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By Peter J. Nash

April 25, 2017

In 1921, the widow of Albert Goodwill Spalding donated his voluminous archive of baseball photographs, manuscripts and books to the Astor-Lenox and Tilden Foundation of the New York Public Library. Spalding assembled the collection in conjunction with his release of the 1911 book America’s National Game and it was comprised of his own personal papers and scrapbooks and the personal archives of baseball pioneers Harry Wright and Henry Chadwick.

Chadwick gave Spalding his baseball library in 1907 and a year later via his last will and testament, he bequeathed the remainder of the archive. Chadwick’s collection also included the records, score books and rule books of the pioneer Knickerbocker Base Ball Club which he acquired from former club president James Whyte Davis.

Harry Wright, in similar fashion, bequeathed his entire baseball archive to the National League in 1895 as part of his last will and testament where he noted specifically his wish for his baseball library to serve as “a nucleus or beginning of a historical collection” to preserve the history of the game. Spalding likely acquired the trove when he served as the National League President in 1902 and until his death in 1915 maintained Wright’s archive of photographs, scrapbooks, diaries, financial ledgers, correspondence, score books and rule books documenting Wright’s affiliations with the Cincinnati and Boston Red Stockings and the Philadelphia Nationals from 1868 through 1894.

(L to R) A.G. Spalding; Harry Wright; Henry Chadwick; Dorothy Seymour Mills; and John Thorn.

The Spalding Collection constituted the most significant holding of 19th century baseball artifacts and documents in existence and from 1922 through the 1970s the collection served as an important resource for historians like Charles Mears, Robert Henderson, Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills. Access to the collection also helped to establish the formal endeavor of baseball scholarship with Dr. Seymour’s 1955 dissertation at Cornell University and the release of the ground-breaking book Baseball: The Early Years published by Oxford in 1961.

In the early 1980s, members of the Society For American Baseball Research (SABR), including author and historian John Thorn, continued to utilize the Spalding Collection for research purposes and in 1983 Thorn spearheaded a campaign with SABR and The Sporting News to preserve and microfilm the manuscript materials.  In the course of microfilming the collection, however, Thorn realized that a significant number of manuscripts and scrapbooks were missing from the library’s Fifth Avenue Branch.  Three of the scrapbook volumes missing included the incoming correspondence of Harry Wright between 1868 and 1894 and included thousands of documents dealing with Wright’s day to day operations. The NYPL staff documented the missing manuscripts in a 1983 report and four years later they conducted another inventory of the Spalding photographs and discovered a large portion of that collection was missing as well.

Barry Halper owned thousands of items stolen from the NYPL and his dealer Rob Lifson was caught stealing at the NYPL in 1979. The New York Post published a 2013 report about the NYPLs failed recovery efforts.

Most all of the Spalding Collection artifacts were stolen in the mid to late 1970s as part of a well-orchestrated heist said to have been masterminded by late collector and Yankees minority partner Barry Halper and his associate Rob Lifson of Robert Edward Auctions. In 1977 Halper showed off his acquisition of Harry Wright’s correspondence collection to Bill Madden in his collectibles column published in The Sporting News and in 1979 Lifson was caught stealing a cache of rare CDV photos and cabinet cards in an incident that was reported in TIME Magazine.  From 1977 through 1999 the majority of stolen Spalding items were either sold by or in the possession of Lifson and Halper and Lifson’s other top customer, a stock broker named George Lyons. In 1999, Halper and Lifson sold scores of stolen items at Sotheby’s as Halper liquidated his entire collection. Although Lifson publicly denied having ever been caught stealing items from the Spalding Collection he confessed to SI.com in 2009 and admitted he was apprehended while “secreting” two 19th century photos at the NYPL.

