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By Peter J. Nash

Feb. 28, 2011

This authentic Boston jersey from 1908 resides in the collection of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The grey flannel road jersey with a red emblem was worn for the first time by the newly named "Red Sox" at spring training in 1908.

 

At a Sotheby’s auction in September of 1999, a Red Sox fan from the Boston area purchased what he thought was the jersey of the team’s greatest all-time third baseman, Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins. The Sotheby’s catalogue for the Barry Halper  Collection described the jersey as a “Circa 1907 Jimmy Collins Boston Americans Home jersey.”

The Sotheby’s lot description added that the Gothic letters, “B” and “A” were affixed on the right and left breast of the shirt.  Accompanying the auction catalogue write-up was a photo illustrating that the “BA” emblem on the jersey was red.  Sotheby’s was correct in calling it a “Boston Americans” jersey because the franchise did not become the “Red Sox” until owner John I. Taylor made that decision in late 1907.

On December 19, 1907, a Boston Globe headline read: “TO BE KNOWN AS RED SOX; PRES TAYLOR SUGGESTS A NAME; UNIFORMS ORDERED…” From the time of the teams inception in 1901, the Boston Americans official team color was blue, as indicated in Mark Okkonen’s uniform compendium Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century. Taylor’s decision, published in the Globe, caused quite a stir as it was the first time his club would be wearing “red stockings” like the original National League teams in Boston dating back to 1876.

Okkonen’s research determined that during the 1907 season Boston’s National League club, at the behest of their new owner George Dovey, discarded their traditional reds and wore a home uniform with a maroon “B” on the chest and a road uniform featuring an Old English “B” in blue, with fine green pin-striping.  Okkonen concluded that the Boston Americans, “seized the opportunity to use RED in their uniform designs for 1908 since no other American League club was so identified.” (In 1908, Dovey returned to red uniforms).

For 1908, the newly dubbed “Red Sox” officially carried on the Boston tradition when their “new traveling uniforms,” made by Wright & Ditson, arrived at spring training in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on March 20th. It was the first time the American League club ever sported “red” and a prominent red sock emblazoned with “B-O-S-T-O-N” in grey felt. Tim Murnane of the Globe wrote, “The players will be out 24 strong tomorrow in the new rig, including their red stockings.” The next day Murnane also wrote: “The new uniforms of gray and bright red stockings were very attractive this afternoon.”

The research of Mark Okkonen first verified that the Boston American League club wore blue before their introduction as the "Red Sox" in 1908. This page from his 1991 book, "Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century" illustrates what the Boston uniforms looked like from 1901 to 1907.

This would all be fine in regard to the Jimmy Collins jersey sold at Sotheby’s for $26,450, but for one reason: Boston traded Jimmy Collins to Philadelphia on June 7, 1907. That was six months before Boston even became the “Red Sox” and ordered their new red uniforms from Wright & Ditson. It’s impossible for Collins to have worn a red-themed Boston Americans uniform and even if the Boston club ordered a red ”BA” style uniform for 1908, it would also be impossible for there to be a surviving example attributed to Jimmy Collins.

 It’s yet more proof supporting the conclusion that the Collins jersey is another elaborate forgery from the Barry Halper collection.

(Surviving photos from early spring training in 1908 show the Boston team dressed in a “BA” style uniform, before the delivery of the new Wright & Ditson’s featuring the “red sock.”  These appear to be holdovers from 1902 or, perhaps, a later version.  We have not found evidence of the “BA” style being worn during any season other than 1902. Surviving photos also show the “BA” style being worn in spring training during 1909.)

Mark Okkonen's findings are supported by the existence of these two authentic Boston American jerseys from 1903 and 1904. They belonged to "Candy" LaChance, who contributed them to a New England museum while he was still living. The B-O-S-T-O-N lettering is the traditional blue used by the club from 1901 to 1907.

Examination of Halper’s alleged 1907 Collins jersey suggests it was a period garment that was altered to add the Boston insignia and maker labels, sometime in the 1980s.  (Halper’s alleged Cy Young jersey with the same red “BA” insignia appeared in a 1985 Sporting News feature story by Bill Madden.) It appears that the forger was unaware of the fact that the Boston team wore only blue through 1907. The basis for the forgery could have been tobacco and candy cards created between 1908 and 1911, which illustrate the “BA” style of Boston uniform in red. The artists for the card manufacturers colored Carl Horner studio photographs originally shot between 1902 and 1906, when the uniforms were blue. By the time the cards were produced the Boston Americans had already become the “Red Sox,” thus we see the red “BA” insignia on the cards, just like the one on the bogus Jimmy Collins jersey sold by Sotheby’s.

The forger of the Collins jersey was likely familiar with this E-90-1 card of Cy Young from 1909. The card is based on a 1902 Carl Horner photo when Young wore a blue "BA." Boston was wearing red at the time the artist colored the image.

Back in 2009, the purchaser of the Collins jersey contacted Rob Lifson, president of Robert Edward Auctions, and expressed interest in consigning the jersey to one of Lifson’s auctions.  Lifson, Sotheby’s head consultant for the Halper Auction in 1999, then told the owner that any uniforms included in his sales had to be approved by the authentication company MEARS of South Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  So, the owner of  Halper’s Jimmy Collins jersey submitted it to MEARS and the garment was thoroughly examined by uniform expert Dave Grob

Grob’s report indicated a host of problems with the Collins jersey ranging from irregularities in the construction, alignment and placement of the Gothic “BA” lettering, as well as significant evidence that the Wright & Ditson manufacturers tagging on the jersey was not original to the garment and had likely been added at a later time. Grob’s final analysis in June of 2009 was that he could not authenticate the jersey and his report was made available on the MEARS website.  Later, in 2010, after learning about a similar Halper jersey attributed to Cy Young, Grob wrote an article for Haulsofshame.com, stating his belief that both jerseys were likely forgeries.

Dave Grob wrote an article, "Recurring Nightmares" about his experience authenticating Halper's Jimmy Collins jersey and examining photographs of Halper's similar Cy Young jersey. He concluded that, based on similarities and commonality of irregularities, both jerseys may have been constructed by the same person.

