Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash

May 26, 2010

#1- Score Sheets From June 19, 1846 Game; Knickerbockers vs. New Yorks

 

A lengthy investigation into the alleged thefts of baseball artifacts from the New York Public Library, Boston Public Library and National Baseball Hall of Fame, has confirmed claims that each institution has experienced significant losses to their historic baseball collections. Based upon evidence gathered in its investigation, Hauls of Shame announces its “Ten Most Wanted Missing National Baseball Treasures.”  For decades historic items from these important collections have sold both publicly and privately on the “black market of baseball artifacts.” Hauls of Shame releases this list in an effort to raise public awareness in the baseball research and collecting communities and to aid the recovery efforts of both law enforcement and the victimized institutions. If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of these missing items please contact us at: tips@haulsofshame.com.  We also suggest that you contact the New York office of the FBI at: ny1@ic.fbi.gov  to report any information that might be helpful to the on-going investigations and recovery efforts.
The “10 Most Wanted Missing National Baseball Treasures”, listed below, can be viewed at:   http://haulsofshame.com/most_wanted.html

1. June 19, 1846 Score Sheets For First Match Game; Knickerbockers vs. New Yorks.(A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection, New York Public Library)

2.  1859 Knickerbocker B.B.C. Challenge Letter to the Eagle B.B.C.(A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection, New York Public Library)

3.  1859 Photo of the Excelsiors of Brooklyn and Knickerbocker Base Ball Clubs by Williamson, Brooklyn.(A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection, New York Public Library)

4. 1874  Autographed Warren Cabinet Photo of  Harry Wright.(A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection, New York Public Library)

5.  1875 Letter to Harry Wright Awarding Boston the Championship Pennant of 1875. Signed by Harry Wright and Morgan Bulkeley. (From the missing Harry Wright Correspondence Scrapbook Vol. 1,  A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection, New York Public Library)

6. 1892 Imperial Cabinet Photo of the Boston  B.B.C with Mike “King” Kelly(M. T. McGreevey Collection of Baseball Pictures, Boston Public Library)

7.  1877 Letter Written by Banished Ballplayer Jim Devlin to Harry Wright.  (Harry Wright Correspondence Scrapbook Vol. 1 , A. G. Spalding Collection, New York Public Library)

8. A) 1887 Autographed Tintype photo of Hall-of Famer Tommy McCarthy. (A. G. Spalding Collection, New York Public Library)

8. B) The Last Will and Testament of Hall-of-Famer Thomas F. McCarthy. (Suffolk County Probate Court, Boston, MA.)

9. 1917 Letter Written by  Christy Mathewson to August Herrmann. (August Herrmann Papers, National Baseball Hall of Fame)

10.  1859 Brooklyn Excelsiors Challenge Letter to Knickerbocker B.B.C.(A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection, New York Public Library)

Full Descriptions of the “10 Most Wanted Missing National Baseball Treasures”:

1. June 19, 1846 Score Sheets For First Match Game Between Knickerbocker and New York Baseball Clubs. (A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection, New York Public Library)

DESCRIPTION

Origin:The score-sheet pages were once bound in the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club Score Books. These volumes were donated to the NYPL in 1921 by the widow of A. G. Spalding, but were originally bequeathed to Spalding in 1907 by Hall-of-Fame baseball writer Henry Chadwick.

Last Appearance: A photograph of one of the missing score sheets was reproduced in the 1973 edition of author John Durant’s Pictorial History of American Sports(A. S. Barnes & Co.) The sheets were discovered missing in 1988 when historian John Thorn was trying to locate the pages on microfilm. The pages were missing before the manuscripts in the Spalding Collection were microfilmed in 1983 as part of a joint effort conducted by Thorn, SABR, the Baseball Hall of Fame and The Sporting News.

Evidence of Theft:Two remnants of pages appear to be left behind in the volume. Under close examination, it appears that the score sheets were removed from the Knick Game Book with a sharp object.

