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By Peter J. Nash

February 20, 2014

Heritage is selling what they say is the most important baseball artifact in existence, Babe Ruth's 1923 WS pocket watch. But is it the actual watch that was presented to the Babe in 1923 and why did Barry Halper say he owned one too?

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It’s the stuff that legends are made of.

The great “Bambino” passes along one of his treasured World Series awards as a gift to a close friend who, in turn, passes it along to his nephew who used to caddie for the “Sultan of Swat” at a golf course in Queens, New York.  The former caddy’s widow says Babe Ruth was a life-long friend and that her husband even left his own wedding reception to visit the golf course clubhouse where the Babe toasted his nuptials.  Over the years the Babe signed baseballs and photos for the family and at some point they even acquired what they claim is the Babe’s own locker key-tag marked with the number “3.”

It’s a remarkable story and in today’s sports auction landscape its just the type of tale that aggressive auctioneers want to hear when consignors bring them their personal treasures to sell. Just recently the Babe’s 1920 Yankee road jersey was purchased for $4.4 million by movie mogul Thomas Tull so, when someone told Heritage Auctions they had the Babe’s World Series hardware from 1923, auction director Chris Ivy saw dollar signs….big ones.  As reported by the Associated Press, Heritage and Ivy say they have Babe Ruth’s World Series pocket watch from 1923 and they predict it could fetch close to a million dollars at auction thanks to the priceless story attached to it.  It’s just further proof that George Herman “Babe” Ruth is still the king of the billion dollar baseball memorabilia industry.

Up on the auction block at Heritage with an alleged current bid of $425,000 (Heritage regularly places their own house bids on lots in order to get them closer to secret reserves) is a 14k gold Gruen “Verithin Pentagon” pocket watch that was allegedly presented to Babe Ruth in recognition of his first world championship in Yankee pinstripes. The auction house with its headquarters in Dallas, Texas, is pulling out all stops to promote its consignment as the auction catalog states, “As Babe Ruth’s personal award for the first World Championship in New York Yankees franchise history, this is arguably the most important article of sports memorabilia that exists.”  Even Forbes is telling its readers they should buy the Babe’s pocket watch.

It all sounds too good to be true.  All that’s missing is a Heritage press conference introducing the Babe’s old caddie recounting his first person tale of Ruth’s mulligans and his relationship with his hero.  But that’s impossible, since Lewis Fern passed away last August at the ripe old age of 95 with full military honors.  Fern not only caddied for the Babe, but he was also a World War II veteran who served his country as an Army Captain and paratrooper.  Considering the timing of his passing, you might think his heirs are the ones putting his treasured Babe Ruth watch up for sale as part of his estate, but that’s not the case.  That’s where this Ruthian story gets kind of complicated.

Charlie Schwefel was friends with Ruth and was photographed with him in the press (top right). Ruth and Schwefel signed this photo (left) for his nephew, David Fern, whose brother, Lewis Fern, caddied for Ruth when he played at the St. Albans Golf Club in Queens (bottom right). The watch being sold by HA has "To My Pal Charles Schwefel" engraved on the interior case (bottom left). (Photos courtesy of the Fern Family).

Heritage claims that when Ruth was battling cancer in 1948 he “asked his close friend Charlie Schwefel if he might want anything from his collection to remember him by.”  Schwefel, the auction house claims, “Asked for his dying friend’s pocket watch.”  But the story isn’t told by Schwefel or his immediate family because, according to Heritage, Schwefel kept the watch for only two years and then passed it along to his nephew, Lewis Fern, who they say caddied for Ruth many times at the St. Albans Golf Club in Queens, New York, in the 1930’s.  Heritage is relying on a letter of provenance in their possession signed by Fern and they say he “kept the watch for decades until it was privately sold into one of the finest sports collections in the world in 1988, where it has remained hidden away until now.”

In a press release Heritage describes in more detail the watch and its Ruth provenance stating, “The “Babe Ruth” engraving at the upper edge was added by the Babe himself just prior to gifting the symbolic memento to Schwefel. The rear case pops open to reveal further engraving, most notably the original text announcing, “Presented by Baseball Commissioner to George H. Ruth.” Just above we find the rest of Ruth’s late 1940s addition, reading, “To My Pal Charles Schwefel.”

The 1923 Yankee World Series watches were all hand engraved and unique. The details of the heads of each player and the ornamentation surrounding the word "Yankees" illustrate this best (see red highlight). The alleged Ruth watch offered by Heritage (left) is missing areas of engraved shading on each side of the engraved words "World's Champions" on the genuine watches of Yankee exec Ed Barrow

Each of the watches presented to Ruth and his Yankee teammates is an expertly crafted timepiece which incorporates a hand engraved scene of a pitcher tossing a ball to a batter and a catcher.  Every detail depicted on each watch case, ranging from the face of each player to the folds of each uniform, is unique to each timepiece.  But the most notable difference between other genuine 1923 Yankee watches and the Heritage Ruth watch is the two missing sections of engraved shading to the left and right of the “Worlds Champions” inscription.  This shading appears on every watch we examined including examples presented to players Wally Schang, Charles O’Leary and Harvey Hendrick.

Inside the authentic watches, there is yet another section which was engraved in block letters to identify the actual player being honored; it is the only element found on each watch that links it to the ownership of the individual players.  It is also the easiest element for forgers to replicate and transform authentic awards presented to utility players and scrubs into the hardware awarded to the greats of the game.

That being said, Heritage’s Chris Ivy also told the AP, “No one knew where the piece had been. No one has ever seen it for public sale or public auction. The fact that there was no news about it for so many decades, it was just thought that at some point it had been lost to time.”  Considering Ivy’s statement, how could he and Heritage ever know that Babe Ruth personally added engraving for his friend to the watch up for sale?  How could they ever know if Ruth had his own name engraved on the outside case of the watch when none of the other surviving 1923 watches has a players name in the same spot?

Then, add to Heritage’s speculation the fact that the Babe’s own granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, has long believed that her grandfather’s World Series awards were wrongfully removed from a family safe deposit box at the time of Claire Ruth’s death in 1976.

Not to mention that the 1984 New York Yankees Yearbook featured a list of Yankee partner Barry Halper’s top 29 Ruth items and included “Babe Ruth’s 1923 World Series gold pocket watch” as the number “4″ relic in an article written by Bill Madden.  In 1989, Phil Pepe of the New York Daily News also listed the pocket watch among Halper’s greatest Ruthian treasures.  Halper was obsessed with collecting Ruth items and told Pepe, “People know I’m a fanatic when it comes to Babe Ruth.  So they call me and offer me things.”

The 1984 Yankee Yearbook lists Barry Halper's 1923 Ruth pocket watch as the number "4" item in his Ruth collection. In 1989, the watch was also mentioned as one of Halper's best Ruth items by Phil Pepe of the Daily News.

And if all that’s not enough to spark some speculation about the Heritage offering, there is the long-standing baseball legend which says Leo “The Lip” Durocher was caught stealing one of the Babe’s prized watches from his hotel room when he was with the Yanks in 1925. In his 2001 autobiography, Elden Auker, also claimed that Ruth had a fist-fight with Durocher after he’d caught him stealing marked bills from his hotel room. Years after Ruth’s death Durocher denied ever swiping his watch as he told a reporter, “You didn’t have to steal Babe’s watch,” he said. “If you liked it, he gave it to you.”

So where did this particular 1923 World Series pocket watch come from and what is its actual chain of ownership?  The recent Associated Press report sheds some light on the subject by revealing some information about the current consignor of the watch. AP says, “The present owner, who wished to remain anonymous, declined to be interviewed. He said through Heritage that he acquired the watch for around $200,000 and was parting with it now to help fund charitable organizations important to him.”

Hauls of Shame interviewed Lewis Fern’s son, Dwight Fern, of Atlanta, Georgia, who had a conflicting recollection of the sale of his father’s watch.  When asked if the watch sold for $200,000 Fern said, “That’s not true, he sold it to somebody in Atlanta, I don’t know who, and it wasn’t $200,000, it was like $85,000.  Maybe they passed it on from there.”