The Sotheby’s catalogue indicates that Grey Flannel “authenticated all uniforms and apparel” sold in the Halper sale, including the 1907 Collins jersey. Grey Flannel, located in Westhampton, Long Island, states on their company website that, “In 1998 Grey Flannel was hired by Sotheby’s to authenticate the uniform collection of Barry Halper.  Mr. Halper’s collection rivaled that of the Baseball Hall of Fame in scope and was offered in auction during the early part of the summer of 1999.”

 In the 1999 Sotheby’s catalogue, Grey Flannel indicated they had worked with the Hall of Fame while authenticating Halper’s uniform holdings and made a point to extend their thanks to the Baseball Hall of Fame Library for,  ”their time and effort assisting in our research as it proved to be invaluable.”  

In late 2010, the Hall of Fame admitted that  jerseys in their collection purchased from Halper of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and Mickey Mantle were million-dollar fakes and part of a 1998 deal between the Hall, Halper and Major League Baseball.  The Hall confirmed that testing conducted on Halper’s Jackson jersey revealed that its felt “S-o-x” logo was acrylic and the fibers used to adhere the emblem to the jersey were polyester.  Both of those substances were introduced in the 1940s and 50s, decades after Jackson played.  Halper said he purchased the jersey from Jackson’s widow in the 1950s, but in 1985 gave a conflicting story to The Sporting News, stating the jersey was a “recent acquisition” from “Jackson relatives.” 

Grey Flannel’s current website still includes a testimonial given by the late Barry Halper, himself, who said: “I have known Grey Flannel for many, many years.  Nobody has studied their craft any harder than Grey Flannel.  They are the finest authenticators of uniforms in the hobby today.  Their knowledge and integrity are indisputable.”

Several months after MEARS informed the owner of Halper’s Collins jersey that it could not be authenticated, he decided to send the jersey to Grey Flannel for consignment to their auction, since they had already authenticated the jersey for Sotheby’s in 1999.  Considering that prior authentication and the Halper testimonial on their company website, the response he got was disconcerting.  In a letter dated January 25, 2010, Richard Russek, Grey Flannel’s president, informed the owner, “We are returning to you the Collins jersey that came from the Halper auction because, as you are well aware, those 19th century jerseys are full of controversy and we would be very uncomfortable running it.  Things are quite different now than they were at that time and the climate with game used jerseys has completely changed.”

The owner of the Collins jersey, who furnished a copy of the Grey Flannel letter to us providing we would not reveal his identity, was astonished.  The authenticator who originally certified his jersey for sale at Sotheby’s had now rejected it, citing “controversy” regarding the Halper uniform collection.  Despite Russek’s assertion,  Grey Flannel was still promoting their work for Sotheby’s on their company website and still claimed that Halper’s collection “rivaled that of the Baseball Hall of Fame.”   The same Hall of Fame that accepted Halper fakes from ”Shoeless Joe” Jackson, Mickey Mantle and possibly others.  

In addition, the buyer also confirmed that, although Sotheby’s stated in the catalogue that Grey Flannel authenticated all of the Halper uniforms in their sale, he never received with his purchase, an actual letter from Grey Flannel documenting their work.  Auction houses refer to such documents as “Letters of Authenticity” (LOA’s) and include them with lots as documentation for the buyer and for future sales of the item.  In a July 23, 1993 article that appeared in Sports Collectors Digest, writer Dan Schlossberg quoted Barry Halper, who claimed that he was the first to coin the phrase “Letter of Authenticity” in the hobby. 

But since the Halper sale in 1999, many of the alleged “authentic” jerseys sold by Sotheby’s, and approved by Grey Flannel, have also been deemed forgeries by experts.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jerseys are now virtually worthless, including examples from Baseball Hall of Famers like, Wilbert Robinson, Hugie Jennings, Buck Ewing,Iron Man” McGinnity, John McGraw and even more modern duds from stars like Reggie Jackson.  Other 19th century jerseys Halper had boasted of owning, but did not appear in the Halper sale at Sotheby’s, have mysteriously vanished from the hobby.  The whereabouts of alleged jerseys of Hall of Famers “Pud Galvin,” “Old Hoss” Radbourn, John Clarkson, “Wee Willie” Keeler” and a host others are unknown, although Sports Collectors Digest reported in 1998 that the Radbourn and Clarkson jerseys were donated to Cooperstown by Major League Baseball.   

Grey Flannel sent this letter to the Sotheby's winner, rejecting the Jimmy Collins jersey for their own auction. Although they had authenticated the jersey for Sotheby's in 1999, they told the owner his jersey and others from the Halper Collection were "full of controversy."

We contacted Richard Russek, president of Grey Flannel, for an explanation of the “controversy” indicated in his letter, as well as his company’s rejection of the jersey they originally authenticated for Sotheby’s, but Russek declined comment.

In 1999, Grey Flannel was retained by Sotheby’s and their lead consultant, Rob Lifson, president of Robert Edward Auctions. Lifson was a long-time Halper friend and associate , and the hand picked consultant chosen by Sotheby’s and Halper to oversee the entire Halper auction.  Lifson’s auction house was using Grey Flannel as their own uniform evaluator as early as 1996.  

Sotheby’s VP, Marsha Malinowski, was the in-house representative in charge of the Halper sale, so we asked her to explain Grey Flannel’s letter to their customer who spent $26,450 on Lot 38.  Malinowski did not respond to email and several telephone inquiries to her office in New York City.

The Sotheby’s Halper catalogue indicates that the auction house guarantees the “provenance of memorabilia of historical interest, the value of which derives solely from its historical significance.”  Sotheby’s also asserts that, “within five years from the date of the sale of a purchased lot,” the original purchaser can return an item of questionable authenticity.   Over a decade after the Halper sale in 1999, the prospects of recovery from Sotheby’s for the buyer of the bogus jersey don’t look promising. 

Sotheby’s is no stranger to allegations of defrauding customers.  At the time of the Halper Auction in 1999, Marsha Malinowski was an “Acting Division Head” working under President and CEO Diana Brooks and Chairman Alfred Taubman.  In 2002, both Brooks and Taubman were convicted by a federal judge for what the New York Times described as, “leading a six-year price-fixing scheme with rival Christie’s that swindled auction house customers out of more than $100 million.”  It is not known if the investigation at that time uncovered any price-fixing in the Halper auction, which broke all records for the sale of baseball memorabilia. 

