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By Peter J. Nash

June 22, 2012

Bill Mastro and the controversial Honus Wagner card he sold in 1991.

The infamous T-206 Honus Wagner card rests comfortably in a display case at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, on loan courtesy of Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick. It became the world’s most expensive baseball card when Kendrick purchased the PSA-graded cardboard in a 2008 private sale for $2.8 million. It’s a loaded question to ask if it’s also the most valuable card in the world, because most experts, veteran collectors and one major newspaper consider it the hobby’s greatest fraud believing it was trimmed to enhance its condition. The “holy-grail” of baseball cards is said to be a product of deception much like MLB ballplayers and their statistics in the steroid-era. The game and the hobby that lives off it run parallel with players injecting PEDs for an edge while collectors and dealers trim cards, forge autographs and alter fabrics on uniforms for quick paydays.

Now that Kendrick’s Wagner is on display at the Hall it’s in close proximity to another relic that is a legendary product of deception and the original anchor artifact in the Cooperstown collection- the “Doubleday Baseball.”

It was that tattered little ball, allegedly purchased for $5 bucks by Singer Sewing Machine heir, Stephen C. Clark, that was subsequently bequeathed to the newly founded Baseball Hall of Fame in 1935.  With that original donation, Clark, a philanthropist and owner of one of the world’s most prolific art collections, created one of baseball’s first collected and revered relics.  Some may argue that with his donation, the seeds for the future baseball memorabilia craze were planted near the site of Elihu Phinney’s storied Cooperstown cow pasture that baseball magnate Albert G. Spalding schemed to make famous. That was the mythical field Abner Doubleday and Abner Graves never played or tossed that ball upon.

It’s fitting that both of these alleged fraudulent artifacts are now under the same Cooperstown roof as they both play an important role in telling the story of baseball’s long-standing ties to deceit and avarice and the rise of the unregulated, billion-dollar baseball memorabilia industry.  The story of the T-206 Honus Wagner card, now a possession of  an MLB owner, has also played a part in the fall from grace of the hobby’s once most powerful figure and past owner of Kendrick’s controversial card, Bill Mastro.

The controversial PSA-8 Wagner sits in a display case at the HOF (left). The "Doubleday Ball" was the Hall's first donated artifact.

In 2007, the New York Daily News’ sports editor, Teri Thompson, and one of her reporters, Michael O’Keeffe, devoted an entire book to the subject of Kendrick’s T-206 Honus Wagner and the men involved in its journey through the sports marketplace.  Their book, The Card: Collectors, Con Men and the True Story of History’s Most Desired Baseball Card, was alleged to tell the “true story” of the card and the complex cast of characters who had handled it over the course of the last century.  In marketing their “true story” they took advantage of a real-life feud between the two men who had originally discovered the near-mint card in 1985 at a baseball card shop located a few miles off exit 23 on the Long Island Expressway.

Rob Lifson and Bill Mastro established themselves in the baseball card business as youngsters in the 1970s and decades after selling the infamous Wagner for over $100,000, joined forces to form the sports auction behemoth known as MastroNet.  But by 2004, the two former friends were arch-enemies and the New York Daily News would play a key role in doing the bidding of Rob Lifson who sources allege turned FBI informant against his old pal supposedly turning over evidence allegedly implicating Mastro in schemes related to shill bidding and other fraud.  In their book, The Card, reporters O’Keeffe and Thompson utilized Lifson as their “unfailingly generous” source and painted a picture of him as a “White Knight” who was “fighting against the evils that lurk within the hobby.”  Conversely, when O’Keeffe had attempted to interview Mastro in 2001 to question him about his involvement in altering the famous Wagner card he was cursed out and ejected from Mastro’s Chicago offices.

The Card was written by Teri Thompson and Michael O'Keeffe and devoted an entire chapter to Rob Lifson as the "White Knight" of the hobby, while villifying Bill Mastro.

