Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash

July 28, 2013

After a 4-year FBI investigation into the thefts of the "Harry Wright Letters" NYPL President Tony Marx (inset) has given away the donated artifacts to be sold on eBay.

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Back in the 1950s, Dorothy Seymour Mills held Harry Wright’s letters in her own hands at the New York Public Library’s famous Spalding Baseball Collection. She was conducting research with her late husband, Dr. Harold Seymour, for his Cornell University dissertation and their groundbreaking book Baseball: The Early Years which are both considered the first scholarly works dealing with our National Pastime. The NYPL’s Harry Wright correspondence archive was a key component in the Seymour research because it was a comprehensive day by day record of the man considered the “Father of Professional Baseball” spanning from 1865 to 1894.

Mills and her husband took copious notes documenting each letter they cited in their work as originating from the pages of four giant scrapbooks of Wright’s letters which were housed in the library’s manuscripts division. A few of the most important documents the Seymour’s discovered in the treasure trove of missives were poignant letters to Wright from pitcher Jim Devlin who had been banished for “throwing games” in one of baseball’s first gambling scandals. The down-and-out Devlin was begging the magnate Wright for any type of work possible to help feed his struggling family.

In July of 2009, those very same letters from Devlin that Mills utilized at the library over sixty years ago appeared for sale in Major League Baseball’s All Star Fanfest Auction conducted by auctioneer David Hunt. The letters were offered by Hunt as a “Cache of Rare 19th Century Letters With Relation to Harry Wright.” Hunt told the New York Times that his consignor found the stash of letters in a “grandparents estate” while Harry Wright’s granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, asked Times reporter Jack Curry, “Why would someone have them if they weren’t related to him? Why would they be in their grandmother’s attic?”  The NYPL President and CEO at the time, David Ferrerio, told the Times the situation was very “disconcerting” and added, “We try our hardest to make sure we’re protecting the collection.”

Guzzi knew that her great-grandfather had bequeathed his entire baseball archive to the National League in 1895 and afterwards it became part of the collection of baseball pioneer Albert G. Spalding whose widow donated his entire archive to the NYPL in 1921. Dorothy Seymour Mills knew the letters in the auction were property of the New York Public Library and her citations and research notes housed at Cornell University’s rare and manuscript division proved it unequivocally.  At the time Mills identified lot 254 in the Hunt sale as the same Devlin letter she saw at the library and said, “This is proved on page 219 of the doctoral dissertation that I helped my late husband prepare for Cornell University.”  Seymour’s footnote identified the exact same letter being offered for sale and based upon her proofs, the Times headline read: Another Clue That Baseball Auction Has Stolen Items.

The Hunt Auctions catalog presented a Nov. 11, 1877 letter that was previously cited as NYPL property by Dorothy Seymour Mills and her late husband Dr. Harold Seymour in a Cornell dissertation and on research notes (bottom left) taken at the NYPL in the 1950s. The ownership proofs (top right) were presented to the FBI by Haulsofshame in 2009.

The Devlin letters for sure had been stolen from the library and all of the others were suspected to have originated from three of Wright’s correspondence scrapbooks which were documented as missing when the library took an inventory in 1983. Based upon Mills’ testimony, the New York Times reported that the evidence unearthed caused the auction house to pull the letters from the MLB auction and the NYPL enlisted the aid of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who officially commenced a probe into the alleged Spalding Collection thefts.  Mills recounted her experience aiding the FBI on NPR and later wrote an essay about her experience entitled, When Baseball Obsession Goes Too Far, The FBI Steps In.

Now, four years after the FBI opened its investigation into the missing Wright letters, has learned that the Feds have returned the letters they collected in 2009 to the original consignor from the Hunt/MLB auction.  In addition, several of those questioned documents have just appeared for sale on eBay while another Wright letter, also believed to have been stolen from the NYPL scrapbooks, is appearing for sale at Huggins & Scott Auctions.  A collector and eBay seller we interviewed revealed that he had purchased twenty-five of the Wright letters from the original 2009 auction consignor and confirmed that the consignor informed him that the entire “cache of Wright letters” was returned to him by the FBI in late 2012. The consignor, who asked for anonymity, told that the FBI agent he dealt with said he would not interfere if he tried to sell them.   He was told, “There will be collectors who will want to buy them.”

A letter sent by player Dan Casey to Harry Wright in 1889 appeared as the first "Wright Letters" lot in the 2009 Hunt/MLB catalog before it was turned over to the FBI in 2009 as a document suspected to have been stolen from the NYPL Wright scrapbooks. In July, the same letter was posted for sale on eBay in two parts, one of which being Harry Wright's notations written on the letter for his response. The seller ended the auction when contacted by The cabinet photo of Wright pictured has also been stolen from the NYPL and is currently listed on the NYPL's "Missing List."

The FBI was right, as the consignor posted a message on the collector forum Net54 which is owned, operated and moderated by a criminally convicted felon named Leon Rantz Luckey of Allen, Texas.  Luckey’s membership includes several collectors who are notorious for buying, selling and showing-off contraband artifacts from institutions and his biggest advertiser, Rob Lifson of Robert Edward Auctions, was actually apprehended stealing items from the Spalding Collection in 1979.  In reporting the incident TIME Magazine said the culprit was caught stealing a “cache of smiling infielders.”  In recent years Lifson has made several conflicting confessions.

The owner of the stolen Wright letters reached out to collectors on Luckey’s forum in late January asking what the value of a Jim Devlin letter to Harry Wright might be. The consignor also posted a link to’s “10 Most Wanted National Baseball Treasures” list and pointed to another Devlin letter written to Wright which was also part of the NYPL collection but not part of the Hunt cache he inherited from a grandparent.  A collector responded to the consignor’s message in February and says that he purchased the documents for his personal collection.  ”He told me they were returned and his to do whatever he wanted to.  The FBI gave him their blessing so I bought them,” he said.  The buyer also confirmed that the two Devlin letters were in the consignor’s possession and that he had been “saving up to purchase one of the Devlin letters, too.”  The collector told that he knew of the background of the letters and also says that he purchased them to preserve and keep them together should the NYPL ever pursue them on their own.

After the "Wright cache of letters" was returned to the Hunt Auctions consignor, he posted this message at the collector forum of ex-felon Leon Luckey (bottom left) looking to price his two Devlin letters for sale. In the post he references the Halper Devlin letter posted on the HOS "10 Most Wanted Missing National Baseball Treasures" list (right).

The Devlin letter featured on the website’s “10 Most Wanted” list was sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 as part of the Barry Halper collection.  In the course of the four-year FBI investigation many of the Harry Wright letters were traced back to Halper, the New York Yankee partner who died in 2005.  One FBI agent said, “Most everything seems to lead back to Halper,” and for good reason, since it was Halper who once showed The Sporting News what was described as “his collection of written correspondence by Harry Wright.”  Viewing Halper’s collection at his residence in July of 1977, Bill Madden wrote a feature for his “The Sports Collector” column and highlighted a Devlin letter to Wright and another from slugger Ed Delahanty’s father sent to Wright in 1889.  Madden reported that Halper showed him the correspondence by “flipping the plastic-covered pages of yet another scrapbook.”

A few months later in 1977, Halper gave writer Peter Golenbock a call and said, “I just picked up something the other day you’d really get a kick out of.  It’s a letter written by James Devlin to Harry Wright.”  Golenbock described the letter as a “priceless treasure (historically), a link to one of the most sordid chapters in baseball history” and he published the entire letter dated November 25, 1877, in his “World of Baseball Autographs” column in The Trader Speaks.  It should be noted that the surviving Wright  Scrapbook No. 2 (which is still at the NYPL) includes two additional letters from Devlin to Wright dated February 24, 1878 and November 14, 1879.  In addition to Golenbock,  several sources have confirmed that Halper had a sizable archive of Wright letters in the late 1970s and he sold scores of them when he liquidated his collection at Sotheby’s in 1999.  Halper’s Devlin letter sold for $8,050.

