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By Peter J. Nash

Dec.  30, 2011

2011 was a bad year for the "Barry Halper Collection".

 

The investigative reports published by Haulsofshame.com in 2011 exposed the deceased legendary baseball collector and New York Yankees minority owner Barry Halper as a fraudster who duped scores of collectors, auction houses (including Sotheby’s), Major League Baseball and the Baseball Hall of Fame by selling both counterfeit and stolen artifacts.  Halper ended up pocketing millions and, despite his deceptions, was even immortalized in Cooperstown with a Hall of Fame wing named in his honor.

From 1999 through 2011, the “Barry Halper Gallery” was located on the Baseball Hall of Fame’s first level exhibition floor plan, but as the troubling reports about the Halper Collection circulated everywhere from the New York Post to Deadspin this past Summer, the space once dedicated to Halper was no longer identified on Hall of Fame brochures and its dedication plaque was no longer visible to museum visitors. 

As a result of the investigations focused on the Halper Collection it has been established that the majority of his early vintage uniforms, including everything from John J. McGraw’s 1905 World Series uniform to Mickey Mantle’s 1951 rookie jersey, were forgeries.  In addition, signature items that helped cultivate his reputation as the ultimate collector have similarly been tarnished.  The Babe Ruth signature on his famous 500 Home Run Club sheet, the one that he said he got from Ruth in person in 1948, was a fake too.  Halper said he also added the autograph of his coach, Jimmy Foxx, to that same sheet when  he was a pitcher for the University of Miami baseball team.  But Halper never made the U of M team and Foxx wasn’t even the coach during the years Halper attended the school.     

The first-baseman’s mitt Halper sold at Sotheby’s as Lou Gehrig’s “last glove,” for close to $400,000, was fraudulently misrepresented as well.  Gehrig’s authentic last glove was donated to the Hall of Fame by his mother and has been on display in Cooperstown for decades.  Equally disturbing are the revelations that rare documents Halper sold at Sotheby’s, addressed to Hall of Famer Harry Wright and Cincinnati Reds owner August Herrmann, were stolen from the collections of the New York Public Library and the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The list goes on and on.  Even the self-promoting profiles of Halper and his collection published in Smithsonian Magazine, Sports Illustrated and the New York Times are littered with forgeries and fraudulent items once held out as genuine to the general public.

Here are the reports published in 2011 that helped to expose the once revered Halper Collection (click on titles):

1. Damned Yankee: Was Steinbrenner’s Partner the “Madoff of Memorabilia”?  -HOS, July 6, 2011

2. TREASURE TROVE IS BASEBALL\’S HISTORY IN THE FAKING; RULED FOUL: SHOCK AS TOP COLLECTOR IS REVEALED AS SCAMMER-ABILIA KING-New York Post, July 24, 2011 (Click here for NY POST Halper 1) (Click here for NY POST Halper 2)

3. The Downfall Of Barry Halper, Baseball Collecting’s Bernie Madoff - Deadspin, July 6, 2011

4. The Messy History of Charlie Sheen’s “Winning Ring”Deadspin, March 4, 2011

(Top) Ruth signature from alleged letter authenticating his own hair. (Middle) Ruth signature from alleged envelope with typed authentication of his hair. (Bottom) Allleged Ruth signature that Halper said he got in person 1948 from his 500 HR Club Sheet. Expert Ron Keurajian believes all three signatures are forgeries and signed by the same forger.

5. Halper’s Famous 500 HR Club Sheet Has Fake Babe Ruth Autograph;His Tall-Tales of Bambino and Jimmie Foxx Exposed - HOS,  Feb. 9, 2011

6. JSA & REA Cost Collector $38k on Babe Ruth Forgeries and Bogus Bambino Hair; Sony Exec Spent $57k on 500 HR Club Fake; Was Barry Halper the Forger? - HOS, Sept. 29, 2011

7. The Halper “HOT 100”: The Top 100 Stolen Baseball Memorabilia Items Once Owned By Collector Barry Halper.- HOS, January 18, 2011

(L to R) Numbers 8, 58 and 59 from the "Halper Hot 100" list. All three rare documents are "Challenge Letters" sent either to or from the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. All three letters were stolen from the NYPL Spalding Collections' Knick Correspondence Scrapbooks. The letter to the far right, is an 1856 "Challenge Letter" that is still found at the lirary. Barry Halper sold the 1859 letter to the left at Sotheby's in 1999 and once owned the other two examples sold later at other auctions.

