May 31, 2011
Yesterday, baseball uniform and equipment expert and authenticator, Dave Grob, published on the MEARS website a stunning report showing evidence that the glove alleged to be Lou Gehrig’s last from the Sotheby’s 1999 Barry Halper auction was not genuine. His analysis and research reveals that the authentic glove Gehrig used in his last game resides at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY. Grob published the article under the title, I’m Betting on the Gehrigs.
The glove sold at the Sotheby’s sale in 1999 for a reported hammer price of $387,500. In 2006, New York Daily News reporter Michael O’Keeffe reported in an interview with actress/director, Penny Marshall, that, “She purchased a Lou Gehrig glove at a 1999 auction for $387,500, still one of the highest prices ever paid for sports memorabilia.”
With Grob’s approval we present our readers his report in its entirety:
By Dave Grob
Words like first, rookie, last, final etc…have a special place in the hearts of collectors and researchers. The element of time is a powerful attraction that can lend an aura of significance to even the most rare and special of artifacts. On April 30th 1939, Lou Gehrig took the field for the final time as an active player. He walked off the diamond into a special place in history having completed playing in his 2,130th consecutive contest; a career and life ending far too soon. How special would it be to have in your possession Gehrig’s base mitt from that final game…his last glove? In my mind, this would almost beyond description, but not beyond belief as it an artifact that apparently more than one person or entity has laid claim to.
In 1999, the Barry Halper collection offered via Sothebys Auctions lot # 2141, an item simply titled “Lou Gehrig’s Last Glove”. At the same time, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York had in their possession a mitt from the Gehrig estate also identified as being Gehrig’s last glove. Both were attributed to being the mitt from the 30 April 1939 game. Objectively this leaves us with only three possibilities since they both cannot be that final glove.
1. Neither is Gehrig’s last glove.
2. Halper had the final mitt.
3. Gehrig kept his final glove and it was subsequently donated to the Hall of Fame.
Imagery Analysis: Before we run off and start canvasing period images, the first question that has to be asked and answered is are there significant physical differences between these two gloves that would allow them to be distinguished from each other? If so, what are they? In this case the answer is yes and the defining characteristics include:
-Wrist and closure strap on the back
Period images suggest that Gehrig can be found with gloves displaying characteristics of both models. This means Gehrig used various models over his career and that neither glove can be disqualified at this point, although the glove Gehrig is pictured with in October 1938 is much more consistent with that on display at the Hall of Fame than the Halper offering when the characteristics of web design/construction and wrist/closure strap on the back of the mitt are considered (PLATES A & B). This is an important distinction since the closer you get to the event in question, the likelihood that the glove pictured is the same one he used at the same relative time increases. By this I mean it is more likely that a glove in an image from 1938 has a higher probability of being glove in question from 1939 than one contained in an image from say 1936 or 1937. In addition, the Halper mitt can be excluded from being the one Gehrig is wearing in the photograph by the location of manufacturers’ label (PLATE C).
An undated image from 1938 suggests that neither of these gloves is the one Gehrig is wearing when looked at for general size/contour. (PLATE D)
Manufacturers’ Information: Both models are identified as being Spalding products. A portion of the model number on the Hall of Fame’s glove can be discerned. The model # on the Halper glove was not mentioned in the description nor can it be discerned from the images provided in the catalog. A survey of period Spalding catalogs (PLATE E) identifies what Spalding considered their “Top of the Line” or professional quality base mitts from the period of 1936-1940. The Hall of Fame offering does appear consistent with the product featured in the 1938 Spalding catalog. (PLATE E)
Without getting to far off track, I think a cautionary note is worthy at this time with respect to use of retail catalogs. First of all, simply because a particular model glove does not show up in a catalog until a certain year, this does not mean the glove was not available to players before this time. In order for a catalog to have been available for retailers at the start of a calendar year, the catalog would have to have been approved, printed and distributed. The products in the catalog, especially new models, would have had to have been developed, tested, and approved and then produced. All of this takes time and that is something that is commonly overlooked by collectors/researchers.
Provenance: As I have always said, provenance cannot make any item into something it is not. The source of the item does not make it good any more than it makes it bad. The item must physically and chronologically make sense based on the story. In other words the provenance should be both reasonable and verifiable. By this I mean:
-Reasonable: Could the item have been obtained as claimed?
-Verifiable: Does the provenance stand up under scrutiny?
Barry Halper/Sotheby’s Provenance: According to the auction description, the glove was discarded by Gehrig after the 30 April game and given to Pete Sheehy. Sometime after this, Sheehy gave the glove to Babe Dahlgren who in turn sold it to Halper. As dramatic as all of this sounds, it is possible or reasonable that all of these individuals were involved in this chain of events as described. The problem comes when the provenance is subjected to scrutiny. While it appears fairly accurate that Halper obtained the glove from Dahlgren, this is where things begin to unravel. Dahlgren said in an interview in a June 1979 interview with the Sporting News that he obtained the glove in the spring of 1940; specifically, just as the team had come north from spring training and while Gehrig was cleaning out his locker. Gehrig gives the glove to Sheehy, and Dahlgren got it from Sheehy. The problem with this story is that according to an interview with Lou Gehrig on 16 April 1940, Gehrig had not seen his locker since at least January of 1940 and had not been to the clubhouse until at least after 19 April 1940.