2. Aug. 13, 1859 Knickerbocker Base Ball Club Challenge Letter sent to the Eagle Base Ball Club. (A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection, New York Public Library)

DESCRIPTION

Origin:Donated to NYPL in 1921 by the widow of A. G. Spalding. Originally bequeathed to Spalding in 1907 by Hall-of-Fame baseball writer Henry Chadwick. Included in an NYPL scrapbook: Knickerbocker Base Ball Club Correspondence Vol. 1.

Last Appearance:Publicly sold for $4,600 as lot 136 in Sotheby’s 1999 auction of the “Barry Halper Collection.”

Evidence of Theft:The letter was sliced and torn from the Knick Correspondence scrapbook leaving behind a portion of the letter that was originally adhered to a scrapbook page by the NYPL in 1921. Left behind was a remnant of paper (with ink) that fits exactly into an area of paper loss found on the Halper/Sotheby’s lot. Visible under close examination on the reverse of the paper, still adhered to the NYPL scrapbook. is the inscription: “Copy of Challenge to Smith of Eagle Club Aug. 13, 1859.”

In addition to this letter, there are at least six other documented “Knickerbocker Challenge Letters” in private collections. All six have been wrongfully removed from the NYPL’s Knickerbocker Correspondence Scrapbook. Two of these letters appeared in the 2005 publication, Smithsonian Baseball: Inside the World’s Finest Public Collections.

3. Mammoth 1859 Photo of the Excelsior Base Ball Club of Brooklyn and Knickerbocker Base Ball Club by Williamson, Brooklyn. (A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection, New York Public Library)

DESCRIPTION

Origin:Donated to the NYPL in 1921 by the widow of A. G. Spalding. Originally bequeathed to Spalding in 1907 by Hall-of-Fame baseball writer Henry Chadwick.

Last Appearance: The original photograph, which was originally included in A.G. Spalding’s America’s National Game (1911), was shot for inclusion in the 1922 publication of the book series Pageant of America: Annals of American Sport.

Evidence of Theft:A c.1920 silver gelatin print of the original photo is still part of the NYPL’s photography collection, however, the 1859 original is missing. All that remains in the Spalding Collection in regard to the 1859 photo is a negative print of the original.

4. 1874 Warren Studios Autographed Cabinet Photograph of Boston Red Stocking, Harry Wright. (A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection, New York Public Library)

DESCRIPTION

Origin:Bequeathed to “The National League and American Association of Professional Baseball Clubs” by Harry Wright in his 1895 will. Subsequently acquired by A. G. Spalding as a baseball franchise owner/league executive and later donated by his widow to the NYPL in 1921.

Last Appearances: Included on page 37 of Robert Smith’s 1961 Baseball in America with a photo credit to the New York Public Library. Sold for $9,202 by MastroNet Inc. in their November, 2000 auction.

Evidence of Theft:This photograph appears on the NYPL’s “Missing List,” which was compiled in 1987 after a full inventory of the “Spalding Collection” was conducted. The photo appears on the original 1921 NYPL Spalding inventory list as: “Wright, Harry (Boston, Warren) “Center Field.”

The photograph’s inscription is written in pencil by Wright himself. The NYPL “Spalding Collection” still retains cabinet photos of nearly all 1874 Boston players, all inscribed with name and position by Harry Wright.
The photograph possesses unique imperfections that are evident in both the image credited to NYPL in 1961 and the cabinet photo auctioned in 2000. (In particular, a surface scrape is visible in the lower left hand corner of both images.)

5. Nov. 26, 1875 Letter to Harry Wright Awarding the Boston Red Stockings the Championship Pennant of 1875. Autographed by Harry Wright and Morgan Bulkeley. From the missing Harry Wright Correspondence Scrapbook Vol. 1 (A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection, New York Public Library)

DESCRIPTION

Origin:Bequeathed to “The National League and American Association of Professional Baseball Clubs” by Harry Wright in his 1895 will. Subsequently acquired by A. G. Spalding as a baseball franchise owner/league executive and later donated by his widow to the NYPL in 1921.

