Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash

May 30, 2013

Brandon Steiner (bottom left) hopes a Jackie Robinson glove will bring $1 million in his "Ground-Breaking Auction."

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The buzz about the movie 42 was growing and the upcoming anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s Major League debut on April 15, 1947, only added to the excitement. Hollywood’s take on the baseball pioneer’s story was ready to hit theaters and the number “42″ was creeping into everyday conversation and the mainstream media.  On MLB’s special day in 2013 every Major League player would be wearing number “42″ in honor of Jackie.

Memorabilia hawkers were sure to capitalize on the 42 hype as MLB issued special “Jackie Robinson Day” baseballs and even TMZ joined the fray posting a celebrity Q&A called, “I Own a Cool Piece of Jackie Robinson History.”

Enter Brandon Steiner, the founder and CEO of the successful Steiner Sports Memorabilia company, the leader in the “hand-signed and game-used” memorabilia industry having partnerships with the New York Yankees and Major League Baseball.  While the bulk of his business revolves around current stars Steiner recently ventured into the world of high-end vintage memorabilia and helped fatten up the college fund for Don Larsen’s grand-kids by selling the actual uniform Larsen wore for his “Perfect Game” in the 1956 World Series.  The perfect Yankee pinstripes fetched a cool $756,000.

As the 42 movie premiere and “Jackie Robinson Day” approached, Steiner busted-out another World Series relic with a link to the Brooklyn Dodgers:  The baseball glove Jackie Robinson used in World Series play in 1955 and 1956.  The glove was slated for sale in a new “ground-breaking” auction of vintage memorabilia, a big step up from Steiner staples like Yankee Stadium dirt and the autographed balls that make their way into the gift-baskets of Derek Jeter’s one-night stands.  Robinson’s glove was the type of treasure that the Steiner PR machine could pimp in every media category.  Steiner was ready to do what he does best; convincing customers that they can’t live without whatever his company is selling along with the claim that the company “prides itself on 100% authenticity.”

On his first stop, Steiner spoke with Michele Steele on her ESPN show, Mint Conditon, and stressed the importance of the baseball treasure introduced as “a 1955 World Series game-used Jackie Robinson glove.”  Considering its importance and its ties to an American icon, Steele said she’d never heard of such an item ever being sold and asked, “How do you know it’s real?”

Steiner responded confidently, “We photo match.”  He added, “You gotta go through a lot of photos especially on this particular item, there’s no Jackie Robinson gloves that we know of especially with game use, used in the 1955 World Series.  Probably even the last glove he ever wore.  It’s a rare glove.  We’ve done a lot of photo matches and everything works out.”

Steiner’s answer suggesting that he had identified the same glove in actual photos satisfied Steele who moved on to ask about the rarity and value of the leather mitt that her guest said could approach “seven figures.”  Steiner said, “We’re hoping that the glove goes for over half-a-million and up towards a million.  It’s going to be interesting to see the interest here with the movie coming out and that kind of excitement.”

The ESPN segment ended with Steele adding, “It would not be an understatement to say this is a Hall of Fame worthy item.”

A glove attributed to Jackie Robinson is included in the HOF collection (left) and is featured on a 2013 Pannini baseball card (right) endorsed by MLB and the Hall.

Steele’s observation was more revealing than she knew for in Cooperstown, New York, another Rawlings baseball glove attributed to game use by Robinson was sitting in a museum display case at the very same Baseball Hall of Fame she had referenced.  In fact, the Panini card company (formerly Donruss) had just issued a trading card set featuring select Hall of Fame artifacts including Robinson’s mitt identified as the “Glove Used During The Official Game” on April 15, 1947.

Now, if there existed a million-dollar glove attributed to Jackie Robinson, the one on display at the Hall would surely fit the bill.  The glove said to have been worn on his hand that historic day has been photographed and presented in Hall of Fame publications, but the claim made by Pannini on its card has its own issues as Robinson played his initial game at 1st Base while the Hall’s is a fielders glove.  The card also states that the glove was used “during his Hall of Fame career.”

That issue withstanding, it appears that neither Steiner Sports or ESPN picked up the phone to check with Cooperstown to see what they actually had on display.  On the day of Robinson’s anniversary Steiner’s Executive-VP, Steve Costello, brought the Robinson glove onto the set of Fox Business News to appear on the show “Markets Now” after the premiere of the movie 42 raked in $27.3 million, making it the number one movie in America sixty-six years to the day of Robinson’s historic game.”

Like ESPN’s Steele, the FOX host asked Costello if the glove he brought on the show was the real-deal, asking, “Are you sure of that?”  Costello responded, “It’s the only Jackie Robinson glove in existence and as we were talking about earlier it’s been photo-matched.  The provenance is the 55 and 56 seasons when he played both second base, third base and left field.”

The FOX host prodded further, “But how do you know for sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the glove?  It’s a Rawlings, couldn’t it be just another Rawlings that looks almost exactly like it, how do you tell?”

Steiner claimed on ESPN's "Mint Condition" and FOX Business News that the Robinson glove was "game-used" in the 1955 and 1956 World Series. On FOX a Steiner VP said the glove was "unequivocally" Robinson's glove.

Costello assured him, “Well, it goes through a huge, huge process which goes along the provenance of when the glove was made, when Rawlings gloves were made in that era and on top of that this glove has actually been photo matched.”

Again, Costello, like his boss Steiner, was focusing on this concept of what they call “photo-matching” and said on camera, “And photo-matching is something that we have done with the Don Larsen jersey last year, and that means that it unequivocally is that glove.”

“100-percent,” the host asked? “100-percent photographic evidence,” Costello responded, despite the fact that neither he nor Brandon Steiner had furnished any of the alleged “photo-matches.”  The FOX host even questioned whether the Hall of Fame might have a glove, or spikes, or a hat attributed to Robinson and Costello again answered, “There’s absolutely no (Robinson) glove there.”  Said Costello, “Back then it was just a guy wearing a glove out to play and he wasn’t thinking of historical significance.”

Although the TV hosts were asking relevant questions about whether the glove was authentic, none of them asked where the glove actually came from.  Where had this historic lump of leather been for the past half-century since Dem Bums finally became World Champs in 1955?  What was the real story?

According to an April 10 article published on the Paul Fraser Collectibles Newsletter, “The glove has been consigned along with a game used bat and caps, which were reportedly discovered in a New York City building in which Robinson once rented an office.”  On April 11th, Steiner issued a press release stating that a letter of authenticity was provided by Dennis Esken who was identified as being “renowned in the industry.”  In the press release Esken said, “This rare gem is the only Jackie Robinson glove known to exist.  It was discovered in NYC tucked away in a garage, wrapped in plastic.”  The New York Daily News published their own report claiming that while “Most of the time it’s nothing but marketing hyperbole,” this time “Steiner Sports actually delivers.” Esken told the News, “It is definitely Jackie’s glove.  It is real.”

Glove collector and expert Dennis Esken (far right) told Sotheby's that Barry Halper's alleged "circa 1960" Mickey Mantle glove they sold was made years later in 1964 or 1965. Esken's claim appeared in a 2003 NYDN article about the same misrepresented Mantle glove that Billy Crystal paid $239,000 for.

The primary source claiming that the glove was actually game-used by Robinson was Dennis Esken who is listed in Steiner’s lot description for the glove as the “lead Glove Authenticator.” Esken has been collecting game-used gloves for decades and has been identified by the Daily News in other reports as “one of the nation’s top glove experts.”  In 1999, Esken made waves when he showed up at the Sotheby’s sale of the Barry Halper Collection and informed auction consultant Rob Lifson that a lot sold as a “circa 1960″ Mickey Mantle glove was actually manufactured as late as 1964.  Esken says Lifson dismissed his claim as “just an opinion” having sold the glove to actor Billy Crystal for $239,000.  But Esken says, “I told him it was a fact, not an opinion.  He just didn’t want to hear it.”  Several years later Rawlings senior glove designer Bob Clevenhagen backed up Esken’s claim when Crystal  called him asking what year his Mantle glove was manufactured.  According to the New York Daily News, Clevenhagen told Crystal that the glove was”Made no earlier than 1964 and most likely used in 1966.”  The episode bolstered Esken’s credibility as an expert in the murky waters of memorabilia authentication.

But Esken isn’t just an authenticator, he’s a collector who has authenticated gloves in his own collection attributed to Mickey Mantle in 1956 and 1961, Yogi Berra in 1960 and Roberto Clemente in 1968 .  Esken loaned his 1956 Mantle World Series glove to the Hall of Fame where it was on display for five years and recently loaned his 1961 Mantle glove to the Yankees who exhibited it in their museum for a year.  Esken’s public display of his gloves at the Hall and Yankee Stadium has also bolstered his profile and likely contributed to his being chosen by Steiner to authenticate its Jackie Robinson glove.  Or not.

Steiner’s lot description notes that Esken also applied “some restoration” to the glove, but they don’t mention that this very same Jackie Robinson glove was offered for sale at an American Memorabilia auction just last year on the anniversary of Robinson’s debut.  The glove was offered in its original unrestored state with the same letter of authenticity drafted by Esken and dated October 12, 2012.  The Las Vegas auction house offered the glove as a “Mid-1950s Jackie Robinson Game Used Glove” stating that it was the only Robinson glove known to exist and claimed “we have a photo of Robinson holding this exact glove as well as others that are available.”  Alas, another claimed “photo-match.”

In 2012 American Memorabilia claimed that a 1956 photo of Jackie Robinson (top left) showed him holding the same glove they were selling. But a photographic comparison of the glove in restored and unrestored form (bottom, far right and center) reveals the glove has one punched hole in its index finger while the one in Robinson's actual hand has two (bottom far left). A view of the glove from FOX Business News shows one hole on the inside and another on the outside of the glove.

The photograph posted by the auctioneer was a famous image of Robinson packing up his equipment at his Ebbets Field locker after being traded to the New York Giants in December of 1956.  Robinson is holding what appears to be a Bob Dillinger Rawlings model glove similar to the auction lot.  In essence, the auction house was claiming that Robinson was holding their glove and that it was his last.  But a close examination of the glove in the photograph as compared to the actual glove American Memorabilia was selling reveals definitively that both gloves are, in fact, not the same.  The interior side of the index finger on the glove pictured in Robinson’s own hand clearly exhibits two punched holes for the glove’s lacing while the American offering exhibits just one hole.  It’s an anti-photo match.

The glove didn’t sell in the 2012 auction failing to receive an opening bid at the reserve price of $75,000.  Now, one year later, the exact same glove appears in Steiner’s auction with a minimum bid price of $42,000 and already has a current bid of $310,835 with only three bids having been placed.  The chain of events has several executives in the auction industry scratching their heads. How’d this happen when there isn’t even one visible “photo-match” posted on Steiner’s website which advertises the glove as the one Robinson used in his “Final Season and 1955 World Series.”  Steiner also indicates that the reserve price set on the lot has been met.

Robinson is shown wearing a Rawlings BD model glove in several images shot in 1956 by Hy Peskin (left) and others which are undated (middle, right). Teammate Don Zimmer (right) says that players used several gloves each season.

Players in the 1950’s were known to use several gloves each season usually breaking in one or two new ones at Spring training and then using them throughout the long 154 game season.  One of Robinson’s contemporaries, New York Giant Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, recalls using several each season.  Says Irvin, “Most of us used two or three, sometimes four, but once you got a good one you tried to stay with it.  If you used it too much you’d wear it out.  You wouldn’t practice with it, you’d make it your game glove.”