For the record, the Yankees played their final barnstorming game of the 1940 spring in Lynchburg VA against the Brooklyn Dodgers on 11 April 1940. The club was back in New York for a three game exhibition series with the Dodgers from 12-14 April 1940. The Yankees opened at home on the 19th of April 1940, and according to Gehrig, he would not have been on hand cleaning out his locker when the team came back from spring training. While Dahlgren may have been mistaken about when the locker was cleared out, this is vastly different from the auction description that places the discarding of the glove to dates (30 April 1939 and or 2 May 1939). Almost a year would have passed from this time to when Dahlgren obtained the glove. (PLATES F & G)
There is also an often overlooked fact that continues to work against the already unraveling Halper provenance. That fact being that 30 April was not Lou’s Gehrig’s last game. On June 12th, 1939, the New York Yankees played an exhibition game against the Kansas City Blues in Kansas City. Gehrig was in the lineup and both hit and played the field. Although Gehrig’s toughness was clearly his calling card, I have serious doubts that Gehrig played the game bare-handed at first base. Thus the glove he used on 12 June 1939 would have been his last glove and not the one the Halper yarn would like us to believe was discarded on 30 April. (PLATE H)
Hall of Fame Provenance: According to William C. Kashatus in his book “Lou Gehrig: A Biography,” various items were donated the Hall of Fame by both Gehrig’s mother Christina and his wife Eleanor at the time of the respective deaths. Two of these items were Lou’s Gehrig’s first and last mitts. I queried the Baseball Hall of Fame about the items donated by Christina Gehrig (Lou’s mother) when she passed away and they provided me with an inventory that includes among many other things, specific inventory entries for:
In an interview with Lou Gehrig as recorded by John Kiernan of the New York Times on March 16th, 1941, Lou Gehrig was still in possession of his last glove at that time. As Gehrig tells Kiernan, the glove on the shelf was the largest glove he ever used and he decided to make the switch based on the advice of Jimmy Foxx who gave Gehrig the glove. Gehrig even goes so far as to identify it as “the last glove that I used.” What I find very interesting is that the “Top of Line” Spalding product in circa 1938 was in fact the Jimmy Foxx model which would have born the same tri-numeral designation (222) that appears on the Hall of Fame’s Gehrig glove. This is invaluable first hand contemporary testimony from the person who would know better than anyone else what his last glove was. What readers should be clear on is that Foxx did not nor could have provided Gehrig with one of the gloves he used personally. While Foxx was first basemen for the Red Sox at this time, he was also right handed. While odd for a first baseman, it must be remembered that Jimmy Foxx began his career as a catcher. (PLATE J)
In reading Jonathan Eig “Luckiest Man-The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig,” I came across some interesting information. Specifically the description of Gehrig’s last glove on page 279. Eig mentions that Gehrig had “reinforced the webbing between the thumb and the index finger with white tape.” This is a physical characteristic that is found on the Hall of Fames glove and not the one offered by Halper. (PLATE K)
The provenance supporting the glove at the Hall of Fame clearly lacks the consistency problems you find in abundance with the Halper glove. In addition, the case for the Hall’s glove is largely a first person narrative from the individual most closely connected with the glove; in short, straight from the Iron Horse’s mouth. The fact that Gehrig says he was still in possession of his last glove in March of 1941, means it could not have been discarded as claimed in the auction description nor obtained in 1940 by Dahlgren. In addition, there is also the additional thread of credibility with the tie in to Jimmy Foxx given the type/model of glove actually involved. A visual recap/reference is offered.(PLATE L)
As I go back and assess all of these various factors, there interrelationship, and what if any impact they have on offering an assessment on who has Lou Gehrig’s last glove, I came away with:
Imagery Analysis: Supports Hall of Fame’s Glove
Manufacturers Information: Supports Hall of Fame’s Glove
Provenance: Supports Hall of Fame’s Glove
Displayed at the Hall of Fame, the glove donated by Gehrig's mother is clearly designated as the glove worn in his last game on April 30, 1939.
Each person who reads this or decides to look into this topic on their own is free to form their own opinion as to what happened to the Iron Horse’s Last Glove. In my mind, reasonable questions at this point in time relate to who evaluated the Lou Gehrig glove for the Halper auction and who was responsible for the description that appeared in the catalog? What process, research or due diligence did they perform individually or collectively with respect to their work? Halper sold what was reputed to be Gehrig’s last glove at a price in excess of $300,000? That’s a lot of money for a story that does not seem to bear up under close objective scrutiny. For my money, “I’m betting on the Gehrig’s.”
As always collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
For questions or comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com
By Peter J. Nash
May 23, 2011
Nuf Ced McGreevy
A rare cabinet photo of Boston Americans pitcher George “Nig” Cuppy that sold recently on eBay once hung on the walls of “Nuf Ced” McGreevy’s famous 3rd Base Saloon from 1901 to 1920 in Roxbury, Massachusetts. In 1923 the same photo was donated by McGreevy with nearly two hundred other rare photos from his storied baseball collection to the Boston Public Library to constitute the “M. T. McGreevy Collection of Baseball Pictures.”
In 1962, McGreevy’s daughter, Alice, told Red Sox broadcaster Curt Gowdy that her father had once been offered “a substantial sum for his collection,” but rather “preferred to donate the rememberances to “places public” for the enjoyment of the citizens of Boston as well as visitors to the city.”
McGreevy, the founder of the raucous Boston fan club known as the Royal Rooters, has been recognized by many as the most famous baseball fan of all-time and one of baseball’s first true collectors. He showcased his collection in the tavern, which also served as the headquarters for his Royal Rooters and Boston players like Hugh Duffy and Babe Ruth. Before there was a Baseball Hall of Fame, McGreevy’s saloon was the closest thing there was to a baseball museum accesible to fans.
This photograph shows the interior of Nuf-Ced McGreevy's 3rd Base Saloon c.1906 and the scores of rare baseball pictures that adorned the walls. The light fixtures were constructed from game-used bats of Boston baseball legends like Cy Young and "King" Kelly.
Nuf Ced’s collection, along with the A. G. Spalding Collection at the New York Public Library, is considered one of the greatest assemblages of early baseball photography. But since McGreevy intended to share his collection and make it accesible to the public for viewing, the treasure trove became the target of opportunistic theives. Unfortunately, the photograph of “Nig” Cuppy and nearly sixty other valuable photographs once owned by “Nuf Ced” vanished from the library at Copley Square sometime between 1978 and 1981 as the victims of a well-orchestrated heist. Several of the missing items are large team photos sized approximately 24 inches by 16 inches.
A few weeks ago, nearly thirty years after its disappearance, Paul Dunigan Jr. was given the missing cabinet photo of “Nig” Cuppy by his mother, who found it in her attic in Lowell, Massachussets. Dunigan then listed the photo with some other miscellaneous antiques on EBAY as a generic, “Vintage Early Baseball Player Photograph Pitcher.” Dunigan only mentioned that the name “Cuppy” was written in pencil on the reverse.
