June 10, 2016
A few years ago a controversy commenced involving Charlie Sheen’s alleged 1927 Babe Ruth World Series ring in an article published at Deadspin which revealed how a collector had lied about acquiring the ring from the Bambino’s daughter. The Babe’s own granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, confirmed that her mother never sold the ring to Yankee partner and super-collector, Barry Halper, who later sold the Ruth ring to auctioneer Josh Evans for $150,000. Evans purchased the ring in order to re-sell it to Sheen in the 1990s for $225,000 but, prior to those transactions in 1990, Halper had told Evans in a Sports Collectors Digest interview that he acquired the ring from the Babe’s daughter, Dorothy Ruth-Pirone. However, in a 1988 book that Pirone co-wrote about her father in entitled, My Dad, The Babe, she contradicted Halper’s story stating that the Babe’s World Series rings had vanished from the family years earlier.
Her co-author, Christopher Martens, confirmed in an interview the details of her story and added, “Dorothy did not have any World Series rings during the two year period we wrote the book and said they had disappeared years earlier. I might add that based on my time with her it is almost an impossibility that she would have sold anything she had related to her father. One room in her home was dedicated to him as a shrine and contained various items and memorabilia. She definitely didn’t need the money and she was very sick suffering from emphysema at the time.” Other than Sheen’s alleged 1927 ring, no other Ruth World Series ring has ever surfaced. The Baseball Hall of Fame doesn’t even possess one and Claire Ruth made a significant donation to the museum after her husband’s death.
At the time Sheen was showing off his alleged Ruth ring, the Babe’s granddaughter also made an observation about another 1927 World Series ring which once belonged to Babe’s teammate, Lou Gehrig. At a 1999 Sotheby’s sale, Halper also sold what he claimed was Gehrig’s 1927 World Series ring for a hammer price just shy of $100,000. Tosetti, however, told us, “I saw the cap of Lou’s 1927 ring at the Hall of Fame on a bracelet he made for his wife, so how could Barry Halper have sold it if its been at the Hall of Fame all these years?”
It was a great question, and considering the myriad of fraudulent items documented in the Halper Collection, it deserved further investigation.
Sometime after Gehrig’s death, his widow, Eleanor Gehrig, made a significant donation to the Baseball Hall of Fame including baseball artifacts and mementos once owned by the famous Yankee. Last year, current Hall of Fame curator Tom Sheiber and former spokesperson Brad Horn would not answer our inquiries about the details of the Gehrig donation, but back in 1989 Hall of Fame officials told the Chicago Sun-Times that Gehrig’s widow made the donation to the Hall after her death in 1984, as part of her last will and testament.
One of the most spectacular items donated was Mrs. Gehrig’s charm bracelet made from what appears to be most all of her husband’s World Series Rings, MVP awards, and All-Star Game medals. The Hall of Fame claims that Gehrig made the charm bracelet as a gift for his wife and in order for Gehrig to create the bracelet, it appears that a jeweler removed the actual diamond encrusted “caps” of Gehrig’s World Series rings and fashioned them into charms. The bracelet clearly features Gehrig’s 1927 and 1928 ring caps, which were identical in design. Mrs. Gehrig also donated one ring that was fully in tact, Gehrig’s 1939 ring from his last season as a champion. It appears that Gehrig’s 1939 World Series ring was the only one not fashioned into a medallion for inclusion on the presentation bracelet as it was presented to Eleanor Gehrig before her husband received the award.
The bracelet was also featured in the movie Pride of the Yankees in a scene with Gary Cooper presenting the actual bracelet (now at the Hall of Fame) to actress Teresa Wright. The scene further documents that the bracelet was a gift Gehrig fashioned especially for his wife, Eleanor. (Further research reveals, however, that Gehrig created the bracelet at an earlier date as evidenced in a Dieges & Clust artist’s rendering and an undated news photo (below) that Haulsofshame.com recently located).
