Jan. 24, 2013
A Maine auction house predicts that a rare CDV photograph of the 1865 Brooklyn Atlantics will fetch over $100,000 when its offered for sale in February. The CDV was allegedly found at a yard sale in a moldy photo album in a cardboard box or a trunk in a woodshed or a garage by an anonymous picker who put it on eBay through another guy, then sold it to another picker who sent it to a big auction house that allegedly said it was fake. That guy then got a refund and returned the card to the original picker who sent it as a consignment to Saco River Auctions in Biddeford, Maine. Collectors questioned the auctioneer whether the photo affixed to the card was real, so he took it to an expert in Boston who says it likely is. The Boston Globe erroneously called it the “first baseball card” and the auctioneer says it’s the rarest of rare cards with only one other known to exist at the Library of Congress. Follow all that?
The CDV-find by the anonymous antique picker could be one of the greatest discoveries ever made in the state of Maine since Saco River Auction’s manager and ex-cop, Troy Thibodeau, was in the news when another rare card was discovered– George W. Bush’s DUI arrest record, found in Kennebunkport before the 2000 election.
Saco River Auctions has also been the beneficiary of another “amazing find” made by another antique picker in Kennebunkport this past summer. In August, Saco River sold a group of seven consigned Old Judge cabinets, including a rare cabinet card of “King” Kelly that sold for $62,000. Like the current Atlantic CDV find, the picker who discovered the Old Judge cards wished to remain anonymous. The astounding finds that have made their way to Saco River Auctions, as opposed to one of the many major sports auction houses, has prompted Saco River to add this language to its website:
“Saco River Auction is continuing to garner national and worldwide press. We are quickly becoming the go-to auction hall to get seller the highest amount possible. Click here to consign today. Lightning has struck twice already…isn’t it time you help us to strike again?”
On New Years Day, Saco River struck again when they sold yet another extremely rare 19th-century cabinet card of baseball player Charlie Ferguson shot by Gray Studios in Boston as a proof for the Old Judge cabinet issue by Goodwin & Co. The Ferguson card was first sold on eBay in 2011 and afterwards collected by the FBI under suspicion of being stolen from the New York Public Library’s famous A.G. Spalding Collection.
Aside from the Old Judge cards, Saco River has only had a few significant nineteenth-century baseball consignments in its history as an auction house and it just so happens that the Gray Studio cabinet card fit the description of items known to exist exclusively at the NYPL. The 1922 inventory of the Spalding Collection documented 45 Gray Studio cabinet cards featuring Philadelphia NL players, but only 43 remain. Two are definitely missing and there are only a handful of legitimate non-Philadelphia players known to exist including cards of Jack Glasscock and Billy Nash. The Ferguson card sold by Saco River is believed to be one of the two missing cards. Oh yeah, the $100,000 CDV of the Atlantics shares something in common with that card, too, and hasn’t been mentioned in articles published by USAToday, The Boston Globe, Yahoo Sports, the Portland Press Herald and scores more via the Associated Press and Fox Business News. It also fits the exact description of one of the items on the New York Public Library’s, “Spalding Collection Missing List.”
As indicated in “Part One” of this series, none of those reports revealed that the Atlantic CDV is suspected to have originated from the NYPLs Spalding Collection, which at one time included a Williamson photograph of the same Atlantic team with the players listed in the exact same positions, left to right. That rare card appears on the NYPL’s inventory published in the 1922 guide to the Spalding Collection.
The first reporter to cover the current offering for Maine’s Portland Press Herald, Gillian Graham, was not aware that the card was under suspicion of being stolen from the NYPL. When she interviewed Saco River Auctions representative, Troy Thibodeau, he did not tell her about questions posed to him regarding the card’s title. Haulsofshame.com sent a copy of NYPL’s missing list to Thibodeau before he was interviewed by Graham. Thibodeau responded by stating, “I do not and will not believe that this card is stolen. The card was legitimately found in far Eastern Maine in September 2012 in an old moldy photo album.”