Collector David Maus, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, took note of the photograph he recognized as being taken during the Red Sox spring training trip of 1901 by the Holsinger Studios of Charlotesville, Virginia, and thought he had a bonifide ”steal” when he placed the winning bid of $66.00. But when he recieved the photograph in the mail he noticed some familiar marks and notations on the photograph and referred to the Haulsofshame.com website to view items that had been previously recovered by the Boston Public Library.
The cabinet photo of "Nig" Cuppy sold on EBAY was one of the many photographs stolen from the BPL's McGreevy Collection in the late 1970s.
Comparing his purchase to other items produced by Holsinger Studios, Maus soon after realized that the photograph he’d purchased might be one of Nuf Ced McGreevy’s long-lost treasures. The BPL’s ownership stamps had been defaced and concealed with black ink and other stamps designed to deceive anyone examining the photograph.
This BPL McGreevy Collection photo of Ossie Schreckengost was not stolen from the collection and has its BPL stamps still in tact.
The BPL website displays all of the McGreevy Collection photos and Maus was able to view other Holsinger cabinet photos that had not been vandalized. Those photos featured the oval “Boston Public Library” stamp and the “Cabinet” designation showing which cabinet the photograph was stored in the Print Department: “Cab. 23. 59. 15.”
Maus sent an email to Haulsofshame.com and asked, “I recently purchased a cabinet photograph that appears to have been stolen from the Boston Public Library, like these 3 under “recovered items and artifacts” on your website…Just need some guidance if you have any?”
We confirmed Maus’ concerns that the Cuppy photo was a stolen item and included on the BPL’s “missing list” and then contacted the library’s “Keeper of Special Collections,” Susan Glover, to arrange its return.
Having been informed of the situation by Maus, the EBAY seller, Paul Dunigan Jr., also contacted Susan Glover to confirm that the photo had been stolen from the collection and then issued a refund for the transaction. Dunigan also informed Glover that his father, who passed away in 2004, had sold his baseball memorabilia collection in the early 1980s to dealer Lew Lipset. Dunigan told Haulsofshame.com, “I’ll keep my eyes peeled for any others that might turn up in my mother’s house.”
So, how did one of McGreevy’s rare photos end up in an attic in Lowell?
Dunigan confirmed that his father had purchased items in his collection from the late New York Yankee owner and collector, Barry Halper, and that it was possible the photo could have been acquired from the Halper Collection, which has been linked to a host of stolen institutional artifacts. After Halper’s death in 2006 his wife, Sharon Halper, experienced a similar situation when she discovered several rare photos in her house that turned out to be stolen from the BPL’s McGreevy Collection.
Barry Halper's widow found this stolen and vandalized BPL McGreevy Collection photo in her house after her husband died.
Halper’s widow consigned large photographs of the 1891 Boston and the 1882 Buffalo teams to Robert Edward Auctions in 2007, but this writer reported the items, which displayed similar vandalism to conceal the BPL marks, to Aaron Schmidt of the library’s Print Department. Schmidt subsequently recovered both items from Halper’s widow.
Halper sold his collection at Sotheby’s in 1999 for over $20 million and included several other items stolen from the BPL and other institutions that still had their library ownership stamps visible. Despite publicity and heightened awareness of the fact that the items are stolen, the purchasers have still not come forward to return the missing photographs to the library, as collector David Maus has.
Thanks to Maus, Nuf Ced’s Cuppy cabinet photo is now close to finishing a Field of Dreams-esque journey from Boston-to-Iowa and back. A formal return of the photo to the BPL is being scheduled at McGreevy’s reconstituted 3rd Base Saloon at 911 Boylston St. in Boston. McGreevy’s helped the BPL recover another one of their missing photos in 2009. The rare photo of heavyweight champ John L. Sullivan and Red Sox third-baseman, Jimmy Collins, is currently on display at McGreevy’s.
Nuf Ced's missing photo will be returned to the BPL in the modern-day 3rd Base Saloon at 911 Boylston St. Re-established in 2008, the bar is a faithful replica of McGreevy's original shrine featuring reproductions from the BPL and other original photos from McGreevy's era.
The BPL’s Susan Glover has high praise for David Maus. Said Glover, “The Boston Public Library is grateful to collectors like David Maus for examing a recent purchase, recognizing the BPL ownership marks, and prompting returning it.”
From his home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Maus told us, “I’ts a great feeling to be able to play a small role in helping return the BPL’s McGreevy Collection to its original state. I urge all other current collectors to be proactive in trying to return any other stolen historical baseball artifacts to their rightful owners.”
Back in 1984, the BPL’s “Keeper of Prints,” Sinclair Hitchings, and veteran collector Bob Richardson successfully recovered nearly twenty of McGreevy’s stolen photos that had surfaced for sale at baseball card shows and in collector magazines. Since the year 2000, the BPL’s Aaron Schmidt, who was recently transferred away from the McGreevy Collection to another department because of library budget cuts, spearheaded several more recoveries of McGreevy original photographs.
Thanks to these in-house efforts, without the aid of a security staff or the resources of law enforcement, only about 36 of McGreevy’s treasures are still missing. With David Maus’ discovery there’s another one down, and just 35 to go.
(See additional coverage of the McGreevy recovery in today’s Boston Herald and on Boston’s NBC affiliate WHDH Ch. 7 News and on WBUR)
(EDITORS NOTE: The writer of this article is a founder and co-owner of McGreevys 3rd Base Saloon Co. and also co-owner of the reconstituted McGreevy’s 3rd Base Saloon at 911 Boylston St. in Boston, MA. In 2007 he wrote and produced the Emmy-nominated documentary film about McGreevy’s exploits, Rooters: The Birth of Red Sox Nation.)
By Peter J. Nash
May 6, 2011
Chain-stitching on Lou Gehrig's c.1938 jersey.
Since it went on the auction block last month, a 1938 Lou Gehrig Yankee road jersey has been the subject of almost endless speculation and scrutiny by experts, collectors and hobby uniform aficionados. Disputed claims of alleged ”Photo Matches” by the auction house selling the garment tomorrow fueled speculation about the grey flannel jersey, which once sold in 1991 for a reported “world record” price of $220,000. But with a startling last minute discovery by John Rogers, founder of the JohnRogersArchive.com, one of the largest sports photo archives in the world, it could be a whole new ball-game.