The owner of Halper’s much-maligned Jimmy Collins jersey told us he is considering pursuing reimbursement from both Sotheby’s and the Halper estate.  When Halper died in 2005, he was survived by his wife, Sharon Halper, who assumed control of Halper’s 2% ownership stake in the New York Yankees, and is currently one of the twenty-nine limited partners pictured in last seasons team yearbook as the ”2010 Yankees Family.”

Says the unlucky owner of Halper’s bogus offering, “Bidding with Sotheby’s I thought I was buying a real piece of baseball history from a guy who was known as the most famous collector of all-time and an owner of the Yankees.  I’m not a uniform expert, so I also relied on Sotheby’s name and Grey Flannel’s authentication.” 

For now, he’s in the hole 26-grand with a worthless piece of flannel on his hands.  He’s hoping one of the players in this mess will step up to the plate and do the right thing. 

Barry Halper's counterfeit Jimmy Collins jersey was featured prominently in the 1999 Sotheby's catalogue.


By Peter J. Nash

Feb. 21, 2011

This 1901 note signed by John T. Brush is currently being sold on EBAY

 

Earlier this month Baseball Hall of Fame officials allowed a New York auction house to sell off a letter suspected to have been stolen from the National Baseball Library’s famous August Herrmann Papers Collection. Hall officials did not request the auctioneer to stop the sale of the letter, addressed to Cincinnati Reds owner, August Herrmann, nor did they make a claim of ownership.

 Instead, Hall of Fame spokesperson, Brad Horn, told Clean Sweep Auctions that they could not definitively determine if the document came from their collection, even though the Herrmann Papers archive includes over 45,000 documents that constitute what appears to be the entire personal and business correspondence of Herrmann from the turn-of-the-century through the late 1920s.

The Herrmann archive, stored for years in a room in the upper deck grandstand at Crosley Field until its donation in 1960, was always believed to encompass the entire holdings of Reds, Herrmann and National Commission files from the turn-of-the-century to the 1930s.  No alternate source for Reds and Herrmann related documents has ever been established.  Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen told The Sporting News in 1960:  “This is the most valuable accumulation of baseball lore ever assembled in one place.”

This week another document suspected to have been removed from the Hall of Fame’s collection is being sold on EBAY; It’s a 1901 Promisory note executed by then-Cincinnati Reds owner John T. Brush,  documenting a loan to the Cincinnati Base Ball Club:

 http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=140475956712&ssPageName=STRK:MEWAX:IT

The August Herrmann Papers archive at the National Baseball Library features similar financial documents related to the Reds franchise at the turn of the century.

 This is one of the documents presently found in “Box 1″ of the Herrmann Papers collection:

1902 Note signed by John T. Brush, from the Hall of Fame's Herrmann Papers collection.

And here is the 1901 Promisory Note signed by John T. Brush, currently being sold on EBAY for $717.65:

This 1901 note signed by John T. Brush is being sold on EBAY

This note executed by Brush on August 15, 1902, just eight days before the specimen that is currently part of the Herrmann Papers archive in Cooperstown, was sold in 2008 by Robert Edward Auctions:

August 15, 1902 promisory note signed by John T. Brush that sold at REA in 2008.

How could the August 23, 1902 document be part of the Hall of Fame collection, and the other two notes be up for sale in public auction?  Can the Hall of Fame explain why they are not in the collection and can the sellers prove where the documents originated?

The Herrmann Archive was donated to the Hall by Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr. in 1960 and the National Baseball Library conserved and catalogued the entire Herrmann archive in 2005, thanks to a grant from the Yawkey Foundation.  The library prepared a detailed guide describing the contents of each of the 150 boxes of documents in the collection and each box has its enclosed folders designated by name, date and subject. 

Official business records and documents that appear should be part of the Herrmann papers archive have been sold at public auction over the past twenty years.  This group of documents, sold at Mastro Auctions (depicted below), includes what they described as “Museum Quality Items.”  The auction lot included:  The 1902 resignation letter of John T. Brush; The Reds’ 1902 Articles of Incorporation; Reds’ Corporate Resolutions of 1902; Aug. Herrmann’s President’s reports; a 1907 Reds payroll sheet; and a trustee’s bank book and season pass lists for 1905 and 1906:

This lot of "Historic Team Documents of the Cincinnati Reds" sold at MastroNet in 2001.

Below is page ten of the library’s Herrmann Papers Guide, which includes “Box 1.”  The contents of this box include business records of the Cincinnati franchise dating back to 1877.  There are seperate files devoted to “Sale of Cincinnati” and ”Purchase of the Club in 1902.” 

Here is an excerpt from page ten of the  Herrmann Papers Guide, dedicated to Box 1:

This page from the Hall of Fame's Herrmann Papers Guide shows the scope of the business documents included in the collection.

Based on the important documents included in these Hall of Fame files it is necessary for officials to explain why these additional documents are not currently found in the Herrmann Papers archive: 

1.  The Articles of Incorporation of the Cincinnati Reds Base Ball Club, sold at Mastro Auctions in 1998 and 2001, and at Wolfers Auctions in the early 1990s:

The Cincinnati Reds' articles of incorporation with a certificate dated November, 12, 1902 sold in a Mastro Auction in 1998. Folder 3, Box 1 of the HOF's Herrmann Papers archive includes documents regarding: "Sale of Cincinnati June-Oct. 1902." Folder 2 includes "Board of Directors Minutes, 1891-1902."

2.  The check August Herrmann used to purchase the Cincinnati Reds from John T. Brush, sold at Robert Edward Auctions in 2008:

This $146,462.34 check was used by August Herrmann to buy the Cincinnati Reds. Box 1, Folder 3, includes documents related to the "Sale of Cincinnati" including the agreement that references this very check.

3.  This 1909 payroll check to Frank Bancroft from August Herrmann was sold in a 2004 Mike Gutierrez Auction.  Folder 6 of Box 1 in the Herrmann archive includes documents related to “Player Salaries 1909″:

This 1909 Cincinnati Red cancelled payroll check may have originated from a Herrmann Papers file dedicated to "Player Salaries, 1909"

4.  This Cincinnati Red player payroll receipt was signed by future Yankee manager Miller J. Huggins.  The Herrmann files feature folders related to “Player Saleries.” It appears the file for 1907 may be missing.  This receipt sold at a Christies auction in 1994:

This Cincinnati Reds payroll receipt signed by Miller Huggins is suspected to have originated from the Herrmann Papers archive.