In July of 2009, a group of letters removed from Harry Wright’s missing scrapbooks surfaced in an MLB All-Star Game auction conducted by Hunt Auctions.  The New York Times published three articles showing that historian Dorothy Seymour Mills had cited some of the letters in her own work and the letters were subsequently removed from the sale and turned over to the FBI as evidence in an on-going investigation into the 1970s heist.  To date, only a handful of items have been recovered by the FBI and returned to the NYPL, including a rare 1869 Red Stockings trade card that was returned by Net54 moderator Leon Luckey.

Hauls of Shame recently requested that the NYPL reveal which artifacts have actually been recovered by the institution, however, library official Angela Montefinise declined comment. Last year the NYPL also denied a FOIA request made by HOS for all internal library files regarding the collection and the thefts.   That being said, items stolen from the NYPL continue to appear in auctions and in private sales on the black market.  An 1884 Harry Wright signed telegram draft was offered in an SCP sale and one well known dealer has offered or sold a stolen Al Reach letter addressed to Harry Wright and a cabinet photo of A. G. Mills which still had remnants of the NYPL ownership stamp on its reverse .  Although SCP did not reveal it to bidders at the time, the NYPL claims that they contacted the auction house and the stolen item was pulled from the sale. It’s sad to say, but there is so much material missing from Spalding Collection that the rare signed Wright document (valued at $10,000) didn’t even make the list we’ve compiled and call the NYPL HOT 100:

The Top 100 Artifacts Stolen & Missing From The A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection & The Donated Archives Of Henry Chadwick & Harry Wright:

1.) 1846 score sheets from June 19, 1846 Knickerbocker BBC match vs. New Yorks; 2.) 1848 Knickerbocker BBC By-Laws and Rules.

1.) 1846 Knickerbocker Base Ball Club Score Sheets from June 19 match versus the New York Club. Long considered baseball’s 1st game before recent scholarship has unearthed earlier contests. These sheets were cut out of the NYPL Knick score books with a sharp object and were discovered missing by MLBs official historian John Thorn.

2.) 1848 Knickerbocker Base Ball Club By-Laws and Rules once owned by James Whyte Davis (along with the 1866 Knick BBC By-Laws and Rules) The 1848 By-Laws were originally sold to Barry Halper by Rob Lifson (although Halper lied to Connoisseur Magazine in 1990 and said a collector who had no idea what the booklet was “threw it in” to close a deal). In the 1990s Halper sold the By-Laws in a private sale brokered by Lifson to collector Corey R. Shanus.

3.) Harry Wright's Correspondence Scrapbook Vol. 1 1866-1877 (about 50 letters/documents removed from this volume appeared for sale in the 2009 MLB All Star Auction conducted by Hunt Auctions.

3.) Correspondence Scrapbook of Harry Wright Volume 1- 1868-1877. Many letters removed from this volume appeared in a 2009 Hunt Auctions/MLB auction. The FBI took possession of the letters and later returned them to the consignor who sold the entire group to an auction house owner. Each of the three missing Wright volumes are believed to have included over 1,500 documents.

4. Henry Chadwick's score sheets from the 1858 Fashion Course Matches that were found in the NYPLs Chadwick Scorebooks Vol. 20

4.) Henry Chadwick’s personal score-pages for the Fashion Course Matches of 1858-Removed from NYPL Chadwick Score Book Vol. 20. Brooklyn dealer Barry Sloate noted his “discovery” of these pages in VBBC in 1995 and sold them to collector Corey R. Shanus.

5 and 6.) Harry Wright Correspondence Scrapbook volumes 2 and 4. In 2009, the NY Times published articles showing that letters removed from these volumes were for sale in an MLB/Hunt auction.

5.) Harry Wright’s Correspondence Scrapbook 1884-1889. This missing volume once included several thousand letters, contracts, telegrams and other pieces of ephemera. Most all of these items ended up in the collection of NY Yankees minority owner Barry Halper.

6.) Harry Wright’s Correspondence Scrapbook 1889-1894. Many of the documents in this scrapbook were removed and sold off by collector Barry Halper.  The documents were scattered all over the country in various different collections.

7.) 1/2 of Henry Chadwick's score book Vol. 20- 1858-1859. Including Jim Creighton games with Star of Brooklyn.

