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By Peter J. Nash

April 30, 2012

Christy Mathewson signs a fan's ball at the 1912 World Series. This photo proves Matty did actually sign baseballs, but few genuine ones have survived.

Fans called him “Big-Six” and he’s surely lived up to that nickname posthumously with alleged examples of his signature on baseballs commanding over $100,000 at auction. Each of these record-breaking Christy Mathewson single-signed baseballs have two things in common; a letter of authenticity from either PSA/DNA or JSA (James Spence Authentication); and serious speculation by experts as to whether any of them are authentic.  Hobby veteran Richard Simon told us, “For such a rare autograph there seems to be a lot of Christy Mathewson single signed baseballs in the hobby. Perhaps there are just a few too many.”

Robert Edward Auctions and SportsCardsPlus are currently offering two more single signed Matty balls, both with LOAs from JSA claiming they are genuine. Robert Edward Auctions even goes as far to claim that Mathewson signed their ball on Sept. 30, 1921, the same day that a benefit game was played at the Polo Grounds to raise money for his medical bills at the time. We reported in our last “Chin Music” column that Mathewson never attended that game and, according to a New York Times report published on Oct. 1, 1921, Mathewson missed the event from a sick bed at his residence on Saranac Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. REA is still fraudulently selling the ball as being signed by Mathewson that day, with no proof whatsoever to support their claim.  In their lot description REA quotes a 1977 book written by sportswriter Fred Lieb who described an auction of Mathewson signed baseballs at that 1921 event.  But as baseball historian Glenn Stout has stated in his own work, Lieb was a devout occultist who believed he could communicate with the dead and that he also possessed healing powers.  So, perhaps REA is aware of Lieb healing the sick Matty and bringing him to the baseball auction at the Polo Grounds that day.  If Lieb were alive today his Ouija Board would make him a great authenticator of Matty balls, however, without access to his gift collectors have had to settle on the skills of PSA and JSA.

It’s par for the course, with auction houses and authenticators failing to do their homework, and in some cases, perhaps, committing outright fraud. The messy history of questionable Mathewson balls hitting the market takes us back to a MastroWest auction in March of 2000, which featured a high-grade ball with letters of authenticity written by both James Spence and PSA/DNA.

It was the premier lot in that 2000 auction billed as “An Unbelievable Christy Mathewson Single Signed Baseball,” and included the alleged original mailing canister sent to the recipient of the prized baseball bearing Matty’s signature. MastroWest wrote, “The black fountain pen ink speaks to us from the year 1912, an 8/11/12 date postmarked on the original mailing box sent from New York City to Allentown, Pa. It has been determined that Mathewson himself wrote the recipients address on the mailing label. It is within the realm of possibility that it was Christy Mathewson who took this ball to the post office and mailed it personally.” MastroWest assured bidders that the “certitude” of the signature was attested to by experts James Spence, Kevin Keating and PSA/DNA.

It all sounded quite amazing, but like they said, entirely “Unbelievable,” for the gem mint baseball that Matty allegedly autographed was actually manufactured by Spalding between 1921 and 1924, nearly a decade later than the alleged postmark on the mailing canister. When informed by several hobbyists of their stunning error in authentication, MastroWest had no choice but to withdraw the lot from the sale. It was the first of many mistakes made by the alleged experts in the field who would encounter the work of the same forger years later, minus the embarrassment.

These four balls are believed to feature forged signatures of Christy Mathewson. They all appear to be signed in the same hand but not Mathewson's.

In our opinion, the work of the Matty forger that was first authenticated in 2000 (top left) reappeared in a Grey Flannel auction in 2003 (bottom left); in a Hunt Auction in 2005 (top right); and in a Heritage Auctions preview in March of 2012 (bottom right).  While Spence and PSA had implicit knowledge of the 2000 forgery featured in MastroWest’s sale (and access to the forgery as an exemplar), PSA still authenticated the Grey Flannel ball and JSA still authenticated the Hunt Auctions ball, despite the fact that the handwriting was clearly in the same hand of the 2000 MastroWest forger.  The Mathewson ball in Grey Flannel sold for $29,791 and the Hunt ball sold for a then-record price of $110,000 at Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game auction.  The record-breaking ball prompted James Spence Authentication (JSA) to take out a full page in Sports Collectors Digest advertising the $110,000 sale price and the fact that the ball had received their, “Ultimate Letter of Authenticity.” (The same Matty ball was re-sold with its JSA LOA in 2007 at Historic Auctions for $91,000.)

JSA took out this full-page ad in SCD to advertise their authentication of the $110,000 Mathewson single signed ball that sold at Hunt Auctions. The ball, however, was a forgery similar to another that had fooled Spence in 2000.