In the film, just before leaving their house to attend Lou Gehrig Day on July 4, 1939, Cooper, playing the role of Gehrig, presents the bracelet to his screen-wife and says, “I had that made with some of the hardware I’ve collected, you like it honey?”
Eleanor Gehrig served as a consultant on the film and loaned her precious bracelet for use in the scene with Cooper. Reports indicate that the bracelet was “locked up in a safe at the Goldwyn studios every night after filming” and was returned to Gehrig’s widow when filming ended.
Uniform historian Dave Grob discovered and passed along to us an interview reprinted in the Waterloo (Iowa) Sunday Courier on June 7, 1942, in which Mrs. Gehrig spoke fondly of her bracelet. “It is made up of all the diamond studded rings and pins given Lou after each successful game. He then had them mounted as a bracelet and presented to me shortly before his death,” she said.
Grob also found another report from May 15, 1939, in the Vidette-Messenger, of Valpariso, Indiana, which stated:
“Mrs. Lou Gehrig has a bracelet that cannot be duplicated….it is made up entirely of rings and medals awarded her famous husband as mementos of seven World Series and six All Star games in which he has played.”
Most of the reports about Mrs. Gehrig’s bracelet were the product of her loaning it for a sports exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. On May 4, 1939, just two days after Lou Gehrig removed himself from his 2,130th consecutive game, The Sporting News reported:
“Mrs. Lou Gehrig has loaned the New York World’s Fair her unusual bracelet for the sports exhibit. It consists of diamond rings and emblems Lou has received from his World’s Series and All-Star game participation.”
The reports suggest that the bracelet was most likely made from Gehrig’s own original World Series rings and not replicas or duplicates of those rings. The inclusion of the bracelet in the movie, Pride of the Yankees also documents how important the bracelet was to Mrs. Gehrig and how dearly she treasured the gift from her husband.
So, with Gehrig’s 1927 ring already documented on Mrs. Gehrig’s famous bracelet, how could Barry Halper have claimed to have the same ring and sell it for $96,000 at Sotheby’s?
Considering that recent investigations into the Halper Collection have revealed that the deceased Yankee limited-partner sold (at Sotheby’s) counterfeit jerseys and other artifacts stolen from the New York and Boston Public libraries, the questions about the alleged Gehrig ring are more than warranted.
Halper has also been implicated for selling bogus materials to Major League Baseball and the Baseball Hall of Fame including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s 1919 jersey and Mickey Mantle’s 1951 Yankee rookie jersey. Officials from the Hall of Fame admitted to returning the Mantle jersey and in October of 2011 revealed that testing on Halper’s Jackson jersey proved it was a fake, showing that it was created with materials including substances that weren’t in existence until the 1940s and 50s.
Speculation that Halper knowingly defrauded Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame arises from Halper’s conflicting acquisition stories for his Jackson jersey. In 1985 he told The Sporting News it was a recent acquisition from ”Jackson relatives,” but at the time of the sale to MLB he said he purchased the jersey directly from Jackson’s widow in the 1950’s on a visit to her home in Greenville, South Carolina. Halper said he purchased Jackson’s jersey, “Black Betsy” bat, glove and pocket watch from his widow, Katie, for $150.
Many of Halper’s most spectacular items were accompanied with equally spectacular stories of his acquisitions, however, further scrutiny into his stories has yielded several instances that mirror the Joe Jackson jersey controversy. Another Gehrig item that Halper sold as the Iron Horse’s game-used glove from his last game turned out to be fraudulent as well. Gehrig’s genuine last glove is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame and was donated by Gehrig’s mother. Halper sold the glove with a dubious provenance story for over $300,000, the highest price ever paid for a baseball glove.
In 1990, Halper told Sports Collectors Digest another story that he had purchased Lou Gehrig’s 1927 World Series ring “from an ad in the New York Times.”
