Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash

Dec. 15, 2018

Author Ron Keurajian recently updated his must-have Hall of Fame autograph compendium and its new publication by McFarland gives collectors even more information to help them navigate the dangerous waters of acquiring genuine signatures of Hall of Famers. The new edition features chapters on the Black Sox as well as the top 50 signatures of players who have never been enshrined in Cooperstown.  The publication also coincides, however, with a current scandal that Keurajian appears to have been way ahead of the curve on; the authentication and sale of numerous forged HOFer (and non HOFer) signatures on T206 cards. The very public smoking-gun evidence related to the new scandal has again exposed the hobby’s Third Party authenticators for their ineptitude and alleged fraudulent business practices. That being said, author Keurajian has been preaching for years that, “Close to 100% of all signed T206 cards in the marketplace are forgeries.”

This particular scandal commenced recently when a collector named Clifford Franklin purchased at Clean Sweep Auctions what he believed was a genuine T-206 card signed by Hall of Famer Rube Marquard. The card fetched $1,516.80 and was certified authentic by James Spence of JSA who allegedly authenticated the card in person at the Clean Sweep offices. But when the buyer sent the card out to be encapsulated by SGC, that company declined to authenticate the suspect signed card. What ensued was an episode of sleuthing in which it was discovered through sales records on Worthpoint and past eBay sales that the exact same Marquard card was previously sold on eBay as an unsigned card on February 7, 2018. It was smoking gun evidence that the Marquard was a fake.

Had the same collector followed the advice offered by Keurajian in his autograph guide, he would have been more suspicious of buying any signed T206 cards in the first place. When we contacted Keurajian for comment he told us, “Marquard seems to be a common target. Forgeries abound. A genuine signed Marquard T206  should be considered rare to very rare and I suspect the total market population  to be somewhere between five and ten genuine specimens.”  Keurajian added, “Should you choose to collect signed T206 cards be warned you are stepping into a minefield.” His current take on these cards is no different from the advice he’s provided for collectors via his guide book for the past six years :

Many collectors have tried to secure signed T-206 cards or other early tobacco issues but their efforts have been in vain. My advice to collectors that wish to collect signed T-cards is: Don’t. Signed T-cards are very rare and limited to those players who lived into the late 1960s. By this time most of the players featured on these cards had passed away. You will not be able to find more than a handful of genuinely signed T-cards. Sam Crawford, who died in 1968, is very rare, as I have seen only two genuine specimens in my 35 years of searching. Larry Doyle, Fred Snodgrass, Rube Marquard, and a select few other players are available but that is it. If you are looking for signed T-cards of John McGraw, Cy Young, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and the other long deceased players you will unequivocally fail. There may be the occasional rarity that surfaces but for all practical purposes signed cards of these legends should be considered non-existent.
For years forgers have been buying up the low-grade T-cards and applying fake signatures upon them. I have seen “signed” T-206 cards of Tinker, Waddell, Young, Chesbro, Germany Schaefer, Wild Bill Donovan, and Walter Johnson for example. With just two exceptions, I have yet to see a genuine signed T-206 card of any Hall of Famer that died before 1968
.”

It appears that many more collectors have ignored Keurajian’s warnings and have instead chosen to buy up an alarming number of fakes which have appeared more recently in the marketplace. These same collectors also have a false sense of security knowing that these T206 cards have been authenticated by James Spence and JSA, SGC and PSA/DNA.

The T-206 Baker card was originally slabbed by SGC but later cracked open and forged with a bogus Baker signature that brought $24k at auction. The forgery was authenticated by PSA/DNA.

After the Marquard fake was exposed (and as a direct result of the new signed T206 scandal) numerous additional forgeries have been uncovered by collectors who post on the Net54 collector forum.  One member named “Manny” who posts under the alias”Setbuilder” helped expose and chronicle several phony signatures including those of Billy Sullivan, Fred Parent, Bob RhoadesPaddy Livingston, Elmer Flick, Heine Zimmerman, Wid Conroy, Jap Barbeau, Nap Rucker, Jesse Tanehill, Larry Doyle, Red Murray and infamous Black Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte.  One card, however, blew all the others away as it sold at auction for over $24,000.  The T206 card of Hall of Famer Frank “Home Run” Baker falls precisely in the wheelhouse of cards Keurajian advised collectors to avoid as Baker passed away in 1963. Like the other cards, an image of an unsigned and slabbed example of the exact same Baker card was located, thus exposing the fraud.

