In a recently published report Hauls of Shame confirmed there are at least sixty-four T206 Honus Wagner cards known to exist including the trimmed PSA-8 Mastro example and the PSA-2 copy currently up for sale at Lelands.
The Wagner card along with another T206 of HOFer Eddie Plank are two of the traditional “Big Three” cards highlighted in the storied tobacco card set dubbed “The Monster” by hobby pioneer Bill Heitman. The third is the “Sherwood Magie” error card which depicts player Sherry Magee and was misspelled in early production before being corrected, thus creating another rarity with just over 100 copies known to exist.
Over the past several decades PSA has graded dozens of the three celebrated cards but with the revelations in Federal Court that hobby kingpin Bill Mastro trimmed and altered the PSA-8 Honus Wagner card, the company founded by David Hall and headed by president Joe Orlando has come under fire as the evidence suggests PSA was founded on a fraudulent authentication of an iconic artifact. Many PSA customers and supporters, however, have claimed that the authentication of the Wagner card back in 1991 was an anomaly and that the grading company is both qualified and competent maintaining its status as the leader in the field along with SportsCard Guaranty (SGC).
But now PSA is dealing with another grading scandal to add to its list of failures after collectors uncovered two altered and bogus T206 Sherwood Magie error cards that the company authenticated, graded and encapsulated in 2013. One example sold for over $16,000 at a Mile High Cards auction in June and another was removed from eBay in November when it was exposed as a fake by collector Chris Browne. Browne uncovered images of the exact same cards in their prior PSA and SGC graded holders showing the cards with the correct “Magee” spelling before they were fraudulently altered and transformed into the “Magie” error rarity.
The news that such fakes could bypass the PSA experts decades after they graded the trimmed PSA-8 Wagner suggests that the services rendered by PSA may be flawed to a level almost beyond belief for collectors, dealers and auctioneers who are invested in PSA product.
PSA has had a poor track record with the T206 issue and the Magie error card in particular. In 2003, longtime T206 collector Dan McKee filed suit against PSA after the company lost his Magie error card which he had sent to the company for grading. In 2004, a California court in Orange County ruled against PSA and awarded McKee damages of $4,852. In a press release issued by McKee’s attorney, Adam Warshaw, it was also revealed that the trial testimony of Joe Orlando showed that PSA “does not take any steps to independently monitor its receivers when they open packages submitted to PSA.”
In addition to past security issues, even more prevalent are allegations that PSA has graded and encapsulated scores of altered and trimmed cards that trace back to Bill Mastro and the T206 set sold by Jim Copeland at Sotheby’s in 1991. That T206 set ended up in the collection of coin collector Kirk Harris and was subsequently given high grades by PSA who identified the near-mint cards on the PSA flips as coming from “The Harris Collection.” Harris’ T206 set was advertised by the company as the “first pedigreed T206 set” in the PSA set registry.
The recent PSA authentications of the two Magie fakes take claims of authentication malpractice and alleged fraud by the company to a new level. Considering only one-hundred or so genuine examples of the Magie error card exist, questions are now being asked as to how PSA failed to detect the alterations and turned a $200 common card into a $16,000 treasure.
Several collectors had questioned the authenticity of one of the Magie error cards when it was offered last November in an eBay sale by seller Rick Probstein and at the same time another collector questioned the Magie that had been sold at Mile High in June. The Magie cards were then proven to be bogus by collector Chris Browne of Calgary, Ontario, who was able to locate the sales of the exact same cards in their previous holders as the “Magee” variations before being transformed into rarities. Browne posted his findings on collector forum Net54 and the eBay seller Probstein123 promptly removed the card from his eBay auction. Probstein also posted his reaction on the same forum and stated, “I’m still in shock that such a high profile card could get holdered, very upsetting.” When Hauls of Shame contacted Probstein he said, “I’m not surprised something like this could happen, there are a lot of crooks out there doctoring up cards.”
