Nov. 9, 2012
Last week the New York Post reported that Hunt Auctions is offering Joe DiMaggio’s 1951 World Series ring in its annual auction at the Hillerich & Bradsby Company in Louisville, Kentucky. According to the Post, the ring being offered by Hunt has stirred up a long-standing controversy over the alleged theft of most all of DiMaggio’s World Series rings from a New York hotel room in the 1960s. DiMaggio was wearing his 1936 World Series ring at the time of the incident, however, the “Yankee Clipper” claimed that all of the other rings had vanished from the Lexington Hotel.
The Yankee World Series ring being offered by Hunt this weekend, with an estimated value of $100,000,was consigned by the family of an executive who worked for the ring manufacturer Dieges & Clust. The family claims that the ring was originally DiMaggio’s and was given to their relative soon after it was made for DiMaggio in 1951. According to Hunt, “The senior salesman of Dieges & Clust had been working with Joe DiMaggio and another Yankees player during such a visit, when according to family history, DiMaggio had indicated he would prefer to have another award from the firm such as either a hunting rifle or custom made fishing rod with solid gold engraved handle…” Hunt says the ring was given to the executive “who retained it and wore it proudly for the remainder of his career until his passing and subsequent bequeath to his family.” The ring is engraved on the inside band “Joe DiMaggio” and bears the Dieges & Clust hallmark along with a mark designating the ring as “14K.” The ring currently has a bid of $29,586 and will be auctioned off this weekend at a live event at the Louisville Slugger Museum.
The New York Post report, however, did not indicate that there is at least one collector in the country who believes he has already purchased DiMaggio’s 1951 World Series ring. He paid $37,043 for the ring when it sold at Mastro Auctions in February of 2001 accompanied by what Mastro described as a “note, handwritten and signed by DiMaggio, on an index card which reads simply: “My 1951 World Series ring (signed) Joe DiMaggio.” The ring was described by Mastro as “One of the prizes of The Halper Collection.” The ring originally sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 for $37,375 and also appeared on the PSA “Top 200 Sports Collectibles Sold in the 2oth Century” list.
However, just because an item was signed and identified by DiMaggio for Halper, does not necessarily mean the item is authentic. A case in point was when Halper had DiMaggio sign what he claimed was the Yankee Clipper’s genuine 1936 rookie road jersey with the number “9.” Halper later sold that jersey to the Baseball Hall of Fame and MLB as part of a $7.5 million transaction. In 1998, Halper told the press the DiMaggio rookie jersey was purchased by MLB along with his Mickey Mantle rookie jersey bearing the number “6,” however, both of those jerseys would later be returned to Halper by Hall officials who questioned their authenticity. Both jerseys ended up for sale at Robert Edward Auctions in 2007 having been consigned by Halper’s widow after his death. REA sold both jerseys as “vintage style replicas” that were “created with vintage materials” and failed to disclose that the jerseys were outright forgeries previously returned to Halper by the Hall of Fame. (Haulsofshame.com and uniform expert Dave Grob exposed the Mantle jersey as a forgery in the 2010 article “From Relic to Replica?”) REA also falsely claimed that the bogus DiMaggio rookie jersey was a replica “made to commemorate DiMaggio’s rookie season.” REA also stated that the jersey would never “fool an expert” despite the fact that it did, in fact, fool MLB and the Hall of Fame at the time it was purchased from Halper.
Hunt Auctions does not mention in its current lot description the existence of the controversial Halper-DiMaggio 1951 ring and note that has been the subject of several articles published in the New York Daily News and described in detail in the biography written by Richard Ben Cramer Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life.
In the biography Cramer described the DiMaggio ring thefts and the ring sold by Mastro and Barry Halper:
“In the house, Barry showed Joe everything he had–like Joe’s ‘51 World Series ring. Joe had traded that away to an L.A. hotelier, in exchange for lodging. Barry had bought it from that guy’s son. Now, Barry offered to give the ring back to Joe. But Joe didn’t want it. He signed a paper for Barry, affirming that was his ring.”
The account Cramer described in his book was based solely on an interview with Halper with no input from the then-deceased DiMaggio, and after the book was published DiMaggio’s attorney Morris Engelberg disputed the information Halper had conveyed to Cramer claiming that all of DiMaggio’s rings were stolen, not “exchanged for lodging.” Both Cramer and Engleberg, however, did not dispute the fact that the Yankees presented DiMaggio with a set of replica World Series rings at Joe DiMaggio Day in 1998. Cramer claims in his biography that the presentation of the replica rings were not George Steinbrenner’s idea, but rather Halper’s. Halper had fallen out of favor with DiMaggio in the mid 90s and the presentation was what Cramer describes as an attempt by Halper “to get back with Joe.”