From 2006 through 2010, O’Keeffe and Thompson in their book and on the pages of the New York Daily News waged a war (in over twenty published articles) against Mastro at the behest of their source and FBI informant, Rob Lifson, who was Mastro’s then-fiercest competitor in the auction arena.  Thompson, O’Keeffe and their newspaper appear to have abandoned their journalistic integrity by telling only part of the story that benefited their source and the promotion of their own book published by Harper’s.  This 10-part series will reveal the true story behind their biased reporting, the genesis of the Lifson-Mastro feud and the FBI investigation that ensued.

My own investigation of MastroNet started over a decade ago when I first started doing business with the company, but intensified in April of 2002 when a collector named Paul Reiferson asked me to aid him in his plans to start a class-action lawsuit against Mastro alleging shill-bidding and other wrongdoing.  Reiferson, of Weston, CT, is a hedge fund manager at Americus Capital Advisors and a collector of original Charles Conlon photographs (and also the former owner of the infamous 1908 Merkle-Boner ball) who believed items he had bid on in past sales were bid-up by Bill Mastro and in some cases claimed that Mastro actually was the winning bidder on rare Conlon photos that he actively bid on.  Reiferson knew that I had also been conducting my own investigation into Rob Lifson and his then-alleged thefts from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection.  I had already sent Reiferson solid proof that an 1872 Warren cabinet photo of Harry Wright that sold in MastroNet’s November, 2000, auction was stolen from the NYPL (that same auction included several other items stolen from the NYPL)  Reiferson had interest in the NYPL thefts but he really wanted me to see if Lifson would open up or admit having knowledge of fraud committed by Bill Mastro.

Hedge fund manager Paul Reiferson was one of the first collectors to actively claim Bill Mastro engaged in shill-bidding. Above Reiferson appears in a photo for a collector profile in GQ Mgazine in 2000.

So, in fulfilling Reiferson’s request, I soon after asked Lifson rather awkwardly about the bad blood between Reiferson and Mastro and even informed him that Reiferson had plans to bring a class-action lawsuit against his company.  (In 2000, Lifson’s company, Robert Edward Auctions, joined forces with Mastro under the umbrella of the new auction giant MastroNet Inc.  Lifson was a Director of the company).  I also told Lifson that Reiferson alleged that Bill Mastro had access to a special computer program in the MastroNet system that sent bids of customers directly to him so that he could shill them or, in other words, bid them up.

Lifson responded, “He is out of his mind.  He is disturbed and he can do anything he wants, he can accuse us (MastroNet) of murder if he wants, it’s stupid.  He’s sitting there realizing he’s not the kind of guy that can admit that he’s wrong, and he’s gotta like grasp onto this stupid idea that we’re not an auction house, we’re criminals and that we cheat people and its stupid.”

I told Lifson that Reiferson said the suit would be for $44 million and would seek treble damages.  Lifson again responded contentiously, “You know what, I can assure you the first chance if he were to ever sue us, God help him if there’s an opportunity for a counter-suit, because we don’t lose.”  Lifson added, “He (Reiferson) obviously has emotional problems.”  I disagreed with him and he retorted, “I can assure you that we run the cleanest auction on the face of the earth, nobody does what we do, you know, and I don’t even know why he’s got this thing with Bill, but you know I’m sitting here thinking, you know what,  I might have more fun if he did sue us.  You know,  cause we’ll figure out, it won’t be very hard to figure out some way to have it, turn it around and cost him a fortune, you know, it’s not gonna cost us anything.  I think he needs a psychiatrist, you know, that’s what I think.  I don’t say that flippantly, I mean, I mean literally.”

This August, 2000 ad in SCD announced that Rob Lifson and REA were joining the MastroNet empire. (Inset, Rob Lifson and his MastroNet Business Card.)

I then told Lifson that Reiferson said he had a lawyer who had worked other big cases and also said Mastro was selling stolen property.  Lifson responded even more vehemently (and sarcastically), “That’s what we do, we sell stolen property because we like to.  We sell stolen property because that’s what we do, ya know.  No one wants to give us the un-stolen property we have to sell the stolen property.  You know, it’s just stupid.”  When I told Lifson it appeared he was moving forward with his proposed litigation he responded, ” He (Reiferson) is moving forward with his head so far up his ass that its gonna pop out his mouth again- that’s what he’s moving forward with.  He’s an asshole.”