7.) Half of Henry Chadwick’s personal score book volume from 1858 and 1859.  Also “discovered” by Brooklyn dealer Barry Sloate, this 1/2 volume is the companion to the NYPL’s Chadwick scrapbook vol. 20.  Sloate’s 1/2 volume even included the glossary for the entire volume including the sheets remaining at the 5th Avenue library branch.

8.) A. G. Spalding’s personal scrapbook spanning from 1868 to 1874.  This entire volume is believed to have contained original CDV and cabinet photographs, scorecards, letters, contracts and other priceless artifacts that have since been dismantled and sold on the black market of baseball artifacts.

9.) 1859 panoramic Photo of Knickerbocker and Excelsior Base Ball Clubs by Williamson, Brooklyn.

9.) 1859 Photograph of the Knickerbocker and Excelsior Baseball Clubs by Williamson. A letter at the Baseball Hall of Fame suggests that this photo was loaned to Cooperstown in 1938 but its whereabouts are currently unknown.

10.) Autographed Hastings cabinet photo of John Clarkson inscribed to Henry Chadwick.

10.) Autographed cabinet photograph of John Clarkson inscribed to Henry Chadwick. This cabinet photo was owned by Barry Halper and collector George Lyons and had the “Henry Chadwick” inscription removed to conceal its NYPL provenance.

11.) 1859 Knickerbocker Challenge Letter sent to the Eagle BBC from Knickerbocker Correspondence Scrapbook Vol 1. The letter shows evidence of beind ripped from another page and the jagged edges fit perfectly with the second page of the letter still pasted in the scrapbook at the NYPL.

11.) 1859 Knickerbocker Base Ball Club Challenge letter to the Eagle BBC.  This letter was sold at the 1999 Barry Halper sale and shows definitive evidence that the letter was wrongfully removed from the NYPL Knick Correspondence scrapbooks. The second page of the letter is still pasted in the Knick Scrapbook at the library.

11.) 1879 player contract of Ezra Sutton with Boston BBC, signed by Harry Wright. This contract was documented as NYPL property in letters sent to Dr. Harold Seymour in 1953 (inset). The contract was in the collection of Barry Halper and was hung on the wall in his office from 1977 to 1999 (inset left).

12.) Ezra Sutton’s 1879 Boston BBC player contract signed by Harry Wright.  This contract was sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 by Barry Halper but NYPL documents show it was taken from Harry Wright scrapbook volume number 2 and cited in Dr. Harold Seymour’s work. (Offered for sale by Heritage Auctions in 2011)

13.) 1858 CDV photograph of the Brooklyn Eckfords Base Ball Club

14.) 1861 CDV photograph of the Brooklyn Atlantics by Williamson

14.) 1858 CDV of the Eckford Base Ball Club of Brooklyn;15.) CDV of the Brooklyn Atlantics by Williamson

15.) 1887 Autographed Tintype Photograph of Tommy McCarthy (Sold by Lelands in 1993)

16.) 1887 Letter from Ed Delahanty to Harry Wright (Owned by Barry Halper and sold at Christie’s in 1994)

17.) Alexander Cartwright c 1890 cabinet photo by Tabor. (Sold after Barry Halper’s death by Rob Lifson and REA as a “unique” artifact)

15.) Tommy McCarthy autographed tintype photo; 16.) Ed Delahanty letter to Harry Wright 1887; 17.) Alexander Cartwright Tabor cabinet photo; 18.) 1874 autographed Harry Wright Warren cabinet.

18.) 1874 Harry Wright autographed Warren cabinet photograph (Sold by MastroNet/REA in 2000)

19.) Imperial photo of Brooklyn Atlantics “Champions 1864,65,66,68,70″

20.) 1875 letter presenting the Championship Pennant to the Boston BBC signed by Harry Wright and Morgan Bulkeley (Sold at Sotheby’s Halper Sale in 1999)

21.) 1874 4-page letter from A. G. Spalding to Harry Wright from England and Boston BBC and Phila. BBC World Tour (Sold by Mastro and Robert Edward Auctions)

20.) 1875 letter to Harry Wright presenting Boston the 1875 Pennant (documented as NYPL property in Dr. Seymour's research notes (center). 21.) 1874 AG Spalding letter to Harry Wright from World Tour in England.

