Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash

April 23, 2015

(Scroll to bottom for Update):

Internet auction bidding has exceeded $1 million for what Robert Edward Auctions calls the “Oceanside Wagner,” a high-grade PSA-3 example of the famous T206 Honus Wagner tobacco card slated to be sold on Saturday. According to the auction house lot description, the card was “entirely unknown to the modern collecting world for nearly a century until it was discovered in the basement of an Oceanside, New York, home in 2008 alongside hundreds of other 1910-era tobacco cards.”

The rather scarce Wagner card, however, was actually discovered 16 years earlier in Rockville Centre, New York, in a Civil War-era children’s desk that once belonged to Frederick Tietz Jr., the only son of a silk importer who lived in a mansion in the Richmond Hill section of Queens.  The card’s only link to Oceanside is that Tietz’ grandson resides in that town and discovered the card in 1992 when moving the antique desk. In an interview last week Keith Pearsall told Hauls of Shame, “My grandfather was born in 1899 and as a kid collected all kinds of cards and the male relatives in the family doted on him and gave him cards from their cigarette packs. When I moved the desk, which had T-206 cards glued to its underside, a cigar box fell out and it was packed with almost an entire set of the T-206’s, including the Wagner.” Since the time the discovery was made public in 1993, Sports Collectors Digest dubbed the card “The Pearsall Wagner,” but the card could just as easily have been named “The Kid From Queens Wagner” or even “The Show ‘n Tell Wagner.” Says Pearsall, “I once let my daughter Deb take the Wagner into school for show and tell. What a commotion that caused.”

The 1918 draft card of Frederick Tietz Jr., the original owner of REAs "Oceanside Wagner." The $1 million card appears on FOX Business News 106 years after Tietz obtained the card in Richmond Hill, Queens.

Having re-named the same card the “Oceanside Wagner,” REA devotes space in its lot description explaining the phenomenon of identifying the 60 to 70 surviving copies of the hobby’s “holy grail” with names like the “The Jumbo Wagner” and “The Die-Cut Wagner.”  Of the phenomenon the auction house says:

“Every T206 Wagner naturally has a great story, sharing the Wagner legend that is now part of classic American folklore, and every Wagner also has an additional story relating to its provenance. Collectors have always been fascinated with all aspects of the history of Wagners: how they were discovered, where they have been purchased, when, for how much, where they have been, how they have happened to survive. Sometimes there are more questions than answers, and sometimes a Wagner is special in ways that no other examples share.”

But the naming of Wagner cards has also created some confusion as auction houses like REA have taken liberties to re-name Wagners previously identified or sold under different monikers. Another case in point is SCP Auctions’ recent offering of what they called the “Chesapeake Wagner,” a card that had already been named “The Cooperstown Wagner” by REA for a 1995 auction. That same card was also sold in 1993 at Nutmeg Auctions in Connecticut after the owners of a Cooperstown memorabilia shop named Mickey’s Place outbid ESPN broadcaster Keith Olbermann to take home the Wagner. That card was publicly displayed for two years in the store located less than one block from the Baseball Hall of Fame, thus giving it the name– “The Cooperstown Wagner.”

REA sold the "Cooperstown Wagner" in 1995 (left) but the same card was re-named and re-sold as the "Chesapeake Wagner" by SCP in 2014.

But despite the well-documented provenance of that card, SCP’s David Kohler, who actually purchased the “Cooperstown Wagner” from REA in 1995, never mentioned the previous sales and decided to re-name the Wagner to reflect the background of the card’s most recent owner (and SCP consignor) from Chesapeake, Virginia.  In doing so, SCP and Kohler buried a chapter of the Wagner card’s actual provenance in an attempt to make the card appear fresher to the market. Unlike paintings and fine art bolstered by detailed provenance records, the auctioneers selling the “Mona Lisa of Cards” rarely document the Wagner’s true chain of ownership.  It appears that REA is continuing this tradition by leading collectors to believe that the “Oceanside Wagner” was discovered in a basement in 2008.

The existence of REA’s current “Oceanside Wagner” was first made public in a 1993 issue of Sports Collectors Digest. The report published in SCD stated, “Another T-206 Honus Wagner card has surfaced in the hobby, this one in the New York area.”  The news came from Keith Pearsall who was representing his family after inheriting the collection of tobacco cards his grandfather had shown him in the 1960s. At the time of the 1993 report, SCD said the “Pearsall Wagner” was not for sale and that the family wanted to exhibit the treasure that could actually be traced back to its original owner.

