Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash
June 20, 2013

So-called experts Steve Grad and Jimmy Spence battle it out over one of the greatest muffs in authentication history.

Self-proclaimed authentication heavyweights Steve Grad of PSA/DNA and Jimmy Spence of JSA have lots of explaining to do for boxing autograph aficionados now that they’re engaged in a battle of opinions over a controversial Rocky Marciano letter which was consigned to the current auction at Lelands.

The letter appearing as lot 110 in the Lelands catalog was just withdrawn last night by the auction house even though it has a JSA sticker affixed to its reverse representing its alleged authenticity and attesting that Marciano signed the letter on what appears to be the boxer’s official stationary and letterhead. Lelands’ removal is likely related to the withdrawal of a similar letter on the same stationary back in March of 2012 by Paragon Auctions.  In its lot description Paragon specifically noted, “JSA has informed us that these letters are secretarial.”

Asked about the withdrawal, Josh Evans, of Lelands said, “I just don’t feel comfortable.  I’d rather err on the side of caution.”  Evans said he first learned of the controversy from a client a few days ago.

JSA’s determination that the document was not actually signed by the boxing champ who hailed from Brockton, Massachusetts, is at odds with Spence’s own prior authentications and numerous sales of similar letters sold at auction with accompanying letters from Steve Grad and PSA/DNA, including another current auction offering on eBay. But boxing autograph expert Travis Roste has recently determined that the alleged Marciano signatures are not even secretarial and that the letters themselves are bogus and feature fantasy commentary attributed to Marciano voicing his opinions on Muhammed Ali, Sonny Liston and others.

PSA/DNA illustrates the bogus Rocky Marciano autograph as an authentic exemplar.

What is astounding, but by no means surprising considering PSA/DNA’s track record, is that Steve Grad and PSA President Joe Orlando feature one of the bogus Marciano signatures on the company’s “PSA Autograph Facts” page as an authentic Marciano exemplar. So, in a nutshell, JSA is battling its own contradictory opinions, while PSA/DNA marches on blindly promoting a forgery as a genuine signature on an item that has sold on average for over $2,000.  Travis Roste told us, “There’s a lot of people who bought those letters who are going to want refunds.  What’s Joe Orlando going to do?”

He might not do much, as PSA has recently ignored other monumental blunders including an authentication of an alleged photo and autograph of Baseball Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins.  Despite a Haulsofshame.com report illustrating definitively that the man featured in the PSA-authenticated photo is not Jimmy Collins and that the alleged signature on the photo was misspelled “Jimmie” instead of “Jimmy,”  PSA/DNA has continued to display the item as an authentic exemplar on the PSA Autograph Facts page. The company’s inaction in removing and correcting its flawed authentication is now being viewed as PSA engaging in what some see as outright fraud with intent since PSA has full knowledge they are deceiving their customers and the general public.  PSA did remove non-genuine signatures of Smilin’ Mickey Welch and Candy Cummings after Haulsofshame.com exposed them in additional reports, however, PSA has continued to misrepresent the bogus Jimmy Collins photo as the real-deal.

A suited-up Alfred E. Neuman (center) resembles the real Jimmy Collins more than the bogus Collins photo (left). PSA head Joe Orlando (right) continues to fraudulently represent that the non-Collins photo is authentic.

Travis Roste provided us with several authentic examples of Marciano’s signature from his website AutographPlanet.com and they starkly contrast the signatures featured on the alleged letters being sold to collectors as legitimate examples.  When compared side by side it is evident that the questioned letters exhibit a more uniform look spanning over the period of an entire decade while the authentic versions show changes over time in Marciano’s signature and exhibit certain characteristics that are not found on the letters.

Illustrated above on the left are authentic Marciano signatures (including contracts and legal documents) ranging from 1959 to 1969 (top to bottom. To the right are examples of the questioned Marciano signatures on the "Reinmuth Letters" ranging from 1960 to 1969 (top to bottom).

