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By Peter J. Nash

May 10, 2013

The alleged "First Baseball Card" purchased by Keith Olbermann in 2000 was discovered in 1997 by Antiques Roadshow appraiser and alleged Hall of Fame thief Mike Gutierrez (inset).

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The Robert Edward Auctions lot description of the alleged “First Baseball Card” once owned by Keith Olbermann is long on speculation that the CDV is one of the most important relics in the hobby but rather short on the issue of provenance.

REA’s Rob Lifson wrote a few thousand words describing in detail the merits of the card and the research he claims was conducted by everyone from officials at the New York Public Library to a “historian for hire” in New Jersey. It isn’t until the end of the write-up that Lifson heads a short paragraph in bold dedicated to the CDV’s “Provenance.”

Lifson says he spoke to hobby veteran Lew Lipset, who sold the CDV and other Harry Wright related materials in one of his own auctions in 1998, and asked if he could contact the person who originally consigned the lot to Lipset’s sale. Lifson says that Lipset obliged, and that he spoke with the consignor who confirmed that the Wright CDV originated in a lot offered at Butterfield & Butterfield Auctions in California in November of 1997.

What Lifson fails to reveal to his customers, however, is that Lew Lipset was part owner of the Wright material when it sold in his own auction in 1998 and his partner in the items, which he fronted the cash for to purchase at Butterfields, was long-time hobby dealer Mike Gutierrez, now a consignment director at Heritage Auctions of Dallas, Texas, and an on-air appraiser for PBS’ Antiques Roadshow.  At the time of his “discovery” of the Wright collection in 1997, Lipset says Gutierrez was working as the sports consultant for Butterfield & Butterfield in Los Angeles.

Lifson, of course, wouldn’t want to advertise that Olbermann’s rare and important CDV of Harry Wright originated with Mike Gutierrez.  It is Gutierrez who was the prime suspect in a late 1980s FBI investigation into thefts from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and it is Gutierrez who has been recently linked to the sales of several rare photographs that ended up appearing in auctions conducted by Lew Lipset.  That’s not to mention that our last report indicated that there may be four unidentified cricket CDVs missing from Harry Wright’s donated archive at the New York Public Library.  That’s the same library that auctioneer Rob Lifson was apprehended at in 1979 for attempting to steal several similar CDV cards.  TIME Magazine covered Lifson’s arrest and stated that he was caught with a “cache of smiling infielders” and $5,500 cash on his person.  TIME reporter David Aikman says NYPL security told him the culprit said he made the cash selling baseball cards in just one day.

With so many stolen and suspected stolen institutional artifacts hitting the market in recent years, the pairing of Lifson and Gutierrez related to the CDV Keith Olbermann paid over $80,000 for in 2000 is curious to say the least.  But is there really anything to worry about?  Is this nineteenth-century gem legit or just another in a long line of plundered treasures that the “Father of Professional Baseball”  once donated graciously with the best of intentions.

While it appears there may be four missing cricket player photographs from the NYPLs Spalding Collection and Wright archive, it is also important to note that Harry’s brother and fellow Hall of Famer, George Wright, had his own archive of baseball memorabilia donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1941 by his son Irving Wright.  Considering Mike Gutierrez’ close links to items believed to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame, the Wright family’s donation to Cooperstown needs to be examined closely.

Cooperstown's Otsego Farmer newspaper reported the donation of George Wright's baseball archive to the Hall of Fame in 1941.

Wright was first approached by Hall of Fame officials to donate his collection to the fledgling institution in 1935 when he was first considered for induction.  However, Hall curator, Alexander Cleland, learned that Wright was ambivalent about granting access to his collection since he had loaned out a few items to other parties who had never returned them.  The incident apparently left a bad taste in Wright’s mouth so he declined Cooperstown’s first request.