From his residence in Florida, Robinson’s former Dodger teammate in 1954, 55 and 56, Don Zimmer, told Haulsofshame.com that he also used several gloves.  ”I’d use one, but I’d also have a back up glove and when I went between second base and shortstop I’d change gloves.  I’d use a Lonnie Frey (Rawlings) model and switch to a (Wilson) A 2000,” said Zimmer.  When asked if Robinson had different gloves for each position Zimmer said, “I don’t know for sure but I’d think he would have.”

Taking the claims of Irvin and Zimmer on face value it would seem prudent to research existing photographic evidence of Robinson wearing baseball gloves in 1955 and 1956 in order to support the rather lofty claims made by Esken and Steiner who also claim to have other photos available showing Robinson wearing the glove.

This Lelands auction lot shows an original wire photo showing Robinson before Game 1 of the 1955 World Series wearing a glove with an "open-web" contrasting the glove being sold by Steiner Sports.

Surprisingly, some Internet sleuthing quickly yielded a Lelands auction lot offered in 2006 showing Jackie Robinson and his teammates wearing their gloves just before Game 1 of the 1955 World Series.  (Another search yielded a second current offering on eBay which reveals the photo was published just six days before Game 1 of the 1955 Series.)  As can be seen clear as day, Robinson is wearing a glove with an open web unlike the Steiner glove which features a Rawlings closed “solid-V-Anchor” web.  Robinson played Game one through Game 6 at third base for the Dodgers but was benched by Walter Alston in the deciding Game 7.  Like Zimmer stated, its possible Robinson used this glove for play at a particular position during 1955.  So, how could a definitive claim be made that Robinson wore the Steiner glove in the Fall Classic?

Taking it a step further, a review of the 1955 MLB World Series Video reveals several scenes featuring views of the actual glove Robinson was wearing on the field during actual games.  At 10:08 of Game 2 in the video Robinson is shown wearing a glove with a web similar to that of the Steiner offering, but at the end of Game 3 and at 17:38 of Game 4 Robinson is shown wearing a full, closed web that differs from the Steiner glove.  None of the views from the 1955 Series match the glove that Robinson posed with for the news photo published on September 22, 1955.  If this exercise proves anything it’s that claims for a glove’s game-use need to be backed up with sufficient visual evidence and that players used multiple gloves during the course of a season and even in a single World Series.

To date no film or video clips definitively show the Steiner glove on Robinson's hand in the 1955 or 1956 WS. The clip to the left shows his glove at the end of Game 3 in 1955 and the screen shot of the film to the right shows him holding his glove at Spring Training.

That being said, the Steiner website provides very little to support their “photo-match” claims for the glove they hope will realize upwards of $1 million at auction.  The only visual given is a scan of a page headed: “Dennis Esken-Glove Authenticator-The Ball-Stops Here,” which states the World Series game use and includes two very small undated images of Robinson wearing his glove at Spring training in Vero Beach, Florida.  We called Steiner numerous times for the past few weeks requesting its alleged “photo-match” evidence, but received nothing.

After contacting Victor Moreno at American Memorabilia, we were referred to Dennis Esken who provided us with larger files of the two images he claims prove that Robinson actually wore the Steiner offering.  The overall basis for his claim is the number “42″ written in black ink on the right side of the glove’s strap to the left of the Rawlings label. (The glove was missing its original Rawlings label so Esken attached a makeshift replacement patch “for aesthetic purposes.”)  Esken claims that the glove Robinson is wearing at Vero Beach depicts the same handwritten “42″ that is found on the glove strap of the Steiner offering.  The enlargement he provided showed a “42″ placed in what appears to be the same section of the glove as the Steiner glove.

(Top, left) Close up of the "42" written on the glove Robinson is wearing in an undated photo taken at Vero Beach, FL. during Sprint training (top, right). Glove expert Denny Esken claims the "42" is a "photo-match" to the Steiner offering (Bottom). (Enlargement Courtesy of Dennis Eskin)

Esken knows his gloves and no doubt can also identify which models Robinson was known to wear.  Photos from the period show him wearing several different models in images taken during his Dodger career.  As for the photo he says supports his claim Esken says, “The photo isn’t dated but I know that the glove was made in 1954.  That photo is from 1955 or 1956.  The glove isn’t brand new.”  Esken believes he may have received the glove in Spring Training.  He adds, “The glove is also a “U” laced palm.  Therefore, I don’t really need a photo to date it like other authenticators.”

Esken claims to have knowledge of certain glove nuances that were incorporated by Rawlings glove makers on examples for certain players.  Esken is unwilling to share much of that knowledge publicly as he claims that such information would aid forgers trying to create fraudulent game-used items.  What Esken also won’t answer, however, is where the Robinson glove actually came from and who consigned it to the American Memorabilia auction in 2012.  All he told us was that it “was found by an old Russian woman in a building that Robinson once leased office space.”  Steiner VP Brett Schissler told the Daily News that the glove was accompanied by a bat (also in the Steiner auction) and a hat that the News reported were all given by Robinson to “a New York area-family he leased office space from after he retired from baseball.”  The News also reported that the family “sold the glove to a collector who consigned it to Steiner.”

When the glove appeared for sale in 2012 the owner of the glove under the name “JRMemorabilia” posted a message at CollectorsWeekly.com on its “Show & Tell” message board and stated, “This glove has been in my family for years along with 3 other items.  It has been examined by experts and it is one of our family’s prized possessions.”  The owner mentioned that the glove had the “iconic jersey number “42″ written in black felt tip on the intact wrist strap” and the only comment on the post was left by American Memorabilia telling collectors they could click on an auction link and bid on the glove.  The owner also posted a Robinson bat on the site stating, “PSA GU 9 Jackie Robinson game used bat.  It has been in my family for a few years along with three other items.  It is one of our most prized possessions.”

The owner of the Robinson posted this message at CollectorsWeekly.com under the name JRMemorabilia when the Robinson glove was open for bids at American Memorabilia.

Who was the mystery owner of this small group of items attributed to Jackie Robinson?  Was it the old Russian lady and her family or someone else?  And did they own a parking garage or the building Robinson leased office space in or perhaps both?  Did the family sell the glove to the “collector” before the American Memorabilia sale or were they the consignor?  Neither Victor Moreno or Dennis Esken are willing to reveal the details.  Moreno told us he was not at liberty to disclose the identity of a consignor or details of a “private transaction after an auction.”

Still,  even with the most solid provenance from the player himself or his family, it is extremely difficult to actually prove a specific player ever used a glove on the field in an actual game or for a certain period of time.  Unless a glove has a particular mark or imperfection that is readily identifiable, like the written “42″ on the Steiner glove, it is tough to distinguish iron-clad authenticity.  When Steiner sold Don Larsen’s Perfect Game jersey last year the authentication involved comparisons between the pinstripe alignment of the jersey against photos of Larsen from the game in 1956.  Every point of analysis was a match.  It was the opposite outcome of a situation that arose last month when  Haulsofshame.com broke a story about the million-dollar jersey alleged to have been worn by Reggie Jackson when he hit three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.  Although the jersey was consigned by Jackson, himself, the pinstripe alignment was not the same as what appears on the Game 6 video of Jackson hitting each home run.  Sports Cards Plus, which featured the jersey on the cover of its catalog, pulled the jersey from the sale.

As stated, gloves are more difficult to identify on the field at a certain time.  The photo provided by Eskin suggests that the Steiner glove is the same Rawlings BD model that Robinson used and has the number “42″  handwritten on the glove strap in a space that appears to be the same as the “42″ in the photo.  But, unlike Yankee pinstripes, it is not possible to definitively confirm that both of the numbers written on the glove and this photo are the same.  The angle of the photo and the resolution of the image are not enough for Esken or Steiner to say the glove is “unequivocally” Robinson’s.  It does look like it is the same glove, but considering the secrecy behind where the glove originated, you still have to consider that someone may have tracked down the right model glove and forged the “42″ in the same spot using period photos as a guide.

Based upon Esken’s own analysis, the handwritten “42″ makes or breaks the glove.  But with an unverified “photo-match” from an undated Spring Training photo it is difficult to see how Steiner can claim game use in the 1955 and 1956 World Series, let alone an unequivocal claim that it was once owned by Robinson.

With an alleged current bid topping $300,000, someone out there is really rolling the dice on that handwritten “42″.  There had to be other photographs showing Robinson wearing a Rawlings BD model glove with a 42 written on it.  There had to be some more supporting evidence to justify the Huffington Post publishing an article stating, “The Market For Jackie Robinson Memorabilia Soars.”

An undated photo of Robinson in a game at Wrigley Field shows a clearer and more definitive 42 on his glove (left,top right). The 42 appears to match the number on the Steiner offering (bottom right) and the undated Esken photo of Robinson at Vero Beach (center).

After reviewing perhaps one hundred more photographs of Robinson we stumbled onto Bill Burgess’ excellent website Baseball Fever and found posted what appears to be Robinson playing third base in a game wearing the exact same glove Steiner is offering.  The ivy on the outfield wall reveals the game was at Wrigley against the Cubs, but at first glance all you can see is that Robinson is wearing what looks like a Rawlings model glove with an Anchor-web.  It wasn’t until we enlarged the image that we realized the 42 was present and it wasn’t until we turned the image upside down that we were able to see that this 42 was strikingly similar to the Steiner offering.  Without a high-resolution image of the 42 it is still difficult to reach a definitive conclusion.  Burgess had no information that indicated when the photograph was taken.

Placing Robinson on the field in one undated photo at Wrigley (and posing at Vero Beach in another), however, is a far cry from establishing that the same glove was “game-used” during the 1955 and 1956 World Series.  The video tape review of the 1955 Series has already revealed that Robinson wore an open-web glove in Game 2, but how could anyone ever prove it was this same glove considering how many gloves Robinson was known to use in the course of a season?  Even proving that a handwritten 42 on a glove is a “photo-match” isn’t quite enough.  We even found Robinson wearing another 42 glove in yet another undated photo from the same time period.

This undated Getty image of Robinson (top left) shows him wearing a Rawlings BD model glove with a "42" written on the strap. An enlargement of the image (left) shows that the handwritten numerals contrast the 42 on the Steiner glove (inset, top). Is it possible this glove could also be the one being worn in the "photo-match" utilized by Steiner? (bottom,left)

A Getty image shows Robinson posing at Spring Training and resting on his knee is a glove featuring a jet-black 42 on what appears to be another Rawlings Dillinger model.  When that image is enlarged and compared to the Steiner glove’s 42 it is evident that both gloves are different.  Two different gloves with two different 42’s.  Was this second glove used in the 1955 or 1956 World Series, too?  Without verifiable proof, it is impossible to say.  To say either glove was used in the World Series without providing any additional proof is a misrepresentation.  You also have to consider the possibility that the Spring training “photo-match” Esken found is actually this glove and not the Steiner offering. With some more research, maybe the same 42 will be unearthed, captured on film or on a photograph taken on the field in October of 1955 or 1956.  Or maybe not.

Don Zimmer remembers how he and Robinson used to mark their gloves with numbers or initials using a laundry marker on the strap.  ”Jackie and us guys would put the numbers on the gloves so they wouldn’t get lost.  Back then we wouldn’t bring them in the dugout, we’d leave them on the field at the end of the inning.  Sometimes guys would do crazy things and take the glove and put shaving cream or a garden snake in it.”