In addition, sources indicate that the card’s title is currently being investigated by the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as part of its nearly four-year probe into the thefts from the NYPLs Spalding Collection, which commenced at the same time an article was published in the New York Times in July of 2009.
In addition to Thibodeau failing to divulge the issues about the card’s title to reporters, there are now serious questions about the veracity of Thibodeau’s public statements made regarding the discovery of the valuable CDV. On collector forum Net54, Thibodeau stated that the card was discovered by an anonymous antique picker who “listed it on eBay” and was “bombarded with emails and offers and decided to pull it down.” Then, says Thibodeau, the picker who discovered the card and listed it on eBay, “Decided to sell the card to a gentleman who he picks with.” Then, after it was refused as a consignment at New York auction house, Lelands, the buyer, Thibodeau says, ”Requested his money back” and “the seller gave his partner the money back and mailed me (Saco River Auctions) the card for further inspection.”
The eBay seller who originally offered the CDV for sale last summer on eBay was Kerry Pinette, of Calais, Maine, a neighboring town eleven miles from Baileyville, where the rare card was allegedly discovered at a yard sale. Pinette uses the name DownEast as his eBay seller handle and has most recently offered old coins and one 19th century stereoview. Haulsofshame.com contacted Pinette at his home and confirmed that he was the eBay seller of the card but he denied that he has ever owned the card or had any financial interest in it. Said Pinette, “I just listed it for the guy who found it and I don’t know anything about a partner or somebody buying it.” Pinette would not divulge who gave him the card to list on eBay and directed Haulsofshame.com to contact Saco River Auctions for any other inquiries.
However, if Troy Thibodeau’s story on behalf of the auction house is true, it was Kerry Pinette who discovered the card, ran it on eBay, sold it to his friend, (who sent it to Lelands) then got the card back from his partner, refunded his partner’s money (when Lelands returned the card) and submitted it to Saco River Auctions, not mentioning Lelands had already returned it as a “so-called fake.” Pinette’s denials beg the questions; Who is telling the truth, and why would anyone fabricate or lie about these details? Why the great mystery over who the alleged lucky picker is?
Adding to the speculation is a confirmation by a source who told Haulsofshame.com that it was Kerry Pinette who originally sent the card to Leland’s. The source also confirmed that when Pinette sent the CDV to the auction house it was accompanied by the original photo album it was originally found in which “contained family photos that were not linked to Brooklyn or New York City.”
The FBI has kept a close eye on the offerings of rare 19th century images, especially CDVs. The FBIs heightened scrutiny is a direct product of its recoveries of other rare CDV photographs that were also listed as missing from the NYPLs Spalding Collection . The tell-tale sign on those stolen CDVs were the NYPL ownership stamps which had been obscured, altered and defaced to conceal the NYPL Spalding Collection provenance. Enough press has been generated by the current FBI investigation into the NYPL thefts that anyone in possession of one of the hundred or so rare photos still missing from the library would know that they could never sell such an item at auction without it being confiscated.
The only other way to sell or dispose of such an item would be to switch the original NYPL mount, (with evidence of the theft on its reverse), to a clean period mount attributed to the same photographer. CDV’s from the Williamson Studios are regularly offered for sale on eBay and through numerous other outlets. A similar Williamson mount sold on eBay this month for $5.99.
One CDV recovered by NYPL featured sporting-goods king Andrew Peck and was found in 2006 in the home of collector Barry Halper, by his widow, along with other items stolen from the Boston Public Library. Another recovered CDV pictured Harry Wright and was offered on eBay in 2000 and identified by the library as NYPL property. The Gray Studios cabinet photo of Philadelphia player Charlie Ferguson that was sold by Saco River Auctions on January 1st also appeared on ebay in 2011 and was identified as another item possibly stolen from the NYPL collection. After it sold for over $900, the FBI took possession of that photo to further investigate claims that the card was stolen from the library which houses the largest single assortment of Gray Studios cabinets of the Philadelphia NL team managed by Harry Wright. Those photos were originally part of Wright’s personal archive. That cabinet photo was sold on eBay by Henry Withers under the name HankDog1939 and was returned to the buyer by the FBI after they held onto and examined the card for close to a year.
