Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash
October 23, 2012

Halper cuts the ribbon to the HOFs now defunct Halper Gallery just before he sold artifacts stolen from the NYPL and HOF at Sotheby's in 1999.

After offering an 1879 baseball contract stolen from NYPLs famous Spalding Collection earlier this year, Heritage Auction Galleries, of Dallas, Texas, was selling yet another stolen item from the library’s flagship Fifth Avenue branch, which was part of the 1970s heist said to be orchestrated by the deceased super-collector and New York Yankees general partner, Barry Halper. But last Friday, after being notified by that the item was stolen, Heritage removed the artifact from its sale scheduled for this week. The rare item was a complimentary season pass issued by the New York Giants in 1894 to Baseball Hall of Famer and pioneering baseball scribe, Henry Chadwick. Heritage estimated that the pass would have sold for close to $2,000.

The 19th-century season pass that appeared in the sale online and in a catalog as lot 81345 was originally pasted into one of Chadwick’s personal scrapbooks that were gifted to Albert G. Spalding and subsequently donated to the NYPL by the magnate’s widow in 1921. The library still retains the entire Chadwick scrapbook, however, the pass was cut from a scrapbook page when it was stolen sometime before 1983 when SABR and historian John Thorn organized and funded the microfilming of the manuscript and scrapbook holdings of the Spalding Collection.

The complimentary pass was previously sold in 1999 along with another Chadwick pass issued by Yale University as lot 152 in Sotheby’s sale of the Barry Halper Collection. The lot description in the catalog read:

This group of three items is comprised of: a blue 1894 “Yale University Nine” season pass in the name of Henry Chadwick; a fold-over 1894 New York Giants season press pass for Henry Chadwick, which includes the team’s home schedule; and Chadwick’s Base Ball Manual from 1889, complete with with a beautiful color cover of a game in progress.
Both passes have scrapbook residue and paper loss on their reverse, but are in good condition overall; the manual is in very good condition.

This 1894 NY Giant pass issued to Henry Chadwick was stolen from the NYPL's Spalding Collection and was also being offered for sale by Heritage Auction Galleries.

Heritage did not denote any evidence of scrapbook removal in its lot description of the pass issued to the “Father of Baseball” and signed by NY Giant executive Edward Talcott in 1894 when the Giants won the Temple Cup. Chadwick’s scrapbook, designated “Scrapbook No. 3 1891-1900,” is now housed in the library’s Manuscript Division and shows evidence of vandalism and the theft of the pass which was cut from its scrapbook page with a sharp object.

This Chadwick scrapbook page originally housed the offered 1894 season pass being offered by Heritage. The page also denotes the section that Chadwick's chronicling of the 1894 and 1895 seasons intersected (Manuscript Division, New York Public Library)

It is likely the other pass issued by Yale, also sold by Halper in 1999, was located on another scrapbook page that also shows signs of vandalism and theft. If both passes were matched to the exact pages illustrated by, they would fit perfectly on the pages they were wrongfully removed from.

This vandalized scrapbook page from Chadwick's c1891-1900 volume likely housed the Yale season pass also sold by Halper in 1999 at Sotheby's.(Manuscript Division, New York Public Library)

The offering of the 19th century passes is just further proof illustrating the scope of the original thefts in the 1970s, which saw well over $1 million in baseball artifacts wrongfully removed from the institution. The fact that more stolen items are traced back to the Halper Collection is no surprise to investigators who in the course of a nearly four year probe of the thefts have said privately “all roads seem to lead to Halper.”

Heritage had access to’sHalper Hot 100” list published in 2010. The 1894 pass issued to Chadwick appears on that list as stolen item number 72.

When we notified Heritage’s Director of Sports Auctions, Chris Ivy, that he was selling another stolen item, he asked us for a contact at the NYPL he could discuss the item with.  We referred him to the FBI and Ivy declined to answer any of our other questions. Ivy also declined to say whether his consignor Seth Swirsky had returned the stolen 1879 Sutton contract to the FBI or NYPL.

NYPL spokesperson, Angela Montefinise, was unable to issue a statement due to the on-going FBI investigation into the Spalding thefts.   She said that NYPL would leave this matter “in the hands of the authorities.”