Hopefully the $310,000 bidder going after the Robinson glove won’t fall victim to a more serious surprise and a false sense of security thinking that he’s purchasing what Steiner, ESPN and FOX have already advertised as the actual glove Jackie wore when Dem Bums finally brought a title back to Brooklyn.  For now, the evidence just isn’t there to support such claims.

When we asked Dennis Esken if he overreached in his 2012 LOA with the claim of World Series use in 1955 and 1956 he said, “They (Steiner) didn’t ask me for anything.  They didn’t ask me for the ones (photos) I had.  They just want to sell it.  They want to make maximum profit, that’s all the auction houses want to do.”  According to Esken, Steiner didn’t conduct the photo-matching they claimed on ESPN and FOX, they just used his old LOA.  Esken also said he’d send us any other supporting photos he could find.  Calls yesterday to Steiner auction rep Michael Kleinman and the Steiner Media office were not returned.

Dennis Esken, who is identified on his LOA as a “renowned glove expert” summed up the entire Robinson glove mystery with this:  ”It’s the perception of these collectors.  Perception becomes reality.”

UPDATE (May 31): Glove collector and expert, Dennis Eskin,  contacted Haulsofshame.com after this article was published and wanted to add to his previous comments.  He said: “I tried to accommodate you the best I could have.  I do not give out my photos for public knowledge.  They can research just like I had to!  The Jackie Robinson glove is the real deal.  The new owner of that glove can meet me and will get all the details.  He is the only one that is entitled to it.  He paid for that along with the glove.”

UPDATE (May 31 5:55 PM):  STEINER SPORTS RESPONDS TO HAULS OF SHAME REPORT ON $310,000 JACKIE ROBINSON GAME-USED GLOVE

In a telephone conference this afternoon, Steiner Sports CEO, Brandon Steiner, and Vice President, Steven Costello, responded to the May 30 report published by Haulsofshame.com about the auction lot alleged to be a game used glove used by Jackie Robinson in the 1955 World Series and the end of his career as well.  Both Steiner and Costello stated that they relied solely on the expert report issued by Dennis Eskin and that they had not conducted their own independent authentication of the glove.  Costello said, “Steiner is very committed to authenticity and we always rely on experts.  We were told Dennis is the leading glove authenticator in the country.”  In regards to the claim that the glove featured in the auction was the only Robinson gamer known to exist Costello added, “We called the Hall of Fame to check that and the Hall said they did not have a Robinson glove on exhibit .  I believe FOX also called to check that too.” Steiner and Costello were unaware of the Pannini trading card featuring the Hall’s Robinson glove until they saw our published report.

When asked whether the claims of game use in the World Series of 1955 and the claim that the glove was used in 1956 and the end of Robinson’s career Steiner and Costello agreed that the information revealed in the report illustrated that the claims made by authenticator Dennis Esken were not verifiable.  Costello said that the auction lot description would be updated to reflect the new information that had been presented.  Costello also stated that the additional photo revealed in the article, “Shows Robinson actually wore the glove.”

An exhibit case at the Hall of Fame (left) used to include a glove attributed to Robinson, but is not currently on exhibition. Robinson wore a first-baseman's mitt in 1947 (right).

Brad Horn, a spokesperson at the Baseball Hall of Fame, was unavailable for comment and on vacation until June 3.  Costello and Steiner also said they had someone in Cooperstown visit the museum today to confirm that a glove attributed to Robinson was not on display in the museum.  It is likely the glove was removed from the exhibit to be photographed for the trading card.

In addition to the Robinson glove believed to be included in the Hall of Fame’s collection, New York auctioneer, Josh Evans, of Lelands, also told us in an interview that he had handled another game used Robinson glove.   Said Evans, “I sold a glove, the first baseman’s glove seen in the famous and memorable photo taken in Robinson’s den.”  It is believed that was the glove Robinson used in his first game for the Dodgers in 1947.  Over the past few decades,Lelands has handled numerous items consigned directly by Robinson’s widow, Rachel Robinson, and the Robinson estate.

UPDATE (June 3): The Jackie Robinson Game Used Glove failed to receive another bid and sold at Steiner Sports “Ground-Breaking” auction for $373,000 (including buyers premium).  Despite acknowledging that there was not sufficient evidence to support claims the glove was used by Robinson in the 1955 and 1956 World Series, Steiner also failed to update or correct the lot description. Steiner started the bidding at $42,000 and noted a secret reserve price was in place.  After the auction opened for bidding at the beginning of May only three bids were executed and the bid escalated to $310,000 with Steiner noting that the reserve price had been met.

The Steiner final price failed to pass the the prior record price for a glove sold at auction set by Barry Halper when he sold Lou Gehrig’s alleged “Last Glove” at Sotheby’s in 1999 for $387,500.  Despite Halper’s claims regarding that glove, Gehrig’s authentic last glove was on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame as a donation from the Gehrig family.  Halper purchased the glove from Gehrig’s teammate Babe Dahlgren, but inconsistencies in the stories told by both Dahlgren and Halper suggest that the glove was misrepresented and a six-figure fraud.

(Considering the potential value and historical significance of an artifact like Jackie Robinson’s World Series glove, we’d like nothing more than to help prove this glove is the one, so if anyone has any other photographs, film or supporting documentation please forward it to: Tips@Haulsofshame.com )

Illustrated above are excerpts from Dennis Esken's 2012 LOA for the glove he identified as being worn by Jackie Robinson in the 1955 and 1956 World Series.

Supporting Documentation:

Here is a Gallery of Images Showing Jackie Robinson Wearing Baseball Gloves Which We Utilized For Research Purposes:

Images From c.1945-1950

Images From c. 1951-1954

Images From c.1954-1956


By Peter J. Nash

May 24, 2013

This photo of Babe Ruth and Gary Cooper is believed to have a forged Babe Ruth inscription but was sold anyway at REA last weekend.

Despite the published opinion of author Ron Keurajian stating that it was bogus and a supporting statement from actor Gary Cooper’s daughter, Marie Cooper-Janis, indicating that her family never had such an item in the family-held “Cooper Collection,” the controversial “Pride of the Yankees” photo, allegedly inscribed by Babe Ruth to Cooper, was sold by Rob Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions last weekend for a final sale price of $11,850.  Lifson and REA will pocket approximately $3,700 in commissions on the sale of the photo said to be a counterfeit.  As stated in REA’s auction rules, all sales are final.

The REA sale price was considerably less than the price realized when the same photo sold previously at Mastro Fine Sports and Legendary Auctions in 1999 and 2010 for close to $25,000 and $15,600 respectively.

That plunging price could be the result of two Haulsofshame.com published reports indicating that the alleged signed photo was a counterfeit and was supported by the opinion of Keurajian who identified the very same item as a fake in his autograph handbook, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide (McFarland).  Keurajian refers to a specific forger in the book and states, “He (the forger) has gone so far as to create a forged 8×10 photo inscribed to movie star Gary Cooper.”

-Ralph Gary Brauner had the high bid of $9,000 on the photo at REA until he read a Hauls of Shame report about the Ruth-Cooper photograph and requested that the auction house retract his bid.  Auction President, Rob Lifson, denied that request and Brauner proceeded to contact the Newark office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to report REA’s sale of the questioned item.

In regards to his dealings with REA and Keurajian’s published opinion, Brauner told us, “When I spoke to them (REA) I was told it is whom you choose to believe. I did not mention his (Keurajian’s) name. It is the old story if you were not there for the signing you can not be totally sure.”

As for his contact with the Newark office of the FBI, Brauner said,  ”I spoke to the FBI when I first contacted you and I was told the incident of the photo was not big enough for their involvement. Obviously they did not figure the forger may have signed hundreds of things.”

Subsequently Brauner contacted an FBI agent in the New York City office and says the agent responded to his request via email.  Says Brauner, “I emailed him and said I thought it should be pulled.”  The agent, however, did not respond to him after that email exchange.  The collector also posed the question, “I wonder why any of the later owners got rid of it so soon, buyers remorse?  Or maybe they became more knowledgeable, so to speak.”

-Babe Ruth’s own granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, also reached out to an FBI agent to discuss the Cooper-Ruth photo and other suspect Ruth items in the REA sale.  Unlike Brauner, Ruth’s granddaughter never received a call back from the FBI agent.  Says Ruth Tosetti, “Seeing how serious this problem is with forgeries of my grandfather’s signature, I’m very disappointed that the FBI didn’t follow up and respond to this situation.”  Tosetti had been in contact with the same agent on several occasions to discuss issues ranging from Babe Ruth’s stolen will (which has been recovered), Ruth’s World Series rings which vanished at the time of Claire Ruth’s death and the proliferation of Ruth forgeries in the memorabilia marketplace.

Sources familiar with FBI operations told Hauls of Shame that since a March 1st announcement of major budget cuts made by FBI Director, Robert Mueller, some investigations, including those focusing on the baseball memorabilia trade, may have suffered as agents and their cases experienced significant cut-backs.  That would be good news for the baseball memorabilia forgers and other assorted fraudsters who operate nearly scott-free in the widely unregulated billion-dollar memorabilia industry.

-Bill Mastro was the former owner of the tainted Cooper-Ruth photo which was sold in 2010 as part of the former hobby-king’s collection.  Mastro is currently under Federal indictment as a result of a multi-year FBI investigation and awaiting a court date in Chicago Federal Court to see if Judge Ronald A. Guzman will accept the terms of a plea agreement that has already been tossed out of court multiple times.  Sources indicate that the Judge is said to want a stiffer penalty for Mastro and may want him to provide additional information about his former employees and other hobby entities including authentication companies like PSA/DNA and JSA.  Mastro’s new court date is set for May 31.

Experts believe the 1932 U. S. Caramel card of Babe Ruth (left) bears an authentic signature while the 1933 Goudey Ruth card sold by REA last week exhibits a Ruth forgery.

-Jimmy Spence is Rob Lifson’s preferred authenticator and the recent auction conducted by the Watchung, New Jersey, auction house was filled with problematic Babe Ruth items accompanied by JSA LOA’s.

Case in point is the 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth baseball card alleged by JSA and REA to have actually been signed by the Bambino.  The card sold for over $20,000, but experts tell Haulsofshame.com it is a forgery that contrasts an authentic signature of Ruth which graces a 1932 U. S. Caramel card sold at Superior Auctions in the early 1990s.

The Ruth signature on REA's offering (left) appears similarly non-genuine as specimens appearing at Heritage (center) and Legendary (right).

-JSA and REA stood behind several highly questionable baseballs alleged to have been signed by Babe Ruth.  One of which (also bearing a signature of Lou Gehrig) sold for over $25,000 despite the fact that experts say the Ruth signature appears to be a secretarial signature similar to those mentioned in Part 4 of the Hauls of Shame “Operation Bambino” series.

One collector questioned a similar ball sold by Heritage last month for $96,000 (pictured above, center) and questioned JSA directly as to how they could determine the signature was genuine when it contrasted another in the same sale.  The collector, who requested anonymity wrote to JSA stating,  ”I looked at the Ruth autograph and the way the “R’s” are signed are completely different when comparing both balls! You are the “expert” but to me it looks like each ball was signed by a different person? I do not want to throw away a large amount of $$, how do you explain this?”