8. Betting on the Gehrig’s: Expert’s Report Shows Lou Gehrig’s “Last Glove” was Donated to Cooperstown; Halper’s $387,500 “Last Glove” a Fraud - HOS Staff Report, May 31, 2011

9, Yogi Wearing a Bogus “Mugsy McGraw”; Another Halper Jersey from Sotheby’s Bites the Dust -HOS, January 10, 2011

10. Before the Sox Were Red: Sotheby’s Sold Fake Red Sox Jersey to Boston Collector for $26k - HOS, Feb. 28, 2011

11. Risky Business - HOS, by Dave Grob, March 11, 2011

12. More Letters Suspected Stolen from Hall of Fame Offered by REA and on EBAY; REA’s Bill Klem Letter on “Halper Hot 100 List” - HOS, April 19, 2011

This gallery of problematic artifacts from the Halper Collection was published in the New York Post on July 24, 2011.

13. Penny Marshall Denies Daily News Report She Paid $387,500 for Lou Gehrig’s Alleged “Last Glove”; Who’s the “Unluckiest Collector on the Face of the Earth?” - HOS, June 16, 2011

14. Hauls of Shame Releases FBI Report on Fake Ty Cobb Diary; Halper Kin Say Hall of Fame has not Pursued Million-Dollar Recovery from NY Yankee Partner - HOS, July 1, 2011

15. Chin Music: Halper Gallery Vanishes from the Baseball Hall of Fame; Hauls of Shame Responds to False Claims Made by Halper’s Son and Baseball Digest - HOS, July 28, 2011

16. Cy Young’s Red Sox Uniform on Auction Block; Is Hall of Fame’s 1908 Young Jersey Another Halper Fake? - HOS, Aug. 2, 2011

This dedication plaque used to hang in the "Barry Halper Gallery" on the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's first floor. The exhibition space and plaque dedicated to Halper in 1999 appear to have been removed. Hall officials have declined comment.

 

By Peter J. Nash

Dec. 21, 2011

Babe Ruth signs a few balls on the dugout steps c.1930.

 

Over the past few decades, baseballs alleged to have been signed by Hall of Famer George Herman “Babe” Ruth have become the most prized collectibles in the billion-dollar baseball memorabilia industry. Many credit Ruth-related artifacts as creating the foundation for the baseball memorabilia craze that was initiated by the Bambino as he pushed his hand and pen across thousands of fresh white horsehide baseballs that have since become family heirlooms and highly marketable assets for both collectors and investors alike.

The most striking example of the power of the Ruth signature is the record-breaking auction sales figures generated by the near-mint condition examples of the Babe’s autograph that have survived. Looking like they did on the day they were allegedly signed by the Babe over a half century ago, the top dozen balls sold privately and at auction have generated over $1 million, with the highest-graded specimen changing hands recently for a reported $300,000.

For many years Ruth balls had typically changed hands for thousands of dollars at auction, but in 1999 an example sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby’s realized a hammer price of $46,000, a world-record at the time for a baseball signed by the man who first set the standard for breaking baseball records. Halper chose Sotheby’s to sell off his entire collection, which was said to have included over two-hundred baseballs signed by the “Sultan of Swat,” and the final tallies also broke records with hammer prices exceeding $20 million.  Sotheby’s said that the Ruth ball that broke the sales record had always been Halper’s favorite.

Soon after Halper’s Ruth ball hit the high five-figure milestone, a steady flow of comparable balls in pristine condition began surfacing in major sports auction house catalogs and Halper’s Ruth record was soon eclipsed by several sales that established new marks that pushed the Bambino balls closer to the six-figure range.

Operation Bambino is the current Haulsofshame.com investigation seeking to determine if these record-breaking balls sold at auction were actually signed by the Babe, or are forgeries.  In this third installment of our 10-part series we will compare exemplars of genuine Babe Ruth signatures with the alleged autographs of the slugger found on the sweet-spots of eleven of the most valuable Ruth balls in the hobby. 

(Left) Genuine Babe Ruth signatures signed from 1934 (top) to 1948 (bottom). (Right) Alleged Ruth signatures that appear on the record-breaking single-signed Ruth balls sold by major auction houses from 1999 to 2011. The sales of these eleven balls have generated well over $1 million in revenue.