Barry Halper's Devlin letter was featured in an October 1977 issue of "The Trader Speaks" in a column written by author Peter Golenbock. Halper's letter was not cited by the Seymours and was sold at Sotheby's in 1999.

In February of 2012, published excerpts from an interview with a source who alleged Halper had admitted he was responsible for the NYPL heist.  The source disclosed that in the early 1980s Halper was questioned by a family member of the source as to what the origins were of some rare items Halper was offering.  The source said, “Barry bragged to (my relative) that a lot of his collection came from that (the New York Public Library).” The source added, “Barry said it was there for the taking and Barry was quite proud of it. (My relative) absolutely could not tolerate it.” We asked the source to confirm that the thefts were from the NYPL and the source stated, “Yes, the New York Public Library, he used to talk about how he did it.” When asked to delve further into details the source stated, “These were conversations he and (my relative) had, and obviously, (my relative) and I talked about it, but I can’t remember that Barry himself, but he also hired other people to do it and told them and how to go do this, so it was just something that once we knew, that was the end of the relationship (with Halper). It always amazes me because he was trading on he was always bigger than life, and people just let him get away with it and I just couldn’t believe it.”

Barry Halper sits in his den c.1984 with a stolen 1879 contract signed by Harry Wright hanging on his wall (outlined in red). It is Ezra Sutton's contract and was once part of the NYPL collection as evidenced by the 1953 letter from NYPL to Dr. Seymour about the same contract (bottom left). Halper had many other stolen NYPL items including an 1875 letter awarding Boston the pennant documented in the Seymour notes at Cornell (top left); photos of Wright (bottom right) and others with obscured NYPL ownership stamps like the CDV depicted here of Andrew Peck.

Many of Halper’s offerings at Sotheby’s have also been confirmed as stolen from the NYPL having been documented verbatim in the Seymour research notes at Cornell.  Most notable was a letter to Wright from Morgan Bulkeley awarding Boston the 1875 Pennant and another was an 1879 contract signed by Wright and player Ezra Sutton.  Both items were described in detail by the Seymour and Mills and the contract was even documented as being displayed in the NYPL’s main exhibition room in 1922.  In addition to documents, Halper also had many rare photographs that exhibited evidence of an NYPL ownership stamp, including several portraits of Harry Wright.

Based upon our source’s testimony, Halper likely coordinated the thefts before he purchased a 2% interest in the New York Yankees in 1979 and became one of George Steinbrenner’s limited partners.  With evidence suggesting that an MLB owner was involved in the theft and possession of letters donated to organized Baseball and the National League, one would think Bud Selig and MLB Security would conduct their own investigation to aid the NYPL and FBI.  Sources indicate, however, that Selig and MLB are reluctant to look into “one of their own” even though Halper also swindled and defrauded MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 when he sold them several million dollars of counterfeit artifacts including what he alleged was “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s 1919 Black Sox jersey.

When the Hunt letters appeared in the 2009 MLB auction MLB spokesman Matt Bourne said Selig was, “eagerly awaiting further information on this matter,” and MLB President Bob DuPuy told the Times he commended Hunt Auctions for “deciding to withdraw merchandise that is not properly documented.” followed up and called MLB’s Matt Bourne to ask if Selig & Co. had conducted their own investigation into Halper, but Bourne was unavailable for comment.  Halper’s ownership interest in the Yankee franchise passed to his widow, Sharon Halper, who is currently listed as a Yankee limited partner.

Sources indicate that the FBI returned the letters to David Hunt and that the auctioneer passed the documents, many of which are still affixed to c. 1920’s scrapbook paper, to his consignor.  Of the forty-five documents returned, over 33% of the auction lots, including the Devlin letters, were proven to be NYPL property based upon the Seymour’s published works and the corresponding research notes at Cornell which quoted verbatim the content of many of the Hunt Auction letters.  Lot 253 in the Hunt auction has Devlin describing an auction of his home as he writes, “The sherriff is on the ground and it will be sold Tuesday.”  At Cornell, Dr. Harold Seymour’s original NYPL research note also states, “The sherriff is on the ground and it will be sold Tuesday” and identifies his source as a Nov. 2, 1877 letter located on pages “44 and 45″ of “Wright Corres. 1″ at the NYPL.  The FBI received a full report documenting these proofs in September of 2009 provided by this writer.  Sources indicate neither the FBI nor the NYPL have ever visited Cornell to examine the Seymour Papers on their own.

Dorothy Seymour Mills is depicted on SABR's prestigious "Seymour Medal" (far left). When Mills proved letters in the 2009 Hunt sale were NYPL property library CEO David Ferrerio was on his way out having been appointed National Archivist by President Obama (2nd left). Tony Marks (3rd from left) replaced Ferrerio and has been the NYPL CEO during the 4-yr FBI probe which kicked off with the David Hunt (far right) auction and the reporting of Jack Curry (2nd from right) of the Times (now a Yankee/YES broadcaster).

The woman who provided the original “smoking gun” evidence to the FBI and Jack Curry of the New York Times when the letters were originally pulled from the auction is disturbed by the FBI and NYPL actions.  Dorothy Seymour Mills, who has also been honored with her likeness on SABR’s “Harold and Dorothy Seymour Medal” for her “lifetime contributions to baseball’s historical scholarship” was in disbelief wondering, “How can the FBI give Hunt it’s blessing?”

There’s no question that many of the letters Mills singled out four years ago belonged to the library when David Ferrerio made his comments to The New York Times.  Mills added, “David Ferrerio could not have been trying “his hardest” to protect this valuable collection if he didn’t even know it had been sold.”

Mills also had strong words for Ferrerio’s successor, NYPL President and CEO, Tony Marx,  ”I believe the leadership of our famous New York Public Library needs to be fired. Scholars are going to be shortchanged even more when this administration starts moving important scholarly books off-site. I have long considered the great NYPL my second home and have a painting of the entrance, with the famous lions, on my office wall. I feel like turning it over so that I won’t have look at it and remember what’s happening to our valuable cultural asset.”

Mills also made a point to stress how important the NYPL collection was in shaping her career as a historian and author and noted recent comments in the MLB Insiders Club Magazine made by Jim Gates, Librarian of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.  Mills says Gates noted her “efforts as a researcher and writer for making baseball history an accepted field of study” and how due to her efforts there are now “dozens of graduate students of both genders laboring away at baseball-related dissertations.”

Mills told us it would not have been possible without cultural assets like the Spalding Collection.  ”I couldn’t have done it without the NYPL.  But I wonder if today I would even be able to start such a huge project depending largely upon original manuscript material. I doubt it,” she said.

The NYPL displayed its T206 Wagner for All-Star Game week (left) and had All-Star themed apple sculptures at the library entrance (center left). Harry Wright (inset) never envisioned his letter (center right) on ebay; Protesters say the NYPL is being "Looted" by trustees (right).

Marx and the NYPL have also come under fire from other historians and scholars in the wake of his $350 million renovation plans for the famous Fifth Avenue Branch which calls for relocating almost one million books from the NYPL stacks to a storage facility in New Jersey.  Two separate lawsuits were filed this month against the library, one of which alleges that the “destruction of the stacks” would “surely doom the NYPL’s mission to serve the public’s research and reference needs.”  Historian Mills agrees with the charges and adds, “They’re acting in the same way about changing the NYPL from a great research library, famous world-wide,  to a neighborhood lending library and gathering spot for coffee drinkers, because they got a big bunch of money to do it.”

Historians like Mills view the recent give-away of the valuable Harry Wright letters as a similar travesty of scholarship and a violation of the wishes of Harry Wright who bequeathed his baseball archive to the National League and Spalding in 1894 so it could serve as “a nucleus or beginning of a historical collection of memoranda and facts bearing upon our grand national game of baseball.”  Spalding’s widow, in fact, entertained several offers for the collection but chose the NYPL because it would be “most accessible to the greatest number of lovers of our national game.”

