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By Peter J. Nash

March  25, 2013

Albert G. Spalding's genuine signature is found on letters stolen from the NYPL collection bearing his name.

There’s no shortage of genuine exemplars of handwriting available for so-called experts to authenticate signatures of Hall of Fame pitcher and nineteenth century sporting goods magnate Albert Goodwill Spalding. In most of our reports Spalding’s name is linked to the infamous thefts from his magnificent baseball collection housed at the Fifth Avenue branch of the New York Public Library in New York City. Some of the items stolen from that collection include handwritten letters sent to his friend and associate, Harry Wright, who served as his manager and mentor when he played for the Boston Red Stockings in the early 1870s.

Wright’s diaries, account books, correspondence and scrapbooks were the cornerstone of Spalding’s collection and over the years have been the target of thieves who have raided assorted volumes and manuscript pages for autographs and valuable ephemera. Just this week a page that was torn and wrongfully removed from Wright’s account books housed at the NYPL appeared for sale at Premier Auctions in Arizona and went for a hammer price of $1,099. (The same stolen ledger page sold at RR Auctions in 2009 for over $1,000 and was described by Steve Grad of PSA/DNA as being written in a different hand but signed by Wright). The NYPL inventory of the Spalding Manuscript collection conducted in 1986 and 2005 shows that the collection’s Wright “Note and Account Books 1860-1893″ have three volumes missing and many pages of the surviving volumes have been vandalized.  NYPL’s Brook Astor Director of Collections Strategy, Victoria Steele, did not return calls for comment on the sale of the manuscript page, which was actually written (and signed) entirely in Harry Wright’s hand.

Premier Auctions in Arizona is offering this account ledger page (left) with Harry Wright's autograph in its current auction; The vandalized page originated from the NYPL's Harry Wright Note and Account Books archive which was listed in a 1986 inventory (right).

The stolen NYPL items extend to handwritten letters penned by Albert Spalding to Wright which have also been sliced and diced out of voluminous scrapbooks created by library officials when they received Harry Wright’s correspondence collection as part of a donation from Spalding’s widow in 1921. Two extremely significant Spalding letters have been sold in the last decade at auction and are, no doubt, missives wrongfully removed from one of the four scrapbooks of Wright’s personal correspondence that used to sit on the shelves of the rare books and manuscripts division of the library.  Collector Barry Halper was the mastermind of the library heist and as early as 1977 he was showing off his stolen treasures to sportswriter Bill Madden on the pages of The Sporting News.  In 2009 a “cache of rare letters” from the Wright correspondence collection appeared for sale at MLB’s FanFest auction and an FBI investigation was commenced.

Five years earlier, in 2004, four-page letter written to Wright by Spalding from London while the Boston Red Stockings team was traveling on a world tour, appeared for sale at Robert Edward Auctions in Watchung, New Jersey.  Auctioneer Rob Lifson’s lot description described the letter as:

“….a most extraordinary letter, with substantial content, from Al Spalding to Harry Wright, and with reference to Henry Chadwick, written during the first baseball World Tour of 1874. All writing is perfectly immaculate and neat. The letter is in Near Mint condition, with signature and all writing grading “10.” One of the most historically significant of all nineteenth-century baseball letters. LOAs from Mike Gutierrez/GAI and James Spence & Steve Grad/PSA DNA.”

Of course the letter was found to be authentic by the alleged experts James Spence and Steve Grad, as it was once part of Harry Wright’s personal archive housed at the library in volume 1 of the Wright Correspondence scrapbooks.  Lifson didn’t mention that fact in his lot description or the fact that the reverse of the last page exhibited evidence of having been once adhered to a scrapbook page.  Still, the authenticators had four full pages of Spalding’s actual authentic handwriting to examine and also file away in their exemplar files for future authentications.

This authentic 4-page letter written in 1874 by Spalding to Harry Wright was stolen from the NYPLs Spalding Collection and sold for close to $25,000 in a 2004 Robert Edward Auctions sale.

At the same time the REA Spalding letter was being sold another appeared on the market in a Mike Gutierrez auction that was also addressed to Wright and dated from New Years Eve, 1877 (and also originating from NYPL Wright scrapbook Vol. 1).