 5.  This August 16, 1902 letter written by John T. Brush to August Herrmann pertains to his resignation as Chairman of the Reds.  It appears to have been stolen from the file that included all correspondence related to the sale in Box 1, Folder 3 of the Herrmann archive.  This letter was sold by Mastro Auctions:

This 1902 resignation letter from Brush to Herrmann and his partners is dated just weeks after a similar letter from Brush that is part of the HOF's Herrmann archive.

How can the previous letter from Brush be in the marketplace legitimately if a letter from Brush to Herrmann (below), written just weeks before, is presently found in the Hall of Fame’s Herrmann archive, “Box 1, Folder 3, (Sale of Cincinnati) June-October”: 

 

This 1902 letter from John T. Brush to August Herrmann is part of the HOF's Herrmann Papers archive.

Over the past several decades, documents both confirmed stolen and suspected stolen from the Herrmann papers archive have sold publicly and privately in the baseball collectibles marketplace.  To date, neither the Hall of Fame, nor any seller of these documents has been able to establish a legitimate secondary source of August Herrmann’s personal papers.  Based upon the many confirmed instances of theft from the National Baseball Library, it would appear the burden of proof would lie with the sellers of these suspect documents to prove where their documents originated.  As a public trust and caretaker of donated materials, the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has a responsibility to pursue recovery of artifacts stolen from their collections.

 How can the Baseball Hall of Fame properly determine what has been wrongfully removed from their great collection if they have not thoroughly investigated the issue themselves?

(Editor’s Note:  The information regarding auction sales of items suspected to have originated from the Hall of Fame collection (not including the current EBAY offering) was presented to the Baseball Hall of Fame in October of 2009.) 

Update: We have been informed that the present seller of the John Brush signed note on EBAY acquired it from another dealer who originally purchased the item from another EBAY auction in 2007.

 


By Peter J. Nash

Feb.  9, 2011

Barry Halper's 500 HR sheet was sold for $57,500 at Sotheby's in the 1999 Halper Sale. The catalogue description stated Halper had Babe Ruth sign the page in person but, in a 1987 Smithsonian article, Halper said his father gave him the sheet with Ruth's autograph. Experts believe the Ruth signature is a forgery.

 

When Robert Creamer was assigned to write a story about collector Barry Halper for Smithsonian Magazine in the Spring of 1987, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the man known as the “Babe Ruth of Collectors.” As the Bambino’s biographer, Creamer, author of the classic 1974 biography, Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, knew Ruth’s story better than anyone, and Halper was a collector apparently obsessed with acquiring anything and everything linked to the “Sultan of Swat.” Creamer was expecting a typical hoarder or “hyper-kinetic weirdo”, but when he walked into Halper’s suburban Livingston, New Jersey, home he was pleasantly surprised.

Creamer recalls, “I had this rather condescending preconception of Halper as a slightly eccentric old man living in a modest frame house cluttered from first floor to attic with baseball memorabilia piled all over the place while his long suffering wife looked on in dismay.”  But Creamer was taken aback when he finally walked through Halper’s front door.  “I was knocked out when I reached his home and found it to be a sleek, modern, obviously very expensive split-level with baseball material beautifully displayed.”  In fact, Creamer was so impressed with Halper’s collection, he remembers, “It was a lot better than Cooperstown of that day, more intelligently laid out, more rewarding to a baseball fan.”

Halper’s stature as a dedicated fan was something that also impressed the legendary writer.  “He told me about getting Cy Young’s autograph outside Yankee Stadium before an Old Timers game when he was a teenager,” said Creamer.  “I remember that Old Timers Game because I was there as a young writer for Sports Illustrated, I was impressed that the youthful Halper was there and had the gumption to get Cy Young’s autograph on (a) ball.”

The Halper Collection was featured in a 1987 cover story in Smithsonian Magazine. The article, written by Babe Ruth biographer, Robert Creamer, helped legitimize baseball collectibles in the world of antiquities and museums.

In his cover-story for Smithsonian, it was Halper’s moxie and passion for collecting that Creamer explored.  Perhaps the one item in Halper’s collection that personified his dedication as a collector and fan was his incredible sheet of paper signed by every member of the 500 Home Run Club, starting with Creamer’s own favorite, the Babe.  Creamer featured the sheet of paper prominently in his article, which many credit as a defining moment in the history of sports collecting.  The article treated baseball collectibles as significant historic relics and Halper was portrayed as the hobby’s founding father.  In a 1990 issue of SCD, auctioneer Josh Evans commented, “This  (Smithsonian) issue marked a landmark acceptance of sports memorabilia as important Americana.”

In regard to Halper’s “500 Home Run Club” sheet, Creamer wrote:

“Many years ago Halper’s father was given Babe Ruth’s autograph on a plain sheet of paper, and in time he gave it to Barry, who took it with him when he went off to college at the University of Miami, where he played baseball under the coaching of Jimmie Foxx.  Halper says he wasn’t much of a college player, but he enjoyed sitting on the bench listening to Foxx talk baseball.  One day he brought the paper with Ruth’s autograph to the ballfield and had Foxx sign it.  Some time later another famous home run hitter, Mel Ott, stopped by to visit Foxx.  Halper dashed back to his dormitory, got the paper and had Ott sign it too.  At the time, Ruth, Foxx and Ott were the only players ever to hit 500 or more home runs during their big league careers.”

Creamer went on to describe Halper’s quest to secure the signatures of all the members of baseball’s elite club, all the way up to the inclusion of “Mr. October” himself, Reggie Jackson.  Jackson offered to sign the sheet during the season of 1984, when he was stuck on 497, but Halper made him wait until he actually hit his 500th.  Halper recalled Jackson’s reaction to Creamer who wrote, “You don’t think I’m going to get 500, do you?, Jackson said.  “Well the hell with you.  Either I sign that paper now or I’ll never sign it.”  Jackson held out on Halper until he was sitting on 510 homers to sign the sheet along with Ruth, Mays, Mantle, Aaron and Co.

