-up for the shoot were Jeff Torborg as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, MikeArmstrong as “Pud” Galvin, John Montefusco as Cy Young and Halper as the Bambino in his alleged camel-hair coat. Madden wrote in the biography, “The picture made for a classic Sporting News cover, with (Rickey) Henderson appropriately wearing the uniform of Cobb, whose all-time base-stealing record he would one day eclipse.”
Henderson was dressed in a Detroit Tigers pinstriped home jersey emblazoned with the classic olde-English “D” on the left chest. In contrast to his gheri-curls, Rickey also sported a phony handle-bar moustache along with the other Yankees who played along accordingly. TSN ran with the caption “Some Stolen Memories” under Henderson’s portrait and stated, “The uniform being modeled here is the one Cobb wore in 1914, the year before he set the modern major league record of 96 stolen bases.” TSN also joked, “Can (Henderson) continue in his Cobbian ways, or will he trip over his own moustache.”
To date, the jerseys of Joe Jackson, Cy Youngand John McGraw, featured in the TSN photo shoot, have been the subjects of Haulsofshame.com investigative reports that have established each of these garments as forgeries. Uniform expert Dave Grob has referred to the TSN cover as “The Mt. Rushmore of uniform fraud.”
A recent investigation into the Cobb jersey worn by Rickey Henderson further supports Grob’s claim.
This 1985 TSN cover features several monumental uniform forgeries from the Halper Collection. Jeff Torborg wears a fake "Shoeless" Joe Jackson jersey while Rickey Henderson sports a fraudulent Ty Cobb jersey.
Here’s our analysis of the alleged Ty Cobb jersey worn by Rickey Henderson:
The Story: Likemost Halper uniforms, the alleged Ty Cobbjersey was accompanied by a rather elaborate story of provenance, which was published in The Sporting News. Bill Madden wrote:
“A similar case of Halper’s persistence involves one of his Ty Cobb finds. A few years ago , Halper received a tip that a man in Wyoming claimed to have the uniform the Georgia Peach wore with the Tigers in 1918. “The first problem,” Halper said, “was that this fellow who claimed to have the uniform did not have a phone. I sent him countless letters and telegrams before I was finally able to get him to call me collect from one of his neighbor’s houses. In our conversation, he detailed the uniform to me and satisfied me that it was, in fact, the genuine article. He told me his father had a trial with the Tigers but was cut in spring training. According to the man’s story, his father was very distraught about being cut and Cobb, in one of his rare public displays of compassion, gave the father his uniform as a means of soothing his disappointment.”
Halper added, “To me that is great history–a side of Cobb so seldom seen and a story of Cobb never before told.”
The Jersey: The garment Rickey Henderson wore for the photo shoot appears to be an original Thos. Wilson & Co. jersey manufactured in the Dead-Ball Era. Both Wilson and Spalding were known to supply the Tigers with uniforms during Cobb’s career.
The Problem: At some point before the 1999 Sotheby’s sale of the Halper collection, the Cobb jersey allegedly failed to pass authentication and never made it into the sale.
The same jersey Rickey Henderson wore in the 1985 TSN photo shoot appeared in the 2007 REA sale for the Halper Estate.(Plate Courtesy of Dave Grob)
The Post-Mortem Discovery: After Halper died of complications of a diabetic condition in 2005, his widow consigned to auction a substantial personal stash of memorabilia Halper kept for himself after the 1999 Sotheby’s auction. The jersey Rickey Henderson wore in 1985 was found amongst Halper’s belongings.
The Auction:Robert Edward Auctions described lot 1195 in their 2007 sale as follows:
“Offered here is an extremely rare Detroit Tigers home flannel jersey dating from the early to mid 1920s. The white pinstriped jersey, which predates the use of uniform numbers, features only the team’s distinctive letter “D” appliqued in navy felt on the left breast. A four-button front and navy sun collar further distinguish the jersey and help to more narrowly define its period of use.”
The auction house did not mention that the offered jersey was once attributed to Cobb by Halper, nor did they inform bidders that the jersey at any time had failed to be authenticated.
The Buttons: Under close inspection and compared to the garment Henderson wore on the 1985 TSN cover, the REA auction lot revealed the exact same damage to the top button. Both buttons were cracked and appear to be identical.