Last year Rogers purchased the entire photo archive of The Sporting News and while browsing through a stack of some of his 3 million TSN images yesterday, he made a stunning discovery.
Rogers found a 1942 wire photo of a display case in a legendary New York City restaurant, which includes what appears to be the exact jersey being auctioned-off at Robert Edward Auctions this weekend. It looks like the same jersey with identical button placement and the exact same chain-stitching in the collar. The jersey was displayed in 1942, just three years after Gehrig’s consecutive game streak ended, with a handwritten index card written by ex-major leaguer and “Baseball Clown Prince” Al Schacht, that stated:
“THE LAST UNIFORM WORN BY LOU GEHRIG-WORLD SERIES 1939″
Lou Gehrig's jersey in the display case of Al Schacht's NYC restaurant in 1942.
“I was just looking through a pile of photos and immediately I noticed how unusual this one was. We’ve found other images of early memorabilia on display in this collection, and I always take note, but on this one I was drawn immediately to the Yankee jersey. I got curious and took out a magnification loop and I was stunned to see what it said on the card,” said Rogers. Rogers added, “And then I looked at the chain-stitching of Gehrig’s name and I was able to see clearly this had to be the same jersey up for auction. I’ve done a lot of photo analysis using old wire photos to match up pinstripes, letters and numbers but this is the first time ever for chain-stitching.”
This is the wire photo featuring the Gehrig jersey that John Rogers discovered in his Sporting News Collection (Courtesy JohnRogersArchive.com)
The wire photo Rogers found was of a display case at Al Schacht’s eatery in New York City when it first opened in 1942. In addition to Gehrig’s jersey, the case featured a hat worn by Hank Greenberg during 1938, Charlie Gehringer’s spikes, Schacht’s famous Top-Hat, Walter Johnson’s glove from the 1924 World Series and a ball signed by Honus Wagner and Grover Cleveland Alexander.
Rogers also referred back to his bound volume original issues of The Sporting News and found that the photo and jersey were also featured on the cover of a December 10, 1942, issue heralding the grand opening of Schacht’s restaurant. Rogers said he might find more if he had the time. ”My guess is my staff would find many more photos of the interior of Schacht’s restaurant and possibly other images of the Gehrig jersey,” he said.
When we wrote last week about the travels of the Gehrig jersey we had no clue where it had been between 1938 and 1991 when it sold at Richard Wolfers Auctions in San Francisco. Rogers’ discovery of the Schacht photo adds significantly to the provenance of the jersey that was already highly regarded by uniform expert Dave Grob.
The Gehrig jersey was also featured on the front page of a 1942 edition of The Sporting News.
However, the Schacht restaurant photo discovery and its identification as Gehrig’s last jersey from 1939 also raises some interesting issues that will need to be addressed:
1. Gehrig didn’t play in the 1939 World Series, but he did suit up and sit in the dugout with his teammates.
2. Gehrig’s last appearance on a baseball field withdrawing himself from the Yankee lineup took place on the road in May of 1939.
3. Gehrig’s last World Series game played was in pinstripes for game four of the 1938 Series at Yankee Stadium.
4. The Gehrig jersey for sale has a “38″ chain-stitched in the tail denoting it was from 1938, not 1939.
With the auction ending late tomorrow, collectors and interested bidders will have little time to research and sort out all of the ramifications of Rogers’ discovery. The current bid on the jersey is $140,000 and if it were determined the jersey was Gehrig’s last from the 1939 regular season or World Series the jersey would, no doubt, become much more valuable.
Could this jersey worn by Lou Gehrig on the day he withdrew himself from the Yankee lineup in 1939 be the same jersey up for auction tomorrow?
Rogers had some time to review other photos of Gehrig during early 1939 and noticed that the road jersey he wore had significant similarities to the 1938 jersey being offered at auction (and in the 1942 display case photo).
Rogers said, “It looks like the button placement and sleeve length is consistent with the jersey in the auction, I don’t think you could rule it out based on what Schacht represented on that card.”
Uniform expert Dave Grob confirmed for us that it was possible for Yankee jerseys tagged for one season to be held over and used in the beginning of the next season. That would also be consistent with Gehrig’s possible use during the early 1939 season.
Haulsofshame.com did some further research and determined that Schacht’s claim that the jersey was worn by Gehrig during the 1939 World Series is highly unlikely. A photo we found in Jonathan Eig’s Gehrig biography, Luckiest Man, shows Gehrig on the Yankee bench signing an autograph for a young Frank Sinatra during game four of the 1939 Series at Cincinnati. Gehrig is wearing a grey flannel road uniform with much longer sleeves.
Jonathan Eig included this image of Gehrig at game four the 1939 World Series in his biography, "Luckiest Man." A young Frank Sinatra asks Gehrig for an autograph. (Al Stagg)
If the auction jersey is from 1939, it would be more likely to have been worn in Gehrig’s last regular season games of 1939. (Gehrig also continued to suit-up throughout the remainder 1939 season.)
“If this were the jersey worn by Gehrig on the day he removed himself from the lineup at Detroit in 1939, this jersey would go from six to seven figures for sure. From what I see and based on the Al Schacht provenance, I’d say it has a shot,” said Rogers.
Either way, Rogers’ find and his “photo match” of the REA jersey as the same one displayed at Schacht’s restaurant in 1942 solidifies its provenance and will, no doubt, increase its value. With some additional research, the winning bidder might find out that his Gehrig Yankee road jersey was a bargain, depending what the final hammer price is on Saturday night.
Rogers left us with a parting shot saying, “Heck, if we didn’t just buy the Boston Herald archive of over a million photos last week, I’d probably have some money to take a shot and bid on this jersey.”
The long and winding road-trip of the ”Iron Horse’s” Yankee jersey continues.
UPDATE, May 7th: We found another image of Gehrig wearing a very similar jersey in 1939 credited to Getty and the Baseball Hall of Fame/MLB:
This Getty/MLB Baseball Hall of Fame credited photo shows Gehrig during 1939 in a very similar jersey to the one being sold today.
Another well known image of Gehrig in 1939 shows him in a jersey similar to the one at auction.