The library just capitalized on its baseball holdings last week by displaying a rare T206 Honus Wagner card from the Goulston Collection and, ironically, the entrance was adorned with MLB All Star Game-themed apple sculptures just four years after the Wright letters were offered for sale in MLB’s 2009 All-Star Game auction.  The give away of the documents that represented Harry Wright’s life’s work has come as a great surprise to his great-great granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, who was shaken by the news.  Guzzi said, “I find this whole thing so backwards and ridiculously wrong. I feel like I must be missing some valuable piece of information because otherwise, none of this makes any sense to me and really makes me heart sick. It was my understanding that it was obvious these items were among the missing stolen items from the NYPL Harry Wright collection. If that is the case, how does it make sense that they be returned to the seller/consignor to do with as they please?”

MLB Commish Bud Selig (left) has made no effort to recover Wright's letters; Baseball artifact thieves have even stolen the codicil to Harry Wright's will that instructed the donation of his personal archive to the National League in 1895 (center). This 1874 Warren cabinet photo of Wright is missing from the NYPL collection and documented as NYPL property in a book by Robert Smith (right).

Guzzi has viewed the evidence supplied by Dorothy Seymour Mills and and like many baseball researchers  feels, “Until it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that these items are not stolen property, why would the FBI not hold onto them indefinitely? I wish I or my family had the money to purchase all of these items so that this nonsense would come to an end.”

The nonsense Guzzi describes is the shady baseball artifact trade that has even extended to the theft of her great-great grandfather’s last will and testament from a Philadelphia courthouse.  The codicil to that document bequeathing his letters and archive to the National League in 1895 was also sold by the auctioneer that offered the stolen letters in 2009, David Hunt.  Despite being notified that he also sold the stolen codicil to Wright’s will, Hunt has failed to recover and return the document he sold for over $10,000 in the late 1990s.  Hunt did not respond to requests for comment.

Guzzi is understandably disturbed.  She added, “This is my great-great grandfather’s legacy we are talking about and I feel utterly helpless. These documents are a major part of history and will be lost forever if something isn’t done immediately to return them to their rightful resting place at the NYPL.”

We also contacted a descendant of A. G. Spalding, who compiled the entire NYPL collection, and informed him about the FBI return of the Wright letters. Keith Spalding Robbins, the Godson of Spalding’s only son Keith Spalding said, “Such profiteering from stolen goods is a cancer that erodes the integrity and hurts the legitimacy of the sports memorabilia marketplace and must be eradicated.”  Robbins said he recalled his family discussing the Spalding thefts at the dinner table in the late 1970s and added, “The Spalding Collection is not just a collection of books images and letters, it is a record of achievement and baseball knowledge of small towns and numerous families.  The archives need to be restored and returned to the public for all to see, enjoy and learn from.”

Responding to our inquiries about the Wright letters, the NYPL’s Director of Communications, Angela Montefinise, said, “The New York Public Library is fully committed to retrieving all items stolen from its Spalding collection in the 1970s. While we are being patient with Federal investigators – who have an extremely difficult job definitively proving that items came from the Library – we are also actively pursuing other options to try to ensure that our materials are returned. For example, we have reached out to at least one auction house directly to request that an item be removed from sale, as we believe it originated in the Spalding collection.”

In response to the outcry over the FBI’s return of the letters Montefinise added, “As for the letters being (returned) by Hunt’s, we have to defer to the FBI on this matter, as it is conducting the investigation. What we can say is that The New York Public Library has made it extremely clear to all involved that it wants all of its materials returned and made accessible to the public, where they belong. The Library never conceded that these items were not ours, and certainly never instructed the auction house to sell the materials. That is completely untrue.”

Sources indicate that the library has contacted Huggins & Scott Auctions and identified the Harry Wright letter they are currently offering as NYPL property.  The company has not yet responded to that inquiry and auction rep Josh Wulkan has not responded to ours.

How do the FBI and NYPL explain returning the Devlin letter dated Nov. 2, 1877 from the 2009 Hunt MLB sale (left) in which Devlin writes, "The sheriff is on the ground and it will be sold on Tuesday" (outlined in red, left). Dr. Harold Seymour's handwritten research note at Cornell Univ. quotes from the exact same letter and cites the exact same passage verbatim regarding the "sherriff" from the exact same date and from the "Wright Corres(pondence Scrapbook) 1. p.p. 44 and 45" (all oultlined in red). (Courtesy Cornell Univ. Rare and Manuscript Division).

Special Agent Jim Margolin from the FBI’s New York City press office declined comment on the return of the Wright documents but added, “The investigation into the Spalding Collection thefts is still open and active.”  But the FBI failed to answer how the US Attorney apparently failed to make a case to keep the letters despite the fact that eight of the twenty-five Hunt lots were verified as NYPL property through the Seymour citations, research notes and the eyewitness testimony of Dorothy Seymour Mills.  The remaining lots which were not cited included letters pasted to jagged pages ripped out of scrapbooks and bearing the same dates as the missing Wright scrapbooks.

Having been informed of the responses provided by the library and the FBI, Dorothy Seymour Mills responded, “I thought the FBI was more efficient than that. I’ve lost confidence in them. The FBI should have demanded the return of Library property.”  As for the NYPL response she said,  ”The Library should have asserted its rights over that material instead of leaving it all to the FBI. At the very least the Library officials should have given a press conference saying it wanted its possessions back and (said) why the FBI couldn’t get it for them. The Library should have pointed out how strong the evidence was. This is really disappointing.”

A source familiar with the FBI probe says that there have also been other significant items recovered by the FBI, some said to have been taken via civil forfeiture, and others that were seized and since returned to other owners.  An item said to have been recovered was at least one of the missing Harry Wright scrapbooks which was described as mangled with most of its pages and contents removed.  Both the NYPL and FBI declined to comment on any additional recoveries.

Keith Spalding Robbins, the man whose family originally made the generous gift of the Spalding Collection to the library in 1921 left us with this, “I would suggest that some of the descendants of the 19th century baseball (pioneers) stand on the steps of the NYPL and hold a press conference demanding to know what has happened and that a crime has occurred.”  Robbins also noted that City officials bear responsibility saying,  ”It’s most infuriating and disappointing that the priceless material of the Spalding Collection at the NYPL was stolen by a bunch of wanna-be wise guys from New Jersey, and the only thing of meaning for the current crop of Mayoral candidates is figuring how to keep their pants on rather than protecting treasured material that belongs to Public Library and the citizens of New York.”

(More coverage of the NYPL Spalding Collection thefts can be found in the Sunday edition of the New York Post)

UPDATE (July 31, 2013):  Another Stolen Harry Wright Document Is Sold At Premier Auctions In Arizona For $2,244; Auction House Now Linked To Two Pages Ripped From Wright’s Account Ledger Books In NYPLs Spalding Collection-

On the heels of the New York Post and reports revealing the FBI’s return of stolen Harry Wright letters to the 2009 Hunt/MLB All-Star Game auction consignor, Premier Auctions of Arizona has offered and sold yet another document that clearly originated from Harry Wright’s personal archive that was donated to the National League in 1895.

The document signed by Harry Wright that is being offered by Premier Auctions (right) fits the description of items stolen from NYPLs Spalding Collection and the "Harry Wright Note and Account Books Collection. This page would have originated from volume 16 or 18 as indicated on the NYPL inventory document (above, left).

The document appears to have been ripped from either Wright’s original account book ledger or one of Wright’s incoming correspondence scrapbooks which were donated to the NYPL in 1921 by A. G. Spalding’s widow.  The document offered by Premier is dated from 1892 and originated either from volume 16 or 18 in the Wright “Note and Account Books 1860-1893″ at the New York Public Library.  The auction house describes the document as:

Approximately 6” x 7 ¾” sheet from a ledger written and signed in black fountain pen while Wright was manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1892, Nm/Mt signature. The sheet was for a road trip to Baltimore that season and “Statement of Baltimore trip Aug. 12/92” is handwritten by Wright on the reverse. The sheet has three intersecting folds and an irregularly trimmed top edge but is in otherwise remarkable condition given its age. Fantastic example from the posthumously inducted Hall of Famer. JSA Auction LOA.