22.) 1869-70 Peck & Snyder Trade Card of the Cincinnati Red Stockings. (Appears with NYPL credit in 1961 book by Dr. Seymour)

23.) Matthew Brady Imperial Photograph of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings

24.) Imperial Photograph of the 1860 Brooklyn Excelsiors

22.) 1869 Reds P&S trade card with credit in Seymour's "Early Years"; 23.)1869 Imperial cabinet photo of Red Stockings by Matthew Brady; 24.) Imperial cabinet photo of the 1860 Brooklyn Excelsiors (in wash)

25.) 1887 Kalamazoo Bat Cabinet Photo of Harry Wright

26.) Harry Wright’s membership certificate to the Cincinnati Red Stockings 1868 (Sold by Mastro Auctions)

27.) Harry Wright’s 1863 resignation letter from the Knickerbocker BBC

28.) 1866 Brooklyn Excelsiors By-Laws and Constitution

25.) 1887 Harry Wright Kalamazoo Bats cabinet; 26.) Harry Wright's signed 1868 Red Stocking Membership; 27.) 1866 Brooklyn Excelsiors By-Laws; 28.) Vandalism shows theft of Harry Wright's 1863 Knick resignation letter.

29.) 1873 Boston Red Stockings CDV/cabinet photo by Richardson (Sold by Rob Lifson and Mastro Auctions)

30.) 1870 CDV photograph of the Forest City BBC w/A.G. Spalding

31.) 1877 Jim Devlin letter to Harry Wright (Sold at Sotheby’s 1999 Halper Sale)

32.) 1872 George Wright autographed Warren CDV photograph (Sold by MastroNet/REA in 2000)

28 & 29.) 1873 Boston BBC CDV photo by Richardson; 30.) 1877 Jim Devlin letter to Harry Wright; 31.) 1872 autographed George Wright Warren CDV

33.) 1866 Knickerbocker BBC By-Laws and Constitution

34.) 1860 Star Base Ball Club response letter to Knickerbocker BBC challenge

35.) 1860 Brooklyn Excelsior BBC response letter to Knickerbocker BBC challenge

36.) 1874 A. G. Spalding Warren cabinet photo (Sold by Lelands in 2009)

34.) 1860 Star of Brooklyn Challenge Letter 35.) 1860 Excelsior BBC Challenge letter to Knickerbocker BBC 36.) Warren cabinet photo of A. G. Spalding

37.) 1874 Boston Red Stockings team cabinet photograph by Black (Sold by Mastro Auctions)

38.) 1879 Chicago White Stockings cabinet photo from California Tour

1874 Boston BBC cabinet photo by Black. 1879 Chicago White Stockings California Team

39.) 1877 Harry Wright autographed cabinet photograph by Randall (Owned by Barry Halper and sold by REA)

40.) 1869 CDV photo of the Forest City BBC

41.) Cap Anson 1888 Stevens cabinet photograph (Sold by George Lyons and Mike Gutierrez)

41.) Cap Anson cabinet photo by Stevens 42.) Harry Wright autographed cabinet photo by Randall

42.) 1889 Chicago All-Americans World Tour cabinet photograph

43.) 1887 Buffalo BBC cabinet photo with Frank Grant (Sold by MastrNet/REA in 2000)

44.) 1871 Mort Rogers Boston BBC score card of Harry Schafer (Sold by Lew Lipset)

45.) Harry Wright 1871 Warren CDV photograph (Sold at Sotheby’s 1999 Halper Sale)

