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By Peter J. Nash

April 28, 2013

REA uses Babe Ruth's likeness in advertisements to solicit materials for auctions.

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As Bill Mastro prepares for his next court appearance, perplexed that Federal Judge Ronald A. Guzman has tossed his guilty plea agreement with the government two times already, his ex-partner and the alleged government informant who dropped dime on him, Rob Lifson, is still operating his auction business, Robert Edward Auctions, and continuing his sales of fraudulent and counterfeit items, one of which is an item Mastro once owned and quite possibly shill bid back when he and Lifson were buddies and business partners.

Lot 931 in the current REA auction is described as an incredible autographed photograph allegedly presented to Pride of the Yankees star Gary Cooper by Babe Ruth.  Ruth allegedly inscribed the photo, “A pleasure working with you.”  The photograph was previously offered by Mastro Fine Sports Auctions back in 1999 but was sold again in December of 2010 at Legendary Auctions as part of the Bill Mastro Collection auction for $15,600. Legendary described the photo as “among the finest and most important association pieces on which the Bambino ever put pen to paper.” Next month REA will auction the photo it describes as “one of finest Babe Ruth signed photos we have ever seen and we cannot imagine a more significant Ruth-signed Pride of the Yankees piece.” The photo is authenticated by both PSA/DNA and JSA but Lifson fails to mention the photograph’s “Mastro provenance.”  PSA and Steve Grad say they even graded the photo “Mint-9.”  The earliest LOA linked to the photo was written in February of 1999 by Mike Gutierrez who stated, “I believe that Babe Ruth signed this in his handwriting.  The signature matches that in my file.”

But there’s a very big problem with this too-good-to-be-true Lifson-REA offering: It features a bogus autograph and inscription of the Babe considered by several experts a well-executed forgery created by a forger with a distinctive style that has been appearing in sales and auctions since the 1990s.

The current high-bidder on the item at $8,000, however, reached out to Haulsofshame.com after recently learning about an article published on this site in 2010.  Said collector, Ralph Gary Brauner, “After bidding $8,000 on the above item in the ongoing REA 2013 auction, I found an article saying it is a fraud.  It has 3 COA’s.  They will not remove my bid.  Can you help me?”

REA is offering this photo that was formerly auctioned and owned by former Memorabilia King Bill Mastro. Expert Ron Keurajian believes it is a well-executed forgery.

The photograph the REA bidder is concerned with was featured in a Haulsofshame.com report in 2010 which chronicled the many questionable Ruth signed items that authenticated by Jimmy Spence. In that report, author and expert Ron Keurajian said of the alleged Cooper photo, “In my opinion, its a well executed forgery.”

What’s more, Keurajian specifically referenced this same photograph and the forger in his recently published autograph handbook, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, stating:

“One forger has created some very convincing forgeries with baseballs and 8 x 10 photographs his favorite target. The famous image of Ruth swinging and facing directly into the camera is one of his favorites. He signs the forgery “Sincerely, Babe Ruth” across his chest. He has Ruth’s hand allmost down to the fine points. Letter construction is very good but unlike a true master forger, he does not have the right speed. The forgeries are clean but methodic. The hand does not evidence a shakiness nor does it have the fast bouncy feel of a genuine Ruth. The lines are uniform and lack variant pressure. He has gone as far as to create a forged 8 x 10 photo inscribed to movie star Gary Cooper. Overall, these forgeries are very nice but they look too perfect.”

(Left) Close up of the detail of the forger's work, creating a bogus inscription to Gary Cooper. Keurajian's book points out the slow and methodical style of the forger and the fact that his creation is just "too beautiful" to be a genuine Ruth. (Right) An authentic Ruth inscription c. 1934 shows the true fluidity and bounce of Ruth's signature as described by Ron Keurajian in his book.

Perhaps the greatest irony of REA’s inclusion of this blatant forgery in its current sale is the fact that REA president Rob Lifson was featured in a Q&A section in Keurajian’s book where he gave advice for collectors on how to obtain authentic autographed items.  As for Ruth signatures, Lifson said:

“If a Babe Ruth autograph is of interest and it looks good to your eye, but an authenticator whose knowledge you respect regarding Babe Ruth signatures is not comfortable writing a letter on it (or even worse, states that he believes it is a forgery) that should be of great concern.”

Apparently this wasn’t a great concern for Lifson when he accepted the forged Ruth photo as a consignment knowing full-well that expert Keurajian had already deemed it a forgery.

Incredibly, these same style forgeries have already even been identified by authenticator PSA/DNA who included a similar Ruth forgery in a 2012 report illustrating what to look for to avoid buying a fake.  That forgery, usually signed “To John” was also found created in the form of a laser-printed forgery which featured what appears to be an original handwritten forgery of the “Gary Cooper” forger.  While on one hand PSA appears to admit being duped by this particular forgery, on the other they have not been forthright in reversing their opinions on LOA’s already issued for other forgeries.

The Babe Ruth forgery authenticated by Spence and Grad for Mastro (left) was executed by the same hand of the forger who created the "To John" Ruth laser-printed forgeries (right) that hit the market in 2000. John Rogers posted warnings for collectors in SCD (inset, bottom right).

The laser-printer scam was uncovered back in 2001 by Ruth collector John Rogers of North Little Rock, Arkansas.  Other similar forgeries infiltrated the market and appeared previously in Mastro auctions and were authenticated by both Steve Grad and James Spence.

PSA/DNA was still using this Ruth forgery in their print advertisements as late as 2005, evidenced by this ad from SCD in April of 2005.

The same style of forgery was even featured and utilized in PSA/DNA print advertisements placed in Sports Collectors Digest and other hobby publications.  Third-Party authentication companies like PSA/DNA and JSA were first developed as the brainchild of Bill Mastro in the late 1990s and perfected by 2001 when Mastro joined forces with Lifson to form hobby auction behemoth MastroNet.com.

Mastro devised a business model that absolved auction houses of virtually all liabilities related to fakes and frauds he sold as long as they had a “Letter of Authenticity” (LOA) from his preferred authenticator.  The “third-party authenticator” then crafted its own LOA incorporating language that protected itself from any liability, just like the auction house.  The collusion between the two companies MastroNet and PSA/DNA (and later also adding JSA to that scheme) sufficiently shielded both entities from liability and granted the authenticators the power to turn worthless forgeries into expensive treasures, simply by writing a fancy letter.  In a nutshell, Mastro and Lifson came up with a successful scheme to tell their customers:  ”All Sales Final- No Returns.”

The current offering of the bogus Babe Ruth photo to Gary Cooper illustrates this perfectly as Rob Lifson and REA, who have full knowledge that experts have reported and deemed the item a forgery, feel they can justify its sale and the collection of their auction commission simply because the third party authenticators have issued a fraudulent LOA.  Solidifying this point is a long-winded disclaimer printed in REA’s current catalog which basically states Lifson has no responsibility whatsoever if the autographs he sells are fakes.

Bill Mastro (left) created the system by which auctioneers like his old partner Rob Lifson (center) can knowingly ofer bogus materials to the general public like the forged Babe Ruth photo to Gary Cooper (right) with virtually no recourse for buyers.

One collector told us, “All Lifson is doing is playing a game created by him and Mastro.  Play dumb and blame the authenticator who has no real liability and says he’s only offering an opinion.  He plays Mickey the Dunce while he’s fleecing customers.  He knows exactly what he’s doing.  He’s lucky he ratted out Mastro to save his own skin I guess.”

Lifson has a long history of selling Ruth fakes dating back to his close association with former Yankee partner and collector Barry Halper.  Halper hand-picked Lifson as the special consultant for the 1999 liquidation of his collection at Sotheby’s and Lifson handled and wrote the description for one of the most infamous Ruth fakes of all-time featured on what Halper bragged was his “500 Home Run Club Sheet” which allegedly featured Ruth’s signature along with every player who also hit 500 or more homers in their career.  In a 1989 interview with Ruth biographer Robert Creamer for a Smithsonian Magazine cover story Halper said he first got the sheet from his father with Ruth’s signature already on it.  Halper did not tell Creamer he had ever met Ruth in person.

Halper's Ruth signature on his famous 500 HR Club sheet was a forgery and starkly contrasts authentic examples of the Bambino's signature.

However, by 1999, Halper and Lifson wrote up the sheet’s Sotheby’s description and claimed that Halper obtained Ruth’s signature in person at Babe Ruth Day in 1948.  Experts agree that the Ruth signature is a poorly executed forgery and several sources believe that Halper himself was the forger.  Lifson and Halper sold the sheet to SONY Music Publishing CEO Martin Bandier at the Sotheby’s sale for over $55,000, despite the fact that many hobby insiders questioned the authenticity of the alleged Ruth scrawl.