It was Josh Evans, of Lelands, that Halper told his Gehrig “newspaper ad” acquisition story to for his SCD “Balls in the Attic” column. Evans recently told us that a New Jersey dealer of political memorabilia named David Frent was the original source of Halper’s 1927 Gehrig ring.
Online research of classified ads in the New York Times and 13 other major newspapers failed to yield any advertisements involving a ring attributed to Lou Gehrig. The search did, however, show the sales of dozens of World Series rings including ones presented to John DeLorean (1977 Yankees) and hit-king Pete Rose.
Hauls of Shame contacted Frent and he confirmed that Halper’s story was partially accurate and that he sold him the alleged Gehrig ring after purchasing it from a New York Times classified ad located in the Arts & Entertainment section. Frent recalled that the ring was sold by an antiques dealer in New Jersey, but did not have any further details or documentation related to the seller.
Evans, who purchased Halper’s 1927 Babe Ruth ring and later sold it to Charlie Sheen in the 1990s, has handled several 1927 Yankee rings. In addition to the alleged Ruth ring, his auction house has sold examples attributed to Yankees “Dutch” Reuther and “Jumpin” Joe Dugan, as well as another ring attributed to Yankee clubhouse manager Pete Sheehy.
But the examples attributed to Reuther and Dugan were not original 1927 rings. Lelands stated in their lot descriptions that the Reuther ring was acquired directly from his estate and was a ”brass” copy of his original ring. Lelands said the Dugan example “may have been made by him a bit later after the original was either lost of worn out.” The Dugan ring was a 10k ring while all of the Yankee original rings were made with 14k gold by Dieges & Clust. The other 14k Dieges & Clust ring that Lelands sold in 2005 was sold as ”a gift given to a Chicago sportswriter by legendary Yankee clubhouse manager Pete Sheehy.”
Dieges & Clust was the official manufacturer of World Series rings for the Major Leagues and has since been acquired by another company known as Herff Jones, of Providence, R.I. A few years ago we inquired if the company had records dating back to the Yankee ring orders of 1927. “I don’t think the company retained those records, but we will look and see if there are any records still available,” said company rep Brian Smith.
A few other genuine Yankee rings from 1927 and 1928 have surfaced in public auction sales over the past few decades.
David Hunt, president of Hunt Auctions, sold an authentic 1928 Series ring that was consigned directly by the family of Yankee Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri. Hunt, with decades of hobby experience under his belt told us, “I have actually never seen another (‘27 ring) or know of any, although, I am sure there must be a few out there.” Hunt also said he was not aware of Lazzeri relatives having a 1927 ring.
In 2014, the 1927 World Series ring retained by the grandson of Yankee Hall of Famer, Earle Combs, sold at Heritage Auctions for $155,350. In the auction description Heritage referred to the alleged Charlie Sheen Ruth ring as a genuine artifact.
In addition, the now defunct Legendary Auctions sold an authentic 1927 Yankee World Series ring that once belonged to Hall of Fame manager Miller J. Huggins. The Huggins ring sold for $204,000 in Legendary’s August, 2007, auction.
In 2011, former Legendary President, Doug Allen, told us in an interview that World Series rings from 1927 were exceedingly rare and that in his opinion it was “doubtful that players back then would have an additional copy made.” Allen, who is currently serving a prison sentence stemming from the FBIs Mastro fraud investigation, also urged collectors to be careful with rings stating, “They are much easier to fake than cards and other vintage memorabilia.”
Forgeries of World Series rings are nothing new to the hobby with the 1927 Yankee ring being the crown jewel. In a 1995 edition of Cincinnati Magazine, convicted forger Randy Marshall admitted to creating one, himself, and included the ring he attributed to pitcher Waite Hoyt as one of the top ten items he’d ever forged. Hoyt’s authentic 1927 ring is believed to be in the collection of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
If Halper’s Gehrig ring was originally an authentic ring presented to one of his teammates, one would only need a skilled engraver to remove the existing name and replace it with “H. L. Gehrig” in the same style. Since so few authentic ‘27 rings have surfaced, there would have been several candidates ripe for enhancement.