This is the second document believed to have been stolen from the NYPL’s collection that Premier has offered for sale, the last of which was reported by earlier this year.  We interviewed author Daryl Brock about the document:

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

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

Premier never responded to our inquiries about the first offering earlier this year and they failed to respond to our inquiry yesterday.  We asked if the two documents were consigned by the same consignor and whether the auction house had any provenance information on the document dated from 1892.  Premier list its principals as Jasmani Francis, an appraiser from PBS’ Antiques Roadshow, Walter Cerini and Matthew Palmero who is listed as a former employee of Mike Gutierrez the current consignment director at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas.

NYPL spokesperson Angela Montefinise did not respond to our inquiry about the document being offered by Premier.  Montefinise told the New York Post last weekend, “The NYPL has made it extremely clear that it wants all of its materials returned and made accessible to the public.”  Several baseball historians we spoke with agreed that his document originated from the Wright collection with one calling the current offering a “pathetic joke.”

In our last report historian Dorothy Seymour Mills called for the firing of NYPL President Tony Marx for his failures in recovering the stolen material for the library.

The Huggins & Scott Wright letter (center) shares similar characteristics with another Wright letter stolen from NYPL (left). Huggins & Scott's Josh Wulkan (right) refuses to comment on the letter's provenance.

Premier sold the Wright document earlier this evening for $2,244, considerably less than what a legitimate document signed by Wright in ink would command.  One collector told us he stayed away from the Premier lot because he believed it was stolen from the NYPL.

Wright’s great-great granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, was disturbed that another document was sold.  She said, “At what point are people going to realize what a travesty it is that these documents of such significant historical value continue to find their way into the hands of greedy collectors/sellers? These materials should be kept together for all to see and we need to demand they be returned to their rightful home at the NYPL. Why is this latest Harry Wright letter allowed to be up for bidding at Premier Auctions of Arizona? I implore the Auction house to do the right thing and remove it from the block, pending further investigation.”

Legitimate documents signed by Wright are very scarce and are worth anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000.  There are only a handful of legitimate letters written by Wright in private hands.  A Wright letter stolen from the NYPL Harry Wright scrapbooks is also being offered by Huggins & Scott in their current auction.

Josh Wulkan of Huggins & Scott has still not responded to inquiries about the provenance of that auction lot.

By Peter J. Nash

July 25, 2013

Jack Smalling, author of the "Baseball Autograph Collectors Handbook " (inset), says HOF historian Lee Allen (inset) gifted him two rare letters addressed to August Herrmann. One is signed by newly minted HOFer Hank O'Day and worth upwards of $20,000.

When Baseball Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen secured August Herrmann’s entire archive of correspondence from Cincinnati Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr., it was a feather in his cap and a huge addition to the developing baseball library he headed.

Allen, a former employee of Crosley’s Reds, was in Cooperstown in 1960 when the archive of over 45,000 documents arrived via several delivery trucks and The Sporting News quoted Allen as saying, “This is the most valuable accumulation of baseball lore ever assembled in one place.”

After the collection arrived Allen reached out to his friend Dr. Harold Seymour to tell him about some of the treasures he’d found buried in the files.  Allen wrote, “The Garry Herrmann papers have arrived….The most interesting thing I have found so far is a letter from Hank O’Day to the NL office written the night after the Merkle play, explaining exactly what happened.”

Over the years, similar letters from the Hall archives which were sent by O’Day and others to the league and Herrmann have mysteriously found their way into auctions and the personal collections of autograph collectors obsessed with obtaining the genuine signatures of as many Baseball Hall of Famers as possible. To date, enough evidence has been compiled and presented by to illustrate that the National Baseball Library’s Herrmann Papers archive was the victim of a large scale heist of historic documents in the 1980s at a time when the collection was disorganized and had not yet been microfilmed.  Thus, any document addressed to Herrmann appearing for sale is considered a possible stolen item from the Hall’s collection and several have been pulled from sales conducted by Heritage and Robert Edward Auctions while others have been auctioned off by Clean Sweep and Huggins & Scott despite warnings.

Adding to the controversy is the fact that the Baseball Hall of Fame itself has failed to claim title or pursue recovery of any of the rare and valuable documents allegedly claiming they cannot determine if they were stolen.  That being said, the Hall has also failed to pursue recovery of other stolen photographs which were visually documented as Hall property in photo shoots conducted at the museum in the 1980s.  Incident reports alleging the thefts and documenting the sales of stolen property can be found at the Cooperstown Police Department.

Back in February two more documents addressed to August Herrmann appeared for sale in what hobby veteran Lew Lipset called his “final auction.”  One was a letter from Hall of Famer Miller Huggins regarding his playing for Herrmann’s Reds and the other was a 1921 letter signed by the entire Reds team supporting the team’s hiring of a trainer named George Hoskins. The second document became more notable when the Reds’ manager, ex-umpire Hank O’Day, was elected to the Hall of Fame for induction this summer in Cooperstown. The Huggins letter is estimated to be worth between $5-10,000 and the letter signed by O’Day at least $20,000 considering the scarcity of the newly minted Hall of Famer’s signature.

Both letters were removed from Lipset’s auction when this writer pointed out the issues to the auctioneer but remarkably Lipset said his consignor had some interesting information to offer about the provenance of the two extremely valuable letters. The consignor, veteran autograph collector and dealer, Jack Smalling, told him that both letters were given to him as a gift by Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen for research work he’d assisted with.  Lipset also said that Smalling told him they were the only two letters given to him by the Hall historian who passed away in 1969.  Back when they were given to him the letters had little monetary value, perhaps a few hundred dollars at best.

Jack Smalling claims that HOF historian, Lee Allen, gave him these two letters addressed to August Herrmann as a gift for work he'd done for the Hall. One letter is signed by Hank O'Day and the 1921 Reds (left) and the other is signed by HOFer Miller J. Huggins in 1903 (right).

Back in March Lipset sent out an email to customers stating, “The two letters have been withdrawn because of erroneous information given to us. The letters are owned by Jack Smalling (of the long time best selling Baseball Address Book). They were given to Jack in the 1960’s by Lee Allen, an officer at the Hall of Fame as a thank you for research done by Jack for the Hall. The Huggins letter has Kevin Keating’s COA, the 1912 letter did not, as I didn’t realize the significance of the Hank O’Day signature at the time. The letters were confused with Herman papers taken in a HOF theft about 15 years ago. These were obviously not included. The disposition of these letters will be decided after the auction.”

Most recently Lipset sent out another email indicating the letters will be appearing for sale in the “Heritage auction concluding Thursday August 1st in Chicago at the National in Chicago.”  Lipset added,  ”These letters were pulled from my auction because some questions were raised, not on their authenticity, but how they were obtained. There is no doubt in my mind they were obtained legitimately.”

But how could Lipset know for sure?  In our last report it was revealed that around 1990 Lipset sold several rare documents signed by the 19th century New York Giants that appear to have been stolen from the National Baseball Library and he had no recollection where he acquired them.  How could he determine whether these Herrmann letters were legitimately transferred without having answers from Lee Allen?  One thing that is for sure, however, is that the two letters given to Smalling originated from the Herrmann Papers archive in Cooperstown and the Heritage Auction lot description makes no mention whatsoever of the provenance of the letters and the story told by Smalling.  Chris Ivy of Heritage did not respond to our inquiry for comment.

When I was first informed by Lipset that these two documents were being offered in his auction I notified him about the Herrmann Papers provenance issues which I assumed he was already aware of.  Lipset said he consulted with a friend who was an attorney who suggested he contact the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I also consulted with a prominent baseball historian for his advice and it was suggested that since Lee Allen worked for the Reds before he came to the Hall of Fame it could have been possible that he took possession of these two letters before the entire archive was donated to the Hall by Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr. in 1960.  I asked Lipset to confirm with Smalling if he was given the documents at the National Baseball Library or at Allen’s Cooperstown home?  Lipset said Smalling responded that the letters were sent to him by mail.

Lee Allen (top right) served as the HOF's historian until his death in 1969 and was responsible for the NBL acquiring the August Herrmann papers archive from Reds owner Powell Crosley Jr. in 1960. The collection was described in TSN in 1960 (left) and was the backbone of the NBL when Ford Frick dedicated the new library building in 1968 (bottom right).