Gary Cooper’s daughter, Maria Cooper Janis, heads the Gary Cooper Endowed Fund For Students and has also established the Cooper Collection at the University of Southern California School of Cinema, an archive of memorabilia and films related to the Hollywood legend.  The spokesperson at Cooper’s foundation, Bettina L. Klinger, confirmed to Haulsofshame.com that the Cooper collection is maintained by Mrs. Cooper-Janis and that it has never been the practice of the family to let go of or sell memorabilia or artifacts from Cooper’s acting career.

The forged Ruth-Gary Cooper photo appeared in a 1999 Mastro Fine Sports sale as lot 833 and sold for over $22,000. Mastro offered no provenance information on the photo.

We sent Cooper’s daughter a scan of the photo being offered by REA and she is currently checking the collection for any similar items.

UPDATE: Gary Cooper’s daughter, Maria Cooper-Janis, responded to our inquiry and said, “I, of course, have seen that photograph in our family archives, (and) have several shots of Gary Cooper and Babe Ruth at some moment, but none of them are autographed and the picture you refer to was never in our possession.”

Collector John Rogers recalls the photograph surfacing at a National Convention in the mid-1990s as part of several “too-good-to-be-true” offerings of signed materials ranging from Ruth to Walt Disney.  Rogers told us, “I remember at the time someone warning me to stay away from this guy’s stuff, including the Cooper photo.”  It’s not clear how the photograph made its way into the Mastro auction.

Back in 1998 a similar Ruth signature appeared in a Mastro auction on a c. 1928 OAL Barnard baseball.  Several experts we consulted with agreed that the signature appears to be a forgery and shares several characteristics with the forged Ruth signature on the Gary Cooper photo.  The Mastro catalog description stated, “This one should inspire PSA to branch out and grade autographed balls, it would be a 10.”  While the experts we spoke with would not go as far as saying the two forgeries were executed by the same hand it is clear that the PSA-Mastro connection kick-started the PSA/DNA autograph division and as they did with baseball cards and the infamous trimmed T-206 Wagner, likely founded the enterprise by authenticating Ruth fakes at its inception.

This single signed ball sold by Bill Mastro in 1998 appears to have been created by the same forger who crafted the Ruth photo inscribed to Gary Cooper.

The forged Babe Ruth signature on the Gary Cooper photo (bottom left) shares similarities with another alleged Ruth forgery executed on a baseball sold by Mastro Fine Sports in 1998 (right). The lot description staes that the ball "should inspire PSA to branch out and grade autographed balls."

In addition to the problematic Ruth photo alleged to have been presented to Gary Cooper, Lifson and REA include another group of highly questionable Babe Ruth signed photographs in its current sale.  The group of signed photos is described by REA as:

“eleven extraordinary signed photos (six Babe Ruth, three Ty Cobb, one Honus Wagner, and one Joe Cronin) that for over thirty years have been in the possession of our consignor’s family. All of the photos appear in this auction and each shares the same unique provenance. Our consignor’s mother was a state-employed healthcare worker in Maine, where she provided “in home” care to elderly residents. During the early 1980s one of her patients was a former Boston-area sports photographer. He had no wife or children and in his declining health he began giving her some of his possessions, as thanks for her kindness. One of the last gifts he presented her with was a stack of signed photos that he had accumulated during his career. He had told her that they were the only things of value he had left and he wanted her to have them. She graciously accepted them and then simply put them away in a drawer, where they remained until her son recently found them while helping her clean out the house.

REA's questionable offering of a cache of alleged Babe Ruth signed photographs is attributed to a Boston photographer but the auction house offers no solid provenance information.

The lot description reveals little about the true provenance of the photographs, only an unsubstantiated story that many times accompanies forged material.

A close inspection of the alleged Ruth signatures, however, reveals an assortment of red flags as to the genuineness of the handwriting.  None of the photographs are inscribed or personalized and all appear on unusual second generation photos.  Most importantly, over a dozen hobbyists and experts we respect agreed with us that every one of the Ruth signatures appears to be a forgery.  One even relpied, “Ugh.”

Incredibly, one of the photographs is even signed “George H. Babe Ruth.”  Every expert, dealer and collector we spoke with said they have never seen a photo signed that way, let alone without an inscription or personalization.  In our voluminous exemplar files we could only find several instances of Ruth signing “George H. Herman Ruth” on documents and contracts and “George H. Babe Ruth” on 1935 All-America Board of Baseball certificates.  REA doesn’t even mention the unusual nature of this ultra-rare version of Ruth’s signature.

In addition to REA offering the Ruth-Cooper photo for sale knowing full well that experts had deemed it a fake, the auction house’s inclusion of the dubious Ruth 8 x 10s from a mysterious Boston sportswriter highlights the fact that Jimmy Spence at JSA and Steve Grad at PSA/DNA do not know Babe Ruth’s signature or handwriting.  Considering the high volume of Ruth authentications these companies have turned out to auction houses like REA and Heritage, collectors should be on guard and not content that the Ruth in their collection is authentic.  Says one of the most prominent collectors in the country, “Just because you have a fancy letter with fancy signatures and stickers or a plastic slab that doesn’t mean you have something that is real.  Isn’t that what this hobby is supposed to be all about?”

Halfway through our independent “Operation Bambino” investigation we believe we are close to blowing the lid off the network of Ruth forgers and the massive work product they have been introducing into the marketplace for decades.  (These forgeries are far superior and dwarf the scope of the FBI’s previous “Operation Bullpen”).  Based upon the evidence uncovered by Hauls of Shame to date we have made this preliminary conclusion:  If you own an autographed Babe Ruth item with an LOA from either JSA or PSA/DNA you should be scared, very scared.  The likelihood it is authentic could be a 50/50 proposition.

Collectors are gullible and dealers and auctioneers like Rob Lifson and REA are quick to post disclaimers stating they are not autograph experts and that:  ”The bottom line is that neither REA nor any other auction house or any dealer or any collector can truly “guarantee” that a given autograph is authentic. It can even be difficult to prove with certainty that an autograph is not authentic.”

The bottom line, however, is this:  If a dealer or an auction house hides behind the philosophy of a Bill Mastro or a Rob Lifson they shouldn’t be selling autographs and collecting commissions.  If they don’t stand behind what they are selling and look the other way when the 3rd party authenticators they rely upon are exposed as inept and quite possibly committing fraud, why do uninformed collectors keep coming back for more?

A perfect example of the gullible nature of collectors and dealers is a recent offering by Huggins & Scott of a Babe Ruth signature on an alleged ticket from his 700 HR game in Detroit.  The alleged Ruth ticket sold for $12,000.

The alleged Ruth signature on the 700 HR-Game ticket shows an unusual formation of the letter "a" in Babe. It appears to have been written backwards in the wrong direction than the Babe would actually sign his name. In addition, the very short and abrupt crossing of the "t" and the arrow-like formation ending on the "h" are highly uncharacteristic of a genuine Ruth and further suggest forgery.

Experts we spoke with quickly dismissed the Ruth signature as a forgery pointing to the signature itself as not having the look and feel of Ruth’s genuine handwriting.  In fact, as examined by the naked eye and also under high magnification it is visible that the letter “a” in “Babe” was written backwards, a clear mistake of the forger and a tell-tale sign of a Bambino fake.  The signature also exhibits highly unusual and uncharacteristic ink distribution throughout the signature, especially in the “a” in “Babe.”  In addition, the short and abrupt crossing of the “t” and the unusual formation created at the very end of the signatures “h” also highly suggest forgery.

Hauls of Shame voiced concerns about the Ruth ticket to Huggins & Scott via Twitter on April 6 and again via email to Huggins VP Josh Wulken on April 10.  When informed that we had spoken with an expert and well-known author who had indicated that he could not authenticate the Ruth ticket Wulken responded, “I have no idea who that is and everybody has opinions.  We are selling the opinions of those who authenticated it.”  Jimmy Spence and JSA authenticated the ticket and in the past have issued LOA’s for several high ticket Christy Mathewson signed baseball’s that are considered by several experts to be forgeries.  Huggins & Scott say they stand 100% behind Spence.

One prominent collector told us, “When collectors ignore the evidence and the opinions of true experts they set themselves up for disaster.  Sad to say, but most of them get what they deserve and their collections are filled with fakes.”