The person from Atlanta he sold it to was gynecologist Dr. Goodman Espy III via collector and dealer Darrel O’Mary.  In an interview with Hauls of Shame Espy said he couldn’t remember exactly what he paid for the watch and referred us to Darrell O’Mary who he said had the letter signed by Fern.  O’Mary spoke about the deal and said, “Back in the early days when he was so inspired to build a collection, Dr. Espy didn’t have much knowledge and I sort of became (his) gate keeper for any potential purchases.”  As for the discrepancy on the sales price O’Mary declined comment and said he never owned the Ruth pocket watch and added, “I can not weigh in on that.  I just cannot professionally do it.”  The sale of the watch was one of the largest transactions in baseball memorabilia history at a time when Bill Mastro had just sold his trimmed T206 Honus Wagner for a record price of $110,000.

When we asked O’Mary who actually discovered the watch he said, “I can’t remember if Mr. Fern called me or Dr. Espy but at the time he was excited about it and very liquid and that was by far the most he’d ever spent for an item.  He was thrilled to get it.” Both men were also very comfortable with Lewis Fern’s representations about the watch and O’Mary recalls, “Lewis Fern was just such a gentleman and class individual, we never doubted its authenticity.”  O’Mary says that neither he or Espy were aware at the time of the purchase that Barry Halper claimed he already owned the Babe’s 1923 Series watch.

Lewis Fern (left) sold the 1923 WS watch for at least $85,000 in 1988. In a handwritten note from a family album (center) Fern recalls Ruth giving him the watch which was photographed before it was sold (right).

At the time of the sale O’Mary recorded Fern’s recollections about the watch in his own writing and had Fern sign the document.  This is the same letter that Heritage currently quotes in its lot description but when we asked O’Mary for a copy of that document he declined and said, “Just out of courtesy I’d have to get permission from the auction house.”  O’Mary did, however, confirm that Fern was told “This should have been yours all along” when he was given the watch by the Schwefel family.  O’Mary said, “That actually came out of (Lewis) Fern’s mouth.”

When we asked Heritage’s Chris Ivy for Fern’s “letter of provenance” described in the lot description he refused to produce a copy and replied, “A copy of the letter will be provided to the winning bidder and the description in the catalog accurately reflects its contents.”

Ivy’s reluctance to make the letter public led to our interview of Fern’s widow, Marion Fern, who offered another account which conflicted with the Heritage auction description.  Fern told us the watch was given to her husband by Elsie Schwefel when one of her sons had passed away.  ”My husband was with (Billy Schwefel’s) mother during part of the funeral and evidently she was supposed to give the watch to Billy, that was one of the sons, and Billy had died, so she passed it on to my husband who they were all close with.” Dwight Fern recalled that Schwefel funeral took place in the early 1960’s.

Dwight Fern also noted that he recalled seeing the Ruth pocket watch when he was a child. “I think I was about seven years old, I never saw the engraving to Charlie Schwefel. I never saw that but the rest of the engraving was there.”  Fern provided us with an image taken of the watch when it was still in his father’s possession.  That image shows the “Babe Ruth” engraving on the exterior of the watch but when asked if his father took a picture of the interior engraving Fern said he just learned about that engraving in the Associated Press reports that appeared nationally.  ”I don’t think he did because that was new to me when I read that in the article. The engraving was on the inside and I never opened it up like that,” said Fern.  Also appearing in the picture of the watch was a handwritten note written by Louis Fern that differs from the accounts given by his wife, O’Mary and Heritage.  Fern wrote, “Babe Ruth gave me his World Series (1923) watch-’he liked me’ I caddied for him.”

Television producer and author, Cyndi Todd, of Atlanta, Georgia, has been working on a biography of Lewis Fern called A Paratroopers Purpose and in her interviews with him before his death discussed his relationship with the Babe and the pocket watch.  ”The Babe Ruth story is one of the cornerstones of my book,” said Todd who added, “Lew told me that he got the watch from his Aunt Elsie after his Uncle Charlie passed away.”

The alleged Ruth watch being offered by Heritage (outlined in red) joins seven other surviving and authentic watches that have been sold at public auction. The watches were presented to Yankee players and executives after the 1923 World Series.

While Fern got his watch from his Aunt Elsie, the Yankee players and executives got their gold pocket watches from Judge Landis and it wasn’t until 1927 that the Babe received his first World Series ring. Ruth later added rings with world titles in 1928 and 1932, rounding out his collection with a total of three diamond-studded rings along with the 1923 gold pocket watch.  All of them, except for the Babe’s alleged 1927 ring currently in Charlie Sheen’s possession, had remained AWOL until the 1923 pocket watch recently appeared in an Associated Press report and on the cover of the catalog for Heritage’s “Platinum Night’ auction in New York City on February 22nd.

Authentic and surviving examples of the 1923 Yankee pocket watch created by Gruen are exceedingly scarce and only a handful (approximately eight) have appeared for sale at public auction in the past few decades.  Even the museum at Yankee Stadium could only manage a replica watch for its display.  Genuine examples attributed to Yankee executives Ed Barrow, Mark Roth, Paul Krichell and R. J. Connery, however, have surfaced as well as one presented to team trainer “Doc” Woods.   To date, the only player watches known to have survived in private hands are the ones Judge Landis presented to to Wally Schang, Charles O’Leary and George Pipgras.  In 1991, Sports Illustrated published a story chronicling how Pipgras’ 1923 watch was stolen from him at gunpoint in the 1930’s and found over 50 years later by a pawn shop owner who sold it back to the family for $500.  The Baseball Hall of Fame also has a player watch presented to Harvey Hendrick and another that belonged to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

The engraving on Heritage's Ruth watch (top left) starkly contrasts the engraving found on the genuine watches presented to Yankee executives Ed Barrow, R. J. Connery and Mark Roth.

The “long-lost” example currently being offered by Heritage clearly has a credible provenance story that shows how the watch was transferred from Charlie Schwefel to his nephew Lewis Fern.  There are, however, several inconsistencies in that story that could very well be the product of some exaggeration or family legend that developed over the decades.  Putting that story and those facts aside, however, this 1923 pocket watch has other visible issues totally unrelated to its chain ownership. The most interesting issue appears to be the interior engraving that starkly contrasts the work inscribed into the 14K surfaces of the known genuine examples presented to the Yankee executives.  The next prominent issue is that the Heritage offering has case and movement serial numbers that also do not appear to correspond with all of the other existing 1923 Yankee Gruen watches.

The serial number engraved on the Heritage Ruth watch is not in the same sequence as the numbers engraved on previous authentic watches sold by Heritage which were once presented to Yankee execs Ed Barrow, Mark Roth and R. J. Connery.

The serial number engraved on Heritage’s Ruth watch (1060722) is approximately 3,500 numbers away from the series of numbers found on the other genuine 1923 Yankee watches previously sold by Heritage. Unconfirmed reports state that Gruen sold about 50,000 “Verithin” model watches annually which would mean that the alleged Ruth watch was made months after all of the other known examples.

The serial number on the Gruen movement of the Ruth watch is "526564" while the watch presented to Mark Roth has the number "518470."

In addition, the serial number found on the actual Gruen movement inside the gold case of the Ruth watch is separated from the other known examples by close to 8,000 digits, thus further suggesting the Heritage offering was created well after the others were assembled.  Why?

For comparison, another 14k Gruen Verithin Pentagon pocketwatch was  offered on eBay recently and was engraved with an inscription dated “March 25, 1925.”  The watch was a 21st birthday present and was accompanied by the original presentation box and the Gruen certificate which included the record of its $100 sales price.

A similar Gruen Verithin watch was offered on eBay and was inscribed with a date of March 1925. The case number was "1070849" and the movement number was "541668." The watch came with its original papers and was priced at $100 in 1925.

