By Peter J. Nash
Feb. 12, 2013
FOR PM 1 PIN UPDATE SCROLL TO END OF FIRST ARTICLE
FOR MASTRO GUILTY PLEA HEARING UPDATES SCROLL TO BOTTOM
When it was announced that a discovery of a PM-1 pin of Babe Ruth was made in 2005 by auctioneer and pin expert Rob Lifson of Robert Edward Auctions, it represented one of the most remarkable finds in recent times. It was billed as being quite possibly the earliest issue representing Ruth in a Major League uniform and as part of a 1915 commercial issue that is now recognized in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. The pins were first documented in the late Burt Sugar’s The Sports Collectors Bible, which listed nine different players depicted on pins that were designated as “PM1’s.”
At the time of the astounding find a press release stated, “Uncovering buried treasure is something most can only dream of, but Robert Edward Auctions has done it with this discovery of the 1915 PM1 Ruth Pin!”
Lifson gave his thoughts on his discovery of the rare Ruth pin from the scarce 1915 PM1 “Ornate Border” pin set and said, “When we saw this pin, we had to finally say ‘Now we’ve seen everything!’ We have always had a special appreciation for baseball pins.”
Lifson continued, “For Robert Edward Auctions, seeing this pin in the collection of a longtime collector was almost like finding a previously undiscovered Joe Jackson in T206.” In the REA press release published on the MEARS website it was reported, ” Upon seeing the pin, at first Robert Edward Auctions officials could not believe their eyes. Could it really be Babe Ruth? Most PM1s have the player’s name identified on the photo but some do not. This example is of the unidentified style, leaving REA to provide verification of the identification.”
It was also reported that in order to verify the image on the pin, Lifson had located, “a copy of the actual photograph of Ruth, which was used in the making of the pin.” The PM-1 issue had never represented an example of the Ruth in the set but the press release also noted that while known as a scarce issue, ” it is not uncommon for new checklist discoveries to surface. During the past year alone, Robert Edward Auctions has provided two other additional PM1 checklist additions to The Standard Catalog (Jake Daubert and a second previously unknown pose of Tris Speaker).”
Describing himself as a “pinback expert” the press release quoted the REA President as saying, “This is one of the most exciting baseball pinback finds we could ever imagine existing, though before this find neither we nor anyone else, to the best of our knowledge, even considered the possibility of Ruth’s inclusion in the set.”
It was reported that the rare pin discovered would not appear in an auction and that “the owner has decided to sell the pin privately.” Doug Allen, President of Legendary confirmed for Haulsofshame.com that Lifson sold the rare pin to the Dreier family and it appears as the first lot in Legendary’s February 27th sale. Allen also confirmed that Lifson had sold the Dreier’s the majority of his pin collection that was highlighted in Stephen Wong’s Smithsonian Baseball coffee-table book published in 2005.
But Lifson’s claim of having verified the Ruth discovery by locating the actual photograph used to create the pin is problematic as a source has revealed to us that the photograph of Ruth was believed to have been shot at New York’s Polo Grounds by photographer Charles Conlon in 1918, three years after the issue date of the PM1 set which features many of the stars from the 1910 and mid-teens era.
In regard to the 1918 dating of the photograph pin expert David Maus of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told us, “Obviously, this is when people like Conlon started to photograph Ruth in a batting pose. How could a 1918 photo of Ruth get on a 1915 PM1 pin?” It’s a pretty legitimate question. Either the pin is fake or the dating of the PM1 set is seriously wrong.” Maus also indicated that the same photograph is also featured on page 52 of “BASEBALL”S GOLDEN AGE - The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon” by Neal and Constance McCabe and identified as a 1918 image.
John Rogers, owner and founder of the Rogers Archive owns the original Conlon glass-plate negative of this very photo and told us, “I looked at the original glass plate and it was not dated like some others are, but every piece of paperwork associated with this photo says its from 1918.” Rogers’ Conlon Collection website dates the photo as an image shot in 1918 and images sold as wire photos at auction also date the shot to 1918. The same photo is also paired with a bat purported to be Ruth’s lumber from the 1918 World Series in a Sports Illustrated piece on the World’s Most Expensive Sports Memorabilia.
