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By Peter J. Nash

June 2, 2014

UPDATE (June 11th): Grey Flannel has not removed the bogus c.1928 Ruth-Gehrig ball from its current “Summer Games” auction.  The ball has failed to receive an opening bid at the reserve price of $7,500.  The alleged 1927 New York Yankees signed photo, which has been identified by several experts as a forgery, is also still for sale and has a current bid of $25,286.

When contacted earlier today, the Westhampton Beach Police Department said it could not deny or confirm whether complaints had been made in regard to Grey Flannel’s offering of the bogus Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig ball.  A Police representative suggested that we make a Freedom of Information request to see if any complaints had been filed against Richard Russek and the auction house for offering the counterfeit ball.

While collectors appear to agree that the Ruth-Gehrig ball is a forgery, it is no surprise that others are still bidding on the alleged 1927 photo that experts believe is a fake.  Third-party authenticators have been certifying bogus 1927 items for decades as evidenced by this 1927 forgery certified genuine by Steve Grad and Zach Rullo of PSA/DNA in 2007 when it sold for $22,318 in a Mastro auction.  Like the Ruth-Gehrig ball in the current sale, this 1927 ball includes forged signatures executed on another counterfeit baseball that appears to be a cowhide baseball manufactured in the past few decades.

This 1927 Yankee fake was authenticated by Steve Grad and Zach Rullo of PSA/DNA in 2007.

(End of Update)

According to recently published news reports, Grey Flannel Auctions is the target of a grand jury and FBI probe for allegedly selling bogus and misrepresented game-used memorabilia. The auction house’s current sale suggests that the government can also add the sale of forged autographs to Grey Flannel’s list of alleged transgressions. The premier lot in its current sale is a JSA-authenticated signed photo of Babe Ruth and the 1927 Yankees, but Hauls of Shame and several noted experts in the field have identified the photograph as a poorly executed forgery that once again exposes so-called expert Jimmy Spence of JSA as either totally incompetent or complicit in the distribution of fakes into the marketplace.  Another premier lot in the same auction has also been identified as a forgery by author Ron Keurajian who told us, “The Ruth/Gehrig signed baseball in the Gray Flannel Auction is, in my opinion, a forgery.  The authenticity of the baseball itself is questionable and looks like a counterfeit. This item should be reported to the Westhampton Police Department for investigation.”

That being said, the Grey Flannel catalog featured yet another bogus lot with a JSA certificate of authenticity, a 1948 dinner program that Spence said was signed by HOFer Wilbert Robinson.  Robinson, however, died in 1934.  Grey Flannel has already removed that JSA embarrassment from the current online auction.

JSA authenticated a Wilbert Robinson signature (top right) on a 1948 dinner program (left). Robinson, however, died in 1934 and he real signature (bottom, right) would never be mistaken with the JSA-certed example.

With the heat apparently turned up on Grey Flannel’s Richard Russek, you’d think the Westhampton, New York, auction house would have also pulled the other dubious 1927 Yankee autographs from its auction after being notified by Hauls of Shame last Friday, but they didn’t.  The auction house has a long-standing relationship with JSA and Jimmy Spence who has also appeared on Grey Flannel’s short-lived Discovery Channel show called All-Star Dealers.  Spence’s history of authenticating fake 1927 Yankee material is well known, including his certification of a 1927 Yankee signed ball that is now widely regarded in the hobby as a forgery, but Grey Flannel still considers him an expert and includes his LOA with the premier lots in the current auction.  The owner of the bogus 1927 baseball that Spence certified genuine, however, has a contrary opinion of Spence’s authentication skills. David Atkatz, of Saratoga Springs, New York, lost over $14,000 over a decade ago when he purchased his Murderers Row-signed baseball because it was accompanied by one of Spence’s letters of authenticity.  Atkatz learned years later the ball was a fake.

