Feb. 28, 2011
At a Sotheby’s auction in September of 1999, a Red Sox fan from the Boston area purchased what he thought was the jersey of the team’s greatest all-time third baseman, Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins. The Sotheby’s catalogue for the Barry Halper Collection described the jersey as a “Circa 1907 Jimmy Collins Boston Americans Home jersey.”
The Sotheby’s lot description added that the Gothic letters, “B” and “A” were affixed on the right and left breast of the shirt. Accompanying the auction catalogue write-up was a photo illustrating that the “BA” emblem on the jersey was red. Sotheby’s was correct in calling it a “Boston Americans” jersey because the franchise did not become the “Red Sox” until owner John I. Taylor made that decision in late 1907.
On December 19, 1907, a Boston Globe headline read: “TO BE KNOWN AS RED SOX; PRES TAYLOR SUGGESTS A NAME; UNIFORMS ORDERED…” From the time of the teams inception in 1901, the Boston Americans official team color was blue, as indicated in Mark Okkonen’s uniform compendium Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century. Taylor’s decision, published in the Globe, caused quite a stir as it was the first time his club would be wearing “red stockings” like the original National League teams in Boston dating back to 1876.
Okkonen’s research determined that during the 1907 season Boston’s National League club, at the behest of their new owner George Dovey, discarded their traditional reds and wore a home uniform with a maroon “B” on the chest and a road uniform featuring an Old English “B” in blue, with fine green pin-striping. Okkonen concluded that the Boston Americans, “seized the opportunity to use RED in their uniform designs for 1908 since no other American League club was so identified.” (In 1908, Dovey returned to red uniforms).
For 1908, the newly dubbed “Red Sox” officially carried on the Boston tradition when their “new traveling uniforms,” made by Wright & Ditson, arrived at spring training in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on March 20th. It was the first time the American League club ever sported “red” and a prominent red sock emblazoned with “B-O-S-T-O-N” in grey felt. Tim Murnane of the Globe wrote, “The players will be out 24 strong tomorrow in the new rig, including their red stockings.” The next day Murnane also wrote: “The new uniforms of gray and bright red stockings were very attractive this afternoon.”
This would all be fine in regard to the Jimmy Collins jersey sold at Sotheby’s for $26,450, but for one reason: Boston traded Jimmy Collins to Philadelphia on June 7, 1907. That was six months before Boston even became the “Red Sox” and ordered their new red uniforms from Wright & Ditson. It’s impossible for Collins to have worn a red-themed Boston Americans uniform and even if the Boston club ordered a red ”BA” style uniform for 1908, it would also be impossible for there to be a surviving example attributed to Jimmy Collins.
It’s yet more proof supporting the conclusion that the Collins jersey is another elaborate forgery from the Barry Halper collection.
(Surviving photos from early spring training in 1908 show the Boston team dressed in a “BA” style uniform, before the delivery of the new Wright & Ditson’s featuring the “red sock.” These appear to be holdovers from 1902 or, perhaps, a later version. We have not found evidence of the “BA” style being worn during any season other than 1902. Surviving photos also show the “BA” style being worn in spring training during 1909.)
Examination of Halper’s alleged 1907 Collins jersey suggests it was a period garment that was altered to add the Boston insignia and maker labels, sometime in the 1980s. (Halper’s alleged Cy Young jersey with the same red “BA” insignia appeared in a 1985 Sporting News feature story by Bill Madden.) It appears that the forger was unaware of the fact that the Boston team wore only blue through 1907. The basis for the forgery could have been tobacco and candy cards created between 1908 and 1911, which illustrate the “BA” style of Boston uniform in red. The artists for the card manufacturers colored Carl Horner studio photographs originally shot between 1902 and 1906, when the uniforms were blue. By the time the cards were produced the Boston Americans had already become the “Red Sox,” thus we see the red “BA” insignia on the cards, just like the one on the bogus Jimmy Collins jersey sold by Sotheby’s.