The genuine Ruth signatures (left) featured alongside the alleged Ruth autographs on the near dozen record-breaking Ruth balls (right) show considerable contrast.   The genuine signatures utilized in our illustration span from 1934 to 1948 (the year of Ruth’s death).  Most of the record breaking Ruth baseballs sold at auction were signed on official American League baseballs bearing the facsimile signature of league president William Harridge and were produced between 1934 and 1948 as well.

The authentic exemplars of Ruth’s signature on the left include:  1.) 1934 letter to Col. Jacob Ruppert (Lelands); 2.) 1935 letter to Miss E. Lazarow (Lelands); 3.) 1939 agreement with NBC; 4.) 1940 World’s Fair Baseball School Certificate; 5.) 1942 Letter to Georgie Henry; 6.) 1943 Letter to Wm. H. Pfau (REA); 7.) 1944 Letter to Vern Haas; 8.) Photo c.1940s; 9.) 1946 Postcard Correspondence to Chas. Weber (Heritage); 10.) 1946 Endorsed Check to Claire Ruth; 11) 1947 Postcard Correspondence to Chas. Weber (Heritage); 12.) 1948 Letter to Dan Topping (Sotheby’s Halper); 13.) 1948 Inscribed copy of the Babe Ruth Story to Roy Del Ruth . 

The signatures on the right side of our illustration are featured on the record-breaking Ruth balls sold at auction and in private sales: 1.) 1999 Halper sale Sotheby’s $46,000; 2.) 1999 Mastro Fine Sports $56,500; 3.) 2000 Robert Edward Auctions $48,048; 4.) Robert Edward Auctions $76,021; 5.) 2000 Hunt Auctions, Mastro and Private sale (2005-11) ranging from $70,000-$300,000; 6.) 2004 Grey Flannel $41,672; 7.) 2004 Grey Flannel $44,438; 8.) 2005 MastroNet $87,720; 9.) 2007 Mastro $23,266; 10.) 2008 Heritage $50,787; 11.) 2010 Heritage $83,650.

In our two previous installments we reported that in regard to the eleven record-breaking balls included in our illustration, expert Ron Keurajian stated there was,  ”not one (he) would feel comfortable in pronouncing as genuine.”  We also noticed that the many high-grade Ruth balls sold appeared to have been executed in multiple hands.

In his 2002 signature study of Ruth’s autograph published in Sports Collectors Digest Keurajian made some important observations about Ruth’s handwriting in his own illustration pitting genuine Ruth signatures against forgeries.  Keurajian noted:

 ”Notice how the forged Ruth’s are level and exhibit no variation in height.  The forgeries are signed in a methodical and calculated way.  This is evidence of a slow and heavy hand.  Now the genuine Ruth signatures bounce up-and-down.  Heights vary and flowing loops are evident.  When positioned right next to each other the differences are striking.  Sometimes the differences in height can be subtle but they are always present.  The variation in height is typically much more prominent when Ruth penned his name to a baseball.”

It is our opinion that Keurajian’s prior analysis of Ruth signatures also thoroughly describes the illustration we have presented in this report.  His analysis delves into the specific characteristics that help distinguish between the genuine examples and forgeries. (Note: We have used Ruth signatures from flat items as exemplars while the questioned signatures appear on baseballs.   While the surface of the ball might provide for fluctuations in Ruth’s signature, the overall characteristics of his handwriting should be evident if the balls are, in fact, genuine.) 

The major authentication companies PSA/DNA and James Spence Authentication (JSA) have issued letters and certificates of authenticity for the eleven questioned record-breaking Ruth balls.  In each case the companies issue a generic statement which includes language stating that the examined Ruth signatures are:

“….consistent considering slant, flow, pen pressure, letter size and other characteristics that are typical of the other exemplars that we have examined in our hobby and professional career.”

Both JSA and PSA also state that it is their “considered opinion” that the examimed signatures on the baseballs are genuine.

This letter of authenticity was issued by PSA/DNA and their lead authenticator James Spence in 2004. The LOA's issued by PSA and JSA are non-specific form letters that rarely give any insight or expert analysis in regard to the signature in question. It is believed this ball PSA authenticated is a forgery.