46.) 1858 Knickerbocker challenge letter response from Hamilton BBC

47.) Charlie Pabor 1860 CDV photograph

48.) 1869 Imperial Photograph of the Forest City BBC

Harry Schafer 1871 Mort Rogers Score Card; 1860 Charlie Pabor CDV by Grotcloss; 48.) 1869 Imperial cabinet photo of the Forest City BBC w/Spalding

49.) 1859 Brooklyn Excelsior BBC response letter to Knickerbocker BBC challenge

50.) 1859 Star Base Ball Club response letter to Knickerbocker BBC challenge

51.) 1860 Knickerbocker BBC challenge letter to Excelsior BBC Muffins

52.) c.1860 Knickerbocker BBC challenge letter to Continental BBC

Challenge letters stolen from NYPL Knickerbocker BBC correspondence scrapbook (l to r): 1859 Excelsior to Knick; 1859 Star to Knick; 1869 Hamilton to Knick; Continental to Knick (still at NYPL).

53.) A.J. Reach autographed cabinet photograph by C. M. Gilbert (Sold by Wolfers and Mastro Auctions)

54.) George Wright 1874 Warren cabinet photograph

55.) 1875 Philadelphia Athletics cabinet photograph

56.) Ross Barnes autographed 1872 Warren CDV; 57.) Cal McVey autographed 1872 Warren CDV; 59.) 1875 Hartford BBC CDV w/Candy Cummings

56.) 1872 Ross Barnes autographed Warren CDV photograph (Sold by MastroNet /REA 2000)

57.) 1872 Cal McVey autographed Warren CDV photograph (Sold by MastroNet/REA 2000)

58.) 1866 Unions of Morrisania CDv photograph by Grotcloss

59.) 1875 CDV photo of Hartford BBC w/Candy Cummings (Sold by MastroNet/REA 2000)

60 & 61.) 1877 Jim Devlin Letters to Harry Wright (Offered by Hunt Auctions in 2009)

62.) 1868 letter to Harry Wright confirming election as “Honorary Member”  of the Cincinnati BBC (Offered by Hunt Auctions in 2009)

1877 Jim Devlin letter to Harry Wright documented as NYPL property in Dr. Harold Seymour's notes (center) Andrew Peck 1873 autographed cabinet photograph

63.) 1877 Contract of “Pop” Snyder signed by Snyder and Nick Young (Offered by Hunt Auctions in 2009)

64.) 1877 Boston BBC cabinet photograph

65.) Andrew Peck autographed cabinet photograph April 1873 (Owned by Barry Halper and sold by REA in 2007)

66.) 1886 Harry Wright cabinet photograph by MacIntire Studios (Owned by Barry Halper and sold at REA in 2007)

67.) Harry Wright 1889 handwritten letter to Ambrose (Sold at Sotheby’s 1999 Halper Sale)

68.) Harry Wright 1886 tintype photograph, Cape May, NJ (Sold by dealer Barry Sloate)

69.) Harry Wright legal documents and power of attorney (Sold at Sotheby’s 1999 Halper Sale)

70.) 1884 AG Mills letter to Harry Wright re: Rule Changes/Bases on Balls (Sold at Sotheby’s 1999 Halper Sale)

66.) Harry Wright cabinet photo by MacIntire; 67.) 1887 Harry Wright Letter; 68.) Harry Wright Tintype, Cape May NJ; 70.) 1884 AG Mills letter to Harry Wright

71.) 1880s Henry Chadwick studio portrait by Pearsall (Sold at Sotheby’s 1999 Halper Sale)

72.) A. G. Spalding inscribed and autographed page to Fred Thayer 1911 (Sold at Sotheby’s 1999 Halper Sale)

73.) 1877 letter from A. G. Spalding to Harry Wright (Owned by Barry Halper and Sold by Mike Gutierrez)

74.) 1875 Alfred Wright letter to Harry Wright re: standings of 1875 season (Offered by Hunt Auctions in 2009)

75.) Harry Wright CDV photograph by Petty, New Orleans

76.)  Harry Wright cabinet photo by Balch, Boston

Henry Chadwick cabinet photo by Pearsall; 1877 AG Spalding letter to Harry Wright; 1868 CDV photo of Harry Wright by; 1879 Balch of Boston cabinet photo of Harry Wright

77.) Nick Young 1888 autographed cabinet photo (Sold by Mike Gutierrez)

78.) Harry Wright tintype photograph by Heiss, Cape May NJ.

