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By Peter J. Nash

June 18, 2012

This ball was sold in an auction held at New York's Polo Grounds in 1921. The proceeds were contributed to a medical fund to help Christy Mathewson.

Recently we published a story illustrating several forgeries of Christy Mathewson’s signature on baseballs that have sold at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Each of the bogus signed Matty balls were authenticated by either PSA/DNA or JSA (James Spence Authentication).

The  Mathewson authentication controversy continued with a ball that was recently sold at SCP Auctions by ex- Major League pitcher David Wells. That Matty single-signed ball was submitted to PSA and failed after the company rendered it “Not Authentic.”  JSA, however, thought differently and issued the ball a “full letter of authenticity.” Despite the conflicting opinions, the ball sold for close to $25,000.

Yet another alleged Mathewson ball was sold by Robert Edward Auctions last month for $37,500. The auction house called it a, “Historically Significant Christy Mathewson Single-Signed Ball – Signed by Mathewson on the Day of his 1921 Testimonial at the Polo Grounds.” The auction catalog cited a passage from a 1977 book written by sportswriter Fred Lieb, who served as the auctioneer of signed baseballs at a game played between New York Giant Old-Timers and the then-current Giant ball-club. Lieb recalled:

“During the intermission between games we auctioned off three dozen balls signed by Mathewson and all of the 1921 New York Giants. Harry M. Stevens put some of his most eloquent peanut, hog dog, and scorecard salesman to work drumming up bids throughout the stands. The prize baseball was autographed by Mathewson, President Harding, Vice-President Coolidge, Governor Miller, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, George M. Cohan, Richard Mansfield, and several other actors, athletes, and politicians. It was the most autographed ball I ever saw and I auctioned it off myself from the concrete roof of the Braves’ Dugout. It finally went for $450 to a persistent man I did not know.”

The ball being sold by REA also had the date of the Mathewson benefit game written on one of the ball’s side panels. So, the auction house assumed that the ball was signed that same day by Mathewson. They wrote:

“The date on the ball certainly suggests that possibility. In addition, the fact that the game was held as a fundraiser, with the knowledge that signed balls were to be sold that day, probably means that Mathewson was discouraged from autographing baseballs for fans that afternoon. Of course, this could also be one of a few special balls Mathewson signed for his close friends or old teammates who came out to honor him on his special day. Obviously, we will never know for sure, but the one thing that does appear certain is that this ball was signed by Mathewson on one of the most memorable and emotional days of his life.”

The NY Times reported that Matty missed the 1921 Matty Day event and sent a message from his sick-bed in Saranac Lake, in Upstate New York.

But as we detailed in our prior article, Mathewson did not attend the Polo Grounds that day in 1921, as he was convalescing at his residence on Saranac Lake, New York, in the Adirondack Mountains. The New York Times on October 1, 1921, reported that in his absence, Mathewson sent a message to his old teammates who appeared to aid their old friend who was suffering from respiratory problems brought on by his service in the Chemical Warfare Division of the US Army in WW I.

Despite, learning of our discovery, the auctioneer saw fit not to change his auction lot title and only added this:

(Note: A period newspaper article exists that indicates Matty was not actually present at the game, in which case if true all the Mathewson signed balls sold at the game were obviously actually signed in advance of the game.)

REA first said the ball was signed on that day in 1921 and then they changed their stance to say, with certainty, that the ball was “signed in advance.”  How could they know?

Hans Lobert auctions off a ball featuring the signatures of Mathewson and president Harding. The balls sold that day (and the prices realized) were mentioned in the New York Times the next day.

Upon reading our report on the Matty balls, one of our readers shared with us some original photographs taken at the Polo Grounds on the day of the Mathewson benefit game in 1921.  The first image was a photo taken by Paul Thompson of ex-Giant Hans Lobert auctioning off (via megaphone) a ball allegedly signed by Mathewson and President Warren Harding. (The same ball Fred Lieb recalled in his 1977 memoir.)

This wire photo taken by Paul Thompson shows Truly Warner being presented with the signed baseball he paid $750 for.

The Times detailed that the prize treasure of the event auctioned by Lobert and Lieb was the ball signed by Matty, President Harding, Vice-President Coolidge, Babe Ruth and George Kelly.  The autographed ball was reportedly sold for $750 to a man named Truly Warner.

This Paul Thompson photograph shows the signatures of President Harding and Christy Mathewson on the ball that sold for $750.

Photographer Paul Thompson also captured a close up shot of the baseball itself and the side panel featuring the alleged signatures of Mathewson and the President.  It’s not very often that an artifact like this one is documented by a photograph confirming its existence at the time it was originally acquired.  In the world of collecting autographed baseballs its unheard of and quite remarkable.  The photographic evidence provided by the Paul Thompson photograph supports Fred Lieb’s recollections in 1977 and the New York Times’ report in 1921.

Where did this ball end up?  Did Truly Warner keep the ball and pass it along to his own family?

These two alleged Mathewson balls were recently sold by SCP (left) and REA (right). Both were authenticated by JSA, but what's the chance they are genuine?

Robert Edward Auctions claimed their ball was signed by Matty on that day even though the evidence shows their statement was false.  Although they made this false claim they still added:

“What is not entirely clear is whether or not all of the balls auctioned off that day were signed by Mathewson AND the 1921 New York Giants. Is it possible that there were a number of Mathewson single-signed balls and 1921 New York Giants team-signed balls included in the sale as well? If so, could the offered ball have been one of the balls sold at the park that day to raise money for Mathewson?”

Additionally, another important question can be posed:   “Did Christy Mathewson and President Harding actually sign the one visually documented baseball auctioned off that day in 1921?

(Watch for Part 2 of  ”The Mystery of the Mathewson Signed Baseballs” -Coming Soon)


2 Comments

  1. “We know Matty signed it because he was there. But it’s possible he wasn’t there, so we know he signed it in advance. He signed other balls that day, so he probably signed this one too.”

    Makes perfect sense. Translation: “We have a ball we know nothing about.”

    Comment by pickles — June 18, 2012 @ 9:46 am

  2. As usual,by these low life money hungry auction houses so mentioned,someone paid big $ for a forged item that was worth peanuts.Damn glad it wasnt me,cause I would be out for someones ass, if it was.There is no need for all this crap to be going on all the time and damn glad that Peter is uncovering these things and would hope it would discourage John Q from wasting his $ on junk,no matter who says it is good,cause the only person who knows if it is or not,is 6 ft.under.

    Comment by Herbie Buck — June 18, 2012 @ 10:40 am

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