The current FBI probe into the thefts commenced officially in July of 2009 when documents stolen from the library’s Harry Wright Correspondence scrapbooks appeared in the MLB/Hunt auction at the 2009 All Star Game. Over fifty stolen documents were offered in that sale, but currently three entire volumes of approximately 1,500 to 2,000 documents are still missing. Historian and author Dorothy Seymour Mills helped confirm many of the letters were, indeed, stolen, as she had documented the actual letters in the Hunt and Halper auctions in her footnotes and original research notes from the 1950s. Seymour-Mills co-authored Baseball: The Early Years with her late husband Dr. Harold Seymour and held many of these documents in her own hands while researching at NYPL in the 1950s.

Special Agent Jim Margolin from the New York City FBI press office said he would check for further details on the stolen relic, but was unable to respond before this article was published.

(Left) Lot 206 in the 1999 Sotheby’s Halper Auction was an 1875 letter written to Harry Wright by Morgan Bulkeley awarding the Boston BBC the championship pennant of 1875. The document is signed by Hall of Famers Wright and Bulkeley. (Right) Original research notes written by Dorothy Seymour Mills in the 1950’s that indicate Lot 206 in the Halper Auction was once part of the NYPL Wright Correspondence scrapbook Volume “1, p.21.” The research note, now housed at Cornell University, directly quotes portions of the letter that appeared in the Sotheby’s sale in 1999. (Courtesy Cornell University Rare and Manuscript Division)

Barry Halper sold several other stolen documents from the same missing scrapbooks in the 1999 Sotheby’s auction of his collection. Halper first claimed he owned Wright’s correspondence as early as 1977 in The Sporting News. His 1999 sale featured stolen documents written by Harry Wright, A. G. Mills, A. J. Reach, Jim Devlin and other 19th century baseball figures. He also sold an 1859 Challenge Letter that was stolen from NYPL’s Knickerbocker Correspondence Collection as well as stolen photographs of Wright, Chadwick and others.

After his death in 2005, Halper’s widow sold several other items stolen from the Spalding Collection including a CDV and a cabinet photo of 19th century sporting goods king Andrew Peck and others including Harry Wright and one that fit the description of a missing NYPL photo of Alexander Cartwright Jr. Those items were sold in 2007 by Robert Edward Auctions, the company headed by long-time Halper associate, Rob Lifson, who was also Halper’s hand picked consultant in charge of his sale at Sotheby’s in 1999. Lifson oversaw the entire auction including the lot descriptions of all items in the sale including the contraband artifacts.

Sources indicate that when they hired Lifson, Sotheby’s was unaware of the auctioneer’s personal history related to the Spalding Collection as he was apprehended for attempting to steal artifacts from the Fifth Avenue branch of the NYPL in 1979 when he was a student at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. At the time, Lifson was Halper’s major supplier of 19th century artifacts and a self proclaimed “card scholar” who was one of the leading dealers of baseball artifacts in the country. Lifson has made several conflicting confessions of his apprehension at the library stating that he tried to steal one rare CDV photo in one account and two rare photos in another. When Time Magazine covered the theft in 1979 they indicated that library security stated the man apprehended attempted to steal several cards in a “cache of smiling infielders” and had $5,500 in cash on his person at the time of the incident. Lifson recently said he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol when he was apprehended, however, Time reported in 1979 that the thief had secreted the rare cards from the collection by affixing a bubble gum box to his brief case to smuggle the cards out of the library.

An assortment of stolen and missing items from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection: (Clockwise from top left) Barry Halper c. 1984 with stolen 1879 Sutton contract hanging on his wall, Rob Lifson as he appeared in a National Geographic publication, “Kids Did It”, 1870 Forest City Base Ball Club CDV, Andrew Peck cabinet card, 1869 Forest City Base Ball Club CDV, 1873 Boston Red Stockings CDV, (Center) 1879 contract of Ezra Sutton.

Lifson oversaw and organized the 1999 Halper sale along with Marsha Malinowski, Sotheby’s head representative in its Books and Manuscripts division. Calls to Sotheby’s for comment to Malinowski about the auction house’s sale of the stolen items were redirected to the Sotheby’s press office as Malinowski is no longer with the company. We asked Sotheby’s spokesperson Emily Bergland if they had been approached by customers requesting refunds for stolen materials sold in the Halper auction and what the company’s position is in regard to its customer’s rights after purchasing contraband items. Bergland said she would inquire within the company but has not yet provided any information that could aid collectors currently in possession of NYPL property.