Wright passed away in August of 1937 before he was inducted into the newly established shrine, however, Wright’s son saw the merits in donating the entire collection of baseball and cricket related holdings to the Hall.  In 1941, The Otsego Farmer newspaper in Cooperstown announced the donation of Wright’s treasure-trove which included his favorite bat (autographed), his trophy bat from his stint as a Washington National in 1867, a colorized photo of his 1868 Union of Morrisania team and scores of photos and ephemera documenting his play with the famous Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869.

Cooperstown's Otsego Farmer announced the donation of artifacts to the HOF from George Wright's son in 1941. The relics were featured in John Thorn's book, "Treasures of the Hall of Fame." The collection included rare photographs and family heirlooms like an 1857 cricket book (above) passed on to George Wright by his father Sam in 1865.

Also included in the collection were cricket bats and balls and family heirlooms like an instructional cricket book, Felix On The Bat, passed down to the Hall of Famer by his father Sam Wright in 1865.  Wright inscribed the cricket book as “Given to me by my father in the year of 1865. Often I have viewed its contents when a boy looking forward to some day to play the game of cricket well. G.W.”

Historian John Thorn wrote about the same book in Treasures of the Hall of Fame stating, “It was presented to Samuel Wright, father of Harry and George in 1858, on his Benefit Day at the St. George Cricket Club, Elysian Fields, Hoboken, where the English-born Sam was the cricket professional and Harry and George two of the key players (Harry by 1854, George beginning in 1861).”

The inclusion of this relic in the Wright family Hall of Fame donation is important to note because it illustrates that cricket-related materials were part of George Wright’s collection and were considered historically important due to the influence that the game of cricket had on baseball in the mid-nineteenth century.

The photographic materials found in the collections of both Harry and George Wright at the NYPL and Cooperstown are quite comprehensive and include virtually every individual pose known to exist of each Hall of Famer as well as most every team portrait extant.  That tally includes all of the portraits of both brothers stolen from the NYPL as illustrated in a recent Haulsofshame.com report.

What are the odds that both Wright brothers had, despite their voluminous institutional collections, failed to retain a Jordan & Co. CDV depicting themselves at the time of the 1863 cricket and baseball event?  Keep in mind that the Jordan & Co. CDVs were, unlike the majority of the photographs in both collections, actually commissioned and created by Harry Wright.

The 1997 Butterfield auction description said the CDV album being offered featured 30 CDV's of Wright family relatives when it actually included at least 1/3 of the group as easily verifiable cricket CDV's featuring both George and Harry Wright as well as two copies of the well known Matthew Brady image featuring Sam and Harry Wright.

Then, ask what the odds are that such items would finally surface as a lot in a non-baseball sale at a California auction house with no mention of provenance.  Not only was the provenance not disclosed, but the description of the CDV photo album was clearly misrepresented as simply a family photo album when it had two copies of the well-known Harry and Sam Wright Brady CDV and at least nine others with cricket poses and cricket equipment visible.  Far from just a family album of Wright relatives and by 1997 the Wright father and son CDV had been featured as a premier item in Richard Wolfers’ “Treasures” auction.  Add to that equation the fact that Mike Gutierrez was the auction consultant and the individual who wins the lot in the auction along with Lew Lipset as his partner.  Knowing Gutierrez’ controversial past in relation to missing items from the Hall of Fame’s collection, what are the odds his discovery of the Wright material was simply a coincidence or an astounding find?

This rare cabinet card of Harry Wright (left) and an 1869 Red Stockings trade card (right) were both stolen from the Hall of Fame, but were photographed before they vanished sometime in the 1980s. The theft of both relics is unimpeachable proof that Wright-related materials have been stolen from Cooperstown.

