Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash

Nov. 17, 2011

Rare Kalamazoo Bats cabinet cards are housed at the NYPL as part of the famous Spalding Collection.

 

They are the rarest of rare in the world of vintage baseball cards. The Kalamazoo Bats cabinet cards photographed by Charles Gross & Co. between 1886 and 1887 are almost impossible to attain for collectors who consider the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards as the bible of card issue checklists and valuations.

For decades the Standard Catalog has described the Kalamazoo Bats cabinets as one of the most elusive card issues of all-time and accordingly the set has been held in high esteem by collectors like Keith Olbermann who wrote an article about the them for Sports Collectors Digest in 2007.

Olbermann’s article was primarily about the smaller K-Bat cigarette cards which featured players from several teams, but he indicated that the cabinet card versions featured only Philadelphia players. He referenced the work that hobby pioneer Lew Lipset had conducted over the years in compiling a checklist for both issues dating back to the publication of the Encyclopedia of 19th Century Baseball Cards and his newsletter, The Old Judge,in 1985. It was in his 1985 article that Lipset established the true rarity of the Kalamazoo Bats cabinet cards and since that time they have been highly prized by collectors.  So prized, in fact, that it appears some of them have been pilfered from the New York Public Library’s famous Spalding Collection.  Last week, Legendary Auctions withdrew one of the elusive cards from its current sale after they were notified it originated from the Fifth-Avenue branch of the library.

Lipset’s 1985 checklist included many of the cards that were in the NYPL collection and served as the backbone for the Standard Catalog’s inclusion of the cabinets, which he also considered proof-cards as opposed to a commercial issue.  The Standard Catalog’s editor, Bob Lemke, told us that the K-Bats have been included in editions of the catalog for decades.  Said Lemke, “I imagine the original listing for the Kalamazoo Bats cabinets was purchased for one of the earliest editions of the Standard Catalog from Lew Lipset or Keith Mitchell.  It is likely additions, corrections and modifications were made in the intervening 25+ years by various editors, including myself.”

The 2010 Standard Catalog listed thirty-three player cards in the 1887 (N690-1)  Kalamazoo Bat cabinet card set and estimated that the average value of each card in near mint condition was approximately $7,000.  The 2011 edition shows that the price of the cards has more than doubled, increasing to $15,000 per card.  The most valuable card in the set was of Hall of Fame manager, Harry Wright, which was listed at $31,250.  Likewise, the current 2011 edition now lists the value of the Wright card at $62,500 in near mint condition.  Explaining the sharp rise in price for this year Bob Lemke told us, “When I returned as a part-time contract contributor to the project for the 2011 edition, there was a lot of catching up to do to bring “book” values into line with then-current market realities.”

Lemke also confirmed that he considered the existence of the NYPL’s K-Bats for the recent issues of the Standard Catalog.  “Some of the latest revisions to the K-Bats cabinet checklist and several other 19th century cabinet card lists in the SCBC were the result of my review of the images from the Spalding Collection on the NYPL website a couple of years back.  It was always my practice to include on checklists cards that were known to have been issued, whether or not they are known to exist in private hands, said Lemke.”

Despite the fact that the checklist available to collectors shows that thirty-three different player cards are known in the set, we were only able to confirm that four cards of the Philadelphia National players have appeared at public auction.  The remainder of the cabinet cards in the set are images of the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association.  It appears that the first Philadelphia Nationals (or Quakers) cabinet card to appear at auction was an example featuring the player George Wood in a 2001 Hunt Auctions sale.

One of the few Kalamazoo Bats to appear at public auction was this cabinet card of George Wood.

 In 2004, three more Kalamazoo Bats of Phillie/Quaker players Charlie Bastion, Jimmy Fogarty and Bob Clements appeared at MastroNet and were described as originating from the collection of deceased hobby pioneer Don Steinbach, the former partner of Bill Mastro.  Also sold in 2004 at Robert Edward Auctions was the cabinet card of catcher Tom Gunning that was sold along with a corresponding Kalamazoo Bat cigarette card for $16,100.  In 2005, the same George Wood cabinet card appeared for sale at MastroNet where it realized a hammer price close to $5,000.  The same specimen was slated for sale again in Legendary Auctions’ current November sale where they noted in the description of lot 1354, ”to the best of our knowledge, this is the only known example of George Wood.”

The reverse of the rare cabinet photo of George Wood offered at auction exhibits tell-tale signs vandalism that attempted to conceal ownership marks of the NYPL.