After I mentioned to Lifson that Reiferson was a Harvard business school graduate with connections and not your everyday low-level memorabilia collector, Lifson again responded, “We have thirty-five people who work for our company (MastroNet) and they’re all honest and they are all working to have a great auction and auction company.”  He then added, “If I hear this guy talking, you know, and I hear it from other places, not just you, but if I were to hear this from other places about these types of allegations and accusations, then I’m going to turn it over to our attorney and say hey, this guy is spreading rumors and they’re hurting our business. Then we’ll sue him.  But look, I think I mentioned this to you my record is, I’m undefeated. Because as nice a guy as I am, you know, when somebody is attacking me, I am the most incredible animal on the face of the earth, and that’s why I live in a mansion and could retire many, many, many times over and I will win and others will lose when the  chips are down, and that’s not going to change.  I’m better now than ever and it’s nice to hold a good hand because we haven’t done anything.” Click here for: (Lifson Nash Audio April 2002)

It was the type of provocative exchange that revealed quite a bit about the MastroNet empire and the close relationship that Lifson and Mastro had as late as April of 2002.  (In  March of 2001, O’Keeffe and Bill Madden of the Daily News had already written an article suggesting that Mastro had trimmed or altered the Wagner card.)   It was the type of revelation that you’d expect seasoned investigative reporters like Michael O’Keeffe and Teri Thompson of the New York Daily News to uncover in their quest for the truth about Mastro, Lifson and “The Card.”  You’d think that the award winning editor and reporter of the Daily News I-Team who were experienced covering the likes of Bonds, Clemens and Sandusky would have mentioned Lifson’s standing as an officer of MastroNet; his rather strong defense of his old pal Bill Mastro; and his defiant statements that both he and Mastro were not criminals engaging in shill bidding and fraud.

Maybe they knew it all along and it just didn’t fit into their game-plan. Maybe it wouldn’t have pleased their master to report the truth. They may have thought having a real villain pitted against a “white knight” would help sell more books.  O’Keeffe and Thompson wrote in The Card that Lifson “split with Mastro in late 2002″ and that he “got a modest sum for his 30 percent interest in the company but he felt like he’d won the lottery, or at least walked out of a fog with a clear path ahead.”

The Daily News writers failed to mention that Lifson was said to have been ousted by Mastro for poor performance in his position as a director of the company.  Sources familiar with Lifson’s exit say Bill Mastro didn’t think his long-time friend was pulling his weight at MastroNet.

In a very short time the divide between the two old friends would deepen.  As Mastro told Dave Jamieson in his 2010 book Mint Condition, “Lifson and I were best friends at one point and we hate each other now.”

(Watch for our next installment, Part 2, in this 10-Part Investigative Series-Coming Soon.)

UPDATE: Mastro Indicted on Fraud Charges Related to Famous Gretzky-McNall Wagner: click here for news release.

By Peter J. Nash

June 18, 2012

This ball was sold in an auction held at New York's Polo Grounds in 1921. The proceeds were contributed to a medical fund to help Christy Mathewson.

Recently we published a story illustrating several forgeries of Christy Mathewson’s signature on baseballs that have sold at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Each of the bogus signed Matty balls were authenticated by either PSA/DNA or JSA (James Spence Authentication).

The  Mathewson authentication controversy continued with a ball that was recently sold at SCP Auctions by ex- Major League pitcher David Wells. That Matty single-signed ball was submitted to PSA and failed after the company rendered it “Not Authentic.”  JSA, however, thought differently and issued the ball a “full letter of authenticity.” Despite the conflicting opinions, the ball sold for close to $25,000.