-Wade Hampton of JSA replied to the collector stating, “The 2 baseballs that you referenced were signed in substantially different eras. The first ball is an on the run signature of Ruth and Gehrig from their playing days and the second is from 1940s after Ruth had long retired.  Signature(s) change and evolve as is the case with these Ruth examples. ”

So, JSA has now added Babe Ruth “On-the-run” autographs to their authenticating repertoire.

Single-Signed Suckers

-Dan Brouthers’ alleged signature on an “ex-Halper” baseball fetched close to $48,000 in the REA sale.  That ball and another allegedly signed by John M. Ward were identified as forgeries by experts but still sold for big-bucks.  The Ward ball sold for close to $20,000. REA’s “enhanced” baseballs signed by the likes of “Sliding” Billy Hamilton and Roger Bresnahan sold for $7,110 and $5,925 respectively.  The “enhanced” Frank Chance ball failed to receive an opening bid at $1,000 even though REA described it as “one of the holy grails for any Hall of Fame single-signed ball collector.”  The bids placed on these balls, despite our warnings to collectors, is proof that vintage single-signed baseballs are the hobby’s most treacherous collectible.  Credit Jimmy Spence and his “video spectral comparator” for creating a new collecting category.

-Christy Mathewson’s Won In The Ninth sold at REA for a hammer price of only $6,500.  The book has been known to sell for upwards of $20,000, but reports illustrating experts opinions that these Matty signatures are secretarial appear to be making some headway.  Nonetheless, another Matty is currently being offered by Legendary without the book.  The secretarial Mathewson signature is encapsulated in a PSA/DNA tomb with a bid of $7,000.

REA withdrew a group of alleged Babe Ruth autographs and the 1863 Harry Wright cricket CDV purchased by Keith Olbermann in 2000.

“First Baseball Card” Flop

-Keith Olbermann purchased the 1863 Harry Wright Grand Match cricket CDV from  MastroNet and REA in 2000 and sources indicate that he was also the consignor to the REA spring sale.  REA announced that the Wright CDV was withdrawn at the request of its consignor but gave no particular reason.  Olbermann is mum on the subject and has not responded to a request for comment.  At the time the CDV was pulled it had not received its opening bid of $50,000. Haulsofshame.com has since uncovered additional information suggesting that the Wright CDV and photo album, sold at Butterfield & Butterfield in 1997, may have been part of George Wright Collection donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1941.  Stay tuned for additional coverage.

Consignor Power

The large 11-lot group of JSA-authenticated photographs alleged to have been signed by Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner was also withdrawn from the REA sale at the request of the consignor.  The signed photos, like the Cooper-Ruth photo, were identified as forgeries by several experts and sources indicate that Lifson and REA withdrew the items to save face after its consignor’s provenance story began to unravel.  The consignor, Dean Laigle, told us his side of the story and why he says the lots were removed:

When my mother gave them to me, she knew I was a huge baseball fan and she barely knew who Babe Ruth was and had no reason to keep them.  She didn’t even know they had any value to them at all.  We come from a fairly large family and most of my relatives were after them so they could sell them and make a quick buck.  I told my mother that I would hold on to them and protect them for her if she ever wanted them back for whatever reason.  When Rob Lifson  asked me to write the LOP, I did so with the expectation that my name or my mother’s name would not be used.  He called me one day and said he just needed some information to verify that I am who I said I am and that my family actually exists.  I gave him my mother’s name and all her important information so that he could privately check up on us.  I asked him not to contact my mother because she did not know I was trying to auction them off.  My mother’s home recently went into foreclosure and she cares for my brother who has MS.  She is not in the best of health herself I thought she could use the money to help get a caretaker for him and possibly get her home out of foreclosure.  Instead, he contacted her almost immediately.  My mother read the LOP I wrote and felt violated that now everyone knows it is her.  He also pressed her for more information which she really wasn’t able to provide.  She ended up telling him something a little different than what she told me but she couldn’t even remember what she told me.  I asked her about what she said to him and she thought that maybe she had confused the photographer with someone else but wasn’t sure.  In her 25 years of working for the state of Maine, she had thousands of clients.  Some members of my family found out about this and immediately went to the REA auction site and started to cause problems as they saw the photos were increasing in value daily.  I love my family but they are all after something that isn’t theirs, if you know what I mean.  Because of the friction is was causing my family and the trust that Rob violated, I asked him to withdraw the photos.  I do not need the money as I am well off (so to speak) but my intent was to give the money to my mother.  She is a proud woman and will not accept help from me but if she received money from the photos then I think it would be different since the photos were hers in the first place.”

As for the authenticity of the photos, Laigle said:

“I’m sure JSA has some issues but he can’t be wrong 100% of the time.” He added, “I would be willing to let anyone who thinks they are an expert view them.  REA is returning them to me and I have already been contacted by other’s that want to still buy them.  Obviously someone thinks they are real.”

-REA’s consignor has not yet resurfaced with the photographs for sale.  It appears that Rob Lifson and REA came to their own conclusion that the photographs were not genuine despite the opinions and LOA’s he received from his alleged expert, Jimmy Spence.

(If you have any information related to these stories or others drop us a line at: Tips@haulsofshame.com )


By Peter J. Nash

May 17, 2013

Rob Lifson includes a 1999 thank you letter from fraudster Barry Halper in his Spring catalog.

The Spring auction season is upon us and the catalogs from the likes of Heritage, SCP and REA have already made their way to the doorsteps of collectors all around the country.

In Dave Kohler’s SCP catalog collectors got a look at Reggie Jackson’s million-dollar jersey from the night he became Mr. October hitting three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series.  They also got a peek at an alleged signed photo of the 1927 Yankees with an LOA from the family of George Pipgras.  But the pinstripes on Jackson’s jersey were a dead giveaway that the jersey was not the genuine article and several experts we spoke with are of the opinion that the 1927 signed photo of the Bronx Bombers is a forgery.  An alleged forgery that SCP sold for close to $300,000. SCP and Kohler ended up pulling the Jackson jersey from the sale.

Chris Ivy and Heritage Auction Galleries sold a Lou Gehrig ball that we reported was likely a forgery for close to $70,000 and an alleged 1935 Babe Ruth Yankee uniform that originated from the infamous Barry Halper Collection for close to $300,000.  Heritage changed its original catalog lot description online and removed all reference to Halper’s name due to the recent documentation of scores of uniform forgeries in his collection .  That ploy worked well for their consignor who originally bought the jersey from Halper at Sotheby’s for $79,500.

The first copy of Robert Edward Auctions’ catalog went to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in what REA President Rob Lifson calls, “an annual tradition.” This despite the fact that one ex-Hall official has confirmed that Lifson was banned from the Hall’s National Baseball Library with his name appearing on an internal watch-list containing the names of known institutional thieves.

Lifson was apprehended stealing rare CDV photographs from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection in 1979 and has been linked to the sales of numerous stolen artifacts that once belonged to his former mentor, the deceased New York Yankee partner and collector, Barry Halper.  It is Halper who has been identified by a source prominent in baseball circles as the self-admitted mastermind behind the multi-million dollar heist from the library.

When the Hall of Fame opens up their complimentary copy of the 2013 REA catalog they can view the inside cover and read the 1999 thank you letter that Halper sent to Lifson describing the “spectacular job” he did serving as the special consultant for the Sotheby’s auction of his collection in 1999. Halper notes Lifson’s “unparalleled knowledge, judgment, experience,” and “integrity” in the letter from the man described as a “Friend of Robert Edward Auctions.”

The Hall of Fame is all-too-familiar with Barry Halper and his once celebrated collection having been victimized to the tune of several million dollars after purchasing counterfeit and misrepresented artifacts from him in 1998 including fakes attributed to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Mickey Mantle and other baseball legends. One would think Lifson’s inclusion of Halper’s letter would raise a few eyebrows in Cooperstown considering the Hall has removed the “Barry Halper Gallery” space from the museum after the magnitude of frauds perpetrated by him were uncovered and exposed by Haulsofshame.com in 2010 and 2011.

Hobbyists and fellow auctioneers are baffled by Lifson’s inclusion of the Halper letter in the catalog and one prominent collector told Hauls of Shame, “It’s the giant white elephant in the room.  I think he’s in serious denial.”

While Lifson includes the letter of praise from Halper in the catalog, he is not as quick to reveal a Halper provenance on items being offered for sale in the current auction.  Case in point is Lifson’s offering of what is described as a rare single-signed baseball of 19th century Hall of Famer Dan Brouthers.  Nowhere in the lot description does Lifson mention that the baseball originated from the Halper Collection and that he actually sold the ball for Halper in the early 1990s for close to $20,000.

The Dan Brouthers signatures illustrated to the left are housed in the Baseball Hall of Fame's Long Papers Collection (the top two are believed to have been signed by someone other than Brouthers). The signatures are written on endorsed and cancelled paychecks from the Boston Players League team in 1890. The signature at the bottom is from a 1917 letter written by Brouthers that was donated to the Hall of Fame.

I know about the Halper provenance because I’m the person who purchased the baseball from Lifson and Halper believing that I was acquiring the genuine article once held in the hands of the 19th century batting champion.

The ball was authenticated by world-renowned handwriting expert Charles Hamilton, however, Hamilton had no exemplars with which to compare to the signed ball and unfortunately relied primarily on the “Halper Provenance” and the fact that it was signed on a genuine c.1919 National League ball with what appeared to him to be period ink. (Halper also claimed to have a Brouthers signature executed in pencil on 1890’s ledger pages, however, the pencil signatures on those pages are of questioned authenticity as opposed to the ink signatures which are considered by experts as genuine.)

This alleged Dan Brouthers pencil signature was executed on the 1890s ledger pages from the Barry Halper Collection which sold for $92,000 at Sotheby's in 1999. The Brouthers signature and all of the other signatures signed in pencil on the ledger pages are believed to be non-genuine and added at a later date, while the ink signatures appear to be genuine.

Hamilton did not have the opportunity to study the illustrated authentic Brouthers exemplars that have been made available recently via the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Frederick Long Papers Collection, which includes numerous Boston team payroll checks endorsed by Brouthers.  In addition, the Hall also has in its collection an authentic 1917 handwritten letter executed by Brouthers as the manager of a semi-pro club in Brooklyn, NY.

We asked expert and author Ron Keurajian what he thought of the Brouthers ball and after viewing it on the REA site referred us to quote him from the Brouthers autograph study in his book which states, “I know of no signed…. baseballs.”  Keurajian also says, “Just about 100 percent of Brouthers signatures in the market are forgeries.”

Of course, the REA Brouthers ball is accompanied by a Jimmy Spence/JSA LOA just like another highly suspect offering by Lifson which he claims is an authentic baseball signed by Hank O’Day, the newly elected Hall of Famer and umpire.

This alleged Hank O' Day baseball bears little resemblence to the six authentic O'Day signatures found in the HOF's Herrmann Papers Archive ranging from 1902 to 1921.

The ball also features what is described by REA as a secretarial signature of Babe Ruth and another of Cincinnati Red player Mike Mitchell.

The Mitchell signature appears to be the only authentic scrawl on the ball when compared to other authentic versions of his signature originating from the August Herrmann Papers Collection at the Hall of Fame.

Considering the Ruth and O’Day names written on the ball do not resemble the authentic signatures of the two Hall of Famers it is much more likely the ball is simply a Mike Mitchell signed ball with the names of Ruth and O’Day written on it for some reason.  REA erroneously claims the Ruth signature is written in another hand and just assumes that the alleged O’Day is genuine based solely upon JSA’s flawed opinion.