But that’s not the case, as the New York Public Library’s famous Spalding Collection includes an identical K-Bat cabinet card of Wood that was originally part of Philadelphia manager Harry Wright’s personal collection.  The reverse of that card was identified as depicting player Wood in what is believed to be Wright’s handwriting, and was stored in “Box 5″ of the photo collection, as evidenced by the numeral “5″ inscribed in the upper left hand corner.  When Legendary posted an image of the back of their offered Wood cabinet, it was visible that the card had been vandalized to remove the tell-tale NYPL stamp and the numeral “5″ in the upper left corner, originally penned by baseball researcher Charles W. Mears.  The handwritten pencil identification of Wood, however, remained.  The auction house noted that the paper loss on the reverse was due to “early scrapbook mounting,” but it appears that the additional areas of paper loss were added to give the impression that it was removed from a scrapbook.  When Legendary president Doug Allen was notified of this information by Haulsofshame.com, the card was immediately removed from the sale.  Sources indicate that the FBI will want to take possession of the card as part of their on-going investigation into the multi-million dollar heist of baseball relics from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection.  The FBI recently took possession of another rare card of baseball pioneer Al Reach  that was stolen from the NYPL and offered for sale on eBay.

The reverse of the only other known K-Bat cabinet card of George Wood features the NYPL ownership stamp and the handwritten numeral "5" which denotes storage location at the library.

The 1922 inventory of the Spalding Collection was  published by the library and reveals that its collection originally documented the inclusion of twenty-six Kalamazoo Bats cabinet cards.  They were identified as “Philadelphia” or “Cop. 1887 C. Gross & Co.” on the inventory entries.  It appears that Harry Wright, as manager of the Philadelphia club, received cabinet card examples of his players directly from photographers including Charles Gross & Co., Gilbert & Bacon, Gray Studios and MacIntyre.  Each of these groupings of cards are recognized as sets in the Standard Catalog.  Sources indicate that the FBI has already taken possession of several Gilbert & Bacon and Gray Studios cabinet cards that were also stolen from Wright’s personal stash.

The entries depicted above represent the Spalding Collection's holdings of Gross & Co, Gilbert & Bacon and Gray Studios cabinet cards documented in the NYPL's 1922 inventory.

An inventory of the Spalding Collection’s photographic holdings in 1987 revealed that scores of rare images had vanished from the collection and a “Missing List” was established indicating which cabinet cards or CDV’s were still part of the collection that was donated in 1921 by the widow of Hall of Famer Albert Spalding.  However, the library also discovered that the Kalamazoo Bats cabinet tallies accounted for on the original inventory were incorrect.  In many cases the library had multiple copies of Philadelphia NL players listed that had never been added to the inventory.  For example, the library noted that they had only two K-Bats cabinet cards of player Dan Casey when, in fact, the 1987 inventory revealed they had twelve copies.  The George Wood card removed from auction was never even documented on the 1922 inventory.  In total, the NYPL inventory in 1987 established the library had nearly fifty K-Bats in their possession and another six cards definitively missing (with others suspected).

The unaccounted for Kalamazoo Bats that were documented in 1922, include a card featuring players “Fogarty and McGuire,” four cards of manager Harry Wright and one designated as an ”unidentified player.”

Page from a report submitted to the FBI and NYPL by Haulsofshame.com in 2010 indicating that four copies of Harry Wright Kalamazoo Bat card are missing.

The Harry Wright card is perhaps one of the most valuable and desirable cards in existence, rivaling famous cards like Babe Ruth’s Baltimore rookie-card in terms of rarity.  It appears that the Wright card and the majority of NYPL’s Kalamazoo Bats cabinets are only known to exist in the Spalding Collection, so how could the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards determine values and designate this issue as an actual baseball card set?

The inclusion of the cards of the Philadelphia Athletics players in the set appear to be legitimate as they were originally acquired by Lew Lipset who once owned items that belonged to 19th century star, Harry Stovey.  In one of his auctions, Lipset sold a scrapbook that once belonged to Stovey and stated, “Stovey gave many of his artifacts to (Warren) Goff including the majority of the Kalamazoo Bats cabinets known in the hobby today.”  Lipset was not referring to the cabinet cards featuring the Philadelphia Nationals.  Lipset also confirmed that he purchased additional K-Bats of the Athletics from another Stovey relative.

But when Lipset published his 1985 checklist of K-Bats cigarette and cabinet cards he made no mention of the cabinet cards housed in the NYPL’s Spalding Collection.  Each cigarette card which had a corresponding cabinet photo known to exist was designated with an “L” on Lipset’s checklist.   As of 1985 Lipset indicated the existence of a Wood cabinet, but not one for Harry Wright.