In 2007, another Mathewson ball with a JSA LOA sold at Huggins & Scott Auctions for a whopping $161,000.  Soon after that sale,  hobby newsletter, The Sweet Spot, published an article about Mathewson’s handwriting and interviewed James Spence of JSA.  In the article, “Two Styles, Two Speeds From Matty,” James Spence was quoted saying, “When you sell a ball for more than $160,000, that’s going to raise the eyebrows and it’s also going to raise eyebrows with the forgers.  And they’re going to work on it hard till it’s perfected.  So, obviously, we (authenticators) have to be on our toes.”

In that same article, the Sweet Spot reported that Spence was in possession of “35 or 40 exemplars of signed Mathewson documents in his autograph library.”  Considering Spence’s advance knowledge that the example he authenticated in 2000 was a forgery, it is stunning that he could make these comments and continue to authenticate other similar forgeries.

The example that sold for $161,000 in 2007 was followed up by another questionable Matty single signed ball sold at Mastro Auctions in August of 2007 for $114,000.  Another controversial example sold at Hunt Auctions for $44,000 in 2009.  All three autographed balls were accompanied by LOAs from JSA and PSA/DNA (the Hunt ball was only LOAd by JSA).

These alleged Mathewson balls sold for: (Left) $161,000 at Huggins & Scott in 2007; (Center) $114,000 at Mastro Auctions in 2007;(Right) $44,000 at Hunt Auctions in 2009.

It is our opinion that none of these three baseballs should have been authenticated by either JSA or PSA.  The signatures are terribly labored to the point that they appear distorted (the Hunt ball was actually described by the auctioneer as having “partial enhancement” having been gone-over.)  In our opinion, none of the three balls appear to be written in Mathewson’s hand and the formation of each letter contrasts genuine printed Mathewson samples we have had the opportunity to review.  If anything, the experts should have rendered a “no opinion” letter for these three balls.  We would challenge the authenticators to produce the authentic exemplars they used to determine these three balls as genuine.  Jimmy Spence himself told the Sweet Spot in 2007, “Some forgeries are so badly done that we don’t even put them in our exemplar file.  We probably have about 100 different examples that are worth recording but some are so pathetic…”  Spence could very well attribute his comments to these three questionable balls.

Ron Keurajian, expert and author of Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide (McFarland, 2012), has long been critical of the authenticity of the “dubious” Mathewson balls that have appeared at auction.  In 2004, he wrote an article for SCD stating, “For years these balls have been passed around like cold germs and have gained a semblance of authenticity.  But don’t be fooled, a Mathewson-signed ball is extremely rare and a genuine single signed ball probably has not been offered on the market in the past 20 years.  I can honestly say I have never seen a Matty ball that I would feel comfortable pronouncing as genuine.”  We asked Keurajian if eight years after he wrote his original SCD article he still feels the same and he responded in the affirmative.

If all three of the balls we believe cannot be authenticated were added to the forged examples illustrated earlier in this article, it is quite possible that PSA/DNA and JSA may have authenticated close to half-a-million dollars worth of bogus Mathewson balls.

Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Auctions at Heritage told us that the Matty ball consigned to Heritage’s spring auction signed “Compliments of Christy Mathewson” (illustrated earlier in this article) was rejected by their authenticators.  Ivy did not disclose specifically if it was PSA or JSA who rejected the ball, but the rejection is telling in that it is an admission by the authenticators that they have made enormous mistakes with the $110,000 Hunt Auctions ball and the $30,000 Grey Flannel ball.  Based upon this rejection it will be interesting to see if either JSA or PSA have informed their auction house clients of their change of opinion.  Will the auction houses provide refunds for the winning bidders and will the authenticators be liable to pay the auction houses for their fatal errors?

These two alleged Mathewson balls are currently being offered by SCP (left) and REA (right). Both were authenticated by JSA, but what's the chance they are genuine?

All of this being said, how can any collector bid with confidence on the current JSA-certed Mathewson balls being offered in the REA and SCP spring sales?  The SCP Matty ball is being sold by ex-Yankee hurler David Wells and is highly suspect to say the least.  The SCP auction description even notes that PSA/DNA “rendered an opinion of not authentic” when it was submitted.  JSA authenticated the ball.

Mathewson utilized two handwriting styles in the course of his lifetime, one of them being a very cursive, almost printed style that contrasted his regular flowing script signature.  As the above examples illustrate, this hybrid printed/script style that Mathewson allegedly signed on baseballs is one of the easiest for skilled forgers to replicate and the fakes that have flooded the market in the past fifteen years have wreaked havoc on collectors who have purchased what they believed were legitimate Mathewson signed balls.  In our next installment we will discuss the authenticity of the two Matty balls appearing in the current spring auctions and present an in-depth examination of the genuine handwriting of Christy Mathewson.