Then consider the fact that a heist occurred at the Hall of Fame in the 1980s which resulted in the wrongful removal of what is believed to have been millions of dollars in baseball artifacts, documents and photographs from the National Baseball Library.  At least one rare portrait of Harry Wright has been documented as having been stolen from Cooperstown.  Unimpeachable proof that a rare Kalamazoo Bat cabinet card of Wright was stolen from the museum is illustrated in several of the Hall’s annual Induction Day yearbooks.  Like many of its plundered artifacts the Hall photographed the Wright cabinet before it vanished and that photo has been used to represent Wright’s likeness in the annual programs.  The Wright photograph may even have been donated by George Wright since five duplicates of the same photo were part of Harry’s archive at the NYPLs Spalding Collection in 1921.  Today, only one of those cabinet cards of Harry remains at the library while the other four are missing and likewise the victims of theft.  The 2013 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards lists the value of the Harry Wright K-Bat cabinet between $30,000 and $60,000.

In addition, a Peck & Snyder trade card featuring the Wright Brothers and their 1869 Red Stocking ball club has also vanished from the Hall after being documented via photograph in 1983 as part of a SABR photo shoot.  A similar card just recently sold at Legendary Auctions for over $80,000, while another offered by Legendary last summer was withdrawn from an auction after it was identified as having been stolen from Harry Wright’s NYPL archive as part of the Spalding Collection.  George Wright’s donation to the Hall in 1941 also featured an Imperial sized cabinet photograph of the 1869 Reds also produced and sold by the Peck & Snyder Sporting Goods company (That cabinet photo still remains in Cooperstown).  With the theft of the Red Stocking trade card from the National Baseball Library, the most comprehensive baseball collection in the world is now lacking even one copy of the famous card.  At least five copies of the Peck & Snyder Reds card were stolen from Harry Wright’s collection at the New York Public Library and two of those have since been recovered by the FBI.

The Warren cabinet of George Wright inscribed by his brother Harry (far left) was stolen from the NYPL but documented when it was exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York in the 1950's. The 1997 Butterfield offering featured many rare images of George Wright suggesting that the collection originated from George, not Harry.

Now, consider the theft of those two Cooperstown relics and the fact that the prime suspect in the 1980s FBI investigation into the Hall of Fame robberies was, Mike Gutierrez, the same person who “discovered” the rare CDVs of George and Harry Wright by Jordan & Co. in the Butterfield auction in 1997.

While our previous report shows there are at least four cricket photos missing from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection, could Olbermann’s Harry Wright CDV have actually originated from George Wright’s collection housed at the Baseball Hall of Fame?  The photo album of alleged Wright family related CDV’s contained more images of George than it did Harry.

When George Wright’s collection was donated to the Hall of Fame in 1941 his grandson, George Wright II was 18 years old and fondly recalled his trips to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox with his late grandfather, the Baseball Hall of Famer.  One of his biggest thrills growing up was being introduced to Babe Ruth by his granddad and personally receiving an autographed ball from the Bambino.  George II, unfortunately, took the ball home and played with it, thus obliterating the signature.

George II’s  son, and the great-grandson of the baseball legend, Denny Wright, is well acquainted with the family history of his famous descendant and can attest to the fact that the Wright family retained little in regard to George Wright’s baseball and cricket careers.  Wright says, “Last May my Dad passed away and while going through his belongings there weren’t any original photos or baseball items.  All he had was a typed two-page document related to golf in New England.  That’s all he had and growing up I don’t recall ever seeing any other sports related material within the family, especially photos.”  Wright also says he does not recall anyone in the family possessing or auctioning off a family photo album,  Wright added, “My grandfather was George Wright’s second son and he had a sister who never married.  My father only had a sister, so that’s the only relatives out there.  If there was any sports related material my Dad would have saved it.”

Correspondence in the HOF's collection shows that Irving Wright maintained the collection of his father, George Wright, and that he donated the entire collection to Cooperstown in 1941. (Cleland Papers, NBL)

Correspondence in the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Cleland Papers Collection supports Wright’s assertion.  Between 1935 and 1937 the Hall of Fame made several inquiries to Wright’s son, Irving, through A.G. Spalding & Bros. executive Julian W. Curtiss.  After Wright’s election to the Hall, Museum secretary Alexander Cleland asked if the Wright family might be “willing to give (the museum) something to add to the museum” but was denied when Curtiss responded stating that Irving Wright felt “he would like to retain the baseball memorabilia that illustrated so perfectly the activity of his father’s life.”  In 1941, the Museum’s persistence paid off as they acquired the entire collection as a donation.