That Spalding letter, which deals with early issues related to club memberships in the recently formed National League, was authenticated by Mike Gutierrez of MG Auctions and an outfit named “Global Authentication.”

This page from a 2004 Mike Gutierrez auction catalog shows the sale of another Spalding letter stolen from the NYPLs Spalding Collection. The letter is also addressed to Harry Wright and discusses National League issues for the 1878 season on New Years Eve, 1877.

In May of 2006, Lifson and REA offered another authentic letter written by Spalding in 1900 and sent to Hall of Famer Henry Chadwick. (This letter was not stolen from the NYPL Wright archive, rather purchased by this writer directly from the great-great-grandchildren of Henry Chadwick.)  REAs lot description included this passage about the letter and its authentication:

“Extremely significant content on many counts, especially in light of Spalding’s dream to have baseball represented in the Olympics, and his long-standing desire to spread the gospel of baseball throughout the world. LOAs from James Spence/JSA and Steve Grad, Mike Gutierrez & Zach Rullo/PSA DNA.”

The letter is proof positive that Steve Grad of PSA/DNA and other authenticators like Gutierrez and James Spence had examined and possessed authentic exemplars of Spalding’s genuine handwriting in their exemplar files– several handwritten letters spanning from the 1870s to the turn of the 20th century.

A letter written by a Spalding employee (and not AG Spalding) was sold at Memory Lane Auctions (left) and RR Auctions (right) in 2007 with an LOA from Steve Grad and PSA certifying it as authentic.

The fact that Steve Grad, in particular, had these exemplars in his possession makes a recent discovery made by autograph expert Steve Koschal quite remarkable.  While rummaging through some old exemplar files, Koschal came across a few Spalding entries including the 2004 Gutierrez offering and another that appeared in a February, 2007, auction conducted by RR Auctions and described as a handwritten letter penned by Spalding on A.G Spalding & Brothers sporting goods stationary.  RR said the letter was dated on November 11, 1895 and addressed to a Kendallville, Indiana, merchant stating:

“We herewith send you a detailed statement of your a/c as it appears in our ledger showing the balance of 5.35 as claimed by us.  We shall feel obliged by your checking same over and pointing out any errors on our part.”

The auction house said the letter was signed “S” and was accompanied by an LOA from Steve Grad and PSA/DNA and another from RR Auctions.  Neither the auction house nor the authenticators bothered to consider the likelihood that magnate A. G. Spalding, who had already by 1895 placed his brother James at the helm of the sporting goods company, would be sending handwritten collection letters for $5.35 to small town merchants in Indiana.  He wouldn’t have.  If Steve Grad and PSA had examined the document utilizing the exemplars of authentic Spalding letters they had already issued LOAs for in previous auction sales, the 1895 letter would have been rejected and readily identified as a fraudulent attempt to pass off a generic Spalding company letter as a gem signed by Spalding himself.  Grad, however, did have access to the authentic documents, which makes this situation more problematic and indicative of how PSA/DNA and auction houses conduct business.

When the letter written by a Spalding employee in 1895 (left) is compared side by side with the authentic Spalding letter from 1900, the differences in the handwriting are evident.

The letter LOAd as a genuine Spalding, although it was actually written by a Spalding employee in 1895 (left), contrasts a genuine letter written by Spalding in 1900 (right).

We’re not sure what the letter sold for at RR Auctions but incredibly the letter (and accompanying ephemera) appeared just seven months later in a Memory Lane auction as lot 1114 and sold for $947.05, considerably less than an authentic Spalding letter should have sold for.  Memory Lane posted the PSA/DNA logo alongside images of the bogus letter described as “Albert G. Spalding Handwritten Letter, PSA/DNA Authenticated.”

There are so many reasons, aside from handwriting, that rule this document out as an authentic Spalding letter, however, when the actual handwriting itself is compared against genuine specimens, Grad and PSA/DNAs letters of authenticity can be summarily dismissed as fraudulent instruments that transformed a relatively worthless piece of paper into a liquid asset. This situation, however, is not an isolated incident as PSA/DNA and Grad have continued authenticating Spalding forgeries as authentic including a recent offering encapsulated in a PSA/DNA holder.