More than a decade after Creamer wrote his Smithsonian article and Reggie finally signed the historic sheet, Halper decided to liquidate his collection at Sotheby’s and his prized item appeared for sale as Lot 133, the “500 Home Run Autograph display.”  In a large frame, Halper’s sheet was flanked by additional signed baseball cards of each of the then fifteen 500 Club members, and Sotheby’s described the item being offered as “a unique sheet of signatures, personally gathered by Barry Halper over many years.”  The lot sold for a whopping $57,500.

But Sotheby’s included some new information that stood in stark contrast to what Halper had told Creamer in his 1987 Smithsonian article.  Sotheby’s claimed in its catalogue description that the signing of the famous 500 HR club sheet, “began when Ruth signed it in 1948, the only time he and Mr. Halper ever met.”

Halper told Robert Creamer that this signature of Babe Ruth on a sheet of paper was given to him by his father, but years later alleged that he acquired Ruth's signature himself on "Babe Ruth Day" at Yankee Stadium in 1948. Experts question the authenticity of the signature.

How could this be?  Halper told Creamer his father acquired the sheet and then gave it to him.  Surely, Halper would have told Babe Ruth’s own biographer about his alleged meeting with the Bambino in 1948.  Surely Ruth’s biographer, and one of the best writers in the business, would have documented the meeting of Halper with his idol.  But he didn’t.  He reported what Halper told him, that his father “was given Babe Ruth’s autograph on a plain sheet of paper.” Halper told Creamer about meeting Cy Young in 1954.  Had Halper ever met Babe Ruth in person?

When we contacted Creamer at his home in Saratoga Springs, New York, for his recollections of a Halper and Ruth encounter he responded, “I have no memory of Halper telling me that he had once met Ruth or had gotten an autograph from him.  I feel I would certainly have remembered that and would have slung it into the article.”

Adding to the confusion is the revelation that ten years after Creamer’s Smithsonian article, Halper told another writer, Ken Shouler, about the alleged encounter he had with Ruth.   The account of the meeting between Halper and Ruth appeared in a September, 1997, Cigar Aficionado story about Halper and his collection.  Shouler wrote:

“In 1948, shortly before Ruth passed away, a “Babe Ruth Day” was held at Yankee Stadium.  Halper attended the game and scurried under a police barrier, asking the weakened Babe to sign a piece of paper.  Without uttering a word the Sultan of Swat signed.  Nine years later, in 1957, Halper took that same sheet to Jimmie Foxx, the second member of the 500-homer club…”

Halper gave even more detail about his 500 HR sheet in an interview with T. S. O’Connell of Sports Collectors Digest in December of 1996.  Halper told O’Connell, “The Babe got out of the car, and I went under the barricade and asked him to sign this book on a blank page.  He didn’t talk, he just signed it.” 

At the time of the Halper Auction at Sotheby’s in September of 1999, even USA Today reported that, “As an 8-year-old, Halper ducked under a wooden horse to get Babe Ruth’s autograph the day the Yankees retired his uniform number.”

It was yet another story spun by Halper in contrast to his 1987 Smithsonian interview with Robert Creamer.  The Sotheby’s catalogue was produced and overseen by Halper associate Robert Lifson and Halper’s personal archivist Tom D’Alonzo, however, it appears that Sotheby’s did not disclose the conflicting information about the 500 HR sheet found in the easily accessible Cigar Aficionado and Smithsonian articles.  Furthermore, it appears that Sotheby’s manuscript specialist Marsha Malinowski and consultant Mike Gutierrez must have both deemed the Ruth signature as authentic to include it in the sale.  

But Halper’s conflicting stories regarding the 500 HR Club sheet don’t just end with Babe Ruth.  It appears that there are just as many questions regarding his story about securing the signatures of Jimmie Foxx and Mel Ott on the sheet.  In 1989, Halper told the story in his own words for a commercially released documentary about his collection, available today as a DVD, entitled, The Ultimate Baseball Collection.  Halper said:

One interesting facet of my collecting happened at the University of Miami when I came home one Christmas time and I took an autographed sheet from my scrapbook, I had Babe Ruth on it, that was the only signature on it. Now, at the University of Miami my baseball coach was Jimmie Foxx, Double-X, the Hall of Famer, and I told Jimmy about it and he said to bring it back when you come home from Christmas, and when I brought it down there he said that Mel Ott was going to visit with him the next day, why don’t you wait til tomorrow and we’ll both sign it, and he’s the one who put the seed in my head, he said then you’ll have all three guys who hit 500 home runs, because it was Ruth, Mel Ott and Jimmie Foxx at that time, this is 1957, and they both signed it with the same pen, so now I have Ruth, Foxx and Ott….”

But there’s another huge problem with Halper’s story.  The registrar’s office at the University of Miami says Halper first enrolled at the school in September of 1957.  Foxx only coached the Miami team during the ‘55-’56 and  ‘56-’57 seasons, and was no longer the coach by the time Halper enrolled at the school.  For the 1958 season Foxx left Florida and was employed by the Minneapolis Millers, a Triple A farm club for the Boston Red Sox.  Halper is also absent from all of the University of Miami baseball rosters for the years he attended the school from late 1957 to 1959.

We contacted one of Foxx’s former players, Sheldon Dunkel of Coral Gables, Florida, and asked if Barry Halper had ever been one of his teammates.  Dunkel responded, “Barry Halper?  No, I know who I played with and there’s never been a Barry Halper who pitched for us.  I was captain in ‘58 and I played every inning of every game for three years.  I can tell you first hand he did not pitch at U of M.”  Dunkel should know, under Jimmie Foxx’s stewardship in 1957 he set an NCAA fielding record for fewest errors by a second baseman.

 Dunkel, who was born in the Bronx and had a father who delivered laundry to Yankee Stadium, only remembers Halper from  his baseball collecting career.  “I’d heard of the guy and that he was a big collector.  I saw him on television, but I didn’t know he was on my team.  If he played he was a ghost.” 

