Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash
October 23, 2012

Halper cuts the ribbon to the HOFs now defunct Halper Gallery just before he sold artifacts stolen from the NYPL and HOF at Sotheby's in 1999.

After offering an 1879 baseball contract stolen from NYPLs famous Spalding Collection earlier this year, Heritage Auction Galleries, of Dallas, Texas, was selling yet another stolen item from the library’s flagship Fifth Avenue branch, which was part of the 1970s heist said to be orchestrated by the deceased super-collector and New York Yankees general partner, Barry Halper. But last Friday, after being notified by that the item was stolen, Heritage removed the artifact from its sale scheduled for this week. The rare item was a complimentary season pass issued by the New York Giants in 1894 to Baseball Hall of Famer and pioneering baseball scribe, Henry Chadwick. Heritage estimated that the pass would have sold for close to $2,000.

The 19th-century season pass that appeared in the sale online and in a catalog as lot 81345 was originally pasted into one of Chadwick’s personal scrapbooks that were gifted to Albert G. Spalding and subsequently donated to the NYPL by the magnate’s widow in 1921. The library still retains the entire Chadwick scrapbook, however, the pass was cut from a scrapbook page when it was stolen sometime before 1983 when SABR and historian John Thorn organized and funded the microfilming of the manuscript and scrapbook holdings of the Spalding Collection.

The complimentary pass was previously sold in 1999 along with another Chadwick pass issued by Yale University as lot 152 in Sotheby’s sale of the Barry Halper Collection. The lot description in the catalog read:

This group of three items is comprised of: a blue 1894 “Yale University Nine” season pass in the name of Henry Chadwick; a fold-over 1894 New York Giants season press pass for Henry Chadwick, which includes the team’s home schedule; and Chadwick’s Base Ball Manual from 1889, complete with with a beautiful color cover of a game in progress.
Both passes have scrapbook residue and paper loss on their reverse, but are in good condition overall; the manual is in very good condition.

This 1894 NY Giant pass issued to Henry Chadwick was stolen from the NYPL's Spalding Collection and was also being offered for sale by Heritage Auction Galleries.

Heritage did not denote any evidence of scrapbook removal in its lot description of the pass issued to the “Father of Baseball” and signed by NY Giant executive Edward Talcott in 1894 when the Giants won the Temple Cup. Chadwick’s scrapbook, designated “Scrapbook No. 3 1891-1900,” is now housed in the library’s Manuscript Division and shows evidence of vandalism and the theft of the pass which was cut from its scrapbook page with a sharp object.

This Chadwick scrapbook page originally housed the offered 1894 season pass being offered by Heritage. The page also denotes the section that Chadwick's chronicling of the 1894 and 1895 seasons intersected (Manuscript Division, New York Public Library)

It is likely the other pass issued by Yale, also sold by Halper in 1999, was located on another scrapbook page that also shows signs of vandalism and theft. If both passes were matched to the exact pages illustrated by, they would fit perfectly on the pages they were wrongfully removed from.

This vandalized scrapbook page from Chadwick's c1891-1900 volume likely housed the Yale season pass also sold by Halper in 1999 at Sotheby's.(Manuscript Division, New York Public Library)

The offering of the 19th century passes is just further proof illustrating the scope of the original thefts in the 1970s, which saw well over $1 million in baseball artifacts wrongfully removed from the institution. The fact that more stolen items are traced back to the Halper Collection is no surprise to investigators who in the course of a nearly four year probe of the thefts have said privately “all roads seem to lead to Halper.”

Heritage had access to’sHalper Hot 100” list published in 2010. The 1894 pass issued to Chadwick appears on that list as stolen item number 72.

When we notified Heritage’s Director of Sports Auctions, Chris Ivy, that he was selling another stolen item, he asked us for a contact at the NYPL he could discuss the item with.  We referred him to the FBI and Ivy declined to answer any of our other questions. Ivy also declined to say whether his consignor Seth Swirsky had returned the stolen 1879 Sutton contract to the FBI or NYPL.

NYPL spokesperson, Angela Montefinise, was unable to issue a statement due to the on-going FBI investigation into the Spalding thefts.   She said that NYPL would leave this matter “in the hands of the authorities.”