Since most reliable sources date the matching photo to 1918, it should be noted that the Red Sox played nine games at the Polo Grounds in 1918. On May 4, 1918, in New York, Ruth hit his tenth career home run and on May 6th hit his eleventh. It was a historic game as Ruth played first base and batted sixth (the first time he had appeared in a game other than as a pitcher or pinch-hitter) and the first time he batted in any spot other than ninth. Ruth hit his second home run of the year as five of his eleven career homers up to that date were hit at the Polo Grounds. Paul Shannon of the Boston Post commenced his story of the game stating : “Babe Ruth still remains the hitting idol of the Polo Grounds.”
On June 24th Ruth played again in New York and on the 25th he hit the eighteenth homer of his career ( and third of that season) into the upper deck at the Polo Grounds. Ruth didn’t hit any homers on June 26th and 27th but when the Sox returned to the Polo Grounds on September 2nd, the Babe smacked out two in the last game of the season.
It is reasonable to assume that New York based photographer, Charles Conlon, went to the Polo Grounds on September 2, 1918, to take photographs of the Red Sox on the last day of the season for use during the upcoming 1918 World Series against the Cubs. (The Red Sox clinched the pennant on 8/31) Ruth led the Major Leagues in homers with eleven in 1918, so photographing him in a batting pose at that time was understandable.
The earliest commercial use of the Conlon Ruth photograph we could locate was in an advertisement for a Ruth endorsed product in the November, 1920, issue of Baseball Magazine. The same photo may also appear in the 1919 Reach Baseball Guide.
The significance of the Ruth PM1 find no doubt helped secure a record price for the relic when it was sold since the release date of the set pre-dates the 1916 Sporting News Ruth rookie card. Lifson and REA noted the rarity and significance of the Ruth rookie card in a 2011 auction when they wrote:
“The Babe Ruth rookie card appears to naturally be a card that forgers and con artists gravitate to, creating fakes and trying to fool collectors into parting with thousands of dollars of hard-earned money for a “good deal” on an ungraded reprint or a card they don’t really have. If it sounds too good to be true, it is! Remember: Real Babe Ruth rookie cards are rare!”
REA also noted how remarkable it was that Ruth’s card appeared in the 1916 Sporting News set: “It would be hard for a piece of cardboard to better symbolize the history, the essence of American sport, than this Sporting News rookie card of Babe Ruth. Ruth had only pitched in four games with Boston in 1915 but fortunately impressed the card manufacturer enough to warrant inclusion in this major issue.”
A few weeks ago, Haulsofshame.com asked Legendary’s Doug Allen to inspect the Ruth pin under a loop and he told us, “It looks like a period photograph and has the same resolution and surface sheen as the others in the set we compared it to. I will send scans so you can see.” As of today Allen had not sent any hi-res images of the Ruth pin and the other pins it was examined against for comparison. Images on the Legendary website, however, were available as part of an auction preview.
As for the possibility the Ruth pin is a fake, David Maus told us, “1915 PM1 pins could be easily faked. A small hand cut sepia photo could simply be inserted into the ornate border frame. Any existing PM1 pin could have easily had the original photo removed and a new photo of any desired subject inserted in its place. PM1 pins are also known to exist featuring presidents of the United States including Taft and Wilson. Any of those pins could easily have been re-purposed to create a fantasy pin.” Maus’ expertise is the product of extensive research on the PM-1’s and other pinback issues and he likely has more knowledge about the set than anyone in the hobby. On the subject of counterfeits Maus added, “With all the recent talk about how albumen photos could be faked to create a Brooklyn Atlantics CDV, how difficult would it be to create a sepia-toned PM-1?”
Regardless of the pin’s authenticity, however, is it likely or even possible that Ruth could have been depicted in a 1915 issue swinging a bat?
