February 5, 2013
Saco River Auctions says lighting has struck a few times for them with consignments of ultra-rare baseball photographs from the 19th century but, as reported in our last two reports, two of them appear on the missing list of a major institutional collection.
There are only two known examples of the Brooklyn Atlantics CDV that Saco River is scheduled to sell on February 6th and there are only two Gray Studios cabinets known of player Charlie Ferguson, one of which was sold on New Years Day by the auction house in Maine. Both of those rare items fit the description of relics missing from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection and are under scrutiny in an on-going FBI investigation. There are only five or six known examples of the Old Judge cabinet card of “King” Kelly that Saco River sold back in August for $62,000. You do the math.
Now, Haulsofshame.com has learned that the “incredible find” of Old Judge cabinet cards sold by Saco River last August included three cards that appear on the “Missing List” of the Boston Public Library’s famous “M. T. McGreevey Collection of Baseball Pictures,” including the rare card of “King” Kelly (in street clothes) and cards of Billy Nash and John Clarkson. Susan Glover, the “Keeper of Special Collections” at the BPL, has confirmed that the library is missing Old Judge cabinet cards of Kelly and his Boston teammates Nash and Clarkson, as well as several others. Glover also confirmed that the McGreevey Collection originally had two Old Judge cards of Kelly and still retains one featuring Kelly batting in his Boston uniform. The N-173 Old Judge set only featured two cards of Kelly and evidence suggests that the other Kelly card missing from the library is the “street clothes” portrait of the Boston legend. Like the Brooklyn Atlantic CDV from 1865 it is a much sought-after rarity.
Jay Miller, an Old Judge expert and co-author of the book, The Photographic Baseball Cards of Goodwin & Company 1886-1890, says that only six of the “Kelly in street clothes” cards are known to exist and adds, ” There are somewhere between 30 and 40 copies of the Kelly Batting N173 known.” When hobby veteran Lew Lipset published his Encyclopedia of Baseball Cards in 1983 he didn’t even include the Kelly card on a checklist. Lipset told us, “I know I never had one. I believe at the time of publication of the Encyclopedia I doubted it existed.” Haulsofshame.com has only been able to confirm two sales of the card at public auction (including the Saco River example.) The earliest example we could find offered at auction was sold by MastroNet in the Spring of 2002.
Susan Glover confirmed that the library currently has six Old Judge cabinets and is missing at least six others listed on original inventories from the collection donated in 1923 by Baseball’s most famous fan, Michael T. “Nuf Ced” McGreevy. Most all of the pictures in the collection once hung on the walls of McGreevy’s legendary 3rd Base Saloon in Roxbury, MA., considered by many as baseball’s first museum. Evidence suggesting that McGreevy’s other missing Kelly cabinet was the rare “Kelly in street clothes” variation is the inclusion of a large reproduction of that very image in the BPLs collection. The surviving photograph is an enlargement of the Kelly Old-Judge cabinet and is shown hanging on the walls of McGreevy’s bar as early as 1906, as evidenced in period photographs. The enlargement appears to be a silver-gelatin print made from the original and features enhancements in charcoal rendered by an artist when the large reproduction was created. The BPL records describe it as a photographic print and state that the ” image is probably an enlargement of an original photograph that has been retouched.”
Kelly was McGreevy’s favorite Boston player and the most prized artifact in his baseball collection was a solid gold medal presented to Kelly by the Boston Globe in 1887 as “Best Base Runner.” In 1943, McGreevy’s daughter donated the medal to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, via the Globe. Along with Albert Goodwill Spalding’s collection at the NYPL, McGreevy’s holdings were considered the finest collection of baseball photography from the late 19th-century and Dead-Ball era.
In 1939, McGreevy’s large Kelly portrait also appeared in a BPL window display at Filene’s department store in Boston to celebrate Baseball’s mythical centennial. Displayed in the same window was a matted display of some of Nuf Ced’s Old Judge cabinets, including his card featuring the pose of “King” Kelly in uniform. Former BPL Print Department employee, Aaron Schmidt, has previously confirmed that the surviving Old Judge’s likely escaped the hands of thieves because they were maintained in their original matting from McGreevy’s saloon. The surviving Kelly Old Judge cabinet has glue residue on its mount from its original matting. Sometime in the late 1970s to early 1980s one-third of the McGreevy collection (@70 photographs) vanished from the library as part of a large scale theft similar to the heist that occurred at NYPLs Spalding Collection. Schmidt told us, “The loose photos, especially the small ones like the Old Judges were probably easy pickings back when items were removed from the collection.”