Babe Ruth’s own granddaughter, Linda Ruth-Tosetti, endorsed “Operation Bambino” at its inception back in 2010 and is even more concerned now with the proliferation of Ruth fakes in the marketplace.  In regard to the current offering at REA Ruth-Tosetti told us, “This is really getting out of hand.  The collectors better start doing homework on what they are buying!  Just because a “so called” expert says it is real does not make it so.  Maybe only in the mind of the sucker who buys one of these forgeries.”

When asked what she thinks the solution might be to the problem Ruth -Tosetti added,  ”The authorities should get on these “experts” along with the auction houses.  What are their credentials?  How do they come to a conclusion that the autograph is real?
What I have seen was deemed fake once already.  Are they thinking, that it is forgotten, so lets run the fakes again?  When is this insanity and greed  going to stop?”

Sources indicate that the FBI is aware of the REA Ruth offerings and are investigating the sales of the questioned items.

UPDATE (April 29): The highly questionable Babe Ruth signed photographs, which several experts have deemed forgeries, have been withdrawn from the current REA auction.  The auction house posted this language on each lot description:

LOT WITHDRAWN (along with lot #’s 861, 862, 881, 917, 929, 975, 977, 983, 984): This lot has been withdrawn at the request of our consignor due to REA’s efforts to provide additional information regarding provenance being excessive (which they may have been). We are honoring the consignor’s request and apologize for any inconvenience to the consignor and to bidders.”

UPDATE (May 1):  Experts Uncover More Ruth Fakes in Heritage and REA Auctions; Feds Building Cases Against PSA, Joe Orlando, Steve Grad, Jimmy Spence and Auctioneers

REA and Rob Lifson just withdrew ten autographed lots that Haulsofshame.com and other experts called out as fakes and the auctioneer’s disingenuous explanation that the withdrawal was at the request of its consignor is being widely ridiculed by collectors and dealers throughout the hobby.  REA, however, has not removed the alleged photo signed by Babe Ruth to Gary Cooper despite expert Ron Keurajian calling it a fake and Gary Cooper’s own daughter confirming that the photo was never in the possession of her family or the “Cooper Collection” the family archive she curates.  Sources indicate that Lifson does not believe that Cooper’s daughter Maria Cooper-Janis confirmed this information for Haulsofshame.com.

Experts say the three Babe Ruth signed Goudey's being offered by HA (top row) are poorly executed forgeries as is the one being sold by REA (bottom left). A forgery sold at Coaches Corner (bottom right) appears to be a better forgery than the others being offered by the major auctioneers.

In addition, more questioned Ruth items have been presented to Haulsofshame.com for examination and it has been determined that REA and Heritage Auction Galleries are offering for sale what experts are calling four bogus Babe Ruth signed 1933 Goudey baseball cards.  The cards currently have bids ranging from $8,500 to $25,000 but are all poorly executed forgeries.  In fact, a forgery sold previously by Coaches Corner on a ‘33 Goudey is actually more well-executed than any of the cards currently being offered by Chris Ivy and Rob Lifson (see example above).

In his lot description for the alleged fake he is offering, Rob Lifson, states, “An autographed example of this card is virtually non-existent.”  Lifson adds, “This is one of only a small number of Babe Ruth signed 1933 Goudey cards we have seen (probably fewer than 10) and the first we have handled since 1999.”

As evidenced by the REA and Heritage catalogs, amazingly, four are now available for gullible collectors to purchase, three of which have been authenticated and encapsulated by PSA/DNA.  The REA example comes with an LOA from James Spence/JSA.

REA’s withdrawal of the forged Ruth photographs and their continued sale of the Ruth-Cooper photograph are currently being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a source who has been in contact with a Federal agent confirmed for Haulsofshame.com that the Feds are building cases against PSA/DNA, Joe Orlando, Steve Grad, JSA, Jimmy Spence and auctioneers like Lifson and Ivy who continue to offer bogus material with fraudulent LOA’s.  The source told us, “They are just trying to get prosecutors involved to take it further.”

A source says the Feds are building cases against (l to r) Joe Orlando, Rob Lifson, Jimmy Spence and Steve Grad.

Babe Ruth’s granddaughter, Linda Ruth-Tosetti, has been at the forefront trying to stop the proliferation of forgeries of her grandfather’s signature and has spoken with an FBI agent about how serious the problem is.

UPDATE (May 7): Operation Bambino: Heritage Sells Alleged Bogus Babe Sigs For $82,000; REA Still Selling Fake Ruth to Gary Cooper Photo and Alleged Fake Signed 1933 Goudey; Rob Lifson Sold Barry Halper’s Fake Goudey At Sotheby’s in 1999; Spence Authenticated Sig In 2005 For SGC

Despite ridicule from a small contingent of experts who know Babe Ruth’s signature and handwriting well, Heritage Auction Galleries went ahead with the sale of the three 1933 Goudey cards alleged to have been signed by Ruth for the alleged “son of a Depression-era newspaper vendor at Fenway Park.”  One card sold for $50,787 and the other two for $20,315 and $11,352 respectively.  It’s true, there is a sucker born every minute.

These three Ruth Goudey cards are considered fakes by experts but were sold at Heritage for over $80,000.

Meanwhile, REA is still offering the bogus Babe Ruth inscribed photograph to Gary Cooper despite the fact that expert Ron Keurajian has identified it as a forgery and the Cooper family has confirmed that the photo was never part of their well known “Cooper Collection” maintained by Cooper’s daughter Maria Cooper-Janis.  The bidder, who asked that his bid be removed after learning in a Hauls of Shame article that the item was a fraud, was actually outbid by someone who placed a bid of $9,000.  But then that bidder, Ralph Gary Brauner, called REA again and was told by REA’s Tom D’Alonzo that the consignor of the fraudulent photo directed REA to remove Brauner’s bid, thus dropping the high bid to $8,000.  It appears that another bid has been placed since at $8,500. REA has also added what appears to be a new JSA auction LOA that is undated.

Barry Halper's alleged bogus Babe Ruth signed Goudey was sold by Rob Lifson at Sotheby's in 1999. The same card was certed authentic by Jimmy Spence (center) for SGC years later. The current offering by REA (right) is also alleged to be a counterfeit.

REA is also still offering its own alleged autographed 1933 Ruth Goudey card despite the opinion of several experts we spoke with who believe the signature is a forgery.  REA’s Rob Lifson has a history selling atrocious Babe Ruth forgeries, in particular another 1933 Goudey that he entered into the 1999 Sotheby’s sale of the Barry Halper Collection.  That card, widely considered a fake, sold for $17,250 and years later was authenticated by James Spence in an SGC graded holder and sold at SCP/Sotheby’s in December of 2005.

The Ruth forgery sold by Lifson and Halper at Sotheby’s does not exhibit any characteristics of an authentic Ruth signature.  We’re guessing Halper told Lifson he had that one signed in-person by Ruth when he signed his infamous 500 Home Run Club sheet on Babe Ruth Day at Yankee Stadium in 1947.  REA has also added an undated letter from the consignor of the lot descriptions for the alleged signed Babe Ruth photos that have been withdrawn from the sale.

Click these links for our previous Operation Bambino reports: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3,  Part 4


By Peter J. Nash
April 26, 2013

Heritage's Chris Ivy thinks a forged Lou Gehrig ball is genuine based upon HA research.

After withdrawing an alleged single-signed Lou Gehrig baseball from its Platinum Live NYC Auction in February after Haulsofshame.com published a report alleging that the ball was believed to be a forgery, Chris Ivy and Heritage Auction Galleries have returned the questioned sphere to the auction scene. Ivy and Heritage are hanging their hat solely on the fact that they believe, based upon their own research, that Gehrig could have signed an American League Official William Harridge baseball featuring “two stars” incorporated into the sweet-spot graphics.

Heritage is now calling the ball, “One of his (Gehrig’s) very last autographs” and the auction house claims the ball has a current bid of $26,000 on the controversial ball.

Ivy claims that he’s found several 1939 All Star Game balls that prove Gehrig could have signed such a ball and that those balls were released publicly before Gehrig lost the use of his hands due to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Ivy also stresses that both of his authenticators, PSA/DNA and JSA, stand behind their original determination that the Gehrig autograph is genuine.  In February, a  New York Post article reported how the authenticity of the Gehrig ball and another, alleged to be the actual  last out ball from the 1917 World Series, were being challenged.

The alleged 1917 ball was actually an official National League baseball manufactured in 1926, thus making it impossible for Heritage’s stated claim to be true. Baseball expert Brandon Grunbaum, of HistoryoftheBaseball.com, concurred with Haulsofshame.com’s determination that the 1917 ball was created in 1926 based upon period stamping on the ball and the number of actual stitches found on the ball, which differed from authentic 1917 baseballs.