When he was 83, and recovering from a bout with pneumonia, DiMaggio described his own story about the rings to George Vescey of the New York Times who wrote:
” When I visited him in Florida a few weeks later for a five-hour interview, I noticed the gold diamond-encrusted ring glistening on the third finger of his left hand — his 1936 World Series ring, his rookie year.
”My other World Series rings were stolen,” he said.
While on a business trip in the early 60’s, he explained, his eight other World Series rings, along with some cuff links and tie clasps, were stolen from his Lexington Hotel suite. But when he was honored on ”Joe DiMaggio Day” late last season, he was presented with replicas of those stolen World Series rings, a gift from George Steinbrenner.”
In 1999, Barry Halper offered his alleged 1951 DiMaggio World Series ring at Sotheby’s as part of the $20 million liquidation of his collection and the New York Daily News reported that Morris Engleberg disputed the sale:
” Halper got a nasty letter. In it, Engelberg insinuated that DiMaggio’s 1951 World Series ring, which Halper had purchased from another dealer, had been stolen. Halper says he once offered to give the ring back to DiMaggio gratis, but Joltin’ Joe declined, and instead gave Halper a handwritten note authenticating the ring as his. He told Halper that he’d given the ring away to a friend, and that it was never stolen. Engelberg’s mention of the ring is interesting, since Engelberg himself has been publicly flaunting DiMaggio’s 1936 World Series ring, the only one of nine Series rings still in DiMaggio’s possession when he died. “He gave me that ring on his deathbed,” Engelberg said Friday. “I’m never taking it off my finger.”
In 2003, Morris Engleberg wrote his own tell-all book disputing many of the claims made by Cramer in his DiMaggio biography and the New York Daily News reported:
Engelberg also accuses legendary memorabilia collector Barry Halper, a longtime DiMaggio friend and business associate, of shady dealings: Engelberg says he tried, unsuccessfully, to stop Halper from selling DiMaggio’s 1951 World Series ring after the Yankee Clipper’s death. Engelberg says the ring – and seven others later obtained by Halper – were stolen from a hotel.
“As far as we’re concerned, they were improperly sold,” Engelberg says. “They are stolen property. They are still his (DiMaggio’s) property.”
Halper declined to discuss Engelberg’s book; Cramer’s book says Halper bought the 1951 ring from the son of a Los Angeles hotelier, who got it from DiMaggio in exchange for lodging. “
In the most recent New York Post article related to the controversy, Engelberg claims that the Halper ring was one of the items stolen from Joltin’ Joe’s hotel room.
However, the ring Halper alleged was DiMaggio’s from1951 has a 10K mark as well as an engraved “Joe DiMaggio” on the inside of the ring band. Hunt Auctions claims in its auction description of its current 14K offering, :….the 14K gold manufacture is proper with relation to actual World Series rings of the period as opposed to the lesser quality salesman sample rings of 10K consistency.” So, was Halper’s alleged DiMaggio ring not stolen, as Engelberg claims, and rather a salesman’s sample? Unlike the current Hunt offering, Mastro sold Halper’s ring in 2001 with no mention that the ring had the Dieges & Clust hallmark. Or could Halper’s ring have been a counterfeit? Other Halper rings have been controversial, including his alleged 1927 World Series ring attributed to Babe Ruth and currently owned by actor Charlie Sheen. (An article we wrote for Deadspin details the claims alleging that Halper’s Ruth ring could also have been either stolen or not genuine.)
We asked ring aficionado and dealer, Scott Welkowsky, of Out of This World Memorabilia, for his opinion regarding the authenticity of both alleged DiMaggio rings. Welkowsky has been in the championship ring business for several decades and has handled many Yankee World Series rings from the 1950 era. After examining photographs of the ring being offered by Hunt Auctions Welkowsky said he had no doubts that the ring was an authentic Dieges & Clust ring made for the 1951 Yankees. Welkowsky said, “With the concave cupping on the inside of the ring and the design on the outside, I have no question it is authentic from that era. The fact that it is a 14K ring with the Dieges & Clust Hallmark also supports that it was a ring made for the Yankees.”
We also asked Welkowsky whether it could be an authentic salesman’s sample ring from the era? “Most salesman sample rings I’ve seen from that period are 10K, but I have also seen them made in 14K,” said Welkowsky. But Welkowsky also stressed that the only way to determine if a ring was actually presented to or made for a player was to examine the name engraved inside the band. Welkowski said, “Sample rings from that era were not engraved with player names and the engraving on this ring in these photos appears to be vintage. The ring also looks like it was polished outside and inside, too.” Welkowski said one of the best ways to determine if a ring is genuine is to compare it with other known authentic exemplars. In this case he compared the hand-engraving on the DiMaggio ring with the engraving on Casey Stengel’s 1951 ring which was sold by his family at Sotheby’s/ SCP Auctions in 2007. The ring was engraved “Casey D. Stengel” in the same style as the Hunt ring and Welkowski noted that the “D’s” on both examples matched perfectly. Welkowski, however, could not comment on whether he believed the ring was actually worn by DiMaggio or gifted to the Dieges & Clust executive. It is quite possible that the “family history” detailed by the consignor could be true, but there is no way to be sure.