Contacted at her home in Naples, Florida, Dorothy Seymour Mills expressed her support for the FBI investigation she has aided and added, ” All these robberies of our historical treasures reflect badly not only on the NYPL for its lack of care but also on the character of our citizens, some of whom are without respect for history or an understanding of its importance. Their greed sickens me. I’m sad that the FBI has to become involved in recovery of items that are part of our national heritage.”
Stay tuned for our next report, another installment from our Operation Bambino series, focusing on another lot in Heritage’s current auction, a controversial alleged single-signed Babe Ruth ball with a current bid of $110,000.

By Peter J. Nash

October 15, 2012

Is this alleged Cobb signature real? PSA and John Reznikoff think so. But why is it signed on a Conlon photo of Hack Simmons?

Last summer pointed out that PSA had apparently authenticated a Ty Cobb autograph on what was purported to have been a photograph of  the “Georgia Peach”, but was actually a classic Charles Conlon image of Cobb’s teammate Hack Simmons in 1910.

How could Cobb have signed a Charles Conlon photo of another player?   He wouldn’t have.  The photograph was signed in the hand of someone other than Ty Cobb.

The signature resembles a host of other moderately skilled Cobb forgeries that have hit the market and are regularly authenticated by both PSA and JSA.  Both companies have previously made egregious errors on Cobb items ranging from laser-printed forgeries to fakes executed on items manufactured after Cobb’s death. Many collectors and dealers who have witnessed these monumental errors have questioned how the 3rd Party Authenticators can offer their services as experts for a fee if they can’t even recognize Cobb’s genuine handwriting against a myriad of forgeries.

Now, reader and boxing autograph expert, Travis Roste, has pointed out another Hack Simmons Conlon photo allegedly signed by Cobb that was sold at auction in 2010 for $4,500 and was authenticated by both PSA and James Spence Authentication (JSA). The photo, sold by Legendary Auctions, was described as “Graded Mint 9 by PSA/DNA” and noted in the lot description that it may have been “Cobb’s own idea to jump high” in the posed photograph.  The photograph is clearly not of Cobb and is correctly identified as Hack Simmons on The Conlon Collection website as photo #PR08010.

The Conlon Collection is owned by the and founder John Rogers was able share some additional information about signed Conlon photos with us.  Said Rogers, “Outside of the famous photo of Cobb sliding into third, I can’t recall seeing other signed Conlon photographs.  Conlon didn’t market his prints to players or collectors, just the news agencies.  It’s a real rarity to see one of his period prints signed by an actual player he photographed.”

These Cobb forgeries were executed on classic Conlon photos of Detroit Tiger Hack Simmons. The example at the left sold for $4,600 at Legendary in 2010 and the example at the right is currently being offered for sale by PSA and JSA authenticator John Reznikoff for $3,600.

Roste also informed us that despite the report last Summer pointing out the discrepancy over the Hack Simmons photo and the bogus Ty Cobb autograph, that same example is currently being offered for sale by PSA and JSA authenticator John Reznikoff on his University Archives website for $3,600.

This alleged signed Cobb ball certified as authentic by JSA and PSA bears a striking resemblance to the Cobb forgery executed on one of the "Hack" Simmons photographs.

This stunning example of shoddy research and authentication malpractice linked to alleged Cobb signatures joins others made on materials alleged to have been signed by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Christy Mathewson and virtually every other Baseball Hall of Famer.  Close inspection of other Cobb-certified items by PSA and JSA will likely uncover other forgeries executed in the same hands as the “Hack” Simmons photographs.  With just one Google search we were able to find at least one highly questionable signed Cobb ball sold by Heritage Auction Galleries in 2011 that bears a strong similarity to the Cobb signature on the 2010 Legendary offering.

This Cobb forgery sold at a Detroit-area auction is in the same class as the PSA & JSA "Hack" Simmons forgeries. The forged Cobb signature was placed on a ball manufactured after Cobb's death.