The current FBI probe into the thefts commenced officially in July of 2009 when documents stolen from the library’s Harry Wright Correspondence scrapbooks appeared in the MLB/Hunt auction at the 2009 All Star Game. Over fifty stolen documents were offered in that sale, but currently three entire volumes of approximately 1,500 to 2,000 documents are still missing. Historian and author Dorothy Seymour Mills helped confirm many of the letters were, indeed, stolen, as she had documented the actual letters in the Hunt and Halper auctions in her footnotes and original research notes from the 1950s. Seymour-Mills co-authored Baseball: The Early Years with her late husband Dr. Harold Seymour and held many of these documents in her own hands while researching at NYPL in the 1950s.

Special Agent Jim Margolin from the New York City FBI press office said he would check for further details on the stolen relic, but was unable to respond before this article was published.

(Left) Lot 206 in the 1999 Sotheby’s Halper Auction was an 1875 letter written to Harry Wright by Morgan Bulkeley awarding the Boston BBC the championship pennant of 1875. The document is signed by Hall of Famers Wright and Bulkeley. (Right) Original research notes written by Dorothy Seymour Mills in the 1950’s that indicate Lot 206 in the Halper Auction was once part of the NYPL Wright Correspondence scrapbook Volume “1, p.21.” The research note, now housed at Cornell University, directly quotes portions of the letter that appeared in the Sotheby’s sale in 1999. (Courtesy Cornell University Rare and Manuscript Division)

Barry Halper sold several other stolen documents from the same missing scrapbooks in the 1999 Sotheby’s auction of his collection. Halper first claimed he owned Wright’s correspondence as early as 1977 in The Sporting News. His 1999 sale featured stolen documents written by Harry Wright, A. G. Mills, A. J. Reach, Jim Devlin and other 19th century baseball figures. He also sold an 1859 Challenge Letter that was stolen from NYPL’s Knickerbocker Correspondence Collection as well as stolen photographs of Wright, Chadwick and others.

After his death in 2005, Halper’s widow sold several other items stolen from the Spalding Collection including a CDV and a cabinet photo of 19th century sporting goods king Andrew Peck and others including Harry Wright and one that fit the description of a missing NYPL photo of Alexander Cartwright Jr. Those items were sold in 2007 by Robert Edward Auctions, the company headed by long-time Halper associate, Rob Lifson, who was also Halper’s hand picked consultant in charge of his sale at Sotheby’s in 1999. Lifson oversaw the entire auction including the lot descriptions of all items in the sale including the contraband artifacts.

Sources indicate that when they hired Lifson, Sotheby’s was unaware of the auctioneer’s personal history related to the Spalding Collection as he was apprehended for attempting to steal artifacts from the Fifth Avenue branch of the NYPL in 1979 when he was a student at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. At the time, Lifson was Halper’s major supplier of 19th century artifacts and a self proclaimed “card scholar” who was one of the leading dealers of baseball artifacts in the country. Lifson has made several conflicting confessions of his apprehension at the library stating that he tried to steal one rare CDV photo in one account and two rare photos in another. When Time Magazine covered the theft in 1979 they indicated that library security stated the man apprehended attempted to steal several cards in a “cache of smiling infielders” and had $5,500 in cash on his person at the time of the incident. Lifson recently said he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol when he was apprehended, however, Time reported in 1979 that the thief had secreted the rare cards from the collection by affixing a bubble gum box to his brief case to smuggle the cards out of the library.

An assortment of stolen and missing items from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection: (Clockwise from top left) Barry Halper c. 1984 with stolen 1879 Sutton contract hanging on his wall, Rob Lifson as he appeared in a National Geographic publication, “Kids Did It”, 1870 Forest City Base Ball Club CDV, Andrew Peck cabinet card, 1869 Forest City Base Ball Club CDV, 1873 Boston Red Stockings CDV, (Center) 1879 contract of Ezra Sutton.

Lifson oversaw and organized the 1999 Halper sale along with Marsha Malinowski, Sotheby’s head representative in its Books and Manuscripts division. Calls to Sotheby’s for comment to Malinowski about the auction house’s sale of the stolen items were redirected to the Sotheby’s press office as Malinowski is no longer with the company. We asked Sotheby’s spokesperson Emily Bergland if they had been approached by customers requesting refunds for stolen materials sold in the Halper auction and what the company’s position is in regard to its customer’s rights after purchasing contraband items. Bergland said she would inquire within the company but has not yet provided any information that could aid collectors currently in possession of NYPL property.