Last Appearances:This document was sold for $14,950 as Lot 206 in Sotheby’s 1999 auction of “The Barry Halper Collection.” It was also offered in the early 1990s by Richard Wolfers Auction House in San Francisco with an estimated value of $25,000-$30,000)

Evidence of Theft:The correspondence collection of Harry Wright arrived at the NYPL in 1921 and each document was subsequently affixed into four volumes of scrapbooks prepared by NYPL. When the “Spalding Collection” was microfilmed in 1983, only one volume of the Wright Correspondence remained in the collection with three volumes deemed “missing.”

In the 1950’s pioneering baseball historians Dr. Harold Seymour and his wife Dorothy utilized the Wright Correspondence as source material for Seymour’s 1956 Cornell University dissertation entitled: The Rise of Major League Baseball to 1891 and his book, Baseball: The Early Years (Oxford Press, 1960). In the course of their research, the Seymours took copious research notes quoting passages from letters and documents included in all four Harry Wright Correspondence scrapbooks. The Seymours donated their own archive of research materials to Cornell University where they are now housed in the Carl A. Kroch Library as part of the University’s Rare and Manuscript Collection.

 Examination of the Seymour Papers at Cornell reveals a research note in the handwriting of Harold Seymour documenting the fact that this 1875 letter awarding the Boston team the championship was once part of the Wright Correspondence scrapbooks as “Wright Corres. I p.21.” In his research note, Seymour quoted from the 1875 letter once affixed to p. 21 of the “missing” Wright Correspondence scrapbook.  Seymour’s notes state:

“Committee of Nat. Assoc. of B. B. players resolved to award pennant to Boston for 1875- said club having won most games as appears from records on file.
Records of games won & lost received only from Athletic, Boston, Hartford, Mutual & St. Louis clubs (also has lists sent in showing won & lost record- Athletic list complete also some others.) (Bulkeley & Wright signed) Wright Corrres. I p. 21”

The NYPL retains only volume 2 of the Wright Correspondence Scrapbooks, which contains more than 400 documents. The missing (3) volumes of correspondence may contain close to 1,500 documents with an estimated value exceeding $1,000,000.

6. 1892 Imperial Cabinet Photograph of the Boston Base Ball Club with Mike “King” Kelly (M. T. McGreevey Collection of Baseball Pictures, Boston Public Library)

DESCRIPTION

Origin:Donated by Michael T. “Nuf Ced” McGreevy to the Boston Public Library in 1923. Part of a larger collection of McGreevy’s pictures donated to the BPL that once were on display in his “3rd Base Saloon” in Roxbury, MA from 1894-1920.

Last Appearances:Displayed in Boston’s Filene’s Department Store window as part of a 1939 BPL exhibit honoring Baseball’s centennial. Sold for $2,300 as Lot 303 in Sotheby’s 1999 auction of the “Barry Halper Collection.” (Also sold by MastroNet in 2001 and Hunt Auctions in 2003)

Evidence of Theft:In the 1970’s the Boston Public Library took photographs of many of the items included in their “McGreevey Collection.” An image of the 1892 Boston team captured in the 1970’s is presently part of the BPL’s digital collection on their website. The 1892 photograph appears under accession number 06_06_000159 and is described as, “Copy print of original photograph missing and presumed stolen from the McGreevey Collection.” The photo on the BPL website is the exact photo offered at auction with matching surface damage unique to the McGreevey Collection item.

7. Nov. 25, 1877 Letter Written by Banished Ballplayer Jim Devlin to Harry Wright. From Harry Wright Correspondence Scrapbook Vol. 1 (A. G. Spalding Collection, New York Public Library)

DESCRIPTION

Origin:Bequeathed to “The National League and American Association of Professional Baseball Clubs” by Harry Wright in his 1895 will. Subsequently acquired by A. G. Spalding as a baseball franchise owner/league executive and later donated by his widow to the NYPL in 1921.