- John Rogers magnified the chain-stitching on the Gehrig jersey shown in his 1942 photo, and says it matches exactly with the chain-stitching on the jersey up for sale.
By Peter J. Nash
May 6, 2011
Spalding's Tourists at the Sphinx in 1889.
A. G. Spalding could be considered the first true baseball collector of artifacts documenting the history of the game. By 1908 he had acquired the archives of pioneers Henry Chadwick and Harry Wright, as well as his own personal collection chronicling his career as a player, executive and pioneer in the game.
Five years after Spalding’s death, his widow bequeathed his voluminous baseball holdings to the New York Public Library in 1921. “The A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection” included most all of the photographs Spalding used as illustrations in his 1911 book, America’s National Game, as well as his own personal scrapbooks spanning his entire lifetime.
In 1983, historian John Thorn spearheaded an effort to microfilm the majority of the Spalding Collection scrapbooks and in 1986 the NYPL issued a report inventorying the entire Spalding Collection’s manuscript and scrapbook holdings.
The NYPL report, filed by librarian Melanie Yolles, indicated that a good portion of the scrapbook materials in the Spalding Collection were missing. The report also indicated that the missing scrapbook volumes from the collection had been documented on the original inventories filed by the library in 1921 and 1922.
In particular, Yolles noted that the personal scrapbook collection of A. G. Spalding originally included twelve volumes, but at the time her report was filed in 1986, only nine volumes remained. Volume number three, which spanned the years 1877 to 1882 was missing, as well as volumes five and six, which appeared to have spanned the years post-1885.
The NYPL’s original copy of Spalding’s first volume, dated 1874-1875, features a handwritten note by Spalding affixed to the first scrapbook page. Spalding wrote:
“Personal- Don’t mutilate or remove from this room. Return to A. G. Spalding, 108 Madison St. Chicago.”
As evidenced by the NYPL’s 1986 report, Spalding’s instructions were ignored for at least three of his scrapbook volumes and quite possibly for some of the contents within the other nine remaining scrapbooks at the library.
The first page of Volume 1 of the Spalding scrapbooks features a handwritten warning from Spalding, himself.(Courtesy of Spalding Collection, NYPL)
Spalding was well aware of the historical and monetary value of his collection and during his lifetime even had a fire-proof vault built in his Point Loma, California mansion to protect the archive.
Spalding’s vigilance prevented any loss from fire, however, the Spalding Collection could not escape the handiwork of thieves who targeted the collection in the 1970s. As a result, the NYPL is missing a few hundred rare photos and entire scrapbook volumes once owned by Spalding and Harry Wright. It is estimated that the value of the missing Spalding materials exceeds $2 million.
NYPL's 1986 report shows that 3 of Spalding's scrapbooks are missing.
The FBI has been investigating the NYPL thefts since some of Harry Wright’s correspondence appeared for sale at Major League Baseball’s 2009 All Star Game FanFest auction. The New York Times reported that the consignor of the letters said “the letters had come from a grandparents estate,” but it was determined that several of the letters were definitively the property of the NYPL.
Over the past few decades scores of items both confirmed stolen and suspected to have originated from Spalding’s collection have sold at public auction and on the black market.
Just this month, a suspicious item surfaced in Robert Edward Auctions’ 2011 Spring sale; an 1889 cabinet card photograph of Spalding’s “World Tourists” posing at the Sphinx in Egypt.
This rare Sphinx cabinet photo is being sold in REA's Spring sale.
REA’s lot description claims that their item is an ”Exceedingly rare and to the best of (their) knowledge previously unknown cabinet card.” In stating that it is the only cabinet-sized example of the Sphinx photo known to exist, REA also claims, “This is the first cabinet card of this image we have ever seen or heard of. The only other known period photos of this image, of which only a few have survived, are the large format display photos originating from World Tour photo albums given to each participating player.”
REA indicates that the photo, mounted on a Sarony Studios cabinet card, appears to have been removed from an album, with paper loss running down the left side of the reverse of the mount. REA also notes the significance of this “fascinating and noteworthy find” by their consignor stating, “Miraculously, this piece originates from a collection of mostly family-related photos left to her by her grandmother.”
The back of REA's cabinet card exhibits paper loss consistent with removal from a scrapbook.
Although REA claims that their auction lot might be the only cabinet card example of the Sphinx photo known to exist, we found another copy in the NYPL’s collection. This copy may have been part of the Spalding Collection and never properly inventoried in 1922, or it could have just been part of their “Pageant of America Collection,” which includes photographs used in the book series of that same title. Spalding’s baseball photos were used in the 1929 edition of, Pageant of America: The Annals of American Sport.
This Sarony Sphinx cabinet card is currently in the NYPL's collection. (Courtesy, NYPL)
Spalding also used many of the photographs in his collection as illustrations in his 1911 book America’s National Game. On page 260 of the book, Spalding reproduced the same image of the Tourists at the Sphinx. The inclusion of that photo documents that Spalding had at least one Sphinx photo in his collection as early as 1911.
In their lot description, REA refers to the appearance of the Sphinx photo in Spalding’s book stating, “This photograph is the most celebrated image from the tour, and one of the finest and most famous of all nineteenth-century baseball photographs, having been reproduced in countless books and periodicals over the years.”
In his 1911 book, Spalding dedicated one-hundred and fourteen pages to illustrations and drawings. The original 1922 NYPL inventory of the Spalding Collection documents that at least one-hundred and seven of those photographs and drawings were part of the collection when it was donated. Spalding’s photo of the “Tourists at the Sphinx was not documented on that inventory. Since that inventory was taken in the 1920s, at least twenty-six of those photos have gone missing.
A. G. Spalding's photo of himself with the World Tour teams of 1888-89 appeared on page 254 of "America's National Game" in 1911. It also appeared on the NYPL's 1922 Spalding Collection inventory, but is currently missing.
One of the missing photos appearing on the original inventory was listed as: “Chicago and All-American World Tour Teams 1888-89 (Sydney, Tuttle & Co.”). The missing photo appeared on page 254 of Saplding’s book and the “Sphinx” photo preceded it on page 250. It was also photographed and reproduced in a 1922 article about the Spalding Collection published in the Christian Science Monitor.
Spalding had a copy of the Sphinx photo he used in his 1911 book.