Contacted at her home in Naples, Florida, Dorothy Seymour Mills expressed her support for the FBI investigation she has aided and added, ” All these robberies of our historical treasures reflect badly not only on the NYPL for its lack of care but also on the character of our citizens, some of whom are without respect for history or an understanding of its importance. Their greed sickens me. I’m sad that the FBI has to become involved in recovery of items that are part of our national heritage.”
Stay tuned for our next report, another installment from our Operation Bambino series, focusing on another lot in Heritage’s current auction, a controversial alleged single-signed Babe Ruth ball with a current bid of $110,000.


  1. Always fantastic information however when will the hobby be able to learn who the consignors are of these stolen items. Let’s not forget, a few years later of thefts from the Baseball Hall of Fame, a dealer was dumb enough to place items in his own auction, therefore being exposed. One guess who he works for now!

    Comment by Steve Koschal — October 23, 2012 @ 11:13 am

  2. What a shame that an industry that I so adore is apparently so filled with thieves, liars, and snake oil salesmen. And it’s a shame that so many innocent people get caught up in their antics. Bravo for your excellent, determined research.

    Comment by Bill Panagopulos — October 23, 2012 @ 12:22 pm

  3. Thank you Peter for another article detailing more theft and fraud in the memorabilia business. This needs to be brought to the forefront. Hopefully over time, these thieves and crooks will be punished accordingly and this industry can be trusted once again. Thank you for your continued coverage of these most important topics. Brad –

    Comment by Bradford H. Turnow — October 23, 2012 @ 7:55 pm

  4. It doesnt surprise me at all, that Halpers name is being involved in any of the thefts, no matter what they were or where they were done.He was the biggest crook on this earth and it is to damn bad that he isnt around to get nailed and put away in a 6×8,instead of a 2×6 under the ground.

    Comment by Herbie Buck — October 24, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

  5. Great article Peter!!!! I feel there is finally someone to help keep our hobby safe and to help other from being taken by shady dealers.

    Comment by Jason — October 24, 2012 @ 3:40 pm


    Comment by CLAY MARSTON — October 24, 2012 @ 3:47 pm

  7. Peter your article proves that there are some very determined men out there desperate to get their hands on the prize. The clues they leave behind are proof of this.

    Brendan Ryan

    The Brendan Ryan Company
    Houston, Texas

    Comment by Brendan Ryan — October 27, 2012 @ 5:34 am

  8. Another excellent article, you’re really doing something great with this website.

    I suppose when you already have everything it’s possible for you to legitimately get your hands on it’s very tempting to steal what’s, as I think Halper put it, “there for the taking” in public institutions. I’m glad another stolen artifact is being returned.

    Comment by David — November 3, 2012 @ 1:39 am

  9. I’m also a massive soccer fan, and I was disheartened to see a fairly accurate, but far from perfect, reproduction of an extremely rare jersey, mis-represented as match-worn when in fact it was a replica only 5-10 years old, from the 1980s sell for almost $1500 on eBay this week. The differences were subtle but nonetheless definitely discernible from the real article. I reported the listing twice, but eBay doesn’t seem very interested in dealing with fake merchandise (without counterfeit merchandise, there wouldn’t be much on eBay). Once you move into the territory of player-used artifacts in sports you should research until you can prove to yourself that the article is genuine, fraud is absolutely rife in the sports memorabilia industry.

    Comment by David — November 3, 2012 @ 1:47 am

  10. This article provided many tips. Very useful to me. Thanks a lot ?

    Comment by John Michael Sheehan — November 5, 2012 @ 3:48 pm

  11. Yet another 65+-year-old autographed ball (the Ruth above) in lilly-white, like-new condition. Where are people getting the balls from to make these fakes? Are they old balls cleaned up, or are they newly-made? Could a shoemaker experienced in leather work polish up an old ball, or make a replica ball from scratch?

    Comment by Chris — November 7, 2012 @ 10:53 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.