Yet another alleged Mathewson ball was sold by Robert Edward Auctions last month for $37,500. The auction house called it a, “Historically Significant Christy Mathewson Single-Signed Ball – Signed by Mathewson on the Day of his 1921 Testimonial at the Polo Grounds.” The auction catalog cited a passage from a 1977 book written by sportswriter Fred Lieb, who served as the auctioneer of signed baseballs at a game played between New York Giant Old-Timers and the then-current Giant ball-club. Lieb recalled:

“During the intermission between games we auctioned off three dozen balls signed by Mathewson and all of the 1921 New York Giants. Harry M. Stevens put some of his most eloquent peanut, hog dog, and scorecard salesman to work drumming up bids throughout the stands. The prize baseball was autographed by Mathewson, President Harding, Vice-President Coolidge, Governor Miller, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, George M. Cohan, Richard Mansfield, and several other actors, athletes, and politicians. It was the most autographed ball I ever saw and I auctioned it off myself from the concrete roof of the Braves’ Dugout. It finally went for $450 to a persistent man I did not know.”

The ball being sold by REA also had the date of the Mathewson benefit game written on one of the ball’s side panels. So, the auction house assumed that the ball was signed that same day by Mathewson. They 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.”

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.

But as we detailed in our prior article, Mathewson did not attend the Polo Grounds that day in 1921, as he was convalescing at his residence on Saranac Lake, New York, in the Adirondack Mountains. The New York Times on October 1, 1921, reported that in his absence, Mathewson sent a message to his old teammates who appeared to aid their old friend who was suffering from respiratory problems brought on by his service in the Chemical Warfare Division of the US Army in WW I.

Despite, learning of our discovery, the auctioneer saw fit not to change his auction lot title and only added this:

(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 sold at the game were obviously actually signed in advance of the game.)

REA first said the ball was signed on that day in 1921 and then they changed their stance to say, with certainty, that the ball was “signed in advance.”  How could they know?

Hans Lobert auctions off a ball featuring the signatures of Mathewson and president Harding. The balls sold that day (and the prices realized) were mentioned in the New York Times the next day.

Upon reading our report on the Matty balls, one of our readers shared with us some original photographs taken at the Polo Grounds on the day of the Mathewson benefit game in 1921.  The first image was a photo taken by Paul Thompson of ex-Giant Hans Lobert auctioning off (via megaphone) a ball allegedly signed by Mathewson and President Warren Harding. (The same ball Fred Lieb recalled in his 1977 memoir.)

This wire photo taken by Paul Thompson shows Truly Warner being presented with the signed baseball he paid $750 for.

The Times detailed that the prize treasure of the event auctioned by Lobert and Lieb was the ball signed by Matty, President Harding, Vice-President Coolidge, Babe Ruth and George Kelly.  The autographed ball was reportedly sold for $750 to a man named Truly Warner.

This Paul Thompson photograph shows the signatures of President Harding and Christy Mathewson on the ball that sold for $750.

Photographer Paul Thompson also captured a close up shot of the baseball itself and the side panel featuring the alleged signatures of Mathewson and the President.  It’s not very often that an artifact like this one is documented by a photograph confirming its existence at the time it was originally acquired.  In the world of collecting autographed baseballs its unheard of and quite remarkable.  The photographic evidence provided by the Paul Thompson photograph supports Fred Lieb’s recollections in 1977 and the New York Times’ report in 1921.

Where did this ball end up?  Did Truly Warner keep the ball and pass it along to his own family?

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

Robert Edward Auctions claimed their ball was signed by Matty on that day even though the evidence shows their statement was false.  Although they made this false claim they still added:

“What is not entirely clear is whether or not all of the balls auctioned off that day were signed by Mathewson AND the 1921 New York Giants. Is it possible that there were a number of Mathewson single-signed balls and 1921 New York Giants team-signed balls included in the sale as well? If so, could the offered ball have been one of the balls sold at the park that day to raise money for Mathewson?”

Additionally, another important question can be posed:   “Did Christy Mathewson and President Harding actually sign the one visually documented baseball auctioned off that day in 1921?

(Watch for Part 2 of  ”The Mystery of the Mathewson Signed Baseballs” -Coming Soon)

By Peter J. Nash

June 13, 2012

PSA allegedly confirms the Cobb cut is a laser-copied fake and have taken possession of the item.