The next remarkable baseball in the REA sale that appears grossly misrepresented is the alleged “Sliding” Billy Hamilton single-signed baseball.  REA states:

“….Hamilton has signed the ball “Sliding Billy Hamilton” in black fountain pen across the sweet spot, directly below which he has added the date: “Sept 2 1929.” Both the signature and date grade “8″ overall; however, each has been professionally enhanced. That fact was revealed when James Spence Authentication examined the ball under a video spectral comparator, which allows for the observation of latent writing and/or markings. It is important to note that James Spence Authentication has deemed the Hamilton signature authentic, but it must be properly qualified with regard to the enhancement. Normally, such enhancements are vintage in nature, done by an early owner to help preserve a fading signature. Not so with this example! This ball was professionally enhanced during the late 1990s and we did not need a video spectral comparator to come to that conclusion. We know this because Robert Edward Auctions originally sold this very ball in our September 8, 1994, auction. At that time we duly noted the condition of the signature in our catalog description: “Signature grades only a “4″ or a “5″ due to general wear but is clearly and entirely legible.” In particular, the central “Billy” portion of the signature was badly worn and faded, much more so than any other part of the writing. The next time we saw this ball was a few years later, when it was offered by another auction house, only now the signature had miraculously improved. After a few inquires, we later learned that the original purchaser of the ball from our auction had the signature professionally enhanced for aesthetic reasons. Our consignor purchased the ball at that auction and it has remained in his collection ever since.

While collectors will forever debate the pros and cons of cosmetically altering a signed ball in such a manner, the fact remains that this is, to the best of our knowledge, the only known Billy Hamilton single-signed ball extant. Hamilton’s signature, in any form, is exceedingly rare.”

When Mastro sold the Billy Hamilton single-signed baseball in 1998 there was absolutely no mention of "enhancement" in the lot description.

When the exact same ball appeared in a Mastro Auction in 1998, four years after it originally sold at REA in 1994, there was absolutely no mention of the ball being “enhanced for aesthetic reasons.”  Jimmy Spence also authenticated the ball for Mastro in that 1998 sale.

The "enhanced" "Sliding" Billy Hamilton baseball is shown in its "before & after" states in a 1994 REA auction photo (right) and today in the 2013 REA catalog (left).

The extent of REA’s so-called enhancement, which improved the visibility of Hamilton’s alleged signature, is quite striking when compared to REA’s original photo of the same ball from its 1994 auction.

Why didn’t REA include the photograph of the ball from when it appeared in its 1994 auction?  Perhaps REA didn’t want bidders to have the opportunity to see the level of “enhancement” administered to the ball.  More importantly, who actually enhanced the ball in the first place?  Was it the same person who “enhanced” the now infamous Harry Truman ball that was exposed by Hauls of Shame last year?

These photographs are of the same single-signed Harry Truman baseball. On the left is how it looked when it sold at MastroNet in 2001. On the right is how it appeared at EAC Galleries in 2005 as the "finest example extant.""

When did the concept of enhancing single-signed baseballs come into vogue?  Who enhanced the Hamilton and Truman balls?

The same goes for REA’s alleged Frank Chance and Roger Bresnahan single-signed baseballs which JSA says were enhanced as well.  In 1999 Jimmy Spence authenticated both balls for Mastro without any mention of enhancement.  An expert we consulted with went a step further and identified both signatures as outright forgeries.  So, is there now a new market for graded and enhanced fakes too?

REA and JSA say the single-signed balls of Frank Chance and Roger Bresnahan are enhanced, but experts are of the opinion they are fakes. REA fails to disclose that late expert Charles Hamilton deemed the John M. Ward ball REA is selling was a forgery.

Lifson and REA also fail to disclose that the alleged John M. Ward single-signed mini-ball they are selling was deemed a forgery by late handwriting expert Charles Hamilton back in 1994. (Hamilton had numerous genuine Ward signatures as exemplars when he gave his opinion.)  REA also fails to disclose that this same ball sold in a 1999 Mastro Fine Sports Auctions sale with LOA’s from Jimmy Spence and Mike Gutierrez.  At the time Bill Mastro told this writer, “I had to twist Jimmy Spence’s arm to get a letter on that one.”  I have first hand knowledge of this ball because I originally purchased it from an associate of Barry Halper for over $20,000 in the early 1990s.

The episode featuring the Ward ball is a good example illustrating how auctioneers like Lifson would shop for opinions of so-called experts like Spence to say an item was genuine, despite the fact that a well-known expert like Hamilton had already deemed it a forgery.

Ironically, Spence later authenticated the same ball and also lied under oath in court depositions stating that he had actually studied and worked with Charles Hamilton.  In reality, Spence had only visited Hamilton on a few occasions accompanying a collector who was dropping off materials to Hamilton for authentication.

Speaking of fakes, we can’t forget REA’s other lots alleged to be forgeries by experts including the inscribed Babe Ruth photo to Gary Cooper and the 1933 signed Babe Ruth Goudey baseball card.  Six other Ruth signed photos (and several others alleged signed by Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner) were withdrawn from the auction after being called out as fakes, but REA says the lots were withdrawn at the request of the consignor, not because they were counterfeits.

A testament to Spence’s lack of expertise is another lot withdrawal in the REA sale of an alleged Winston Churchill letter from 1945.  Spence certified it authentic, but the document was actually a mass produced “pre-printed” letter created to look like a handwritten original.  When informed of Spence’s authentication of the letter expert Ron Keurajian responded, “The Churchill facsimile letters are common and are known to the most novice of collectors. To the trained eye they are easily exposed as a pre-printed document. I find it hard to believe that any experienced authenticator would be fooled by them.”

How can Spence consider himself capable of authenticating non-sports signatures when he clearly has more than enough trouble identifying genuine Babe Ruth autographs?

This is a close up of the signatures on an alleged 1927 photo signed by the Yankees. Experts believe the signatures are forgeries, but SCP allegedly sold the item for close to $300,000

SCP Auctions appears to have outdone REA in the Babe Ruth fakes sweepstakes as they sold a PSA/DNA authenticated 1927 Yankee team photo allegedly signed by the Bambino and his teammates.  Hauls of shame.com is of the opinion that that the signatures on the photo are not authentic and every expert we consulted with agreed.  One of them remarked, “That thing is a joke.”  Additional ridicule was directed at many of the single-signed baseballs offered by SCP, Heritage and REA:

Experts consider these alleged single-signed balls of the HOF's early Induction class to be non-genuine. The alleged Jim Bottomley ball certified authentic by Jimmy Spence and JSA is included as an example of one of the worst forgeries ever to get a Spence LOA..

Experts confirmed their opinions that the above referenced “Sucker’s Dozen +3″ was chock-full-of-alleged-fakes (over $250,000 worth).  How the TPA’s and the alleged expertise of Steve Grad and Jimmy Spence could let these alleged forgeries to creep into major sales is remarkable.  If they can’t get Ruth, Cobb, Gehrig, Young and Wagner right what confidence can collectors have in the LOA accompanying their own “certified- authentic” items?

Recent Tim Keefe and George Wright forgeries offered by Coaches Corner are just as authentic as a Winston Churchill offered by REA with a Spence LOA. JSA couldn't tell that the Churchill letter was a mass-produced facsimile copy.

Are your LOA’s in the league with Jimmy Spence’s expert opinions on Winston Churchill and the Babe Ruth to Gary Cooper embarrassment?  Some would say you’d be better off buying some Tim Keefe or Amos Rusie signed balls at Coaches Corner.  Fakes are fakes no matter who is selling them.

The Matty Won in the Ninth secretarial signatures from HA and REA are pitted against a genuine signature from Matty's 1912 Pitching in a Pinch (also for sale at REA). REA uses a 1910 Mathewson letter (bottom) to support the Won in the Ninth inclusion in its Spring sale.

Returning to the Spring sales were the much-maligned secretarial-signed Christy Mathewson Won In The Ninth books.  Heritage sold one for close to $9,000 while REA has a current bid of $4,750 on a Matty fake and $6,500 on a genuine Matty signature featured on a 1912 copy of Pitching In A Pinch.

Expert Ron Keurajian has stated in articles and in his autograph handbook that the signed bookplates in Won In The Ninth were not executed in Mathewson’s hand.  REA and JSA, however, are hanging their hat on a 1910 Mathewson letter sold by Hunt Auctions that they claim shows similarities to the bookplate signatures.  Keurajian disagrees with that opinion and it is important to note that the Mathewson secretarial signatures were attempts to mimic Matty’s actual signature.  That is why there are similarities between the examples in question.

This time around the major auction houses had surprisingly few items believed to have been stolen from major institutions.  We were most surprised that there weren’t any August Herrmann-related documents included in the sales.

There was, however, a beautiful and rare cut signature of Hall of Famer Ned Hanlon that was sold by Heritage and advertised as being clipped from an “official document.”

Ned Hanlon's will was stolen from a Baltimore Courthouse in the 1990s. The will was recovered and bears Hanlon's autograph on a typed signature line. It is believed that other signed probate documents were stolen from the Hanlon file and clipped for "cut signatures" like one sold by Clean Sweep auctions (middle) and Heritage (bottom).

Oddly enough, Hanlon’s last will and testament and other probate documents were stolen from a Baltimore courthouse in the early 1990s and the will was offered by Mastro Auctions in 2000 before the FBI stopped the sale. It is believed that other “cut signatures” were clipped from additional pages executed by Hanlon that were not recovered by the authorities. One such Hanlon “cut signature” appeared in Steve Verkman’s Clean Sweep auction in 2009, and another just sold at Heritage for $6,572.

In its lot description Heritage wrote, “Hanlon went to work as Parks Commissioner for the City of Baltimore, and this elegantly scripted 9/10 black fountain pen signature almost certainly derives from an official document of some form signed in that capacity.”

Actually, it is more likely it was clipped from a legal document in his probate file that has been documented as having been stolen from the Baltimore Probate Court.  The Hanlon signature on the will appears to have been written above a similar black signature line created by a typewriter.  The illustration featured above speaks volumes about the Heritage offering, which included no information related to the provenance of the item.

Jimmy Spence of JSA and Steve Grad of PSA/DNA have authenticated scores of signatures on documents stolen from institutional and municipal collections.  At least they know for sure that these signatures are actually real when they issue their LOA’s.

It’s easy money for the big-time TPA’s endorsed by eBay and virtually every major auction house.


By Peter J. Nash

May 10, 2013

The alleged "First Baseball Card" purchased by Keith Olbermann in 2000 was discovered in 1997 by Antiques Roadshow appraiser and alleged Hall of Fame thief Mike Gutierrez (inset).

Scroll to Bottom For Update:

The Robert Edward Auctions lot description of the alleged “First Baseball Card” once owned by Keith Olbermann is long on speculation that the CDV is one of the most important relics in the hobby but rather short on the issue of provenance.

REA’s Rob Lifson wrote a few thousand words describing in detail the merits of the card and the research he claims was conducted by everyone from officials at the New York Public Library to a “historian for hire” in New Jersey. It isn’t until the end of the write-up that Lifson heads a short paragraph in bold dedicated to the CDV’s “Provenance.”