The FBI has also seen evidence that shows how original albumen photographs, letters, documents, season passes and other ephemera have been wrongfully removed from Spalding Collection scrapbooks and score books with sharp objects and razors. It is believed that other original albumen photos may also have been removed from the NYPL manuscript holdings and reattached to period mounts. In just one score book once owned by Henry Chadwick, there are over ten rare albumen CDV-sized photographs of the Excelsior, Washington National, Mutual, Red Stocking and Chicago teams along with an ultra-rare photo of Jim Creighton.
The issue of how the actual albumen photograph is attached to the mount has been a point of contention for several high-end collectors of 19th century items. Several collectors have also gone as far to suggest that the card may be a fake. Troy Thibodeau, of Saco River, has publicly made this claim about the card’s authenticity:
“Lelands kept the card for two months and then mailed it back(no other communication like a courtesy call) was made and the card was mailed back stating that it was fake, made by an inkjet printer. The “expert” at Leland’s claimed that the period mount it is attached and claimed the dot pattern of the mount is indicative of a inkjet printer and no mention of the actual image was made.”
Last week a source told Haulsofshame.com that Lelands’ concerns regarding authenticity were “based on irregularities, not of it being made by use of a copy machine.” It appears that auctioneer Troy Thibodeau approached 19th century photo conservator Paul Messier with his primary goal being to prove that the photograph was an albumen print and not created with a laser printer. That “laser-copy” claim may not have been made by Lelands. Lelands declined comment at this time. Thus, Saco River’s selective report only deals with that singular issue and not the issues relating to whether the photo was original to the mount or whether the binder or glue was authentic for the period. The report does not rule out the possibility that the image was re-affixed to a clean mount to conceal its possible NYPL provenance.
Supporting these concerns, is the evidence that suggests the CDV being offered for sale may have had a prior photograph attached to the mount. The tell-tale evidence suggesting this is visible to the human eye at the far right side just above the “Williamson” graphics. Remnants of adhesive material appear to extend in a straight line along the right side border. The residue is most visibly defined on the left hand corner.
One of the collectors interested in bidding on the CDV if it is legitimate is Jay Miller of Darien, Connecticut. Miller, who is also the co-author of, The Photographic Baseball Cards of Goodwin & Company 1886-1890, told us, “The glue to the right of the photograph on the CDV begs the question as to whether the photograph is original to the mount or was added on at a later date. Because of this, I think it is necessary to examine the binder to see if it is consistent with materials used in 1865.” Miller added, “If it is not, then we have proved that the piece is not period. If the binder is consistent with materials used in 1865 we have not proved that the CDV is period, simply that it is less likely that it is not period.”
Miller has also noted that if it was created in 1865, the CDV would likely have a US revenue stamp on its reverse, or evidence that such a stamp was affixed to the back at one time. Miller says, “Between August, 1864 and August, 1866 photographs were taxed, requiring a revenue stamp to be attached and cancelled on the back of the photograph.” The current Atlantic CDV does not appear to have had one.
Haulsofshame.com consulted with another photographic expert, Gawain Weaver, head conservator at Gawain Weaver Conservation of San Anselmo, California, and presented him with several images of the Atlantic CDV by Williamson. Weaver, who completed a two year fellowship at the George Eastman House in 2007, examined the images we provided and said, “The images you supplied of the Brooklyn Atlantic CDV do raise questions about whether or not the mount is original to this image. However, it would be very difficult to determine this one way or the other. The darker stain or residue to the right of the image may be a remnant of a prior mounting. It can be said that CDVs do not typically show such residues, but it is not unheard of either. The print could have been mounted or re-mounted in this manner in the 1860s or relatively recently.” As to his opinion as to whether analysis of the adhesive itself could yield a more definitive answer Weaver said, ”Assuming that the print and mount are from the 19th century, analysis of the adhesive would be necessary to determine when the print was mounted, but it is unlikely that a large enough adhesive sample could be removed from the print for a successful analysis.”