Last Appearance:Sold for $8,050 as lot 209 in the 1999 Sotheby’s auction of the “Barry Halper Collection.” In the letter, James Devlin, banished from baseball for throwing games, begs for support from Harry Wright:
“…you must not think Harry if I done what I did that I would ever do it again. I did not do it for the money I got, it was because I had to Pay debts and my wife and child was in want…”

Evidence of Theft: In July of 2009 two other letters written by Jim Devlin to Harry Wright were included in the MLB All-Star Weekend Auction conducted by Hunt Auctions. Baseball historian Dorothy Seymour Mills provided information to the FBI confirming that the (2) 1877 Devlin letters in the auction were cited by her husband (with a credit to the NYPL’s Harry Wright Correspondence Collection) in his 1956 Cornell dissertation and his book, Baseball: The Early Years (Oxford, 1960). The MLB Auction offerings were removed from the sale and the FBI subsequently took possession of both Devlin letters.
The NYPL collection has two additional Devlin letters remaining in their Harry Wright Correspondence Scrapbook, Volume 2 (1878-1884). The letter included in Sotheby’s sale of the Barry Halper Collection is the final missing Devlin letter from the Wright Correspondence Collection, and was originally pasted into Volume 1 (1865-1877).
An article which appeared over thirty years ago in The Sporting News, confirms that collector Barry Halper had a stolen Devlin letter in his possession as early as July 16, 1977. Writer Bill Madden reported:

“Halper would surely bring envy from Hall of Fame historians with his collection of written correspondence by Harry Wright…Halper has an authentic letter from (Jim) Devlin to Wright, pleading to be reinstated.”

8. A) 1887 Autographed Tintype photograph of Hall-of Famer Tommy McCarthy. (A. G. Spalding Collection, New York Public Library)

DESCRIPTION

Origin:Bequeathed to “The National League and American Association of Professional Baseball Clubs” by Harry Wright in his 1895 will. Subsequently acquired by A. G. Spalding as a baseball franchise owner/league executive and later donated by his widow to the NYPL in 1921.

Last Appearance:Sold as Lot 395 in the May 1996 sale conducted by Lelands Auctions. Lelands described the item as, “One of the only known signatures of McCarthy & definitely the only tintype.” The item is offered as part of the, “Collection of a Gentleman…an anonymous but legendary collector. Amassed primarily in the 1960s and 1970s these completely “fresh” pieces have not seen the light of day for decades.”
The item is inscribed: “Thos. F. McCarthy March 1887.”

Evidence of Theft:The 1987 NYPL’s “Missing List” for the photographic section of the “Spalding Collection” includes this same item as:

“McCarthy, Tommy, Boston. “March 1887.” Tintype.”

8. B) The Last Will and Testament of Baseball Hall-of-Famer Thomas F. McCarthy. (Suffolk County Probate Court, Boston, MA.)

DESCRIPTION

Origin: Thomas F. McCarthy died on August 5, 1922 in Boston, MA. If he executed a Last Will and Testament it would be filed in the Suffolk County Probate Court.In the April 12, 1982 edition of Sports Illustrated, writer Robert Creamer reports that legendary baseball memorabilia collector and minority owner of the NY Yankees, Barry Halper, “…tracked down a relative who found Tommy’s will, signed two days before his death.” Creamer states that Halper paid $150 for the document and that the acquisition of the McCarthy signature completed Halper’s collection of signatures for every member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Last Appearance: An article in the October, 1990 edition of Connoisseur Magazine and various Associated Press articles report that Barry Halper was still in possession of McCarthy’s will, “dated August 3, 1922…”

Evidence of Theft:In 1998, a Suffolk County Courthouse employee named Joe Schnabel pleaded guilty to numerous thefts of the wills and probate files of various Baseball Hall-of-Famers. In the course of the investigation it is confirmed that the will of Thomas McCarthy is missing from the Suffolk County Probate Court. Barry Halper is reported to have been questioned, but the McCarthy will was never returned. Schnabel never admits to stealing the McCarthy will.  Schnabel started stealing documents from the court in the early 1990s, years after Barry Halper already had the McCarthy will in his possession.