In his 1985 article Lipset wrote, “Even more startling are the discoveries that were made in the very rare Kalamazoo Bats cabinets.  When the EOBC  came out, ten were known.  Now there are thirty, as indicated by the ”L” in the following checklist.”  In 1983 Lipset noted that the Spalding Collection included several over-sized team K-Bat cabinet photos of the Philadelphia Nationals but did not mention specifically the existence of the NYPL’s K-Bats player cabinets.

Lew Lipset's 1985 K-Bat checklist appeared in a Spring issue of "The Old Judge" and featured an image of a Philadelphia Nationals cabinet of Dan Casey and a trainer, which was never included on the original 1922 NYPL inventory.

 We asked Lipset how he determined the existence of K-Bats for Philadelphia National players on his checklist and if he incorporated the Spalding Collection’s holdings into his survey?  Lipset responded, “I believe that was my first issue of The Old Judge. I obviously saw them, as I didn’t say anything existed unless I saw a picture of the item or the item. I can only think  I might have seen them in the Spalding Collection, but I don’t remember seeing cabinets there at all.”  Lipset also confirmed that he did not order a print or reproduction from the NYPL of any cabinet cards.

Lipset does not recall ever seeing  a K-Bats cabinet card of Harry Wright and when we asked him if he ever owned a K-Bat that featured a Philadelphia National League player he said, “I’m fairly positive I never owned a Phila. NL.”   He also told us he no longer has his notes and papers used when he was researching the cabinets.  Said Lipset, “My voluminous notes were given to a good customer, historian and friend who indicated when he was through looking at them that the Hall of Fame would be getting them.” 

If the cabinets Lipset included in his survey  in 1985 were from the Spalding Collection, he failed to note the Harry Wright cabinet.  To the contrary, if they were not included in his totals it is likely that many other duplicates from the NYPL were also wrongfully removed like the Fogarty and McGuire, Wood and Wright cabinets (and the one unidentified player cabinet).  

In Lipset’s 1985 Old Judge article he included an image of the K-Bat cabinet featuring pitcher Dan Casey with teammate Bastian and the team trainer. The NYPL never identified this cabinet on its 1922 inventory and today the library only has one copy of that cabinet.  The image that Lipset used in 1985 appears to be a different example than the copy now at the NYPL.  When asked for the source of that photo Lipset replied, “I didn’t even notice that was a Philadelphia Kalamazoo. I would assume it was owned by a collector who either gave me a photo or let me take one for the Old Judge article.”  This scenario further suggests the possibility of additional thefts of uninventoried photos, and the examination of the backs of any K-Bats cabinets in private hands could reveal an NYPL provenance.

One of the "unidentified player" K-Bat cabinets in the NYPL collection features player Tom Gunning. The reverse of his card has no inscription or identification. Another Gunning cabinet surfaced in a 2004 REA auction in "near mint condition." Light NYPL stamps like this one could be easily removed with professional restoration.

Supporting that theory is the appearance of the Tom Gunning K-Bat cabinet in Robert Edward Auctions’ 2004 sale.  In the NYPL 1922 inventory the Gunning cabinet was never identified and was listed as one of six “unidentified player photographs” that had no identification written on the reverse of the card.  Of the six unidentified cabinets in the collection only five remain and two of those are of Gunning featuring a clean reverse and a light NYPL stamp.  The REA Gunning cabinet was described by the auction house as being in ”spectacular, near mint condition,” but no image or mention of the card’s reverse was made in the lot description.  (Some stolen NYPL items have had their ownership marks removed by professional restoration.) It is quite possible that many other duplicate K-Bats cabinets were removed from the Spalding Collection and, now that the Wood cabinet has been confirmed as a stolen item, the odds are far greater that this is the case.

Rob Lifson, president of REA, is no stranger to the NYPL theft investigation as he is the only person ever apprehended attempting to steal rare nineteenth-century cards from the Spalding Collection.  Lifson admitted in 2009 to Sports Illustrated that he was caught stealing at the library in the late 1970s when he was a college student at Wharton and one of the most prominent dealers of nineteenth-century materials in the country.  In 1979, Time Magazine reported the incident stating, “The baseball card thief was caught when a guard saw him slipping the cards into a bubble gum box taped to his briefcase.”  Earlier in 2009, in the New York Daily News, Lifson denied that he was “ responsible in any way for the theft of any of the missing items that have been stolen over the years from the New York Public Library.” 

The stolen George Wood cabinet card that was withdrawn from Legendary Auctions’ current sale was first offered publicly at Hunt Auctions in 2001.  David Hunt did not respond to inquiries asking who originally consigned the photo to his auction in 2001.  The current FBI investigation into the NYPL thefts was commenced in July of 2009 after Hunt offered letters addressed to Harry Wright that turned out to be stolen from the Spalding Collection.