Though Babe Ruth was a Red Sox player in 1915, and on the Sox World Series roster, that does not sufficiently explain his presence in this set. Though Ruth debuted on July 11, 1914, he rode the bench and was sent down to the minors in mid-August. He returned to pitch the final week of 1914 and collected his first big league hit.
In 1915, Ruth pitched well for the Red Sox, going 18-8, but was hardly involved in the Series (except going 0-1 in a pinch hitting appearance.) He was not in the Red Sox Series starting rotation which consisted of Ernie Shore, Rube Foster, Dutch Leonard and Ernie Shore. Even if Red Sox like Barry, Foster, Hoblitzell and Speaker were included in the set to cash in on their 1915 World Series popularity, several other players on the Red Sox would have been considered for a limited set release before Ruth would have, including, but not limited to: Duffy Lewis, Harry Hooper, Everett Scott, Dutch Leonard, Larry Gardner, Bill Carrigan, Hick Cady, Smoky Joe Wood, Ernie Shore, etc.
In addition, while batting poses of Babe Ruth as a Red Sox player are not completely unknown, all hail from 1917 or later (Ruth began to play the field during his off-pitching days and led the Majors in homers with 11 in 1918.) The inclusion of a batting pose of a Red Sox pitcher who didn’t even play in the 1915 World Series appears to be questionable at best.
Ruth’s 1916 Sporting News rookie card depicts him in an appropriate pitching pose. (The 176 subject 1915 Cracker Jack set did not choose to include Ruth, nor did the 1915 General Baking Set -51 players, 1915 American Caramel set -48 subjects, 1915 Postaco Stamps-36 players, etc.) Ruth’s 1917 Collins-McCarthy issue also depicts Ruth in a pitching pose.
A brief review of other player images used for the 1915 PM1 set finds source material ranging from 1907-1915. Joe Tinker, Walter Johnson and Dick Hoblitzel’s photos are the same as used on the 1913 Tom Barker set, Nap Lajoie’s image is the same as his 1912 Plows Candy and ‘14 and ‘15 Cracker Jack set, Ty Cobb’s photo is the same as his 1912 Plows Candy, Chief Bender’s image is also featured on his 1911 Pinkerton Cabinet and 1914 Texas Tommy, etc. The Christy Mathewson photo is from 1911 (date based on research by the Pictorial History Committee, Society for American Baseball Research, 2006) Ed Konetchy and Honus Wagner’s images are the same as their respective 1909 Sporting News Issues, Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers are pictured in their 1907 Cubs uniforms, Frank Chance and Jimmy Archer are pictured in their 1909 Cubs uniforms and Benny Kauff appears to be wearing his 1915 Brooklyn Federal League Jersey. While the source photos for the set originate from a wide variety of years, some as early as 1907, none of them appear to have originated from 3 years after the set was released, like the Babe Ruth image.
How Lifson determined that the photo he found was from 1915 is not known. His determination that the pin was from the PM-1 set, however, as the recognized authority on pin issues created a “hype” for this “unique” Ruth pin that was no doubt sold for big bucks to the Dreier Collection as a centerpiece of their pinback holdings.
Here is the most complete checklist currently available for this scarce and important issue:(Subjects include 31 players– 15 HOFers and 16 non-HOFers or unknown)
(THIS CHECKLIST, COMPILED BY DAVID MAUS INCLUDES 8 PINS NOT LISTED IN THE 2011 STANDARD CATALOG.)
1915 PM1 ORNATE FRAME PINS
(1) Jimmy Archer (w/o name)
(2) Frank Baker (HOF)
Straight/stick pin variations of Nap Lajoie, Joe Tinker, Frank Baker and Johnny Evers exist. (Other players may possibly also have straight/stick pin variations.) Heart-shaped ornate frame pin featuring Frank Chance and “1914 Braves” is also known to exist.