The case number on the watch, which was presented and engraved in March of 1925, was “1070849″ and the watch movement serial number was “541668.”  The Yankee watches were presented to the players on Opening Day which fell on April 23, 1924.  With the known genuine Yankee watches having case numbers ranging between “1057335″ and “1057343″ and movement numbers in the “518470″ range, the 1925 eBay watch further suggests that the Heritage Ruth watch was assembled after the other Yankee watches were created because its case number is “1060722″ and its movement number is “526564.”

The Gruen Watch Company was founded in the late 19th century and at the time the Yankees were presented with their watches, Fred Gruen had already taken control of the Cincinnati company after the death of his father who founded the company.  All of the Gruen watch cases and movements were imported from Switzerland and assembled in Ohio and Toronto.  A local Cincinnati jeweler named Frank Herschede was the dealer who actually sold Baseball the Gruen watches as referenced in a Cincinnati newspaper that published an image of one of the Yankee watches before they were presented by Judge Landis.

In January 1924 the New York Times reported the Yankee World Series watches might be presented to the team at Spring Training (left). Yank exec Paul Krichell's 1923 Yankee watch survived with its original presentation box from Cincinnati jeweler Frank Herschede. An item from a 1924 Cincinnati newspaper (right) illustrated one of the engraved watches sold by the firm.

It is possible that the Gruen watches sold by Herschede were chosen by the Commissioner’s office because the Chairman of Baseball’s National Commission, August Herrmann, had been based in Cincinnati since the turn of the century and Herschede was also a stockholder in his Cincinnati Reds franchise.  The August Herrmann Papers collection at the National Baseball Library includes files of correspondence from Herschede as well as the papers of Judge Landis and his office during 1923 and 1924.  It’s possible there might be some additional documentation of Landis’ purchase of the watches for the Yankees, however, the National Baseball Library has been closed to the public since two key library employees, Tim Wiles and Freddie Berowski, recently left the Hall to take positions at other libraries.

That being said, when we questioned Heritage’s Chris Ivy regarding the fact that the interior engraving on the Ruth watch contrasted the engraving found on other executive and player watches, Ivy claimed to have documentation in his possession proving the watch was the exact same one presented to Ruth by Judge Landis on Opening Day 1924.

The NY Times reported Judge Landis cancelled the Yankee watch ceremony on Opening Day (1924) but later reports (center) show that he did present them. Jacob Ruppert also gave gold watch fobs to his champs (right).

“In addition to the Fern letter, we also have correspondence from the period that not only confirms that the watch is engraved exactly as instructed by the Yankees organization and the Commissioner’s office, but provides additional data and facts that support that the watch that we are offering is 100% authentic and was the watch issued to Babe Ruth for the 1923  NY Yankees championship,” said Ivy in an email.  Ivy, however, is not willing to make that information or the Fern letter public and added,”We also have data that ties this Ruth watch to the other presented 1923 championship watches in a very specific and clear manner.”  According to Ivy the only person or persons who will be privy to this information are, “the winning bidder as well as any interested and qualified bidders that contact us prior to the auction close.”

While Ivy and Heritage have issued strong statements about their evidence, they still have no answer for the past claims that Barry Halper once owned Ruth’s 1923 pocket watch.  With the inconsistencies in the known provenance stories and the fact that Heritage is apparently unwilling to share information they claim proves Ruth was presented their watch on Opening Day 1924, we can only look to the surviving pocket watches to try and unravel the mystery of Ruth’s Yankee bling.

We consulted with one of the nation’s top experts on Gruen watches and presented him with all of the evidence we’ve compiled related to the ten Yankee watches known to have survived.   Charlie Cleves, from Bellevue, Kentucky, is the owner of Cleves and Lonnemann Jewelers and is also one of the few people in the country who have acheived the rank of “Certified Master Watchmaker 21st Century (CNW21)” after passing testing administered by the American Watchmaker and Clockmaker Institute’s Board of Examiners.  Cleves, who also has his own collection of Gruen “Pentagon” watches, examined images of all the known examples focusing on the engraving and manufacturing elements of each timepiece.

Cleves began with his analysis of the inconsistencies in the engraving and although he was somewhat concerned with the contrasting engraving on the Ruth watch told us, “Gruen had at least ten different engravers on their line during this time period and they would have different styles in their work.  The engraving alone isn’t enough to rule this out.”

As far as the great disparity in the serial numbers on the watch movements as compared to the other Yankee executive watches Cleves said, “I would expect the movement serial number to fall in line with the other ones, but this discrepency could be explained away by the fact that Gruen would put a new movement in your watch if you sent it in for repairs.”  So that could explain that issue.

But when it came to the the 3,500-plus number disparity in the serial numbers of the actual gold watch case and the known executive watches, Cleves told us, “I’m very concerned with this aspect.”  Cleves did determine that all of the Yankee watches were made during 1924 but then added, “The simpler, more probable explanation is that it is a slightly higher case and movement number and it was made four or five months after the original ones.”  The original ones Cleves was referring to were the Yankee executive watches sold by Heritage in previous sales.   Cleves added, “Did he lose his watch or decide he needed a second one?”

Watch expert Charlie Cleves (inset) was able to determine the dates the 1923 Yankee watches were manufactured by examining the serial numbers on the watch cases.

If Cleves’ analysis is correct and the Yankee executive watches inscribed “Presented by New York Yankees” were made at the same time as the player watches inscribed “Presented by the Commissioner,” then it is highly improbable that the million-dollar Heritage watch given to Lewis Fern is the same watch presented to the Bambino on April 24, 1924.  Based upon Cleves analysis, could the pocket watch have been a second one ordered by Ruth or the Yankees?  When we asked Daryl O’Mary what he thought about the conflicting serial numbers he told us, “Let’s just say if this could have been a duplicate watch, I’m confident that Lewis Fern knew nothing about it.”  As for the contrasting engraving issues O’Mary added, “I know Dr. Espy has not had any type of engraving added to it, I would swear under oath to that.”

Since everything seems to boil down to the actual 14k gold case serial numbers, is it possible that the Yankee executive watches were made months before the watches presented to the Yankees on Opening Day?  One more mystery tied to this Ruthian saga is the fact that none of the Yankee player watches sold at public auction have included any images of the engraving and serial numbers found on the interior cases.  Neither Lelands or Hunt Auctions provided photos in three different sales of Wally Schang’s watch.  Hunt never pictured the interior case on trainer “Doc” Woods’ watch in 2004 and Charles O’Leary’s watch sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby’s in 1999 also failed to include a picture of the case.  We couldn’t find any images of the other 1923 Ruth watch that Halper claimed to own in the 1984 Yankee Yearbook.  That being said, many of Halper’s prominent Ruth artifacts ranging from his rookie Red Sox uniform to a lock of his hair have been exposed as counterfeits in reports that we published at Deadspin and the New York Post.

The Babe’s own granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, has been doing her own tracking of her family’s lost heirlooms and told us she called the Baseball Hall of Fame and found that they had only one player watch in the collection which was presented to Harvey Hendrick.  Tosetti, however, could not determine what the serial number was.  ”The Hall of Fame told me it was either out on loan or in a display case and that it wasn’t possible to get the numbers,” said Tosetti.

Tosetti even called up the grandson of Babe’s old teammate George Pipgras to see if he could share the serial number on the watch returned to his family after being stolen in the 1930’s.  When Tosetti called Pipgras’ grandson, George Simpson in Inverness, Florida, he was unwilling to help solve the mystery and said his son in Jacksonville had the 1923 watch and Pipgras’ 1927 Series ring and that he was also unwilling to help.  Tosetti told us, “He just blew me off and actually hung up on me. Geez, if Babe was alive to hear this he’d give them a piece of his mind.  Here’s a family that recovered their watch due to the generosity of others and this is how they act?”

Linda Ruth-Tosetti (left) has been searching for Babe's World Series awards; Dr. Goodman Espy and his ex-wife Cheryl (center); Heritage CEO, Steve Ivy (right).