9. 1917 Letter Written by Hall-of-Famer Christy Mathewson to August Herrmann. (August Herrmann Papers, National Baseball Hall of Fame)

DESCRIPTION

Origin:This document was once part of the business and club records of August Herrmann, owner and president of the Cincinnati Base Ball Club. Herrmann’s entire archive of correspondence and business records spanning from 1902-1927 were stored in a room near the upper deck of Cincinnati’s Crosley Field until Red’s owner Powel Crosley Jr. donated the entire collection to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1961. It wasn’t until 2006, thanks to a grant from the Yawkey Foundation, that the entire archive was preserved, professionally conserved and officially catalogued in the official “Guide to the August “Garry” Herrmann Papers 1877-1938.”

Last Appearance:Sold for $9,775 as Lot 526 by Sotheby’s in the 1999 auction of the “Barry Halper Collection.”

Evidence of Theft:The Baseball Hall of Fame’s “Herrmann Papers” archive includes separate files dedicated to all of the correspondence Herrmann received from his manager, Christy Mathewson. Folder 25 in the collection includes all of the Mathewson correspondence to Herrmann spanning from 1916-1919. In particular, there is a series of letters written by Mathewson in January of 1917. The letters were written by Mathewson on January 5th, 6th and 8th on his personal stationary which included his home address of “87 St. Nicholas Place, New York.” The letter offered by Sotheby’s was dated January 10, 1917 and written on the exact same stationary. It appears to be missing from the National Baseball Library files.

10. May 19, 1859 Excelsior Base Ball Club of Brooklyn Acceptance of Challenge Letter to Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. (A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection, New York Public Library)

DESCRIPTION

Origin:Donated to the NYPL in 1921 by the widow of A. G. Spalding. Originally bequeathed to Spalding in 1907 by Hall-of-Fame baseball writer Henry Chadwick. Included in an NYPL scrapbook: Knickerbocker Base Ball Club Correspondence Vol. 1.

Last Appearance: Publicly sold for $1,856 by Robert Edward Auctions as Lot 681 in their April 2006 auction. (Also offered in a 2005 public sale for $12,000 by Between the Covers Rare Books Inc.)

Evidence of Theft:The letter was sliced from the Knick Correspondence scrapbook with a sharp object leaving behind a portion of the letter that was originally adhered to a scrapbook page by the NYPL in 1921. The letter auctioned by REA has the same embossed stationers mark and the reverse of the page still affixed to the NYPL scrapbook reads: “Acceptance of Challenge to Excelsior BBC, May 19th 1859, Rec’d “20.” In addition, the same NYPL scrapbook page still retains a copy of the letter written by the Knickerbockers to challenge the Excelsiors on May 10, 1859.


By Dorothy Seymour Mills

May 18, 2010

"Original NYPL Call Slip of Dorothy Seymour Mills c.1953- From Cornell Univ. Rare and Manuscript Collection"

 

For a researcher/historian like me, who has been writing about baseball for sixty years, it’s not unusual to get a phone call from a fan who is passionate about baseball. But the call I received from Peter Nash in 2009 surprised me.

In past discussions with fans I’ve talked about topics beginning with the word “federal,” like a 1922 law case called Federal Baseball Club v. National League, in which the Supreme Court ruled that MLB was exempt from the antitrust laws. I’ve also discussed the Federal League of the World War I era, which challenged the American and National Leagues in a down-and-dirty baseball war. But I’ve never discussed the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI has something to do with baseball? What could that be about?

I soon learned that Peter was helping the FBI track down baseball documents stolen from the New York Public Library, where I had spent so many years researching baseball with my late husband, Dr. Harold Seymour, the first historian of baseball. Peter was asking me to recall seeing certain old documents in the 1950s and using them in the NYPL. That’s because the Library was trying to establish firmly that it was the owner of those documents, which had suddenly appeared on the auction market and were being offered at high prices to baseball collectors. The FBI was tracking those items, with Peter’s help, and wanted my assistance, too.