The top button and the uniform pinstripes on both the 1985 TSN jersey and the 2007 auction jersey were perfect matches. The top buttons on both jerseys were cracked in the exact same place and the pinstripe alignment highlighted on the Olde English "D" was also a perfect match.(Plate Courtesy of Dave Grob)
The Pinstripe Match and Crest Alignment: The jerseys from the 1985 TSN issue and the 2007 REA auction both feature identical pinstripe patterns. The Olde-English “D” on each jersey has identical crest alignment.
The Chain Stitch: REA noted in their description the following:
“A “Thos. E. Wilson & Co.” manufacturer’s tag appears in the collar. There is a name stamped on the tag that begins “C. H. Bra…”; however, the remainder of the last name is obscured by a stain (the name possibly reads Brady or Bradley). A name was once sewn on the left front tail but has since been removed. Despite the removal, the outline of the name remains slightly discernible and clearly begins with the letters “Bra,” which is consistent with the visible portion of the name stamped on the manufacturer’s tag.”
REA’s Conclusion:The auction lot descriptionalludes to a theory as to who the jersey was actually issued to and when:
“Based upon the manufacturer’s tag and uniform style, this jersey most likely dates to the three-year period 1923 through 1925. That time period is further supported by comparison of this jersey to a 1924 Ty Cobb Detroit Tigers road jersey. Aside from the removal of the name in the left tail, the jersey is completely original, as issued, and displays no other alterations. Research indicates that there was no player by the name of “Brady” or Bradley” (or any player whose name last name began “Bra…”) on the Tigers active roster in the 1920s. Therefore, this jersey must have been issued to and worn by a non-roster player during that time (a common practice).”
(Note: The 1985 TSN article states the jersey was from 1915 and 1918) The jersey sold for $4,993.75 in REA’s 2007 sale.
The original Thos, E. Wilson & Co. label on Halper's alleged 1918 Ty Cobb jersey reveals the partial name of the real owner of the garment.
The MEARS Authentication:
REA noted the MEARS grade and additional information:
”The jersey displays light wear throughout, including a broken top button, and remains in impeccable condition given its age. Graded A8.5 by MEARS (base grade of 10, minus 1.5 points for removal of the name in the tail). 1920s flannel jerseys remain quite scarce today and are highly prized by collectors. As a point of reference with regard to its extreme rarity, it should be noted that only nine other jerseys/uniforms dating from the 1920s are currently even listed in the MEARS population report. The offered jersey is exceptional in all respects and would make a substantial addition to any advanced collection. From the Barry Halper Collection. LOA from Dave Bushing & Troy Kinunen/MEARS.”
The Recent Statement of Halper’s Son, Jason Halper:
“Indeed, when authenticators opined that certain items purchased by my father over the years were replicas and not originals, my father either did not sell those items, or they were expressly relabeled as replicas when sold. This includes the Ty Cobb, Pud Galvin, Mickey Mantle, and Babe Ruth uniforms referenced in the article.”
Our own research indicates that the jersey offered by REA in 2007 was the exact same jersey worn by Rickey Henderson for the 1985 TSN cover shoot. It is likely that the jersey had Cobb’s name chain-stitched somewhere on the garment and it is also likely that the chain-stitched name was removed sometime after Henderson wore the jersey for the 1985 photo shoot. Under magnification, it might be possible to identify where the “Cobb” name was once stitched into the garment. The jersey does appear to be an authentic Detroit Tiger jersey from the 1915 to 1925 era, however, without examining the jersey in person it is difficult to determine this definitively. Our research has also confirmed that Thos. E. Wilson Co. and Spalding were manufacturers of Tiger uniforms of that era.
The evidence suggests that the alleged Cobb jersey worn by Henderson was likely a forgery executed on an authentic Tiger jersey of the period. The jersey’s only link to Cobb was likely the fraudulent chain-stitch similar to others in the Halper collection. Unlike the characterization of this garment as a “replica” by Jason Halper, this Detroit Tiger jersey was doctored at some time to deceive. It is not known when the chain-stitched name (or names) were removed from the jersey. When the jersey was included in the 2007 auction, Halper’s former personal archivist and assistant Tom D’Alonzo was an employee of REA. A source told us D’Alonzo was familiar with the jersey and that it had likely been identified as a Cobb jersey on the 1995 $40 million appraisal of the Halper Collection done by Christie’s.
The alleged Cobb jersey Henderson wore for the 1985 photo shoot was not the first problematic Cobb jersey in the Halper Collection. In Halper’s 1989 documentary film promoting his collection he displayed another Cobb jersey that he acquired from Cobb biographer Al Stump. The Stump/Cobb jersey was also a forgery that appears to have been created from scratch (like a manufactured costume). It is not known how Halper disposed of that jersey, as it never appeared in the Sotheby’s sale in 1999.