Hauls of Shame also contacted the Pipgras-Simpson family and attempted to get a confirmation on the case serial number from George W. “Pip” Simpson, but the undercover cop who was recently in the news after shooting a suspect in a drug bust declined comment.  George Simpson Sr. told us he hung up on the Babe’s granddaughter because he didn’t believe it was really her.  ”How am I supposed to tell if it was really her,” said Simpson.  Without any confirmation on the case serial numbers on the Pipgras, O’Leary, Schang and Hendrick awards, we still can’t be sure that the watch Heritage is offering is the Babe’s first Yankee hardware. Unfortunately, this mystery will continue until this information is researched further and verified. Could Heritage have confirmed this information and still be holding it back from prospective bidders and the general public?  If it is revealed that the case numbers on player watches are close to the “1060722″ number on Ruth’s watch its safe to say that Lewis Fern really did have the genuine article.  This mystery would be solved.

One thing that is not a mystery, however, is the fact that Heritage Auctions may not even have clear title to sell their million-dollar Ruthian treasure.  In the course of our interview with consignor Dr. Goodman Espy he asked that his name not appear in our report because he had not revealed his ownership of the 1923 watch in a recent divorce proceeding with his ex-wife Cheryl Petros Espy of Atlanta, Georgia.  When we simply asked Heritage’s Chris Ivy for the Fern letter and pointed out the inconsistencies in the engraving he threatened Hauls of Shame on Espy’s behalf stating, “Should you move forward to write and publish an article that includes inaccurate, misleading, and/or irresponsible speculation that causes financial harm, or otherwise, to our consignor, then you will simply be opening yourself up to further legal repercussions should he choose to pursue them.”

In response, we asked Heritage’s CEO, Steve Ivy, if he knew about the Espy divorce and if the auction house had verified that their client had clear title to offer the watch for sale.  We also asked Ivy to address the prior claims made by Barry Halper that he actually owned Babe Ruth’s 1923 watch four years before Espy did?  Ivy did not respond to our inquiry.

When contacted at her home in Atlanta, the consignor’s ex-wife, Cheryl Petros Espy, confirmed that her husband did not disclose his ownership of the Ruth pocket watch in their divorce proceeding but declined further comment.

(If you own the 1923 Babe Ruth World Series watch Barry Halper claimed to have in the 1980s or if you own another 1923 Yankee player watch with visible serial numbers please contact us at:  Tips@Haulsofshame.com )

UPDATE (Feb 21, 2014): Heritage Auctions posted this update to the lot description of the 1923 World Series Pocket Watch:

1923 New York Yankees World Championship Watch Presented to Babe Ruth. Update: We are pleased to announce that in addition to a copy of the original signed letter of provenance from Lewis Fern, we have added the following documentation to the files that will accompany the watch:

1) Copies of fourteen pages of correspondence between the New York Yankees, the office of the Commissioner of Baseball and the watch company dating from late 1923 to early 1924 regarding the ordering of Championship watches. The precise manner of engraving is confirmed by this paperwork, as are the details of the watches’ construction that are specific to the 1923 championship watch order. Only eleven of the thirty-nine watches delivered to the team exhibit a full first name and middle initial as requested in the letter. George H. Ruth is one of those eleven.

2) A letter of provenance from the son of Lewis Fern, who sold the watch to our consignor over twenty years ago. This letter confirms all details of the elder Fern’s own letter of provenance as well as the fact that the watch remains identical in appearance to his earliest recollections of it as a child in the 1950’s.

3) We have discovered that the Championship watches issued to the 1923 Yankees, both front office and player versions, were very lightly hand-scratched with a five-digit code beneath the serial number. The codes are represented by a “46XXX” number and are consistent on all inspected examples, including the Ruth representation. We have determined that this coding was done prior to presentation to the recipients and appears to be present only on Yankee watches and absent on all other Gruen Verithin Pentagon examples we have located in our research. We will include photographic imagery of the other known Yankee watches to illustrate this trait that links each to the same specific population.

UPDATE (Feb 22, 2014): Hauls of Shame presented watch expert Charlie Cleves with Heritage’s updated information concerning the 5-digit numerals and he responded saying:

“The number inscribed underneath the serial number is usually put on by jewelry stores or watchmakers who work on watches.   In this case it could have been put on by Herschede Jewelers when the hand engraving was done if they were the ones who engraved the cases and not the factory.  If it is a job number put on by the jeweler and this watch was made the same time as the other one then the numbers would all be sequential. If there is a gap between this watch and the rest of them then I would think it was made at a later date (4 or 5 months later).  It could be a number put on by Herschede to track the watch for warranty purposes.  We still put a number very small on every watch we sell. We can always look up the number and know exactly what the price was, date of purchase and the person who bought it.  So if it was something that Herschede routinely did then it would also be on a watch they made later and have a slightly higher number than the other ones.”

We then asked, “Would the actual serial number on the case be the most accurate element to determine the date of manufacturing?

Cleves responded:

“We can date watches we sold by our numbers we put in them going all the way back to 1932.  The biggest problem arises from the fact that some watches sat 10 years in our showcase before they were sold to the customer.  When you look up some of the Bulova watches that are date coded with the year of manufacturing  it will be coded 1966(m6) and our card may say we sold it in 1972. Once Herschede went out of business I’m sure all of there files were destroyed. When the companies were going strong their serial numbers would be the best way to date a watch. Gruen was definitely tops in their field in the 20’s.”

UPDATE (Jan. 28, 2015): HERITAGE OFFERS BENNIE BENGOUGH’S 1923 YANKEE WS POCKET WATCH & SOLVES THE RUTHIAN MYSTERY; MORE PROOF THAT HALPER’S BABE RUTH WATCH WAS A FAKE

When we first published this article last February there were still lots of lingering questions about whether the 1923 pocket watch sold by Heritage was actually the one awarded to Ruth on Opening Day in 1924. Gaps in the sequence of serial numbers for watches awarded to Yankee executives and players created some confusion and the fact that so few player watches were available for comparison just added to the mystery of the World Series hardware. But with Heritage Auction Galleries’ current offering of items from Yankee Bennie Bengough’s estate the mystery appears to have been solved—the sequence of serial numbers on Bengough’s 1923 Gruen pocket watch is consistent with the numbers engraved on the Ruth watch.

Heritage’s lot description states that the engraving on the watch reads: “Presented by Baseball Commissioner to Bernard Bengough.” The lot description adds: “The case bears a serial number of “1060730,” just eight removed from Ruth’s model. We also note that a five-digit hand-scratched jeweler’s notation just under the serial number beginning with the number “46xxx” is present here, as found on all other known models, including Ruth’s.”

Although the serial number sequences match on the Ruth and Bengough watches, the engraving on each watch case appears to be different.

Mystery solved. (Although we note that the serial numbers are in sequence, all of the engraving including the player names and Commissioner presentation information appears to be distinctly different.)

That being said, the revelation made by Heritage makes it even more likely that the 1923 World Series pocket watch that deceased collector Barry Halper claimed to have owned was a forgery. Halper’s alleged 1923 Ruth watch was depicted in Sports Illustrated’s 1995 profile of the collector entitled “The Sultan of Swap.”  The watch was also identified as one of the premier pieces in Halper’s Ruth collection in a 1984 New York Yankees yearbook feature written by Bill Madden.


By Peter J. Nash
February 10, 2014

Heritage's Chris Ivy (bottom right) is selling Roger Connor's payroll receipt (center) which was sent to the HOF in 1970 by sportswriter Red Foley (top left). Lew Lipset (top right) sold the same doc in 1989 when he was partners with HA's Mike Gutierrez (inset, center right).

As Hall of Famer Yogi Berra once said: “It’s Deja-vu all over again.”

Last year Hauls of Shame published an investigative report about the Baseball Hall of Fame thefts which identified several rare documents believed stolen from Cooperstown and traced them back to hobby veteran Lew Lipset and his Four Base Hits auctions back in 1989 and 1990.