An alleged Spalding autograph was encapsulated and authenticated by Grad and PSA/DNA (top) despite the fact the handwriting exhibits all of the traits of a forgery when compared to an authentic inscribed copy of Spalding's 1911 book, America's National Game (Bottom). We believe the forger used this authentic example (once in the Barry Halper Collection) as his guide. The key is how he attempted to replicate the word "Loma" which appears to be the product of a problem with Spalding's original pen.

Steve Verkman and Clean Sweep Auctions in January featured what appeared to be a cut and inscribed page bearing what was advertised as Spalding’s signature sealed in a plastic tomb created by PSA and marked “Cut-Albert Spalding PSA/DNA Certified.”  Clean Sweep called it a “true 3×5″ and made no mention of Spalding’s book from 1911, however, if this item is compared against an actual authentic inscribed copy of Spalding’s 1911 book it becomes quite apparent that PSA/DNA has certified yet another Spalding forgery.  The slabbed signature sold for $3,302, but when compared to scores of other authentic exemplars written by Spalding in inscribed copies of his book presented as Christmas gifts for his friends and colleagues in December of 1911.  The Clean Sweep offering is a fairly well-executed forgery but exhibits evidence of being copied and patterned directly from an authentic exemplar from the 1911 book which was once part of the Barry Halper Collection (see illustration).  PSA should have realized this because they actually have two additional authentic examples of Spalding signed books dated from December of 1911 on its “Autograph Facts” page.

In stark contrast to the PSA encapsulated Spalding inscription sold at Clean Sweep are two authentic Spalding exemplars actually signed by Spalding in December of 1911. These two exemplars appear on PSA's "Autograph Facts" page.

In 2004, Grad and PSA even published a study of Spalding’s handwriting and correctly noted the tremulous characteristics found on exemplars written during the last decade of his life.  PSA and Grad wrote:

“From his early days in the league until his demise, Spalding’s right hand penned his name carefully and slowly. His earlier signature was rounder, larger and more ostentatious in Spencerian style capitalization, often using all the letters in his first name. Most of what survived are sharp jagged examples, from the last decade of his life, that exhibit motor skill deterioration, having been effected by a series of strokes. His upper case “AG” is an unbroken line construction with a conventional “A” extending the (sometimes elongated) connector into the single upper loop “G”. This character seems oddly unfinished with its terminal stoke darting vertically downward, punctuated arbitrarily on either side of this stroke.”

The Spalding PSA-authenticated forgery (top left) not only clashes with the handwriting exhibited on five other authentic Spalding inscriptions signed in 1911, it also includes a period placed after the abbreviation "Calif". It appears the forger may have given himself away here as well with this period placement.

The encapsulated Spalding signature exhibits hesitations and stoppages that are characteristic of a forgery and lacks the uniformity of what PSA correctly identified in their study as the “sharp, jagged examples from the last decade of (Spalding’s) life.”  The most striking deficiency in the PSA certified forgery is the absence of these very sharp and angular strokes that define Spalding’s handwriting at this period in his life.  The forgery lacks the natural flow of Spalding’s handwriting and the contrast is most apparent when the forgery stands next to the five genuine examples in our illustration.

In addition, we noticed that the forger may have made a critical mistake that also gave him away; the forged and slabbed signature includes a period placed after Spalding’s abbreviated “Calif.”  We examined at least ten authentic inscribed and signed Spalding books with the “Point Loma” inscription and none of them included punctuation after the “Calif” abbreviation.  Only the PSA authenticated forgery included a period.

Most collectors would be fooled by this decent forgery which is a great example to illustrate how a forger can replicate a signature and convince an alleged expert it is genuine.  Of course it “looks like” a genuine Spalding, that’s what the forger is trying to achieve.  However, when analyzed closely it is exposed that it only mimics an authentic signature and shows evidence of another hand, that of the forger.  At least the slabbed Spalding actually looked like Spalding’s scrawl, whereas the 1895 Spalding company letter exhibited virtually no resemblance to Spalding’s actual handwriting.

Ron Keurajian examined the PSA-certed Spalding forgery and referred us to his book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, and his section devoted to Albert G. Spalding.  In his study, Keurajian states that authentic examples of the 1911 Spalding book “are a fine source of Spalding signatures” but stresses that, “Due to the slower nature of his hand, Spalding’s signature from any era of his life, is easily replicated.”  Keurajian adds, “Well executed forgeries exist in quantity, so caution is warranted.  Most of the Spalding signatures in the market are forgeries.”

