Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash

May 24, 2013

This photo of Babe Ruth and Gary Cooper is believed to have a forged Babe Ruth inscription but was sold anyway at REA last weekend.

Despite the published opinion of author Ron Keurajian stating that it was bogus and a supporting statement from actor Gary Cooper’s daughter, Marie Cooper-Janis, indicating that her family never had such an item in the family-held “Cooper Collection,” the controversial “Pride of the Yankees” photo, allegedly inscribed by Babe Ruth to Cooper, was sold by Rob Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions last weekend for a final sale price of $11,850.  Lifson and REA will pocket approximately $3,700 in commissions on the sale of the photo said to be a counterfeit.  As stated in REA’s auction rules, all sales are final.

The REA sale price was considerably less than the price realized when the same photo sold previously at Mastro Fine Sports and Legendary Auctions in 1999 and 2010 for close to $25,000 and $15,600 respectively.

That plunging price could be the result of two published reports indicating that the alleged signed photo was a counterfeit and was supported by the opinion of Keurajian who identified the very same item as a fake in his autograph handbook, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide (McFarland).  Keurajian refers to a specific forger in the book and states, “He (the forger) has gone so far as to create a forged 8×10 photo inscribed to movie star Gary Cooper.”

-Ralph Gary Brauner had the high bid of $9,000 on the photo at REA until he read a Hauls of Shame report about the Ruth-Cooper photograph and requested that the auction house retract his bid.  Auction President, Rob Lifson, denied that request and Brauner proceeded to contact the Newark office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to report REA’s sale of the questioned item.

In regards to his dealings with REA and Keurajian’s published opinion, Brauner told us, “When I spoke to them (REA) I was told it is whom you choose to believe. I did not mention his (Keurajian’s) name. It is the old story if you were not there for the signing you can not be totally sure.”

As for his contact with the Newark office of the FBI, Brauner said,  ”I spoke to the FBI when I first contacted you and I was told the incident of the photo was not big enough for their involvement. Obviously they did not figure the forger may have signed hundreds of things.”

Subsequently Brauner contacted an FBI agent in the New York City office and says the agent responded to his request via email.  Says Brauner, “I emailed him and said I thought it should be pulled.”  The agent, however, did not respond to him after that email exchange.  The collector also posed the question, “I wonder why any of the later owners got rid of it so soon, buyers remorse?  Or maybe they became more knowledgeable, so to speak.”

-Babe Ruth’s own granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, also reached out to an FBI agent to discuss the Cooper-Ruth photo and other suspect Ruth items in the REA sale.  Unlike Brauner, Ruth’s granddaughter never received a call back from the FBI agent.  Says Ruth Tosetti, “Seeing how serious this problem is with forgeries of my grandfather’s signature, I’m very disappointed that the FBI didn’t follow up and respond to this situation.”  Tosetti had been in contact with the same agent on several occasions to discuss issues ranging from Babe Ruth’s stolen will (which has been recovered), Ruth’s World Series rings which vanished at the time of Claire Ruth’s death and the proliferation of Ruth forgeries in the memorabilia marketplace.

Sources familiar with FBI operations told Hauls of Shame that since a March 1st announcement of major budget cuts made by FBI Director, Robert Mueller, some investigations, including those focusing on the baseball memorabilia trade, may have suffered as agents and their cases experienced significant cut-backs.  That would be good news for the baseball memorabilia forgers and other assorted fraudsters who operate nearly scott-free in the widely unregulated billion-dollar memorabilia industry.

-Bill Mastro was the former owner of the tainted Cooper-Ruth photo which was sold in 2010 as part of the former hobby-king’s collection.  Mastro is currently under Federal indictment as a result of a multi-year FBI investigation and awaiting a court date in Chicago Federal Court to see if Judge Ronald A. Guzman will accept the terms of a plea agreement that has already been tossed out of court multiple times.  Sources indicate that the Judge is said to want a stiffer penalty for Mastro and may want him to provide additional information about his former employees and other hobby entities including authentication companies like PSA/DNA and JSA.  Mastro’s new court date is set for May 31.

Experts believe the 1932 U. S. Caramel card of Babe Ruth (left) bears an authentic signature while the 1933 Goudey Ruth card sold by REA last week exhibits a Ruth forgery.

-Jimmy Spence is Rob Lifson’s preferred authenticator and the recent auction conducted by the Watchung, New Jersey, auction house was filled with problematic Babe Ruth items accompanied by JSA LOA’s.

