February 25, 2013
It appears ghost-like on an old Kodak contact sheet marked “HOF-9″ in orange grease-pencil alongside other donated relics from the world’s most spectacular collection of baseball artifacts in Cooperstown. Like everything else in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s collection, the 1870 CDV photograph of Al Reach and the Philadelphia Athletics was donated by someone. Long ago a librarian scribbled assorted numerals on its reverse preceded by a designation Hall curators know well as “BL” representing items in the Baseball Library, the National Baseball Library, that is. The Hall of Fame does not purchase artifacts and relies solely on the generous donations of the enshrined players immortalized with bronze plaques, their widows, their kids, their grand-kids and even everyday Joe’s who somehow came into possession of something truly Cooperstown-worthy.
Back in 1983, authors John Thorn and Mark Rucker set up a photo shoot in Cooperstown to capture many of these treasures on film for a retrospective of nineteenth-century baseball photography in a Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) publication called The National Pastime. The publication was highly regarded in the baseball collecting community since it featured images of many rare and never before seen images depicting the early game.
Nearly a decade after that photo shoot took place at the Hall of Fame something strange appeared in a black and white auction catalog produced by auctioneer Rob Lifson, then of Hoboken, New Jersey. It appeared to be the exact same CDV of Al Reach’s Philadelphia team that Thorn and Rucker had captured on film in 1983. The auction catalog photograph was extremely small but visible was a tell-tale surface scratch on the vintage albumen photograph identical to the one found on the contact sheet from the Hall of Fame shoot. In his lot description Lifson wrote, “Extremely small abrasion on reverse and a single insignificant scratch in brown background are the only imperfections that keep this card from being Mint.”
How Lifson and his auction house came into possession of the stolen card is a point of contention as Lifson, himself, is a self-confessed library thief who was apprehended in 1979 stealing similar rare CDV cards from the New York Public Library’s famous Spalding Baseball Collection. A former Hall of Fame official who was aware of Lifson’s attempted theft at the NYPL has confirmed for Haulsofshame.com that Lifson’s name appeared on a National Baseball Library list of individuals banned from utilizing the research facilities in Cooperstown.
It was originally thought that the CDV stolen from Cooperstown was in the possession of Mark Rucker after it appeared in his 1986 book, Base Ball Cartes, with a credit designating his ownership of the card. However, Rucker recently confirmed that at the time he owned another 1870 A’s CDV he had acquired from Josh Evans of Lelands and that the attribution in the book was incorrect. Rucker said the photo from the SABR contact sheet should have been credited to the National Baseball Library. Luckily for the Hall, John Thorn had saved that original contact sheet in his voluminous baseball files for nearly thirty years and recently passed along those in his possession to SABR’s Pictorial Historic Committee. When informed that the SABR photo shoot helped track down a lost relic SABR Vice President, Bill Nowlin, told us, “It is nice to see that work SABR members did so many years ago, as part of its ongoing effort to document baseball history, was able to play a role in identifying this missing treasure.”
Now, nineteen years after the card appeared in Lifson’s auction in 1994, it is appearing online at the auction house run by Lifson’s former partners who are under Federal indictment at Legendary Auctions. Currently, the Illinois auction house is offering the Dreier Collection compiled by Chad Dreier, former CEO of Fortune 500 company Ryland Homes. Dreier amassed one of the most impressive collections in the hobby before he decided to liquidate it through Legendary last year.
The Legendary auction lot is described as having on its reverse, “A small abrasion (that) appears below the identity of the card’s printer-photographer.” That abrasion covers the area which is the former location of the vandalized baseball library “BL” accession number denoting the year of donation and a number that identified the sequence of the items donation (ie. the first donated item of any year would be #1). The CDV was also sold previously in 2002 as lot 12 in David Kohler’s SCP Auctions Fall sale where it was described as having a “small spot of paper loss on the reverse.” The Hall’s accession records that contain the pertinent data for the stolen card are housed in bound volumes where curators and librarians have documented possession of donated items as they were entered formally into the collection as property of the State of New York.