Ron Cobb, author of The Georgia Peach: Stumped by the Storyteller, acquired a Polaroid of yet another alleged Cobb jersey offered by Al Stump to Howard G. Smith, Jr.of San Antonio, TX. Said Cobb, ”I obtained all the correspondence and photos that Stump send to Smith in late 1980 and early 1981 in his attempt to unload his Cobb collection. Based on the Old English “D”, I would say that this is not the same Cobb jersey you include in the article below as the one in the film Halper did in 1989. So, it appears that another fake Cobb jersey is out there somewhere.”
Halper held out this Cobb forgery as genuine in the 1989 film about his collection. The jersey originated from Cobb's biographer, Al Stump, who sold scores of Cobb forgeries.
Many uniforms in the Halper Collection were actually authentic, period jerseys, however, it has been proven that logos and chain-stitched names of Hall of Fame and star players were added to these garments at some time to enhance their value. The best examples to date are the alleged “Shoeless” Joe Jackson jersey that Halper sold to the Hall of Fame in 1998 and the alleged 1912 jersey of Eddie Cicotte sold at Sotheby’s in 1999.
What would expert Dave Grob do if he had access to examine the alleged Cobb jersey worn by Rickey Henderson?
Grob told us:
”With these older uniforms, the first thing I do is perform a very detailed physical inspection of the artifact. In this step in the process I am focusing on the material composition of the uniform and evidence of contrived attribution. This specifically involves making sure the fabric is of an appropriate quality and weight for the period and that the materials are also period appropriate. In this case I would expect to see a professional quality grade of wool blend flannel in either a six or eight ounce weight (more likely eight oz) and I would not expect to find materials containing synthetic fibers. In very simple terms, I am looking to confirm that a less than major league grade uniform has not been used in order to fool or deceive the collector.
I can’t speak to what others do, but my work is performed using on hand fabric samples (either actual uniforms or swatch samples from manufacturers’ catalogs) and a digital microscope in order to conduct comparative analysis. I would also be looking to ensure the physical structural integrity of the garment has not been compromised post manufacturer. This typically involves looking to ensure tags and any forms of supplemental identification have not be added or removed. I do all of this first since if the jersey can’t get past this stage, then it doesn’t make much sense to try to track down images or other references. This typically involves using a digital microscope, lighted magnification, and UV lighting. Once again, not sure what other folks use, but these are standard protocols for me. If everything in the first step checks out, I will then look to confirm various aspects of style with respect to trying to date the uniform.
These early uniforms are typically without year identification. Style of manufacturers tag can be helpful in establishing a range, but it not conclusive in its own right since there are such a limited number of examples and the fact remains that tags are often found in jerseys after the “thought to be” transition date to another style. Period images and period accounts (from newspapers or personal correspondence) are also helpful. It has been my experience that you can’t simply accept the work of someone else’s dating by way of an auction description as this work has been notoriously sloppy across the industry for decades.
The last thing I consider is provenance or history. Sadly, this has been the starting point and often ending point for evaluations in the past. I leave this until the end since no story, no matter how compelling can make an item into something it’s not. When I consider provenance, I am looking to answer two questions. Is the story or history reasonable and is it verifiable. I then take a look at the totality of what I have seen and offer an opinion that objectively reflects my observations. All of this has to performed against the back drop of an environment that includes variations and limited samples for comparison.”
Halper’s accounts of provenance continue to be exposed; Jerseys displayed on the 1985 TSN cover are counterfeits:
Halper said he purchased Joe Jackson’s jersey from his widow in the 1950s, but after he sold it to the Hall of Fame as part of his $7.5 million deal, it was exposed as a forgery. He said he acquired his John J. McGraw jersey from the relatives of a NY Giant equipment manager named ”Macklin,” but that jersey was bogusand failed to match an authentic 1905 Giant uniform in the Hall of Fame’s collection. The McGraw jersey sold at Sotheby’s for over $30,000 and was authenticated by Grey Flannel. Halper’s Cy Young Boston jersey was bogus, too, created in the same style as another forgery of a Jimmy Collins jersey also authenticated by Grey Flannel and sold at Sotheby’s. When confronted by the owner of the Collins jersey Grey Flannel responded stating that Halper’s early uniforms were “full of controversy.” Rickey Henderson’s “Cobb” jersey (devoid of chain stitching) was ultimately sold as a generic Tigers jersey in REA’s 2007 auction. (We called Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson for his recollections of the photo shoot and his modeling of the Cobb forgery on the TSN cover, but Henderson did not return calls.)