Known Sales Prices:
Stick Pins– Tinker -$450 (‘10 Legendary), Evers -$420 (‘10 Legendary), Lajoie- $565.55 (‘10 Ebay)
The 62 prices given from the last 10 years are for conditions ranging from poor to gem mint. (With prices ranging from $211.50 to $23,900, clearly the player portrayed and the condition of the pin both factor heavily into the total value)
Unknown teams (2)
Teams not represented: White Sox, Yankees, Browns and Braves
HAULS OF SHAME PM 1 PINS UPDATE:
Tris Speaker Pin Being Sold By Legendary Auctions Could Also Be A Fake Like Babe Ruth Pin; Retail Backings Not Original To Many Pins In Auction
In the 1915 PM1 pin set, teams like the Cubs (4 WS appearances), A’s (5 WS appearances) and Giants (4 World Series appearances) had a larger number of players in the set due to their national popularity. The inclusion of stars like Tris Speaker, Jake Daubert, (‘13 NL MVP), Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Nap Lajoie, Honus Wagner, Benny Kauff (top attraction in 1914 Federal League), Dick Hoblitzell (considered the greatest NL 1st Baseman at the time), Ed Konetchy (Top star of the day), Sherry Magee (considered one of the best all-around players in the game during the era), Willie Mitchell (star pitcher- Indians) would all make obvious sense. The inclusion of Phillies and Red Sox players like Rube Foster(star of the 1915 WS) and Eppa Rixey (future HOFer who lost the deciding game of ‘15 WS to Rube Foster) may indicate that the pin set was still being produced in the fall of 1915 during the 1915 World Series between the Phillies and Red Sox. While that explains the inclusion of 30 of the 31 of the known subjects in the set, it does not really explain the inclusion of Babe Ruth.
However, if all dating sources are incorrect for the photo used to produce the image on the Babe Ruth PM1 pin and the image is actually from 1915, this pin would be his true rookie card (PM1’s qualify as rookie cards –case in point, Eppa Rixey’s rookie card is considered to be the 1915 PM1 pin), as it predates the 1916 M101 Sporting News release. (which just sold for $142,200 at REA) Additionally, it is a 1 of 1, the only one known to exist! So if a 1916 Ruth rookie with at least 70 known examples sells for $142,200, what is a 1915 “true” Ruth rookie (only known example) worth? REA recently sold a PSA 2 1914 Baltimore “minor league” rookie for $575K (10 known examples). One can only imagine what a 1 of 1 true 1915 “Major League” rookie card of Babe Ruth would sell for at auction. The 1914 Ruth is worth more than a Wagner T206 in equal condition making it the most valuable baseball card in the world. An authentic 1915 Ruth rookie (1 known example) could also be in the argument for the most valuable ”card” in the world. Is it more likely REA discovered and Legendary Auctions is selling the most valuable “card/pin” in the world or that the pin is actually circa 1918?
In response to our earlier story (above) regarding the authenticity issues associated with the Babe Ruth pin, Legendary Auctions added this addendum to the listing to sway fears that the pin is not authentic:
“Additional Notes about This Abundantly Intriguing, Valuable Piece:
As stated in the Standard Catalog, “Little is known about these tiny pins, such as who issued them, when and how they were distributed.” Generally, collectors accept a midpoint range of 1914-15 for a prospective period of issue, likely due to the dated 1914 Braves pin. Considering the diversity of players included, it is probable that the series was distributed over a number of years. For example, players like Chance and Mathewson were just finishing their HOF careers while the tenures of players like Bressler, Scott and Ruth were only beginning. In trying to stock the set with high-caliber players the manufacturer took a big risk by guessing whether emerging players would make the grade. For instance, Bressler was a “bit” player who did not appear in 100 games until 1919. On the other hand, Ruth was a clear winner. The Conlon batting pose of Ruth is generally considered to be a circa-1918 image, which would mean that the pins could have been distributed over a 4- to 5-year period of time. Due to the significance of the Ruth pin—and the lack of a dependable third party service to authenticate it—we went to great lengths to ensure its authenticity. We showed the item to reputable hobby veterans and examined it under high magnification. As can be seen in the additional photos (which were taken under 50x magnification) the surface of the Ruth pin is consistent with that of the Johnson and other pins examined, and it shows definitive signs of crazing and pitting—which would be expected as a result of nearly 100 years of exposure to even controlled elements. We are pleased to be able to present what could arguably be the earliest card/pinback collectible that depicts Babe Ruth in a batting pose … the pose that is indelibly stamped in our mind when we celebrate Ruth as the best to ever play the game!”