Based on the inclusion of Grey Flannel’s premier auction lot it appears that Spence has not learned from his mistakes and is still certifying forgeries of the famous New York Yankees of 1927.  In addition, both Spence and PSA/DNA have also authenticated a 1928 baseball with forged signatures of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (lot #10) which appears to have been executed by the same forger who created the 1927 ball that victimized Atkatz back in 2000.  When Hauls of Shame informed Atkatz of Spence’s continued certification of fakes he responded, “That Ruth/Gehrig ball was, without a doubt, done by the same guy.  It’s nice to see that both PSA and JSA are authenticating his stuff—I took a $14,000 hit on that ball—maybe I’ll consign it to Grey Flannel.”

Jimmy Spence knew of the Fang forgeries but still wrote this LOA for the forged 1927 Yankee ball at Bill Mastro's offices. Spence said it was his "unwavering opinion" that the signatures were genuine..

Spence was aware of the work that this writer and renowned handwriting expert Charles Hamilton had done as early as 1993 to expose what became known as the “Fang forgeries,” but he continued to certify the fakes as genuine when they began showing up in Bill Mastro’s auctions in the late 1990’s.  Mastro was also aware of the Fang fakes when he organized Sotheby’s sports auctions in the mid-90’s and proceeded to sell them in his own auctions as long as he could get Spence, Steve Grad or Mike Gutierrez to write LOA’s for them.  At the time, authenticators like Spence and Grad were beholden to Mastro who had helped establish their livelihoods and reputations at Mastro Auctions and at PSA.  While Mastro publicly lauded his experts he expressed a contrary opinion of them privately.  Mastro revealed how little he respected Spence, Grad and Gutierrez in a 1994 letter to this writer in which he said, “The so-called autograph experts we have in our business today don’t know shit.”

In public Bill Mastro spoke highly of Jimmy Spence and other authenticators but in private he revealed he had little regard for their skills calling them "so called experts" and saying, "They don't know shit."

Considering that Spence and others had known about the Fang forgeries as early as 1993, it is stunning that he could still write the letter of authenticity for the ball purchased by Atkatz from Greg Bussineau at Superior Sports Auctions in 2000.  Bussineau was an early PSA-dealer and the person who introduced Bill Mastro to west-coast sporting goods magnate Jim Copeland.  For making that introduction, Bussineau also made a commission on Mastro’s $110,000 sale of the fraudulent T206 Wagner to Copeland after Mastro had trimmed it.  In 1997, three years before the Superior sale of Atkatz’ fake 1927 ball, dealer and authenticator Richard Galasso identified a similar Fang- forged ‘27 Yankee ball in ads he placed in Sports Collectors Digest.  But in Spence’s LOA, written at the Mastro offices in September of 1999, he opined about the other forged Yankee ball stating, “It is my unwavering opinion that the signatures are genuine.”  Knowing that Spence had learned about the Fang forgeries years before he wrote the LOA for his bogus ball, Atkatz told us, “There is no excuse, then, for Spence to have authenticated Fang’s forged 1927 ball in 1999, and it is a joke that he—and PSA—are still being fooled in 2014.”

Grey Flannel's Rich Russek (left) uses Jimmy Spence (2nd from left) as an expert for his auction and defunct TV show. Spence has a long history authenticating bogus 1927 Yankee material including a forged baseball that surfaced in the 1990's (right).

But are they really being fooled?  The evidence suggests they are intentionally authenticating forgeries.  The alleged 1928 Ruth-Gehrig ball in the Grey Flannel sale features dark black signatures executed in what appears to be India-ink and the autographs are almost identical to the forgeries that surfaced in the early 1990’s with California Investments, Art Jaffe and Mike Gutierrez, among others.  The forger’s specialty was executing pristine Ruth and Gehrig signatures on snow white non-official baseballs and the current example appears to have been created to contrast those earlier examples with a dark shellacked appearance on an official AL ball.  The alleged forger, known as “Johnny Fang,” was so skilled at creating Ruth’s circa 1927 signature in quotes he may have eluded detection if it were not for mistakes he made in regard to the baseballs he used which were also counterfeits.

Lot 10 in Grey Flannel's current sale appears to be a forgery reminiscent of the Jimmy Spence and Mike Gutierrez authenticated forgeries on bats and balls that first appeared in the 1990's at California Investments (bottom) and still appear in auctions today with JSA LOAs.