The report included a copy of a 1970 letter sent by Hall director Ken Smith to New York sportswriter Red Foley acknowledging the receipt of fourteen 19th century New York Giant payroll receipts bearing the ultra-rare signatures of several Hall of Famers including Mickey Welch, Buck Ewing, James O’Rourke, Jesse Burkett and Roger Connor.

Now, one of those same documents, the signed Roger Connor receipt, has surfaced in Heritage Auction Galleries’ Platinum Night event scheduled in New York City for February 22nd.  Like the Buck Ewing receipt from the same group, which sold for over $35,000 in a Mastro Auction in 2004, the Connor document represents an extremely valuable autographed rarity which could command a sales price of $50,000.  Heritage describes the document as “just the third representation to surface in the modern collecting hobby.”

The problem is, the document also fits the exact description of a signed Roger Connor receipt sent to the Hall in 1970 by Red Foley and the auctioneer who sold that same Connor autograph in 1989 for $3,800 has no recollection of where he acquired the document, along with the others including O’Rourke, Ewing  and Welch.  The document sent by Foley (and the others) are all currently missing from the National Baseball Library.

In a 1970 letter addressed to Red Foley, HOF Director Ken Smith acknowledged the receipt of a group of (14) New York team payroll documents signed by HOFers including Roger Connor.

When Hauls of Shame interviewed Lew Lipset last year he confirmed that he sold the rare Giant documents and also revealed that the winning bidder on a few of the lots was auctioneer Duane Garrett from Richard Wolfers Auctions. Lipset said that the Buck Ewing document sold for $3,625 in September of 1989 and the O’Rourke and Welch receipts sold for $4,500 and $4,400 respectively early in 1990.  The Ewing document was subsequently authenticated and encapsulated by PSA/DNA and sold in a 2004 Mastro Auction and currently appears on the PSA “Autograph Facts” website as an exemplar of Ewing’s signature. When asked about the sale price of the Connor autograph, Lipset said he did not have any information indicating the price realized in his November 1990 sale.

Heritage is selling this payroll receipt signed by HOFer Roger Connor in the 2014 Platunum Night Auction in New York City on February 22nd.

When Lipset offered the documents for sale he 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.”  As we reported last year, 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.

In regard to his acquisition of the rare autographs Lipset told us, “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.”  But as for who he acquired the stolen documents from Lipset 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 also 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.”

Payroll receipts signed by Ewing, Welch, O'Rourke, Burkett and Connor (left) are all identified in the 1970 HOF letter to Red Foley. All except the Burkett also appeared in Lew Lipset's auctions in 1989 and 1990 (right)

Lipset, however, also revealed that he had a partnership at that time with Mike Gutierrez, who is now well-known as the prime suspect in the 1980’s Hall of Fame thefts and the subject of an FBI investigation due to the fact he sold a stolen Babe Ruth photo to New York dealer Josh Evans in 1988.  According to ex-Hall employees the investigation was dropped because the institution feared bad publicity and backlash from past and future donors of artifacts to the museum. Gutierrez is currently working for Heritage’s Chris Ivy as one of his consignment directors.

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 his surveys Lipset also reveals that Gutierrez made several trips to the Hall of Fame to seek out exemplars for the survey and autograph price guide published in Lipset’s Old Judge newsletter.

In our report last year, we asked Lipset about his relationship with Gutierrez and he indicated that both men have not spoken in years.  But Lipset did recall the days when they were close and even mentioned taking a trip to the National Baseball Library with Gutierrez in the late 1980s.  Lipset told us, “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 made to Hall officials to permit him access to contact information for Hall of Fame families and relatives in order to purchase memorabilia and then donate portions of those purchases to the Hall since the museum is not permitted to purchase artifacts.

Mike Gutierrez (left) was suspected of stealing items from the National Baseball Library (center, left) in the 1980s and made a trip with Lew Lipset (right, center) to meet with NBL librarian Tom Heitz. Chris Ivy of Heritage (right) has sold items stolen from the NBL.

The museum policy that bars the Hall from buying material directly was actually referred to in the 1970 letter sent by Ken Smith to Red Foley.  In that letter, Smith made it clear to Foley that the generosity of the donor, a friend of Foley’s cousin identified as “Mrs. McSherry,” was greatly appreciated.  Smith wrote,  ”The museum does not purchase display and library material” and made a point to thank Foley upon his receipt of the documents in Cooperstown: “I certainly appreciate yours and your cousin’s kindness in remembering the Hall of Fame as a place where these signatures would be welcome.”

The revelation in our report published last year of Smith’s letter to Foley being found in the Hall of Fame files should have prompted Hall officials to investigate the situation and report the loss to the authorities.  All items donated to the Hall are property of New York State, not the Hall of Fame or the Clark family who founded the institution in the 1930s.   When we asked if the accession records could be reviewed to confirm the 1970 donation of the payroll documents Hall spokesman Brad Horn denied us 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 additional “coupons” in Mrs. McSherry’s possession.

The failure of the Hall of Fame to properly report thefts and safeguard the treasures they have been entrusted to protect and preserve was illuminated even more when a CDV photograph of the 1870 Philadelphia Athletics, which was verified as stolen from the National Baseball Library, was sold at Legendary Auctions in 2012.  Despite our production of unimpeachable photographic evidence proving the photo was stolen from the library, Hall of Fame officials did nothing to either claim title to or challenge the sale of the donated artifact.  The A’s CDV had been photographed by the Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) in 1983 while it was still part of the Hall of Fame’s collection.  The rare card ended up selling for about $1,600 (about $8,000 less than a legitimate one Legendary sold in 2010).

An 1886 cabinet photo of the NY Giants was photographed at the NBL in 1983 by SABR (left). The same albumen print (removed and remounted) then appeared in auctions conducted by Lew Lipset in 2006 and Heritage in 2010. The 1983 photo and the current auction photos show the exact same unique imperfections highlighted in red.

That CDV had no direct link to Mike Gutierrez or Lew Lipset and first appeared at auction in a 1994 Robert Edward Auctions sale conducted by Rob Lifson the self-confessed institutional thief who was apprehended stealing CDV’s at the New York Public Library in the late 1970s.  Other items photographed by SABR in 1983 do, however, appear to be Hall of Fame property and have been sold in auctions conducted by Lew Lipset.  Lipset sold 1886 and 1894 cabinet photos of the NY Giants team and a Horner portrait of John J. McGraw that appear on contact sheets from SABR’s 1983 photo-shoot at the Hall.

When we asked Lipset back in December of 2012 where he acquired the 1886 Giant team cabinet photo his response was identical to the answer he gave about the 19th century payroll receipts.  Lipset again told us, “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 unloaded the photo in his own sale it ended up selling again at Heritage who auctioned the same cabinet card for over $10,000.

Lipset’s past partnership with Gutierrez and his handling of items stolen from the Hall with no recollection whatsoever of how he came into possession of them has created a body of circumstantial evidence that would lead many to believe he knew the items he was selling were stolen.   Our research indicates there are many more suspect items that Lipset and Guttierrez have been partners on.  One of those items is Keith Olbermann’s $63,000 Harry Wright cricket CDV that was removed from Robert Edward Auctions sale last year.  That CDV was purchased by Lipset and Gutierrez at a 1989 Butterfield & Butterfield auction as part of a photo album alleged to have originated from Wright family relatives.  But the album had no verifiable Wright provenance and Gutierrez was the auction consultant for Butterfield at the time. Gutierrez also alerted Lipset that the photos were being sold and asked that he front the money to purchase them. Lipset confirmed this last year when he told us, “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.”

A Harry Wright CDV found in a family photo album is suspected to have been stolen from the HOF and other letters written to August Herrmann have been removed from Heritage Auctions after being identified as stolen letters.

The evidence, however, suggests that the CDV album may have belonged to Harry Wright’s brother George and may also have been part of a very substantial donation Wright’s son Irving Wright made to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1941.  Its just another situation where Gutierrez and Lipset are linked to items suspected to have been stolen with no verifiable or legitimate provenance.  The same could be said for Gutierrez’ employer Heritage Auctions which has removed and also sold numerous documents believed to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame’s famous August Herrmann Papers Collection.