Like the Atlantic CDV the rare King Kelly Old Judge cabinet was allegedly discovered by an anonymous antique picker in Kennebunk, Maine, in “an old trunk.” Despite the fact that all news reports indicated the picker was anonymous, a collector named James Basch posted information on a collector forum at the time of the August 2012 auction revealing that the auctioneer told him details about consignor. Basch wrote:
“The auction house manager was a class act. He relayed a story to me about the consignor of those cabinets. The consignor was a Vietnam vet who had exposure to agent orange, and has had subsequent medical issues as a result. In addition, his wife has cancer and has had bills run up during her hospitalization. This is truly one of those stories where everyone wins.”
But was it really a “win-win,” and how did out-of-the-way Saco River Auctions in Maine get so lucky with three rare 19th century baseball consignments featuring artifacts all fitting the descriptions of items looted from and on the “Missing List’s” of major public institutions?
Oddly enough, all of these rare items may have some additional common denominators. Two years ago a Haulsofshame.com reader and collector from Iowa named David Maus discovered that one of McGreevy’s stolen treasures was being offered by an eBay seller located in Lowell, MA. The item was a 1901 Holsinger cabinet photograph of Red Sox player “Nig” Cuppy and was identified by Maus thanks to tell-tale BPL ownership marks that had been defaced to conceal its McGreevy provenance. The seller of the stolen cabinet photo was Paul Dunigan Jr., who told BPL officials that his mother found the stolen card in her attic amongst other items once owned by his deceased father.
Paul Dunigan Sr. died in 2004 and was one of the top collectors of 19th century memorabilia with an affinity for Old Judge cabinet photographs. In 1995, Dunigan Sr. consigned a group of material to Lelands which was sold as originating from an “anonymous and legendary collector.” That group of items, identified as a “Collection of a Gentleman,” included an important item stolen from NYPLs Spalding Collection. Like the current CDV being offered by Saco River, the item fit the exact description of an artifact on the NYPLs 1922 inventory; an 1887 autographed tintype of HOFer Tommy McCarthy. The library even described the exact same inscription on the card penned by McCarthy himself. Lelands described the lot as, “One of the only known signatures of McCarthy and definitely the only tintype.” Its whereabouts are currently unknown and the tintype, valued at $25-35,000, is currently included on Hauls of Shame’s “10 Most Wanted Missing National Baseball Treasures List.”
After outing the stolen Cuppy cabinet photo, David Maus identified another missing cabinet card that was sold on eBay, this time a Gray Studio cabinet of player Charlie Ferguson suspected to have originated from the NYPLs Spalding Collection and subsequently seized by the FBI and then returned to the eBay buyer for unknown reasons. The same card was then consigned to and auctioned by Saco River on New Years Day, 2013.
That particular cabinet was said to have been discovered in an old drawer by a military collector and was offered on eBay from Salem, MA., about 35 miles from Lowell where Paul Dunigan Jr. said he discovered the “Nig” Cuppy cabinet stolen from the McGreevey Collection at the BPL. The Gray Studio cabinet was sold on eBay for over $900 by Henry Withers as HankDog1938.
When he was alive, Paul Dunigan Sr. was the owner and operator of Towers Video, the premier purveyor of pornographic magazines, videos and peep-shows in the Lowell region. Dunigan is said to have made a fortune in Lowell and was a controversial figure who once filed suit against the city after his adult bookstore was raided by law enforcement. Dunigan’s wealth helped fuel several of his hobbies including car-racing, antiques and collecting rare nineteenth-century baseball memorabilia. By 1984, Dunigan had compiled a top-notch collection but decided to sell a large portion of it to dealers Lew Lipset and Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen. Dunigan’s son, Paul, told Haulsofshame.com that his father sold part of his collection in 1984, “To expand the business and fund the purchase of a building across the street from his store, to renovate it and buy inventory.”
Lipset remembers the transaction and told us, “What Rosen and I got from Dunigan was in our possession for a couple of hours and went to New Jersey with him (Rosen) where he sold it.” The buyer of the majority of Dunigan’s collection was super-collector Barry Halper who also had a long history of buying, selling and trading with Dunigan. It is unclear whether Halper already had stolen BPL materials in his collection, but what is certain is that both Barry Halper and Paul Dunigan at different times owned the largest holdings of materials stolen from the Boston Public Library’s McGreevey Collection.