Cobb forgeries have infiltrated the market on a grand scale in the past several years and many have been certified genuine by the likes of authenticators Justin Priddy, Chris Morales and Drew Max. Those examples, for the most part, rarely make their way into the big-time auction house sales.   However, it appears that outfits like JSA and PSA have also authenticated highly questionable Cobb items ( like the “Hack” Simmons photos and many others) which have been legitimized in major auctions but are in the same class of Cobb fakes as one that sold recently at an auction in the Detroit area. That alleged Cobb-signed ball was misrepresented as having once been part of the Ernie Harwell collection. The Detroit News reported that the ball sold for $12,000 but it included a forged Cobb signature on a ball that was manufactured after Cobb’s death.  The ball itself also appears to be a forgery of an Official American League William Harridge ball.

Sources indicate that the FBI is aware of the serious problems with both JSA and PSA’s  track record of authenticating Cobb forgeries.  However, one other source, who was recently victimized purchasing over $10,000 in forgeries, told us that the FBI indicated they could not take their case because the dollar amount of the transaction was not substantial enough.

Recently the embattled President of PSA and PSA/DNA, Joe Orlando, took to the company website and his “Taking My Hacks” column to defend the auction houses his company services in what many in the industry consider an incestuous pairing.  Said Orlando, “We are all human. Experts make mistakes. Collectors make mistakes. So do auction houses. How they handle mistakes is what separates a good auction house from a bad one. The fact that they make mistakes just means they are imperfect like the rest of us. Please keep in mind that I am, in no way, coming to the defense of auction houses that ignore evidence that an item is problematic or ones that treat their customers poorly.”

(UPDATE) October 16: Our address was informed that there are several Ty Cobb signed baseballs in the current Heritage Auction Galleries Fall Auction that deserve a second look considering the evidence presented in regard to the JSA and PSA authentications of Cobb forgeries placed on photos of Hack Simmons:

1. Here’s a ball purported to have been signed by Cobb in 1927  with LOA from JSA:

2. Here’s one alleged to have been signed by Cobb in 1949 authenticated by both PSA and JSA:

3. This ball is said to have been signed in 1956 and was certified genuine by both PSA and JSA:

All three baseballs being offered by Heritage have been authenticated by either PSA or JSA, but none of the experts we consulted with would give an opinion stating that they were genuine. We’d like to hear what our readers think of this trio?

By Peter J. Nash
October 9, 2012

This alleged Mathewson autograph appears on a rare c.1903-07 NL Pulliam ball.

Despite the fact that JSA and James Spence have been exposed making stunning six-figure errors on alleged Christy Mathewson signed baseballs, the embattled authentication company has certified yet another Matty ball for Huggins & Scott Auctions. JSA has authenticated a ball purported to have been signed by the Hall of Fame pitcher on the day his Giants clinched the National League pennant on October 4, 1911. In our prior report, A History of Mathewson Authentications, we illustrated how Spence previously authenticated a forged Mathewson signature alleged to be from 1912, which was actually signed on a ball manufactured from 1923 to 1924. That scenario was an impossibility while the current offering by Huggins and Scott is more of an improbability.

Here’s how Huggins and Scott presents its JSA certified Mathewson ball:

1. The auction house claims the ball was from the “1911 Pennant clinching day.” Although they say that the ball “exhibits age-induced toning and shows definitive diamond use,” they do not allege specifically that the ball was actually used in the pennant clinching game. They do, however, claim that the ball was actually signed by Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson and John J. McGraw, stating, “In Mathewson’s hand, an inscription reads: “Oct. 4 1911,” which is the day Matty shutout the Brooklyn Nationals 2-0 to clinch the National League pennant.

2. Although the auction house doesn’t specifically identify it, they do allude to game use of the ball, which JSA claims in their LOA is an authentic National League Spalding baseball dating from “1902 to 1909″ and bearing the facsimile signature of NL president Harry Pulliam.

The ultra-rare and official Spalding ball from the 1903 to 1907 era bears the facsimile signature of NL President Harry Pulliam who committed suicide in 1909.

3. The ball is referred to as an heirloom, however, no provenance information whatsoever is offered by the auction house to prospective bidders. In their description, the auction house relies solely on the authentication of JSA and James Spence to convey to customers that the ball is genuine.