Although most all of these signed T206 cards, similar to the Baker, are fraudulent, there are some rare exceptions according to Keurajian; Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. In his book Keurajian states:

The exceptions are Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. Cobb was such a giant of the game that even back when sports memorabilia was worthless, people were collecting Cobb material. All the way back in 1910 fans were saving items of the Georgia Peach. Cobb was the one player from the Dead Ball Era that was presented with T-cards to sign. Today the handful of genuinely signed Cobb T-206 cards that exist are true gems of the hobby. I have examined four genuine specimens. Exhibit 1 is a nicely signed T-206 specimen. These are very rare and have an estimated value of $25,000 to $30,000, but in an auction could go much higher. A rare T-202 triple fold card of Cobb and George Moriarty signed by Cobb sold for $7,300 in 2009…

(Far Left) Authentic T206 signed Tris Speaker card sold at 2018 REA sale; (Center) 2- Ty Cobb signed T206s considered authentic by Ron Keurajian (Right) A bogus T206 Cobb sold at REA for $32,000.

Recently, alleged signed T-206 specimens of Cobb and Speaker appeared in a Robert Edward Auctions sale.  According to Keurajian, the Speaker signature was genuine, however, while Keurajian declined to offer an opinion on its authenticity, the Cobb appears to HOS be a forgery. The genuine Speaker sold for a mind-blowing $36,000; the alleged fake Cobb sold for $39,000.

According to author Ron Keurajian, these three T206 cards bear the genuine signature of Ty Cobb.

The popularity of signed T206 cards in recent years is evident on the website of a Net54 member who highlights his own collection of signed cards and also delves into the history of collecting signed tobacco cards in general.  The website called www.signedt206.com is operated by Paul Mifsud who has been collecting signed T206 cards over the past two decades.  Mifsud claimed to have one of the most extensive collections of signed T206’s but is now a victim of the current T206 forgery scandal having purchased several specimens which have been exposed as forgeries and since removed from his website. One of his fakes was a T206 Billy Sullivan card which he purchased in a 2016 Robert Edward Auctions sale for $6,600 (REA has already reimbursed Mifsud). In examining Keurajian’s book and his opinions on genuine signed T206 cards, it appears that Mifsud’s website may be cluttered with many other forgeries. One prominent collector and Net54 member told us, “While anyone with a brain could see that the proliferation of signed T206s over the years raised the biggest of red flags, Paul kept snatching up these “little treasures” as he called them while the rest of us choked out a laugh.” The Net54′er requested anonymity for fear of being banned from the forum by its moderator Leon Luckey who recently banned all links from HOS on his site. According to Luckey, the convicted felon, former Mastro Auctions shill bidder, alleged card-doctor and staunch defender of numerous hobby criminals: “There is 100% certainty that a lot of the stuff on that site (Hauls of Shame) is just made up lies from out of freaking nowhere.”

Hauls of Shame recently asked Mifsud if he was aware of Keurajian’s opinions and the advice offered to collectors regarding signed T206s in the two editions of his book.  Mifsud responded that he is a “proud owner of Ron Keurajian’s book” and added that he has “always assumed a certain percentage of autographs in (his) collection were not the genuine article.” Mifsud, however, stated clearly that he does not agree with Keurajian’s opinions.  Mifsud told us, “I found Keurajian’s research interesting but I remember disagreeing fundamentally with some of his conclusions when I read it. The reason for this is because to concur with him would be to challenge everything that Jeff Morey ever told me, showed me, and sold me from and about his autographed pre-war card collection.”

Jeff Morey is the veteran autograph collector from Syracuse, New York, who has been publishing his own collector newsletter, The Autograph Review, since the 1970s. Morey was well-known for acquiring signatures of dead-ball stars through the mail and in an interview featured on the T206 Collector website, Morey told Paul Mifsud that he acquired six signatures of Ty Cobb in person while the Georgia Peach was eating breakfast during the 1959 Hall of Fame induction festivities. Morey told Mifsud, “He (Cobb) signed a tobacco card, a Caramel card, a Callahan Hall of Fame card, an exhibit card and a Hall of Fame plaque and two baseballs.” Morey added, “I felt bad because his eggs were getting cold.”