When Halper sold his collection off at Sotheby’s in 1999 the sale included numerous rare photos stolen from the Boston Public Library with the ownership marks defaced on some items and clearly visible on others. A close review of the Halper Sotheby’s catalog and the Internet auction via Amazon.com has revealed that Halper at one time owned most all the McGreevy treasures that appeared in the Filene’s window in 1939 as part of the BPL exhibition. In 2006, a year after Halper’s death, his widow consigned other rare photographs she found in her home to Rob Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions. Lifson worked for Sotheby’s as its special consultant overseeing the Halper sale in 1999 and handled a wide array of fraudulent and stolen items offered by Sotheby’s at a time when auction house CEO, Dede Brooks, was involved in a price-fixing scheme with Christie’s. In 2006, several photos consigned to Lifson by Halper’s widow were determined to have been stolen from the New York Public Library and the McGreevy Collection. One of those photos was an over-sized cabinet photo of the 1891 Boston Beaneaters which was featured in the 1939 Filene’s window. The items consigned to REA by Halper’s widow were recovered by the BPL after they were notified by this writer.
When Saco River Auctions posted lots online for its New Years Day auction, Lot 44A was listed as an “Original Photo of the Boston Beaneaters.” That photograph depicted the 1889 Boston Base Ball Club and matched the description of another photograph stolen from the McGreevey Collection that was also sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby’s in 1999. That photo sold for over $6,000 and has appeared in the Boston Herald in 2009 in an article about the very same photo and the McGreevy thefts from the BPL.
Haulsofshame.com contacted Saco River Auctions on December 23rd asking for a scan of the back of the photo, which was being offered in a period frame, only to be informed that the photo appeared to be a reproduction. Saco River did not remove that photo from the sale until the day of the auction after other collectors also identified the photo as a reproduction.
The bigger question, considering the ties that Saco River consignments have to the NYPL and BPL missing lists, is how did the auction consignor get his hands on a reproduction of an original photograph that appears to have been stolen from the Boston Public Library over 30 years ago and sold at Sotheby’s by Barry Halper in 1999? The stolen photo had the corners clipped and the reproduction offered in the frame by Saco River was fastened to a backing by black corner holders. Halper’s photo was clearly identified as BPL property with a library stamp and another stamp designating its former storage location at the BPL.
When Haulsofshame.com first contacted Saco River Auction’s manager Troy Thibodeau in December, the auctioneer stated that the Gray Studio Cabinet, 1865 Brooklyn Atlantic CDV, Old Judge cabinets and the reproduction photo of the 1889 Boston team were all consigned by different parties.
How has Saco River Auctions attracted four different consignors with items that appear on the NYPL and BPL missing lists? Are these items linked somehow to Dunigan and Halper? And how did both men get their hands on all of the stolen NYPL and BPL material in the first place?
Last year a source once close to Halper alleged that the deceased Yankee partner had confessed that he was the mastermind behind the NYPL thefts and that the items in the Spalding Collection were “there for his taking.” The source alleged that Halper had other individuals rob the library’s treasure trove on his behalf. In 1979, Halper’s close associate and special consultant to his 1999 Sotheby’s sale, Rob Lifson, was the first person ever apprehended stealing rare items from the Spalding Collection. TIME Magazine reporter David Aikman did not identify Lifson by name, but wrote about a theft at the NYPL in which a “baseball card thief was caught when a guard saw him slipping the cards into a bubble gum box taped to his briefcase.” The culprit, according to Aikman’s original notes, was a nineteen year-old college student who also had substantial cash on his person when he was apprehended and claimed to have made that money selling baseball cards in just one day. When he was apprehended, Lifson was a nineteen year-old college student at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and was Barry Halper’s primary source for 19th century baseball material. Time reported that when he was apprehended, the thief “Had $5,500 in cash on him as well as a cache of smiling infielders.”
Lifson is now the president of Robert Edward Auctions in Watchung, New Jersey, and over the years has given conflicting testimony regarding his attempted theft to several writers. In one account, Lifson told this writer, “I was a kid, and I took a CDV, and you know they have incredible security, ya know, they saw me , and they saw me palm a CDV and the second I left, they just stopped me and took it away and you know, I got in trouble.” In 2009, Lifson gave an alternate account saying he stole two photos and SI.com reported: “He (Lifson) secreted two photographs under a piece of cardboard attached to the outside of his briefcase. He was caught before he could leave the room.” Earlier, in July of 2009, Lifson told the New York Daily News he had no involvement in the thefts from the NYPL.
As early as 1977, Barry Halper had a large cache of stolen materials from the NYPL in his possession, including the correspondence archive of baseball pioneer Harry Wright and numerous CDVs and cabinet cards featuring players like Cap Anson and John Clarkson. During the same time period another prominent collector named George Lyons, the late brother of film critic, Jeffrey Lyons, also acquired assorted rare items that originated from the NYPL collection. Paul Dunigan Sr. bought, sold and traded with Halper and Lyons during the late 1970s and early 1980s and placed want ads in collector publications for items he was seeking. At the top of Dunigan’s want-lists were rare items that were found almost exclusively in the NYPL collection including the rare Kalamazoo Bat cabinets issue. His favorite issue, however, were Old Judge cabinet cards produced by Goodwin & Co. and in 1978 Dunigan was offering $150 for Boston players and $300 for Hall of Famers depicted on Old Judge cabinets.