That would include these two misrepresented Spalding forgeries authenticated by Steve Grad and PSA/DNA.


By Peter J. Nash

March 15, 2013

This portrait of Jimmy Collins was hung in "Nuf-Ced" McGreevy's 3rd Base Saloon. (Courtesy McGreevy Collection, Boston Public Library)

UPDATE: PSA Fraudsters Appear To Be Sticking With The Fake “Jimmie” Collins (scroll to bottom for update info)

Not too long ago I had a conversation with Richard Johnson, the curator of the New England Sports Museum, and I described for him an interesting talk I once had with James Collins Walsh the grandson of Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins.  Walsh told me how he had attended the Irish wake of his grandfather in his old house in Buffalo when he was a young boy. The body of his grandfather, he said, lie on view in an open casket on top of a block of ice and his family and friends celebrated raising pints in honor of the man known as the Boston Red Sox all-time best third-sacker. Collins’ grandson said the event got so festive that a few men actually took Jimmy’s body out of the casket and sat granddad in a chair so he could be among his friends who were telling stories about his glory days at the old Huntington Grounds and drinking from a huge silver loving cup presented to him by “Nuf Ced” McGreevy and the Royal Rooters way back in 1904.

Richard thought the story was remarkable and said something like, “Hey, that would make for a great song.”  So, I responded, “Yeah, it could be named ‘The Wake of Jimmy Collins’ by the Dropkick Murphy’s.” It just so happened that  Ken Casey of the Dropkick’s is my partner in McGreevy’s 3rd Base Saloon, in Boston, a faithful reincarnation of the turn-of-the-century watering hole that was, in part, nicknamed in honor of Collins, Boston’s most beloved ballplayer of the dead-ball era.  I told Richard if he wrote the song I’d pass it along to Ken and see what he thought. Ken and the band had already successfully revitalized the Red Sox fight song “Tessie” in 2004, so I thought it had a shot considering also that the most prominent photograph on the walls of the 3rd Base Saloon (both then and now) is a mammoth portrait of Jimmy Collins.

Months later Richard and I participated in a John F. Kennedy Library Forum along with Ken celebrating the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park and soon after I got an email from Richard with the lyrics for the song.  I passed them along to Ken and sure enough the lyrics struck a cord.

Richard’s lyrics gave the Sox skipper “one last toast” and made the cut when Ken unveiled the final product on the band’s new album Signed and Sealed in Blood with the introduction of the song, “Jimmy Collins’ Wake,” a number that evokes visions of T206 baseball cards and incorporates the names of old-timers like “Patsy” Dougherty, “Buck” Freeman, “Chicken Jack” O’Brien and Honus Wagner. After hearing the song for the first time I laughed and reminded them both that the inspiration for the song was the singular reminiscence of the man who actually knew Jimmy and attended his wake–his grandson.  A fitting tribute for sure.

Not too long after I heard Ken perform the song at McGreevy’s, I was checking out the PSA website and its “Autograph Facts” section which had recently added some new exemplars of Hall of Famer signatures, including the man Boston fans called the “People’s Choice.” I had just recently provided some exemplars of Collins’ authentic signature to author Ron Keurajian for use in his new autograph handbook, so I was curious to see what exemplars PSA was using.

The current PSA "Autograph Facts" page features this alleged inscribed photo by Jimmy Collins (left). Ron Keurajian's autograph hand book includes several authentic exemplars from c.1906 (right) (McFarland)

One was an excerpt from an authentic letter. The second was a note said to have been written by Collins and the third was a 1928 portrait allegedly signed and inscribed by Collins to two friends. But there was a big problem with this photo since the man in the depicted didn’t look like anything like Jimmy Collins. How could this be? Were my eyes deceiving me?  Not at all, I could easily ascertain this was not Jimmy Collins.  The ears were too big, the nose too round and the hairline was off.  How could PSA have authenticated this one?