79.) Kalamazoo Bats cabinet photo of Jim Fogarty and McGuire

80.) 1891 Boston BBC mounted albumen photo on score card.

81.) 1887 albumen photograph “Brooklyn vs. St Louis-Washington Park Decoration Day”

82.) 1870 White Stockings CDV photo-card by Cannon, Poughkeepsie

83.) Deacon White 1872 Warren CDV photograph

Harry Wright tintype photo; 1887 Brooklyn vs. St. Louis panoramic photo; Deacon White CDV photo by Warren; 1891 Boston BBC photo on scorecard.

84.) Harry Wright account ledger page autographed (Sold by Huggins & Scott)

85.) Harry Wright account ledger volume page (Sold by Huggins & Scott)

86.) George Wright cabinet photograph buy McCormick, Boston (sold by MastroNet/REA 2000)

87.) 1888 Mickey Welch cabinet photograph by Stevens, Chicago

88.) 1859 copy of the Base Ball Players Pocket Companion

89.) Henry Chadwick’s 1894 NY Giants Season Pass (Offered by Heritage Auctions in 2012)

Signed ledger page from Harry Wright scrapbook; Signed page fragment from Harry Wright ledger book; 89. Henry Chadwick's 1894 NY Giant Season Pass

90.) Al Reach cabinet photograph portrait by Chillman Studios Phila. (Sold on eBay in 2011)

91.) Harry Wright handwritten letter draft (Owned by Barry Halper and sold by Wolfers Auctions)

92.) George Stallings 1889 4-page letter written to Harry Wright (Sold at REA 2009)

93.) 1887 Charlie Ferguson contract amendment signed by Harry Wright.(Sold at Sotheby’s 1999 Halper Sale)

94.) 1889 Al Reach letter to Harry Wright (Sold by Huggins & Scott)

90.) AJ Reach cabinet photo by Chillman, Phila.; 91.) 1887 Harry Wright letter draft; 94.) 1889 AJ Reach letter to Harry Wright

95.) 1894 John M. Ward cabinet photograph

96.) 1894 photographic program for banquet to Harry Wright

97.) Andy Leonard 1871 Mort Rogers Score Card (Sold by MastroNet/REA in 2000)

98.) A.G. Mills signed cabinet photo

99.) 1876 Ross Barnes cabinet photo inscribed to Henry Chadwick

100.) 1884 A.G. Spalding signed typed letter to Harry Wright re: player Gross transaction. (Sold by Hunt Auctions)

95.) John M. Ward 1894 cabinet photo; 1876 Ross Barnes cabinet photo; 1884 AG Spalding letter to Harry Wright re: player deal

As a result of  the 1970s heist, the NYPL’s A. G.  Spalding Collection has been significantly diminished and the NYPL has failed to recover scores of items residing in several private collections.


3 Comments »

  1. This is old news. No one cares about recovery of these items. This story is nothing new as you have told this story over and over on your site. We miss you and glad you are back after almost a year of not hearing from you. Stay strong and stay tough. You know that all the Major Auction houses you police hate you. Just keep on doing what you do.
    God Bless you

    Comment by Big Mike — April 26, 2017 @ 6:31 pm

  2. Follow the money.

    Comment by Mark Felt — May 2, 2017 @ 1:19 pm

  3. One’s dead and the other has a rep like Mastro. Those fans of 100’s in SCD by Mr. Mint say it all….it is all about the green. John Lennon’s files were looted by an go-fer, Yoko did nothing except the diary. Stealers need to be prosecuted.

    Comment by Mastronaut — May 10, 2017 @ 4:09 pm

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