The Pageant of America series of books included the volume, “The Annals of American Sport” and featured a section devoted solely to baseball. The Spalding Collection was a major source of photographic material for the project. Of the thirty-two baseball illustrations featured in the book, twenty-four were credited to the, “Spalding Collection, New York Public Library.” Curiously, the caption of the 1889 Sphinx image included in the book is incomplete and reads: “The American baseball party at the Sphinx. From a photograph____________________” For some reason, the editors failed to complete the caption and include a photo credit. Perhaps, it was because the Sarony cabinet photo had no identifying ownership marks on its reverse? ( Handwritten notes in the NYPL volume reveal the photo was from a negative by Pascal Sebah Studios and published by Sarony Studios.)
The photograph to the right of the Sphinx image on page 133 is a portrait of A. G. Spalding that reads, “From a photograph in the Spalding Collection in the New York Public Library.” That Spalding portrait also appears on the NYPL’s 1922 inventory and is currently missing from the collection.
Page 133 of the 1929 book, "The Pageant of America: Annals of American Sport" includes an image of Spalding's Tourists at the Sphinx. The source of the photograph was not included..
An image of the photograph actually used in the 1929 Pageant of America book series still survives in the form of a 1920s silver-gelatin print of the original. The Sarony Studios cabinet card example was not the image reproduced in the book, rather it was a larger Imperial-sized photograph that was featured, as evidenced by the silver-gelatin print of the original that is still part of the collection. The back of that print offers no additional information as to the source of the larger 10.5 x 14 Sphinx photo.
Research indicates that as few as four 10.5 x 14 albumen prints of the “Spalding Tourists at the Sphinx” are known to exist. Somehow, the archive of baseball’s first great collector, Spalding, is devoid of the Sphinx photo and any other 1889 World Tour images.
Robert Edward Auctions has sold a three of those known specimens of the large-format Sphinx photograph. The fourth example is part of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s collection. The REA Sphinx photos were sold as follows:
1- As Lot 64 in REA’s July 15, 2000 auction:(This 10.5 x 14 Imperial-size albumen photograph is the version of the Sphinx photo used for reproduction in the 1929 Pageant of America series. The NYPL still has in its possession the 1920s silver-gelatin print of the original of that image, which appears to be missing from the collection.)
2-As Lot 645 in REA’s April 29, 2006 auction:
(This photograph mirrors the copy sold at REA in 2000. It is the second known stand-alone copy of the Sphinx photo that is sized in the 10.5 x 14 Imperial style.)
3- As Lot 671 in REA’s April 30, 2005 auction as part of a full album of 10.5 x 14 photographs of the 1889 Spalding World Tour from the Barry Halper Collection: Auctioneer Josh Evans of Leland’s originally sold this volume to Barry Halper. Says Evans, “The only Tour book I know of is the one I sold to Barry Halper. I bought it in a NYC photo and book auction in the early 1980s.” In their lot description for the cabinet card in their current auction REA claims these albums were created by Spalding as gifts for the participants of the tour. However, there seems to be scant evidence to support this claim, as there are no other albums that have surfaced. Even the Baseball Hall of Fame doesn’t have a Spalding Tour photo album in their archives. The four Sphinx photographs and a few other scenes from the tour are the only other related photos known to exist.
Since the 1920s silver-gelatin print of the original photograph used in the Pageant of America series does not depict the NYPL’s Sarony Studios cabinet photo of the Spalding Tourists at the Sphinx, one of the three known copies in private hands could be Spalding’s missing photo.
The Spalding scrapbooks that remain in the NYPL’s collection contain many rare and valuable images from baseball’s formative years. Rare baseball portraits from Warren Studios in Boston, which have been sold at auction for tens of thousands of dollars, are pasted onto Spalding’s scrapbook pages. Some of these pages featuring photographic gems have been separated from the scrapbooks and are now stored in protective archival boxes at NYPL’s Fifth Avenue branch. We can only speculate as to what photographic and ephemeral treasures were included in the three Spalding scrapbooks that are missing.
This rare albumen photo of Spalding by Warren Studios is part of Spalding scrapbook volume 1 (Courtesy Spalding Collection, NYPL).
Thefts of Spalding’s photographs have also been well documented on the NYPL’s 1987 inventory of the photo collection, which now includes a “Missing List” of well over one hundred vanished images. One of the missing photos was also featured in the 1929 Pageant of America series and documented on a silver-gelatin print. The photograph is listed on the 1922 Spalding inventory as, “Forest City Base Ball Club, 1869.” Like other Spalding photos illustrated in The Annals of American Sport, the copy of his 1869 Forest City team photo was also credited to the “Spalding Collection at the New York Public Library.” (Spalding also used this photo in his 1911, America’s National Game.)
This 1869 photo of Spalding (third from right) on his 1869 Forest City team is missing from the NYPL collection. This c.1929 silver-gelatin print taken of the original proves its inclusion in the Spalding Collection.
Extremely rare and unique photographs related to Spalding’s early career have appeared for sale at auction in the past few decades under suspicion that they originated from Spalding’s missing volumes. One suspicious photograph features another portrait of Spalding and his 1869 Forest City team. In November of 2001, REA offered a rare CDV portrait of the team and described it as, “To our knowledge, this is the only known example of this CDV.”
REA sold this 1869 CDV of Spalding and his 1869 Forest City team and stated, "this is the only known example of this cdv."
The reverse of the rare 1869 photograph also exhibits an unusual soiling on the reverse consistent with other photographs confirmed as stolen from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection. Other stolen examples exhibit the effects of bleaching to conceal or hide the tell-tale NYPL ownership marks that were originally placed on the backs of the majority of photos in the Spalding Collection.
The back of the rare 1869 Forest City team CDV photograph features unusual soiling consistent with the removal of NYPL ownership marks.
Photographs from Spalding’s collection that were included in the 1922 inventory of his “Pictorial Materials” were stored in boxes designated by numerals. Most every photograph in the collection was marked with a handwritten number and an NYPL ownership stamp. Several photos already confiscated and recovered by the FBI exhibit tell-tale defacing and bleaching that were done to conceal NYPL’s proof of ownership. However, items removed from the missing scrapbooks are much more difficult for investigators to identify. The Sphinx photo appearing in REA’s sale exhibits characteristics that suggest it may have been removed from a scrapbook, but a visible soiled section on the reverse indicates it could have been stamped and numbered like other Spalding photos.