Evidence strongly suggests that Barry Halper had acquired a significant group of materials stolen from the NYPL by the summer of 1977, however, it is unclear when exactly Halper and Dunigan first acquired stolen materials from the BPLs McGreevey Collection. By all accounts the McGreevey Collection was still in tact when authors Daniel Okrent and Harris Lewine utilized a large group of photos credited to BPL for the 1979 release of The Ultimate Baseball Book. It appears that after this book was published the McGreevy gems began top disappear, however, unbeknown-st to the robbers, the BPL photographed many of the images in the collection in conjunction with the 1979 book. In their acknowledgements authors Okrent and Lewine thanked several outlets and individuals who contributed rare materials for the book including curator Eugene Zepp at the Boston Public Library, librarian Jack Redding at the Baseball Hall of Fame and collectors Richard Merkin and Rob Lifson.
Barry Halper ended up owning many of the original photos utilized in the 1979 Okrent & Lewine book including the famous photo of Red Sox legend Jimmy Collins in the dugout with Heavyweight champ John L. Sullivan. That photo was recovered in 2008 when a photography dealer in Portland, Maine, offered it for sale on his website. The BPL stamp and other ownership marks were vandalized and obscured with black ink to conceal the McGreevey provenance. Before the rare photo ended up in Maine it was sold as part of the 1999 Halper sale at Sotheby’s.
In 1984, the BPL conducted its own investigation and recovery effort headed by BPLs “Keeper of Prints” Sinclair Hitchings and Bob Richardson, a veteran collector and ex-Boston Globe writer. Hitchings and Richardson successfully recovered close to twenty of the stolen McGreevey photographs at card shows and via dealer ads in hobby publications. In the course of the investigation the library identified a South Boston resident named Emil Pagliarulo as a “person of interest.” Pagliarulo was identified by BPL employees as having visited the McGreevey Collection several times in 1979 or 1980 and it was Pagliarulo who investigators believed sold stolen BPL photos to Paul Dunigan Sr.
In 1984, Dunigan sold a large portion of his collection to dealers Lew Lipset and Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen, who subsequently sold the majority of the items to Barry Halper and the remainder to a few other collectors in the Midwest.
During the investigation in 1984 officials communicated with Halper who is said to have denied ever owning or selling any BPL or McGreevy material. A source with knowledge of the documents retained by the BPL confirms that a letter written by Halper making this denial is currently in the possession of library officials. Halper wrote in the letter that none of the items he purchased from Dunigan’s collection were from the McGreevey Collection.
Its appears that Halper was not forthcoming with the library officials and its also evident that Paul Dunigan Sr. retained stolen McGreevey Collection items, as evidenced by the sale of the 1901 “Nig” Cuppy cabinet on eBay in 2011. All of the rarities popping up at Saco River Auctions fitting the descriptions of missing items at the NYPL and BPL, have raised red flags at both institutions. The fact that each of the Saco River consignments come from alleged anonymous pickers only adds to suspicions that someone may be supplying the non-sports auction house with black market treasures.
Paul Dunigan Jr. told us that since he discovered the Cuppy cabinet in 2011 he had not found any other baseball photos at his father’s house and said his mother hadn’t either. Dunigan also said neither he nor his father did business with Saco River Auctions in Maine. Said Dunigan, “Since my dad passed the only auction we’ve used to sell some of his antiques is Morphy’s in Pennsylvania.”
As for the rare “King” Kelly “in street clothes” cabinet card, it is remarkable that such a card could surface at the bottom of a trunk in Maine when a Kelly cabinet card is currently missing from the McGreevey Collection at the library on Copley Square. Nuf-Ced McGreevy knew Kelly personally and ended up with his gold medal as his prized-possession. The Kelly portraits that lined the walls of his saloon were his most treasured photos and they are all still there except one- an Old Judge cabinet card of the “King.”
Who’d be more likely to have snagged a copy of the rare Kelly card? A guy nicknamed “Nuf Ced” who bought Old Judge cigarettes in 1888 and got a “King” Kelly cabinet in return? Or an alleged Vietnam Vet antique picker in Maine who opened an old trunk and struck gold?
We’d bet on McGreevy.
(EDITORS NOTE: The writer of this article is a founder and co-owner of McGreevy’s 3rd Base Saloon Co. and also co-owner of the reconstituted McGreevy’s 3rd Base Saloon at 911 Boylston St. in Boston, MA. In 2007 he also wrote and produced the Emmy-nominated documentary film about McGreevy’s exploits, Rooters: The Birth of Red Sox Nation.)