We contacted Huggins and Scott for more information on the ball and VP Josh Wulken added:

1. “We are not claiming that the ball was used that day or even a game ball. Based on the markings and Pulliam’s stamped name that dates the ball to 1902-1909.” Wulken relied on the JSA LOA to date the ball.

2. Wulken added, ” The only story I have on the ball is from the consignor of it. A couple from West Virginia brought it to our office in the DC area. They claimed that the ball was obtained by their Grandfather and was in their family the entire time.” Wulken confirmed that the auction house had no supporting documentation or notarized affidavits from the consignors memorializing the ball’s provenance.

3. When asked if his auction house was confident in JSA and James Spence’s abilities to authenticate Matty signatures in light of the past errors made Wulken responded, “As for JSA, we stand behind their opinion 100%.”’s own investigation into the alleged signed ball revealed:

1. JSA was incorrect in their determination that the ball dated from the “1902 to 1909″ era. The style ball in the auction with parallel red laces was only in use in National League play with Pulliam’s facsimile signature from 1903 to 1907. According to ball expert Brandon Grunbaum, of, “The baseball in question is a very unique and extremely rare model ball. Baseballs made by Spalding prior to 1908 were constructed using a “single-stitch” configuration, which to an untrained eye looks similar to the conventional “V” stitching method used today, but is sewn together using only one string instead of two, giving it a more vertical pattern. The National League used Spalding’s Official League Ball from 1879-1907. This particular baseball, has the modern Spalding bottom panel logo, and National League President Harry Pulliam’s facsimile signature stamped in black on the right panel. This change in the “Official League Ball’ bottom panel stamping occurred in 1903 and was used until 1907.” In 1909 the all-red laces were changed to a multi-colored version with red and black alternating stitches.

2. The Pulliam NL ball itself is one of the rarest baseballs in existence.  We have never seen another example and ball expert Brandon Grunbaum told us, “This is the only one I’ve ever seen with the Pulliam stamp on the side, and the more modern Spalding logo on the bottom panel.”  He added, “It’s just super-rare.”  You could say its almost seventy-five times rarer than a T-206 Honus Wagner card.  Considering the balls astounding rarity, the probability that the same surviving ball would also bear the authentic signature of one of the scarcest Hall of Fame pitchers would catapult it into the class of one of the rarest baseball collectibles in existence, right alongside the $4 million 1920 Babe Ruth jersey.

3. In 1906 it was reported in the New York Sun that the New York Giants used only “sixty dozen balls this year for its home games.”  That means 720 balls used for 77 games, “a fraction of over nine balls a game.”  Baseballs were expensive for clubs ($1.25 each) and foul balls and home run balls were retrieved by club employees as normal protocol.  The Sporting Life reported, “A couple of new balls are handed to the umpire when the game begins; new ones are thrown out when when those knocked over the stands do not return promptly; two or three new ones are given to the pitchers before each game for use in limbering up; and sometimes balls knocked into the crowd mysteriously disappear.”  Very few baseballs signed in the 1900 to 1907 period have survived and if genuine, the Huggins and Scott offering dated on October 4, 1911, would have been signed anywhere from 5 to 9 years after the ball was used in the National League.  At the least this is a  highly unusual and extraordinary circumstance that should be cautiously considered by any authenticator conducting proper due diligence..

4. This offered ball was manufactured at least five years before the Giants clinched the pennant in 1911 at a time when NL President Harry Pulliam was already dead after committing suicide at the New York Athletic Club in 1909.  Many blamed the suicide on pressure levied upon Pulliam by John J. McGraw after the infamous Merkle Boner cost his Giants the NL pennant in 1908.  To have McGraw signing a baseball bearing the facsimile signature of the man who he reviled after he was recently deceased is also quite remarkable.  The only times we have encountered balls inscribed with dates that do not correspond to the manufacture or game use of the ball, the inscriptions have been deemed highly questionable or outright forgeries.  The New York Sun also reported in 1906 that, “Fresh balls are turned out each season.  There is no need to carry any over, the factories regulating their output according to the demand, which they are able to calculate on to a pretty fine point.”  The only way that Mathewson could have signed this ball on October 4, 1911, is if someone obtained the ball several years earlier and brought it to him to sign that day.

