By Peter J. Nash
Sept. 29, 2011
In 1987, Barry Halper told the New York Times how he snagged a lock of Babe Ruth’s hair from a collector in Iowa. He said he traded another lock of General George Custer’s hair to seal the deal, which also included an accompanying letter from the Babe authenticating his own hair clippings. The Times reported that Halper said, “The Iowan was happy to trade.” It was the type of story the New York press had come to expect from the collector the Times had dubbed a “one man Smithsonian.”
Halper proudly showed-off his Ruthian hair whenever reporters dropped by his Livingston, NJ, home to write a feature about the New York Yankee minority owner. When Franz Lidz of Sports Illustrated visited in 1995 he wrote:
“Sometimes (Halper’s) material arrives preauthenticated. The lock of Babe Ruth’s hair, for example, came with a signed letter to one of his admirers: In all my years in baseball, I have received many requests for autographs , bats, balls, and equipment, but you are the first person to ask me for some of my hair. Therefore, I feel I am obliged to comply with such a request at least once.”
Halper’s Ruthian hair holdings were a signature item in his treasure-trove and contributed considerably to the Halper mystique. So much so that Lidz and Sports Illustrated aptly crowned Halper “The Sultan of Swap” in their nine-page spread.
Four years later in September of 1999, just before the sale of his collection at Sotheby’s, Halper displayed the Sultan of Swat’s hair once again for Ira Berkow of the New York Times. Although Halper was selling most everything, the Ruth hair was still in a frame hanging on the wall in his basement. Berkow wrote, “Inside the frame is a lock of the Babe’s hair, dark brown with a few strands of grey. A note beside it reads, “I guarantee that the enclosed hair is my own, Babe Ruth.” Halper told Berkow, “What I kept are items that I felt personally about.” Before the Sotheby’s auction, the USA Today also reported that the Ruth hair was excluded from the sale because Halper just couldn’t bear to part with it. (The FBI, the New York Public Library and the Boston Public Library have confirmed that several of the items Halper kept for personal reasons were actually rare photos from the famous Spalding and McGreevy Collections that bore ownership marks for both libraries.)
When Halper passed away from complications related to a diabetic condition in 2005, his widow later consigned the items he held back for himself to the 2007 sale of Robert Edward Auctions in Watchung, New Jersey. The auction house described the items as, “personal items that had sentimental meaning for Halper,” but in describing the Ruth hair, the auction house revealed the real reason why the strands of Ruth’s hair never made it to the auction block. REA head Rob Lifson, who was also Halper’s hand-picked consultant in charge of the 1999 Sotheby’s sale, explained why in a blog entry entitled, The Unusual Case of Babe Ruth’s Hair:
“…we explained why we did not include it in the sale: The Ruth signatures were secretarial….We gave the piece back to Barry. Barry, who was not convinced the signatures were secretarial but was always respectful of the opinions expressed by the authenticators for the sale, was actually happy to keep it. It was always one of his favorites.”
The hair appeared in the REA sale of April 28, 2007, as lot 1026: Barry Halper’s Famous Babe Ruth Hair Display. The auction house noted how the hair failed to make it into the 1999 Sotheby’s sale because of the issues with the alleged secretarial documents that authenticated the lock of hair, but added that there were so many inquiries about whether the hair would appear in the 2007 sale, REA decided to include it. The catalog stated:
“REA regularly passes on opportunities to offer the hair of famous persons (Lincoln, Elvis, Washington etc.) specifically because we believe it is virtually impossible for us to authenticate hair with certainty. However, we make an exception to that rule with this lock because of its extraordinary provenance, and the interest that we know exists for this fascinating display.”
REA failed to mention the basis for the “extraordinary provenance” which they relied upon. That alleged “provenance” encompassed only Halper’s acquisition story from the Iowa collector and the accompanying documents authenticating the hair addressed to a “Matthew Ward,” which REA had already deemed secretarial in 1999.
But in their blog post of August 7, 2007, REA revealed another reason why they decided to include Halper’s “Ruth Hair Display” in their sale:
“One positive was that it was the opinion of our autograph authenticators (James Spence Authentication) that (the) signed letter and envelope were “non-malicious classic secretarial” Ruth signatures, as opposed to malicious forgeries, suggesting that the hair was actually Ruth’s, but really, how could we or anyone know for sure?”