I figured I should also seek out the opinion of the man who penned the lyrics for “The Wake of Jimmy Collins.” Richard Johnson is also the co-author of Red Sox Century, the definitive history of the Red Sox franchise, and quite familiar with all of the existing dead-ball images that feature the likeness of Jimmy Collins.  When I showed the photograph to Richard, he responded:

“This dapper gentleman looks nothing like the Hall of Fame third baseman, manager and Boston baseball legend. Perhaps he is named Jimmie Collins but he isn’t THE Jimmy Collins that managed the Boston Americans to victory in the first ever World Series in 1903.  Didn’t somebody look at Google images?”

The alleged signed Jimmy Collins photo authenticated and appearing on the PSA "Autograph Facts" section is flanked by actual portraits of Collins ranging from 1903 to the 1940s. The facial structure of Collins is nothing like the man in the alleged autographed Collins photo.

Could the man who gazed into the face of his deceased granddad at that Irish wake when he was a kid offer an opinion?  I sent the photo to James Walsh but hadn’t heard back from him by the time this article was published.   I’m betting his response will be the final nail in PSAs coffin.

Beyond the photo itself, even more troubling is the fact that the handwriting doesn’t resemble that of Jimmy Collins from that era either.  PSA had an authentic letter written by Collins available for comparison and still erred miserably.  The letter posted as an exemplar for Collins was a 1935 thank you note to Ford Frick for sending him a lifetime pass for National League games.

PSA utilizes this authentic Jimmy Collins letter as an exemplar of the HOFer's handwriting on its "Autograph Facts" section of its website. The document is believed to have been stolen from the NBL and the donated Ford Frick Papers..

We know this letter is undoubtedly authentic for it is believed to have been stolen from the National Baseball Library’s Ford Frick Papers which include hundreds of such thank you letters for season passes.  The thefts of the Frick letters were covered in a recent article we published stating that Cooperstown may have lost close to $500,000 in documents wrongfully removed from the Frick holdings housed in the library.

If anything, the alleged 1928 signed photograph incorporates handwriting that is more similar to Collins’ handwriting several decades earlier, as evidenced on authentic letters from the turn of the century.  Still, although there are slight similarities, the writing on the photograph is not in the hand of Jimmy Collins.  Not only does it not resemble Collins’ handwriting, the PSA exemplar is clearly misspelled “Jimmie” when the Red Sox star usually signed his name “Jimmy.”

This is an authentic letter written by Jimmy Collins at the turn of the century.

Despite these fatal flaws, however, PSA didn’t realize that the subject in the alleged Collins photograph was not Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins.

That being said, PSA and JSA actually got one right on a recent Collins offering at Huggins & Scott Auctions.  The Jimmy Collins 3×5 card they certified as authentic actually is.  So, why can’t they tell that the photograph (which doesn’t even depict Collins) bears a forgery or a signature of another guy named “Jimmie”?  Steve Grad and PSA haven’t had much luck when it comes to the spellings of Irish ballplayers as evidenced by Grad’s infamous Big Ed Delahanty blunder.

Advertised as PSA’s lead expert, Steve Grad was a MastroNet employee before he started working for the authentication giant and recently was said have secured a spot as the sports expert on the hit cable-TV show Pawn Stars on the History Channel.  Despite his resume, Grad’s questionable skills as an authenticator have been thoroughly exposed by our recent reports illustrating numerous forged and non-genuine items that he and his company have certified as authentic.

This authentic Collins signature sold recently in a Huggins & Scott auction for $8,800.

Grad has recently authenticated high-profile forgeries and non-genuine secretarial signatures of players ranging from Mickey Welch to Lou Gehrig and is responsible for some of the most astounding blunders in authentication history including the certification of a full secretarial letter falsely attributed to Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty that was also misspelled ”D-e-l-e-h-a-n-t-y.”  That worthless letter was sold by Hunt Auctions for over $30,000 based upon Grad’s LOA and an additional letter from his old colleague James Spence of JSA.  Grad and PSA have also certified as authentic a laser-copy signature of Ty Cobb and another alleged Cobb scrawl signed on a ball manufactured after the “Georgia Peach’s” death.  He even certified as authentic a well known 1990s Babe Ruth forgery for Heritage Auctions who tried to unload it for $110,000.  Grad’s recent mistakes on bogus signatures of Candy Cumming’s, Mickey Welch and the Jimmy Collins photo featured in this report have become a common occurrence for the company that claims to have authenticated over 20 million collectibles since the company’s inception.

