By Peter J. Nash
October 3, 2014
(Scroll to bottom for Update)
It is nothing new for an artifact stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame to turn up for sale in a Huggins & Scott auction as there have been a bunch of them sold by the Maryland auction house in the past few years. There have been rare 19th century season passes for the Boston BBC; letters sent to Hall officials by legends like Nap Lajoie and even documents from the famed August Herrmann Papers collection. The most recent entry of auction house contraband is the current Huggins & Scott lot consisting of a rare composite photo of Honus Wagner and the champion 1909 Pirates which they describe as: “…the lone example we have encountered.” It is likely the lone example because the photograph is believed to be unique and has evidence of its HOF accession number being scraped off the reverse of the cabinet mount and is the exact same photo that appeared in a Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) pictorial publication dedicated to the Dead-Ball Era in 1986 with a credit to the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown. It’s most definitely stolen and it is also New York State property that the Hall of Fame will likely never claim title to, just as they have failed to take action over the past decade with many other problematic offerings at H&S, Heritage, REA and Legendary Auctions.
What makes this artifact most remarkable, however, is that it had already been identified in 1994 as an item stolen from the Hall and was returned to the Cooperstown institution by this writer after I purchased it at a baseball card show in Westchester. The photo originated from the late dealer and auctioneer, Don Flanagan, and after I purchased the image, I realized the exact same photo had been featured in SABR’s National Pastime-Dead-Ball Era Pictorial issue edited by John Thorn and Mark Rucker. Thorn and Rucker had photographed the original at the museum in 1985 and it is documented on the surviving contact sheets for that shoot which were the basis for all of the images included in the publication. The original SABR contact sheet is marked on its reverse, “H.O.F. B20.”
At the same baseball card show I purchased another rare photograph that I also discovered had been stolen from the Hall, an 1897 Elmer Chickering cabinet photo of the Boston Beaneaters and the Royal Rooters including super-fan “Nuf Ced” McGreevy and Congressman John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald posing on the steps of the Eutaw Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland. That photo also showed visible evidence of the Hall of Fame library accession number being removed and defaced on the reverse but more importantly I noticed that the exact same photo with the same creases and damage appeared enlarged as an approximately ten foot by twelve foot image posted on the wall in the Hall of Fame’s 19th century exhibition room. I purchased the photo from New York dealer Ron Vitro who currently works as a consignment agent for Huggins & Scott. I reported my acquisition of both stolen photographs to then Hall of Fame librarian Tom Heitz and returned both photos to the museum along with the contact information of the sellers.
Since 2010, the Hall’s 1909 Pirate composite photo has appeared along with the 1897 Boston photo on the Hauls of Shame website’s “Recovered Artifacts” section, however, it turns out that the same Pirate photo had already left the Hall of Fame’s possession and was previously offered and sold by Huggins & Scott in a 2007 auction where it realized a price of $3,000. The images of the photo in the 1986 SABR pictorial publication, the 2007 Huggins & Scott sale and the current auction all share unique imperfections on the photographs which are identical. The most pronounced identical damage on each image from 1986 to 2014 is located below the portrait of Honus Wagner at the center of the lower portion of the mounted photo.
Interestingly enough, images of the reverse of the photo from the 2007 and 2014 sales reveals that additional notations were added to the mount since it was returned to the Hall including the year “1909″ and the phrase, “We know not without you Honus.” Huggins & Scott makes no mention of the writing added to the reverse of the cabinet in its current lot description and they also fail to note that the “Fred C. Clarke” inscription appears to be written in Clarke’s own hand. Evidence suggests that the 1909 photograph was actually donated to the Hall of Fame by the Hall of Famer, himself, along with a treasure trove of other items and ephemera. The consignor of the 1909 Pirate photo, Michael Calvello, has also consigned several other fraudulently misrepresented photos to the current H&S auction which he claimed were of Hall of Famer Amos Rusie, Moses Fleetwood Walker and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson based solely on handwritten information fraudulently added to the reverse of each item.
Hauls of Shame contacted former Hall of Fame head librarian, Tom Heitz in Fly Creek, New York, and, while he declined comment on the appearance of the 1909 photo in the current Huggins & Scott sale, he did confirm that two photographs were returned to him at the National Baseball Library in December of 1994. Heitz could not recall the exact images returned but did recall that upon the return of the items to the library he drafted and sent a memo to then Hall of Fame Vice President Frank Simio. Heitz’ twelve-year tenure at the Hall of Fame ended just a week after the stolen photos were returned to the library. Since Heitz left the Hall of Fame in 1995 he has been active in the baseball research community and in 2014 was honored by the Society For American Baseball Research with its Henry Chadwick Award.
Hauls of Shame also contacted Baseball Hall of Fame President, Jeff Idelson, asking for an explanation as to how a stolen item that was actually returned to the institution is now being sold by an auction house for the second time? This writer also sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) letter request to Idelson last Friday which read:
“I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of public records that pertain to the return of New York State Property (a c.1909 silver gelatin photograph of the Pittsburgh Pirate team) to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in December of 1994. I am requesting any and all documents related to: the photograph’s original donation to the Museum and all accession records for the donations of Fred C. Clarke; all documents and correspondence between Tom Heitz, Frank Simio, Donald Marr, James Gates or any other Museum employee regarding the return of New York State property to Tom Heitz by Peter Nash in 1994; all correspondence of documents related to baseball dealers Ron Vitro and Donald Flanagan; all documents related to the additional return of New York State Property (an 1897 Elmer Chickering photo of the Boston BBC), and any and all documentation regarding the 1909 Pirate photograph being disposed of to any entity or person not affiliated with the Museum or New York State.”