Denny Wright’s grandfather, Irving, was also a sporting man who twice won the National Mixed Doubles Tennis championship in 1917 and 1918 and later in life served as the President of the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston.  Irving’s brother, Beals Wright, was an even more accomplished athlete who won Gold Medals in Tennis at the 1904 Olympics  and won the U.S. National Championship of Tennis in 1905.  Denny Wright noted that Beals Wright had two daughters, but it appears that his grandfather (Beals’ only brother) ended up as the sole custodian of George Wright’s collection.  If there were any items that Beals retained they were likely located in George Wright’s former house in Dorchester, Massachusetts, which Beals lived in after his father passed away.  In 2006, several damaged and framed baseball photographs once belonging to George Wright were sold on eBay.  Those items were allegedly found in the same house by the most recent owners of the Wright homestead, which had fallen into serious disrepair.

The Harry Wright CDV and Wright CDV album traces back to Mike Gutierrez and Lew Lipset's partnership on the lot at Butterfield and Butterfield in 1997; to MastroNet Auctions in 2000 when Rob Lifson and Bill Mastro sold it to Keith Olbermann for over $80,000.

Haulsofshame.com has attempted to access the Hall of Fame’s accession records in order to review the 1941 Wright family donation, however, Hall officials Brad Horn and John Odel have been unresponsive to requests and appear to be blocking the public access to this data.

The lack of any solid provenance related to the 1997 Butterfield offering warrants a review of the inventory to see if there were any photo albums donated by Irving Wright to the Hall in 1941.

Contrary to Rob Lifson’s claim in his current REA lot description of what Lew Lipset told him about the Wright CDV, Lipset told Haulsofshame.com something entirely different.  In regard to the original Butterfield auction in 1997 and his link to Mike Gutierrez, Lipset told us in an email, “I do remember the Butterfield auction. Mike was working for Butterfield as a consultant and he called me with a description of the album. I told him to “buy it”. We were partners on it.”  Lipset also recalls that Gutierrez was a consultant for Butterfield at the time and even Gutierrez’ Antiques Roadshow bio states that he appraised Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball for Butterfield in 1999.

Lipset went as far as to say he had little first hand knowledge about the Butterfield auction and actually expressed doubt that the Wright materials appeared in an auction.  Lipset said, “I said Mike was working as a consultant as that was what he told me. I never saw the auction that these cards were in and only had Mike’s word for it. That Butterfield auction would have been about 6 months before I auctioned them.”

Lipset could not locate a hard copy of his actual auction from March 1998 for us stating he only remembered his auction later that same year, “It was Oct. 1998. I have a listing on the computer and probably have a catalog buried in my garage somewhere. Lot 9 was a photo of Harry Wright, wife and children in 1866. This was apparently with the CDV album. I have no recollection of it. Lot 10 was CDV of Harry and father Samuel. Write-up notes (said): “Was in the Wright family album auctioned last March and was the only duplicate in the collection. About five copies known of this most desirable pose.”

Lipset is aware of the controversy regarding Gutierrez’ alleged involvement in the Hall of Fame thefts and told Haulsofshame.com he accompanied Gutierrez on one trip to the National Baseball Library in the late 1980s.  Lipset said Gutierrez asked him to come because he was pitching a proposal to Hall officials to access Hall of Famer family information to track down artifacts.   “The one time I went to the Hall with Mike, which I think I told you about, we weren’t there very long. We were in Tom Heitz’ office discussing Mike’s “idea” and don’t believe anywhere else. I don’t think Mike was off by himself, but then, I don’t really remember.”