One of the most prevalent differences between the authentic examples and the signatures on the questioned letters is the way the ending “o” in “Marciano” is constructed.  After examining a large group of letters Travis Roste told us, “You look at the end of the “o” in Marciano in the fakes and they are all the same, they meet up perfect with the circle. In the real Marciano’s, a lot of them flip over the top back to the left.  You don’t see that even once in ten years of the signed letters.” Another element that is problematic relates to the formation of letters in his first name “Rocky.”  Roste added, “In all the fakes, the “o” and “c” in Rocky are super small, 1/10 the size of the capital “R.”  Some are barely visible but in real Marciano signatures, as shown, the “o” and “c” are normal size, about 1/4 to 1/5 the size of the capital “R” in Rocky. And all the fakes over the ten year purported period are all very small and all look the same. This is a huge red flag.”

We agree with Roste and are of the opinion that all of the Marciano signatures on the Reinmuth letters were executed in a hand different than that of Rocky Marciano.

Beyond the actual signatures, the problems with the letters extend to the factual content and even the identity the recipient himself.  All of the questioned letters are dated between 1961 and 1969 and are all addressed to an alleged writer named William H. Reinmuth Jr. from a magazine called “Sports Quest.”  In 2011, a selection of the letters made their way to John Cameron the author of the biography Redemption: The Life and Death of Rocky Marciano.  On his website, Cameron first said he thought the letters were “remarkable, offering Marciano’s own insights into his career” but soon after thought that “there is something about them that sits wrong.”  Cameron could not verify the authenticity of the letters because he could not verify the source.  Cameron could not confirm the existence of “Sport Quest” and in relation to Reinmuth could only verify that the address on the letters did exist.  Cameron even asked Rocky Marciano’s brother if he had heard of Reinmuth or the magazine and was told by Marciano that the letters “may not be legit.”

PSA and JSA have been authenticating the Marciano-Reimuth forgeries for years. To the left is the letter just pulled by Lelands and to the right is a PSA LOA issued in 2006 for a similar letter sold in 2013 at Juliens Auctions.

On his blog in 2011, Cameron wrote, “If these letters are fakes, then the author knows his stuff for on the surface the contents seem to shed little light on Rocky himself, yet with a little digging, the information is not that remarkable, most can be culled from research, biographies, interviews and the like.”  Our own research reveals that a William H. Reinmuth was a professor of Chemistry at Columbia University and died in 1983 at the age of fifty-one.  The New York Times reported that Reinmuth was survived by “his wife Joan, a daughter, Amy, and two sons, Jared and Kriston.”  In one of the suspect letters Marciano wishes Reinmuth a Happy New Year in 1967 writing, “May you, Connie and little Eric enjoy.”

Haulsofshame.com contacted Cameron for his reaction to Leland’s pulling the Marciano letter from its current auction and the author said, “Just to let you know, I dug as deep as I could into these letters and I do not believe they are genuine.”  Cameron added,  ”Another thing that made me seriously contemplate the authenticity of these letters was the letterhead on each.  Sure, Rocky had paper with a letterhead, it was his trademark in correspondences to writers and journalists. I have seen several letters from Marciano to other journalists plus some private correspondences and the letterheads on these are not the same as (those) purported letters, plus over the years the letterhead was prone to change, whereas those on the letters, regardless of claimed date, remained constant.”

Considering the serious problems with the handwriting itself and the questions regarding the authenticity of the source and the identity of the recipient, William Reinmuth, how could PSA/DNA and JSA have authenticated so many of these dubious documents? How could Jimmy Spence of JSA determine that they were “secretarial” letters rather than outright forgeries?  The situation is reminiscent of the determination of Spence and JSA that a Babe Ruth letter accompanying an alleged lock of Ruth’s hair was a “non-malicious secretarial” when it was, in fact, an outright forgery which matched another Ruth forgery found on Barry Halper’s famous 500 Home Run Club signed sheet.  The sheet featuring the forged Ruth signature was sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 by Rob Lifson and Halper for over $57,000, while the bogus hair and the letter authenticated by Spence was sold by Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions in 2007 for $38,000.

Despite being notified of their error, PSA still displays a bogus signature of boxer Bob Fitszimmons (bottom left) on its "PSA Autograph Facts" page (right). A genuine Fitszimmons (top left) bears no resemblance to the PSA certified fake.