The albumen photograph also appears to be irregular in its size, significantly shorter in length for traditional albumen images mounted on CDVs and it also appears to have been cut in an irregular fashion with the photograph extending over the Williamson mount’s interior border. One dealer we spoke with told us, “I can’t say I’ve ever seen a CDV from a well known photographer mounted so sloppily, maybe they exist, but I haven’t seen them. It just looks like its been re-mounted.”
A prominent collector of 19th-century photos from the Midwest went as far to send us this comment via email; ”When did Saco River auctions become the 19th century baseball memorabilia hotbed? And they sold the Ferguson cabinet? Somebody call bullshit on this already. Some auction house I never heard of sells the Old Judge cabinet find, the Ferguson cabinet, the 1865 Brooklyn Atlantics card…. (by) a bunch of anonymous pickers? You’re not buying any of this are you?”
We contacted Troy Thibodeau to ask if he’d been contacted by the FBI and whether Kerry Pinette was in any way involved in the current sale of the card. When asked if he would answer some questions Thibodeau replied, “No need to,” and refused to entertain our inquiry.
NYPLs head of public relations, Angela Montefinise, has kept a close eye on the investigation into the Spalding thefts but to date has been unable to comment on specifics of the case. She responded yesterday stating, “I just got a call that the lead investigator is out till next week. So I don’t have anything right now.”
Haulsofshame.com has learned that the New York office of the FBI is currently investigating Saco River’s Brooklyn Atlantics CDV as part of the almost four-year probe into the library thefts. Special Agent Jim Margolin, from the FBIs New York City press office confirmed that the investigation into the NYPL thefts is active and on-going, however, added, “I cannot comment on anything specific about the investigation or the item in the Maine auction.”
Margolin also said he could not comment on why the FBI sent the Gray Studios cabinet photo back to its owner to sell at Saco River after it was in the Bureau’s possession for nearly a year. Sources indicate that it was returned because the card did not show evidence of an NYPL ownership stamp, however, not all Spalding Collection items were stamped. The decision to send the card back was made by the US Attorney’s office and not the FBI. Sources also indicate that despite the card’s return, neither the NYPL, FBI or US Attorney have made any admission that the Gray Studio cabinet was not NYPL property.
The FBIs Spalding Collection investigation has dragged on for close to four years, however, several significant recoveries have been made during the course of the probe. Heritage Auctions recently withdrew Ezra Sutton’s 1879 Boston Baseball contract and Henry Chadwick’s 1894 NY Giant season pass; Legendary Auctions withdrew a rare Peck & Snyder trade card of the Cincinnati Red Stockings that was once in the collection of a reclusive collector named Abe Samuels; and the FBI has taken possession of over fifty documents originating from the Harry Wright correspondence at the NYPL as well as cabinet card photos of Harry Wright and Kid Gleason.
In the FBIs defense, the recovery of baseball relics is hardly a high priority when compared with other investigations involving murders, gangs and organized crime and the time devoted to the NYPL situation is hamstrung by those constraints. The same New York office of the FBI looking into the Atlantic CDV and the NYPL thefts just broke up an organized crime ring of 32 mobsters, including Genovese family associate, Carmine “Papa Smurf” Franco, as part of a multi-year investigation into organized crime’s control of the garbage-hauling industry in New York City and New Jersey.
One FBI agent all too familiar with both organized crime and the NYPL probe has said, ”It’s easier getting information and cooperation from mobsters than from baseball card and memorabilia collectors.”
Stay tuned for part three in this series which will examine common links between these artifacts with suspected NYPL provenance….