Grunbaum also furnished original images from the Spalding baseball factory in Chicopee, Massachusetts, which revealed that baseballs being manufactured in early 1939 for that upcoming season did not feature the “two-star” graphics on the sweet spots of the finished baseballs.  Grunbaum’s discovery suggested that the probability of Lou Gehrig signing one of the “two-star” versions of an “Official American League” baseball, was very unlikely if not impossible.  The Heritage Gehrig ball was signed on one of the “two-star” versions.

Additional research conducted by Haulsofshame.com, however, also suggests that it is possible for a “two-star” American League ball to have appeared before the outset of the 1940 season.  A 1939 All-Star game signed baseball originating from the estate of Leo Durocher, sold by Hunt Auctions, was the strongest evidence we could find to show that the “two-star” version could have been released in late 1939.  Ball expert Brandon Grunbaum recently told us, “I think it was possible to have early two star baseballs show up in mid to late 1939.  I’m finding that this is the case with most of the baseballs that date after the previous year, occasionally some are showing up on late in the previous season.”

Our report, however, did not rely solely upon the “two-star” issue to determine that the Gehrig signature on the baseball was not genuine.  Although it was important to illustrate Grunbaum’s discovery suggesting that Gehrig would not have signed such a ball at that time, it was the suspect signature itself that led Haulsofshame.com to first dispute the ball’s authenticity. (When Chris Ivy first stated that our report was incorrect because he had found two baseballs with the “two-star” design that were dated from 1939, further research conducted by Haulsofshame.com and collector David Maus found that those baseballs identified by Ivy were actually from Yankee Spring Training in 1940.)

The Heritage Gehrig ball (left) shows a distinct space between the loops of the "L" and "G" and also the full formation of a small "u" that is connected to the capital "G" in Gehrig's last name. The red arrows point to these signs of forgery on the HA ball and the Mastro ball (right). These elements are uncharacteristic of Gehrig's handwriting and suggest forgery. It appears that a forger may have realized this mistake on the Heritage example, as the "u" has been partially rubbed or erased.

The Heritage Gehrig ball bears almost the exact same signature style which appeared on another baseball sold by Bill Mastro in an auction in 2006.  Both alleged Gehrig signature’s exhibit tell-tale signs of forgery as illustrated in the side by side study above.

A side by side illustration of two genuine signatures signed by Gehrig on baseballs from 1937 and 1938 show how the "L" and "G" loops touch (or intersect) and how Gehrig would never make the formation of a full "u" in "Lou", rather choosing to continue into his capital "G" with a single line.

When examining genuine Gehrig signed baseballs from the same time period between 1936 and 1939 it is clear that certain  shared characteristics from these examples are lacking on the Heritage and Mastro examples.  Gehrig’s “L” and “G” meet and intersect, unlike the awkward space between the same letters in the forgery.  The genuine examples also incorporate a single line and not a fully formed “u” in “Lou” that extends into the capital “G.”

The two Gehrig forgeries exhibit the full formation of a lowercase "u" in "Lou" and in the case of the Heritage example (left, bottom) an apparent attempted erasure of the forger's error.

A close inspection of the Heritage Gehrig baseball reveals that a forger likely realized he’d made the mistake of writing a fully formed “u” and thus attempted to rub or erase the upstroke of the “u.” Heritage and Ivy’s determination that its Gehrig ball is authentic simply because of unverified information regarding the alleged appearance of Official American League” balls prior to the 1940 season and the LOA’s from its experts speaks volumes on how rampant fraud is in the autograph and auction marketplace.  The fact that Ivy could return such a questioned Gehrig to the current Heritage sale is remarkable considering the history of flawed Gehrig opinions of both James Spence and Steve Grad.

The saga of the shady Gehrig ball is perhaps summed up best by New York dealer and authenticator, Richard Simon, who has actually been banned by Heritage for questioning prior auction offerings.  Simon told us, “Personally I would not bid on this ball. I see too many problems with it.”

Heritage’s new lot description which advertises the ball as one of the last Gehrig ever signed states:

The triple stars on the Official American League (Harridge) stamping is the key ingredient here, the tell-tale sign that establishes this exceedingly rare single as one of the very last ever autographed by the dying Iron Horse. For years, the hobby had been misinformed about the debut of this stamping format, with most jumping to the reasonable but incorrect conclusion that the change was made in 1940, when this stamping style became standard format for Junior Circuit horsehide. But our authenticators, and our own research, confirm that the first examples surfaced no later than July 11, 1939, when a number of All-Star Game balls were signed on the very field where Gehrig had given his tearful Yankee Stadium farewell a week earlier. The legendary first baseman was likewise on hand for the Midsummer Classic, as honorary captain of the American League, and appears in genuine format on some of those team balls signed that day.

Experts we spoke with are of the opinion that the balls Heritage is referring to are forgeries as well, including lot 81293 in HA’s current sale, a 1939 Yankee team ball allegedly signed by Gehrig.  When the current Heritage Gehrig is compared to authentic exemplars of Gehrig’s signature executed on baseballs between 1936 and 1939 the contrast between the genuine and non-genuine is striking.

The Gehrig ball being offered by Heritage (center) contrasts ten surrounding Gehrig signatures on baseballs believed to be authentic by several experts Haulsofshame.com consulted with. All of the alleged authentic exemplars are believed to have been signed between 1936 to 1939.

How can Heritage continue to blindly stand by their alleged experts when their track-record authenticating Lou Gehrig autographs is so remarkably flawed?

To illustrate that point, here are some of the most blatant instances of Gehrig authentication malpractice and quite possibly outright fraud committed by JSA or PSA/DNA:

1. Lou Gehrig April 26, 1940 letter: Alleged to have been written and signed by Lou Gehrig and certified authentic by Jimmy Spence for PSA/DNA.  The letter sold for $9,500 at Hunt Auctions February, 2001, sale despite the fact that by April 1940 Gehrig could not sign his own name and was using a rubber stamp to sign letters written on the letterhead of the City of New York Parole Commission.  Spence, despite having an expensive “spectrograph” machine capable of high magnification, could not tell the difference between an authentic signature and a rubber stamp.  Six years later a similar rubber-stamped Gehrig letter dated Oct. 24, 1940 appeared in a Mastro Auction with this disclaimer regarding the Gehrig signature:  ”…by October 1940, his incapacitating disease had reduced him (Gehrig) to stamping his signature.”

Expert Ron Keurajian noted the fact that Gehrig used a stamp to sign letters towards the end of his life. He illustrates the stamp in his book which matches exactly the stamp featured on the Hunt Auctions letter authenticated as genuine by Jimmy Spence and PSA.

2. Lou Gehrig Signed Photograph: Jimmy Spence and PSA certified as authentic an alleged Lou Gehrig autographed photograph offered in a Robert Edward Auctions sale.

A close look at the alleged post-1934 Gehrig signature certified genuine by James Spence reveals it is not genuine.

We’ll let this one speak for itself as it barely even resembles an authentic signature of the “Iron Horse.”

This Gehrig autoograph certified authentic by Spence bears little resemblence to a genuine specimen.

3. The Gehrig-Cuyler Single-Signed Baseball: One of the most infamous Spence-Gehrig blunders was on the alleged single-signed Gehrig ball personalized to Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler.  The work of this forger fooled Spence and was even utilized on PSA literature and business cards according to a source we spoke with.

Spence authenticated this forgery along with several others attributed to a false provenance story involving Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler.

4. Lou Gehrig Cut Signature: slabbed and authenticated by Steve Grad and PSA/DNA.  This item is currently for sale as lot 82406 in Heritage’s May 2nd auction.  Every expert we consulted with was of the opinion that this plastic tomb was devoid of an authentic Gehrig.

This alleged Gehrig was encapsulated by PSA/DNA despite the obvious problems with the signature.

5. Lou Gehrig on Forged 1937 AL All Star Baseball: This almost too-well-executed forgery has the tell tale signs of the work of a popular 1990s forger who turned out lots of product that had the appearance of what experts described as looking “too beautiful.”

Experts agree that thiis gem is the work of a well-known 1990s forger who created beautiful "too good to be true" team and single signed baseballs ranging from the 1919 Black Sox to the 1927 Yankees.

6. Lou Gehrig Cut Signature: sold for over $3,000 in a Mastro auction with an LOA from Spence and Grad despite the fact it is a slowly executed, almost drawn forgery of Gehrig’s signature at the outset of his career.

This alleged Gehrig cut signature is considered non-genuine by several experts.