Lifson says he spoke to hobby veteran Lew Lipset, who sold the CDV and other Harry Wright related materials in one of his own auctions in 1998, and asked if he could contact the person who originally consigned the lot to Lipset’s sale. Lifson says that Lipset obliged, and that he spoke with the consignor who confirmed that the Wright CDV originated in a lot offered at Butterfield & Butterfield Auctions in California in November of 1997.

What Lifson fails to reveal to his customers, however, is that Lew Lipset was part owner of the Wright material when it sold in his own auction in 1998 and his partner in the items, which he fronted the cash for to purchase at Butterfields, was long-time hobby dealer Mike Gutierrez, now a consignment director at Heritage Auctions of Dallas, Texas, and an on-air appraiser for PBS’ Antiques Roadshow.  At the time of his “discovery” of the Wright collection in 1997, Lipset says Gutierrez was working as the sports consultant for Butterfield & Butterfield in Los Angeles.

Lifson, of course, wouldn’t want to advertise that Olbermann’s rare and important CDV of Harry Wright originated with Mike Gutierrez.  It is Gutierrez who was the prime suspect in a late 1980s FBI investigation into thefts from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and it is Gutierrez who has been recently linked to the sales of several rare photographs that ended up appearing in auctions conducted by Lew Lipset.  That’s not to mention that our last report indicated that there may be four unidentified cricket CDVs missing from Harry Wright’s donated archive at the New York Public Library.  That’s the same library that auctioneer Rob Lifson was apprehended at in 1979 for attempting to steal several similar CDV cards.  TIME Magazine covered Lifson’s arrest and stated that he was caught with a “cache of smiling infielders” and $5,500 cash on his person.  TIME reporter David Aikman says NYPL security told him the culprit said he made the cash selling baseball cards in just one day.

With so many stolen and suspected stolen institutional artifacts hitting the market in recent years, the pairing of Lifson and Gutierrez related to the CDV Keith Olbermann paid over $80,000 for in 2000 is curious to say the least.  But is there really anything to worry about?  Is this nineteenth-century gem legit or just another in a long line of plundered treasures that the “Father of Professional Baseball”  once donated graciously with the best of intentions.

While it appears there may be four missing cricket player photographs from the NYPLs Spalding Collection and Wright archive, it is also important to note that Harry’s brother and fellow Hall of Famer, George Wright, had his own archive of baseball memorabilia donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1941 by his son Irving Wright.  Considering Mike Gutierrez’ close links to items believed to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame, the Wright family’s donation to Cooperstown needs to be examined closely.

Cooperstown's Otsego Farmer newspaper reported the donation of George Wright's baseball archive to the Hall of Fame in 1941.

Wright was first approached by Hall of Fame officials to donate his collection to the fledgling institution in 1935 when he was first considered for induction.  However, Hall curator, Alexander Cleland, learned that Wright was ambivalent about granting access to his collection since he had loaned out a few items to other parties who had never returned them.  The incident apparently left a bad taste in Wright’s mouth so he declined Cooperstown’s first request.

Wright passed away in August of 1937 before he was inducted into the newly established shrine, however, Wright’s son saw the merits in donating the entire collection of baseball and cricket related holdings to the Hall.  In 1941, The Otsego Farmer newspaper in Cooperstown announced the donation of Wright’s treasure-trove which included his favorite bat (autographed), his trophy bat from his stint as a Washington National in 1867, a colorized photo of his 1868 Union of Morrisania team and scores of photos and ephemera documenting his play with the famous Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869.

Cooperstown's Otsego Farmer announced the donation of artifacts to the HOF from George Wright's son in 1941. The relics were featured in John Thorn's book, "Treasures of the Hall of Fame." The collection included rare photographs and family heirlooms like an 1857 cricket book (above) passed on to George Wright by his father Sam in 1865.

Also included in the collection were cricket bats and balls and family heirlooms like an instructional cricket book, Felix On The Bat, passed down to the Hall of Famer by his father Sam Wright in 1865.  Wright inscribed the cricket book as “Given to me by my father in the year of 1865. Often I have viewed its contents when a boy looking forward to some day to play the game of cricket well. G.W.”

Historian John Thorn wrote about the same book in Treasures of the Hall of Fame stating, “It was presented to Samuel Wright, father of Harry and George in 1858, on his Benefit Day at the St. George Cricket Club, Elysian Fields, Hoboken, where the English-born Sam was the cricket professional and Harry and George two of the key players (Harry by 1854, George beginning in 1861).”

The inclusion of this relic in the Wright family Hall of Fame donation is important to note because it illustrates that cricket-related materials were part of George Wright’s collection and were considered historically important due to the influence that the game of cricket had on baseball in the mid-nineteenth century.

The photographic materials found in the collections of both Harry and George Wright at the NYPL and Cooperstown are quite comprehensive and include virtually every individual pose known to exist of each Hall of Famer as well as most every team portrait extant.  That tally includes all of the portraits of both brothers stolen from the NYPL as illustrated in a recent Haulsofshame.com report.

What are the odds that both Wright brothers had, despite their voluminous institutional collections, failed to retain a Jordan & Co. CDV depicting themselves at the time of the 1863 cricket and baseball event?  Keep in mind that the Jordan & Co. CDVs were, unlike the majority of the photographs in both collections, actually commissioned and created by Harry Wright.

The 1997 Butterfield auction description said the CDV album being offered featured 30 CDV's of Wright family relatives when it actually included at least 1/3 of the group as easily verifiable cricket CDV's featuring both George and Harry Wright as well as two copies of the well known Matthew Brady image featuring Sam and Harry Wright.

Then, ask what the odds are that such items would finally surface as a lot in a non-baseball sale at a California auction house with no mention of provenance.  Not only was the provenance not disclosed, but the description of the CDV photo album was clearly misrepresented as simply a family photo album when it had two copies of the well-known Harry and Sam Wright Brady CDV and at least nine others with cricket poses and cricket equipment visible.  Far from just a family album of Wright relatives and by 1997 the Wright father and son CDV had been featured as a premier item in Richard Wolfers’ “Treasures” auction.  Add to that equation the fact that Mike Gutierrez was the auction consultant and the individual who wins the lot in the auction along with Lew Lipset as his partner.  Knowing Gutierrez’ controversial past in relation to missing items from the Hall of Fame’s collection, what are the odds his discovery of the Wright material was simply a coincidence or an astounding find?

This rare cabinet card of Harry Wright (left) and an 1869 Red Stockings trade card (right) were both stolen from the Hall of Fame, but were photographed before they vanished sometime in the 1980s. The theft of both relics is unimpeachable proof that Wright-related materials have been stolen from Cooperstown.

Then consider the fact that a heist occurred at the Hall of Fame in the 1980s which resulted in the wrongful removal of what is believed to have been millions of dollars in baseball artifacts, documents and photographs from the National Baseball Library.  At least one rare portrait of Harry Wright has been documented as having been stolen from Cooperstown.  Unimpeachable proof that a rare Kalamazoo Bat cabinet card of Wright was stolen from the museum is illustrated in several of the Hall’s annual Induction Day yearbooks.  Like many of its plundered artifacts the Hall photographed the Wright cabinet before it vanished and that photo has been used to represent Wright’s likeness in the annual programs.  The Wright photograph may even have been donated by George Wright since five duplicates of the same photo were part of Harry’s archive at the NYPLs Spalding Collection in 1921.  Today, only one of those cabinet cards of Harry remains at the library while the other four are missing and likewise the victims of theft.  The 2013 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards lists the value of the Harry Wright K-Bat cabinet between $30,000 and $60,000.

In addition, a Peck & Snyder trade card featuring the Wright Brothers and their 1869 Red Stocking ball club has also vanished from the Hall after being documented via photograph in 1983 as part of a SABR photo shoot.  A similar card just recently sold at Legendary Auctions for over $80,000, while another offered by Legendary last summer was withdrawn from an auction after it was identified as having been stolen from Harry Wright’s NYPL archive as part of the Spalding Collection.  George Wright’s donation to the Hall in 1941 also featured an Imperial sized cabinet photograph of the 1869 Reds also produced and sold by the Peck & Snyder Sporting Goods company (That cabinet photo still remains in Cooperstown).  With the theft of the Red Stocking trade card from the National Baseball Library, the most comprehensive baseball collection in the world is now lacking even one copy of the famous card.  At least five copies of the Peck & Snyder Reds card were stolen from Harry Wright’s collection at the New York Public Library and two of those have since been recovered by the FBI.

The Warren cabinet of George Wright inscribed by his brother Harry (far left) was stolen from the NYPL but documented when it was exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York in the 1950's. The 1997 Butterfield offering featured many rare images of George Wright suggesting that the collection originated from George, not Harry.

Now, consider the theft of those two Cooperstown relics and the fact that the prime suspect in the 1980s FBI investigation into the Hall of Fame robberies was, Mike Gutierrez, the same person who “discovered” the rare CDVs of George and Harry Wright by Jordan & Co. in the Butterfield auction in 1997.

While our previous report shows there are at least four cricket photos missing from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection, could Olbermann’s Harry Wright CDV have actually originated from George Wright’s collection housed at the Baseball Hall of Fame?  The photo album of alleged Wright family related CDV’s contained more images of George than it did Harry.

When George Wright’s collection was donated to the Hall of Fame in 1941 his grandson, George Wright II was 18 years old and fondly recalled his trips to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox with his late grandfather, the Baseball Hall of Famer.  One of his biggest thrills growing up was being introduced to Babe Ruth by his granddad and personally receiving an autographed ball from the Bambino.  George II, unfortunately, took the ball home and played with it, thus obliterating the signature.

George II’s  son, and the great-grandson of the baseball legend, Denny Wright, is well acquainted with the family history of his famous descendant and can attest to the fact that the Wright family retained little in regard to George Wright’s baseball and cricket careers.  Wright says, “Last May my Dad passed away and while going through his belongings there weren’t any original photos or baseball items.  All he had was a typed two-page document related to golf in New England.  That’s all he had and growing up I don’t recall ever seeing any other sports related material within the family, especially photos.”  Wright also says he does not recall anyone in the family possessing or auctioning off a family photo album,  Wright added, “My grandfather was George Wright’s second son and he had a sister who never married.  My father only had a sister, so that’s the only relatives out there.  If there was any sports related material my Dad would have saved it.”

Correspondence in the HOF's collection shows that Irving Wright maintained the collection of his father, George Wright, and that he donated the entire collection to Cooperstown in 1941. (Cleland Papers, NBL)

Correspondence in the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Cleland Papers Collection supports Wright’s assertion.  Between 1935 and 1937 the Hall of Fame made several inquiries to Wright’s son, Irving, through A.G. Spalding & Bros. executive Julian W. Curtiss.  After Wright’s election to the Hall, Museum secretary Alexander Cleland asked if the Wright family might be “willing to give (the museum) something to add to the museum” but was denied when Curtiss responded stating that Irving Wright felt “he would like to retain the baseball memorabilia that illustrated so perfectly the activity of his father’s life.”  In 1941, the Museum’s persistence paid off as they acquired the entire collection as a donation.