Lipset indicated that he and Gutierrez no longer speak to each other and also told us he had interviewed at Heritage Auction Galleries for a position as a consignment director at the time Gutierrez accepted the same position working for the auction company CEO’s son, Chris Ivy.  Gutierrez has never responded to Haulsofshame.com inquiries, however, sources we spoke with suggested that either Ivy or Antiques Roadshow producers might be able to find out what his involvement was in the 1997 Butterfield auction.

Several sources have also alleged that Gutierrez is linked to a scheme in which stolen archival materials have been in essence “laundered” as consignments to different auction houses via third parties.  Gutierrez first became a suspect in the Hall of Fame thefts in 1989 when he sold New York auctioneer Josh Evans a stolen signed photo of Babe Ruth with white-out covering its library accession number.  In 1998, the hobby newsletter, The Sweet Spot, also revealed the testimony of a person who accompanied Gutierrez to the Hall’s library and stated he saw Gutierrez steal documents from the Hall’s August Herrmann Papers Collection as he photocopied documents in the library.

The REA website shows that the 1863 Harry Wright CDV has been "removed per request of the consignor."

UPDATE (May 16):  Olbermann-Wright “First Baseball Card” Withdrawn From Current Robert Edward Auctions Sale

After failing to receive an opening bid of $50,000, Robert Edward Auctions has posted a notice stating that the 1863 Grand Match cricket CDV of Harry Wright has been removed from its current sale.  REA states, “Lot withdrawn per request of consignor.”

It is not clear who that consignor is, but the card was last purchased by Keith Olbermann for over $83,000 at a MastroNet/Robert Edward Auctions sale in 2000.  Olbermann has not responded to inquiries asking if he is still the owner of the CDV or whether he disposed of the CDV REA had dubbed “The First Baseball Card.”

It is also unclear whether the removal of the CDV is related to the evidence suggesting that 4 cricket cards are currently missing from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection and other evidence suggesting that the CDV may have been part of a 1941 donation made by Hall of Famer George Wright’s family to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  Last week  Haulsofshame.com reported that REA failed to disclose that Heritage Auction Gallery’s consignment director, Mike Gutierrez, allegedly discovered the CDV in a 1997 Butterfield & Butterfield auction and that veteran dealer Lew Lipset financed the purchase as Gutierrez’ partner.


9 Comments

  1. Please leave my friend Barry Halper alone. He wasn’t even alive in the 19th century.

    Comment by Murray Chass — May 10, 2013 @ 5:27 pm

  2. It just looks like these auction hoses could care less where an item came from as long as its real and could care less that it is real or fake so long as it has one of those LOAs from Spence or Jsa.

    Comment by Chris A — May 10, 2013 @ 5:40 pm

  3. So who’s the unlucky guy who olbermann unloaded this to ? Got any ideas?

    Comment by Chris A — May 10, 2013 @ 5:58 pm

  4. Have no idea who. Olbermann never responded to the question.

    Comment by admin — May 10, 2013 @ 10:33 pm

  5. You seem to have a good handle on the HOF fakes, the thefts and the cover ups, but who is going to cover the travelgate, discrimination and sex scandals at the good old Baseball Hall of Fame?

    Comment by Carlton — May 13, 2013 @ 9:47 pm

  6. It is totally amazing how many slippery hands there are in the business ??????

    Comment by Herbie Buck — May 16, 2013 @ 9:27 am

  7. the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.. “George Wright” 06 July 2007. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://www.howstuffworks.com/george-wright-hof.htm> 16 May 2013.

    Comment by Fannie I. Villarreal — May 16, 2013 @ 2:00 pm

  8. the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.. “George Wright” 06 July 2007. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://www.howstuffworks.com/george-wright-hof.htm> 23 May 2013.

    Comment by Bobbi V. Benjamin — May 23, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

  9. Younger brother Sam Wright also played baseball professionally, with brief appearances in the major leagues.

    Comment by Wilma H. Robles — June 1, 2013 @ 8:31 am

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