Sources indicate that at least one major collector of nineteenth-century material is in possession of a Harry Wright Kalamazoo Bats cabinet.  With a value of $61,500 in the current Standard Catalog, the collector will likely be unhappy if the FBI ultimately takes possession of his prized card.  Investigators will likely trace the chain of ownership of the ultra-rare card, but like most other items stolen from the NYPL, that trail is likely to lead to the collection of the deceased collector, Barry Halper, who once owned numerous items stolen from institutional collections including the NYPL, the Boston Public Library, State Archives of Hawaii and the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Aside from the Wright cabinet and the handful of others confirmed stolen, what still remains as a mystery is whether there were more undocumented examples stolen from the NYPL as well.  If there were other duplicate cabinets stolen from the Spalding Collection it is possible that a full set of  Harry Wright’s Philadelphia Nationals may be buried in the vault or a showcase of a big-time collector.  We asked one prominent collector of 19th-century cabinet cards what he thought the value of a grouping like that might fetch on the open market and he estimated a sale price between $150,000 to $200,000.

It is likely that the FBI will take possession of the Wood Kalamazoo Bat cabinet which will join a host of other stolen items they have already tracked down as part of their two-year investigation into the Spalding Collection thefts.  Sources indicate that the FBI is well aware of the collectors who are in possession of scores of other items stolen from the NYPL and that it is only a matter of time before agents and US attorneys track them down.  Another source close to the investigation confirmed that the NYPL probe has been very active since the FBI took into their possession the stolen cabinet card of Al Reach that appeared for sale on eBay.


By Peter J. Nash

Nov. 11, 2011

This copy of Matty's "Won in the Ninth" is up for sale at Hunt Auction's November sale at the Louisville Slugger Museum.

 

Our last Chin Music installment included a report of Hunt Auctions offering a copy of Christy Mathewson’s 1910 book, Won in the Ninth, in their November sale at the Louisville Slugger Museum.   The book, according to the auction description, allegedly bears the genuine autograph of the Hall of Famer on a presentational bookplate pasted onto its end-paper. 

 Mathewson’s publisher appears to have created 500 presentational copies for promotional use which feature alleged Mathewson signatures, “compliments of” the author.

Hunt estimates the book could sell for as much as $10,000, but longtime collector and autograph expert Ron Keurajian believes that the Mathewson signatures were “ghost-signed” by someone other than Mathewson.

In Keurajian’s opinion, the bookplates on the Mathewson books do not bear the genuine signature of the legendary pitcher known as “Big Six.”   Keurajian first made his opinion public in an article he wrote for Sports Collectors Digest in December of 2004 and the controversy over the Matty signatures made waves again when Sotheby’s offered a copy in a 2005 sale. At the time of that offering the New York Daily News reported that, “autograph expert Stephen Koschalcontacted Sotheby’s and Sports Cards Plus to raise heck and although Koschal says neither company responded, the piece was withdrawn less than 24 hours before the auction.”

The book offered by Sotheby’s/SCP was authenticated by PSA/DNA and the News also quoted PSA head Joe Orlando as saying, ”There’s no proof this was signed by a secretary.  What this sounds like to me is a bit of jealousy.”

Since the time of that 2005 sale, the major authentication outfits JSA and PSA have continued to authenticate the signatures and the Mathewson Won in the Ninth books, that were once shunned by collectors, have commanded sale prices topping $16,000.

Our last Chin Music column reported that JSA and PSA authenticated “$150,000 in Matty Fakes,” based upon Keurajian’s expert opinion that these books are, in fact, ghost-signed and bearing secretarial signatures.  Haulsofshame.com contacted Hunt Auctions president, David Hunt, and asked him if he was planning to withdraw the book from the November sale?  Hunt did respond to our inquiry, but stated that he did not want his comments on the record and, as of today, the book still appears in tommorow’s sale as lot 651 with a current bid of $5,798.  Another copy was recently removed from an auction as questions of its authenticity were brought to the attention of eBay where it was being offered as a “Buy it Now” for $15,000, and yet another copy was offered by Colossal Auctions with an estimate of $9,000-$11,000.

When asked if he had contacted JSA to see the Mathewson signature exemplars they utilized that enabled them to certify the signature as authentic, Hunt again declined comment.

The James Spence Authentication (JSA)  letter of authenticity that accompanies the Mathewson Won in the Ninth books states:

“The signature(s) is/are consistent considering a wide range of specific qualities including slant, flow, pen pressure, letter size and formation and other characteristics typical of our extensive database of known exemplars we have examined throughout our hobby and professional careers.”