Despite all of the evidence suggesting the links between Gutierrez and Lipset and stolen items like the signed Roger Connor document in the current Heritage sale, the Baseball Hall of Fame continues to violate its charter by failing to protect and recover the artifacts entrusted to their care.  The Hall’s failure to pursue recovery and establish title for items stolen from its library has not yet prompted the filing of any action against the museum by the office of the New York State Attorney General.  The Hall of Fame’s Director of Communications, Craig Muder, responded to our inquiry about the Heritage sale and said, “The Museum has no comment on this.”

In response to our inquiry, Chris Ivy sent us this answer (in its entirety) via email:

“Heritage has no interest in selling stolen collectibles. Every consignor to our auctions signs a consignment agreement noting that they have legal claim of ownership and that is the case with this item as well. On rare occasion, we are contacted by authorities drawing legal ownership into question.  Certainly if the Baseball Hall of Fame or any governmental agency were to contact us about this item we would take the appropriate steps.  This has not happened.  I can assure that we will not sell this item if any evidence supporting your claims of disputed ownership is supplied by the parties in question.”

HOS asked Heritage CEO, Steve Ivy (left) and his son, Chris Ivy (right) to comment on the auction house's offering of the Connor document and the links HA employee and Antiques Roadshow appraiser, Mike Gutierrez, has to the Hall of Fame thefts.

In response, Hauls of Shame sent Ivy and his father, Heritage founder and CEO, Steve Ivy this email (in its entirety):

“In regard to the issue of disputed ownership I published an excerpt from a letter written by HOF director Ken Smith in 1970 which specifically documented his receipt and possession of a group of NY Baseball Club pay receipts.  That document identifies a signed Roger Connor receipt and several others sent to the Hall by Red Foley. I cannot locate any such Connor receipt (or any others) in the collection of the National Baseball Library. You describe the Connor receipt as an “elite rarity” that was “located in the archives of the New York Giants.”  What evidence or information do you have to support your stated claim that this document was in a New York Giant archive? Where was that archive?  What research has the auction house conducted to assure its bidders that this item is legitimate?

You do realize your consignor’s claim of title is meaningless considering the same item was offered previously by Lew Lipset who claims he has no idea where he acquired the document before it was sold his own auction.  I should also note that Mr. Lipset claims to have accompanied your employee Mike Gutierrez on a trip to the National Baseball Library shortly before the time he sold the Connor check in his own auction and had Gutierrez authenticate the signature for him.

Considering the rarity of the item and the dubious provenance beginning with Lew Lipset’s sale of the same Connor receipt are you still comfortable selling it?

Or is it that, even if it appears to be stolen from the Hall of Fame, Heritage is fine with selling the document simply because the Hall will not claim title and dispute the sale (as has been the case with numerous other items that you have even previously removed from sales)?  I understand your dilemma regarding the Hall not disputing the sale, but wouldn’t the strong evidence supporting the claim that this is the property of New York State, deter Heritage from even getting involved with the sale of such an item?

When Legendary Auctions recently offered an 1870 CDV of the Phila A’s we published an article showing the exact same item (with the same unique imperfections) documented as HOF property in a photograph taken by SABR inside the museum in 1983.  Even with that overwhelming evidence the HOF declined to claim title or dispute the sale.  Is it Heritage’s belief that the inaction of the Hall in regard to past items like the A’s CDV has now somehow made these items free and clear of future title issues for your customers?

Aren’t you really just saying that even if an item is identified as stolen you have no problem selling it because the victim of the theft is not pursuing recovery?  Just wanted you to clarify that based on your statement that Heritage “has no interest in selling stolen collectibles.”  If the Hall doesn’t pursue recovery of a stolen item, isn’t it still stolen?

I have been blocked by Hall officials from viewing the museum accession records from 1970 to identify the donation number assigned to the Connor receipt in 1970.  Have you attempted to access that information from the Hall of Fame?  Do you feel an obligation to contact the Hall of Fame considering the evidence suggesting this document was stolen from the Hall’s archive?”

Steve Ivy responded to our inquiry via email:

“We have an obligation to both the consignor, and any potential buyer, as covered by our consignment agreement, and terms of sale. As outlined in Chris’s email, we also have an obligation to deal with any 3rd party that may have a claim, and we do so when such situations occur.  We can’t address what ultimately amounts to conjecture, as you are asking us to do, as that may harm the consignor who has warranted good title. As you are aware, we also warrant good title to any potential buyer, and clearly have the financial wherewithal to back it up. You obviously have no standing in this matter. Your continued attempts to create issues where none exist (at least to our knowledge) to promote your own interests is transparent to all who know you.”

It appears Ivy believes an item still has good title even if the prior seller claims he has no idea where he acquired the item and was also partners with the prime suspect in the Hall of Fame thefts at the time he sold it.  Ivy also fails to address Heritage’s prior sale of the $10,000 cabinet photo of the 1886 Giants which was stolen from the Hall of Fame and also previously sold by Lew Lipset.  Ivy is also aware that Lipset could not recall where he acquired that stolen item either.  Ivy appears to have no problem with his company selling stolen property.

We responded to Ivy and asked for one more clarification:  ”Based upon your response is it safe to say you and your son Chris just made that thing up about the Connor receipt being “located in the archives of the New York Giants”?

Incident reports related to the New York BBC payroll receipts, including the Roger Connor receipt, are said to have been filed with Chief Michael Covert of the Cooperstown Police Department.  Lew Lipset, who recently retired from the hobby as an active dealer and auctioneer, was contacted last night at his home in Carefree, Arizona, and still had no recollection where he picked up the Connor autograph.  When asked if he had figured out how he acquired the $250,000 worth of signed documents since we spoke last year Lipset replied, “I still don’t remember.”  Lipset is said to be working on a hobby memoir chronicling his career as a dealer and collector since the 1970s.  It is not clear whether Lipset’s memoir will reveal more about his relationship with Mike Gutierrez or the source of the 19th-century payroll receipts he sold in his own auctions.


By Peter J. Nash
February 3, 2014

Robert Fraser (top l.) and John McDaniel III (top r.) slandered John Rogers after an FBI search yielded fake jerseys owned by Barry Halper (bottom r.) and sold by Rob Lifson (bottom l.).

The big hobby news last week next to the Eli Manning memorabilia scandal was the FBI search of the Arkansas home and office of longtime hobbyist John Rogers. Sources with knowledge of the investigation confirmed that agents from the Chicago office of the FBI working on the Mastro case led the search which yielded a trove of memorabilia including items sold by REA and SCP and other bogus flannels sold to Rogers by New Jersey auctioneer Rob Lifson.  A report tonight from Arkansas also reports that some items have already been returned to Rogers.

The group of baseball jerseys seized in the raid were once part of the collection of hobby fraudster and Lifson associate Barry Halper and were items that authenticators rejected at the time Lifson sold Halper’s collection at Sotheby’s in 1999. Included were several bogus jerseys that Halper held out to the public as genuine including jerseys he falsely claimed were worn by Lou Gehrig at Columbia University and Hartford.

A source told us that employees of Rogers’ business indicated the search was “professional and civil” and that the agents were “very accommodating.”  Another source who witnessed the search said the visit had “absolutely nothing to do with the Rogers Photo Archive business” and only dealt with memorabilia collected by Mr. Rogers.   News outlets in Arkansas reported that the FBI took possession of at least ten boxes of materials and Hauls of Shame has since learned that inside some of those boxes were items attributed to baseball pioneer Henry Chadwick. Rogers also purchased that material from Lifson in 2009 as part of a $550,000 court-ordered and forced sale of property that once belonged to this writer.  It is not known what specific Chadwick-related materials were taken by the FBI but Rogers’ original purchase included assorted types of ephemera, documents and scrapbooks.  Rogers declined to comment on the FBI searches of his home and business.