UPDATE (May 2nd): MATTY BALLS IN THE  SPRING AUCTIONS- It appears that a $10,000 bid on David Wells’ alleged single-signed Mathewson ball in SCP’s current auction is no longer showing on the SCP site.  The lot now has no bids.  The Wells collection also includes a genuine Mathewson signed WW 1 document signed in Matty’s hybrid printed/script style.  Authenticators need only look at this example to see the problems with most all Matty single signed balls.

David Wells is also selling this authentic Mathewson signed document which highlights why his alleged single-signed ball is problematic.

REA has finally added a “note” to their lot description of the alleged Matty ball being offered in its Spring sale.  The auction house wrote:

(Note: A period newspaper article exists that indicates Matty was not actually present at the game, in which case if true all the Mathewson signed balls were obviously actually signed in advance of the game.)

Apparently, REA still doubts the veracity of the New York Times‘ reporting of the event the day after the Matty event in 1921.  Now, REA seems sure their ball was signed before the event by Mathewson but have  failed to change the lot description title, which still states definitively that Mathewson signed that ball on the day of his event at the Polo Grounds which, of course, is impossible as reported in the Times:

The NY Times reported that Matty missed the 1921 Matty Day event and sent a message from his sick-bed in Saranac Lake, in Upstate New York.

REA should also disclose to their bidders that the auction house has handled and sold this same ball at auction in 1998.  Oregon Trail Auctions, then a division of Robert Edward Auctions, offered the same ball in 1998 and made no mention of the ball being from the 1921 Matty event (even though the next lot in that auction was a program from that very same benefit game.)

REA sold its current Matty ball back in 1998 when it owned Oregon Trail, and there was no mention that the ball was tied to the 1921 Matty Benefit at the Polo Grounds.

The ball sold for $19,455.

By Peter J. Nash

April 14, 2012

PSA allegedly confirms the Cobb cut is a fake, but done by hand?

-After demanding apologies from all those who called out his PSA-authenticated and slabbed  Ty Cobb cut signature as a sophisticated, laser copied forgery, Donavon Arabie, told some fellow collectors that he sent the cut back to PSA for examination and said that the authentication giant allegedly says it was the creation of a “Amazing Forger” and done by hand and not machine. Aribe says PSA refunded him his authentication fees and sent the item back to him after it was pulled from eBay by its fraud division.

-Richard Simon has requested to examine the raw Cobb forgery, hoping to clear things up with a physical inspection of the actual item.  Simon says he is anxious to view the original in person and has offered to reveal his findings on Net54, but Aribe has told collectors he plans on destroying the Cobb forgery instead.  He says he’s going to burn it.  We hope the FBI gets to him before he lights the match.

-Arabie says he purchased the bogus cut at an “estate sale” and discovered it in-between some old Goudey cards.  So beware collectors of this “Amazing Cobb Forger” who secretly drops his handiwork into estate sale lots, so that unsuspecting collectors can, in turn, turn a nice profit.

-Net54 took an informal poll that had 38 people correctly identifying the Cobb forgery as a direct copy of Ron Keurajian’s authentic original, while only five people believed it was an entirely different item.  So far, no statement has been issued by Joe Orlando or Steve Grad to PSA/DNA customers with slabbed cuts in their collections.  How will they ever know their cuts are legit considering this Cobb that got by their experts?  As long as the cuts slabbed, do they really care?

-Heritage’s sale of stolen artifacts continued with their offering of a rare Nap Lajoie Horner cabinet stolen from the National Baseball Library.  After we reported it for Deadspin, the auction house removed the item from the sale, but will it  really make its way back to Cooperstown?  Still no comment from the Hall.

-Heritage is also offering another item believed to be stolen from the New York Public Library, a signed Harry Wright telegram.  At least its really signed by Wright unlike another telegram authenticated by JSA last year that was signed by a telegraph operator.

-Heritage’s auction preview featured many items that didn’t make it into their Spring sale, including the forged-mint Ty Cobb single signed ball we also wrote about for Deadspin.  Another Cobb ball, in beat-up condition and appearing to be the work of the same forger, also vanished from the sale.  We wonder how many other items came from the consignor of both of those balls.

-eBay’s removal of the JSA-certed $80,000 Walter Johnson ball from eBay a few weeks ago, was followed by the fraud division’s withdrawal of a $29,999 Goose Goslin single signed ball also due to “authenticity issues.”  Spence has a checkered history authenticating signatures alleged to have been signed by Goose, especially yellow Hall of Fame plaques as reported last year on Autograph Alert.

eBay removed this Drew Max certed Sam Crawford ball due to authenticity issues.

- Pawn Stars expert, Drew Max, also had several of his LOAd items removed from eBay by the fraud team for additional authenticity issues.  Single signed balls alleged to be signed by Rogers Hornsby, Wahoo Sam Crawford and Babe Ruth vanished from the eBay website last week.  How long before Max joins the ranks of the so-called authenticators on eBay’s “Banned List”?