Haulsofshame.com notified Hall of Fame officials Brad Horn and Jim Gates nearly two years ago of this theft and sent them images of the 1983 SABR contact sheet photograph proving the CDV was stolen and missing from the collection. To the best of our knowledge the Hall has failed to report the theft to the local Cooperstown Police, Otsego County Sherriff‘, New York State Police or the Albany office of the FBI. Articles describing the stolen CDV have been published on this site and also at The Hall of Very Good in a tribute to Al Reach. Ironically, the current Legendary auction listing references the Hall of Fame and the chances of Al Reach being inducted next year by the Veterans Committee.
Cooperstown Police chief, Michael Covert, confirmed that the 1870 CDV had not been reported as stolen to his headquarters. Covert said he called representatives from the Hall of Fame and the Leatherstocking Corporation to inform them of the current offering of the stolen property, which was first reported by this writer. Said Covert, “The officials told me they will be looking into the situation.”
When told of the CDV’s dubious provenance on Saturday, Legendary Auctions President, Doug Allen, said he would cooperate with the Cooperstown Police or any other entity involved in a recovery effort. The Hall of Fame’s failure to aggressively monitor the marketplace to recover stolen items has put auctioneers and dealers in a precarious situation. The Hall of Fame’s failure to claim title to items believed stolen from the National Baseball Library has left many sellers unsure how to deal with consignors who own suspect materials.
The non-reporting of the theft of the current 1870 CDV is similar to the Hall’s reaction when they discovered that Presidential-signed baseballs donated by the family of HOFer Walter Johnson were stolen from the museum in 1972. Museum officials only revealed the balls were stolen when Johnson’s grandson, Hank Thomas, visited the museum in 1977 and asked to see them. According to a 2004 article in the Washington Post, Thomas met with Hall President Ed Stack and was told there was “no police investigation or official inquiry,” and also no search for the stolen items supported by a publicity effort to “inform the world that these historic artifacts were at large illegally.”
Stack told Thomas the Hall thought that announcing the theft would “only encourage further thievery and discourage donations of the memorabilia on which the Hall depended.” Stack told the Washington Post, “It’s true we did nothing,” but added, “We were routinely out in the collectors’ market monitoring auction catalogs and material that was getting out into the marketplace. At the Hall we were privy to all that.”
When the 1870 CDV first appeared in the Legendary auction last week Haulsofshame.com contacted Hall of Fame curator John Odell to request access to the Hall’s accession records in order to locate and identify who donated the 1870 CDV being offered for sale. Odell referred us to museum Communications Director, Brad Horn, who did not respond to phone calls and emails. We also called Hall Chairman Jane Forbes Clark for comment at her Rockefeller Center offices but she did not respond to our inquiry about the stolen artifact. The response of Odell, Horn and Clark has created the impression that the Hall of Fame is now blocking access to its accession records which can help definitively confirm scores of thefts of New York State property.
Over the past few years Haulsofshame.com has identified in reports several other rare and valuable photographs that have been stolen from the Hall of Fame and offered for sale at major sports auction houses, including photos valued at close to $20,000 each of Christy Mathewson, Nap Lajoie, Mickey Welch, Jake Beckley and the 1886 New York Giants team. Due to Haulsofshame.com’s reporting several of those photos have been recovered by the Hall, including an 1891 cabinet photo of Hall of Fame pitcher, “Smilin” Mickey Welch, which also appeared for sale in a Robert Edward Auction’s sale. The photo exhibited evidence of a defaced accession number on its reverse as well as an altered mark that designated the photo as “public domain” by librarians. The “PD” that appeared on the reverse was changed to appear as “BOB” in red marker. Based on a Haulsofshame.com report the item was withdrawn from the sale and sources at the Hall confirm that the photo has been returned.