If we were to write letters of authenticity for the eleven “record-breaking Ruth balls” in the format both PSA and JSA and the industry at large consider the “gold-standard” they would indicate that the Ruth balls are, NOT consistent considering slant, flow, pen pressure, letter size and other characteristics that are typical of the other exemplars that we have examined.”

It is not known what exemplars of Ruth’s signature were used by PSA and JSA in determining the authenticity of these eleven baseballs.

Based upon the suspect authentications of so many questioned Ruth balls it is possible that so many forged Ruth balls have made their way to the marketplace that the Ruth forged signature has eclipsed his genuine signature as an exemplar for the current leading authentication companies.

In 2012, the findings of Operation Bambino will be published including the opinions of respected handwriting experts and analysts as to the authenticity of the Ruth signatures in question on the record-breaking baseballs.

What is your opinion? Feel free to email us at Tips@haulsofshame.com or leave a comment below.


By Peter J. Nash

Dec. 12, 2011

 

 

Are they real? Three of the record breaking Babe Ruth balls (Top) $300,000/Private Sale; (Middle) $87.000/Heritage; (Bottom) $76,020/Robert Edward Auctions/REA. All three appear to be executed in different hands.

This investigation into the authenticity of high-end Babe Ruth single-signed baseballs took decades to develop. Over the years, I would collect images of Ruth signatures appearing in the latest auction catalogs for my exemplar files and, after a while, I noticed distinct inconsistencies in the handwriting featured on the gem-mint Ruth balls that were surfacing and selling for record prices.  Other collectors I’d spoken with also noticed the same differences when comparing signatures. 

 The first person with a background in handwriting analysis to tell me they doubted the authenticity of gem-mint Ruth balls was the legendary handwriting expert, the late Charles Hamilton.  Hamilton thought that two early examples that were sold at Richard Wolfers Auctions in the early 1990s were not genuine. 

The first of the pristine Ruth balls to command a high five-figure price was Barry Halper’s signed Babe Ruth portrait ball that sold in the 1999 Halper sale at Sotheby’s for $46,000.  The next was the first-ever PSA/DNA certified Ruth ball that sold at Mastro Fine Sports Auctions in November of 1999 for $55,600 and was utilized prominently in PSA’s advertisements. Another example that appeared in Robert Edward Auctions’ July, 2000, sale topped all previous auction records with a hammer price of $76,020.

But as more of these mint balls surfaced in auctions over the next decade I began to notice that these snow-white examples exhibited their own signature styles which appeared to differ from auction to auction.  Most all of the signatures were alleged to have been signed by Ruth on official Major League Harridge AL balls and Frick NL balls dating between 1934 and 1948 (but most alleged post-1940).

 Last year I began to organize my images of each Ruth ball from past auction catalogs and assigned them to specific groups of similar alleged “styles” of Ruth signatures.  I then showed each group of the Ruth balls to expert Ron Keurajian and he expressed to me his doubt that any of the Ruth autographed baseballs featured in the illustrations were genuine.

Keurajian is the author of  McFarland Publishing’s soon-to-be-released baseball autograph study, Signatures From Cooperstown and, while not an authenticator by trade, is considered by many in the hobby the most skilled analyst of Hall of Famer signatures.  Keurajian is particularly familiar with Ruth’s handwriting and its unique characteristics and can easily detect a wide range of Ruth forgeries.

Last week, when I showed him the images of the balls included in this report Keurajian stated, “Out of the twenty-seven images of Ruth balls you have sent, there is not one I would feel comfortable in pronouncing as genuine.”


  Here are the three groups of alleged ”Ruth Signature Styles”:

Ruth Style 1:

These alleged Ruth balls have sold for record prices at Sotheby's (center), SCP (top), Robert Edward Auctions/REA (top left), Heritage (bottom left) Lelands (top right) and Heritage (bottom right).

This style of Ruth signature on a high-grade ball appears to have first surfaced in a 1994 Lelands auction and was featured on the cover of its November, 1994, ”Grand Slam Auction” (top, right). 

The next example that appeared at auction was a ball (center) that sold for a record price of $46,000 in the 1999 Halper sale at Sotheby’s.  The auction house and their lead consultant, Rob Lifson, stated in the catalog that the ball was one of 200 Ruth signed balls in the Halper Collection and that, “Barry Halper always considered this ball to be his favorite.” 