Based upon that information I thought it was still plausible that these two letters could be the only “Herrmann Letters” in private hands which were not wrongfully removed from the Hall of Fame. I even mentioned the O’Day letter to a collector who then asked me to pass along an offer to Smalling via Lipset if the letters were found to be legitimate.

Looking further into the situation, I emailed historian Dorothy Seymour Mills, who was the first researcher to have access to the Herrmann Papers for her book Baseball: The Golden Years.  Mills had also been a good friend of Lee Allen and knew him personally and had actually been a guest in Allen’s Cooperstown home with her late husband Dr. Harold Seymour.  I asked Mills for her take on Smalling’s story and whether she thought that Allen could have legitimately given away Herrmann documents for the work that Smalling had done at the Hall.  Mills had never been given any letters for assistance that she and her husband had furnished for Allen.  Mills responded to my inquiry saying, “When we were researching the Herrmann Correspondence in the same room with Lee while he wrote one of his books, we found that Lee had “put aside” in his desk drawer certain documents he had found that he thought would be most helpful to him in his work.  He showed us those documents.”  In regard to Allen gifting the Herrmann letters to Smalling Mills noted that Allen was a “kind and gregarious” man and added, “I would not be surprised to learn that he had made a gift of some Herrmann Correspondence documents to a friend that he felt he owed something to.  I think he had a strong ownership feeling about the correspondence and may not have considered such an act wrong, although of course it would have been.”

Dorothy Seymour Mills says Lee Allen put special documents from the Herrmann Papers archive in a file in his library office. One such document was a 1908 affidavit signed by Fred Merkle (left) with his testimony about the infamous "Merkle Incident" of 1908. The affidavit was from the protested game files and remains at the Hall while other affidavits that should still be part of the collection, like a 1908 affidavit signed by Joe Tinker (right), were sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby's in 1999.

Mills’ response cast additional doubt as to whether the two documents could ever be determined as being legitimately gifted by Allen to Smalling and I advised the potential buyer and Lipset of the new information.  Lipset responded that he had contacted the Hall of Fame and said, “I was told that a very small part of the Herrmann items were stolen and that the donation was voluminous and that basded on what I said regarding Lee Allen, he didn”t think there was a problem selling them.”  Lipset did not identify the Hall employee he spoke with.  Lipset added, “I have an email from the Hall of Fame apologizing for not getting back to me and I am still waiting for a response as to whether there is a problem selling them.  If there is, they will be pulled and returned to Jack Smalling.  Otherwise, they will be auctioned as intended.”

Lew Lipset (left) was set to auction the consignments of Jack Smalling (center left) which featured a document signed by newly elected HOFer Hank O'Day (center right). The letters were pulled from Lipset's sale and ended up with Chris Ivy (right) at Heritage Auction Galleries.

The letters were pulled from the Lipset auction but have now resurfaced as a consignment from Smalling to Heritage Auctions’ 2013 National Convention Platinum Night Auction.  Despite the questions as to whether Allen legitimately gifted the O’Day and Huggins documents to Jack Smalling, they will likely not be scrutinized by officials at the Baseball Hall of Fame who have historically ignored any evidence of thefts from the Herrmann collection and have failed to pursue recovery of property owned by New York State under the Museum’s charter.  It is ironic that the Smalling documents have landed at Heritage, an auction house that has already pulled numerous documents from prior sales because of suspicions they were stolen from Cooperstown and also employs Mike Gutierrez as a consignment director despite the fact that he was the prime suspect in a 1980s investigation into stolen documents and photographs from the Hall of Fame.  An eyewitness who accompanied Gutierrez on a trip to the National Baseball Library in the late 1980s told the hobby newsletter, The Sweet Spot, that he saw Gutierrez stealing documents from the Herrmann Papers collection.  A source tells they have knowledge of Gutierrez directly selling another similar letter from Huggins to Herrmann in a private transaction with a collector.

If the appearance of letters addressed to Herrmann in auctions were not enough of a mystery the new claims made by Smalling of being gifted rare documents by Lee Allen make the Herrmann Papers saga even more confusing.  Smalling is the only hobbyist known to ever make such a claim and would have been given the documents by Allen prior to his sudden death on May 20, 1969.  Sources indicate that Smalling provided Allen with desperately needed information regarding the addresses and whereabouts of retired ball players that bolstered Allen’s own research which Marty Appel has described as “30 years collecting the largest baseball demographic file in the country.”

Jack Smalling's status as a hobby pioneer comes primarily for his work compiling lists of former MLB player addresses which collectors used for autograph requests. Smalling placed the top ad in the December, 1970, issue of The Trader Speaks along with "Data Sheet #23 (551-575)" which featured the address of 1919 Black Sox player Charles "Swede" Risberg. He placed the bottom ad in TTS in 1978 hoping to buy and sell autographs.

Smalling is regarded as a trailblazer in the hobby who tracked down and documented the current addresses of former players for autograph hounds and shared his information in columns he wrote for early hobby publications like The Trader Speaks.  But Smalling also operated as an autograph collector and dealer and over the decades has amassed a considerable collection of baseball rarities.  Lipset says that when Deacon White was elected for induction earlier this year, the Hall reached out to Smalling for an exemplar of White’s autograph.  Lipset said Smalling had a White autograph in his possession but Hall officials didn’t realize that they already had a letter written by White which is part of the Herrmann Papers.

From his home in Ames, Iowa, Smalling declined to be interviewed today in regard to his selling his “gifts” from Allen at Heritage, but several dealers and hobbyists have expressed their feeling that Smalling is undoubtedly telling the truth about Allen giving him the valuable letters addressed to Herrmann.  While every other Herrmann letter appearing for sale at auction has had absolutely no reference to its origin or provenance, it is refreshing to see these two with an actual history dating back to the 1960s, in the same decade Lee Allen secured the Herrmann archive for the Hall.

We spoke with one autograph collector who was active in the 1960s and he confirmed that several other very young collectors had helped Allen obtain addresses and information just like Smalling had and that Allen, instead of paying them, gave them new addresses and autographs for their collections.  The collector made it clear that he had never heard that a Herrmann letter or other historic documents were ever given in exchange for work.

Lee Allen discovered this 1908 letter written by Hank O'Day regarding the infamous "Merkle Incident. Unlike the 1921 letter to August Herrmann in the current Heritage Auction, Allen chose to retain this historic letter in the NBL archive." (Herrmann Papers, National Baseball Library)

We may never know the actual circumstances under which Lee Allen “gifted” Jack Smalling letters from Herrmann’s archive in exchange for work he had done for the Hall.  As someone who knew him personally, Dorothy Seymour Mills felt Allen displayed a sense of ownership over the Herrmann archive and that feeling is echoed in a 1963 letter he wrote to Hall of Fame President Paul Kerr to informally apply for the Hall’s Director position.  In the letter Allen made the case that his “wide acquaintance in the world of baseball,” his “personal honesty,” and his dedication in building the library collections, including “obtaining the Herrmann papers,” qualified him for the Director position.

But although Allen said he “would rather be Director of the Hall of Fame than President of the United States” his desire to hold that position would never be fulfilled.  As Hall historian he had experienced what he described as a “spiritual rebirth” after “years of wandering” and said that in Cooperstown he had “Found a home where I want to spend the rest of my days.”  He was devoted to the Hall and the inductees who had achieved excellence in the game and although he felt he  ”did not have the God-given ability to join their ranks” he was “determined to excel also, as their interpreter.”  Allen ended his plea to Kerr with a prophetic pledge to the Hall as he wrote, “My only remaining ambition then would be to serve you until I was ready for the coroner’s table that awaits us all.”

Whether Lee Allen gave away the Herrmann letters legitimately or not, one thing is clear.  He gave his life to the Hall.

By Peter J. Nash

July 10, 2013

A copy of a letter tucked away in a HOF file shows that Red Foley sent the Hall of Fame some of the rarest and most valuable baseball player signatures as a donation in 1970.