But while the Mickey Welch photo was returned, the SABR contact sheets from 1983 reveal even more thefts of the rare 1891 Jos. Hall studio cabinets of Welch’s teammates including; Roger Connor, Amos Rusie, Tim Keefe and others. Those photos are missing from the Hall collection as well a Jos. Wood studios photo of the 1886 NY Giants, captured on the SABR contact sheets, that was sold by Heritage Auction Galleries for over $10,000 in 2008. Heritage’s Chris Ivy has refused to comment as to whether that stolen photo has been returned to the Hall. Ivy and Heritage also attempted to sell a $20,000 stolen photo of HOFer Nap Lajoie last year.
One of Ivy’s current employees and consignment director for Heritage, Mike Gutierrez, was the prime suspect in a late 1980s investigation into the thefts from the National Baseball Library. The investigation commenced when, in 1988, Gutierrez sold New York auctioneer Josh Evans a signed photograph of Babe Ruth that had a Hall of Fame accession number on its reverse covered with white-out. After Evans scraped off the white covering over the accession number and recognized the Hall provenance he contacted Hall officials and an FBI investigation ensued, with Gutierrez at the center of the probe.
But the Hall hierarchy chose not to pursue prosecution of Gutierrez and made virtually no effort to track down what was stolen, including a large cache of historic documents from the Herrmann, Ford Frick, Frederick Long and internal Hall files. The result is the current fiasco which finds property of New York State donated to the Hall of Fame coming up for sale in auction after auction with apparently no end in sight.
Documents alleged to have come from the Hall’s August Herrmann Papers archive have been surfacing and selling on the black market since the late 1980s in the form of letters addressed to Cincinnati Reds owner Herrmann and other baseball officials; protested game documents; player cases and transactions; financial instruments; and papers from the World Series.
Included in the current Heritage sale was the earliest known signed Babe Ruth letter from when he was with the Red Sox. The 1915 letter is addressed to Herrmann’s National Commission and requests the Sox player shares as World Series champions. Like the other Herrmann related documents, the Heritage offering has no discernible provenance identified by the auction house. (The letter also sold at Mastro Auctions in 2001 for $10,000). Meanwhile, the Herrmann files in Cooperstown today include other World Series check request letters including one sent to the Commission by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s 1917 White Sox, with Jackson’s authentic signature.
The Jackson and Ruth documents are two of the most valuable documents of their kind, but neither Heritage or the Hall of Fame can explain how the Red Sox request made its way to its second auction date. Due to the Hall of Fame’s negligence, Heritage has been able to illegally convert assets of New York State and at the same time employ the prime suspect in the 1980s Hall thefts, Mike Gutierrez, as a consignment director. On Saturday night the 1915 Red Sox letter received just one floor bid and sold for $59,750 to a Texas man and his son, named “Seven.” Sources indicate that no attempt was made by the Hall of Fame to notify Heritage and claim title to the document.
Upon our second attempt to contact Jane Forbes Clark she declined comment failing to return several calls made to her Clark Estates office at Rockefeller Center in New York City. After the police report was filed in Cooperstown last Thursday, a Hall of Fame security representative, Evan Chase, met with police Chief Michael Covert, as did Leatherstocking Corporation representative Bart Barown. However, despite that meeting, it appears the Hall took no action to stop the suspected 1915 Red Sox letter from being sold on Saturday evening in New York City.
A source with close ties to the Hall of Fame told Haulsofshame.com that the apparent wrongdoing and negligence in regard to the Hall of Fame thefts is not the fault of current Hall employees who he believes are hamstrung to do anything. Says the source, “They are good people and would want to do the right thing, but Jane Clark runs the place in autocratic fashion and no one has the power to do anything without her OK, that includes President Jeff Idelson.”
In addition to the apparent cover-up of the massive Hall thefts, Clark’s tenure as Hall of Fame Chairman has also been marred by her decision to purchase several million dollars in fraudulent and bogus artifacts from the collection of deceased New York Yankee partner Barry Halper. Clark accepted New York State funds from Gov. George Pataki to construct the Barry Halper Gallery in the museum to showcase the Hall’s acquisitions. The gallery displayed fakes including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s 1919 jersey, pocket watch and glove, Ty Cobb’s forged diary, Mickey Mantle’s 1951 Yankee rookie jersey and Buck Leonard’s Negro League Homestead Grays jersey. Last year, the Halper Gallery space was quietly replaced with a “Learning Center” without a statement from the Hall.