Grey Flannel’s bogus Ruth and Gehrig signatures are also executed on a counterfeit baseball.  When compared to authentic examples of a scarce 1928 style AL Reach ball (with an E. S. Barnard stamp as AL President), the JSA and PSA- certed ball shows significant differences.  Other Ruth fakes that hit the market were signed on genuine non-official balls from the period and the most notable of those forgeries appeared in Heritage Auction Galleries’ October 2012 sale described as “the finest 1920’s single signed ball in existence.”  At the time, Hauls of Shame called the ball out as a forgery but Chris Ivy of Heritage continued the sale and later reported that the ball sold for $110,000.  The Heritage website, however, now shows that the ball went “unsold” suggesting that the $110,000 bid was not real as well.  Heritage consignment director Mike Gutierrez had previously sold that same bogus Ruth ball in his own MGA auction catalog in 2004.

The Ruth forgery found on Grey Flannel's Lot 10 matches the Ruth forgery on HA's Ruth single signed ball from 2012 that was reportedly sold for $110,000. Both balls were authenticated by Steve Grad of PSA/DNA (inset).

The current Grey Flannel ball features a Ruth forgery so similar to the Ruth forgery on the Heritage ball, it looks as if the Grey Flannel ball features a stamp of the other Ruth autograph (with the quotes around “Babe” added later with a pen).  Beyond those unusual similarities, the Grey Flannel baseball, itself, appears to be a phony official AL ball.  The differences between the Ruth-Gehrig ball and a genuine AL ball are illustrated in detail when posted next to the example illustrated in Brandon Grunbaum’s book, The Official American League Baseball Guide.  The authentic example shows key differences in the size of the characters and the placement of each line of information on the sweet spot of the ball.  In addition, the laces on the ball are inconsistent in size and color with genuine examples and the bogus ball appears to be a more modern cowhide baseball that was doctored-up to appear vintage. Like many of the other Fang forgeries executed on fake baseballs, this one exhibits all of the tell-tale signs that have been exposed in the past.  Further forensic testing would, no doubt, confirm that the materials used to create the forgery were not vintage from 1928.

The Grey Flannel Ruth-Gehrig signed ball appears to be a counterfeit AL Barnard ball (right). When compared with an authentic example in Brandon Grunbaum's ball guide (left) tell-tale differences in the size and placement of the Reach graphics are revealed.(Official American League Baseball Guide, Brandon Grunbaum)

Bogus baseballs and photographs featuring forgeries of the ‘27 Yanks have been surfacing with greater frequency and are all accompanied by letters of authenticity from JSA and also PSA/DNA.  The most notable forgeries of late have been two alleged 1927 team signed baseballs executed in bright green ink that sold for $149,375 at Heritage Auctions in 2013 and for $53,759 at SPC Auctions in 2014.  Neither of those questioned baseballs came with JSA certifications and were both authenticated by Spence’s former colleague Steve Grad, who currently appears as a so-called expert on the History Channel’s hit cable show Pawn Stars.

Two 1927 Yankee balls alleged to be forgeries were sold recently at Heritage Auction Galleries (left) and SCP Auctions (right).

Spence’s history of authenticating 1927 Yankee player autographs started when he was setting up at baseball card shows as a dealer and selling “cut-signature” forgeries from his own dealer tables.  By the mid to late 1990’s Spence was placing advertisements offering for sale large framed collections of cut signatures for well-known teams in baseball history including the 1927 Yankees who were priced at $12,000 per frame in ads Spence placed in VCBC and SCD.  Sources indicate that cut signatures and 3×5 cards of common players used by Spence were usually genuine, but the valuable and scarce examples of Ruth, Gehrig, Miller Huggins and Joe Giard were often non-genuine.

Jimmy Spence created and sold framed team displays with cut signatures at card shows in the 1990's and those items have re-appeared at major auctions now authenticated by JSA. In 2008, REA posted an addendum (bottom) stating that JSA claimed that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig signatures in Spence's framed creation for the 1927 Yankees were "secretarial" (top).

In fact, when some of Spence’s framed team creations appeared in an REA sale in 2008, auctioneer Rob Lifson failed to inform bidders that the items which were created and originally sold by Spence were also being authenticated by him. REA advertised the Spence creation as genuine in its catalog but later posted an “extremely important addendum” to its lot description claiming that Spence had identified the Ruth and Gehrig signatures as being “secretarial.”