Sheldon Dunkel is featured along with his University of Miami teammates and coach Jimmie Foxx in this 1956 yearbook entry. Barry Halper fails to appear on any of the baseball rosters while he attended Miami from 1957 to 1959. Dunkel confirms that Halper never played baseball at Miami and that Foxx was no longer the coach by the time Halper actually enrolled at the school.

Years ago, Halper even called Dunkel looking for memorabilia.  Dunkel recalls, “He called me and just said he was a collector and that he looked it up and that I played for (Jimmie) Foxx. He wanted to know if I had any of Foxx’s memorabilia and that he was willing to pay good money for it.”  Halper never mentioned attending Miami or ever playing on the team in his conversation with Dunkel.  Dunkel didn’t have any relics for Halper, but a prized possession he still has is a photo of himself with his Hall of Fame coach. 

Dunkel still has fond memories of Foxx.  “He was such a nice guy, its hard for me to talk about it.  My feelings about him are special.  I only played for him one year, 1957.”  Told about Halper’s alleged story about the 500 HR sheet and his claims of conversations with Jimmy Foxx Dunkel responded, “ The guy Halper was just a snow-jobber.  I’m not saying he’s a fraud in terms of his collection, but he’s a fraud.  Why would a guy do that?” 

 When we informed Robert Creamer about Sheldon Dunkel’s revelations he said,   “I could have kicked myself when you asked me how I felt reading about the huge holes in Barry’s story because I distinctly remember feeling surprised, very surprised, when Halper told me about his close relationship with Foxx — who was by far my favorite non-New York player when I was growing up.   I knew, or had heard, that Jimmy was doing a lot of drinking and apparently earning drinking money by coaching college ball, which saddened me.  But a reporter’s instinct should have moved me to dig further into Barry’s story, to do a little common fact-checking on Foxx and Miami baseball.  The tiny, almost unnoticed signals I was getting should have made me at least question Barry’s story the way any trained reporter should have.  But I didn’t;   I accepted it as told and now feel abashed.”  

In retrospect, Creamer shouldn’t feel abashed at all.  With his high profile as a Yankee limited partner of George Steinbrenner and his scrapbook full of press clippings heralding him as a baseball insider and the founding father of baseball collecting- no one ever questioned Barry Halper.  Writers from the New York Times and Sports Illustrated never questioned him; producers from 60 Minutes and ESPN never questioned him; and neither did the auction house heads who filled their sales with his treasures.    In the 1999 Sotheby’s catalogue for the Halper auction, baseball legends like Ted Williams even gave Halper their seal of approval.  Wrote Williams,  ”Barry Halper couldn’t be more highly regarded by baseball people.  He is a #1 guy…”  Yogi Berra summed it up best in his testimonial for Halper in the same auction catalogue when he wrote, ”After all, everybody knows Barry!”  But did they? 

Halper’s reputation has been challenged by the conflicting stories about Ruth’s signature on his 500 HR sheet and other acquisition tales tied to many problematic items in his collection.  Another example relates to the conflicting accounts he gave about his alleged “Shoeless Joe” Jackson jersey from 1919.  In 1985, he told The Sporting News he acquired the jersey in the 1980s from Jackson’s relatives through the mail.  But when he sold the jersey to Major League Baseball in 1998, he stated that he purchased the garment directly from Jackson’s widow in her home in the 1950s.  Halper claimed to have stopped at Jackson’s house on a trip to school at Miami.  But in October of 2010, the Baseball Hall of Fame revealed to the New York Post that Halper’s Jackson jersey was a forgery that incorporated a “S-o-x” logo manufactured with dye first created in the 1940s.  In addition, other stories Halper told publicly about acquisitions of Babe Ruth’s rookie jersey and uniforms of Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, John McGraw, Ty Cobb, Wilbert Robinson and a host of others have also turned out to be false and the garments deemed forgeries by experts.   

Halper’s multiple tales of provenance, including the 500 Home Run Club sheet stories, appear to fit into what has emerged as a very troubling pattern.  Uniform expert Dave Grob has witnessed this pattern in his analysis of the Halper uniform holdings, including forged jerseys of Babe Ruth, Cy Young and Jimmy Collins.  Says Grob, “I think there is a profile that appears very consistent.  All items come with a great story that appears reasonable given the extent of the collection in its entirety.  Yet, individually, items seen out of this context and examined and evaluated on a stand alone basis do not stand up to objective scrutiny.”  Whether its an alleged uniform like Joe Jackson’s from 1919 or a sheet of paper claimed to have been signed by Babe Ruth in 1948, Grob can see how Halper so easily fooled so many people.  Grob adds, “Nothing he had appeared out of place or not genuine because “it had to be good, just look at all of this other stuff.”  The more he acquired, the stronger the case became because each new item was built on the collection and the collection was built on itself.” 

Which brings us to the examination of the Babe Ruth autograph in question:

(Left) The Ruth signature featured on Halper's 500 HR club sheet appears to be a forgery. (Right) This authentic Ruth signature shows the true flow and characteristics of his genuine signature.

Clearly the Ruth signature on the Halper 500 HR sheet differs greatly from known authentic exemplars of Ruth’s autograph.  In our opinion, every facet of the signature differs from Ruth’s in relation to slant, letter formation and the flow of the handwriting.

We asked several respected handwriting experts and hobby autograph aficianados to examine scans of the Ruth 500 HR club sheet as it appeared in the 1999 Sotheby’s catalogue.  Here are their opinions:

Ron Keurajian, expert and author of the soon to be published Signatures From Cooperstown,  said:  “In my opinion, the Ruth signature that appears on the page is a forgery, and a poorly executed one at that.”  (Keurajian also noted he had doubts about the Jimmie Foxx signature featured on the sheet.)

Mike Heffner of Lelands said:  “I have never seen a legitimate Babe Ruth signature look like that one.  It is way, way out of proportion.  The spacing, letter size, letter formation, slant etc. are not consistent with legitimate examples.”

Josh Evans of Lelands said:  “I always had a problem with this one.  This Ruth is definitely no good.”

Steven Koschal,  autograph expert and hobby veteran said:  “I have examined the Babe Ruth signature you sent me.  I am no longer “shocked” at the inability of auction houses to do any homework researching autographs.  This Ruth example is a very poor excuse to even label it a forgery.  There is absolutely no excuse for this incompetence as there are several true “experts” in the field of sports autographs should sellers and auction houses seek them out.”