One way to know for sure if the Ruth signatures authenticating the hair were “malicious forgeries” is to research whether Halper (or any other collector) had similar alleged secretarial Ruth signatures in their collection. If James Spence Authentication had just referred to one of the most famous Ruth autographs in the Halper Collection, they would have found their answer. Unfortunately, for the person who paid over $38,000 for the hair at REA, JSA didn’t do their homework.
Halper’s equally famous “500 Home Run Club signed sheet,” which sold for $57,500 at the 1999 Sotheby’s sale, includes a Ruth signature that matches the characteristics of the two signatures on the documents authenticating Ruth’s alleged hair. Autograph expert Ron Keurajian believes that all three signatures were signed by the same person. “It is my opinion that the two Ruth signatures on the documents with the hair were signed by the same person who signed Ruth’s name on the 500 Home Run sheet, and none of them were signed by Babe Ruth and none of them are secretarial. In my opinion they are all forgeries,” said Keurajian.
Compounding the problematic nature of the signatures is the fact that the 1999 Sotheby’s catalog for the Halper sale stated that the Ruth signature was acquired by Halper in person as a young boy at Yankee Stadium on “Babe Ruth Day” in 1948. Sotheby’s catalogue description claimed 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.”
So, how could a Ruth signature alleged to have been secured by Halper in person from Ruth in 1948 match the handwriting on two alleged “non-malicious” signatures that expert Ron Keurajian has deemed forgeries?
Said Keurajian, “It’s impossible, all three of those signatures, in my opinion, were signed by a forger, not Babe Ruth.” In addition, Keurajian noted that the letter was signed on a plain sheet of paper, not an official Ruth letterhead, and the envelope was a piece of authentic Ruth stationary that had the front of the envelope bearing the name and address of the recipient removed. “All of these elements suggest forgery, as well,” said Keurajian.
Veteran autograph dealer and authenticator Richard Simon also commented on the Ruth stationary. ”It would seem to me that the letter typed by Ruth should have been on his personal stationery rather than a blank piece of paper, especially since the envelope was his personal envelope,” said Simon.
Adding to the controversy is an interview Halper gave to writer Robert Creamer in a 1989 cover story for Smithsonian Magazine. In that interview Halper did not tell Creamer, Ruth’s biographer, that he had ever met Babe Ruth. He never told him he asked for the Babe’s autograph in person in 1948, rather he said his father had originally given him the sheet of paper which featured Ruth’s alleged signature.
In an interview earlier this year Creamer told us, “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.”
In addition, he told Creamer he took that same sheet along to college at the University of Miami where he was a pitcher for the Hurricanes under coach and Hall of Famer, Jimmie Foxx. While playing for Miami, Halper claimed he added Foxx’ autograph on the sheet with Ruth’s. In 1989 Halper recounted that same story in great detail for a documentary film promoting his collection:
But Halper never pitched or played for the Miami baseball team and Jimmie Foxx had already left his position as Miami coach by the time Halper enrolled at the school in September of 1957. Halper’s elaborate story was a fabrication.
Earlier this year we interviewed the Miami team captain of Halper’s era, second baseman Sheldon Dunkel, who confirmed that Halper never played at Miami. Dunkel told us, “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 also confirmed that Halper called him years ago looking for Foxx memorabilia, never mentioning his days ay Miami. “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,” said Dunkel. Dunkel added, “ 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?”
Halper’s well-documented lies about his acquisitions of the Ruth and Foxx autographs, coupled with the opinion of Ron Keurajian that all of the Ruth signatures are forgeries executed in the same hand, suggests that Halper himself, or someone close to him, may have been the forger.
Recently, Halper’s son, Jason Halper, has defended his father as an honest man who has been unjustly besmirched by the investigative reports exposing a myriad of forgeries in his collection. Ironically, Halper’s son was drafted by the Yankees in 1998 and was featured on a Bowman baseball card that stated he was the “son of famous baseball collector Barry Halper who pitched for the University of Miami.”
Jason Halper recently wrote that the recent New York Post article about his father included an accusation “that a Babe Ruth autograph in my father’s collection was a forgery. But the article provides no evidence to support that accusation.”