5. In 2004, expert Ron Keurajian published an article on Mathewson’s autograph for Sports Collectors Digest and stated, “I can honestly say I have never seen a Matty ball that I would feel confident pronouncing as genuine and that comes after more than two decades of searching.”   We asked Keurajian for his opinion on the McGraw-Mathewson ball currently being  offered by Huggins and Scott and he referred us to his statement regarding Matty balls written for his 2004 SCD article. (During the past ten to fifteen years there have been over 25 Mathewson signed balls sold at auction with LOA’s from either James Spence, JSA or PSA.)

These four balls are believed bear forged signatures of Christy Mathewson. The ball at the top row (left) was authenticated by Jimmy Spence and withdrawn from a 1999 Mastro Auction while the ball to its left sold for over $100,000 with a JSA LOA at Hunt Auctions. The bottom left ball was sold by Grey Flannel with a PSA LOA and the ball on the bottom row (right) appeared in a Heritage Auction preview, but failed to pass authentication..

If the signatures on the ball were authentic, both Mathewson and McGraw would have been signing a baseball that was anywhere between five to nine years old, as it was impossible to have been used in that game or any other game during the 1911 season.  The red flags presented by this offering require a much more comprehensive LOA from an authenticator explaining more than just stating that the inscription is, in their opinion, written in the hand of Mathewson.

JSA and PSA authenticated another controversial Mathewson ball (below) for Huggins and Scott in 2007.  That ball sold for $161,000.

The current Huggins and Scott offering also reminded us of two alleged Mathewson signed photographs also dated in 1911.  The first was sold previously by Slaters, Hunt and Heritage where it sold for $14,000 in 2006:

A close up of the inscription and signature authenticated by both PSA and JSA bears a close resemblance to the handwriting on the current Huggins and Scott Pulliam ball:


The second 1911 signed Matty photograph was authenticated by James Spence for JSA and sold in 2007 for $19,975 at Robert Edward Auctions as originating from the estate of famous Cleveland photographer Louis Van Oyen:

A close up of the handwriting on the Van Oyen Matty photo dated on January 28, 1911, shows little resemblance to the Huggins and Scott offering and the other 1911 inscribed photograph dated on January 7, 1911.  How does JSA and James Spence account for the distinct differences in the handwriting of Mathewson on the two photographs allegedly signed just a few weeks apart?  Why don’t the LOA’s explain the differences or present exemplars to support their opinions?:

We also showed these examples to expert Ron Keurajian and he again referred us to his 2004 SCD article and the section dealing with signed photographs.  Keurajian said, “As to signed pictures, they are excessively rare as well.  In my 22 years of collecting I have only seen one genuine signed 8-by-10.”  Keurajian’s article also reminds us that JSA and PSA are also the same companies who regularly authenticate Mathewson secretarial signatures on 1910 Won In The Ninth presentation bookplates (below).

Authentic Mathewson signed baseballs and photographs are the rarest and most sought after artifacts in the collecting world and the desire of gullible collectors to acquire them has created a cottage industry for auction houses and authenticators eager to service their customers.  A good example of the Mathewson madness is a recent alleged Mathewson signature on a c 1924-25 AL ball sold by Pot of Gold Auctions in Arizona with LOA’s from Drew Max and Justin Priddy:

Sources indicate that sales and authentications of Mathewson autographs are  being reviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

We asked Huggins and Scott Auctions if they had been contacted by the FBI in relation to JSA’s authentication of the current Mathewson offering or the Mathewson ball that sold for $161,000. Josh Wulken told us, “We are not at liberty to discuss any communications.”  The current Mathewson ball being offered has a bid of $14,000.

Special Agent Jim Margolin of the New York FBI press office was unavailable for comment.

The FBI is also investigating the authentication practices of PSA/DNA in relation to the recent Federal indictments of former MastroNet executives.  Federal agents have also been speaking to collectors about the authentication practices of James Spence and JSA as well as PSA/DNA.

Sources also indicate that the Arizona office of the FBI has been contacted by several collectors victimized by forgeries authenticated by both Drew Max and Justin Priddy.