PSA/DNA's lead authenticator, Steve Grad (far left) got his start with indicted hobby kingpin Bill Mastro (left) and is now the preferred expert linked to eBay offerings. He'll also be on Pawn Stars as an expert next season. If Rick and the boys were looking for some controversy and a link to hobby indictments and guilty pleas, they found it.

We consulted with autograph expert Ron Keurajian in regard to the Collins signatures and he referred us to his book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs:  A Reference Guide and his study of Collins’ signature.  In regard to Collins signed photographs, Keurajian says he has “never seen a genuinely signed photo” and although he says the Huggins & Scott 3×5 of Collins is genuine he states in his book that other album pages and index cards feature forgeries “signed as either ‘James J. Collins’ or ‘Jimmy Collins’ and the phrase ‘Third Sacker’ is penned underneath the signature.”  To show what lengths some people will go to get a signature of the Red Sox legend, Keurajian says “his will is in the market” referring to Collins’ last will and testament that was stolen from a Buffalo, NY, courthouse in the 1990s and is still missing, buried in some collectors treasure-trove.

With the luck of the Irish it just might make its way back someday.  With a little more luck, the owner of the bogus “Jimmie Collins” photo with a PSA LOA might get a refund.

A Happy St. Patrick’s Day Weekend to all of our readers!

(UPDATE Fri. March 22nd):  PSA Fraudsters Appear To Be Sticking With Their Fake “Jimmie” Collins on “Autograph Facts”

Its been a week since we released our story exposing PSA/DNA’s flawed authentication of the alleged “Jimmie” Collins autographed (and misspelled) photo that does not even feature the likeness of the real Hall of Famer, “Jimmy” Collins.  As reported by Haulsofshame.com,  PSA included the photograph on its website as part of a trademarked section it describes as:

PSA AutographFacts™ is the ultimate online resource for the most coveted signatures from the world of sports, history and entertainment. From legendary baseball players to U.S. Presidents to music icons, each signor is profiled in detail. Unlike most other manufactured collectibles, autographs connect the collector with the subject as a result of the personal touch.

In our last report, we exposed two other glaring mis-authentications of 19th century rarities falsely attributed to Hall of Famers Smilin’ Mickey Welch and Candy Cummings.  The alleged Welch autograph (which would have been worth upwards of $50,000) was only a period identification on a cabinet card that had been stolen from the New York Public Library and the Cummings was a period secretarial notation simply identifying Cummings as well.  After we released our report, PSA removed rather quickly the embarrassing inclusions from the Autograph Facts database.  Not so with the current fraudulent “Jimmie” Collins photograph.

PSA has chosen to keep the embarrassing entry in its online database, thus misrepresenting to its customers, and collectors at large, what a Jimmy Collins signed photograph should look like.  It is simply a signed photo of someone who is not Jimmy Collins, another person who just happened to be named “Jimmie” Collins and shared some very slight similarities in his handwriting with the Hall of Famer.

PSA states that a signed Jimmy Collins photograph is worth only $7,500, however, several industry experts we spoke with estimated that genuine examples would command well over $25,000 if authentic.  We can only speculate as to what price was paid by the collector who currently owns the fake Collins photo.  We can also only speculate as to whether the seller of the photograph had close ties to PSA/DNA and its authenticators.  Several collectors we spoke with allege that PSA/DNA has engaged in what can only be viewed as racketeering and showing favoritism to preferred clients and agents by knowingly authenticating non-genuine items and thus transforming worthless items into extremely valuable treasures simply for the fact that they are accompanied by a fraudulent PSA/DNA letter of authenticity or opinion.  If this is the case with this particular alleged Collins photograph it will serve as another piece of evidence against the authentication giant that has already come under close scrutiny by Federal investigators for its role in authenticating and grading the trimmed T206 Honus Wagner card that has played a significant role in the indictment of ex-hobby kingpin, Bill Mastro. If the Wagner card represents the worst of PSA in regards to card grading, the “Jimmie” Collins photo is its equivalent in relation to autographed items (but at least the Wagner card, itself, is real).