Halper was referring to his father’s 500 Home Run sheet and, to the contrary, the Ruth autograph on that sheet has been widely accepted as a forgery by experts and auction house heads alike. In a prior article published in February by Haulsofshame.com, experts Ron Keurajian , Steven Koschal, Josh Evans and Mike Heffner of Lelands, Doug Allen of Legendary, and John Rogers of The Rogers Archive went on the record claiming they believed the Ruth signature on the 500 sheet was a forgery.
Despite revealing and incriminating reports published by this writer in the New York Post and Deadspin, Halper’s son responded recently in Baseball Digest, stating, “If anything my father was the victim of fraud from people with a good story, anxious to receive payment. My father had a good heart and tended to believe people.” Halper also added, “His collection was all about showing off historical items and telling the stories behind them.”
However, it’s exactly those stories Halper’s son speaks of that are at issue in regard to the Ruth signature on his father’s 500 HR Club sheet and the two Ruth documents accompanying the alleged lock of Ruth’s hair. How could Halper have two conflicting stories about his acquisition of the 500 HR sheet signature and then purchase, years later from a collector in Iowa, two more documents that match the 500 HR sheet signature as recognized forgeries in the same hand? It defies all logic.
Sotheby’s identified current Sony Music Publishing CEO, Martin Bandier, as the purchaser of Halper’s “500 HR Club Sheet” in 1999 for $57,500, and the auction house also issued an addendum at that time which stated, “Please note there is a letter from Barry Halper accompanying this lot which outlines the details of how he personally acquired each signature (on) the sheet.” We contacted Bandier, who controls the music catalogues of the likes of the Beatles and Michael Jackson, to examine a copy of Halper’s letter and ask if he was aware of the controversy surrounding his purchase? Bandier, contacted at SONY headquarters in New York City, declined comment.
When the alleged Ruth hair sold at REA, their lot description did not mention JSA by name but did call the Ruth signatures “classic secretarial examples from the period.” We asked James Spence III how he determined the Ruth documents accompanying the alleged hair were “non-malicious classic secretarial” signatures and which exemplars of secretarial signatures in his data base he utilized to make that determination?
Spence did not respond to our inquiry and failed to produce any of the alleged exemplars he utilized. According to collector Travis Roste, who writes for AutographNewslive.com, this is nothing new for Spence and JSA. Says Roste, “People have asked for exemplars from Spence to back up what he claims. Spence once gave the green light to a non-genuine John L. Sullivan autograph and, when it was exposed and the buyer who bought it from a big auction house wanted an explanation from Spence, James said he had exemplars to back it up. But when he asked to see those exemplars, Spence said no!”
We also asked Spence for his opinion as to whether he thought the signatures on the hair documents were written in the same hand as the Ruth signature on the Ruth 500 Home Run Club sheet? Spence did not respond to that question either.
Questionable authentications of signed Ruth material by Spence were the subject of a report published by Haulsofshame.com earlier this year. Sources indicate that the sheer volume of mistakes made by Spence on valuable items have attracted the interest of the FBI.
As for the alleged Ruth hair, itself, how could authentic strands from the Babe’s dome come with forged letters of authenticity?
Babe Ruth’s own granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, has perhaps the most interesting perspective on the mystery of the Bambino’s hair. Says Tosetti. “I’d heard Halper had a lock of my Granddad’s hair, so whenever I saw him I asked if he wanted a sample of my DNA to test it, so he’d know for sure if his was real. He never took me up on the offer. I guess we now know why.”
DDC DNA Diagnostics Center of Fairfield, Ohio, bills itself as the “Most Trusted Name in DNA Testing” and has been contracted to perform DNA paternity tests for the Jerry Springer Show. A representative from DDC told Haulsofshame.com that it was possible to test the alleged Halper/Ruth hair clippings with certain blood relatives of Babe Ruth to determine if they were bogus.
Linda Ruth Tosetti is ready willing and able to offer her own DNA against the DNA contained in the hair sold by Robert Edward Auctions. “I’d like to see that poor guy who paid $38,000 for that bogus hair get his money back. What a shame. I’m disgusted at how people have used Babe to scam people, especially Barry Halper.”