Richard Simon, hobby autograph veteran from New York City said:  ” Based on the scan I am not comfortable with this Ruth signature.  I would be able to give a more definitive opinion if I could examine the original.”

John Rogers, Arkansas collector and Ruth specialist, who purchased over $250,000 of Ruth items at the Halper Sale in 1999, said:  “There was a lot of doubt about this item at the time of the Halper sale.  I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now.   I steered clear of it and so did other collectors.  I’ve seen a lot of Ruth forgeries over the years and this is not one of the better ones.”

Doug Allen of Legendary Auctions said:  “I am 100% sure that the Ruth signature on this 500 HR sheet was not signed by Babe Ruth.  It’s not even close.” 

Jim Stinson, the veteran autograph dealer, said he was:  “Unable to render a definitive opinion on the Babe Ruth signature based solely on the scan.”

Even the Babe’s own granddaughter can tell there’s something wrong with the signature on Halper’s sheet.  Linda Ruth Tosetti told us, “I’m no authority, but I’ve seen a lot of what I know to be authentic from my own family.  This one looks strange, the big space on the “B” and just the flatness of the signature.  It looks too drawn out.”

Given that Halper’s conflicting claims state both that Ruth signed the actual sheet in person for him during 1948, and also that Halper’s father originally acquired the sheet and subsequently gave it to him, it is reasonable to question if Halper or someone close to him actually forged Ruth’s signature on the 500 HR Club sheet.  The questions linger.  The fact that Halper also lied very publicly about playing college baseball at Miami and that he knew and played for Jimmie Foxx creates even more doubt.  Was the Ruth autograph forged before Foxx and Ott signed the page, or afterwards?  If the experts are correct in their belief that Ruth never signed Halper’s page, a forger had to have added the signature to establish the 500 HR Club theme.  Considering all of the evidence, Barry Halper appears to be the most likely suspect.

In an upcoming report we will reveal even more troubling news about other forged Babe Ruth documents from the Halper Collection and illustrate how those items support the theory that Barry Halper (or someone close to him) may very well have forged Babe Ruth signatures.

In an upcoming report we will examine two other "famous" Babe Ruth forgeries from the Halper Collection (Top and Bottom) that appear to be in the same hand as the forgery featured on the 500 HR Club sheet (Middle).

(Top) An authentic Babe Ruth signature from a 1934 letter to Jacob Ruppert. (Middle) Authentic Babe Ruth signature from 1942 letter to fan Georgie Henry. (Bottom) Authentic signature of Babe Ruth on a 1935 letter.


By Peter J. Nash

Feb. 4, 2011

HOF President Jeff Idelson (left) and Chairman, Jane Forbes Clark have never issued personal statements regarding the Cooperstown thefts.

 

The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, is no stranger to thefts and obfuscations.

Back in 1972, six baseballs donated by Hall of Famer Walter Johnson’s kin, featuring autographs of U.S. Presidents dating back to Teddy Roosevelt, were secreted out of a museum display case. The Hall of Fame never told the Johnson family about it until 1977, and only because Johnson’s relative, Hank Thomas, had asked to see the famous baseballs.

In late 1982, Hall of Fame historian Cliff Kachline, discovered that vintage World Series programs loaned to Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s office in 1973 were being offered for sale to collectors by MLB employee, Joe Reichler. The sales of Hall property gave rise to a Sporting News feature story and a headline in the New York Post that read: SCANDAL HITS BASEBALL HALL OF FAME. When Kachline was interviewed by MLB’s head of security, he told The Sporting News that MLB‘s investigator, “seemed to be more interested in finding out how The Sporting News got the story of the missing programs than he was in actually finding the missing programs.” On October 29, 1982, the Hall of Fame fired Cliff Kachline.

In 1988, New York City auctioneer, Josh Evans, discovered that a signed photo he’d purchased from dealer Mike Gutierrez for $700 had a Hall of Fame accession number on its reverse that had been covered with wite-out. Evans reported the incident and returned the photo to Cooperstown, where head librarian Tom Heitz lobbied for a full investigation and the involvement of the FBI. Evans was interviewed by FBI agents who came to his NYC office and Gutierrez was investigated as a suspect because of his sale of the Ruth photo. The FBI learned that Gutierrez had spent considerable time researching in the National Baseball Library during the mid-1980s.

A friend who accompanied Gutierrez on a trip to the Hall of Fame’s library told the FBI he was an eyewitness to actual thefts. Josh Evans says the eyewitness also told him that he saw Gutierrez “steal a Nap Lajoie letter from the (August) Herrmann archive.” Evans recalls, “He told me how he did it, he (Gutierrez) would take ten original letters, photocopying them, returning nine originals and putting one original and nine photocopies in his briefcase.”

Although the case against Gutierrez appeared strong, (including a claim of witness tampering), the Hall of Fame refused to file charges or follow through with prosecution. Ex-Hall of Fame employee Bill Deane who worked in the library at that time says, “After Tom (Heitz) brought it to the attention of the brass, they said  (Gutierrez) is not allowed here.”   Another ex-Hall official added,  ”They just didn’t want any negative p.r. to scare away past and potential donors.  The old leadership just wanted to run and hide”

Now, twenty-three years later in 2011, a letter addressed to August Herrmann from Cardinal owner Sam Breadon surfaced in a sale conducted by Clean Sweep Auctions in Long Island. Over the years, letters addressed to Herrmann had surfaced in other auctions, but as one veteran collector states, “with the suspicions that they were stolen from the Hall, those Herrmann letters are toxic.” Haulsofshame.com notified the Hall of Fame and the auction house to inform them we believed the document had been stolen from the National Baseball Library and also noted that Clean Sweep had sold three other letters addressed to Herrmann in a 2009 sale.

Recently, reports published in 2010 by Haulsofshame.com uncovered the sales of four rare photos of Hall of Famers Mickey Welch, Christy Mathewson, Nap Lajoie and Jake Beckley. All of the photos had Hall of Fame ownership marks and accession numbers. The accession number on the Mathewson photo (which sold for $12,000 in a 2008 auction) was covered with wite-out. Other reports identified letters addressed to Herrmann that were consigned to sales at Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas, Texas. In each instance Heritage withdrew the Herrmann letters from their sales.