Legendary Auction’s assertion that players like “Bressler” and “Scott” support their new position that the pin set should be re-dated to include years up to and including 1918 does not really hold water upon closer examination. A player named “Scott” does not appear in the set and Rube Bressler’s inclusion in the set solidifies the production year as 1915, rather than refuting it. Bressler was a rookie phenom for the 1914 pennant winning athletics in 1914. He went 10-4 with a staff best 1.77 ERA. The A’s sank to the bottom of the standings in 1915 and Bressler sank with them. Continuing to suffer the effects of an arm injury he incurred during the 1914 stretch run, Bressler finished the season with a 4-17 record and an inflated 5.20 ERA. Bressler’s decline continued in 1916 and culminated with his release from the A’s. The ONLY year Rube Bressler would have been included in a set like this is 1915 as he was the sensation of the 1914 American League and the set was obviously hoping to capitalize on his “rookie phenom” status. The set is dated 1915 because of Bressler’s inclusion, not despite of.
Legendary Auctions has previously sold over 30 of these 1915 PM1 pins, including at least 16 known variations. Many of those pins are now part of the Dreier Collection that is currently available. However, in none of those earlier auctions was the mention of a possible 4-5 year production window and a re-dating of the set to 1915-1919 ever made. HOS finds it curious that the “discovery” of one Babe Ruth pin by REA has basically changed the stance of Legendary Auctions and “reputable hobby veterans” regarding the dating of this pin set. Is it more likely the entire hobby has been wrong about the 1915 date of this set for 30+ years or that the Babe Ruth pin is a fantasy piece created to cash in on the Babe Ruth “rookie card” mania?
Haulsofshame.com has also discovered that while the original press release heralding the discovery of the Babe Ruth pin several years ago, makes no mention of the original retail backing cardboard still being attached, the pin now, curiously, is attached to one of the few known examples of original paper backing for this set.
A few pins have been sold in the past with original retail backing:
HOS wondered if the paper “retail backing” now attached to the Ruth pin could be a ploy to add legitimacy to an otherwise questionable entry in the set checklist. Closer investigation of the paper retail backing on the current Ruth pin reveals that it originated on this Chief Bender pin sold by Heritage Auctions and was switched by Legendary Auctions to the Ruth pin (as shown above).
The same can also be said for the retail backing of the Honus Wagner pin (formerly affixed to a Jimmy Archer pin) as well as the Mathewson pin (formerly attached to a Johnny Evers pin).
It is no coincidence that four Hall Of Fame “keys to the set”, Ruth, Mathewson, Wagner and Tris Speaker are the only pins with the original retail card still attached to them. At least three of the four were switched in an apparent attempt to add more value to the “centerpiece” pins, or in the instance of the Ruth pin, to lend credibility.
When we asked Doug Allen of Legendary about this issue he said, “When the pins came from the Dreirs, the retail backings were not affixed to the pins, so we were not sure which ones were affixed to each pin.”
Another pin apparently discovered by Rob Lifson of REA and sold to the Dreiers appears to also differ substantially from the other pins in the set. The “Tris Speaker w/ full name” pin is another one-of-a-kind pin that is likely unique to the hobby. However, close examination of that pin reveals characteristics that do not occur on any other of the known PM1 pins. His name is displayed differently than all the other pins and it is the only pin that shows a background scene (identified as the 1912 World series by Legendary Auctions) Does this pin raise further questions regarding the authenticity of the Babe Ruth PM1 pin? It should be noted that no other examples of the Tris Speaker w/ full name and Babe Ruth pins have ever been discovered. Their inclusion in the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards is based completely on their discovery by Rob Lifson and subsequent sale to the Dreier family.