Back in 2011 when this writer published a front page expose on Barry Halper in the New York Post, the Lifson sale to Rogers was described in more detail at Hauls of Shame:

“…that collection of material was sold by the same auction house for over $500,000, which paid down the judgment considerably.  It should also be noted that the same auction house made claims challenging the authenticity of items in that collection. Despite these claims, Rob Lifson sold the entire group of material to a collector who states that Lifson positively promoted the items and touted them as historically significant.  When asked by the buyer if there were any items he could point to that were deemed inauthentic, Lifson told him he was not aware of any.  The auction house also charged the buyer a premium of nearly $100,000 as a sellers fee…”

In addition to the material Rogers purchased from REA, the FBI also took custody of a Grey Flannel-authenticated Jackie Robinson warm-up jacket and a PSA-slabbed Babe Ruth cut signature that were recently sold to Rogers by David Kohler of SCP Auctions. One of Rogers’ employees said the collector purchased the jacket for $21,000 and the Ruth autograph for over $8,000.  Rounding out the items taken by agents were blank Dale Murphy baseball bats and a signed Derek Jeter jersey from Steiner Sports among other items.  Sources indicate that the other bogus jerseys Rogers purchased from Lifson and Sharon Halper (widow of Barry Halper and current owner/partner of the New York Yankees) included fakes attributed to George Wright, “Iron Man” McGinnity and many other Hall of Famers.  Reports from the scene confirmed that the FBI had not removed any of the 200 million photographs found in the Rogers Archive.  An auction executive we spoke with also said, “I don’t think (the search) relates to the photos.”

Sources also indicate that when Lifson sold the Halper jerseys to Rogers he stated they did not pass authentication by Grey Flannel in 1999, but that he believed many of them, including a bogus Lou Gehrig jersey, were authentic.  Grey Flannel’s Andy Imperato, Richard Russek and Lifson, however, also authenticated and sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of other fakes at Sotheby’s in the Halper sale including jerseys attributed to Ed Delahanty, Cap Anson, Buck Ewing, John J. McGraw, Wilbert Robinson, Hugh Jennings, Jimmy Collins, Jim Thorpe, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle and a host of others.  The Halper fakes had bogus provenance stories attached to them that were also fabricated by Barry Halper and similar to other false statements he gave to Major League Baseball and the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 when he sold them a counterfeit jersey, bat and glove he said once belonged to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.

An FBI search of John Rogers' office and home yielded a fake Lou Gehrig Columbia jersey (left) once owned by Barry Halper (bottom right); Henry-Chadwick (inset) related items Rogers purchased from REA; and blank baseball bats (top middle); a Jackie Robinson jacket (top r.) and a Babe Ruth autograph (bottom r.)

Soon after the FBI search took place collectors with close ties to Lifson and REA gathered at the collector forum Net54 to proceed to attack Rogers who also owns one of the worlds largest photograph collections housed in the Rogers Archive. The forum, which also counts Rogers as a member, is moderated by convicted felon and former drug dealer Leon Luckey, who also co-owns Brockelman & Luckey Auctions.  Luckey’s forum served as a platform for collectors to take shots at Rogers and publish false claims made in an attempt to link him to forgeries sold by the notorious Coaches Corner Auctions.

Collector John McDaniel III, of Philadelphia PA., a close associate and loyal customer of auctioneer Rob Lifson, kicked off the slander session by posting a 2009 Sports Collectors Digest article which claimed that Rogers had consigned a baseball signed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to Coaches Corner Auctions, the outfit notorious for selling outlandish fakes and frauds at discounted prices. After posting the 2009 SCD page McDaniel presented Rogers as a Coaches Corner consignor and wrote, “Hmmm…Coaches Corner….memorabilia….connected to a person known and accused for bogus memorabilia.”

Net54 moderator Dan Bretta then chimed in and added, “There’s only one reason someone consigns something to CC…they know it’s a fake” and also stated, “(I) really had no idea that John Rogers was mixed up with CC (Coaches Corner).”

The comments posted by McDaniel and Bretta were then met by another written by attorney Adam Warshaw suggesting that Rogers was not only a Coaches Corner consignor but compared him to admitted criminal Bill Mastro and accused him of actual criminal activity as he wrote, “Maybe he (Rogers) is the criminal mastermind behind everything. Mastro shmastro, it was Mr Rogers’ neighborhood.”

Jay Miller, a prominent collector and co-author of The Photographic Baseball Cards Of Goodwin & Co., contributed his own post saying the accusations that Rogers is a supplier to Coaches Corner were “Hilarious.” But McDaniel, Bretta, Warshaw and others failed to reveal the shortcomings of the SCD article and the veracity of the accusations they leveled in the public forum.  As confirmed by Net54 member Shelly Jaffe, the Coaches Corner LOA was a fake too.  Rogers never consigned material to Coaches Corner Auctions and was, in fact, a victim of fraud at the hands of either an unknown third party or the auction house itself.  The SCD article was patently false and the ball was never owned by Rogers who never did business with the notorious auction house.

Jaffe was the only Net54 member to point out that the Coaches Corner LOA’s were forgeries and that Rogers had nothing to do with them.  ”He (Rogers) received an email from me asking if that piece of garbage was his. He emailed CC and they took it down. He said someone used his cert. It was so bad I had to think he really had nothing to do with it.”  In addition, one Net54 member who requested to remain anonymous told Hauls of Shame, “These guys are jealous of Rogers and Rogers has ruffled a lot of feathers over the years.   We all know those Coaches Corner LOAs are fakes just like the memorabilia in their auctions.  But that didn’t stop them from throwing him under the bus with false accusations.”  In regard s to the Net54 free for all Jaffe added, “Once the chumming begins you have no idea how many sharks are on here.”  Rogers declined comment for this article when we contacted him last Friday.

The common thread linking the individuals who are slandering Rogers appears to be Rob Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions.  John McDaniel III is a Lifson fan-boy and purchased over $165,000 worth of material in REA’s last sale and also consigned over $70,000 in baseball cards. McDaniel is also one of the most shameless apologists in his defense of Lifson’s deceased associate, Barry Halper.  In a recent post McDaniel alluded to his support of Halper characterizing Hauls of Shame’s reporting as, “Dragging dead people like Halper thru the mud for their fake items.” In the past McDaniel has taken his defense of Halper even further stating, “Did Halper have stuff that was questionable, sadly, no doubt. I also think many of us would have had bad items had we built and acquired a collection of that size. In fact, Halper would have been and was a big target for the unsavory of the world to work their trade.”

One long-time hobby veteran we spoke with said this of McDaniel, “His head is so far up Rob Lifson’s you-know-what, its ridiculous.  Now that’s the bromance.”

Like McDaniel, Robert W. Fraser is another close Lifson confidant who has also used Lifson’s lawyer’s services at his behest while Dan Bretta is a Net54 moderator who is aware of several cease and desist letters sent by Lifson’s attorney, Barry Kozyra, threatening legal action if members make negative comments about his client who is also well-known in the hobby as an admitted thief of rare baseball artifacts.

Ex-felon Robert Fraser attempted to link John Rogers to the notorious Coaches Corner Auctions by posting a babe Ruth bat accompanied by a forged Rogers LOA. Net54 members Chris Williams and James Wymers knew the Rogers LOA was a forgery back in 2012 as evidenced in Williams' Autograph Magazine column (inset).

The false accusations made by McDaniel and Bretta opened the door for Fraser, a convicted felon from Westwood, New Jersey, to post additional statements to slander Rogers. Fraser posted another bogus item sold by Coaches Corner that was described as coming with a letter of authenticity written by Rogers.  The baseball bat, alleged to have been signed by Babe Ruth to actor Gary Cooper was a fake and was never consigned or owned by Rogers.  The letter with the bat was also a fraud and it appears that Rogers was a victim of fraud and not a perpetrator.