Oddly enough, when Hauls of Shame and other experts recently examined the alleged Ruth secretarial signature we noticed it was a dead ringer for the forged Ruth signature appearing on a now infamous bogus photograph inscribed to Gary Cooper and another forged single-signed Ruth ball which was sold by Bill Mastro (see illustration below).  In other words, REA and JSA’s determination that the signature was “secretarial” was an attempt to deceive bidders when they knew the signature was an outright forgery.

When it appeared in REA in 2008, Jimmy Spence deemed one of the Ruth signatures he included in his 1927 Yankee cut signature display as "secretarial." That signature, however, matches a Ruth forgery Spence certed for Bill Mastro (top) and another from a bogus signed photo inscribed to actor Gary Cooper (center).

All three of these Ruth forgeries have one thing in common—they were all authenticated early on in the marketplace by Jimmy Spence.  Spence authenticated the forged Cooper photo for a Mastro auction in April of 1999 (lot 833) and 2010 (lot 459); the single-signed Ruth forgery for a Mastro sale in November 1998 (lot 1313) and the forgery REA identified as a “secretarial” was sold as genuine by Spence when he first created the framed piece.  But how could Spence and REA justify designating the cut signature in Spence’s 1927 display a “secreterial” and later ignore evidence and opinions stated by Hauls of Shame and author Ron Keurajian calling the Ruth signature and inscription to Gary Cooper an outright forgery?  If Rob Lifson and Spence knew the Ruth cut was bogus, how could they allow the forged Ruth-Cooper photo to be sold in REA’s Spring 2013 sale with a JSA LOA?  Some REA bidders apparently took Keurajian’s opinion to heart and refrained from bidding as the photo only sold for $11,850 as opposed to the $15,600 it fetched in the sale of Bill Mastro’s collection at Legendary Auctions in December of 2010.

Not only was the Ruth-Cooper photo an item that federally indicted auctioneer Bill Mastro had already sold twice, it was also an item called out as a forgery at the time of the REA sale and the high bidder had to argue with REA’s Rob Lifson to retract his high bid.  Not only did author Ron Keurajian go into great detail about the same photograph being a forgery in his book Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs:  A Reference Guide, in addition to his opinion, Gary Cooper’s own daughter, Maria Cooper-Janis told Hauls of Shame that she had no recollection of such a photo ever being part of her family’s collection of Cooper memorabilia.  Despite all of that evidence, Jimmy Spence stuck with his fraudulent opinion and along with REA kept a forgery alive in the marketplace.  Like other disreputable auctioneers, Lifson hid behind Spence’s worthless LOA and collected $3,700 in commissions for selling the forgery.

Ex-hobby kingpin Bill Mastro (inset) sold the forged Babe Ruth-Gary Cooper photo twice with LOA's from Jimmy Spence. Author Ron Keurajian (inset center) identified the same photo as a forgery in his 2012 book (center). REA's Rob Lifson (right) sold the forgery in 2013 despite Keurajian's published opinion.

Jimmy Spence started his hobby career selling questionable Ruth, Gehrig and 1927 Yankee player autographs at card shows and now he’s the alleged authority who passes judgment on the same items and most every other signature that makes its way into auction sales.  When he was selling his framed team autograph displays as “A Year To Remember” he claimed “all autographs are guaranteed authentic for life” but as David Atkatz experienced with his fake ‘27 Yankee ball, that’s one promise Spence has failed to deliver on.   When Spence was wheeling and dealing autographs he claimed that he was carrying on a family tradition that started in 1938 when his grandfather “ushered fans at Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds.”  In print ads Spence added, “Grandpa Spence’s massive collection laid the groundwork for one of baseball’s most impressive autograph collections” and according to Spence, he and his father “hawked autographs outside (Yankee) Stadium” and followed in Grandpa Spence’s footsteps.  If that’s true, Grandpa Spence would likely be rolling over in his grave if he saw the Yankee forgeries that his grandson, James Spence Jr. (previously known as James Spence III) is now certifying as genuine.