-eBay has also removed PSA-certed copies of Christy Mathewson’s “Won in the Ninth,” which are believed to feature secretarial signatures of the Hall of Famer.

-Controversy is brewing over the grading of some high-end T-206 baseball cards appearing in the Spring sales.  Allegations have been leveled stating that Goodwin and Co. is offering rare Eddie Plank and Sherry Magie cards that have been trimmed like the infamous Gretzky-McNall Honus Wagner card.  Grading company SGC says the cards have not been trimmed although, to date, there had never been a Plank with a Piedmont 150 back that had been given a number grade.

-Dan McKee has called for some additional provenance information from Goodwin, but it appears they are only willing to say that the card ”has not been in circulation for “at least” 30 years, safely tucked away in our consigner’s collection.”  The consignor is Houston businessman David Finkelstein.

-Dan McKee told us, “This is comical, do you really think SGC really believes the Plank isn’t hacked?  SGC should have just graded it and been done with it like they do any other card.  Issuing a special letter trying to defend grading it just makes it look like something strange is going on.”

Could T206s like this Eddie Plank have been trimmed down for grading purposes? Where's this Plank today?

-Hauls of Shame has compiled images of over 70 existing T206 Plank cards including several that have not appeared in public as graded examples by either SGC or PSA.  It appears there were some oversized “Jumbo Planks” documented in the past few decades and sources indicate that some of these examples could have been trimmed down to mimic a factory cut unlike the existing Piedmont 150 Planks that have been hand cut from sheets.

-Dan McKee adds, “If a card is over-sized on all four sides and a professional printing company cuts all four down, then it will slab, guaranteed.”

Wagner owners think this Honus in REA was graded improperly/

-T206 Wagner owners have told us they feel that the Wagner being offered by REA has been overgraded.  One owner of a high-grade Wagner told us, “The card clearly should have been given a MK designation.  I would not want to own this card at any level with the stamp on the back and ink smudge on the front.  The tie in to the 1910 World Series is a poor attempt to gloss over  the fact the card has been defaced.”

-Dan McKee agrees that the Wagner card deserves an “MK qualifier.”

-A Mathewson single signed ball appeared on the Heritage auction preview for a month or so, but never made it into the auction. Wonder why?  It looks exactly like several others previously authenticated by the TPAs.  Did it get shot down?

This alleged single signed Mathewson ball appeared on the Heritage preview but never made its way into its Spring sale.

-Speaking of Mathewson single-signed balls, an offering in REAs spring sale, LOT 787: Historically Significant Christy Mathewson Single Signed Ball – Signed by Mathewson on the Day of his 1921 Testimonial at the Polo Grounds, has several problems including this one revealed in the lot description REA wrote:  “The date on the ball certainly suggests that possibility. In addition, the fact that the game was held as a fundraiser, with the knowledge that signed balls were to be sold that day, probably means that Mathewson was discouraged from autographing baseballs for fans that afternoon. Of course, this could also be one of a few special balls Mathewson signed for his close friends or old teammates who came out to honor him on his special day. Obviously, we will never know for sure, but the one thing that does appear certain is that this ball was signed by Mathewson on one of the most memorable and emotional days of his life.”

That’s quite a description of the Mathewson testimonial event at the Polo Grounds in 1921.  There’s just one big problem:  The New York Times reported that Mathewson never attended the event and was confined to a sick bed at his home in Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks.  Matty sent a message to his friends “through the committee in charge of the testimonial.”  The ball comes with a JSA LOA.

Look out for our upcoming reports on Mathewson autographed baseballs.

Experts question the authenticity of this Ruth ball offered by Hunt.

-Babe Ruth balls have also flooded the Spring sales and suspect specimens abound.  We’ve been inundated with inquiries questioning the authenticity of the Ruth ball gracing the back cover of the Hunt Auctions spring catalog.  Lots of head scratching on this one authenticated by JSA.  The signature exhibits stoppages, uneven flow and the appearance of possible enhancement of a signature beneath the jet black india ink that is now visible.  The current bid on the ball is $19,965.

This JSA certed ball features an enhanced and gone-over signature of John McGraw.

-REAs current auction features an enhanced and gone over ball advertised as the genuine article with an LOA from JSA.  The ball features gone-over signatures of John McGraw, Miller Huggins and Pat Moran. Evidence of the tracing is clearly apparent with the side panel featuring an unaltered Babe Ruth autograph that JSA calls a “classic clubhouse signature” of the Bambino.

The signature JSA calls a "classic clubhouse" of Babe Ruth is unaltered, unlike the others on the ball being sold by REA.

Be on the lookout for additional reports about problematic items in the Spring auctions of 2012.