(Upcoming reports will examine the last two Halper garments featured on the 1985 TSN cover; the alleged 1879 “Pud” Galvin jersey and the alleged “camel-hair coat” attributed to Babe Ruth. Halper sold the coat to the Hall of Fame in 1998.)
In 2011, documents originating from the now infamous 1980s heist at the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown, New York, continued to appear for sale in all too many baseball auction catalogs. Authenticators and auctioneers acted as enablers accepting the alleged stolen goods for consignment and sale on Internet auction sites while other collectors tucked away their own contraband treasures in the privacy of their own homes or safety-deposit boxes.
Officials from the NationalBaseball Hall of Fame and Museum again declined to publicly state why they have not enlisted the services of the FBI and have informed at least one auctioneer that they can’t prove unequivocally if letters that appear to have been stolen from the famous August Herrmann Papers Collection, actually are property of the institution and the State of New York. (In each case, neither the consignors nor the auctioneers could establish a legitimate provenance for the documents being sold). To date, the Hall of Fame has yet to conduct a sufficient internal investigation to determine what is missing from its collection and to establish when those items were wrongfully removed.
Hearkening back to the 1980s when the Hall actually reached out to the FBI to investigate the thefts from the NBL, but then dropped the case to avoid a PR nightmare and backlash from past and future donors, the Hall seems content to allow the items they were entrusted to preserve to hit the market for sale on eBay and auction house websites.
If the Hall of Fame is not pursuing the recovery of their own items, does that mean collectors in possession of these documents are now in the clear with good title?
Here’s how the saga continued into 2011 and the investigative reports that exposed what some in the baseball research community consider a national disgrace (click on titles):
This Feb. 12, 1910 letter from John Ganzel to August Herrmann is part of the HOF's "Herrmann Papers" archive. Another Ganzel letter to Herrmann dated Feb. 9, 1910 was sold twice at auction by Mike Gutierrez in 2003 and 2004.
A group of items stolen from the HOF collection in the last 30 years: (Clockwise from top left) 1916 Hughie Jennings Letter; Jake Beckley cabinet photo;1897 Boston BBC at Baltimore cabinet photo; c.1902 Articles of Incorporation, Cincinnati BBC; Mickey Welch cabinet card; 1908 Joe Tinker signed affidavit; 1911 John McGraw letter; Roger Connor cabinet card; 1902 John T. Brush Promisory Note.
2011 also saw the FBI continue its on-going investigation into the multi-million dollar heist from the New York Public Library’s famous A.G. Spalding Baseball Collection:
This rare cabinet photo stolen from the NYPL appeared for sale on eBay, but ended up in the hands of the FBI.
This page of Henry Chadwick's original scrapbook at the NYPL shows evidence of paper loss and the removal of an item once pasted to a page next to an image of the 1860 Excelsior team, featuring Jim Creighton. The section cut from the page appears to be the same size as the "Creighton Culver" card.
2011 was a bad year for the "Barry Halper Collection".
The investigative reports published by Haulsofshame.com in 2011 exposed the deceased legendary baseball collector and New York Yankees minority owner Barry Halper as a fraudster who duped scores of collectors, auction houses (including Sotheby’s), Major League Baseball and the Baseball Hall of Fame by selling both counterfeit and stolen artifacts. Halper ended up pocketing millions and, despite his deceptions, was even immortalized in Cooperstown with a Hall of Fame wing named in his honor.
From 1999 through 2011, the “Barry Halper Gallery” was located on the Baseball Hall of Fame’s first level exhibition floor plan, but as the troubling reports about the Halper Collection circulated everywhere from the New York Post to Deadspin this past Summer, the space once dedicated to Halper was no longer identified on Hall of Fame brochures and its dedication plaque was no longer visible to museum visitors.
As a result of the investigations focused on the Halper Collection it has been established that the majority of his early vintage uniforms, including everything from John J. McGraw’s 1905 World Series uniform to Mickey Mantle’s 1951 rookie jersey, were forgeries. In addition, signature items that helped cultivate his reputation as the ultimate collector have similarly been tarnished. The Babe Ruth signature on his famous 500 Home Run Club sheet, the one that he said he got from Ruth in person in 1948, was a fake too. Halper said he also added the autograph of his coach, Jimmy Foxx, to that same sheet when he was a pitcher for the University of Miami baseball team. But Halper never made the U of M team and Foxx wasn’t even the coach during the years Halper attended the school.