7. Lou Gehrig signature on alleged 1939 NY Yankee team ball: Currently being offered as lot 81293 in Heritage’s current auction.  Experts, however, consider this ball non-genuine despite its JSA and PSA LOA’s.

This Yankee team ball alleged to be from 1939 and signed by Gehrig is considered non-genuine by several experts.

8. Lou Gehrig signed Yankee team ball allegedly from Spring Training 1939: The Gehrig signature on this ball is considered by every expert we consulted with as “non-genuine.”

9. Lou Gehrig Signed Notebook Page: Currently being offered as lot 81362 in Heritage’s Spring 2013 auction, this signed album page is also considered a forgery by several experts we consulted with.

10.  Lou Gehrig alleged signature on a 1939 All Star team signed baseball: Offered by Memory Lane Auctions, this baseball is alleged to have been signed by Gehrig when he served as the honorary AL All-Star team captain, however, several experts we consulted with are of the opinion that the signatures featured on this baseball are not authentic.  According to the experts the signature lacks the proper slant, size and spacing of an authentic Gehrig, just like the current single-signed ball being offered by Heritage.

Experts say this baseball allegedly signed by Lou Gehrig at the 1939 All-Star Game, is not authentic.


By Peter J. Nash

April 20, 2013

Barry Halper stands above the bogus "Shoeless" Joe Jackson jersey he sold MLB and the HOF for over $1million in 1998. The "Jackson" chain stitched name was forged.

Heritage Auction Galleries says that they have the Bambino’s last Yankee uniform from 1935 for sale in its Spring catalog and according to the Dallas auctioneer’s lot description the garment was:

“Purchased by famed collector Barry Halper, who sold it in his historic 1999 auction.  At that time the jersey was touring with the Baseball Hall of Fame and our consignor had to wait several weeks before he was able to take ownership.”

Heritage also added:

“We must note that Halper sought to enhance the display appearance of the jersey by adding a chain stitched “Babe Ruth” to the interior collar” and that “the decision to remove this alteration will be left to the winning bidder.”

Sometime since the catalog was sent out to bidders Heritage has removed the Barry Halper name from the online description to the jersey referring to him now as just a “noted collector.” No doubt Heritage (and possibly the consignor) realized that an “ex-Halper” provenance is no longer a plus for garments that were once owned by the deceased Yankee partner who has been linked to scores of documented uniform frauds and forgeries including the counterfeit “Shoeless” Joe Jackson jersey he sold to MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame for over $1 million in 1998.  That jersey had an “enhanced” chain-stitched name of “Jackson” in its collar.

A 2010 Haulsofshame.com report exposed the fraudulent “Shoeless Joe” relic as a fake and the Hall of Fame later admitted to the New York Post that materials used to create the jersey were not available at the time Jackson played for the infamous “Black Sox.”

SCP Auctions is offering a Hall of Fame worthy artifact that they claim is the actual jersey Reggie Jackson wore on the night he hit three home runs in the “House That Ruth Built” during Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. The jersey was covered heavily in the mainstream media where it was described as having the potential to be the most valuable baseball jersey of the modern era.  SCP President David Kohler told reporters, “The providence coming directly from Reggie Jackson along with his desire to help out the” Mr. October Foundation for kids is going to knock this out of the park, SCP Auctions feels very strongly that this will set a record for a contemporary game worn baseball jersey. We would not be surprised if it approached seven figures.”

Reggie's alleged 1977 WS jersey from game six (top, left) matches the one he wore in the clubhouse with Bob Uecker after the game (top, right), but the jersey he wore on the field shown on game tape (bottom) is not the same Yankee pinstripes.

Kohler and SCP claimed that the jersey was “photomatched” to that actual event including a photograph of Jackson being interviewed in the Yankee clubhouse by Bob Uecker showing the exact same Yankee pinstripe configuration which authenticators view as a fingerprint of sorts in examinations of Yankee home uniforms.  But late Friday, after realizing that the jersey Jackson was wearing in the post game interview was not the same jersey as the one he wore on the field, the auction house issued a statement saying Reggie’s jersey has been withdrawn from the sale.  SCP said in the statement:

“SCP Auctions, in agreement with Reggie Jackson, has decided to withdraw his 1977 Yankees jersey attributed to Game 6 of the 1977 World Series from our current auction. Photographic evidence indicates that this jersey was worn by Reggie in the Yankees clubhouse after Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, however, further detailed analysis of video footage of the game shows some subtle inconsistencies between this jersey and the one he wore on the field during the game. This is based primarily on analysis of the pinstripe alignment relative to the sewn on “NY” crest on the front of the jersey. Since taking this jersey home from Yankee Stadium on the night of October 18, 1977, Reggie has kept this jersey for 35 years believing it to be the one he wore on the field. However, SCP Auctions and Reggie Jackson are in agreement that further research is required to positively validate this jersey as his game worn jersey from that night.”

Adding to the controversy over the withdrawal of the lot is the fact that Jackson once had a fire that destroyed his home in the Oakland Hills in 1991 and news reports stated that he lost his memorabilia.  Jackson was reportedly preparing to move and was quoted in the Wisconsin State Journal as saying, “I was devastated absolutely devastated.  I was in the process of getting everything gathered for the move.  My baseball memorabilia, my art collection, my gun collection, my bronze collection.”

JET Magazine published pictures of the remains of Jackson's house (top) and reports published in newspapers (Wisc. State Journal) stated Jackson had lost his "baseball memorabilia." Could he have lost his 1977 WS jersey in that 1991 fire?

Jackson’s entire neighborhood was destroyed by the fire which was called at the time one of the most destructive fires in California history.  The Orange County Register quoted Jackson as saying, “I don’t own a tie.  I don’t own another pair of shoes, another shirt.”  Reports also indicated that Jackson’s losses were “well over a million dollars” and that he had “consulted his insurance carrier.”

Could Jackson’s actual 3-HR jersey have been destroyed in the 1991 fire that obliterated Jackson’s house and did Jackson know that the jersey he consigned to SCP was not the actual jersey he wore on that fateful October night in 1977?

It appears that the Yankee pinstripe jersey being offered by SCP is the same jersey that Jackson is wearing in the clubhouse after the game, which would also suggest that Jackson didn’t lose all of his memorabilia (including that particular jersey) in the fire at his residence.

Kohler and SCP stressed that they hold themselves to the “highest standards of integrity and diligence with regard to authentication, and deeply regret any inconvenience this has caused our valued clients.”  At the time the Jackson jersey was pulled from the auction bids were approaching $215,000, according to SCD.

Current standards for uniform authentication are much more stringent than they were at the time when Barry Halper was considered the “King of Collecting” and sold off his collection at Sotheby’s.  Items with a Halper provenance now must be scrutinized even closer considering the large cross section of fakes and misrepresented garments that have entered the marketplace.  Considering Halper’s fakes fooled the Baseball Hall of Fame, MLB and major auction houses, Heritage now finds itself in a bind with its current offering of what they allege is “Babe Ruth’s Final New York Yankees Jersey.”  The jersey was originally sold at Sotheby’s as part of the Barry Halper Collection and the Halper provenance was specifically noted in the Heritage Auction catalog.

The Heritage Catalog description of the alleged Ruth jersey mentions the Halper provenance as did the online lot description. Heritage has since removed the Halper attribution from the online offering.

Despite that inclusion of Halper’s name it appears that Chris Ivy and Heritage have withdrawn the Halper name from its lot description choosing to refer to him now as “a noted collector” instead.  Heritage’s claim of Halper’s enhancement of the garment with the “Babe Ruth” chain-stitch is also concealed and is also attributed to a “noted collector.”  How Heritage determined that Halper himself had the Ruth chain-stitched name added simply to enhance display is not known especially since Halper died back in 2005 and is currently unavailable for comment.

Barry Halper's jersey attributed as the Bambino's last features a chain-stitch that appears to have been added much later and is not consistent with stitching added by the Spalding Company.

When the jersey was first handled and written up by Halper’s close associate and Sotheby’s consultant, Rob Lifson, there was virtually no mention of the chain-stitched name of Ruth being added to simply enhance the jersey for display purposes.  The Sotheby’s description led bidders to believe that the stitched Ruth name was original to the garment, which at the time was on display as a loan to the Babe Ruth Museum’s traveling exhibit “sponsored by the Ryland Group Inc.”  Halper sold the jersey in the Sotheby’s sale for $79,500.  Sources indicate the winning bidder of the lot did not purchase it believing that Halper added the chain stitched name simply to “enhance the display appearance of the jersey.”