The public exposure of this fraud by Haulsofshame.com and the choice that PSA/DNA has made in continuing to fraudulently include it among authentic exemplars, should give collectors great concern in regard to their own items which are accompanied by PSA LOA’s.

Stay tuned for our next report Monday which will expose yet another alleged PSA fraud.


By Peter J. Nash

March 8, 2013

PSA uses a stolen cabinet photo NOT signed by Mickey Welch as an exemplar on its Autograph Facts page.

PSA/DNA had quite a February starting with its authentications for Heritage Auctions of a forged $150,000 1927 Yankee ball and an alleged Lou Gehrig ball supposedly signed at a time when the “Iron Horse’s” hands were paralyzed by ALS.  The Gehrig ball was pulled from Heritage’s Platinum Night Auction in New York City.  The month continued with PSA founder David Hall appearing on an ESPN 30 for 30 short film saying, with a straight face, that he didn’t think the infamous T206 Gretzky-McNall Wagner card had been trimmed.  This, despite the fact reports indicate ex-hobby king Bill Mastro will plead guilty to altering the Wagner card later this month. Now, via Tweets on Twitter, the controversy continues as PSA President, “Clueless Joe” Orlando, announces more flawed additions to PSA’s Autograph Facts page of autograph exemplars that the company advertises as a resource for collectors and utilizes in its lucrative authentication business.

One of those new PSA Autograph Facts postings is extremely dubious; It’s an alleged signed cabinet card of Hall of Famer “Smilin’ Mickey” Welch and the card is a proverbial PSA “Double-Play” of fraud for two reasons:

1. The alleged Welch signature is merely an identification and not an authentic autograph of “Smilin’ Mickey”.

2. The Stevens cabinet card of Welch, itself, is listed on the New York Public Library’s “Missing List” and was stolen from the library’s famous Spalding Collection in the 1970s.

Several Stevens cabinets were stolen from the library, some of which have already been recovered, but the Welch, along with a Cap Anson cabinet, are still among the missing and the subject of an on-going FBI investigation into the NYPL thefts.  PSA/DNA has hit most likely has written an LOA for the signature on the cabinet card, which was not signed by Welch, and also have knowledge of the whereabouts of the item for the Feds, who are already investigating the company in relation to the Mastro investigation and the grading and authentication of the “PSA-8″ Honus Wagner card.

Here’s the damage from PSA: The authentication giant first displays an authentic exemplar of Welch’s signature that originates from a handwritten ledger of the New York Giant Baseball Club that was sold at Hunt Auctions as a consignment from Keefe descendants. However, they apparently can’t tell that the signature on the reverse of the cabinet card, which also appears as an exemplar, is not in the same hand or even close to the signature on the authentic ledger page.

PSA uses an authentic Welch signature from Tim Keefe's ledger and also a non-genuine exemplar of Welch which is actually a period identification on a card stolen from the NYPL.

The disparity between the authentic signature and the period identification on the cabinet card is striking and illustrates best the negligence and apparent consumer fraud that is a regular occurrence at PSA/DNA.  No doubt some collector is sitting with the Welch cabinet card in his collection, totally confident that he owns an authentic signature of one of the toughest HOFer autographs known to exist.  If authentic, a Welch signed cabinet card would command upwards of $50,000.  However, this card is worthless to that collector as a plundered artifact that will end up being confiscated by the Feds.

These three Stevens cabinets stolen and recovered by the NYPL show the same hand executing period identifications of Connor, Tiernan and Ewing.

If you still actually believe that Welch’s genuine signature is on the card, just take a look at three of the companion Stevens cabinet photos from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection.  Here we see period identifications written in the same hand for Roger Connor, Mike Tiernan and Buck Ewing along with identical inscriptions of “NYBBC.”  If you can’t tell these are all in the same hand, as PSA obviously can’t, it would be best to steer clear of the autograph hobby.

This LOA written by Mike Gutierrez says that the stolen Stevens cabinet of Cap Anson bears his authentic signature. But it is just an identification like the Welch example used on PSA Autograph Facts.