Soon after the Halper liquidation another strikingly similar ball sold at Robert Edward Auctions in July of 2000 (top, left) for close to $50,000.  The auction house president, Rob Lifson, wrote in his catalog, “Of the hundreds of Babe Ruth baseballs we have handled over the past thirty years, this is one of only four Ruth singles we have ever graded 10/10.  One of the finest Babe Ruth single signed autographs in the world.” (The same ball that sold at the REA auction appears to have first surfaced publicly in a Sports Collectors Digest ad placed by Art Jaffe and Left Field Collectibles on April 21, 2000.)

  Most recently, in August of 2010, Heritage Auctions sold one of the other examples illustrated (bottom left) for $83,650.  Heritage quoted PSA authenticator Steve Grad in their lot description as saying the offering was the “finest Babe Ruth signature I’ve ever seen on a baseball.”

Ruth Style 2:

Examples of this style of Ruth signed ball have sold for record-breaking prices, including the sale of one for $300,000.

This style of Ruth signature is the most prevalent of the alleged gem-mint specimens and appears to be  labored and slowly executed in similar blue inks.  The first examples (top row, left and center) appeared at Richard Wolfers Auctions’ early 1990s “Treasures of the Game” auctions.

By 1999, an example (2nd row, left) was sold by Mastro Auctions for $56,500 as the first PSA/DNA authenticated Ruth ball and in 2000 another example (2nd row, right) sold at Hunt Auctions for a then-record $72,600.  In 2005, MastroNet offered another example (3rd row, right) that was graded a “9″ by PSA and sold for $87,720.  The ball was utilized in PSA print advertisements with the heading, “So, You Don’t Think Grading Matters?  Think Again…have your prized signed baseballs graded by PSA today.” 

One of the examples shown in this group (bottom, left) sold at Heritage for $50,787 in 2008, but failed to sell last month when it was offered by Gem Mint Auctions with a minimum bid of $25,000.  This ball was authenticated by PSA with a grade of 8.5.

Joe Orlando of PSA recently reported via Twitter that the example appearing in the second row, to the right, recently changed hands in a private transaction for $300,000.  The ball, graded a 9.5 by PSA (their highest grade ever), was also sold at Mastro in 2002 to collector Joe Verno for $61,047 and in 2004 Verno sold the ball privately to collector Kevin Coleman for $115,000.  In 2005, Coleman is reported to have sold the ball to “an east coast collector” for $150,000.

Ruth Style 3:

This third style of high-grade Ruth single-signed balls has also commanded top-dollar despite the fact the signatures appear to be executed in a hand other than the Bambino's.

This style of Ruth autograph exhibits a swiftly executed signature with little hesitation and flourishes that create a distinctive look.  In 2000, Grey Flannel sold one of these balls for over $37,000 (bottom, left) and in 2003 MastroNet sold another for $43,000 (top, left).  In 2004, Grey Flannel sold another for $41,672 (middle, left) and between 2003 and 2004 Mastro offered several others that sold in the $20,000 range (top, left and center).

Additional balls have surfaced with similarities to this group although they could be considered their own “style” or a fourth grouping:

These high-grade examples resemble group three but could be considered a fourth Ruth signature style. These examples have attained record prices at REA, Sotheby's and Grey Flannel.

In July of 2000 one of these balls (left) sold at Robert Edward Auctions for $76,020 (it first sold at Superior Auctions in Beverly Hills, CA in 1992 for $12,650).  REA president, Rob Lifson, called the ball, ”the finest single signed Babe Ruth baseball Robert Edward Auctions has ever seen, let alone had the privilege of offering.” 

 The second example (center) was sold by Grey Flannel in 2004 for $44,438 and Jimmy Spence of PSA/DNA noted, “this is one of the nicest Ruth singles I have ever laid my eyes upon.” Spence also told the auction house, “Oh my God, what a blazer!”  The same ball had been previously sold at the 1995 Sports Collector’s Convention by Bill Mastro in his “Best of Yesterday Auction.”

The third ball (right) was auctioned off by Sotheby’s/SCP in 2004 for $63,250 as “an example of the Bambino’s signature that is unparalleled.”  The ball was accompanied by a vintage photo of Ruth signing a ball for a young boy, but the auction house made no direct claim in the lot description that the photo and the ball offered were related.