“Red” Foley was a fixture at the New York Daily News for decades and was the official scorer for the Mets and Yankees for even longer.  A baby-faced, cigar chomping, teetotaler, Foley wrote a column called “Ask Red” that led to his own baseball column at the newspaper and later in life he even had New York City’s best baseball bar (Foley’s) named after him by its owner Shaun Clancy in 2003.

When Foley passed away at the age of seventy-nine in 2008, his colleagues including Bill Gallo and Phil Pepe spoke highly of the man who was remembered as a straight shooter who preferred to call a sacrifice a “sac-fly” in his baseball reporting.

Today, the bar that bears his name features an impressive collection of over two thousand autographed baseballs and photographs from baseball legends ranging from Duke Snider to Derek Jeter and nearly everyone in between. When Red Foley passed Clancy was lucky enough to save a few autographs Red had collected for himself, two Hall of Fame plaque postcards autographed by Casey Stengel and Zach Wheat which are now on display at the bar along with inscribed photos from inductees to Foley’s own “Irish-American Baseball Hall of Fame,” which has honored the likes of John J. McGraw, “King” Kelly and even Yankee GM Brian Cashman.  Says Clancy, “Its a shame, but I think most of Red’s souvenirs and autographs were thrown away when his apartment was cleaned out after his death.  We’re lucky to have saved these few signed Hall of Fame plaques he collected.”

Little did Red know that Clancy and Foley’s Bar on West 33rd St. near the Empire State Building wouldn’t be his only link to baseball treasures and the autographs of Baseball Hall of Famers. Little did Red know he’d one day help crack a long standing cold-case related to a heist at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, all because a copy of a letter written to him was saved by one of his old pals. Little did he know he’d help start the ball rolling for the recovery of the signatures of some the greatest Irishmen ever to play the game for the New York Giants: “Smilin” Mickey Welch, Roger Connor, “Orator” Jim O’Rourke and “Buck” Ewing.

Tucked away for decades in a thick Hall of Fame library file on the subject of baseball autographs was a copy of a letter written to Red Foley in February of 1970 from his friend Ken Smith, the Director of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Before he was top-dog at the Hall, Smith was a beat baseball writer for the New York Mirror and was an old friend of Red Foley and virtually every other baseball scribe in New York City. His letter to Foley was a thank you of sorts for helping the Hall secure what Smith described as an important trove of early relics related to the 19th century game.

This excerpt from a 1970 letter between HOF Director Ken Smith and Red Foley documents the Hall's receipt of the rare signed pay receipts of HOFers Buck Ewing, James O'Rourke, Roger Connor, Mickey Welch and Jessie Burkett.(National Baseball Library, Cooperstown, NY)

The relics Smith spoke of were autographed New York Giant payroll receipts, signed by Hall of Famers Ewing, Connor, O’Rourke and Welch, (as well as by German Hall of Famers Amos Rusie and Jessie Burkett), and were a significant pick-up for the Hall as financial instruments that gave insight into what a star player’s paycheck looked like in the late nineteenth-century.

Financial documents collected by the Hall have been a great resource to scholars and researchers going as far back as Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills’ work studying the NBL’s August Herrmann papers in the early 1960’s and today with University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse Professor Michael Haupert’s ground-breaking research on the economic history of Major League Baseball and player salaries.  In regard to the Giant pay receipts Haupert told us, “Primary sources are the gold standard for serious research.  Documents such as those housed in libraries and museums are the only way we can get reliable information about how institutions operated.  My own research, which is centered on the financial history of the sports industry, relies heavily on primary material I have accessed in the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.”

Back in 1970, there wasn’t an established market for financial documents or rare baseball autographs, but even back then collectors of Hall of Fame signatures knew that the Giant receipts were rare as rare could be. As a donation to the Hall, however, their value was not too significant at a time when a rare T206 Honus Wagner tobacco card was known to sell for under a thousand bucks.  Smith made it clear to Foley that the generosity of the donor, a friend of Foley’s cousin, identified only as “Mrs. McSherry,” was greatly appreciated as he expressed specifically in his letter,  ”The museum does not purchase display and library material.”  Smith wrote to Foley, “I certainly appreciate yours and your cousin’s kindness in remembering the Hall of Fame as a place where these signatures would be welcome.”  Smith appears to have recognized the importance of the documents and their availability for future researchers like Haupert.

Considering Smith’s enthusiasm and the documentation of Red Foley’s assistance in securing the delivery of such a rare cache of signed receipts to Cooperstown, it was an item that appeared in an autograph collector newsletter in 1990 that was the first sign of possible foul-play related to the rare receipts .  In the article, collector Dick Patman chronicled sales from an unnamed auction of what appear to be the very documents that Foley sent to Ken Smith back in 1970.  Patman described the documents as “scarce, high-quality material(s)” that were then commanding “record prices.”

Based upon the existence of the copy of the letter in the Hall of Fame files and our first inquiry at the National Baseball Library, these documents have been determined missing from the archives at the National Baseball Library.  When asked if the accession records could be reviewed to confirm what name the 1970 donation appeared under, Hall spokesman Brad Horn denied access to the records and would not reveal if the Hall was in possession of other similar receipts as the 1970 letter to Foley indicated that there may have been some additional “coupons” that Mrs. McSherry was in possession of.

This article by Dick Patman published in an autograph collector newsletter (left) identified several signed 19th century NY Giants payroll receipts that were also identified as donations to the HOF by Director Ken Smith (right) in a 1970 letter to Red Foley.

In his 1990 column, Patman reported the auction sale of the receipt signed by James O’Rourke for $4,500 in 1990 and the sale of the Ewing and Connor receipts at an earlier auction for $3,300 and $3,600.  The “Smilin” Mickey Welch receipt appeared in a Richard Wolfers auction along with another O’Rourke item that appears to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame, a 1916 letter written to Reds owner August Herrmann by the “Orator”.  The letter sold at Wolfers shows O’Rourke asking Herrmann for tickets to the 1916 World Series at Fenway Park and the corresponding letter, still in the Hall of Fame archive, was dated five days later and sent to Herrmann to thank him for sending those very same tickets he had requested.

The rare Giant pay receipts appeared in elaborate color auction catalogs produced by Richard Wolfers Auctions in San Francisco, California.  The Welch and O’Rourke receipts (and O’Rourke letter) appeared for sale in the much-hyped “Treasures of the Game” live auctions hosted by Wolfers founder and successful Democratic fundraiser Duane Garrett.  Garrett, a close friend of Al Gore and President Clinton was the fundraising guru of California politicians Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein and established his sports auction house after success in the stamp coin and fine-art fields.  However, claims of the auction house selling bogus goods and accusations of shill bidding cast a wide shadow over Garrett’s enterprise and in 1996, the political guru and Bay-Area radio talk-show host allegedly committed suicide by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The stolen NY Giant payroll receipts that have sold at auction (Top to bottom): Buck Ewing; James O'Rourke; Mickey Welch; Jesse Burkett.

Over the decades these rare documents have vanished into the top collections in the country with barely a hint that they were treasures removed from the Cooperstown archives.  Perhaps the rarest of them all is the receipt signed by Buck Ewing.  The Ewing document was encapsulated and authenticated by PSA/DNA and sold for $35,513 at a Mastro auction in 2007 .  Industry experts estimate that the Ewing, Connor and Welch receipts are worth between $35,000 to $50,000 each.  The signatures on these documents are some of the only known surviving examples of the autographs of the rarest of Hall of Famers.  They are the ultimate prizes for collectors.  To put it into perspective, Hunt Auctions once sold a letter written by Buck Ewing for $40,000 and a ledger featuring a signed page with the signatures of Connor, Ewing, O’Rourke and Welch for close to $100,000 in 2004.

(Left) Sept. 22, 1916 James O'Rourke letter to August Herrmann asking for 1916 World Series Tickets. (Right) Sept. 27, 1916 James O'Rourke letter to August Herrmann thanking him for sending him requested tickets to the 1916 World Series. The Sept. 22nd letter was sold by Wolfers Auctions and the Sept. 27th letter still resides in the HOFs Herrmann Papers Collection.