The ineptitude of Spence and JSA assisted Lifson in selling bogus Babe Ruth hair to a customer who put his faith in Spence’s opinion just as another bidder had when Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions sold one of the forged Marciano letters in 2006 with a JSA LOA for $2,610.  That letter was also authenticated by Steve Grad and Mike Gutierrez for PSA/DNA.  PSA has a history of authenticating boxing forgeries as evidenced further on its PSA Autograph Facts page where the company also illustrates a forged/secretarial signature of boxing champ Bob Fitzsimmons as an authentic exemplar.  An outspoken critic of PSA, Travis Roste has shown publicly that the signature on the website is not genuine and was executed by the boxers wife, but PSA and Joe Orlando have ignored that evidence and have continued to present the bogus signature as authentic.  The non-genuine signature bears no resemblance whatsoever to other authentic signatures also appearing on the PSA Autograph Facts page dedicated to Fitzsimmons’ autograph.

Considering that PSA’s Steve Grad is the new authenticator for the History Channel show Pawn Stars, it would be interesting to see what he would say now if one of these letters walked into the Las Vegas store.  Will PSA and Grad admit they have made astounding authentication blunders spanning over several decades or will they commit fraud as they have in the cases of the company’s authentications of the bogus Jimmy Collins and Bob Fitzsimmons signatures (just to name a few)?  Since both PSA and JSA have authenticated so many of the bogus Marciano letters already, the revelation that they are forgeries will surely have collectors asking auctioneers and dealers for refunds and compensation.  The entire episode will also serve as additional evidence for agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation who have been keeping a close eye on the business practices of both of the embattled authentication outfits.  In addition to instances of “authentication malpractice” and mistakes, the FBI has spoken to several dealers and collectors who allege that both PSA and JSA have also committed outright fraud and have engaged in racketeering.

One hobbyist who asked not to be named summed it up like this, “I used to think that they were innocent mistakes, but its becoming painfully obvious that these mistakes are intentional, which crosses the line from stupid to illegal.”

Another collector said, “This Marciano mess shows that PSA and JSA just don’t know what they’re doing.  They’re either not examining the items at all or they are just exposing their lack of skill.  They are not experts.”

UPDATE (Sat. June 22): Haulsofshame.com has obtained copies of several of the forged letters from Rocky Marciano to William Reinmuth and here are some excerpts revealing more about the content:

“My opinion is that Liston took this kid Clay too lightly and didn’t respect his ability in any way.  In the fight game you can never do this.  No matter how much any opponent bragged or yelled before our fight I never took him for granted.  Maybe Liston learned something the other night that could help him in the rematch.  Take care and Keep punching.”- February 28, 1964

“To me a man’s religious choice is his own personal decision and should stay that way.  I will tell you that I was as shocked as everybody else by Clay being so publicly loud about it.  I don’t agree with the way he uses an opportunity to promote his religion and an upcoming fight all at the same time.  I believe that just like politics and religion, a fighter shouldn’t use his popularity and fame to try and spread the word and influence others about his religious beliefs.  It should be kept separate from fighting.” – January 9, 1967

“You are right about the growing public disgust for Clay regarding his decision not to fought in the “White mans’ army.”  Yes I did take offense at that and some of his other statements……..I spoke with Joe Louis again the other day and he told me that he reminded Clay that he wound up as better and prouder American as a result of his hitch in the army.  He said that Clay just went on about not being treated equal in his own country and that he wouldn’t take part in killing on foreign soil and that he would fight on this soil so that his people would be recognized as equals here.” -May 16, 1967

“Received Ali’s letter yesterday regarding his situation.  He asked if I would be willing to write a letter of support for his Judge at the upcoming court date.”-September 19, 1967

“Received a call from the great Mickey Mantle yesterday and he had me doubled over laughing.  He said I should have held out for more money and that I should have taken less money as long as I would go down in the history books as having a win over Ali.  But you know that Mickey has a way of putting things in his own hysterical way!”- May 24, 1969

Above is a selection of some of the the forged Marciano letters that have appeared for sale at public auction.


16 Comments

  1. The real boxing experts on my team (we have several vs. psa and jsa NONE), would be happy to assist all collectors in this current Marciano mess created by the usual entities. If you need help or advice, contact us via the website in the story and we can do our best to help.

    Comment by Travis Roste — June 20, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

  2. I suppose Jimmy Spence was unavailable for comment. Perhaps you should try Jimmie Spence.

    Comment by Joe — June 20, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

  3. Both “Jimmy” and “Jimmie’ Spence are never available for comment.

    Comment by admin — June 20, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

  4. I have no use for scrawls and have never understood the allure of signatures as collectibles. In any case, I hope these PSA slimeballs posing as purported experts share a cell with the Chicago mafioso.