The statements directed at Rogers in this instance were made by Robert Fraser who in 2005 was criminally convicted of insurance fraud, multiple violations of the fraud act and perjury. Fraser said Rogers provided an LOA for a bogus item and wrote, “Coach’s Corner (is) praising John Rogers for a letter he wrote about a signed Babe Ruth bat they were selling.”  Fraser noted how Coaches Corner described the bat signed to Gary Cooper as, “A one of a kind (that) also has a letter from famous John Rogers of Arkansas.” Fraser then referred again to Rogers writing, “Famous for what? Yeah right give me a break!”

Further proof that Net54 members falsely tied Rogers to Coaches Corner comes from member Christopher Williams’ own Autograph Magazine article published on July 27, 2012.  Willliams, who is considered the resident expert on the criminal enterprise of Coaches Corner Auctions, identified the same forged Babe Ruth bat to Cooper and another Net54 member named James Wymer commented, “I wonder if the John Rogers letter sports a nifty forgery of his signature.”

When we asked Jay Miller what he found “hilarious” about the accusations that Rogers was supplying Coaches Corner he declined comment.  Sources indicate that McDaniel, Bretta, Fraser and others knew full well that the Rogers LOA’s were forgeries, yet chose to post the accusations anyway. Fraser, who had his real estate licence revoked because of his criminal record, now works for Terrie O’Connor Realty in Saddle River, NJ, and has a history of committing perjury and making false accusations.  Fraser has made several public statements that show he has lied to Federal agents and fabricated several stories making false and unfounded allegations about this writer and others.  By lying to Federal agents, Fraser has opened himself up to criminal prosecution as well as civil litigation and penalties.  Fraser’s wild accusations have been so outlandish and bizarre that several auction executives who have spoken with him have questioned seriously if he is mentally ill.  His friend Rob Lifson echoed this sentiment a few years back when Fraser received a cease and desist letter from John Rogers after harassing him.  Responding to reports of Fraser’s strange behavior, Lifson wrote to Rogers via email, “Fraser is obsessed with Peter Nash.”

John Rogers purchased this tintype of Henry Chadwick from Rob Lifson but Net54 members said the image did not include Henry Chadwick. A close up of a known photo of Chadwick (far right) appears next to a close up of the tintype image.

It’s ironic that the FBI seized materials in Rogers’ collection related to Henry Chadwick and that Rogers is being attacked on the collector forum Net54. After Rogers paid Rob Lifson close to $600,000 in 2009 for a large groups of items, including the same Chadwick materials, he posted a rare 1860’s tintype photograph of Chadwick on Net54 to see if any members could identify the other men in the image with Chadwick.  But to Rogers’ surprise several members responded to his post stating that they believed the photo did not depict Chadwick and was a fraud, despite the fact that the tintype originated from Henry Chadwick’s great-granddaughter, Fran Henry, who identified her own grandmother’s identification of Chadwick in pencil on the image and claimed it was an image of Chadwick.  It is likely that same tintype photo is included in the group of items taken from Roger’s home or office by the FBI.

Net54 members had strong opinions about the image.  SABR’s photographic committee chairman Mark Fimoff claimed the man did not resemble Chadwick after comparing the noses to other photos saying, “There is no perceivable resemblance between these two noses.”  Fimoff also dismissed the tintype because the name “H. Chadwick” was written in pencil on the image.  Fimoff said, “I would never write my grandfather’s name on a vintage family photo since we all know who he is.”

Dealer Barry Sloate dismissed it as well saying, “This kind of spurious photo identification is not enough for me. My opinion is it is not Henry Chadwick.”

Collector Corey R. Shanus said, “I think there is little chance it is Chadwick” and 19th century photo collector Jimmy Leiderman agreed with Shanus adding, “I have to agree with Corey that the writing is simply a novice job to deceive.”

Interestingly enough, two years after the Chadwick image was challenged on Net54 the same Mark Fimoff helped expose a 19th century daguerreotype owned by Shanus as a notable fraud.  The image fooled the hobby and historians alike but visual evidence presented in a SABR newsletter showed that the men pictured in the image were not Alexander Joy Cartwright and his teammates from the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club.  Shanus, who originally acquired the image from the Cartwright family in Hawaii, had held the image out as an authentic example depicting Cartwright and placed the image in Ken BurnsPBS film, BASEBALL, scores of baseball books and even an exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Despite all of the visual evidence showing that his image does not depict Cartwright, Shanus did not admit that his prized dag, once highlighted by Smithsonian, is a fraud.

Corey Shanus still claims this bogus daguerreotype depicts HOFer Alexander Cartwright depite the fact it bears no resemblance to a real portrait of Cartwright (inset center). Shanus' collection is also riddled with items stolen from the NYPL lincluding two 19th century Knickerbocker letters (above, right) he showed of in the book "Smithsonian Baseball."

Shanus’ collection is also notorious for including artifacts that were owned by Henry Chadwick and later stolen from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection.  Shanus showed off two Knickerbocker Base Ball Club documents stolen from Chadwick’s collection in the 2005 coffee-table book Smithsonian Baseball.  Those documents were bequeathed to the NYPL in 1921 by the widow of A. G. Spalding and are also the subject of an on-going FBI investigation.  So far, there have been no reports of Shanus’ home in Purchase, NY, being raided by FBI agents as part of the same Federal investigation.

Shanus has also filed suit against the only person ever apprehended stealing rare artifacts from the NYPL, Rob Lifson of Robert Edward Auctions. Shanus filed a complaint against Lifson in 2011 alleging that Lifson and his auction house sold him counterfeit items including an 1853 Knickerbocker trophy ball (alleged to have been presented to Henry Chadwick) and an 1861 trophy ball from a match between Brooklyn and New York “all-stars.”  (This writer purchased that same 1861 ball at Sotheby’s Halper sale in 1999 for over $60,000.  Shanus notes in his complaint that these items were once owned by this writer.)  Shanus also accuses REA of defrauding him and inflating memorabilia prices by falsely reporting record sales of rare baseball artifacts.  The complaint does not charge Lifson with selling Shanus any items that were stolen from the NYPL’s famous Spalding Collection.  Sources also indicate that Shanus claims to have unearthed evidence in discovery suggesting that Lifson has been involved in a shill-bidding scheme in his own auctions with a relative.

Lifson and REA, through their attorney, Barry Kozyra, denied the allegations and called the Shanus lawsuit frivolous and stated, “The Complaint contains numerous misstatements of fact and inaccuracies as Mr. Shanus must know as well as false suppositions.”  Lifson’s attorney added, “The Complaint is frivolous as a matter of law and REA and Mr. Lifson will seek full redress through the courts for damages, attorney fees and costs from Mr. Shanus and anyone acting in concert with him or on his behalf.”

Despite Lifson’s lawyers claims that the charges against his client have no merit, Lifson has had a well-documented history of selling bogus and fraudulent materials.  In the 1999 Halper sale Lifson catalogued and sold fake uniforms, misrepresented game-used equipment, forged Babe Ruth autographs and even a phony 1846 Knickerbocker baseball he claimed was  genuine.

Lifson originally filed a motion to dismiss the Shanus complaint claiming that the statute of limitations for the action had expired, but U. S. District Court Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh denied the motion and a counterclaim filed by Lifson against Shanus was also thrown out of court.  The case is on-going and sources indicate that attorneys for Lifson and Shanus have deposed and served subpoenas on many hobby executives in the course of the litigation.  A source confirms that Lifson’s lawyer, Barry Kozyra, has been trying to serve Hunt Auctions President David Hunt but has claimed he believes Hunt “may be purposely avoiding service.”

In relation to the FBI search of Rogers’ home and business, one hobby executive we spoke with said, “Why does Rob (Lifson) get a pass?”  Another told us, “When is the FBI raid of Lifson’s home and office in Watchung scheduled?”

(Editors Note: This writer has been involved in lawsuits with Robert W. Fraser, Robert Lifson and REA.  This writer has also had prior business relationships with Fraser, Lifson, REA and John Rogers.)

(Correction: In the original version of this article we said that SABR’s Mark Fimoff compared “noses and ears” on a tintype and a photo of Henry Chadwick.  That was incorrect.  Fimoff only compared noses.)