Back in 2009, the purchaser of the Collins jersey contacted Rob Lifson, president of Robert Edward Auctions, and expressed interest in consigning the jersey to one of Lifson’s auctions. Lifson, Sotheby’s head consultant for the Halper Auction in 1999, then told the owner that any uniforms included in his sales had to be approved by the authentication company MEARS of South Milwaukee, Wisconsin. So, the owner of Halper’s Jimmy Collins jersey submitted it to MEARS and the garment was thoroughly examined by uniform expert Dave Grob.
Grob’s report indicated a host of problems with the Collins jersey ranging from irregularities in the construction, alignment and placement of the Gothic “BA” lettering, as well as significant evidence that the Wright & Ditson manufacturers tagging on the jersey was not original to the garment and had likely been added at a later time. Grob’s final analysis in June of 2009 was that he could not authenticate the jersey and his report was made available on the MEARS website. Later, in 2010, after learning about a similar Halper jersey attributed to Cy Young, Grob wrote an article for Haulsofshame.com, stating his belief that both jerseys were likely forgeries.
The Sotheby’s catalogue indicates that Grey Flannel “authenticated all uniforms and apparel” sold in the Halper sale, including the 1907 Collins jersey. Grey Flannel, located in Westhampton, Long Island, states on their company website that, “In 1998 Grey Flannel was hired by Sotheby’s to authenticate the uniform collection of Barry Halper. Mr. Halper’s collection rivaled that of the Baseball Hall of Fame in scope and was offered in auction during the early part of the summer of 1999.”
In the 1999 Sotheby’s catalogue, Grey Flannel indicated they had worked with the Hall of Fame while authenticating Halper’s uniform holdings and made a point to extend their thanks to the Baseball Hall of Fame Library for, ”their time and effort assisting in our research as it proved to be invaluable.”
In late 2010, the Hall of Fame admitted that jerseys in their collection purchased from Halper of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and Mickey Mantle were million-dollar fakes and part of a 1998 deal between the Hall, Halper and Major League Baseball. The Hall confirmed that testing conducted on Halper’s Jackson jersey revealed that its felt “S-o-x” logo was acrylic and the fibers used to adhere the emblem to the jersey were polyester. Both of those substances were introduced in the 1940s and 50s, decades after Jackson played. Halper said he purchased the jersey from Jackson’s widow in the 1950s, but in 1985 gave a conflicting story to The Sporting News, stating the jersey was a “recent acquisition” from “Jackson relatives.”
Grey Flannel’s current website still includes a testimonial given by the late Barry Halper, himself, who said: “I have known Grey Flannel for many, many years. Nobody has studied their craft any harder than Grey Flannel. They are the finest authenticators of uniforms in the hobby today. Their knowledge and integrity are indisputable.”
Several months after MEARS informed the owner of Halper’s Collins jersey that it could not be authenticated, he decided to send the jersey to Grey Flannel for consignment to their auction, since they had already authenticated the jersey for Sotheby’s in 1999. Considering that prior authentication and the Halper testimonial on their company website, the response he got was disconcerting. In a letter dated January 25, 2010, Richard Russek, Grey Flannel’s president, informed the owner, “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. Things are quite different now than they were at that time and the climate with game used jerseys has completely changed.”
The owner of the Collins jersey, who furnished a copy of the Grey Flannel letter to us providing we would not reveal his identity, was astonished. The authenticator who originally certified his jersey for sale at Sotheby’s had now rejected it, citing “controversy” regarding the Halper uniform collection. Despite Russek’s assertion, Grey Flannel was still promoting their work for Sotheby’s on their company website and still claimed that Halper’s collection “rivaled that of the Baseball Hall of Fame.” The same Hall of Fame that accepted Halper fakes from ”Shoeless Joe” Jackson, Mickey Mantle and possibly others.