It is more likely that the chain-stitching was added to the jersey to fraudulently enhance its value and bolster the claim that the garment was actually issued to Ruth.  That would match the description of scores of other Hall of Famer jerseys in the Halper Collection that sold at Sotheby’s.  The auction house sold off hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bogus jerseys attributed to players who were identified with similar fraudulent chain-stitching that has been determined to have been added to the garment at a much later time.  Jerseys attributed to Mickey Mantle, “Stan the Man” Musial, Eddie Cicotte, John McGraw and other 19th century players like Buck Ewing and Wilbert Robinson all turned out to be fakes featuring doctored or deceptive chain-stitching.

The chain-stitched names in Halper's Joe Jackson (top, left), Eddie Cicotte (top, right) and Wilbert Robinson (bottom) jerseys were determined to have been all added fraudulently well after their manufacturing date.

Both Sotheby’s and Heritage state that the Ruth jersey was acquired from the widow of sportswriter Al Helfer who wrote an alleged letter in October of 1990 stating, “During a charity game this baseball uniform (NY #3) was given as a gift to my husband Al Helfer by Babe Ruth because of their similar size and Babe Ruth told Al to keep it as a memento.”  In addition to that letter, both Halper and Heritage utilize an item published in a 1951 issue of Complete Baseball by the editors of Sport Life Magazine which state: “A couple of his (Helfer’s) proudest possessions include a set of golf clubs presented by Honus Wagner and a uniform worn by Babe Ruth which the Bam gave Al after a ball game back in 1939.”

The 1951 article doesn’t specify whether Helfer was gifted an actual Yankee uniform and doesn’t mention the year of the uniform or whether Ruth ever wore it.  The provenance story is vague and considering Halper’s confirmed history of fabricating and embellishing provenance stories, it is difficult to put much faith in the magazine article and the unauthenticated letter allegedly written by Helfer’s widow.

If Halper went as far as fabricating a false-story that he traveled to the home of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s widow to purchase his 1919 White Sox jersey and “Black Betsy” bat, how can Heritage and its consignor be so sure that the story linked to the alleged Ruth jersey is legitimate?  This also considering that Heritage in its lot description has already admitted that the jersey itself has been altered and enhanced with the addition of the “Babe Ruth” chain-stitch in the collar.  How can Heritage know that the Ruth chain-stitch isn’t a calculated fraud similar to the Ruth chain-stitch found on the inside collar of the fake 1920 Ruth jersey Halper claimed to have acquired from ex-Brooklyn Dodger Ollie O’Mara?  Has Heritage tracked down the Helfer family or relatives to verify the story?  When Haulsofshame.com tracked down Ollie O’Mara’s son in Reno, Nevada, he claimed his father never had a baseball uniform collection and never sold materials to Barry Halper.  Several Halper fakes with a fabricated O’Mara provenance were sold along with the alleged 1935 Ruth jersey at Sotheby’s including Baltimore jerseys attributed to Wilbert Robinson and Hughie Jennings.  The Robinson jersey sold for $27,600, however, when it sold again at Legendary Auctions nearly a decade later it sold for only a few thousand dollars as an old jersey unattributed to Robinson even though Robinson’s name was chain-stitched into the garment.  Comparisons to authentic Baltimore jerseys form the period also confirmed the fact that Halper’s alleged treasure was bogus.

Will Heritage’s questioned Ruth jersey attributed to Ruth in a year he didn’t even play meet the same fate as Halper’s bogus Robinson?  Is it just a generic Yankee jersey that was coupled with a good story in a magazine?  Did Barry Halper add the chain-stitched Ruth name to create another Halper-special?

You can’t really blame Heritage for wanting to hide the Halper provenance considering that the Baseball Hall of Fame has even removed the “Barry Halper Gallery” from its museum.  That’s the same gallery space where the fakes attributed to “Shoeless Joe” were exhibited to Hall of Fame visitors for years.

We asked uniform expert Dave Grob of MEARS for his opinion on the offering of the alleged Jackson and Ruth jerseys and he summed up the situation like this, saying, “Provenance and or current ownership should not be more important or valuable to the collector as should be the timely and transparent results of research into the artifact in question.  As I have said on numerous occasions, provenance can not make any item into something that it is not.”


By Peter J. Nash
April 10, 2013

Wright's Wronged: Only four portraits of baseball's Wright Bros. survived the NYPL heist. (Spalding Collection, New York Public Library)

When Elizabeth Churchill Spalding sent her late husband’s baseball collection to the New York Public Library in 1921, it was comprised of the baseball archives of baseball pioneers Albert Spalding, Henry Chadwick, James Whyte Davis and Harry Wright. The collection included manuscripts, scrapbooks, score books, correspondence and photographs of the pioneers and the men who shaped the game in the 19th century.

In the 1970s, however, the Spalding Collection was targeted by thieves who pulled off a remarkable heist that resulted in the disappearance of thousands of documents and manuscript pages from Wright’s personal archive, including pages which were cut and sliced from the baseball pioneer’s handwritten diaries and account books.  One of those stolen pages was offered and sold by Premier Auctions in Arizona last month

Daryl Brock, author of If I Never Get Back, a celebrated novel that incorporates Harry Wright as a character, utilized the NYPL collection in his research and recalls viewing the first volume of Wright’s “Note and Account Books” which covered the years 1860 through 1871. We showed Brock the stolen page offered by Premier and afterwards he recalled the volume he examined.  ”Pages were missing and I have no way of knowing if the one in question now was one of them. The small penciled page sure looks like the same format though,” said Brock.

A page dated from 1863 in the NYPL's Wright Account Books archive (left) shows that the page fragment offered by Premier Auctions originated from the same type of ledger notebooks found in the Spalding Collection.

In addition to the manuscript materials, thieves have also looted the bountiful collection of photographs that emanated from Harry Wright’s archive and were documented in the original inventory as including over twenty portraits of the “Father of Professional Baseball” and another ten of his brother, Hall of Famer, George Wright.

When the library conducted an inventory of the Spalding Collection’s photographic holdings in 1986, photo archivists could only locate three portraits of Harry and just one of George. It was solid proof that the library thieves were just wild about baseball’s famous Wright brothers. It appears that two of the portraits may have survived because they were likely housed in their original frames (and were not even identified on the 1922 inventory) and the third was a rare Kalamazoo Bat cabinet card of Wright that was one of six duplicates once in the collection (that means the other five have vanished). The Kalamazoo Bat card of Wright is listed as being worth $62,500 in The Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. To date, the library and the FBI have recovered two more portraits, one a cabinet photo shot by Boston photographer Taylor and an 1872 CDV shot by Boston photographer Warren. The Wright cabinet was identified when it was listed for sale in a Lew Lipset auction in 2005, and the CDV was snagged after being offered for sale on eBay back in 1999.

The year 1999 also saw several other stolen Wright photos surface as they hit the auction block at Sotheby’s as part of the Barry Halper Collection. The Sotheby’s auction featured several cabinet photos and a CDV of Wright in dress clothes which appeared as lot 1350. At the same time another CDV portrait of Harry in 1868 surfaced in a MastroWest auction in 2000. A missing tintype of Harry shot in Cape May, NJ, also surfaced in a Barry Sloate auction.

All of these portraits of Harry Wright were stolen from the NYPLs Spalding Collection. The examples in the bottom row are presented with the reverse of each card exhibiting defacement of the NYPL ownership stamp and storage designation.

After Halper’s death in 2005, his estate and his widow consigned two other Wright cabinet photos to Rob Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions, in Watchung, NJ. One was an inscribed cabinet by Randall and the other a MacIntire cabinet of Wright in spectacles. Both cabinet cards showed the tell tale signs of having once been part of the Spalding Collection with sections of paper loss on each card’s reverse where NYPL stamps and identifications were once located but now defaced.  A collector named Ken Wirt, of Springfield, Missouri, purchased the stolen MacIntire cabinet at REA and regularly shows it off on collector forum Net54.

This page from the 1922 NYPL guide to the Spalding Collection includes specific inventories for the portraits of George and Harry Wright (outlined in red). The additional handwritten notes and numeric designations were added by collector and researcher Charles W. Mears.

Based upon the surviving and recovered photos still at NYPL (as well as others identified on the SABR contact sheets of photo shoots at the NYPL in 1983 before they were stolen), it appears the NYPL collection at one time had every known portrait of Harry Wright except for one: the standing portrait of Wright holding a ball photographed by Jordan & Co. for the 1863 Grand Benefit Match CDVs.  That CDV was purchased in 2000 by Keith Olbermann for over $82,000 in the same Robert Edward Auctions sale that featured the infamous trimmed Gretzky-McNall T206 Honus Wagner.  The fraudulent offering of the PSA-8 graded Wagner brought over $1.2 million for Lifson and his then partner, the currently indicted hobby kingpin, Bill Mastro, who had his guilty plea agreement nixed for a second time by a Federal Judge in Chicago yesterday.