The first-baseman’s mitt Halper sold at Sotheby’s as Lou Gehrig’s “last glove,” for close to $400,000, was fraudulently misrepresented as well. Gehrig’s authentic last glove was donated to the Hall of Fame by his mother and has been on display in Cooperstown for decades. Equally disturbing are the revelations that rare documents Halper sold at Sotheby’s, addressed to Hall of Famer Harry Wright and Cincinnati Reds owner August Herrmann, were stolen from the collections of the New York Public Library and the Baseball Hall of Fame. The list goes on and on. Even the self-promoting profiles of Halper and his collection published in Smithsonian Magazine, SportsIllustrated and the New York Times are littered with forgeries and fraudulent items once held out as genuine to the general public.
Here are the reports published in 2011 that helped to expose the once revered Halper Collection (click on titles):
(Top) Ruth signature from alleged letter authenticating his own hair. (Middle) Ruth signature from alleged envelope with typed authentication of his hair. (Bottom) Allleged Ruth signature that Halper said he got in person 1948 from his 500 HR Club Sheet. Expert Ron Keurajian believes all three signatures are forgeries and signed by the same forger.
(L to R) Numbers 8, 58 and 59 from the "Halper Hot 100" list. All three rare documents are "Challenge Letters" sent either to or from the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. All three letters were stolen from the NYPL Spalding Collections' Knick Correspondence Scrapbooks. The letter to the far right, is an 1856 "Challenge Letter" that is still found at the lirary. Barry Halper sold the 1859 letter to the left at Sotheby's in 1999 and once owned the other two examples sold later at other auctions.
This dedication plaque used to hang in the "Barry Halper Gallery" on the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's first floor. The exhibition space and plaque dedicated to Halper in 1999 appear to have been removed. Hall officials have declined comment.
Babe Ruth signs a few balls on the dugout steps c.1930.
Over the past few decades, baseballs alleged to have been signed by Hall of Famer George Herman“Babe” Ruth have become the most prized collectibles in the billion-dollar baseball memorabilia industry. Many credit Ruth-related artifacts as creating the foundation for the baseball memorabilia craze that was initiated by the Bambino as he pushed his hand and pen across thousands of fresh white horsehide baseballs that have since become family heirlooms and highly marketable assets for both collectors and investors alike.
The most striking example of the power of the Ruth signature is the record-breaking auction sales figures generated by the near-mint condition examples of the Babe’s autograph that have survived. Looking like they did on the day they were allegedly signed by the Babe over a half century ago, the top dozen balls sold privately and at auction have generated over $1 million, with the highest-graded specimen changing hands recently for a reported $300,000.
For many years Ruth balls had typically changed hands for thousands of dollars at auction, but in 1999 an example sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby’s realized a hammer price of $46,000, a world-record at the time for a baseball signed by the man who first set the standard for breaking baseball records. Halper chose Sotheby’s to sell off his entire collection, which was said to have included over two-hundred baseballs signed by the “Sultan of Swat,” and the final tallies also broke records with hammer prices exceeding $20 million. Sotheby’s said that the Ruth ball that broke the sales record had always been Halper’s favorite.
Soon after Halper’s Ruth ball hit the high five-figure milestone, a steady flow of comparable balls in pristine condition began surfacing in major sports auction house catalogs and Halper’s Ruth record was soon eclipsed by several sales that established new marks that pushed the Bambino balls closer to the six-figure range.
Operation Bambino is the current Haulsofshame.cominvestigation seeking to determine if these record-breaking balls sold at auction were actually signed by the Babe, or are forgeries. In this third installment of our 10-part series we will compare exemplars of genuine Babe Ruth signatures with the alleged autographs of the slugger found on the sweet-spots of eleven of the most valuable Ruth balls in the hobby.
(Left) Genuine Babe Ruth signatures signed from 1934 (top) to 1948 (bottom). (Right) Alleged Ruth signatures that appear on the record-breaking single-signed Ruth balls sold by major auction houses from 1999 to 2011. The sales of these eleven balls have generated well over $1 million in revenue.
The genuine Ruth signatures (left) featured alongside the alleged Ruth autographs on the near dozen record-breaking Ruth balls (right) show considerable contrast. The genuine signatures utilized in our illustration span from 1934 to 1948 (the year of Ruth’s death). Most of the record breaking Ruth baseballs sold at auction were signed on official American League baseballs bearing the facsimile signature of league president William Harridge and were produced between 1934 and 1948 as well.