Denny Wright’s grandfather, Irving, was also a sporting man who twice won the National Mixed Doubles Tennis championship in 1917 and 1918 and later in life served as the President of the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston.  Irving’s brother, Beals Wright, was an even more accomplished athlete who won Gold Medals in Tennis at the 1904 Olympics  and won the U.S. National Championship of Tennis in 1905.  Denny Wright noted that Beals Wright had two daughters, but it appears that his grandfather (Beals’ only brother) ended up as the sole custodian of George Wright’s collection.  If there were any items that Beals retained they were likely located in George Wright’s former house in Dorchester, Massachusetts, which Beals lived in after his father passed away.  In 2006, several damaged and framed baseball photographs once belonging to George Wright were sold on eBay.  Those items were allegedly found in the same house by the most recent owners of the Wright homestead, which had fallen into serious disrepair.

The Harry Wright CDV and Wright CDV album traces back to Mike Gutierrez and Lew Lipset's partnership on the lot at Butterfield and Butterfield in 1997; to MastroNet Auctions in 2000 when Rob Lifson and Bill Mastro sold it to Keith Olbermann for over $80,000.

Haulsofshame.com has attempted to access the Hall of Fame’s accession records in order to review the 1941 Wright family donation, however, Hall officials Brad Horn and John Odel have been unresponsive to requests and appear to be blocking the public access to this data.

The lack of any solid provenance related to the 1997 Butterfield offering warrants a review of the inventory to see if there were any photo albums donated by Irving Wright to the Hall in 1941.

Contrary to Rob Lifson’s claim in his current REA lot description of what Lew Lipset told him about the Wright CDV, Lipset told Haulsofshame.com something entirely different.  In regard to the original Butterfield auction in 1997 and his link to Mike Gutierrez, Lipset told us in an email, “I do remember the Butterfield auction. Mike was working for Butterfield as a consultant and he called me with a description of the album. I told him to “buy it”. We were partners on it.”  Lipset also recalls that Gutierrez was a consultant for Butterfield at the time and even Gutierrez’ Antiques Roadshow bio states that he appraised Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball for Butterfield in 1999.

Lipset went as far as to say he had little first hand knowledge about the Butterfield auction and actually expressed doubt that the Wright materials appeared in an auction.  Lipset said, “I said Mike was working as a consultant as that was what he told me. I never saw the auction that these cards were in and only had Mike’s word for it. That Butterfield auction would have been about 6 months before I auctioned them.”

Lipset could not locate a hard copy of his actual auction from March 1998 for us stating he only remembered his auction later that same year, “It was Oct. 1998. I have a listing on the computer and probably have a catalog buried in my garage somewhere. Lot 9 was a photo of Harry Wright, wife and children in 1866. This was apparently with the CDV album. I have no recollection of it. Lot 10 was CDV of Harry and father Samuel. Write-up notes (said): “Was in the Wright family album auctioned last March and was the only duplicate in the collection. About five copies known of this most desirable pose.”

Lipset is aware of the controversy regarding Gutierrez’ alleged involvement in the Hall of Fame thefts and told Haulsofshame.com he accompanied Gutierrez on one trip to the National Baseball Library in the late 1980s.  Lipset said Gutierrez asked him to come because he was pitching a proposal to Hall officials to access Hall of Famer family information to track down artifacts.   “The one time I went to the Hall with Mike, which I think I told you about, we weren’t there very long. We were in Tom Heitz’ office discussing Mike’s “idea” and don’t believe anywhere else. I don’t think Mike was off by himself, but then, I don’t really remember.”

Lipset indicated that he and Gutierrez no longer speak to each other and also told us he had interviewed at Heritage Auction Galleries for a position as a consignment director at the time Gutierrez accepted the same position working for the auction company CEO’s son, Chris Ivy.  Gutierrez has never responded to Haulsofshame.com inquiries, however, sources we spoke with suggested that either Ivy or Antiques Roadshow producers might be able to find out what his involvement was in the 1997 Butterfield auction.

Several sources have also alleged that Gutierrez is linked to a scheme in which stolen archival materials have been in essence “laundered” as consignments to different auction houses via third parties.  Gutierrez first became a suspect in the Hall of Fame thefts in 1989 when he sold New York auctioneer Josh Evans a stolen signed photo of Babe Ruth with white-out covering its library accession number.  In 1998, the hobby newsletter, The Sweet Spot, also revealed the testimony of a person who accompanied Gutierrez to the Hall’s library and stated he saw Gutierrez steal documents from the Hall’s August Herrmann Papers Collection as he photocopied documents in the library.

The REA website shows that the 1863 Harry Wright CDV has been "removed per request of the consignor."

UPDATE (May 16):  Olbermann-Wright “First Baseball Card” Withdrawn From Current Robert Edward Auctions Sale

After failing to receive an opening bid of $50,000, Robert Edward Auctions has posted a notice stating that the 1863 Grand Match cricket CDV of Harry Wright has been removed from its current sale.  REA states, “Lot withdrawn per request of consignor.”

It is not clear who that consignor is, but the card was last purchased by Keith Olbermann for over $83,000 at a MastroNet/Robert Edward Auctions sale in 2000.  Olbermann has not responded to inquiries asking if he is still the owner of the CDV or whether he disposed of the CDV REA had dubbed “The First Baseball Card.”

It is also unclear whether the removal of the CDV is related to the evidence suggesting that 4 cricket cards are currently missing from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection and other evidence suggesting that the CDV may have been part of a 1941 donation made by Hall of Famer George Wright’s family to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  Last week  Haulsofshame.com reported that REA failed to disclose that Heritage Auction Gallery’s consignment director, Mike Gutierrez, allegedly discovered the CDV in a 1997 Butterfield & Butterfield auction and that veteran dealer Lew Lipset financed the purchase as Gutierrez’ partner.


By Peter J. Nash

May 6, 2013

REA's 1863 Harry Wright CDV was sold alongside the fraudulent and trimmed Gretzky-McNall T206 Honus Wagner in an REA/MastroNet sale in 2000.

Robert Edward Auctions has made quite a fuss over its offering of an 1863 cricket CDV of Harry Wright in an attempt to establish it as the “First Baseball Card.”  REA president Rob Lifson goes on at length about the research his company has conducted to make the case that the CDV purchased for $83,543 by Keith Olbermann in a 2000 REA/MastroNet auction should be considered for the loftiest of titles in the card-collecting realm.

Lifson writes, “Because this card was the first card picturing a baseball player available to the general public (as well as the first printed for the purpose of promoting the commercial retail sale of a product to the public), it is by definition the very first baseball card.”

Lifson’s research is nothing ground-breaking or original, as most of it was already conducted by the consignor who placed the CDV with MastroNet to sell in 2000.  It was the consignor who researched the New York Public Library’s “Harry Wright Notebooks” and discovered the entries related to the production of the Jordan & Co. CDV-cricket tickets.

In fact, a source familiar with REA’s own recent research at the NYPL says that Lifson did not view any library materials and asked librarians just one question.  In his lot description, however, Lifson thanked NYPL librarians stating that they were “accommodating above and beyond, to the point of doing research for us.”  There is a certain irony in Lifson’s recent claim as the auctioneer was once apprehended stealing similar CDV cards from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection in 1979 while attending the Wharton School of Business.

Based primarily upon the research conducted by the original consignor, Lifson made the same case for the Wright CDV back in 2000 when he sold it in the same auction as the now infamous Gretzky-McNall T206 Honus Wagner card.  It was in that REA/MastroNet sale that several sources allege Lifson and his partner Bill Mastro defrauded winning bidder Brian Siegel because both men had full knowledge that Mastro had trimmed the Wagner card to enhance its condition and value a short time after both men purchased the card in a Long Island card shop in 1985.

Due to the fraudulent enhancement of the card, the Wagner should not have received its “PSA-8″ grade, but rather the much less desirable “PSA-Authentic” grade, which was assigned to the PSA-encapsulated Harry Wright CDV which Lifson now claims, “Unquestionably qualifies for the monumentally important status of “The First Baseball Card.”  Like the trimmed T206 Honus Wagner, which Lifson once told the Wall Street Journal was the “Mona Lisa” of baseball cards, the Harry Wright CDV has received the royal treatment from the REA hype-machine.  Lifson now adds, “Remarkably, this title only scratches the surface of its great historical significance.”

Lifson’s new research, however, fails to note that two other cards issued with the Wright CDV, of William Hammond and William Crossley could also lay title to the “First Card” based upon his criteria.  Both Hammond and Crossley also played in the same “Grand-Match” baseball game that Harry Wright did in conjunction with the CDV-tickets.

REA adds in its full-auction description:

“In fact, accompanying this lot is a copy of a notice published in the base ball section of September 19, 1863 edition of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle under the headline “Out Door Sports – Base Ball” that reads “New York vs. Brooklyn – The match between the two nines of the above cities that was to have been played yesterday will be commenced at 2 P.M. on the St. George’s Grounds. Several cricketers are to play on the part of New York.” The “several cricketers” referred to as playing for New York against Brooklyn on September 19, 1863 are Crossley, Hammond, and Harry Wright.”

Despite this fact, Keith Olbermann is in agreement with Lifson and got peeved recently when the mainstream media erroneously published a myriad of reports stating that a CDV of the 1865 Brooklyn Atlantics team was the first actual baseball card.  On his MLB Baseball Nerd blog Olbermann indicated that the Atlantic CDV, which sold for $92,000 at auction, should not be considered a baseball card.  Olbermann wrote:

“So, the 1865 Atlantics carte de visite, while a great item, doesn’t meet the standard definition of a baseball card.

Even if it did it would be far from the earliest known card. There were six different photographic cards issued in 1863 that simultaneously:

A) advertised a tournament featuring the Brooklyn Excelsiors playing the famed New York Knickerbockers in the “Grand Match At Hoboken” along with two cricket competitions;

B) served as admission tickets to the matches; and

C) cost extra because the photographs were designed to be saved as souvenirs.

Those are baseball cards. The records of how many were sold even survives: 150 of future Hall of Famer Harry Wright, 57 of a player named Crossley, 47 of another named Hammond, and 11 of Harry’s father Sam. A fifth card later surfaced showing the Wrights together, and two different poses of Crossley are known.”

Keith Olbermann, a prolific collector of baseball cards, shows off his T206 Wagner to Tim Hudson (MLB.com); The Harry Wright CDV he bought in 2000 is currently for sale via Rob Lifson (right) who is shown bidding on the trimmed Gretzky Wagner at Christie's in 1996.

In its lot description REA expands upon Olbermann’s opinion and goes into great detail as to why the card should be considered the first, however, Lifson & Co. offer very little information about the provenance of the rare card it calls, “Of astounding significance, and long recognized as one of the earliest cards known to exist.”

Much like the shady origins of the Mastro-trimmed Honus Wagner card, the provenance of the Harry Wright CDV is equally dubious.  While it has never been definitively confirmed where collector Alan Ray originally acquired the Wagner card or the printers sheet it was allegedly cut from, it has likewise never been determined where the Harry Wright CDV actually originated from.  In 2000, Lifson wrote in a Sports Collectors Digest article that the Wright CDV was “In fact, the example saved by Harry Wright for his personal collection.”