In addition, the buyer also confirmed that, although Sotheby’s stated in the catalogue that Grey Flannel authenticated all of the Halper uniforms in their sale, he never received with his purchase, an actual letter from Grey Flannel documenting their work. Auction houses refer to such documents as “Letters of Authenticity” (LOA’s) and include them with lots as documentation for the buyer and for future sales of the item. In a July 23, 1993 article that appeared in Sports Collectors Digest, writer Dan Schlossberg quoted Barry Halper, who claimed that he was the first to coin the phrase “Letter of Authenticity” in the hobby.
But since the Halper sale in 1999, many of the alleged “authentic” jerseys sold by Sotheby’s, and approved by Grey Flannel, have also been deemed forgeries by experts. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jerseys are now virtually worthless, including examples from Baseball Hall of Famers like, Wilbert Robinson, Hugie Jennings, Buck Ewing, “Iron Man” McGinnity, John McGraw and even more modern duds from stars like Reggie Jackson. Other 19th century jerseys Halper had boasted of owning, but did not appear in the Halper sale at Sotheby’s, have mysteriously vanished from the hobby. The whereabouts of alleged jerseys of Hall of Famers “Pud Galvin,” “Old Hoss” Radbourn, John Clarkson, “Wee Willie” Keeler” and a host others are unknown, although Sports Collectors Digest reported in 1998 that the Radbourn and Clarkson jerseys were donated to Cooperstown by Major League Baseball.
We contacted Richard Russek, president of Grey Flannel, for an explanation of the “controversy” indicated in his letter, as well as his company’s rejection of the jersey they originally authenticated for Sotheby’s, but Russek declined comment.
In 1999, Grey Flannel was retained by Sotheby’s and their lead consultant, Rob Lifson, president of Robert Edward Auctions. Lifson was a long-time Halper friend and associate , and the hand picked consultant chosen by Sotheby’s and Halper to oversee the entire Halper auction. Lifson’s auction house was using Grey Flannel as their own uniform evaluator as early as 1996.
Sotheby’s VP, Marsha Malinowski, was the in-house representative in charge of the Halper sale, so we asked her to explain Grey Flannel’s letter to their customer who spent $26,450 on Lot 38. Malinowski did not respond to email and several telephone inquiries to her office in New York City.
The Sotheby’s Halper catalogue indicates that the auction house guarantees the “provenance of memorabilia of historical interest, the value of which derives solely from its historical significance.” Sotheby’s also asserts that, “within five years from the date of the sale of a purchased lot,” the original purchaser can return an item of questionable authenticity. Over a decade after the Halper sale in 1999, the prospects of recovery from Sotheby’s for the buyer of the bogus jersey don’t look promising.
Sotheby’s is no stranger to allegations of defrauding customers. At the time of the Halper Auction in 1999, Marsha Malinowski was an “Acting Division Head” working under President and CEO Diana Brooks and Chairman Alfred Taubman. In 2002, both Brooks and Taubman were convicted by a federal judge for what the New York Times described as, “leading a six-year price-fixing scheme with rival Christie’s that swindled auction house customers out of more than $100 million.” It is not known if the investigation at that time uncovered any price-fixing in the Halper auction, which broke all records for the sale of baseball memorabilia.
The owner of Halper’s much-maligned Jimmy Collins jersey told us he is considering pursuing reimbursement from both Sotheby’s and the Halper estate. When Halper died in 2005, he was survived by his wife, Sharon Halper, who assumed control of Halper’s 2% ownership stake in the New York Yankees, and is currently one of the twenty-nine limited partners pictured in last seasons team yearbook as the ”2010 Yankees Family.”
Says the unlucky owner of Halper’s bogus offering, “Bidding with Sotheby’s I thought I was buying a real piece of baseball history from a guy who was known as the most famous collector of all-time and an owner of the Yankees. I’m not a uniform expert, so I also relied on Sotheby’s name and Grey Flannel’s authentication.”
For now, he’s in the hole 26-grand with a worthless piece of flannel on his hands. He’s hoping one of the players in this mess will step up to the plate and do the right thing.