Haulsofshame.com has learned that several formal complaints against the Baseball Hall of Fame alleging mismanagement and “improper actions (that) have resulted in a loss of charitable assets” are in the process of being prepared and filed with the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Office.
According to the Attorney General’s office, “Disclosure procedures generally prohibit the Attorney General from discussing pending investigations or indicating whether any specific action has or will be taken with respect to a particular organization. However, you may be assured that the Attorney General seeks to administer the laws regarding charities and charitable solicitation equitably and efficiently.”
UPDATE (Feb.28, 2013): BASEBALL HALL OF FAME’S 1870 CDV FEATURING AL REACH SELLS FOR ONLY $1,600; BASEBALL HALL OF FAME TAKES NO ACTION DESPITE POLICE REPORT AND BEING IN POSSESSION OF EVIDENCE PROVING 1870 CDV IS NY STATE PROPERTY
When Legendary Auctions last offered a scarce 1870 CDV of the Philadelphia Athletics featuring Al Reach in 2010, it sold for $11,400. Other copies have even changed hands at prices close to $20,000 in the past. So, Legendary’s sale of the card last night for a unimpressive $1,600 (perhaps the lowest price in the last 20 years for this CDV) says something positive about collectors who appear to want to steer clear of artifacts proven to be stolen from institutional collections like the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.
Doug Allen, President of Legendary Auctions, decided to keep the card in his sale despite the evidence presented in the Haulsofshame.com report published this week. Allen says that no one from the Hall or law enforcement contacted him to pull the CDV from the sale. In response to the Hall’s inaction Allen made a statement directed at the leadership of the Baseball Hall of Fame saying, “The 1870 Gihon is being sold by an innocent seller and will be purchased by an innocent buyer. The entity that was allegedly harmed has not stepped up to respond to the allegations. If it is proven to be stolen and claimed, Legendary Auctions will work to retrieve and return it at no cost to our customers.” Allen did not address the definitive nature of the photographic evidence showing that the CDV was unquestionably stolen from the Hall of Fame, but it appears Legendary bidders stayed away from the item in droves. Any educated bidder looking at this item knows for sure that it was stolen from the Hall, yet the CDV still received 23 bids.
Hall of Fame Communications director, Brad Horn, did not return emails and his office said he was in Taiwan. Sources indicate that when the local Police were looking for Horn late last week to discuss the Police report filed in relation to the 1870 CDVs theft, Hall employees lied to police and told them Horn was out of town when, in fact, he was still in Cooperstown. Horn’s co-worker, Craig Muder, did not return calls for comment. Calls to Jane Clark’s New York office of the Clark Estates also were not returned to answer questions as to why the Hall of Fame was sitting back and letting its donated and stolen property be sold at auction. The Hall of Fame is in possession of the images taken at the Hall by SABR in 1983 which definitively prove that the CDV is stolen property which belongs to New York State.
On Wednesday morning Cooperstown Police Chief, Michael Covert, said that Clark officials had informed him they would meet to discuss the card, but by the end of the day Wednesday nothing was confirmed. Calls to the office of the New York State Attorney General were returned by a press liaison, but no information was available by the end of the day as to what the AG’s involvement would be, if anything, in the return of the card to the Hall.
The sale of the 1870 CDV by Legendary is, perhaps, the tip of the iceberg in relation to the losses sustained by the Hall as a result of the 1980s looting of the National Baseball Library. In the coming months Haulsofshame.com will reveal additional confirmed losses discovered on the SABR contact sheets from 1983 and from other documents in the Hall’s collections. Sources indicate that those verified losses will result in several formal complaints being filed against the Hall of Fame by donors and family members of actual Hall of Famers.