(Top l to r) Ty Cobb signatures on a T206 card; Caramel card and Callahan HOF card alleged signed in person for Jeff Morey in 1959. (Bottom l to r) Authentic Cobb signatures from letters penned from 1959-1960.

As evidenced in his guide book, Keurajian does not believe that Morey’s T206 or Caramel cards of Cobb were actually signed by the “Georgia Peach.” Aside from being an author Keurajian is also the country’s foremost authority on Cobb’s handwriting and signatures. In regard to Jeff Morey’s story about having Cobb sign his items in person, Keurajian’s book frowns upon using “provenance to authenticate signatures.” Keurajian says, “It’s merely a crutch used by those who really don’t understand signature analysis. The study of signatures is based on the physical construction of the autograph and nothing more.”

Jeff Morey did respond to Hauls of Shame after this article was published and stated, “Let it be known I did indeed meet Ty Cobb and he signed in person. Check the India ink used on the cards, I don’t think others ever did the same.”

We asked Keurajian for his opinion of the current T206 scandal and he responded, “In general, signed T206 cards are few and far between and only a scarce handful of genuine examples exist. ” As any old-time or veteran collector will tell you, signed T206 cards of players who died in the fifties and early sixties were almost non-existent. One of those collectors told us, “Show me the old Trader Speaks issues with all these signed T cards and candy cards for sale. It’s just a collectors fantasy.” The top item in this “fantasy”category is an alleged signed M-116 Honus Wagner card which mirrors and resembles the famous T206 Wagner pose.  Paul Mifsud claims to have an authentic signed example of this card and his website describes the Wagner card stating:

I may never be able to own even an unsigned T206 Honus Wagner, the price being too high for any reasonable wallet to part with. But this T206 mirror image, with Mr. Wagner’s name scripted by his own hand, certainly fills a hole in my signed pre-war card collection incapable of ever being filled…”

Based upon his book, Keurajian and other knowledgeable collectors do not share Mifsud’s enthusiasm about his alleged signed Wagner card. When asked about the background of the card Mifsud told us he had information which he was “not at liberty to share publicly.” Mifsud did, however, share some information on the public Net54 website stating he acquired the Wagner from an “old time collector of baseball and music autographs in North Carolina in 2016.”  Mufsid added that he was “connected through Jeff Morey’s autograph magazine” and that after helping him consign his collection to Brian Dwyer and REA, “he sold me a handful of signed prewar cards, including this Baker and my Lajoie and M116 Wagner.” The Lajoie card Mufsid purchased is also described in detail as a forgery in Keurajian’s book.

The t206Collector.com website boasts of this signed Wagner card but experts consider it a poorly executed forgery.

Unfortunately, the Wagner signed card also appears to be a collecting hole that could likely never be filled. Any collector’s desire to acquire such a treasure sets the table for the forger (or forgers) who have flooded the market with similar fraudulent deadball-era cards. Cards which have been turned into gold via the third-party authenticators like Jimmy Spence.

It seems that collectors only realize the sham of the authentication system when there are smoking gun examples which expose the frauds.  Seldom do they listen to the opinions of someone like Keurajian or utilize his book as a tool to educate themselves and steer clear of the fakes and frauds.

A closer look at the T206Collector website reveals even more problematic signatures that Keurajian had alerted collectors of in his book.  Slabbed examples of HOFers Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Elmer Flick, Nap Lajoie and Fred Clarke all appear to be highly questionable autographs of players who died before 1968. Keurajian includes signature studies of Clarke and Lajoie related to T206s and describes these forgeries in detail. Keurajian describes in detail several of the cards featured on the T206 Collector website and offers collectors his views on the “tells” to look for.

Here are the Keurajian excerpts:

LAJOIE STUDY: There are many lesser grade forged T-206 tobacco cards in the market.  The target cards are typically the batting and throwing cards.  A forgery is placed vertically to the right of the head and a forged date is added to the left side of the head.  “Best Wishes” or “Yours Truly” is signed across the arm or leg. These are rather nonsensical but I have seen at least one slabbed and certified as genuine.”

The T206Collector.com website features signed T206s (l to r) of Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Nap Lajoie and Fred Clarke. All of these signatures have to be considered forgeries based upon author Ron Keurajian's signature studies. Keurajian's book describes Lajoie and Clarke forgeries in detail.