So, with all of this information in the public arena and having not heard from the Hall directly, auctioneer Steve Verkman of Clean Sweep contacted the Hall of Fame himself about the Herrmann letter in his sale. Verkman told us that Hall of Fame spokesperson Brad Horn told him, “There is insufficient information for us to unequivocally state that these were stolen from the Hall of Fame.” Verkman added, “The Hall of Fame also distinctly did not ask for it back in any way, or for it to be removed from the auction, only that they welcome it, along with anything else of potential historic value as a donation as they are the main repository of baseball history in the U.S.”   Verkman also asked Horn if he knew “how many letters were in the original Herrmann donation to get a sense of scale and such.”  Verkman says Horn told him he did not know. (A Sporting News article about the original donation in 1960 states the archive included 45,000 documents.)

Horn’s statement that the Hall of Fame could not be sure the letter was theirs is even more problematic on account that Verkman and his consignor could not provide provenance for the letter before 2005.  Verkman told us his consignor purchased the letter at auction in 2005, “as part of a very well known collection in the Midwest.”  When asked to give details as to what auction sold the letter, Verkman declined further comment.  Based on the well-documented items already verified as stolen from the Hall’s collection, one would think the institution would have pressed harder to learn if there is some other legitimate source of Herrmann correspondence other than their own collection.  All reports from the time of the donation in 1960 indicate that the Hall of Fame received the entire holdings of the Cincinnati Reds and Herrmann spanning from 1902 to the late 1920s.  When historian Dr. Harold Seymour cited the Herrmann Papers in the 1971 classic, Baseball: The Golden Age, his only source was the collection at the Hall of Fame.  If there ever was a legitimate source for additional Herrmann correspondence, it has never been verified. 

The original donation of the August Herrmann Papers archive was reported in The Sporting News in 1960. The donation, made by Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr., included "45,000" documents including letters, telegrams, financial records, contracts and other documents related to the business of baseball.

On February 2nd, with the Hall of Fame’s blessing, the Breadon letter to Herrmann sold for $360.  When we contacted the Hall of Fame to respond to SteveVerkman’s statements and the sale of the letter, museum spokesperson Brad Horn replied, “No comment.”  In addition, the Hall of Fame did not fulfill our requests for a copy of the entire contents found in the Herrmann archive file dedicated to Sam Breadon letters dated from 1920 to 1926.  That group of documents would show that the letter in Clean Sweep was part of a series of letters to Herrmann found in “Box 51, Folder 5″ of the Hall of Fame collection. 

Sources indicate that the Hall of Fame has never conducted their own thorough investigation into the thefts from the National Baseball Library.  In regard to the Herrmann Papers, they have never even examined the thousands of research notes compiled by Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills when they used the Herrmann archive in the 1960s.  Their original notes, quoting directly from 1000s of Herrmann letters, are housed in the Rare and Manuscript Collection of Cornell University.  The Hall never properly catalogued the collection of over 45,000 documents until 2005, so the Seymour Papers at Cornell are the best documentation of what should be in the collection.  However,  Hall of Fame officials have never attempted to view those documents. 

In addition, the leadership at Cooperstown has halted previous investigations, failed to prosecute crimes and currently has failed to engage law enforcement for recovery of the stolen property they were entrusted by donors to protect and preserve.  In regard to the Herrmann Papers archive, the Hall of Fame is also aware of documentation that proves the collection was compromised.  Yet they allowed the sale of the suspect Breadon-Herrmann document saying they can’t “unequivocally state” it was stolen.

This letter from Henry Chadwick to August Herrmann was part of the HOF's "Herrmann Papers Collection." This letter was documented on a National Baseball Library photocopy found in Chadwick's file. The photocopy notes that the "original" is located in the "Herrmann File." Hall of Fame officials cannot locate the letter.

Having been the first person to uncover incontrovertible proof of thefts from the Hall of Fame in 1988, Josh Evans, president of Lelands auction house, is in a unique position to comment on the Hall of Fame’s  support of Clean Sweep Auctions’ sale of a Herrmann letter.  Says Evans, “Now they are complicit in their own degradation.”  He continued, “The Hall of Fame left me hanging back in 1988.  They thanked me for returning their piece and for putting my neck out for this and they assured me they would certainly pursue this.  They contacted the FBI, who came and saw me, but I later found out the higher ups nixed going any further.”  Evans can speak first hand of the culture at the Hall of Fame in regard to responding to serious issues like the theft of artifacts entrusted to their custodianship.  “I never pushed this, I waited for the Hall of Fame to act.  I never made it public and rarely discussed it with anyone as the FBI and Hall told me not to discuss it with anyone.”

In failing to properly investigate the crimes committed in Cooperstown and in failing to actively pursue recovery of stolen and suspected stolen items from their collections, the Hall of Fame appears complicit in the crimes through their negligence.  Haulsofshame.com has also been made aware of instances where donors and relatives of Hall of Famers have been told by museum and library officials that their donated items could not be located in the collection.  

Back in 1983, when the scandal of missing artifacts linked to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s office made headlines in The Sporting News, cover-ups and stonewalling by baseball executives hindered investigations.  An ex-Hall of Fame official recently told us why the missing items in that episode were returned.  He told us, “It was because New York Attorney General Bob Abrams stepped in and read Bowie Kuhn the riot act.”

The items wrongfully removed and sold from the Hall of Fame in the 1982 Reichler scandal were valued in the tens of thousands of dollars.  However, the items stolen from the National Basbeall Library in the late 1980’s, including those from the Herrmann Papers archive, are estimated to be valued in excess of $1 million. 

Maybe the new Attorney General of New York State, Eric T. Schneiderman, needs to lay down the law for Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark.  Recently, Haulsofshame.com also made Hall of Fame officials aware of the sales of letters addressed to Hall of Fame presidents and executives including Clark’s grandfather, Stephen C. Clark, the Hall of Fame’s founder.  We asked Hall officials if the Clark family or the families of other museum executives could have sold off their official correspondence, including a 1948 letter from Ty Cobb to Stephen C. Clark.  We also asked if such correspondence was missing from the collection.   The Hall of Fame did not reply.