The NYPL’s 1986 inventory of Spalding’s manuscripts and scrapbooks indicates that Spalding scrapbooks “8 to 11″ were dedicated to “”Spalding’s baseball World Tour, 1888-1889.” Investigators will have to examine those volumes for evidence of any “mutilation” or removals that Spalding, himself, had prohibited when he was alive. Many of the surviving scrapbooks in the collection, once belonging to Henry Chadwick, Harry Wright and the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, exhibit evidence of vandalism and theft with mangled and cut pages.
This is the reverse of another CDV photo of a Nebraska team that is still part of the NYPL's Spalding Collection. It features the NYPL ownership stamp, but no box designation.
The “Riddle of the Sphinx,” and the mystery of the missing Spalding photos and scrapbooks has been brought to the attention of the FBI and the NYPL in relation to the probe into the multi-million dollar baseball heist. Sources close to the current investigation have revealed that new details related to the master-minding of the thefts and the individuals involved have recently come to light.
By Peter J. Nash
May 3, 2011
James Spence of JSA.
James Spence Authentication (JSA) recently authenticated a Jack Johnson autograph on a trading card issued two years after the boxer’s death. They authenticated an alleged Harry Wright signature that was actually signed by a 19th century telegraph operator (the item was pulled from three different auctions). They even authenticated secretarial signatures of Presidents Warren Harding and Zachary Taylor as genuine. In addition, AutographAlert.com published an investigative report that exposed how the authentication company failed to authenticate a host of genuine items that they had previously certified as authentic.
And who can forget JSA’s authentication of a 19th-century letter alleged to have been written by Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty. Even though the auction house selling the letter in 2006 was presented with authentic exemplars of Delahanty’s signature and handwriting directly from Delahanty’s relatives and his biographer, Dr. Jerrold Casway, JSA went ahead and authenticated the document that was actually written in 1899 as a secretarial letter by Delahanty’s Phillies manager, Billy Shettsline. What’s more, the signature of Delahanty on the letter was even misspelled, D-E-L-E-H-A-N-T-Y. JSA didn’t even note in their LOA that the name was misspelled.
Unfortunately, a collector relying on JSA’s advertised expertise paid over $30,000 for the bogus letter and later consigned it to Robert Edward Auctions in 2009. At the time, experts informed REA of the problems with the letter, but the auction house didn’t withdraw it until Delahanty’s biographer, Dr. Jerrold Casway, produced period newspaper reports showing that Delahanty was in Cleveland on December 27, 1899. The letter JSA authenticated was written by manager Billy Shettsline in, “Philada(lphia), Pa. Dec. 27, 1899.”
In the last few weeks, Haulsofshame.com readers have identified a number of other questionable JSA authentications of Hall of Famer signatures featured in sales as the Spring baseball auction circuit swings into full gear. Browsing catalogues and websites packed with thousands of items available for consumers, an army of collectors may be unknowingly placing bids on forgeries of Hall of Famers with a false sense of security that what they are buying is authentic-simply because it comes with a letter of authenticity (LOA) from JSA. Our readers have recently made us aware that JSA has certified as authentic several questionable signatures alleged to have been penned by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Ty Cobb.
From EBAY to major auction houses, errors and mistakes abound, and a recent interview by Haulsofshame.com with an individual, who has spoken regularly with the FBI over the past year, indicates that James Spence and JSA have been the subject of complaints made to the the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The long-time autograph collector revealed to us correspondence brought to the attention of the Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, that illustrates the need for a full-investigation into the work executed by third-party authenticators, including JSA. Backlash against JSA and other third party authenticators has recently come to light thanks to the watchful eye of veteran dealers and collectors on Internet websites and forums like AutographAlert.com and Net54. Our source, urged collectors and dealers to report all suspect items authenticated by JSA to the New York office of the FBI at: email@example.com. Our source also suggests that anyone who feels they have been victimized by a JSA letter of authenticity should report their situation to the New Jersey Attorney General’s office Division of Consumer Affairs at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
HERE ARE THE TOP TEN QUESTIONABLE RUTH, GEHRIG AND COBB ITEMS RECENTLY AUTHENTICATED BY JSA. OUR READERS HAVE VOICED THEIR CONCERNS BY IDENTIFYING THESE ITEMS. WHAT’S YOUR OPINION?
Lot 1030 in REA's Spring auction.
1. Babe Ruth Cut Signature- on a 2006 ”Upper Deck Exquisite Dual Cuts” card offered in the 2011 Spring sale of Robert Edward Auctions. The card currently has a bid of $3,000. Addressing a post on Net54 by a collector known as “ruth-gehrig“ stating: “This has to be the worst “authentic” Babe Ruth signature out there,” REA president Rob Lifson posted this response:
“Interesting story relating to this item:
We were aware that this was a strange looking Ruth. We’re not autograph experts, but I don’t think one has to be to look at this signature with skepticism. At best, we thought, it’s not the most beautiful Ruth signature, and is uncharacteristically sloppy; at worst, we thought, it’s not authentic. When it came in by mail we immediately contacted the consignor and expressed concern it might not be accepted even though it had apparently been authenticated by UDA’s authentication process.
The consignor then told us an interesting story: He told us that he originally had a different Upper Deck card with a Ruth signature but that the Ruth signature was not authentic. It was a stamped signature. So he went to Upper Deck with his complaint and they agreed that an error had been made and arranged for his problem Ruth signature card to be replaced. This is what it was replaced with. (I don’t know if his original card had only a Ruth signature, or if all they did was replace the Ruth signature in this card, I just can’t remember.)