Still not convinced?  Then take a look at another stolen Stevens cabinet of Cap Anson that was once authenticated by Heritage Auctions’ consignment director, Mike Gutierrez, and his former MGA Auctions.  The ink identification on the reverse of the cabinet card is again in the same hand.  Experts should be able to identify different hands especially when they have authentic exemplars for comparison.  Apparently, PSA/DNA is incapable of distinguishing such differences.

The handwriting on the Welch cabinet matches the others and each card shares the NYPL placed "9" and library ownership stamp.

All of these stolen cabinet cards are marked with a handwritten numeral “9″ in the upper-left-hand corner, which denotes the storage box they were found in after they were donated to the NYPL in 1921.  They all also exhibit evidence of a NYPL rectangular ownership stamp, although some have been partially defaced, like the Anson, which is believed to have been “bleached off” the card.

(Bottom) Mickey Welch exemplar used on PSA Autograph Facts page that expert Ron Keurajian believes is a forgery added to a team sheet of 1930s signatures. (Top) An authentic Welch signature from the Ford Frick papers at the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown.

In addition to the non-genuine Welch signature on the stolen cabinet photo from the NYPL, PSA also includes what expert Ron Keurajian believes is an outright forgery of Welch’s signature added to an alleged “team sheet” from the 1930s.  In Keurajian’s book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs:  A Reference Guide, he identifies the very Welch signature that PSA claims is authentic.  In the book Keurajian writes:

“There are a few forged album pages to note, all created by the same forger.  He signs “Smiling Mickey Welch” or “Mickey Welch” across the top of the page.  He then signs eight to 12 forgeries of common players from a particular team, such as the 1934 Athletics, 1935 Tigers or 1936 Indians.”

This particular Welch exemplar fits the bill.  PSA should pick up a copy of Keurajian’s book, it would be a great asset.

(Top) Authentic Candy Cummings signature from a letter on PSA Autograph Facts page. (Bottom) Period identification of Cummings from similar letter certified as genuine by PSA and posted on Autograph Facts as an authentic exemplar. Clearly, it is not written by Cummings.

PSA’s Autograph Facts is littered with similar fraudulent listings of forgeries and mis-identifications of non-genuine items that PSA/DNA has likely authenticated previously for a fee.  One prime example of this continued pattern of transforming trash to treasure is PSA’s inclusion of a non-genuine exemplar of HOFer Candy Cummings along with an authentic exemplar on the Cummings Autograph Facts page.  Several months ago HOS identified that the non-genuine example was actually a secretarial notation on an actual known Cummings letter that originated from a collection of Buffalo BBC correspondence.  The secretarial handwriting is identical to that which is found on other letters from the same collection that entered the hobby years ago.  The stark differences between the identification and the genuine Cummings signature is striking, yet the experts at PSA could either not distinguish the differences, or perhaps, did not want to admit a mistake attributed to a big-ticket autograph that already had a PSA LOA in a private collection.

All of these player names were written by an representative of the Buffalo BBC in the 1870s. The same person wrote the "W. A. Cummings" identification that appears on PSAs Autograph Facts as an authentic exemplar of Cummings' signature.

PSA has not removed the non-genuine Cummings exemplar even though they have been notified of the glaring error made by their employees who have no formal training in handwriting analysis.  (Boxing experts Travis Roste and Mark Ogren have pointed out a similar situation with a signature of boxer Bob Fitzsimmons, which was ghost-signed by his wife.)

One major collector told Haulsofshame.com, “It’s bad enough when they make such glaring errors but it rises to the level of outright fraud when they don’t even correct their mistakes and continue to perpetuate even more fraud at the expense of their customers.”

Both of these examples of PSA posting non-genuine signatures as authentic exemplars for collectors is further evidence of why the embattled authenticator has caught the eye of Federal investigators.  While PSA is already said to be under investigation by the FBI for authenticating and grading Bill Mastro’s infamous T206 Honus Wagner card, the PSA/DNA autograph division has also come under scrutiny.

Should Joe Orlando & Co. just rename this alleged resource for collectors: “PSA Autograph Forgeries?”

UPDATE (March 8th 5PM): One of our readers has reported that PSA removed both the Mickey Welch cabinet card and the Candy Cummings cut as exemplars on the company’s “Autograph Facts” page.  We confirmed that report after checking each of the links in the report published earlier today.