Although all three (or four) apparent styles of Ruth’s signature appear to have been executed in different hands,each of the balls illustrated share a common trait: they have all been certified as authentic by either PSA/DNAand JSA (James Spence Authentication) or Mike Gutierrez (formerly of PSA and currently of JSA).

Considering PSA/DNA’s status as part of the publicly held company, Collectors Universe (NASDAQ-CLCT), and that the company has utilized several of these questioned baseballs in their advertising campaigns, the authentication outfit could be scrutinized closely by federal regulators if it is proven they authenticated bogus items on such a grand scale.

  The credibility of the company and their authenticators was first challenged by Wall Street observers in a 2006 article, “Kinda Sorta Genuine” written by Neil Martin and published in Barron’s.  In that article Barron’s published a quote from the Pen and Quill written by Steve Zarelli who stated, “It has become apparent that PSA/DNA has some weakness in authenticating autographs outside the sports field — as well as some glaring oversights from within the sports area.  It’s not uncommon to see a PSA/DNA [expert] ‘authenticating’ an autograph that is certainly not authentic.”  Barron’s writer Neil Martin added, “The Bottom Line: The stock, which has fallen 26% from its 52-week high, could drop another 25% amid questions of credibility.”

Today, five years after the Barron’s article was published, the CU stock is currently trading at about $14.00 and has had a 52-week low of $12.26 and a 52-week high of $18.80.  Authenticating is big business as indicated by Collectors Universe Chief Financial Officer, Joseph Wallace, on the November 7, 2011, earnings conference call where he told stockholders, “Our service revenues increased by $2.2 million or 23% quarter on quarter and comprised increases of $1.9 million in authentication and grading fees and $0.3 million in other related services. The increased grading and authentication fees were driven by increased coin fees of $1.7 million or 22% and cards and autographs of $0.2 million or 8%.”

This print ad was published while James Spence Jr. was still PSA'a primary authenticator and features one of the suspect "record-breaking" Ruth balls as an authentic exemplar.

James Spence was the first and primary authenticator employed by PSA in the late 1990s and in 2001 MastroNet made PSA/DNA their official “third-party authenticator.”  Soon after that announcement, MastroNet’s former employee and in-house authenticator, Steve Grad, left the auction house to work solely for PSA and continued to authenticate MastroNet items.  By the time the 2006 Barron’s article was published Spence had left PSA/DNA and established his own company, JSA.

JSA and PSA, have handled most all of the authentications of the suspect Babe Ruth baseballs featured in this report, however, it appears that they either did not notice the inconsistencies in the Ruth handwriting or disregarded the evidence and authenticated the items anyway.

It is well established that Ruth’s signature evolved during his career from the time he signed his name with “Babe” in quotes in 1927, to his later years with his better-known classic autograph.  However, it is a mystery how the Bambino could have transformed his signature into so many disparate styles when signing on gem-mint baseballs manufactured during the last decade of his lifetime.

Should the suspicions about these Ruth balls be reinforced and supported by the handwriting experts and ex-law enforcement officials who will examine them as part of  ”Operation Bambino,” PSA and JSA will have a lot of explaining to do to collectors who already seriously question their credibility.  Could PSA and JSA have authenticated close to $1.5 million of bogus Ruth single-signed balls?

The focus of this investigation is to determine how the most prolific autograph signer in the history of American sport could have signed his name in several different styles within such a relatively short time period in the late 1930s to 1940s?  Could any of these identified “styles” of Ruth’s signature actually have been executed in the hand of the “Bambino” ?

Several experts believe these three balls spanning from the 1920s to 1937 to 1947, bear authentic signatures of Babe Ruth.

(If you have any other examples of suspect high-grade Ruth balls that have sold or, if you have information that would support the authenticity of any of the balls illustrated in this article, please email us at: Tips@haulsofshame.com )


By Peter J. Nash

Dec. 2, 2011

A sampling of the record-breaking Babe Ruth Single-Signed balls sold at auction. A new investigation will determine how many of them were actually signed by the "Sultan of Swat".

 

 
 
 Babe Ruth’s signature has long been the top target of skilled forgers and this past summer some low-grade fakes attributed to the Bambino made their way into the news.  Not only were the autographs bogus, so were the letters of authenticity offered with them.