Peter’s life, I discovered is devoted in large part to his passion for baseball. He is like the people I write about in my recently-released book about fans, called Chasing Baseball: Our Obsession with Its History, Numbers, People and Places (McFarland 2010). Peter’s obsession is demonstrated in several ways. He is not only a researcher, he is a collector. Moreover, he is a baseball entrepreneur: with others, he operates a sports bar in Boston called McGreevy’s, named for the early and famous Red Sox fan, “Nuf Ced” McGreevy. This bar is a place devoted to the Red Sox where Peter can display some of his collection of old and new pictures and objects celebrating his favorite team.

Peter’s obsession with collecting old baseball objects and documents and his delight with them became dampened when he realized that some of the letters and contracts he noticed on sale were originally part of historical collections owned by the public through their world-famous repository called the New York Public Library.

Because of his collecting, Peter was assisting the security people at the NYPL on thefts of its collection when the FBI contacted him to help track down letters in the great Harry Wright Correspondence that Peter knew we had used in our research. Luckily, I recognized a quotation from a letter that a player had written to an owner—we had used it in the dissertation. That letter, which we read so long ago in the Wright Collection, had just been offered at auction! After I quoted from it, the auctioneer withdrew it from the sale. Afterwards, I received another phone call, this one from a grateful FBI agent who told me that his agency was hot on the trail of the culprits.

How can a researcher like me help with this problem? In two ways. First, I could recall some of the fascinating documents I read when I became involved in baseball research, then verify my memory by checking the dissertation, especially the bibliography. I had helped Seymour prepare this manuscript for Cornell University. Second, I could direct Peter (then wearing his research hat) to the places in the Seymour Collection where he could find the original notes that I took, or that my late husband took, from these documents while we were researching our three-volume series on baseball published by Oxford University Press over the years 1960-1990. While he was locating these notes, Peter even discovered some of my original call slips written more than fifty years ago, ordering the documents from the library stacks.

Dr. Harold Seymour, the first historian ever to devote his life to baseball history, solicited my help with his work starting in the year before our marriage in 1949, and I quickly became fascinated with the research and writing on the Oxford project. The New York Public Library, a great institution for scholars, became my favorite resource. So when Peter named certain documents and collections as having disappeared from the Library, I recognized several because they were so unique. And when he was trying to prove that these items were part of the Library’s collection in the 1950s, I explained where, in the Seymour Collection, our notes on these items could be found.

The Carl A. Kroch Library at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, houses the collection called the Harold and Dorothy Seymour Papers, which includes not only the library of books and other items we had amassed by 1992, the year of Seymour’s passing, but also all the notes taken for our own books, notes I had filed in boxes carefully by topic, so that they could be retrieved if necessary. Peter made more than one trip to Ithaca to search for, and find, the notes he needed, with the help of Dr. Elaine Engst, the archivist. And he reported that the evidence he discovered was helping the FBI agent in his work. That gave me great satisfaction, for now I realized that the Collection could not only be of help to researchers/writers like Steve Gietscher and Jean Ardell, it could assist a government agency in tracking down evidence that might catch thieves.

I was gratified when the New York Times credited me with furthering the FBI investigation into the theft and the fraudulent auctioning of rare baseball items. When a local Naples weekly published an article written by Phil Jason about this story, it headed the piece “FBI Scores with Help from Naples Writer.” The story was accompanied by a picture of me seated at my computer, grinning with pleasure.

I soon learned from Peter that other libraries and repositories, like the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, had suffered from robbers as well, and I heard that he was helping them recover their lost holdings while the FBI was working on finding the culprits.

All this shows me that passionate devotion to baseball and its artifacts can go too far. Those who become completely obsessed with the objects of their affection will sometimes go to such lengths to obtain them that they actually commit crimes. Such collectors are aided by auctioneers who neglect to verify the provenance of the items they offer for sale. The indiscretions of these collectors and auction houses result in robbing us citizens of our history, for how can we put together the story of what was happening if there are holes in the materials needed to tell that story? Besides, just viewing these documents signed by the important early movers and shakers of our National Game can be thrilling. We should not be deprived of that experience by those who have permitted their obsession to override their ethics.