JSA should have referred to an authentic Mathewson signature like this one found on a letter stolen from the HOF's famous Herrmann Papers Collection. The letter was sold as part of the Halper collection at Sotheby's in 1999.

Since Hunt Auctions could not provide us with the exemplars utilized by JSA to authenticate the book, we contacted JSA directly.   JSA, however, and their principal, James Spence Jr, did not respond to our inquiries.

JSA authenticated this Mathewson secretarial signature as genuine for Hunt Auctions.

Considering the controversy regarding the Won in the Ninth signatures, if JSA has legitimate exemplars of Mathewson’s signature from the 1910 era that support their opinion, they should be able to produce them for the benefit of collectors who appear to have purchased these books as a result of JSA’s authentication.

THE CASE AGAINST MATTY’S “WON IN THE NINTH”

The most problematic piece of evidence against the Mathewson signatures featured on Won in the Ninth, is Matty’s own personal copy of his 1912 book, Pitching in a Pinch.  The book, inscribed by Mathewson and once owned by the pitcher, was donated to Keystone Junior College in Pennsylvania by his widow, Jane Mathewson.

This authentic Mathewson signature graces the inside cover page of Matty's own personal copy of his 1912 book, "Pitching in a Pinch." His widow donated the book to Keystone Junior College.

It appears that this authentic Mathewson signature differs from the Hunt Auctions Won in the Ninth example in every category listed in JSA’s “Letter of Opinion” including:  “slant, flow, pen pressure, letter size and formation.”

How could the signatures on both books signed by Mathewson as an author (in a 2-year period) appear to be so contradictory?  And what other exemplars from this time period did JSA utilize to form their opinion?

We were able to locate several authentic exemplars of Mathewson’s signature signed during the 1910-era that were very similar to the Matty’s authentic signature in the 1912 copy of Pitching in a Pinch:

These two authentic Mathewson signatures from 1912 were sold at auction by Heritage Galleries and accompanied an authentic letter written by Mathewson responding to an autograph request. These two examples are consistent with the 1912 "Pitching in a Pinch" exemplar in virtually every category described by JSA in their LOA.

Another authentic example of Mathewson’s signature on a copy of Pitching in a Pinch was sold at REA in 2007: 

This authentic Mathewson signature is found on another copy of "Pitching in a Pinch."

 Another example of Mathewson’s signature on a copy of Pitching in a Pinch appeared in a recent SPC auction:

This authentic Matty signature is found in another inscribed copy of "Pitching in a Pinch" that sold at SCP.

  Another exemplar is a 1908 affidavit signed by Mathewson giving his statement in regard to the famous “Merkle Incident.”  The document is part of the Hall of Fame’s Herrmann Papers archive.

This is an authentic signature of Christy Mathewson on a 1908 affidavit containing his statement as a wittness to the famous Merkle incident.

 Again, this 1908 example is very similar to the 1912 Pitching in a Pinch signature in all aspects listed by JSA, although it does exhibit some slight fluctuations in letter formation.

Other Mathewson signature examples from the 1910 era found in the HOF’s Herrmann archive include: 

These authentic exemplars all originate from the HOF's Herrmann archive.

 The authentic Matty signature examples portrayed in this study are all in direct conflict with the 1910 “Won in the Ninth” example being offered by Hunt Auctions.

Hunt Auctions Nov. 2011 sale also features an authentic Mathewson signature from a letter written in 1910.

Hunt Auctions is also offering  an authentic letter written in 1910 by Mathewson (above) in its current auction.  The handwritten letter, according to Ron Keurajian, is executed in Mathewson’s own hand. 

Unlike the many exemplars we found, the Matty signature on this letter does share similarities with the the handwriting exhibited by the Won in the Ninth signature.

Secretarial signatures, in many cases, are executed to replicate the handwriting of the original subject and, like outright forgeries, are expected to show some visible similarities to the genuine signature.  Mathewson’s signature varied throughout his lifetime (as evidenced by the handwriting samples illustrated in this article) and these variations have made it more difficult to ascertain whether the Won in the Ninth signatures are genuine or secretarial.  However, Mathewson’s signature variations actually help support the case that the Won in the Ninth signatures were ghost signed because they are all very similar in construction and letter formation.  Experts like Keurajian can tell if these are executed in the same hand as verified exemplars (like the 1908 Merkle affidavit) because they can pinpoint the essence of Matty’s handwriting that underlies the visible variations.  In Keurajian’s opinion they were not signed by Mathewson.    