An on-going investigation into the Hall of Fame thefts by has traced the secreted documents back to the original auctioneer who offered them in 1989 and 1990, hobby veteran Lew Lipset and his Four Base Hits and Old Judge auctions. Dick Patman was referring specifically to Lipset’s sales of the Ewing, Connor, O’Rourke and Welch documents when his 1990 article was published.

Lew Lipset confirmed for that he did, in fact, sell the rare Giant documents and also revealed that the winning bidder on a few of the lots was auctioneer Duane Garrett from Wolfers Auctions, which explains how some of the autographs made their way into the San Francisco auctioneer’s sales.  Lipset confirmed that the Buck Ewing document was the first he offered and sold for $3,625 in September of 1989.  Duane Garrett purchased the O’Rourke and Welch receipts for $4,500 and $4,400 respectively early in 1990 and Lipset did not have any information on the sale of the Connor autograph in his November 1990 sale.  When the Giant pay receipts were offered for sale it was noted that the ends of the documents were trimmed or clipped.  When he sold the Buck Ewing autograph Lipset noted the document was “Partially cut at right, not affecting signature.”  It is likely that the documents were cut to remove the National Baseball Library accession information which would have indicated the year of donation and the sequence of the item’s donation during that time period.

Responding to our inquiry about the documents Lipset said, “I remember when I got ‘em.  It was one of those too good to be true things.  I didn’t give a thought to the fact that they could be stolen.”  We asked Lipset where he acquired the documents that were stolen from the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown and he responded, “I have no recollection where I got these but I remember I was suspicious not because of the origin but if they were real and I brought them to Mike Gutierrez, who told me they were good.  It is also my recollection that they were in my collection for a few years before I sold them, so I would have purchased them a few years before the auctions.”  We asked Lipset if he had any records that might show the identity of the seller and he answered, “I have no check records from that far back, so I have no idea.”

The stolen NY Giant pay receipts signed by Buck Ewing, James O'Rourke and Roger Connor appeared in the above catalogs of Long Island auctioneer Lew Lipset in 1989 and 1990.

Lipset’s mention of taking the stolen documents to Mike Gutierrez is notable for it was Gutierrez who was the prime suspect in the 1980s Hall of Fame heist and it was also Gutierrez who was working as a consignment agent for Wolfers Auctions at the time the stolen receipts and Herrmann letters were offered in the “Treasures of the Game” auction.  Gutierrez is currently the consignment director for Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, and an on-air appraiser for PBS’ Antiques Roadshow.

Lipset and Gutierrez have a long history of partnering on memorabilia deals and the purchases of collections over the years.  Gutierrez even served as the point-man for Lipset’s autograph survey published in the late 1980s in his hobby newsletter, The Old Judge.  In one of the surveys Lipset even went as far to mention that Gutierrez had made several trips to the Hall of Fame to seek out exemplars for the survey and autograph price guide Lipset published.

When we asked Lipset about his links to Gutierrez he even mentioned taking a trip to the National Baseball Library with Gutierrez in the late 1980s.  Lipset said, “The one time I went to the Hall with Mike, we weren’t there very long.  We were in Tom Heitz’ office discussing Mike’s idea and I don’t believe anywhere else.  I don’t think Mike was off by himself, but then I don’t really remember.”  The “idea” Lipset mentioned was a proposal Gutierrez was making to Hall officials to give him access to Hall of Famer families and relatives so he could purchase their memorabilia and, in turn, donate portions of the purchases to the Hall since the museum is not permitted to purchase artifacts.

Lew Lipset (left) sold the stolen NY Giant pay receipts after he visited the HOF with Mike Gutierrez (center, shown appraising an item for PBS) who later sold Josh Evans of Lelands (right) a Babe Ruth signed photo with a HOF accession number on its reverse. Gutierrez was the FBIs prime suspect in the HOF thefts but was never prosecuted.

Lipset says it is his recollection that nothing ever transpired with that proposal and couldn’t recall much more.  However, auctioneer Josh Evans, of Lelands, also says he had knowledge of Gutierrez’ proposal and said it died in the water after Gutierrez sold him a signed Babe Ruth photograph that had white-out placed over its Hall of Fame accession number on its reverse.  Evans reported the incident to Hall officials and an FBI investigation commenced with Gutierrez as the main suspect in thefts that were believed to far exceed just the Ruth photograph.  Sources close to Hall officials at the time say that the investigation was thwarted due to concerns of bad publicity that could hinder future donations to the museum.  In 1983, the Hall had experienced a slew of bad publicity related to another theft scandal reported in The Sporting News and the New York Post when Joe Reichler, from Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s office, sold off a cache of World Series programs and other publications that had been loaned to Kuhn by the Hall.

Just last year a CDV photograph of the 1870 Philadelphia Athletics that was verified as stolen from the National Baseball Library was sold at Legendary Auctions in Chicago as Hall of Fame officials did nothing to either claim title to or challenge the sale of the donated artifact.  Despite the fact that illustrated how the 1870 CDV was photographed by the Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) in 1983 while it was still part of the collection, the card sold for about $1,600 (about $8,000 less than a legitimate one Legendary sold in 2010).

Interestingly enough, SABR photographed other photos as Hall of Fame property in 1983 that have also ended up being sold in auctions conducted by Lew Lipset.  Lipset sold an 1886 and 1894 cabinet photos of the NY Giants team and a Horner portrait of John J. McGraw that appear on contact sheets and in a SABR publication produced as a result of the shoot at the Hall in ‘83. (Next to the 1886 photo on the contact sheet is a photo that was not stolen depicting a team from Ottawa, Canada, recently profiled by Hall curator Tom Shieber on his blog).

When we asked Lipset back in December where he acquired the 1886 Giant team cabinet photo he said, “I know I had the 1886 in my collection for years before I put it in the auction. Its the same one as in the SABR publication. I have no record or recollection where I got it from.”  After Lipset sold the photo in his own sale, Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, auctioned the same cabinet card for over $10,000.

Contact sheets from a photo shoot by SABR at the Hall in 1983 have served as "smoking guns" to further expose the HOF heist. NYDN writers Bill Madden and Michael O'Keeffe reported on the thefts in 2000 at the same time Madden hailed Barry Halper's sale of fraudulent artifacts to the HOF. In the thirteen years since their special report, neither Madden or O'Keeffe have ever followed up on the story. filed police reports recently with the Cooperstown Police reporting the thefts of the 1870 Philadelphia Athletics CDV as well as the 1886 Giants cabinet card and a 1915 letter sent by the Boston Red Sox and Babe Ruth to August Herrmann and the National Commission requesting their World Series money.  Officials at the Hall of Fame have tried their best to bury their heads in the sand hoping this scandal would somehow vanish just like all of the relics and documents that were victimized in the 1980s heist at the Hall.  Most recently the Hall has even denied access to viewing museum accession records to verify the names of donors of the confirmed stolen artifacts, including the payroll receipts sent by Red Foley.

Coincidentally, Red Foley’s old paper and employer, The New York Daily News, was actually the first news outlet to report on the Hall of Fame thefts in 2000 when writers Bill Madden and Michael O’Keeffe published, “Cooperstown Haul of Fame:  Thieves Steal Millions in Baseball Treasures”, and confirmed that current Heritage Auctions consignment rep, Mike Gutierrez, was the prime suspect in the 1980’s thefts.  But since Bill Madden was honored with the Hall’s J. G. Taylor Spink Award in 2010 and received accolades from the Hall hailing him as a “watchdog on the burgeoning sports memorabilia industry” and pointed to his “1994 exclusive for the Daily News exposing corrupt and fraudulent practices prompted an FBI investigation that resulted in shutting down two prominent auction houses,” Madden has never reported further on the new and voluminous evidence that has surfaced confirming the magnitude of the 1980s heist.