We also had Welkowsky examine photographs of Halper’s alleged 1951 DiMaggio ring and he said, “This ring also looks authentic but the fact that it is 10K makes it very unlikely that it was the ring presented to DiMaggio in 1951.” Welkowsky noted that the “Joe DiMaggio” engraving on the inside band of the Halper ring matched the hand engraving on the Hunt ring almost exactly. ”I think both DiMaggio names were hand engraved by the same person at Dieges & Clust. The “gg” on one ring is a bit higher and on the other it comes closer to the edge of the bottom of the shank. Aside from that they are almost identical. It would be very difficult to be that close in style if it were not authentic.” Welkowsky added, “It’s nice that it has the note from DiMaggio saying it was his ring, but its not likely his actual ring. It could have been a replacement made for him at a later date.”
Welkowski confirmed that Hunt Auctions had asked him for his opinion of the ring and in its lot description Hunt echoed his opinion stating: ”…it is consistent in every fashion with an authentic Joe DiMaggio 1951 World Series ring. It is also certainly plausible that this, in fact, was the only 1951 ring manufactured for DiMaggio in 1951 and was never part of the group of rings stolen from the Lexington Hotel.”
The DiMaggio ring mystery raises far more questions than answers: Why would DiMaggio inscribe a note saying Halper’s ring was his from 1951 if he had gifted the actual ring to the Dieges & Clust executive? Was Halper’s ring a replacement for the stolen example or a replacement for the ring allegedly gifted to the Dieges & Clust executive? Or could it actually be the stolen ring that DiMaggio and Engelberg claimed to have been swiped from the Lexington Hotel? We may never know.
Perhaps someone will walk into an auction house in the future with all of DiMaggio’s missing rings minus the 1951 example. Then, and only then, might the mystery actually be solved. For now, bidders in the Hunt Auction in Louisville will have to take a leap of faith and believe in the story of the family of the anonymous Dieges & Clust executive who received a substantial gift from the notoriously frugal “Yankee Clipper.” Hunt Auctions has also announced that the consigning family will be donating a portion of the proceeds of the sale to the Joe DiMaggio Hospital in Florida.
Haulsofshame.com contacted both David Hunt, President of Hunt Auctions, and DiMaggio’s former attorney, Morris Engelberg, for comment. Hunt responded but declined comment while Engelberg did not respond to our inquiry. Hunt would not disclose the identity of his consignor for the Post story which reported: ”According to one story, DiMaggio — who had several other Yankee World Series rings — passed on the first design of this particular ring. “Joe told the salesman, ‘I want something else,’ ” said Hunt.
UPDATE: David Hunt, President of Hunt Auctions, issued a statement for us this morning after this article was published:
“Simply stated, I can only comment on our ring as obviously that is the only one we are handling or that I have personally inspected. As stated in our catalogue description, it is quite clear as to the origins and history of our ring having remained in the family of the Dieges & Clust executive since it was obtained in the 1950s. Without repeating it here (only as it is lengthy) we have also laid out very succinctly within our description as to what we can guarantee about the offered ring with relation to its age and materials.”
“ I am certainly aware of the other ring but frankly given the fact it was listed as a 10K example and having been given as a gift by DiMaggio (according to the catalogue) as ordered secondarily it actually has no bearing nor relevance to this ring at all. Having not inspected it in person at all I would have no opinion as to exactly what it was or its origins but presuming their catalogue description was accurate then it can be eliminated as being an original 1951 World Series ring of the appropriate caliber and materials in comparison to other documented exemplars. That in and of itself does not at all suggest it is a “fake” but again really has no relevance to the offered ring in any fashion.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: For clarification, the catalog description for the Halper ring sold at Mastro stated: “The fact that this is a 10K gold ring, as opposed to a 14K gold ring (like most other Yankee rings of the era) leads us to suspect that this may have been a second ring ordered by Joe to give as a gift.”
UPDATE (Saturday): The 1951 DiMaggio World Series ring did not sell earlier today at the Hunt Auction held at the Louisville Slugger Museum. It appears the bid did not meet the reserve set by the auction house.
(Readers will be able to learn more about the relationship and feud between Barry Halper and DiMaggio in this writer’s upcoming book; Hauls of Shame: The Cooperstown Conspiracy and The Madoff of Memorabilia.)