In his interview with Hauls of Shame Probstein said he was alerted to the problem by one of his consignors and that after reviewing Browne’s discovery and having a conversation with a grader from SGC, he ended the auction. Probstein added, “Joe Orlando contacted me and asked for the card so we shipped it back to PSA overnight.” Probstein said he has not heard back from Orlando and when asked who consigned the card to his auction he said, “That information is private.” According to Chris Browne, the same buyer purchased both of the graded cards on eBay before they were doctored. Browne added, “Joe Orlando is looking into it.”
Brian Drent, owner of Mile High Cards, told us that the bogus Magie card sold in his auction was consigned by the same person who consigned the other fake to Probstein’s eBay auction. Said Drent, “All I know is what he told me and he said he bought both cards in a group of stuff and that he’d been duped himself.” According to Drent his buyer was overseas and the card had been shipped out of the country by the time it was identified as a fake. After learning about the card’s problems Drent said, “I spoke with Joe Orlando and he immediately contacted our buyer and bought the card back from him.” Drent added, “Joe was very disturbed and very upset about it. But he took care of our buyer immediately.” In regards to the quality of the doctoring performed on the Magie card Drent said, “It wasn’t an easy thing to pick up there in the holder and it wasn’t a high-grade copy. I didn’t pay sufficient attention to it, it just never crossed our mind. I should have looked closer than I did.”
The critical question now is who bought the two fakes when they were still “Magee” cards and who actually submitted them to PSA as altered “Magie” rarities. Chris Browne says the same person also purchased a T206 Doyle card which could also be altered to create a rarity. Hauls of Shame has not been able to determine the name of the consignor of both bogus cards and Brian Drent said his card came from a client who, “Consigns to Mile High infrequently.” Rick Probstein said he was not aware that his consignor was selling both fake cards and added, “I didn’t talk to my consignor about it, I just sent it back to PSA after Joe Orlando contacted me. My consignor hasn’t even contact me about his card. I’m sure Joe Orlando has contacted him.” Despite the fact that both fakes went undetected by PSA graders Probstein said, “Their work is impeccable.”
Allegations that PSA gives preferential treatment and higher grades to auction house executives and high-volume customers has fueled even more speculation about who actually submitted both Magie fakes for encapsulation. Sources indicate that the FBI is aware of this current situation and has also been looking into PSA business practices for both card and autograph authentication. The fact that one of the bogus cards was actually graded previously by PSA as a Magee “Ex 5″ and ended up a “Magie” with a lower grade of “Good 2″ is also problematic. PSA President Joe Orlando did not respond to our inquiry for comment on who submitted both fakes to his graders and how those graders failed to identify the counterfeit cards. Considering the scarcity of the T206 Wagner, Plank and Magie cards, submissions of these examples are far from everyday occurrences at PSA. One would think the company’s most experienced graders would be responsible for examining such cards. Identifying and outing who submitted the fakes to PSA could help uncover a sophisticated forgery ring and also shed more light on other fakes that have infiltrated the marketplace.
In 1991, PSA failed when they graded and legitimized Bill Mastro’s trimmed T206 Wagner and now twenty three years later they are encapsulating T206 cards that have had their original graphics removed and reapplied fraudulently. How much confidence can PSA customers have in the company and the PSA product found in their own collections?
Dan McKee has seen his share of Magie error cards in his collecting career and the recent revelations regarding PSA’s grading of the two fakes has him very concerned. Says McKee, “These recent T206 Magie error fakes have got to make you wonder if the one you are holding is good. I have a friend with seven of them and he is checking them with a fine tooth comb. His were all acquired within the last ten years unlike the one I have in my set which I found in the mid 1980s.”
In contrast to his feelings about PSA’s negligence when they lost his own Magie card back in 2003, McKee feels some empathy for the company. He added, “About the quality of these fakes and them getting by PSA I can only say that with the naked eye and large scans they look darn scary! Now PSA gets paid to protect us from this but these are the best I have ever seen.”
Not surprisingly, despite the major ramifications of this story, it has not been covered anywhere in the so-called “hobby press” since the time the fakes were exposed back in November.