Madden also gave a pass to his close friend and memorabilia fraudster Barry Halper who defrauded the Hall and MLB by selling them several million dollars in bogus artifacts including the alleged jersey, “Black Betsy” bat, glove and pocket watch of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson.  Madden wrote glowing reports in his column about the Halper purchase and the bogus Jackson materials. But since the time Madden was awarded the Spink honor and was also appointed to the BBWAA’s Hall of Fame Historical Overview Committee, the museum’s “Barry Halper Gallery” has vanished from the museum and its floor plans.

Barry Halper stands in the now defunct "Barry Halper Gallery" at the Baseball Hall of Fame above the fake Shoeless Joe Jackson jersey he sold MLB for millions. Halper's good friend, Bill Madden, wrote glowing reviews in the Daily News of the HOF acquisition of the fake Jackson jersey and others. Madden was presented with the J. G. Taylor Spink award at the HOF Inductions in 2010 (top right). In 2013 Madden (center) was inducted into Foley's Irish-American Baseball Hall Of Fame.

If Madden or his newspaper opened up old wounds and reported further on the thefts it would likely upset Hall Chairman, Jane Forbes Clark, who, despite smoking guns firing repeatedly at the Hall with new confirmations of thefts, continues to oversee a large-scale cover-up of the brewing scandal.  None of them, however, ever anticipated Madden’s old Daily News colleague “Red” Foley firing another shot from the grave confirming the thefts of the most valuable baseball autographs in the world.

Red’s timing couldn’t be better as Madden was just recently inducted into Foley’s “Irish Baseball Hall of Fame.”  Considering Madden’s failure to follow up on his original report about the Hall of Fame heist, former Hall of Fame employee and researcher Gabe Schechter takes Madden’s issues with the Hall a step further.   Says Schechter, “That’s the only Hall of Fame Madden belongs to, despite the common misconception that as a winner of the Spink Award he was inducted into the Hall. He was not. He’s part of a museum exhibit showing the winners of the Frick and Spink Awards. Madden helped perpetuate this myth by declaring, in a 2010 promotional tape for the Daily News, ‘when I was elected last December. . .’ thus elevating the misconception into either self-delusion and deliberate deception.”

Meanwhile, the Baseball Hall of Fame continues to ignore the overwhelming evidence of theft and deception and Bill Madden prefers to devote his columns to the A-Rod Biogenesis documents that were offered in what he calls the “seedy world of baseball memorabilia.”  Of those controversial documents one of Madden’s unnamed sources, a memorabilia dealer, told him, “This stuff should go in the Hall of Fame.”

Neither the Hall nor Madden seem too interested in what’s got out.

SABR member and author Michael Haupert has a contrary viewpoint.  He adds, “When these documents disappear or fall into private hands, whether by design or skulduggery, it removes them from the public domain, thus robbing scholars of the opportunity to conduct valuable research.  The loss of primary material leaves a hole in the story that is often impossible to fill.”

By Peter J. Nash

July 5, 2013

A bogus P. T. Barnum autograph on ebay comes with a PSA/DNA LOA. Looks like Joe Orlando has some "suckers" getting cheated.

Earlier this week, I stumbled across a PSA/DNA slabbed signature of 19th century entrepreneur P. T. Barnum and wondered if PSA had ever authenticated a bogus Barnum autograph. I’m currently putting together an article dedicated to the “100 Worst PSA and JSA Authentications of All-Time” so, I thought the “Sucker born every minute” quote would work well if a PSA or JSA blunder on Barnum had been documented.

All it took was one email inquiry to Travis Roste of and I was sent a link to a current Barnum cabinet photo being offered on eBay and some in-depth analysis of Barnum signatures authored by expert Steven Koschal.  For $2,500, an eBay customer can take home a bogus autographed cabinet photo of Barnum with a PSA/DNA letter of authenticity signed by Joe Orlando, the man who coined the PSA motto, “Never get cheated.”

Although it has been documented that Barnum did not actually coin the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute,”  the gem attributed to him could easily be updated to say: “There’s an eBay or PSA/DNA customer born every minute.”  As Koschal has illustrated definitively in his signature studies, the eBay cabinet photo being offered with the PSA/DNA LOA is nothing more than a pre-printed facsimile signature of Barnum embedded in the actual albumen photograph.  Its a classic Barnum humbug or as baseball historian John Thorn might put it, a “jape” or a “Barnum-esque prank.”  It’s a phony and one things for sure:  Someone surely did get cheated compliments of Joe Orlando and eBay’s officially endorsed authenticator, PSA/DNA.

PSA partner eBay is currently offering this bogus signature of P. T. Barnum for $2,500 with a 2005 LOA signed by Joe Orlando, President of PSA/DNA

The cabinet photograph currently being offered on eBay by “JustCollect” is one of many similar facsimile signature specimens which were created by a New York photographic studio operated by Charles Eisenmann.  According to Steven Koschal, who has written several articles on the subject in international autograph publications, there are several poses of Barnum which feature different versions of his facsimile autograph with dates from 1885  and 1886.  The autographs and the dates are identical depending on which version you are presented with and fluctuations exist only in the resolution or quality of the albumen photos created by the photographic studio.

The current eBay offering (left) matches other examples sold at eBay in June (center) and Cowans Auctions (right).

It appears that several auction houses have figured this out without using the services of a third-party authentication company like PSA.  Wes Cowan, of Cowan’s Auctions offered an 1886 example and described it clearly as a facsimile signature.  Even R&R Auctions, which is owned by PSA authenticator Bob Eaton, got it right when they offered another example identified as being a pre-printed signature in the photo.  That Barnum facsimile signature sold for $160.

A similar cabinet photo in the collection of the Oshkosh Public Museum (bottom left) has the identical facsimile signature (bottom top) of Barnum as the eBay offering (bottom right and top). The "P" in both versions (highlighted in the red circles) exhibits the exact same skip of the pen found on the original prototype signature used by the photographer.

Eaton’s own facsimile signature, however, also appears on the 2005 PSA/DNA LOA certifying as authentic the Barnum signature currently being offered on eBay.  Eaton’s signature appears along with the signatures of Steve Grad, Mike Gutierrez, Roger Epperson, Zach Rullo and John Reznikoff, PSA’s authenticator for historical material.

Without the aid of the TPA’s, other sellers and auctioneers have sold the same facsimile signatures as the real deal for the past few decades including several sold recently by Heritage Auctions and others sold by EAC Gallery, Signature House, Goldberg Auctions, EAH Auctions and Donald Steinitz Autographs.   The Barnum cabinet currently being sold on eBay was also previously sold by Lelands as an authentic signature even before it had a PSA LOA.

Joe Orlando's PSA/DNA LOA notes examination of pen pressure and other characteristics of an "authentic signature."

What is most amazing about the current PSA-LOA’d Barnum photo on eBay is the fact that the information documenting that the Barnum signature is bogus is so readily accessible and well known among collectors and dealers.  One veteran autograph dealer we spoke with said, “Most of this stuff was common knowledge thirty years ago.  If someone over there would have taken the time to read a book about autographs once in a while they would have known this stuff already.”

Back in 2003 Cowan’s Auctions described a Barnum cabinet correctly as a pre-printed facsimile and, eight years later, the exact same cabinet photograph was offered for sale in a Heritage auction having transformed into an “authentic signature” of Barnum which sold for over $1,500.  (Cowan estimated the value between $100 and $150)

In 2003 Cowans Auctions correctly offered this Barnum cabinet dated in 1885 as a pre-printed facsimile.

In 2011, the exact same Barnum cabinet previously sold at Cowans as a facsimile was sold by Heritage Auction Galleries as an authentic Barnum signature.

The Cowan’s to Heritage transformation illustrates how sellers, auctioneers and authenticators fail to examine the items they are presented with and how buyers knowingly attempt to pass off non-genuine items as real with the aid of the TPA’s.

Over the past few decades PSA claims to have authenticated millions of autographed items and with each stunning blunder similar to the “eBay Barnum facsimile” the company continues to lose credibility with thousands of prior authentications coming into question.

One hundred of the worst authentications rendered by PSA and JSA will be on public display soon.  Stay tuned.  P. T. Barnum will surely make the cut.