UPDATE: Brooklyn Atlantic CDV sold for hammer price of $80,000 ($92,000 with premium) at Saco River Auctions in Maine. Buyer is Jason LeBlanc of Newburyport, Mass. LeBlanc Also Bought Old Judge Card of Billy Nash at Saco River Last Year
In a bidding frenzy that befuddled many long-time 19th century collectors, a relatively unknown 36-year-old aficionado of 19th century cards named Jason Leblanc, from Newburyport, MA., was the winning bidder of the rare c 1865 CDV of the Brooklyn Atlantics at Saco River Auctions in Biddeford, Maine. Including the buyers premium, LeBlanc dropped $92,000 on the rare CDV that received widespread media coverage before the sale and according to LeBlanc his phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from media outlets as far away as Los Angeles. In a telephone interview after the sale this evening, LeBlanc told Haulsofshame.com, “Someone said I might be bidding against Charlie Sheen, I’m just really glad I got it.” LeBlanc said its not the first time he bid in a Saco River Auctions sale and also revealed he was the winner back in August of the Old Judge cabinet card of Boston player Billy Nash. Said LeBlanc, “I wanted the Billy Nash because it was the highest graded card and that King Kelly card was just too pricey.” LeBlanc added, “I just like collecting 19th century baseball items.”
When we asked LeBlanc if he was aware that the rare Atlantic CDV he just purchased was under suspicion of being stolen from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection and that it fit the exact description of a missing Williamson photo of the Atlantics listed on the NYPLs original 1922 inventory he responded, “No. I have no idea. I haven’t heard anything like that at all. I just heard it was a different photo from the one at the Library of Congress.” When informed of speculation that the albumen photo of the Atlantics could have been re-mounted on a “clean” CDV mount with no trace of NYPL stamps or ownership marks and that the FBI has an open investigation into the Spalding thefts LeBlanc said, “I’d be more than glad to have them take a look at the card and check it out.”
LeBlanc also sells on eBay and recently put his Billy Nash Old Judge cabinet up for sale with a Buy-it-Now for $7,500. eBay shows that LeBlanc received 11 offers on the card and that the offering was “ended by the seller because the item is no longer available.” In his description LeBlanc said of the card, which is also under suspicion of being a missing item from the Boston Public Library, “I HAVE THE GREAT PLEASURE OF BRINGING THIS SCARCE CARD TO MARKET,” and “PLEASE KNOW THAT THIS CARD CAN BE PULLED AT ANY TIME. I DO HAVE A STORE AND MY ITEMS SELL QUICKLY.” LeBlanc told Haulsofshame.com that he plans on reselling the Atlantic CDV for a profit as well. ”Hopefully, I can double my investment on this card,” he said. LeBlanc indicated that his 4-year old son had some physical challenges and that the profit generated from a future sale of the Atlantic CDV could really help him.
UPDATE Saturday Feb. 9: In a report published by NPR after the sale of the Brooklyn Atlantics CDV on Wednesday, writer Tanya Ballard Brown identified Saco River Auctions auctioneer, Floyd Hartford as the anonymous “antique picker” who originally discovered the rare cdv at a yard sale in Baileyville, Maine bordering Canada. She references and links to a New York Post article that does not mention Mr. Hartford. Haulsofshame.com has contacted NPR to confirm the report that states:
The New York Post reports that a 148-year-old Brooklyn Atlantics baseball
card was discovered late last year in a photo album Floyd Hartford purchased
among other things at a yard sale. Initially the card was thought to be one
of two in existence since the Library of Congress has one in its collection.
It turns out, though, that the two cards are similar but not quite the same.
They were printed from different negatives.
UPDATE Monday Feb. 11: NPR responded to a Haulsofshame.com inquiry about its report that Saco River auctioneer, Floyd Hartford, was the antique picker who discovered the 1865 Brooklyn Atlantic CDV at a Yard sale in Baileyville, ME. NPR editor, Tanya Ballard Brown, informed us this morning via Twitter saying: ” I realize now that I was wrong! I have added a correction the post. Sorry for any confusion” .