The authentic exemplars of Ruth’s signature on the left include: 1.) 1934 letter to Col. Jacob Ruppert (Lelands); 2.)1935 letter to Miss E. Lazarow(Lelands); 3.) 1939 agreement with NBC; 4.)1940 World’s Fair Baseball School Certificate; 5.) 1942 Letter to Georgie Henry; 6.) 1943 Letter to Wm. H. Pfau (REA); 7.)1944 Letter to Vern Haas; 8.) Photo c.1940s; 9.) 1946 Postcard Correspondence to Chas. Weber (Heritage); 10.) 1946 Endorsed Check to Claire Ruth; 11) 1947 Postcard Correspondence to Chas. Weber (Heritage); 12.) 1948 Letter to Dan Topping(Sotheby’s Halper); 13.) 1948 Inscribed copy of the Babe Ruth Story to Roy Del Ruth .
The signatures on the right side of our illustration are featured on the record-breaking Ruth balls sold at auction and in private sales: 1.) 1999 Halper sale Sotheby’s $46,000; 2.) 1999 Mastro Fine Sports $56,500; 3.) 2000 Robert Edward Auctions $48,048; 4.)Robert Edward Auctions$76,021; 5.)2000 Hunt Auctions, Mastro and Private sale (2005-11) ranging from $70,000-$300,000; 6.) 2004 Grey Flannel$41,672; 7.) 2004 Grey Flannel$44,438; 8.) 2005 MastroNet $87,720; 9.) 2007 Mastro $23,266; 10.)2008 Heritage $50,787; 11.)2010 Heritage $83,650.
In our two previous installments we reported that in regard to the eleven record-breaking balls included in our illustration, expert Ron Keurajian stated there was, ”not one (he) would feel comfortable in pronouncing as genuine.” We also noticed that the many high-grade Ruth balls sold appeared to have been executed in multiple hands.
In his 2002 signature study of Ruth’s autograph published in Sports Collectors Digest Keurajian made some important observations about Ruth’s handwriting in his own illustration pitting genuine Ruth signatures against forgeries. Keurajian noted:
”Notice how the forged Ruth’s are level and exhibit no variation in height. The forgeries are signed in a methodical and calculated way. This is evidence of a slow and heavy hand. Now the genuine Ruth signatures bounce up-and-down. Heights vary and flowing loops are evident. When positioned right next to each other the differences are striking. Sometimes the differences in height can be subtle but they are always present. The variation in height is typically much more prominent when Ruth penned his name to a baseball.”
It is our opinion that Keurajian’s prior analysis of Ruth signatures also thoroughly describes the illustration we have presented in this report. His analysis delves into the specific characteristics that help distinguish between the genuine examples and forgeries. (Note: We have used Ruth signatures from flat items as exemplars while the questioned signatures appear on baseballs. While the surface of the ball might provide for fluctuations in Ruth’s signature, the overall characteristics of his handwriting should be evident if the balls are, in fact, genuine.)
The major authentication companies PSA/DNA and James Spence Authentication (JSA) have issued letters and certificates of authenticity for the eleven questioned record-breaking Ruth balls. In each case the companies issue a generic statement which includes language stating that the examined Ruth signatures are:
“….consistent considering slant, flow, pen pressure, letter size and other characteristics that are typical of the other exemplars that we have examined in our hobby and professional career.”
Both JSA and PSA also state that it is their “considered opinion” that the examimed signatures on the baseballs are genuine.
This letter of authenticity was issued by PSA/DNA and their lead authenticator James Spence in 2004. The LOA's issued by PSA and JSA are non-specific form letters that rarely give any insight or expert analysis in regard to the signature in question. It is believed this ball PSA authenticated is a forgery.
If we were to write letters of authenticity for the eleven “record-breaking Ruth balls” in the format both PSA and JSA and the industry at large consider the “gold-standard” they would indicate that the Ruth balls are, “NOT consistent considering slant, flow, pen pressure, letter size and other characteristics that are typical of the other exemplars that we have examined.”
It is not known what exemplars of Ruth’s signature were used by PSA and JSA in determining the authenticity of these eleven baseballs.
Based upon the suspect authentications of so many questioned Ruth balls it is possible that so many forged Ruth balls have made their way to the marketplace that the Ruth forged signature has eclipsed his genuine signature as an exemplar for the current leading authentication companies.
In 2012, the findings of Operation Bambino will be published including the opinions of respected handwriting experts and analysts as to the authenticity of the Ruth signatures in question on the record-breaking baseballs.