(Dorothy Seymour Mills is a 2010 inaugural recipient of SABR’s Henry Chadwick Award.   Mills’s latest book is Chasing Baseball:  Our Obsession with Its History, Numbers, People and Places (McFarland 2010), which has just gone into a second printing.  Library Journal calls it “a fascinating read” presented “elegantly and calmly.”)

"(Left) c. 1953 Handwritten Notes of Dorothy Seymour Mills document the NYPL's 1852 copy of the Eagle Ball Club's By-Laws (Right). The Eagle pamphlet, one of the most important baseball artifacts in existence, was stolen from the library sometime after Mills documented it in her notes. The rare pamphlet was recently recovered by the NYPL and returned to the A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection."


By Peter J. Nash

May 7, 2010

 

"1874 Harry Wright Photo Missing From NYPL's Spalding Collection"

 

When a “cache of 19th century letters” written to baseball pioneer Harry Wright appeared last summer in the Major League Baseball All-Star Game FanFest auction, baseball historians suspected that the correspondence may have originated from the A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection at the New York Public Library. The New York Times published a series of articles questioning the provenance of the letters and based upon the recollections of baseball historian Dorothy Jane Mills, who worked with the Spalding Collection in the 1950’s, letters from the MLB sale were determined to be property of the New York Public Library. In particular, Mills proved that one letter offered in the auction written by player Jim Devlin was cited in her husband Harold Seymour’s 1956 Cornell dissertation on 19th century baseball.

The revelation attracted national news coverage, and the letters were withdrawn from the MLB/Hunt Auction as the Federal Bureau of Investigation commenced a probe into the thefts of baseball materials from the NYPL collection. Even Harry Wright’s direct descendants expressed their dismay that the donated archive had disappeared and was being sold. Pam Guzzi, Wright’s great-great granddaughter, passionately stated her hopes that all of Harry Wright’s treasures would “eventually be recovered and returned to their public homes for all to view.”

Now, close to a year after the Wright letters first appeared for sale, investigations into the matter suggest that the thefts of baseball artifacts from the New York Public Library were not limited to the group of letters offered at the 2009 All-Star Game auction. An independent investigation conducted by haulsofshame.com has uncovered evidence that links other stolen materials from the Spalding Collection to the now deceased and legendary baseball collector Barry Halper. The investigation has determined that the 1999 sale of Halper’s collection by Sotheby’s also included items that originated from the Harry Wright Correspondence Collection at the New York Public Library.

One such item appeared as lot 206 in Sotheby’s $25 million dollar sale of Halper’s collection in 1999 and was described by the auction house as a “historically significant document” that “declared the Boston Base Ball Club the champions of the National Association for 1875.” The letter awarded the Boston team the championship pennant for 1875 and was signed by both league president Morgan Bulkeley and Boston manager Harry Wright. The letter, which was previously offered in the early 1990’s by Richard Wolfers Auctions of San Francisco with an estimated value of “$25,000-30,000,” was sold by Halper at Sotheby’s for $14,950.

"Letter Awarding Boston the Pennant of 1875. Sold at Sotheby's in the 1999 Barry Halper Auction"

Newly discovered evidence, however, confirms that the 1875 letter awarding the pennant to the Boston team, sold by Sotheby’s in 1999, was once found on page 21 of the New York Public Library’s Harry Wright Correspondence Scrapbook, volume 1. Dorothy Jane Mills and her late husband Harold Seymour wrote extensive research notes when they examined the A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection at the library in the 1950’s and their entire archive of notes and papers were donated to Cornell University in 1994. The Seymour Papers are presently housed in Cornell’s Carl A. Kroch Library as part of the University’s Rare and Manuscript Collections. Harold Seymour’s handwritten notes, recently discovered in the Cornell collection, document that the 1875 letter once owned by Barry Halper is the property of the NYPL.