Case in point is the 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth baseball card alleged by JSA and REA to have actually been signed by the Bambino.  The card sold for over $20,000, but experts tell it is a forgery that contrasts an authentic signature of Ruth which graces a 1932 U. S. Caramel card sold at Superior Auctions in the early 1990s.

The Ruth signature on REA's offering (left) appears similarly non-genuine as specimens appearing at Heritage (center) and Legendary (right).

-JSA and REA stood behind several highly questionable baseballs alleged to have been signed by Babe Ruth.  One of which (also bearing a signature of Lou Gehrig) sold for over $25,000 despite the fact that experts say the Ruth signature appears to be a secretarial signature similar to those mentioned in Part 4 of the Hauls of Shame “Operation Bambino” series.

One collector questioned a similar ball sold by Heritage last month for $96,000 (pictured above, center) and questioned JSA directly as to how they could determine the signature was genuine when it contrasted another in the same sale.  The collector, who requested anonymity wrote to JSA stating,  ”I looked at the Ruth autograph and the way the “R’s” are signed are completely different when comparing both balls! You are the “expert” but to me it looks like each ball was signed by a different person? I do not want to throw away a large amount of $$, how do you explain this?”

-Wade Hampton of JSA replied to the collector stating, “The 2 baseballs that you referenced were signed in substantially different eras. The first ball is an on the run signature of Ruth and Gehrig from their playing days and the second is from 1940s after Ruth had long retired.  Signature(s) change and evolve as is the case with these Ruth examples. ”

So, JSA has now added Babe Ruth “On-the-run” autographs to their authenticating repertoire.

Single-Signed Suckers

-Dan Brouthers’ alleged signature on an “ex-Halper” baseball fetched close to $48,000 in the REA sale.  That ball and another allegedly signed by John M. Ward were identified as forgeries by experts but still sold for big-bucks.  The Ward ball sold for close to $20,000. REA’s “enhanced” baseballs signed by the likes of “Sliding” Billy Hamilton and Roger Bresnahan sold for $7,110 and $5,925 respectively.  The “enhanced” Frank Chance ball failed to receive an opening bid at $1,000 even though REA described it as “one of the holy grails for any Hall of Fame single-signed ball collector.”  The bids placed on these balls, despite our warnings to collectors, is proof that vintage single-signed baseballs are the hobby’s most treacherous collectible.  Credit Jimmy Spence and his “video spectral comparator” for creating a new collecting category.

-Christy Mathewson’s Won In The Ninth sold at REA for a hammer price of only $6,500.  The book has been known to sell for upwards of $20,000, but reports illustrating experts opinions that these Matty signatures are secretarial appear to be making some headway.  Nonetheless, another Matty is currently being offered by Legendary without the book.  The secretarial Mathewson signature is encapsulated in a PSA/DNA tomb with a bid of $7,000.

REA withdrew a group of alleged Babe Ruth autographs and the 1863 Harry Wright cricket CDV purchased by Keith Olbermann in 2000.

“First Baseball Card” Flop

-Keith Olbermann purchased the 1863 Harry Wright Grand Match cricket CDV from  MastroNet and REA in 2000 and sources indicate that he was also the consignor to the REA spring sale.  REA announced that the Wright CDV was withdrawn at the request of its consignor but gave no particular reason.  Olbermann is mum on the subject and has not responded to a request for comment.  At the time the CDV was pulled it had not received its opening bid of $50,000. has since uncovered additional information suggesting that the Wright CDV and photo album, sold at Butterfield & Butterfield in 1997, may have been part of George Wright Collection donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1941.  Stay tuned for additional coverage.

Consignor Power

The large 11-lot group of JSA-authenticated photographs alleged to have been signed by Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner was also withdrawn from the REA sale at the request of the consignor.  The signed photos, like the Cooper-Ruth photo, were identified as forgeries by several experts and sources indicate that Lifson and REA withdrew the items to save face after its consignor’s provenance story began to unravel.  The consignor, Dean Laigle, told us his side of the story and why he says the lots were removed:

When my mother gave them to me, she knew I was a huge baseball fan and she barely knew who Babe Ruth was and had no reason to keep them.  She didn’t even know they had any value to them at all.  We come from a fairly large family and most of my relatives were after them so they could sell them and make a quick buck.  I told my mother that I would hold on to them and protect them for her if she ever wanted them back for whatever reason.  When Rob Lifson  asked me to write the LOP, I did so with the expectation that my name or my mother’s name would not be used.  He called me one day and said he just needed some information to verify that I am who I said I am and that my family actually exists.  I gave him my mother’s name and all her important information so that he could privately check up on us.  I asked him not to contact my mother because she did not know I was trying to auction them off.  My mother’s home recently went into foreclosure and she cares for my brother who has MS.  She is not in the best of health herself I thought she could use the money to help get a caretaker for him and possibly get her home out of foreclosure.  Instead, he contacted her almost immediately.  My mother read the LOP I wrote and felt violated that now everyone knows it is her.  He also pressed her for more information which she really wasn’t able to provide.  She ended up telling him something a little different than what she told me but she couldn’t even remember what she told me.  I asked her about what she said to him and she thought that maybe she had confused the photographer with someone else but wasn’t sure.  In her 25 years of working for the state of Maine, she had thousands of clients.  Some members of my family found out about this and immediately went to the REA auction site and started to cause problems as they saw the photos were increasing in value daily.  I love my family but they are all after something that isn’t theirs, if you know what I mean.  Because of the friction is was causing my family and the trust that Rob violated, I asked him to withdraw the photos.  I do not need the money as I am well off (so to speak) but my intent was to give the money to my mother.  She is a proud woman and will not accept help from me but if she received money from the photos then I think it would be different since the photos were hers in the first place.”

As for the authenticity of the photos, Laigle said:

“I’m sure JSA has some issues but he can’t be wrong 100% of the time.” He added, “I would be willing to let anyone who thinks they are an expert view them.  REA is returning them to me and I have already been contacted by other’s that want to still buy them.  Obviously someone thinks they are real.”

-REA’s consignor has not yet resurfaced with the photographs for sale.  It appears that Rob Lifson and REA came to their own conclusion that the photographs were not genuine despite the opinions and LOA’s he received from his alleged expert, Jimmy Spence.

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  1. It is a rotten shame , that somone spent $ 11G,s for garbage and the idiot who had it and scammed everyone is a bigger idiot.He can laugh all he wants to, but the real truth still lies out there,that it is no good and if the person who threw their $ away on junk, has some xtra $ they want to part with, get back to me and I will tell you where you can send it to me.Suckers are born everyday and by the way, if you are interested in a bridge, I have one for sale in NYC and you dont have to bid on it !!!!!

    Comment by Herbie Buck — May 24, 2013 @ 9:18 am

  2. my favorite quote

    “I’m sure JSA has some issues but he can’t be wrong 100% of the time.”

    so jsa’s issues are always on someone elses items. that’s super, but it seems to be what everyone says.

    It’s always the other guy that has bad stuff, and if JSA gave my stuff a cert, it must be good, because JSA can’t be wrong all the time, and if they have to be right sometimes, might as well be with MY stuff.

    Comment by TRAVIS R0STE — May 24, 2013 @ 9:50 am

  3. JSA….Just Stop Authenticating!!!

    Comment by Bill M. — May 24, 2013 @ 10:11 am

  4. And yet, Lifson is cited as an authority in Ron Keurajian’s book … curious.

    Comment by Bill Machovina — May 24, 2013 @ 10:23 am

  5. Biggest problem with JSA is that they are always making clerical mistakes. For example, applying the wrong sticker on an item that does not match the certifate or letter. Has happened to me countless times.

    Comment by Denny C. — May 24, 2013 @ 11:41 am

  6. JSA = Just Shitty Authenticatalitization, we created a whole new word, aren’t we special? With our special B.S. process we can turn your worthless shitty garbage into cold soft cash… you pay us and we make your junk appear ’special’! so you can sell it to special people at a special price… isn’t that special?

    signed Jimmy ‘Blind in One Eye’ Spence…
    they don’t call me dead eye for a reason!

    professional training: – completed 4 years of grade school
    – mastered 2 years of special ed. he is so special he did it TWICE!

    Comment by joemlm — May 24, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

  7. You can not argue with “joemlm”. I think he hit it right on the head!

    Nice story Pete. Keep up the good work!

    Comment by Linda — May 24, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

  8. It is damn strange,but when it is bad, it is bad by a few who said it was good and not just one like JSA.So putting all of this together and crossing all your T,s and dotting all your I,s,they all fit in the same boat,so no one is singling out any particular one.

    Comment by Herbie Buck — May 24, 2013 @ 6:32 pm

  9. Who is this master forger that created all these Ruth items? Has his/her name ever been named publicly, in court documents, or media reports?

    Comment by Chris J. — May 28, 2013 @ 9:51 am

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