THE GHOST-SIGNER vs. “BIG SIX”:

 Christy Mathewson and sportswriter John Wheeler teamed up to write a series of magazine articles on “inside baseball” featuring recollections from Mathewson’s career and those articles were the foundation for a collaboration between the two men that produced the 1912 book, Pitching in a Pinch.  Mathewson was actually involved in the creative process with Wheeler and was listed as the author and recognized in reviews which praised his work in the New York Times.  As evidenced in this article, several surviving copies of the book bear Mathewson’s authentic signature as opposed to Won in the Ninth, which appears to have been ghost-signed. 

In contrast to Pitching in a Pinch, Won in the Ninth appears to have been entirely ghost-written by sportswriter W. W. Aulick  as a work of fiction geared towards young boys without any real creative contribution from Mathewson.  The book was part of a series in which Matty had no direct involvement in writing the fictional baseball stories.  An essay published on pophistorydig.com notes that the Won in the Ninth/Aulick series, “were more products of publishers capitalizing on Mathewson’s popularity than they were the writer’s works of art.”  Is it plausible that Matty’s lack of direct involvement in Won in the Ninth project would make it more improbable for him to personally autograph 500 presentational copies of that book and that a ghost-signer would more likely have signed them as part of the publisher’s promotional campaign? 

Books authored by players and “ghosts” date back to the nineteenth century.  MLB’s official historian John Thorn told us, “ ”Baseball players permitted newspaper ghosts to write “their” thoughts from the 1880s on. King Kelly’s Play Ball was perhaps the first book “by” a player. Pitching in a Pinch is par for the course, neither better nor worse.“ 

Thorn also distinguished between books like Matty’s Pitching in a Pinch and the genre of books like Won in the Ninth and First Base Faulkner, that were produced for young boys.  Said Thorn, “The kids’ books “by” athletes are, in effect licensing and endorsement deals, having nothing to do with authorship.”

  Over the past twelve years numerous copies of the 1910 Mathewson Won in the Ninth book have sold at public auction accompanied by letters of authenticity from the major authentication companies.  Authenticators James Spence and Steve Grad appear to believe they are genuine.

Ron Keurajian noted in his SCD article:  “These signatures are very pleasing to the eye and appear more sharply angled and the letters are slightly larger and appear more uniform than authentic Mathewson signatures.”

Here are several alleged Mathewson signatures from known copies of  Won in the Ninth:

 

Alleged Mathewson signatures from "Won in the Ninth."

JSA and PSA have authenticated virtually all of the Won in the Ninth books that have entered the marketplace since 2000.  One of the first copies was authenticated by James Spence for MastroNet’s auction in November, 2000, when he was employed by PSA/DNA. 
 

This copy of "Won in the Ninth" was authenticated by James Spence of PSA/DNA for a November 2000 MastroNet auction.

 Commenting on the Won in the Ninth signatures in his SCD article, Keurajian said:  “I have been told these are genuine but like Mathewson signed balls a lot of controversy has been generated over them.” 

Despite that controversy, the major authentication companies have certified  these items for over a decade and continue to do so, as evidenced by the current Hunt Auctions offering. 

Alleged Mathewson signatures from "Won in the Ninth."

CONCLUSIONS:

Upon examination of all of the exemplars utilized in this report, Ron Keurajian, reiterated his original opinion that the Matty Won in the Ninth signatures were the product of a “ghost-signing.”

Keurajian’s original opinion from 2004 stated:  “Some experts tell me they are real while others say they are not.  In my opinion these plate signatures are ghost-signed and not signed by Mathewson.”

He added, “These signatures deviate too much from Mathewson’s hand.  If you contemplate a purchase of one of these books proceed with caution.”

Today, Keurajian stands by his original opinion stated in 2004.  Says Keurajian, “Since I published my article in Sports Collectors Digest I have had the opportunity to  view at least 15 additional presentation copies of Won in The Ninth.  I have concluded that all are secretarial signed as I have never examined a genuinely signed copy of this book.  Ever since my article was published many copies of this book were dumped back into the market.  They continue be sold and resold as purchasers later find out they are not signed by Mathewson but rather a secretary.” 
 
 Mike Heffner, of Leland’s, holds the same opinion as Keurajian.  Says Heffner, “I concur with Ron.  It was not something that was known 20 years ago but it has come to light in recent years.”  

Lelands is one of the few auction houses we found that has not offered copies of Won in the Ninthin their recent sales.  The only copy we could find that Lelands sold was the personal copy of Frank Stevens and was part of their Harry M. Stevens auction in 1996.

Lelands does not rely on third-party authenticators like JSA and PSA/DNA and they stand behind their in-house expertise in autograph authentication as a guarantee for their customers.  