The Halper ring could also have been a knock-off from an original. A recent search on eBay for 1927 Yankee World Series rings yielded several replica rings being offered for sale including one advertised as a replica of the Bambino’s 1927 ring for $350.
In 2003, Heritage Auctions of Dallas, Texas, offered what they described as a “replica” of a 1927 Yankee ring, and in 2009 offered another 10k replica . In its lot description Heritage stated: “We must note that the ten-karat gold construction of the ring does differentiate it from the fourteen-karat content of those issued at the time, suggesting that this is a later incarnation. Several other ten karat player rings have surfaced in recent years, issued as replacements when the originals were lost or damaged.”
Halper’s ring that was sold at Sotheby’s was advertised as a 14k example, however, without a thorough examination of that ring by an experienced jeweler it is purely speculation as to how and when the ring was actually created.
As for the Gehrig ring-cap in Cooperstown, however, new information, has recently come to light with the publication of the book, Inside The Baseball Hall of Fame, which features the Gehrig bracelet and quotes from a letter Gehrig wrote to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis regarding to the charm bracelet. In a letter written by on November 15, 1937, Gehrig confirms the origins of the rings incorporated into the bracelet stating, “It is made up of all my World’s Series rings and All-Star Game emblems.” Gehrig asks Landis’ permission for Dieges & Clust to honor a special request so that he can “add this years championship emblem to the bracelet.” Gehrig added that he wanted Dieges & Clust to “make the emblem for the bracelet instead of in the form of a ring for me.”
Gehrig’s own letter is the strongest evidence suggesting that all of the World Series emblems incorporated into the bracelet originated from his own championship rings and awards. It also confirms that any special requests made by players with the jeweler Dieges & Clust apparently had to be approved by the American League and the Commissioners Office. In addition, records recovered from Dieges & Clust that were recovered from a trash bin by a former company employee confirm that Gehrig’s request was honored and the company created a pendant, instead of a full ring, for $100.
The existence of the Gehrig letter and the jeweler’s internal records cast even greater doubt on Halper’s alleged 1927 Gehrig ring. Considering that Gehrig is saying, in this very letter, that the ring was added to the bracelet now on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame, it is highly unlikely that Gehrig’s 1927 ring was not the source for the pendant on the bracelet.
Another document originating from the Dieges & Clust files that were recently sold by Rob Lifson of REA (the same auctioneer who sold the alleged 1927 WS ring at Sotheby’s in 1999) shows that Gehrig did receive a full ring in 1927 and all evidence suggests that this size 12 ring was the example transformed into the pendant for Mrs. Gehrig’s bracelet years later. In contrast, when the Halper ring was sold, Sotheby’s described it stating: “A small segment of the band has been removed by a jeweler to facilitate sizing to any finger.”
Further supporting this theory is the fact that the only surviving Gehrig World Series rings and All-Star medallions are from 1939 and were presented to him after he gifted the bracelet to his wife. Thus, it is almost certain that Gehrig’s authentic 1927 World Series ring was modified by a jeweler and became a part of the bracelet for his widow. The artist rendering of the bracelet found in the Dieges & Clust files also suggests that it was their jewelers who were commissioned by Gehrig to fashion the bracelet from his old awards.
All of the evidence available to us today suggests that the magnificent bracelet on display in Cooperstown was a gift from Gehrig to his wife and featured all of his actual baseball awards, including the cap from his genuine 1927 World Series ring, not a replica of that award. As for the alleged Gehrig ring sold by Barry Halper in 1999, there is no supporting evidence or provenance that can justify Sotheby’s and auctioneer Rob Lifson offering Halper’s ring as the genuine article at the same time Mrs. Gehrig’s bracelet was on public display at Cooperstown. Unfortunately for the Sotheby’s buyer, the 1927 ring that was purchased is just another example highlighting the multi-million dollar misrepresentations and frauds perpetrated by the deceased Yankee partner.