After our last report was published regarding PSA/DNA’s authentication of a Mrs. Ty Cobb signature as a genuine autograph of her husband, eBay seller “khw” informed us that the Cobb cuts he offered on eBay originated from an advertised genuine “thrice signed” Cobb check he purchased in a recent Legendary auction. The check was incorrectly authenticated as having three genuine Cobb signatures when there were actually only two. PSA previously authenticated the same check correctly (stating the third signature was not in Cobb’s hand) when it was sold at R&R Auctions in 2006 and PSA even had a third crack at authenticating the three signatures when “khw” submitted them for authentication after he cut up his Legendary winnings. According to “khw,” PSA has confirmed that they authenticated that third signature in error and are working out a reimbursement for the eBay seller and PSA cut submitter.

In addition to revealing this new information regarding his own Cobb item, “khw” also claims that PSA has admitted to incorrectly authenticating a laser-copied Ty Cobb cut forgery that was the focus of a previous Hauls of Shame report.

The eBay seller posted this revelation in the comments section of our last report: “Ok well if anybody wants to know the truth on the “laser” printed Cobb this is it. It was returned to PSA/DNA and no it was not labeled a high quality hand-signed master forgery. It appears to be a high quality laser-printed signature, so the seller told some truth , he is not getting it back to burn and they kept it to use as a example to study and watch for any other like it.”

He also commented on the provenance story of the other PSA laser-copy submitter, Donavon Arabie, stating, “So the story of finding by chance in a pile of goudeys seems suspect.  More than likely he was duped when buying it uncerted, and this was the tale,  because it didn’t appear he had submitted others.”

This is the authentic signed Cobb postcard owned by Cobb expert Ron Keurajian. The signature on the card was copied and used to create the PSA authenticated forgery on eBay.

PSA has refused to comment on the situation.  Cut signatures of Hall of Famers are the most dangerous for collectors to purchase and for decades astute collectors have avoided them.  But as PSA introduced their cut-signature holder products and in-house authentication of those signatures the cut-signature market has picked up as collectors gained new confidence in this form of autograph.  PSA President Joe Orlando said as much on the PSA website in story entitled “The Hobby of Holders” where he endorsed the company’s product:   “The holder creates more liquidity, it makes the collectible easier to sell via the Internet, it helps protect the collectible and provide better presentation. The label makes an impact as well because it contains all the pertinent information. It also takes much of the guesswork out of the equation. The collectible is summarized, concisely, identifying exactly what it is, noting the certification number and, if applicable, the grade.”

How could the owner of this PSA-slabbed Ruth cut be sure his autograph is not a laser-copied forgery like the Ty Cobb?

However,  it appears that with the revelation and confirmation of just one authenticated forgery of a laser-copied Cobb cut, there is now considerable “guesswork” that has come into play.  Because the cut signatures PSA encapsulates are entombed in air tight plastic holders, owners of PSA graded cuts can not be sure whether they own laser-copied forgeries too.  This is an additional dilemma for PSA, which has already had many problems with their certifications of handwritten forgeries and secretarial signatures of greats like Cobb and Babe Ruth.

While collectors are worried about laser copied forgeries of authentic signature exemplars, PSA also has a problem with authentications of handwrutten forgeries. Experts we spoke with are of the opinion this Ruth cut is a forgery.

The problems both PSA and JSA have had with cut signatures are a hot topic among collectors and dealers.  One prominent collector pointed out another PSA slabbed cut that he suspects is a laser-printed forgery, a $5,500 Cum Posey autograph currently being offered on eBay.

This alleged Posey signature is being offered on eBay for $5,500. One collector thinks it could be a laser-copied forgery.

The collector, who asked not to be named, told us, “There’s just something very weird about this one.  There are many school diplomas signed by Posey that have come on the market, but all of the Posey signatures are next to or under other signatures of school directors or officials.  I can’t see how this slabbed PSA item could just have a signature line for Posey as a director and no other signatures around it.  The typeset of the “Director” line looks like its the same as the diplomas. This is just really strange.”  The suspicion is that a Posey signature could have been laser-copied from another authentic diploma and printed on an old sheet of paper, like the eBay offering that was slabbed by PSA (and the Cobb cut as well).  The eBay offering of the Negro- League pioneer’s autograph does not appear to have originated from a document that was not a diploma.

This Posey signature on a diploma is signed on a line designating him as a school director in graphics that appear identical to the PSA slabbed signature.