What are the odds that Harry Wright saved a copy of virtually every other portrait ever taken of him, except for the significant 1863 Jordan & Co. CDV, which he created as a ticket and is documented in his personal notebooks still housed in the Spalding Collection ?

These five portraits of Harry Wright were all featured on CDV photographs once housed in the famous Spalding Collection. The only one that remains in the collection is the example to the far right which was recovered when a seller offered it on eBay in 1999.

Of all the CDV photographs of Wright that he saved for himself (and were identified on the original 1922 NYPL Spalding Collection inventory) only one remains and even that one was stolen. That Warren CDV of Wright in his Boston uniform appeared on eBay in 1999 and was recovered by the NYPL when collectors noticed the defaced NYPL stamp on the CDVs reverse. Two other CDV portraits of Wright are documented in published books including A. G. Spalding’s America’s National Game in 1911 and in John Durant’s The Story of Baseball, which includes a credit to the NYPL.

There are two tintype portraits of Harry Wright missing from the NYPLs Spalding Collection and there are only two known to exist in private hands having sold at public auction. One sold at "19th Century Only Auctions" (far left and right) and the other by dealer Barry Sloate in 2002 (center).

In addition to the CDV-style photographs of the 1860s and the cabinet-style images of the 1870s and 1880s that were originally housed in the Spalding Collection, there were also two “tintype” portraits of Wright noted in the 1921 inventory. They were listed as: “Wright, Harry. (Cape May, N.J., Heiss) Tintype” and “Wright, Harry. Charleston S.C. 1886- Tintype.” Only two Wright tintypes have ever appeared at public auction; one was sold by 19th Century Only Auctions for $6,500 in 2005, and another was sold by Brooklyn dealer Barry Sloate in 2002. In his lot description Sloate states his offering was “one of the very few known tintypes to picture a famous and identifiable player, much less a Hall of Famer.”

This Warren CDV (left) and McCormick cabinet photo of George Wright were stolen from the Spalding Collection but have yet to be recovered.

As we’ve illustrated here, virtually every donated portrait photograph of both Harry and George Wright has been looted from the NYPLs Spalding Collection yet, somehow, the most important of those photos, the 1863 Jordan & Co. CDV of Harry, is somehow accepted as not having been part of the comprehensive Harry Wright collection. Instead, we are to believe that the CDV appeared legitimately along with several never-before-seen CDV’s of George Wright as “unearthed treasures” in a Butterfield & Butterfield auction in 1997, with no mention whatsoever as to provenance.  One of the CDV’s was a c. 1866 photograph by Grotecloss featuring George Wright and what appears to be his Unions of Morrisania baseball teammate Tommy Beals.  The NYPL’s Spalding Collection lists several “unidentified” Grotecloss CDV’s on its “Missing List” of unaccounted photos.

The 1997 Butterfield auction included the Harry Wright Benefit Ticket CDV and several cricket related CDV's featuring his brother George Wright. Another Grotecloss CDV of George with an unidentified "friend" was also included and sold later by dealer Barry Sloate. The unidentified friend on the 1866 CDV may be George's baseball teammate Tommy Beals from the Union BBC.

From here we will take a much closer look at the history and provenance of the 1863 Jordan CDV of Harry Wright and the circumstances surrounding its discovery in 1997. We will examine the current offering of the card at Robert Edward Auctions Spring sale and review the research that the auction house has published as part of the lot description for the upcoming auction.

The known population of Jordan & Co. CDVs and CDVs/Tickets:(Top row l-r) Harry Wright (CDV-Ticket,Butterfield/Lipset); George Wright (CDV,Butterfield/Lipset); Harry & Sam Wright (CDV-Ticket REA, 2013); Crossley, Black Cap (CDV-Ticket, Leiderman/Mastro); (2nd Row l-r) Hammond- w/ball(CDV-ticket); Crossley- black cap (CDV-ticket); Crossley-White cap (CDV-Ticket) (All Barry Sloate); (3rd Row l-r) Sam Wright (2) (CDV-Ticket,NYPL); Crossley-White cap (CDV, NYPL); Hammond w-ball (CDV-ticket, NYPL); Hammond w/bat (CDV-ticket, NYPL)

In addition, we will also document the entire population of Jordan & Co. CDVs in both private hands and at the New York Public Library, thus giving a new and fresh perspective on the CDV-ticket issue created and sold by Harry Wright to promote both cricket matches and baseball games in 1863.

Just recently Haulsofshame.com confirmed that one of the E. T. Anthony CDV’s featuring Harry and Sam Wright is missing fron the NYPL’s Spalding Collection.  The original inventory listed one example but in the 1920’s researcher and collector Charles W. Mears indicated on a subsequent NYPL inventory that the collection featured a duplicate of that same CDV.  Mears made a handwritten notation in the NYPL’s master inventory booklet that was examined and documented by historian John Thorn in 1983.

There are only four known copies of the E. T. Anthony CDV featuring Sam and Harry Wright. The NYPL had two in its collection but only one remains (far left). Only three other examples have surfaced publicly including one that surfaced in a 1992 Wolfers auction (far right) and two others that appeared in a Butterfield & Butterfield auction in 1997.

The first Wright father and son CDV appeared in Richard Wolfers 1992 “Treasures of the Game” auction as the #1 lot with an estimate of $10,000-$12,500.  Two additional copies appeared in a Butterfield & Butterfield auction in 1997 allegedly originating from a CDV photo album with an alleged Wright family provenance.  With only three examples known to exist in private hands, the odds are great that one of those three examples is the missing NYPL CDV. (A newly discovered Jordan & Co. ticket-CDV featuring a different pose of Sam and Harry Wright appears as lot #7 in REA’s current sale).

With the confirmation that the CDV featuring Harry and Sam Wright is missing, are all of the Jordan & Co. CDV-tickets that were originally part of the Spalding Collection in 1922 accounted for?

(Look out for our next installment about the 1863 Harry Wright CDV by Jordan & Co.)


By Peter J. Nash

April 4, 2013

Season tickets for the Boston BBC in 1903 (top) and 1876 (bottom) are being offered in Huggins & Scott's Spring auction.

(FOR UPDATE SCROLL TO BOTTOM)

Baseball season is finally here and many fans are busy lining up their season tickets for MLB’s 2013 campaign. Collectors, likewise, are hitting the spring baseball auctions to chase down relics from seasons long gone, and in the case of Huggins & Scott Auctions, eyeballing a few original season ticket books and passes for the Boston Beaneaters Base Ball Club from the long-gone seasons of 1876 and 1903.

The auctioneer describes the 110-year-old 1903 season ticket booklet as:

“An amazingly well preserved book (which) features a gorgeous leather bound cover (bearing)  lustrous gilt lettering which reads “Boston Base Ball Club, Season 1903, 104”. The page inside the front cover records the ticket holder as “Mr. Fred E. Ling” and is signed by team treasurer J.B. Billings.”

The second Boston relic in the sale from the season of 1876 is described as:

“A very appealing Boston Baseball Season Ticket pass from the NL’s inaugural season 1876. Certified Authentic by SCG this dynamic ducat also bears the signature of Team President N. T. Apollonio with JSA authentication noted on the flip. This extremely rare relic appears to be unused, as the “Admit” line is not filled out.”

The complimentary tickets from 1903 are said to be worth over $6,000 but they didn’t belong to “Fred E. Ling” as the auction house described.  The tickets were actually issued to Boston team treasurer Frederick E. Long, the man who ran the day to day financial operations for the Boston franchise from the 1870s through the 1890s.  Long handled all of the team bank accounts; issued paychecks to players like “Old Hoss” Radbourn and “King” Kelly; corresponded with managers like Harry Wright when the team was on the road and oversaw all of the stockholders of the club for every season he was affiliated with the Boston nine since they joined the National League in 1876.

In 1983, Long’s descendants donated his personal archive of baseball files and mementos to the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown, New York, constituting the “Frederick E. Long Papers Collection”, one of the most magnificent archives of baseball business records known to exist from the 19th century.  Included in the archive is the voluminous correspondence between Long and Hall of Famers Harry Wright and A. G. Spalding, bank books, stock ledgers, cancelled checks, promissory notes and, yes, complimentary tickets issued by the club along with the lists of fans they were distributed to by Long.