Spence published ads to sell his made to order team autograph displays noting his grandfather's "massive collection" and a lifetime guarantee on the autographs he sold. In 1998 he was selling 1927 Yankee signed displays for $9,000 and today he's authenticating '27 Yankee forgeries like the current premier lot in Grey Flannel auctions (inset).

The premier lot in Grey Flannel’s current auction is one of those items.  Its one of several alleged signed photographs of the 1927 Yankees that Spence has certified as genuine despite the fact that several experts have opined that the signatures appearing on the image are “poorly executed forgeries.”  Grey Flannel doesn’t say too much about the photo other than stating it comes with an LOA issued by JSA and adds, “Each of these players signed on the photo where they’re standing in black fountain ink and in our opinion, rates an 8 overall with the Ruth signature being the boldest of the group.”  But the evidence suggests that none of the Yankee players ever signed the photo depicting the famous Murderers Row crew.

Grey Flannel's alleged 1927 Yankees signed photo features signatures that several experts have deemed non-genuine and executed in a slow and laborious hand which is evidenced by uneven ink flow and hesitation.

When each alleged signature on the photograph is compared with authentic exemplars of each player found on genuine New York Yankee payroll checks dating from 1924 to 1930, it is clear to see that the Grey Flannel lot has major problems.  In fact, upon close examination it appears that some of the existing Yankee payroll checks offered previously at auction may have been copied by the forger to create Grey Flannel’s “Premier Lot.”  The handwriting exhibited on the photograph was executed in a slow and laborious hand which resulted in uneven ink flow with evidence of abrupt stops and hesitation.  Grey Flannel also misidentifies the ink used on the photo as being black when it appears to be a common blue Parker ink or “Quink” ink from the 1950’s that is easily accessible and popular among forgers.   In comparison, the forged signatures found on the auction photo also appear inferior to the forged examples featured on the ‘27 Yankee ball that Spence authenticated in the 1990’s.

The alleged forged signatures of the 1927 Yankees appear on the left and authentic signatures of the same players taken from NY Yankee payroll checks issued between 1924 and 1930 appear to the right. The genuine signature of Waite Hoyt is from a 1928 letter (bottom right). Experts can tell that the Grey Flannel signatures were not written in the same hand as the genuine signatures and it appears that a forger used some of the Yankee payroll checks as his guide.

Considering Spence’s history of authenticating ‘27 Yankee forgeries dating back to the 1990’s, his current authentications of both the Ruth and Gehrig signatures on a counterfeit AL ball and the forged 1927 Yankee photo illustrate the house of cards that third-party authentication has become.

The bogus Ruth Gehrig ball in the current Grey Flannel auction (top left) was created by the same forger this 1927 Yankee team ball forgery in the early 1990's (bottom). In the 1990's Jimmy Spence was a dealer and hand-wrote "Guaranteed Authentic For Life" on invoices (top right). Spence has not lived up to that motto with forged items he's certified authentic like David Atkatz' 1927 forgery (bottom).

Jimmy Spence’s well-documented incompetence and the allegations and evidence coming to light that suggest he is committing criminal acts by authenticating items he knows are bogus should bolster what sources say are on-going FBI investigations focusing on JSA business practices.  Does anyone believe that Spence examined Grey Flannel’s Ruth-Gehrig ball unaware that it matched exactly the well publicized forgeries that had fooled him in the 1990’s?  Did Spence not realize that the Babe Ruth “secretarial” in his 1927 team display was a dead ringer for the Gary Cooper inscribed Ruth photo he authenticated for Lifson and REA?  And now that these examples have been illuminated in our column, what will Spence and the auction houses do to rectify the authentication fiasco?  Last but not least, when will law enforcement sweep down on the JSA authentication juggernaut and topple Spence’s house of cards?

In addition to JSA’s authentication problems, sources indicate that the relationship between Spence and his business partner, Roy I. Weitzer, of Mendham, NJ,  has deteriorated recently over a controversy arising over submitted items disappearing from the JSA main office in Parsippany, New Jersey.  Sources also indicate that JSA may face further scrutiny from the authorities since both LA Weekly and the Miami Times reported last spring how the company collects cash when on the road.  Reporter Jake Rossen stated in his reports, “Business is so good that they (JSA) use garbage cans to hold the cash they collect from reviews at hobby conventions.”  An ex-JSA employee has also alleged that JSA has not properly reported considerable cash income collected at card shows and signing events.  In a recent report Spence has claimed that JSA examines “300,000 to 350,000″ items per year.