Idelson and the Hall of Fame have yet to respond to the request which FOIA guidelines state should be answered within five days. All of the information sent to Hall of Fame officials was also forwarded to the Cooperstown Police Department and Chief Michael Covert last Friday.
Huggins & Scott representatives Josh Wulkan and Bill Huggins refused to respond to our inquiry about the photo and who consigned it to the auction back in 2007. Dealer and current H&S consignment rep Ron Vitro confirmed for Hauls of Shame that the 1897 Boston photo he sold in 1994 was, in fact, returned to the Hall of Fame.
We also contacted Michael Calvello, the consignor of the pirated Pittsburgh photograph and the bogus Joe Jackson WWI panoramic photo that was already withdrawn from the same sale on account of its being an outright fraud. Calvello told us, “The markings were on the (Pirate) photo when I purchased it in July of 2014.” Calvello also said that someone went to the Cooperstown Police on his behalf and was told that ”as of yesterday (Sept. 30) there was never a police report filed back in the 1980’s, 1990, 2000, 2010 (or) 2014.”
A call on Wednesday to the Cooperstown Police Department by Hauls of Shame revealed that Chief Michael Covert has been out of the station and will return to his office next week.
In the past few years, several letters and documents believed to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame’s August Herrmann Papers Collection have appeared in auctions conducted by Heritage, Legendary, Huggins & Scott and REA. Some of them were removed from the sales but recently Heritage and Huggins and Scott have proceeded with auctioning off the stolen and suspected stolen items because the Hall of Fame has failed to claim title to the items. One of those documents, a 1916 protested game letter from George Stallings to NL President John Tener, was previously withdrawn from an REA sale but has resurfaced on eBay with an interesting note from a California seller called “filmdom” who was also the REA consignor. Although he has no provenance information whatsoever for the letter he is offering, the eBay seller discusses the prior removal from REA and says:
“The Baseball Hall of Fame objected to its sale, claiming they believed the letter was once in their protested games file. This is based on circumstantial evidence, as there is insignificant information. Meaning, that the HOF has items in their file surrounding the date of this letter, hence, the assumption that it was stolen from them. Again, there is no photographic evidence or otherwise, but based on assumption. I was a somewhat new collector in buying vintage items back in 1993. I just felt great having a part of baseball history.”
The eBay seller also claims to have additional information related to the Hall of Fame stating:
“The HOF didn’t ask that this letter be returned to them, though I’m sure they would like having it. There is no way of positively knowing its link. It would be subjective to know what Tener (or predecessors of) did to all the documents once in his/their possession, as this one in question could have been sent to an umpire, executive or even a collector. In review: I must state mentioned so that the potential buyer understands this letter can be resold to a dealer or collector, but not necessarily to a big name auction house, unless the HOF gives their permission. I do not know if the HOF has changed their stance since three years ago.”
The seller ended the sale yesterday and the eBay site says it is no longer available.
Hauls of Shame will post updates on the Hall of Fame responses to our FOIA request as soon as we receive answers from the office of President Jeff Idelson.
UPDATE (Oct. 9, 2014): Huggins & Scott Removes Photo Stolen From Hall of Fame While Cooperstown Police Investigate; Museum Officials & President Jeff Idelson Fail To Respond To Freedom Of Information Act Request
Huggins & Scott Auctions removed the stolen 1909 Pittsburgh Pirate photograph from its current sale while the Cooperstown Police Department investigates the details of the crime that was committed sometime between 1986 and 1994. The exact same 1909 image was photographed at the Baseball Hall of Fame in the National Baseball Library in 1985 and appeared with a credit in a 1986 SABR publication with an ownership credit to the NBL. The consignor of the stolen photograph, Michael Calvello, did not end the auction himself to pursue a reimbursement of the $3,500 from the individual he bought the tainted artifact from this past July.
A source familiar with Hall of Fame operations is not surprised with the Hall of Fame’s failure to respond to Hauls of Shame’s FOIA request for documents related to the donation and theft of the 1909 Pittsburgh photograph which appears to have been donated by Hall of Famer Fred C. Clarke. The source told us, “Jeff Idelson is not pulling any strings over at the Hall, it is all Jane Clark’s operation. The buck stops with her. She thinks she is above the law and can get away with her cover-ups of these thefts. She thinks she is untouchable.”
Jane Forbes Clark is the Chairman of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the sole heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune. She is considered one of the wealthiest women in the world and hails from the family that founded the Hall of Fame in the mid-1930s. Her late grandfather, Stephen Carlton Clark, was recently in the news regarding other stolen artifacts in a lawsuit alleging that he knowingly purchased (from the now defunct Knoedler Galleries) a Van Gogh painting, The Night Cafe, that had been stolen from a Russian family during the Bolshevik Revolution. Clark had bequeathed the painting, valued at close to $150 million, to Yale University which was sued by a relative of the Russian family trying to recover the plundered masterpiece. A Federal Judge in Connecticut recently ruled that Yale could keep the painting that was wrongfully seized from the Russian family.
The Clark family and the Hall of Fame do not own any of the artifacts housed in its museum and library collections as all donated materials are the property of New York State. The removal of the stolen 1909 Pirate photograph from the Huggins & Scott sale was not initiated by the Hall of Fame which has failed to pursue recovery of stolen items in accordance with state law.