Legitimate letters of authenticity issued for Ruth signatures by the two leading companies are requirements for any advanced or novice collector.  Ruth signed items with letters from James Spence Authentication (JSA) and PSA/DNA have commanded top dollar at major auction houses and on eBay.   Baseballs alleged to have been signed by Ruth have regularly sold for tens of thousands of dollars for decades and most recently have changed hands for upwards of a reported $300,000. Gem-mint, single-signed, Babe Ruth baseballs have become the most desired collectibles in the billion-dollar baseball memorabilia business.  JSA and PSA/DNA have signed off on and authenticated most all of the record breaking specimens sold at auction over the last decade.  Recent and current sales at Gem Mint Auctions, Huggins and Scott, Heritage and Lelands have also featured some Ruth blazers that are commanding big bucks. 

 However, industry experts, collectors and even sources at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have questioned whether the majority of these high-end beauties are worth more than the vintage baseballs they are signed upon. The most spectacular examples that have sold at auction for prices ranging between $50,000 and $100,000 are now the targets of a new investigation endorsed by Babe Ruth’s granddaughter, Linda Ruth-Tosetti.

Tosseti has followed closely the proliferation in the marketplace of forged signatures attributed to her grandfather and has been vocal about her concerns for collectors who have been taken advantage of.  She has voiced her concerns to the FBI and she hopes that the findings of an investigation launched by Haulsofshame.com will expose the forgers and authenticators who have made her grandfather’s signature a tool of their trade.

Said Ruth-Tosetti,  “I can’t believe how these crooks have lined their pockets forging my grandfather’s signature.  It’s a shame and it needs to be stopped.  I’ve made my concerns known to an agent at the FBI and I hope they will be able to put an end to this.  In my opinion, the authenticators are as bad as the forgers, it’s ridiculous.  I can even tell that Babe didn’t sign most of these.” 

This c. 1930s baseball bears an authentic signature of Babe Ruth.

Autograph expert Ron Keurajian has long held the belief that the majority of the high-end Ruth balls selling for record-prices are forgeries.  If Keurajian’s claims are backed up by the findings in this investigation, the results could be devastating for authentication outfits like JSA and PSA/DNA, who have authenticated the alleged forgeries.  To date both companies have made an overwhelming number of mistakes in their work and have cost collectors hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Complaints made in letters written to the FBI about both companies have resulted in agents taking a close look at the authenticators and their flawed work. 

The Haulsofshame.com investigation will enlist the services of ex-FBI agents, non-hobby forensic document examiners and handwriting experts with the professional credentials that are lacking at the sports authentication outfits currently endorsed by eBay and most every major auction house as their official  ”third-party authenticators.”

These baseballs feature more alleged autographs of Babe Ruth that have sold for record prices at the major baseball auction houses.

The results of the investigation will be released some time in 2012 and will also be submitted to the FBI for its benefit and to assist the on-going efforts to combat the proliferation of  forgeries in the marketplace.

Babe Ruth’s signature is the cornerstone of baseball autograph collecting and he revolutionized the idea that fans could collect the signatures of their favorite players on balls, cards and virtually every other item imaginable.   The Babe Ruth autograph is an American icon, but how many of them out there are real?

One knowledgeable collector we interviewed shared a fitting observation about Ruth authentications and the experts who have issued them.  He said, “If these Ruth signatures were certified in error in large numbers by these companies, then a major crack in the foundation of collector confidence will emerge.  One that may prove to be unrepairable.  There would be a domino effect of refund requests and lawsuits if these signatures are not the genuine article they were advertised to be.”

In examining the high-end Ruth single-signed balls that have sold for record prices,  several experts have already pinpointed different handwriting styles evidenced in the Ruth signatures.  Many of the balls appear to have been signed in several hands other than the Bambino’s.  Future reports in this 10-part series will illustrate the handwriting of what appears to be the work of several forgers signing Ruth’s name on baseballs in mint condition. 

 The first wave of high-grade Ruth single signed balls first appeared in sales on the west coast in the early 1990s at Richard Wolfers Auctions and Superior Galleries.  It wasn’t until 1999, during the Halper auction at Sotheby’s, that Ruth singles started commanding prices in the high five-figures.  Recently, Joe Orlando of PSA/DNA claimed that the highest graded Ruth single ever certified by his company changed hands in a private transaction for $300,000.

(This is Part 1 in a 10-part series focusing on the proliferation of high-end Ruth forgeries.)