In 2013, REA describes the journey of the CDV starting on the West Coast in the late 1990s stating:

“….in 1998 the card had been auctioned by legendary collector/dealer/auctioneer Lew Lipset (author of The Encyclopedia of Baseball Cards). In preparing this auction writeup, we contacted Lew Lipset to ask if he could help us with tracing any additional provenance, and Lew graciously provided us with the contact information of the consignor as well as a copy of the original auction (which included descriptions of the other items that accompanied the Harry Wright card and therefore provided additional information). We spoke to the consignor and learned that that the Harry Wright card was included in an album purchased at a (non-baseball related) Fine Books & Manuscripts auction conducted by Butterfield’s Auctions in California. (An original copy of this July 16, 1997 Butterfield’s Auction catalog accompanies). The entire lot, which included materials ranging in date from the 1860s to the 1930s, was sent to Lew Lispet for auction and was mostly sold intact, with the few more desirable items included offered separately. The materials obviously originated from a Wright family member as it contained mostly family photos and no baseball photos or content with the exception of two 1863 Grand Match At Hoboken Benefit cards (one of Harry Wright and one of Crossley), strongly suggesting the possibility that these very cards were personally used for admission to the grounds by members of the Wright family!

With no supporting evidence, REA and Lifson appear to be suggesting that someone in Wright’s family or perhaps a close relative may have consigned the photo album to Butterfield’s in 1997 and that Lew Lipset received the Wright CDV and other items with the album as a consignment from a third party.

But in 2013, rare photographs and CDV’s of the “Father of Professional Baseball,” Harry Wright, immediately call to mind the myriad of missing portraits from Wright’s personal archive housed at the New York Public Library as part of the A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection.  There are over twenty missing portraits and tintypes of Wright and close to two-thousand missing documents that were once housed in library scrapbooks made to secure his personal correspondence.  In his last will and testament Wright bequeathed his entire baseball archive of papers and photographs to the National League so that it would constitute the “nucleus” of a collection that could one day be studied for insights into the game’s earliest days. Hall of Famer and National League president A. G. Spalding incorporated Wright’s archive into his own and after he passed away in 1915 his widow decided to donate the entire treasure trove to the NYPL.

In July of 2009 a “rare cache” of Wright’s stolen papers appeared in an MLB All-Star Game auction conducted by Hunt Auctions and several of the rare letters addressed to Wright were identified by historian Dorothy Seymour Mills as the exact same documents she held in her own hands while researching at the library in the 1950s.  An FBI investigation was commenced and Jack Curry of The New York Times interviewed one of Harry Wright’s blood relatives, his great-great granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, and reported: “(Guzzi) said her family had few artifacts from Wright’s career. She said the family would be monitoring the situation.”  She added, “It seems odd to me. Why would someone have them if they weren’t related to him? Why would they be in their grandmother’s attic?”

The Wright family CDV album containing what REA calls the "First Baseball Card" featuring Harry Wright mysteriously appeared in a Butterfield & Butterfield auction in California in 1997.

Guzzi and her side of the family retained just one relic from Grandpa Harry’s baseball-days, a rather beat up CDV photograph of his champion Cincinnati Red Stockings team of 1869.  Aside from that item, Guzzi says the family had no other original photographs or documents from his career.  It was her understanding that everything was donated after he passed away in 1895.

So, a Wright family photo album featuring some of the rarest Harry Wright CDVs in existence showing up in a Butterfield & Butterfield auction in 1997 is curious to say the least.  When the CDV album was sold there was absolutely zero scrutiny or mention of where it originated.  At the time collector Barry Halper still owned his entire collection which featured a wide array of stolen Wright materials ranging from CDVs, cabinet photographs and letters stolen from the NYPLs Wright Correspondence Collection.  When Halper sold his collection in 1999 at Sotheby’s, with REA’s Rob Lifson as the head consultant, the market was inundated with stolen materials related to Harry Wright.

The NYPLs Spalding Collection currently includes four Jordan CDVs with backs denoting they are tickets to the 1863 matches at the St. George's Cricket Grounds. The 1922 inventory notes the inclusion of four unidentified CDVs and one identified as Sam Wright (top). The two CDVs below the Wright duplicates feature cricketer William Hammond.

The New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection inventory in 1922 included one entry designating, “Unidentified cricket player (Jordan & Co.) 4 photographs, 4 players” and another handwritten entry added by researcher Charles Mears later in the 1920s identifying an additional group; “Cricket players (4) unidentified,” on the same inventory page.  Of the four unidentified photographs of “cricket players” identified in 1922, three had backs identifying them as the 1863 Jordan & Co. “tickets” to the St. George Grounds.

The NYPL collection also features one "non-ticket" Jordan CDV of an "unidentified" cricket player (Crossley) and a Brady CDV of Sam and Harry Wright that bears no NYPL ownership stamps on its reverse.

The fourth unidentified example of the Jordan & Co. CDV images is devoid of the “ticket back” and has just a generic “Jordan & Co.” back.  Another cricket related image included in the Spalding holdings was an E. T. Anthony CDV shot by Matthew Brady of Harry Wright and his father Sam holding cricket equipment.  All of the cricket CDVs are marked with NYPL stamps except for the Brady image which bears no ownership mark of the NYPL.

Based upon Charles Mears’ handwritten notations in one of the NYPLs 1922 master inventory booklets of the Spalding Collection there were four unidentified Jordan CDVs and separate entries for one (duplicate) Jordan CDV of Sam Wright (Wright, Sam) with his name identified in ink on the front and another entry for “Wright, Harry, and another. Cricket (New York , Anthony.),” which was the Brady image of Harry and his father Sam.

Researcher and collector Charles W. Mears (right) helped organize and inventory the Spalding Collection and added handwritten notations to one of the NYPLs 1922 inventory booklets. He noted (4) additional "unidentified" cricket player photos in addition to the (4) Jordan & Co. CDVs already identified in the volume.(Top, right) Mears identified other photos which Wright appeared in his own hand and initialed "CW Mears." (Bottom) (C. W. Mears Photo, Cleveland Public Library)

But in addition to those entries in the actual inventory, Mears added in his own handwriting additional notations which appear to suggest that one additional CDV of Harry Wright and Sam Wright was in the collection as well as “Cricket players (4) Unidentified.”

If we take Mears’ notes to encompass the entire cricket related CDVs in the Spalding Collection, it appears that the NYPL is missing another four unidentified cricket player photographs and one duplicate Anthony CDV of Harry and Sam Wright by Brady.(Mears did not identify the unidentified (4) cricket players as CDVs).

It also appears that the library is missing another extremely important artifact related to Harry and Sam Wright, the actual St. George’s Cricket Club’s “Register of Play,” the official score book of the club used between 1848 and 1867.  That score book would have recorded the matches related to the production of Wright’s Jordan & Co. CDVs and may have offered more clues to researchers.  The St. George volume, however, like so many other Wright-related artifacts, is missing from the Spalding Collection along with several important pages that were cut and wrongfully removed from the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club’s score book.

While the NYPL still retains this 1863 image of Henry Chadwick and Harry Wright at a St. George's Cricket Club match, Charles Mears' notes suggest there may be additional cricket photos missing from the NYPL's Spalding Collection along with the actual St. George's Cricket Club score book which recorded matches from 1848 to 1867. (Spalding Collection, NYPL)

In its lot description of the Wright CDV REA opines on the number of known Jordan & Co. cricket CDVs:

“Several other 1863 Grand Match At Hoboken Benefit card examples are known to exist (we believe fewer than ten in total are known to date), including two examples of Sam Wright and two of Crossley that are in the Spalding Collection at The New York Public Library, several additional examples of Crossley (including one that that was discovered by a non-collector in the midwest as recently as 2007!), one example featuring Harry and Sam Wright together (an astounding card with an image that has previously not been published or even seen and which is presented as the following lot in this auction) and at least one Hammond.”

Considering REAs claims of the staggering rarity of the Jordan & Co. CDVs, it would appear that a closer look at the population and provenance of the known examples is warranted.

This "newly discovered" Jordan & Co. CDV-ticket featuring Sam and Harry Wright appears for sale in REA's Spring Auction.

When Lifson sold the Wright Cricket-CDV as part of MastroNet in 2000 he said this about the provenance of the card:

“The only other examples known from this set, the existence of which we have become aware of during the process of researching this card, are a part of the Spalding Collection at The New York Public Library. Included in the Spalding Collection are two cards of Sam Wright, two of Crossley, (and none of Hammond or Harry Wright). It is interesting to note that this Harry Wright card was discovered in an album of photographs which surfaced in California in 1998. This album belonged to Harry Wright personally. The Harry Wright card offered in this lot was in fact the example saved by Harry Wright for his personal collection.”

It should be noted that Lifson had no evidence whatsoever to make such a claim, neither from Butterfield & Butterfield Auctions nor from a Wright descendant.  In fact, Wright’s last will and testament specifically noted that his entire baseball and sports archive was to be bequeathed to the National League so as to form a “nucleus” of a collection to tell the story of the development of the game.

Harry Wright's 1895 codicil to his will, in his own hand, specifies that his executors bequeath pictures related to both cricket and baseball to the National League.

The codicil to Wright’s will (which has been stolen from a Philadelphia Courthouse and subsequently sold at Hunt Auctions) was executed on September 28, 1895:

“All of my books and memoranda bearing upon or concerning the National Game of Baseball, Cricket and other sports….including pictures and other valuable matter…..I give and bequeath unto the National League and American Association of Professional Base Ball Clubs and their successors in the sincere hope and wish that they may use them as a nucleus or beginning of a historical collection of memoranda and facts bearing upon our grand national game of baseball…”

As noted earlier, in the thirteen years that have transpired since Keith Olbermann’s purchase in 2000, Lifson’s story has changed to this:

We spoke to the consignor and learned that that the Harry Wright card was included in an album purchased at a (non-baseball related) Fine Books & Manuscripts auction conducted by Butterfield’s Auctions in California. (An original copy of this July 16, 1997 Butterfield’s Auction catalog accompanies). The entire lot, which included materials ranging in date from the 1860s to the 1930s, was sent to Lew Lispet for auction and was mostly sold intact, with the few more desirable items included offered separately. The materials obviously originated from a Wright family member as it contained mostly family photos and no baseball photos or content with the exception of two 1863 Grand Match At Hoboken Benefit cards (one of Harry Wright and one of Crossley), strongly suggesting the possibility that these very cards were personally used for admission to the grounds by members of the Wright family!”

Lew Lipset offered the Harry Wright CDV in 1998 with a minimum bid of $600 and identified the entire offering as "The Harry Wright Collection."

First Lifson stated it belonged to Wright, personally, and then theorized that it was once in the possession of a “Wright family member.”  The first attribution to Harry Wright specifically was noted in 1998 when Lew Lipset sold the group of material as the “Harry Wright Collection.”  The basis for that determination at the time was, perhaps, related to Lipset stating:”It is believed that the handwriting identifying most of the pictures is Harry Wright’s.”

Based upon the album’s alleged ties to Harry Wright and the Wright family is it possible that the Olbermann-Harry Wright CDV originated from the Spalding Collection and is one of the photos Charles Mears noted was missing from the NYPL?  Or could it have originated with Harry’s brother, George, or one of his family members?  And regardless of the origins of the CDV, who actually consigned the Wright materials to Butterfield & Butterfield and to Lew Lipset?

Despite the hoopla in the auction description, which calls the Harry Wright CDV “The First Baseball Card,” REA is still seeking an opening bid of $50,000.  Haulsofshame.com contacted Keith Olbermann to confirm whether or not he is the current consignor of the Wright CDV to the REA sale.  Olbermann, a well-known and prolific collector, did not respond to our inquiry but sources indicate that it is more likely that he may have previously traded or sold the card to acquire another item he desired.  Several sources said Olbermann rarely, if ever, has sold items from his impressive collection.

Watch for our next report about the “Dubious Provenance of the Olbermann-Harry Wright CDV.”