Rich Russek (shown with ex-NBA Commissioner David Stern) is the official authenticator and appraiser for the Basketball Hall of Fame despite certifying scores of Barry Halper's fake jersey's as genuine including a 1905 John McGraw jersey worn by Yogi Berra on the cover of TSN (center).

Richard Russek and Grey Flannel did not respond to our request to explain why they are offering counterfeit memorabilia for sale and as of this morning the 1927 Yankee photo and the 1928 Ruth Gehrig ball are still part of the auction which ends on June 18th.  The 1927 Yankee photo currently has a bid of $17,270 while the phony Ruth-Gehrig ball has failed to receive an opening bid at $7,500.  Russek is no stranger to the sale and authentication of fake memorabilia.  On his company website he states that he was chosen by Sotheby’s to authenticate the uniforms and jerseys that were included in the Barry Halper Collection auction in 1999.  Russek doesn’t mention, however, that he and partner Andy Imperato authenticated hundreds of thousands of dollars of bogus uniforms that were sold by Sotheby’s.

On his company website, Russek calls Barry Halper a “baseball collector extraordinaire” and includes a testimonial from Halper stating, “Nobody has studied their craft any harder than GF. They are the finest authenticator of uniforms in the hobby today. Their knowledge and integrity are indisputable.”  Russek still includes the Halper quote on his website but when collector Chris Sullivan of Boston recently tried to consign a bogus $30,000 Jimmy Collins jersey that Grey Flannel authenticated, Russek responded, “We are returning to you the Collins jersey that came from the Halper auction because, as you are well aware, those 19th century jerseys are full of controversy and we would be very uncomfortable running it.”

It appears that Russek and Grey Flannel are very comfortable selling fake ‘27 Yankee photos and phony Ruth and Gehrig balls. This time it’s Grey Flannel and JSA who are full of controversy.


9 Comments

  1. I notice that Grey flannel doesn’t provide a hi res scan of the 1927 Yankee photo. Not surprised considering how bad those autographs look.

    Comment by Howard M — June 2, 2014 @ 9:38 am

  2. More proof that even though mastro is gone his henchmen at jsa and psa are still ripping people off.

    Comment by Pat Kennedy — June 2, 2014 @ 9:46 am

  3. The qualiity of the auction scan aside from the ruth and gehrig was horrible but you can still see the contrast with the genuine signatures.

    Comment by admin — June 2, 2014 @ 10:10 am

  4. I have a strong suspicion that Bill Mastro will not be the only auction huckster doing time in the clink in the very near future…..Mr. Russek’s name has been surprisingly absent from this column for quite a while. It should be here on a regular basis.

    Richard Bond

    Comment by Richard Bond — June 2, 2014 @ 1:36 pm

  5. Another tactic the auction houses are conducting is to leave out provenance in the lot description. I won a lot in 2012 that turned out to have Halper provenance. I was approached by the auction house for them to buy it back from me which I found unusual, unless it was for another client. Great article as usual.

    Comment by Josh L — June 2, 2014 @ 3:10 pm

  6. Grey Flannel’s ‘27 Yankee photo got bumped up to $20,897 and the Ruth-Gehrig ball is still in the auction without an opening bid.

    Comment by admin — June 2, 2014 @ 6:33 pm

  7. Gray Flannel should change their name to Gray Fleecing for the material damage they’re doing to the hobby world. Maybe we’ll see them on a reality TV show again soon: COPS.

    Comment by HL Gehrig — June 3, 2014 @ 10:00 am

  8. When will this stop? My grandfather would be so sad for what they are doing in his name!! Keep up the good work! I know he would not stand for his fans being ripped off like this!!

    Comment by Linda Ruth — June 9, 2014 @ 8:32 pm

  9. People who sell obvious forgeries should rot in a jail cell

    Comment by Lee Trythall — June 22, 2014 @ 10:39 pm

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