CLARKE STUDY:Known Forgeries: Due to the many breaks in Clarke’s hand and lack of rapid flow, his signature is very easy to forge. Well executed forgeries exist in quantities. About 25 years ago the market was flooded with forged Hall of Fame plaque postcards. Clarke was a target of this forger. They are fairly well executed. Many of these postcards were signed in red ink so proceed with caution.  There are a handful of forged T206 cards in the market.  As expected the cards are lower grade and signed across the top edge in either ball point or fountain pen in a sloppy hand where certain letters are omitted.  Some are signed in red ink. Overall, a rudimentary forgery.  I have never seen a genuinely signed T206 card.

Hauls of Shame reached out to Paul Mufsid for further comment but he declined to respond after publishing our entire initial inquiry on the Net54 website. In his initial response Mufsid voiced his disagreement with Keurajian’s opinions and added that he relies much more on the fact that Jeff Morey “took selfies with so many of these old-timers as they signed their cards for him.” He added, “A book that purports to summarize the state of signed T206 collecting that is inconsistent with my experiences with Jeff Morey is of limited probative value to me. I’ll take Morey’s account over everyone, which is one of the reasons I have recorded my interviews with him…”  To sum up his own opinion of Keurajian’s opinions Mufsid ended his response stating, “For my purposes, this iron clad provenance that you just never find in the pre-war autograph world, and I trust it explicitly.”

A T206 bearing a forgery of pitcher Eddie Cicotte sold for $11,000 at auction, but a discovery of the unsigned version of the same card exposed the fake. The red highlights point out the creases and imperfections found on both cards.

Morey’s public claim that Cobb signed for him personally, however,  cannot be accepted without proper examination considering the similar claims made by once legendary collectors like Barry Halper.  For years Halper claimed to have acquired the signatures of Babe Ruth and Jimmy Foxx in person on the same sheet of paper which would become his now infamous “500 Home Run Club” signed sheet.  Despite Halper’s claim of personal acquisition, both of those signatures were proven to be forgeries in an investigative report published by Hauls of Shame in 2011.

As stated previously, author Keurajian puts more weight on the analysis of the actual signatures, rather than the stories told by the owners of such items. According to Keurajian the best forgery in the group is the bogus autograph of Eddie Cicotte. While most all of the current T206 forgeries are poorly executed signatures attempting to resemble the tremulous handwriting of the elderly, the Cicotte forgery is a masterful one and could easily fool authenticators.

Of the Cicotte forgery Keurajian says, “The Cicotte T206 Sweet Caporal 150 card contains what I believe to be a very well executed forgery and displays itself very accurately. The work product of this forger evidences a high degree of skill. A genuine Cicotte-signed tobacco card of any kind would be an extreme rarity. I personally have never examined one.”

JSAs embarrassing authentication of fake Sal Bando autographs (inset) has been topped by Jimmy Spence's LOAs issued for bogus signed T206 cards like Rube Marquard (right).

Although this latest scandal has revealed flawed authentications by most all of the major TPAs, the biggest loser is Jimmy Spence and JSA who have authenticated most of the forgeries.  After being exposed for making so many other “smoking gun” errors on this website, many collectors view Spence’s involvement in this scandal as the last nails in the coffin for the beleaguered and self-proclaimed expert.

Hauls of Shame, auctioneers, authenticators and even collectors now know the identity of the buyer of the raw T206 cards which were later forged, however, law enforcement has asked that the identity not be revealed publicly.  The same individual and possibly an associate are suspected to be the forger (or forgers) of the T206 cards. Hauls of Shame has also found evidence linking the same individuals to fraudulent items sold at the infamous Coaches Corner auctions. Stay tuned for more.

(Correction: In an earlier version of this article, Hauls of Shame incorrectly reported that a known signed T206 card of Cy Young was once part of Jeff Morey’s collection and was sold as part of that collection at MastroNet in 2001.  Jeff Morey has informed this writer that the card was never part of his collection and we have removed that statement from this report. The Young card did, however, appear as part of Lot 1378 in a 2002 MastroNet sale. The lot description stated: “An incredibly rare group of signed baseball cards, with many in this group from the collection of famed autograph collector Jeff Morey. LOAs from Mike Gutierrez/MastroNet and James Spence/PSA//DNA.”)