    Comment by STEVE CUMMINGS — June 20, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

  5. What a damn shame,they cant leave anyone alone anymore, to rest in piece,without trying to make a killing on worthless junk, that they claim to be real.

    Comment by Herbie Buck — June 20, 2013 @ 10:29 pm

  6. I am glad that these letters have been publicly outed, when I came across these pieces during the course of my research into Marciano I was excited, but following the philosophy that all material had to be verified before being used so that I did not fall into fiction I contacted the NY Library to see if they could shed any light on the alleged recipient and journal ‘Sports Quest’, the Library had no record in all of their searches undertaken of either, this was the icing on the cake as for awhile I had been uncertain of the veracity of the letters due to several factors, the most telling was the letterheads which remained constant, almost as if one image had been used and reproduced over and over during the course of the alleged correspondence, something which did not gell with other letters from Marciano to various individuals in which the letterhead changed over the years…I am sure that Marciano himself would be mighty sore that his name has been used to dupe people, image was everything to him, he fought hard to preserve it, this would have incensed him.

    Comment by John Cameron — June 21, 2013 @ 4:14 am

  7. PSA still has the Marciano forgery illustrated on the PSA Autograph Facts page as an authentic example.

    Comment by admin — June 21, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

  8. “REAL” boxing historian Harry Shaffer, along with Ted Sakir from Chicago had researched these letters in great detail years ago. After intense research had concluded that the letters were no good! I had been interested in purchasing one in particular until I was advised to stay away. Thanks guys.

    Comment by Damon Carpentier — June 22, 2013 @ 2:02 am

  9. This is a real low blow. I could have beaten Marciano, but I’ve never mastered his signature.

    Comment by Chuck Wepner — June 22, 2013 @ 8:45 am

  10. I wonder what Bert Sugar thought of these Marciano letters?

    Comment by Thomas McManus — June 22, 2013 @ 9:43 am

  11. this is the first time this info has come forward to the masses and explained in a detailed way on a far reaching medium so no one can deny it anymore. we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. It was just time for it to come out in a big way so they don’t get sold over and over anymore.

    There was no internet back then to get the word out. Now it can come out and some don’t want it to come out. but if they are no good, they are no good, and you can’t wish them to be good if they are not. It’s always those who own the bad autographs last that get stuck holding the bag, but if it stops them from being sold again and again, snagging more buyers into the trap, then that’s good. Cert or no cert, then need to be stopped from being flipped again and again because they are no good.

    Comment by TRAVIS ROSTE — June 22, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

  12. Well, it looks like the eBay police and the EMR’s aren’t too worked up about these Marciano forgeries:

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Rocky-Marciano-Typed-Letter-Signed-on-Personal-Letterhead-PSA-DNA-/171019382766?pt=US_Autographs&hash=item27d18cafee

    You can still pick one up for a Buy-It-Now of $2,900. Just more proof of the incestuous relationship between eBay and PSA/DNA. Where’s John Gonzalez working now?

    Comment by admin — June 22, 2013 @ 10:01 pm

  13. This one went for $20k last month!

    http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/96/lot/40842/?url=%2Fview-auctions%2Fcatalog%2Fid%2F96%2F%3Fpage%3D7

    Comment by craig thomas — July 4, 2013 @ 7:07 pm

  14. Hmmmmm. now I wonder if this isn’t related to John Olson from operation Bullpen. If you read my encounter with him here http://collectiblesnj.com/operation-bullpen-2013-my-encounter-with-john-olson/ you will see I also received a fake auto Marciano postcard from him. It looks real close to that one. I will add photos later for comparison or someone just email me and I will send them to you.

    Comment by Collectibles NJ — July 11, 2013 @ 6:38 pm

  15. Jimmy III (Son) Cell number: 570-573-9688

    Comment by Anonymous — July 30, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

  16. There is a comment from “Chuck Wepner” above. The real Chuck Wepner is a member of sports collectibles “Hall of Shame.” That should shed some light on the humor of the post. :)

    Comment by Marc Rettus — August 25, 2013 @ 12:19 am

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