The Frederick Long Collection in Cooperstown includes a consecutive run of Long's own season ticket booklets for the seasons spanning from 1895 to 1902. Pictured above in their archival box at Cooperstown are the 1899, 1900, 1901 and 1902 booklets. (National Baseball Library, Cooperstown)

The Huggins & Scott offering of a 1903 ticket book issued to Long is curious to say the least since the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Long Papers archive (which spans from 1871 to 1905) lists the entry for Box #20, Folder 2 as: “Season Ticket Books and Passes- 1871 to 1902.”  In fact, the archive includes Long’s personal complimentary ticket booklets for the seasons of 1895, 1896, 1897, 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901 and 1902.  There’s no 1903 ticket booklet in Cooperstown and no 1904 or 1905 examples either.  Long, however, did receive a complimentary pass from the Boston club in 1905  as evidenced in a letter from Geo. B. Billings that is currently found in the Long archive.  Where, then, did the 1903 booklet being offered at auction come from?

The 1902 season ticket booklet housed at the HOF in the Long Papers Collection (left) is the last of a series in the collection which starts in 1895. The Huggins & Scott offering (right) appears to have originated from the same collection.

We sent images of the Hall of Fame’s similar items and also asked Huggins & Scott’s Josh Wulkan where his consignors acquired the 1903 ticket book and 1876 pass.  Wulkan said, “We have no comment at this time.”  At time of the publication of this article both lots were still included in the current sale which ends on April 11th.

The Long Papers Collection at the HOF includes several unused 1876 season passes for the Boston BBC, two of which are numbered 122 and 123. The Huggins & Scott offering is in the exact same sequence at #124.

If it appears that the 1903 booklet may be missing from the Hall’s Long Papers Collection, the origins of the 1876 season pass are even murkier considering that the Long archive includes at least eight identical unused and unexecuted passes from the same season?  Then consider that the Huggins & Scott pass is designated #124 and the Hall of Fame’s Long Papers collection includes the two preceding unused passes numbered 122 and 123.  What are the odds the Huggins & Scott offerings weren’t part of the infamous 1980s heist at the Hall?

Items stolen from the Hall of Fame have been showing up in public auctions for the past few decades, but recently it appears that owners of stolen and suspect materials are becoming more confident in selling the material since the Hall has not pursued recovery of any of its property even when there is photographic documentation of the items at the Hall before they were wrongfully removed.  Most recently the Hall failed to make an effort to recover an 1870 Philadelphia Athletics CDV that appeared in a Legendary auction.  Items from the National Baseball Library’s August Herrmann Papers collection, Ford Frick Papers collection and photographic collections appear to have been hit the hardest by the 1980s heist which is believed to have resulted in millions of dollars in memorabilia vanishing from the institution.

In 2006, REA sold a July 25, 1879, letter from Harry Wright to Frederick Long written in Syracuse, NY (left). The HOF's Long Collection includes a series of correspondence in that time period and a letter Wright sent to Long on July 27th from a Syracuse hotel.

The Frederick E. Long Papers collection appears to have been victimized as well, with the first strong proof of theft surfacing in a 2006 Robert Edward Auctions sale of an 1879 letter written to Long by Boston manager Harry Wright.  The Long collection features a sizeable group of Wright’s correspondence with Long during the season of 1879 including a series of letters sent to Long on July 23rd, July 25th, August 3rd, and August 7th.  The REA offering was a letter from Wright dated on July 27, 1879, and sent from Syracuse, New York, just like the letter Wright sent two days earlier from the Syracuse House Hotel.  REA sold the letter for $4,350.

The HOF's Long Papers archive includes signed documents featuring signatures of the most sought after Hall of Famers as evidenced by this 1890 promissory note signed by "King" Kelly. (Frederick E. Long Papers, National Baseball Library, Cooperstown, NY)

Frederick Long also maintained the stockholder records of the Boston Base Ball Club and the archive still contains Long’s handwritten ledger pages documenting every shareholders stake in the baseball club.  It is suspected that the large cache of original Boston BBC stock certificates and certificate stubs that surfaced in the hobby years ago had its origins oin the Hall’s Long Collection as well.  If items were, in fact, stolen from Long’s donated materials, it appears the thieves missed the most valuable items in the collection, dozens of signed cancelled payroll checks issued to Hall of Famers “King” Kelly, Dan Brouthers and “Old Hoss” Radbourn.  Industry experts we spoke with said each of those signed documents would be worth anywhere between $25,000 and $100,000 each if ever offered at public auction.  These rare documents from Long’s files have now been microfilmed, so any attempt of a theft would be easily uncovered by Hall officials and librarians.

The curious case of Frederick E. Long’s season tickets, however, is likely not a case the Baseball Hall of Fame is interested in solving.  Although the items appearing in the Huggins & Scott sale have been reported to the Cooperstown Police Department, Hall officials refused to respond or issue a statement when contacted by Haulsofshame.com.

UPDATE (Friday April 12th):

Huggins & Scott Sells Suspected 1903 Boston Ticket Book & 1876 Pass For Big Bucks; Huggins & Scott Consignment Agent Previously Sold Another 1897 Boston Beaneater Relic Stolen From Baseball Hall Of Fame

Despite being presented with overwhelming evidence that their two lots appear to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame’s Frederick E. Long Collection, Huggins & Scott and auction VP Josh Wulkan chose not to remove the questioned artifacts and sold the 1903 Fred Long ticket book for a hammer price of $6,500 and the 1876 unused season pass for $7,500.

Unlike bigger auction houses (REA and Heritage) which have withdrawn similar items when presented with evidence suggesting a Hall of Fame provenance, Huggins & Scott has chosen to take the route Steve Verkman and Clean Sweep Auctions has chosen: to ignore the evidence and proceed with the sales of materials believed to have been stolen from the National Baseball Library.   Huggins & Scott did the same recently when they sold a letter written by Fred Clarke that originated from the August Herrmann Papers archive, despite the fact it had been removed from a Heritage Auction in 2010.

The Hall of Fame has compounded the problem by choosing to ignore the same evidence in a futile attempt to save face after embarrassing losses which are reported to total in the millions.  Despite police reports filed with the Cooperstown Police by Haulsofshame.com, Hall President Jeff Idelson and PR rep Brad Horn failed to issue a statement and have also failed to respond to Cooperstown Police Chief Michael Covert.  Huggins & Scott also failed to call the Cooperstown Police to confirm the filing of a report despite being given that information.  The Cooperstown Police cannot investigate the matter unless the victim, the Baseball Hall of Fame, comes forward and acknowledges the loss of the artifacts on the record.

Wulken and Huggins & Scott expressed defiance when we contacted them and even left the name in the lot description of the 1903 ticket booklet as “Fred Ling” despite the fact they have the correct information showing the booklet was issued to “Fred Long” the same man whose family donated his entire baseball archive (including his ticket books and season passes) to the Hall in 1983.

Pressed with the simple question as to where his consignor (or consignors) acquired the suspect items Josh Wulkan told us, “Neither consignor had any information to add.”  When we followed up and stated, “You are going on the record that your consignors didn’t tell you where they got these items,” Wulkan responded, “I didn’t say that.  If you are going to write articles and quote me, please make sure you do so accurately.”  Wulkan added that he was displeased with previous Haulsofshame.com reports stating, “You made me look like an asshole.”

In the mid 1990s Huggins & Scott consignment agent Ron Vitro sold this photo stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame featuring Fred Long's 1897 Boston Beaneaters. The photo was returned to the NBL collection in Cooperstown.

During the auction a source contacted us and suggested that the two Boston ticket lots may have been supplied to the auction by Huggins & Scott’s New York consignment agent Ron Vitro.  Vitro has been linked to the sale of another Boston-related artifact verified as stolen from the Hall of Fame.  In the mid 1990s Vitro sold this writer a rare Elmer Chickering cabinet photograph of the 1897 Boston Beaneater team and the Royal Rooters posing on the steps of the Eutaw Hotel in Baltimore.  The photo was returned to the Hall when it was revealed the Hall had photographic evidence proving the image was stolen from the library collection.  The acknowledgment of the theft and the recovery of the item were processed by Hall librarian Tom Heitz at a time when the Hall was actively seeking recoveries of missing items.  The reverse of the photo Vitro sold also showed evidence of the removal of HOF ownership marks.  When asked about Vitro’s past sale of another stolen Hall artifact related to Fred Long’s Beaneaters Wulkan answered, “No.  Neither lot came through Ron Vitro.”  Wulkan again offered no other information about where the two Fred Long lots came from.  According to the Huggins & Scott website the auction house will haul in close to $5,000 in commissions.

An employee from another auction house summed it up best telling us, “Huggins & Scott is very soft on provenance.”