 Veteran dealer and authenticator Richard Simon also shared with us his view on the history of the Matty Won in the Ninth books.  We asked Simon if he recalled how the hobby viewed these books pre-1999?  Said Simon, “I don’t (know) about the year, but the books for a period of time were thought of as authentic and quite sometime ago the thinking in the hobby changed and the consensus among many, but not all, was that the signatures were secretarial.”

Stephen Koschal, who first alerted Sotheby’s about the Matty signatures in 2005 sees it this way, “With regard to the signed Christy Mathewson books being offered for sale over the years in auctions, I have written to auction houses and copied in the authenticators and their principals regarding these books.  They have been advised these signatures are not genuine yet they ignore all correspondence. To this day, several years later, they still authenticate these signatures as genuine. Only possible reason for this is to not admit past faulty authentications and they fear all the refunds that would have to be made from past sales.”

As of today, despite the arguments and evidence suggesting the contrary, collectors are bidding on Won in the Ninth simply because it has been certified as genuine by JSA, the company that will not provide an argument to support its own challenged authentication.  All that’s available for bidders today from JSA is the vague letter of opinion and authenticity accompanying the questioned Hunt Auctions lot.  

AN OVERVIEW OF AUTHENTIC CHRISTY MATHEWSON SIGNATURES (1912-1924 Including letters originating from the HOF’s Herrmann Papers Archive; The Mathewson Estate/Keystone Jr. College; Personal Checks; Contracts; and Heritage Auctions):

 

Authentic Mathewson signature exemplars used in this study to determine the authenticity of the Matty "Won in the Ninth" signatures.

(If you know of any other authentic Mathewson signatures from this era, or any other ”Won in the Ninth” signatures please send them to us at: Tips@Haulsofshame.com

By Peter J. Nash

Nov. 7, 2011

HOF President, Jeff Idelson, and Chairman, Jane Forbes Clark, are silent on the NBL heist.

 

With news of yet another public offering of a rare document suspected to have been stolen from the famous August Herrmann Papers archive at the National Baseball Library, officials at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum continue to decline comment on what appears to be the tip of the iceberg on a long-neglected scandal.

Last week, Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, withdrew a letter written by Pirate owner Barney Dreyfus to National League President John Heydler about a protested game in 1924. The letter appears to have originated from the Hall of Fame’s voluminous files of Major League Baseball’s former ruling body, the National Commission. The Hall maintains a collection of National League protested game files from 1902 to 1926 and over the past few decades numerous letters that appear to have been wrongfully removed from those files, with no mention of their provenance or origin, have been sold at public auction by the nation’s largest sports collectibles companies.

Despite strong evidence suggesting that these documents originated from the HOF files and a 1980s FBI investigation into thefts at the National Baseball Library, the non-profit educational institution has seen fit to allow these items to sell unfettered with apparently little due diligence done on their part.  Earlier this year when another suspect document was sold Hall spokesperson, Brad Horn, told Clean Sweep Auctions president Steve Verkman,  “There is insufficient information for us to unequivocally state that these were stolen from the Hall of Fame.”

The reality, however, is that the evidence supporting the existence of the thefts continues to mount and the Hall of Fame’s failure to recover materials stolen from the game’s shrine in Cooperstown threaten the institution’s credibility. 

In 2009, Haulsofshame.compresented officials at the Hall with a 300-page report detailing items that appear to have been stolen from the August Herrmann Papers archive and the sales of such items both at public auction and on the black market for baseball artifacts.

Here are two prime examples illustrating how the Hall of Fame and their leadership have failed to pursue other “protested game” documents and have apparently neglected to engage law enforcement to investigate and aid in recovery efforts:

1.  This “protested game” letter written by Hall of Famer John J. McGraw on May 16, 1911 and addressed to NL President Thomas J. Lynch  has appeared for sale at several auctions over the past two decades including Sports Heroes in 1994 and Sports Card Plus/Sotheby’s in 2009, where it sold for over $5,000:

This 1911 Protested Game letter written by HOFer John J. McGraw has sold several times at auction since 1994. The latest sale was at Sports Cards Plus/Sotheby's in 2009.

-This “protested game” letter is the companion to the John McGraw letter that was last sold by Sports Card Plus in 2009.  It is also addressed to NL President Thomas J. Lynch on May 16, 1911, and was typed on what appears to be the same typewriter as the McGraw letter.  However, this letter is still part of the Herrmann Papers archive at Cooperstown and resides in Box 44, Folder 24, at the National Baseball Library.  Folder 24 includes “Additional Protested Games 1902-26.”

This 1911 protest letter was written by the New York Giants' owner and several of John McGraw's players. It is dated on the same day as the McGraw protest letter sold at SCP/Sotheby's in 2009.