As stated earlier, there would be no shortage of pins for a possible forger to work with. Presidential and actress pins can be obtained for just a few dollars and possibly turned into priceless baseball memorabilia that has been known to sell for over $20K.
A view of the rear of the Babe Ruth pin currently being sold by Legendary Auctions shows how simple it would be to replace the small oval sepia photo enclosed in the ornate frame. Six small brass clasps could simply be bent up to free the pin back and image from the fancy border frame. A replacement photo cut to appropriate size could then be inserted in lieu of the original and the brass clasps bent back down to hold in place. Just like taking off the back of a picture frame.
The same method could also be used for the stick pin variation of the PM1.
1) A Christy Mathewson (front view) pin was inadvertently omitted from the originally published checklist of pins. There are actually 40 known versions of pins in this set, 9 of which are uncataloged.
2) The list of known sales prices was not intended to be an all-inclusive list. It was compiled from a cursory search of completed auctions to help readers establish a baseline of prices that have been paid for various pins. It is acknowledged that many recorded sales have not been documented. Thanks to HOS readers for providing these additional documented sales prices:
a) Archer (w/o name) $857 (‘03 Heritage), $493.60 (‘05 Mastronet)
4) Inclusion of Ed Reulbach pin on checklist is based entirely on its inclusion in the Standard Catalog. It’s existence has not been personally verified by HOS. Rumors of an Eddie Collins version persist, however, it is not included in the Standard Catalog or the above HOS checklist.
FORMER HOBBY-KINGPIN BILL MASTRO WAS SET TO PLEAD GUILTY IN CHICAGO FEDERAL COURT TODAY; JUDGE FLIPS SCRIPT AND TOSSES PLEA DEAL; RIPS PROSECUTORS
As widely reported back in January hobby big Bill Mastro is set to appear today before a Federal Judge in an Illinois Court to plead guilty to at least one count of fraud brought against him in a 33-page Federal indictment that was unsealed back in August of 2012.
Mastro’s defense attorney, Michael Monico, did not return calls for comment regarding the hearing in which his client is expected to cooperate with the government as part of a deal he cut with Federal prosecutors Nancy DePodesta and Steven Grimes. Mastro is expected to appear before Judge Ronald A. Guzman who replaced Judge Suzanne B. Conlon back in January.
Via Twitter the New York Daily News reports from the courtroom that Judge Guzman “nixes Bill Mastro plea deal, rips prosecutors for not requiring ex-memorabilia king to cooperate against other defendants.” Based on the plea deal prosecutors agreed to, Mastro would have only served 30 months or less in prison.
Bloomberg News reported that Judge Guzman asked prosecutor Nancy DePodesta, “What does the government get out of this? Bloomberg also reported that prosecutors “sought a sentence of as long as 6 1/2 years” and that DePodesta said “the terms were the product of negotiations she would not make public.”
According to the report Guzman said, “What I’m buying here is a pig in a poke, I need more,” referring to the “absence of a pre-sentence report.”
Mastro’s attorney Michael Monico was quoted as saying. “I think this is the first case of its kind ever in the United States.” According to Bloomberg Monico told the judge that “difficulty arose from the shifting values of some of the items sold and the uniqueness of the case.” One of the most prominent items involved in the case is the famous Gretzky-McNall T206 Honus Wagner card that is alleged to have been trimmed by Mastro to enhance its value.
Last year a source told Haulsofshame.com that Mastro was caught admitting to trimming the card on Federal wiretaps. Oddly enough, when Bill Mastro sold the card after trimming it in the 1980s he only pocketed close to $100,000 from collector James Copeland. The card was later sold by Mastro’s partner, Rob Lifson, at Robert Edward Auctions for close to $1.2 million. At that time both Mastro and Lifson knew they were defrauding the buyer, but Lifson has avoided prosecution as he is widely recognized as the informant who helped the government kick-start its case against Mastro.
Judge Guzman has postponed the hearing until March 19th. For more on the history of this story check out our on-going 10-part series on the Mastro Investigation.