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 Haulsofshame.com 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:
Both passes have scrapbook residue and paper loss on their reverse, but are in good condition overall; the manual is in very good condition.
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 Haulsofshame.com, they would fit perfectly on the pages they were wrongfully removed from.
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 Haulsofshame.com’s “Halper 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.
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.
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.