Seymour quotes the content of the auctioned letter, almost verbatim, in his handwritten document housed at Cornell. With a heading indicating “Championship to Boston 1875,” Seymour memorialized how the letter he originally examined as part of the Harry Wright Correspondence stated: “Committee of the Nat. Assoc. of B. B. Players resolved to award pennant to Boston for 1875-said club having won most games as appears from records on file.” Seymour also wrote that the letter was autographed by the parties, noting: “Bulkeley & H. Wright signed.” In addition, historian Seymour specifically cited the letter as originating from the “Wright Corres. 1. P 21.” Today, some fifty years later, Seymour’s wife, Dorothy Jane Mills recalls their research at the NYPL: “We took careful notes, most of them on 5 x 8 note paper, recording the subject at the top, the information in the body, and the source at the bottom.”

The content of the original 1875 letter sold by Sotheby’s states: “At a meeting of the Committee of the National Association of Base Ball players…it was resolved that the championship pennant for the season of 1875 be awarded to the Boston Base Ball Club, said club having won the greatest number of games during the season of 1875 as appears by the records on file…”  The letter was also signed by Hall-of-Famers Morgan Bulkeley and Harry Wright.

 The Seymour note serves as unimpeachable evidence that the letter sold by Sotheby’s was once part of the Spalding Collection and wrongfully removed from the NYPL. When informed of the revelation provided by the Seymour Papers at Cornell, Dorothy Jane Mills stated, “I’m glad to know (our notes) were helpful in tracking the ownership of stolen materials.” The haulsofshame.com investigation into the Wright thefts has uncovered other documents housed at Cornell that support NYPL’s ownership of additional items that have been sold at public auction, including an 1879 contract signed by Boston player Ezra Sutton.

"Original Notes of Dr. Harold Seymour c.1953 From the Rare and Manuscript Collections at Cornell Univ."

The correspondence of Harry Wright was donated to the NYPL in 1921 by the widow of Baseball Hall-of-Famer Albert Spalding. The collected letters and documents of Wright were compiled in four volumes of scrapbooks constructed by the NYPL in 1922. The library is still in possession of one volume of the correspondence, but the other three volumes have been missing from the collection for decades. When historian John Thorn and other groups, including the Baseball Hall of Fame, funded the microfilming of the NYPL’s Spalding manuscript collection in 1983, it was officially documented that the three volumes were missing.

The three missing volumes of Wright’s correspondence are believed to have contained well over a thousand documents pertaining to Wright’s career in baseball from 1866 to 1894. Sources indicate that the FBI’s investigation that commenced with the sale of the Wright letters last summer is active and that their probe has led to their collecting additional items suspected to have originated from the Wright scrapbooks. The media office of the FBI in New York declined to answer whether their investigation had uncovered information as to where Barry Halper originally acquired the 1875 letter.

Wright’s great-great granddaughter Pam Guzzi confirmed that she has been contacted by the FBI and in regard to the on-going probe said, “I am very encouraged by the progress made in the investigations and most grateful to all of those involved in bringing this travesty to light.” Guzzi also expressed her hopes for a speedy return of the Wright letters “to their rightful home at the New York Public Library.” When asked to comment on the revelations that Sotheby’s had also sold her relative’s donated items she said she was “not familiar with the legal obligations a selling agent such as Sotheby’s has.” Guzzi added, “That items of such historic importance are stolen and sold for the sake of profit only to sit on the mantel in the home of someone with no rightful ownership is most shameful and disappointing.”

Despite several inquiries to Sotheby’s about the sale of the 1875 NYPL letter, the auction house declined to respond to questions or issue a formal statement. 

 Angela Montefinise, a spokeswoman for the NYPL, confirmed that the library is cooperating with the Federal probe but, due to the on-going nature of the investigation, could not comment further.

For Harry Wright’s descendants the mystery of the thefts continues. Said Pam Guzzi, “I don’t know for certain how Mr. Halper ended up with Harry Wright’s donated letter. But I do know my great-great-grandfather’s intention would have been for his letters to remain where they belong, at the New York Public Library for all-time.”

(Editors Note- The 1875 Boston Pennant Letter to Harry Wright appears as the #5 item on the haulsofshame.com “10 Most Wanted Missing National Baseball Treasures List.”)