2.  Just like the lot recently removed from Heritage’s current sale, this letter is another example written to NL President John Heydler by Hall of Famer Barney Dreyfus.  But unlike the auction offering, this Dreyfus letter is still part of the HOFs Herrmann Papers archive.  Dreyfus was addressing a protested game played against the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 4, 1908 and his letter is found in Folder 24 of the “Additional Protested Games 1902-26″ section of the HOFs Herrmann archive. 

This letter was written by Pirate owner Barney Dreyfus in 1908 regarding a protested game with the Chicago Cubs. The letter still resides in the HOFs Herrmann papers archive.

-This document was offered for sale at Sotheby’s in 1999 by collector Barry Halper.  It is the sworn affidavit of Cub Hall of Famer, Joe Tinker, regarding a play in a protested game played on Sept. 4, 1908, against the Pirates  (The same protested game that Barney Dreyfus refers to in his letter still at the HOF).  It is believed that this document, and several others executed by Cub players, were wrongfully removed from the Herrmann Papers archive.  It appears that the Herrmann files were targeted for removals of valuable documents executed or signed by Hall of Famers while documents featuring the signatures of less notable baseball figures appear to have been left behind.  (The Tinker document was also sold at MastroNet in 2003 for over $10,000.)

This 1908 affidavit executed by Hall of Famer Joe Tinker was once part of a National Commission file regarding a protested game played on Sept. 4, 1908. The play in question was a precursor to the famous "Merkle Incident" that occured later that same month in 1908. This document was sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby's in 1999.

This is not the first theft-related scandal for the Cooperstown shrine.  In 1983 The Sporting News uncovered the public sale of assorted World Series programs and other publications loaned by the Hall to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s office.  At the time, the New York Post ran an article with a headline, “SCANDAL HITS BASEBALL HALL OF FAME,” and the wrong-doing was pegged on J.G. Taylor Spink award winner, Joe Reichler, who at the time worked for Kuhn. 

Bill James covered the scandal in his 1994 book The Politics of Glory and described how Hall of Fame President Ed Stack contacted Bowie Kuhn to inform him that Reichler was selling the Hall’s property to memorabilia dealers.  James wrote that Kuhn, “refused to take the matter seriously for several months.”  James also stated that Kuhn told the Hall of Fame, “Don’t bother old Joe.  He’s got a bad heart.  He’s got financial problems.  Don’t mess with him.  I need him.”

James described the scandal in more detail: 

“With the collectors market burgeoning, the Hall of Fame was already finding it more difficult to get people to donate items of historic significance.  The scandal increased those difficulties sevenfold.  The officials at the Hall of Fame were desperate to put the whole thing behind them; the Commissioner, after the public revelations promised a vigorous in-house investigation.”

James reported that in February, 1983, Hall officials “were able to prevail upon the office of Robert Abrams, Attorney General of the State of New York, to write a letter to the Commissioner’s office.”  James revealed that the letter said, “it has come to our attention that certain property belonging to the State of New York may have been converted….”  James made the point that being a public institution, the Hall of Fame and Kuhn were in Abrams’ cross-hairs because it was his office’s responsibility to “safeguard” such artifacts in museum collections. 

TSN broke the HOF document scandal story in 1983 when Ed Stack was HOF President.

Unlike the current scandal, the Hall recovered all of the materials that were loaned to Kuhn’s office.  In comparison, the estimated total value of all the items sold in 1983 would equal about $10,000.  That equals just the low-end estimated value of only the two suspected documents featured in this article.  It is believed that hundreds of rare photos and documents were stolen from the National Baseball Library and that the value of those documents far exceeds $1 million.  In the past year reports published by Haulsofshame.com have led to the return of several other artifacts stolen from the Hall including cabinet photographs of Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson and “Smilin’” Mickey Welch with estimated values exceeding $10,000 each.

A former employee of New York State’s Office of the Attorney General suggested to us that the Hall of Fame’s alleged negligence in safeguarding and recovering artifacts donated to the institution should warrant an investigation by current Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The Baseball Hall of Fame is a  501(c)(3) non-profit educational museum and does not own the artifacts in its collection. The massive collection of donated materials is owned by the people of New York State and the losses incurred as a result of the 1980s heist as well as the Hall’s actions could end up being investigated by the state’s Attorney General’s office.

A Hall of Fame donor we spoke with, who requested anonymity, told us, “It would go a long way for the Hall to address this head-on and involve the authorities now to recover these items.  If they don’t, they could end up being investigated themselves.  It looks like the crooks who ripped them off are still benefiting from this mess.”