On September 3, 2010, even before being evaluated in person, we sent an image of the card (front and back) to JSA with this message just in case it could be eliminated without even seeing it in person (we thought that might be the case), and if so, we could send it right back to the consignor. The text of our message read: “Is this good? It has such a strange look. It has an unusual history too – The guy that is sending this to us originally had a different Ruth-cut Upper Deck card that had a printed Ruth signature (it was a stamped sig) so they replaced it with this. Is this good?” JSA immediately responded in the affirmative that they do believe they remember certing this item. We later arranged for in-person review of this item again by JSA (as we do with all signed items, even those that have already been authenticated), and JSA confirmed in person that they had no issues with the authenticity, and formally reaffirmed their opinion. Sometimes we’ve had signatures rejected as forgeries by JSA that have been very surprising (we thought they were going to be fine). Sometimes we see signatures that for some reason we have our antennae up and we expect that there might be a problem, and in the opinion of the authenticators there isn’t. That was the case with this item. So, that’s the story of the Upper Deck Authenticated Ruth-Gehrig card.”
Based upon Rob Lifson’s response it appears that, although REA seriously questioned the Ruth autograph, they still decided to go along with James Spence’s “expert opinion” on the item Spence recognized as having previously authenticated for UDA.
2. Lou Gehrig Cut Signature- featured on the back of the same 2006 “Upper Deck Exquisite Dual Cuts” card being offered in the 2011 Spring sale of Robert Edward Auctions. The card currently has a bid of $3,000.
Lot 1030 in REA's Spring auction.
3. Babe Ruth Signature on a “Blarney Stone Restaurant/Bar, NYC, match cover- Offered on EBAY last week with an opening bid of $2,000 or as a “Buy it Now” for $2,200 “w/full JSA.”
Alleged Babe Ruth signature on match cover with Spence LOA
JSA certified the Ruth match-book signature on EBAY in this letter of authenticity.
Close up of the Babe Ruth “Blarney Stone” autograph LOA prepared by JSA.
4. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig Cut Signatures- sold in February, 2011, by Beckett Select Auctions, and featured on a “2011 Topps Tribute Legendary Lineup Cuts” card. The card featuring the alleged genuine signatures was authenticated by JSA and sold for $20,000 to Cleveland Indians pitcher, Chris Perez. In December, experts called the Ruth and Gehrig signatures “poorly executed forgeries” on this site.
Topps Legendary Cuts card featuring alleged signatures of Ruth and Gehrig.
5. Lou Gehrig signed baseball- sold in Heritage Auction Galleries Spring 2011 sale for $3,883.75. The ball was authenticated with an “Auction LOA from James Spence Authentication.” The ball once had additional signatures on it and Heritage also notes, “Professional restoration has eliminated any sign of the other signatures which once joined this tough Hall of Famer.”
This alleged autographed baseball by Lou Gehrig sold for in Heritage Auction's Spring 2011 sale.
6. Babe Ruth Single Signed baseball- sold at Heritage Auction Galleries Spring 2011 sale for $6,572.50 and authenticated with an “Auction LOA from James Spence Authentication.”
Alleged Babe Ruth single signed baseball.
7. Babe Ruth signed photograph- sold for $15,600 as Lot 459 in Legendary Auctions December 2010 sale. Allegedly inscribed to actor Gary Cooper. This photo was also authenticated by James Spence in 1999 when it sold for $22,960 in a Mastro Fine Sports auction.
Expert Ron Keurajian identified this item for us and previously wrote about the forger who he believes created it in an article he wrote for Sports Collectors Digest. Keurajian identified these alleged Ruth signatures:
“The first tip off is they are too neat, too perfect. Ruth signed in bold up and down strokes that correlated into a signature that is large, uneven, almost whimsical. The fake Ruths are level and lack the up and down strokes. What you need to do in focus in on the bottom of the signature. The fake ones will be level as if written on a straight line.”
As for this Ruth signed photo to Gary Cooper, Keurajian told us, “In my opinion, its a well executed forgery.”
This Babe Ruth signed photo to Gary Cooper is believed to be a forgery.
8. Babe Ruth Single Signed Ball- offered as Lot 63942 in American Memorabilia Spring sale with a PSA/DNA letter by James Spence and a “JSA Full letter” by James Spence. The current bid on the ball is $7,587 and the auction ends on May 5th.
This is at least the second time James Spence has authenticated this particular Ruth ball. When it sold in Mastro Fine Sports Auctions’ November, 1999, sale as lot 628, it was accompanied by a Spence LOA.
Alleged Babe Ruth autographed ball from American Memorabilia's 2011 Spring sale. Authenticated by James Spence for PSA/DNA and JSA.
9. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig signed baseball- Appearing as lot 1044 in Robert Edward Auctions’ 2011 Spring sale with an authentication by JSA.
The alleged Babe Ruth signature:
Lot 1044 in REA's 2011 Spring sale.
The alleged Lou Gehrig signature:
This alleged Lou Gehrig signature appears on lot 1044 in REA's 2011 Spring sale.
10.Lou Gehrig Single Signed Ball- this ball sold for $10,157.50 in Heritage Auction Galleries sale this past November. In their lot description Heritage wrote: “Close inspection by James Spence has revealed that the greeting was long ago traced over by its recipient, but it must be stressed that the signature itself is unaffected by this enhancement.”
This traced over Gehrig ball came with a "Full JSA LOA."
BONUS ITEM: How about JSA’s authentication of this alleged signature of Ty Cobb on EBAY:
This signed Cobb bat is authenticated by JSA. Cobb expert Ron Keurajian calls it a forgery in his opinion.
This mini-bat being offered on EBAY was identified by one of our readers who doubts its authenticity. The mini-bat, allegedly signed by Cobb, is being offered for $17,000. We showed this listing to Cobb expert Ron Keurajian, who had this to say: “In my opinion its a fairly well executed forgery but its labored appearance lacks the flow of an authentic Cobb signature.”
Keurajian is considered an expert on Cobb’s signature. A few years ago Keurajian informed the Baseball Hall of Fame that it was his opinion that their alleged 1946 diary of Ty Cobb (purchased by Major League Baseball from Barry Halper) was not written in Cobb’s hand and was a forgery. The Hall of Fame sent the diary to the FBI for analysis and the FBI experts concurred with Keurajian’s opinion.
This JSA letter of authenticity accompanies the alleged Cobb autograph being offered on EBAY.
The JSA letter of authenticity that accompanies the mini-bat, allegedly signed by Cobb, offers very little detail as to why JSA considers the signature genuine.
What’s your opinion of these questioned items identified by Haulsofshame.com readers? Contact us with your opinion at: email@example.com