The Cobb controversy and this new suspected Posey situation illustrate how big a problem PSA could have if customers were to demand that the authentication giant take a second look at their slabbed cuts.  Already skeptical collectors are now even more skittish about the slabbed cuts certed by PSA and JSA.  Contrary to what PSA President Joe Orlando has said in the past, the “guesswork” has not been taken out of the equation when it comes to PSA cut signature products.

UPDATE: 8:18 PM- eBay has removed the Cum Posey cut signature that was authenticated by PSA/DNA. A reader has also informed us that, “The psa registry doesn’t show it (the Posey holder) and all numbers from 83167186 to 83167225 don’t show up, about 40 items.”

By Peter J. Nash

June 1, 2012

PSA/DNA authenticated this Ty Cobb signature as genuine after someone cut up an authentic Ty Cobb check. The signature was written by Cobb's wife.

Any authentication company specializing in baseball autographs and charging a fee for its services should know Ty Cobb’s signature like the back of its own hand. The Georgia Peach’s scrawl is quite distinctive and authentic exemplars from every stage of his life are abundant for the experts to study.  Cobb autographed items regularly flood the big auction house catalogs and eBay stores as highly marketable commodities.

That being said, we’ve recently seen big authentication companies like PSA/DNA and JSA (James Spence Authentication) make critical errors in authenticating forged Ty Cobb signatures as genuine. One was a bogus signature signed on a baseball manufactured almost fifteen years after Cobb’s death (reported on Deadspin) and another was a suspected laser-copied forgery of a genuine Cobb autograph that PSA/DNA certed and encapsulated in one of its cut signature holders. The item was removed from eBay by its fraud division after being listed for sale for almost $2,000.  No one knows for sure what has since happened to the item and it still appears in the PSA database as genuine.

Now, it appears PSA has made an even more egregious error in relation to another Cobb item; they have certified and slabbed as authentic, a cut signature that was actually signed by Ty Cobb’s wife.

EBay seller, “khw,” a top rated seller with a 100% positive feedback rating, listed the cut along with two others paired with Perez-Steele cards of  Cobb.  The three cuts appear to have been submitted together and have PSA registry numbers in succession.  Two of the cuts were authentic, but the third was signed by Mrs. Cobb.  The “Tyrus R. Cobb” that PSA authenticated in no way resembles an authentic signature of the baseball legend.  In particular, the letter “T” in “Tyrus” is executed in a formation that does not resemble any authentic Cobb signature.  That fact alone should have tipped PSA off.  Further research should have revealed other specimens of Mrs. Cobb’s handwriting that would have confirmed for PSA that the alleged signature was not signed by Cobb.  One would think that an operation like PSA, a subsidiary of public company Collectors Universe (CLCT-NASDAQ), would have exemplars of Mrs. Cobb’s handwriting at their disposal?

The seller (or another party) appears to have taken an authentic check signed and endorsed on the back by Cobb, himself, and then sliced up the check in order to have “cut signatures” encapsulated by PSA along with the Perez-Steele cards.  Checks have long been considered the safest medium for collectors to acquire a genuine signature of a Baseball Hall of Famer, and even trading card companies have cut up authentic checks to create special cards for contemporary issues.

This authentic Cobb check was cut up and submitted to PSA for authentication and encapsulation. The check was originally sold at R&R Auctions.

The check allegedly used to create these cuts was sold by R&R Auctions in 2006 for $1,582.70, but it only featured two signatures of Cobb along with Cobb’s name written as the payee on the front of the check.  As was their practice at times, Mrs. Cobb wrote out the checks and then had her husband sign them.  In this case he also endorsed the check on the back when he cashed it.  R&R correctly sold the item as having only two Cobb signatures:

“Check, 6 x 2.75, filled out in another hand and signed by Cobb, “Tyrus R. Cobb, Pres,” adding “United Apt. Co. Aug. Ga.,” payable to Tyrus R. Cobb for $943.13, December 30, 1947. Check is also endorsed on the reverse in green fountain pen, “Tyrus R. Cobb.” In fine condition, with expected cancellation stamps and holes, mild showthrough from stamps on reverse and front signature a bit cramped. COA Steve Grad/PSA/DNA and R&R COA.”

When the check was authenticated by PSA and Steve Grad in 2006, they recognized the check itself was written out in a different hand.  However, when the three cut signature items were recently encapsulated, PSA certified the handwriting of Mrs. Cobb as a genuine Ty Cobb.  PSA had to have examined all three cuts at the same time and still failed to recognize that the third signature was not Cobb.  All of this, with PSA having originally certified the item correctly for R&R in 2006.  The eBay seller with the user name “khw” appears to be one of PSA’s big customers.  The registry numbers on his three Cobb items do not currently appear in the PSA database.

The three alleged Cobb cuts were removed from an authentic check and authenticated by PSA/DNA. They were submitted at the same time as evidenced by their successive PSA registry numbers.

The source who gave the tip to in regard to the Mrs. Cobb signature first reported his concern that all three of the cut signatures slabbed by PSA, along with the Perez-Steele cards, may be laser- printed forgeries.  He suspected they were like the other example removed from eBay a few months ago.  However, upon closer examination it appears it is more likely the cuts are actually from a check and not laser copies.  Of course, in both situations, one could only be certain if the questioned documents are removed from their plastic tombs.

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

The alleged Cobb autograph removed from ebay last month appears to have been created from an authentic signed post card owned by Cobb expert Ron Keurajian.  Experts believe the forgery was created via laser printer, but the eBay seller and original PSA submitter, Donavon Arabie, claims that he sent the item back to PSA and was told the Cobb was the creation of a master forger using a pen.  He also threatened to destroy the cut by burning it.

When first exposed the PSA Cobb cut as a forgery, the eBay seller responded:

As the owner & seller of this cut, I am currently seeking an explanation from ebay. I personally sent the signature in to PSA/DNA for grading & no, it is not laser printed as the author of this article has insinuated. The cut is written in clear green ink & the paper it is written on is clearly antique paper. Ebay & I are currently in a debate over the issue as we speak, and I expect full apologies from those involved in the misrepresentation of it’s authenticity. Considering that this cut was found with an array of 1930’s & early 1940’s original Goudey cards, I have little doubt that PSA/DNA missed this one. Ebay & the author of this article, however, should have done a little more digging before passing judgement.

Donavon Arabie

Hobby veteran Richard Simon has called out Arabie on collector forum Net54, asking him not to destroy an item that, if examined in person, could shed some light on how to properly expose these types of forgeries and also help ascertain how often laser-copied forgeries are certified as authentic by PSA.  Arabie, however, has vanished from the memorabilia scene and has not responded to inquiries.  Simon and another collector, Travis Roste, have been vocal in challenging Arabie and both doubt that he ever sent the slabbed cut back to PSA/DNA.  Arabie did not respond to our request for confirmation that he sent the Cobb cut back to PSA.

In regard to the Cobb controversy, Simon told us, “Seems like when a Cobb signature has to be authenticated, considering the entombed one of a prior story, care goes out the window.”

The eBay fraud division removed the latest “Mrs. Cobb” cut last week after it was being offered by seller “kwh” for $1,175.  It appears eBay has also removed the other two cuts paired with Perez Steele cards.  Sources indicate that there are still lingering questions as to whether those two cuts were authentic or laser-copied forgeries.   We asked PSA/DNA CEO, Joe Orlando, for an explanation as to how Mrs. Cobb’s handwriting was certified as an authentic Ty Cobb autograph and also for PSA’s explanation of how the company certified the alleged laser-printed Cobb forgery that was removed by ebay’s fraud division last month?  We also asked Orlando if he could confirm that Donavon Arabie had sent his PSA-slabbed Cobb cut back to the company for examination?  Orlando did not respond to any of our inquiries.

Considering the likelihood that his experts have already slabbed a laser-copied Cobb forgery, Orlando has to have some doubts about the thousands of other cuts PSA has certed. PSA customers, dealers and collectors we spoke with are understandably concerned.

Richard Simon told us, “Are we to believe this is the one and only time this forger has tried this?”