The discovery of the "Pearsall Wagner" was reported in SCD in 1993 (left). In 2008, the card sold for $791,000 and was graded "VG 40" by SGC (center). The same card was re-graded "PSA-3" and is for sale at REA (right).

A decade later in 2004, an article was published in the Long Island Herald revealing how the Wagner card was originally discovered when “Pearsall and his sister, Susan Farrell, moved their grandfather’s belongings from their parents’ Rockville Centre home in 1992.” The tobacco cards were revealed when “an old box fell apart in Pearsall’s hands” and he recognized the famous Wagner card. Pearsall then took the Wagner to a local card shop owned by Norman Siegal who verified it was the real deal.

Realizing his grandfather’s card was extremely valuable, Pearsall sought out appraisals for his treasure from the Smithsonian, Christie’s, the Baseball Hall of Fame and even collector Barry Halper who inquired if the card was for sale. Pearsall even recalls speaking with dealer Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen and being offered $15,000 for the card despite the fact that Rosen told him it was a fake. In addition to being interviewed by SCD, mainstream media outlets like Bloomberg News and Charles Kuralt’s CBS radio show invited Pearsall on to talk about his discovery. According to the Herald report, Kuralt’s interview with Pearsall “was heard by a sick boy who, through the Baltimore-based Grant-A-Wish Foundation, asked to meet Pearsall and see his Wagner card.” Pearsall granted the sick boy his wish and told the Herald reporter, “The boy could have asked to have seen John Glenn or Ronald Reagan, and I work for the Town of Hempstead. I’m a civil servant, a regular guy, and I just happen to have hit the lottery in a unique form.”

Those first interviews and requests spurred Pearsall on to exhibit his card at fundraisers and charity events “to raise money for causes he supported.” According to Pearsall, his most memorable experience drew a large crowd for the Grant-A-Wish Foundation.   Pearsall said  ”1,000 people an hour came to view (the) Wagner card, including baseball greats Willie Mays and Jim Palmer.” Said Pearsall, “Willie Mays danced with my mother that night, and told me, ‘You know, I knew Honus Wagner.”

The “Pearsall Wagner” spent most of its time in Pearsall’s safe deposit box and according to the LI Herald article by Joseph Kellard,  his insurance carrier “require(d) that he routinely switch the card from one bank to another and that armed security accompany him to certain events — to display them for a cause in his hometown.” Pearsall’s interview with Kellard was even conducted inside a bank vault. Living in Oceanside, Pearsall and his Wagner participated in other local fundraisers and an article published in the LI Herald in 2004 estimated that the “Pearsall Wagner” was “worth possibly $1 million.”

Writer Joseph Kellard recalled his 2004 bank-vault interview with Keith Pearsall on Facebook (left). Antiques Roadshow appraiser Philip Weiss (center) sold collector Eric Brehm (right) the "Pearsall Wagner" for $791,000.

Four years after those fundraisers, the Pearsall family finally decided to consign the T-206 Wagner to Philip Weiss Auctions in their own backyard of Oceanside.  Auction house owner Philip Weiss, who also works as an appraiser on PBSAntiques Roadshow, knew the Pearsall family for decades and had even coached their son in Little League and Junior hockey. Weiss assured Pearsall he could sell the Wagner for a substantial price even though the auction was scheduled after Black Monday and the stock market crash of 2008. Despite those circumstances, Weiss came through for the family with some spirited bidding as evidenced on a video of the sale posted on YouTube. The video shows Pearsall and his wife rejoicing after Colorado collector Eric Brehm placed the last bid via phone for $700,000 (plus a $91,000 buyers premium). In it’s current lot description, REA does not identify the Pearsall family or Philip Weiss Auctions by name but does say that the Wagner was “carefully saved for generations in the family of the original owner (and) was presented as part of a New York-based estate auction.”

Auctioneer Philip Weiss (left) conducts the live sale for the "Pearsall Wagner" in 2008. Owner Keith Pearsall (right) sits in the audience as a bidder in the back of the room raises his paddle for a $600,000 bid.

Many owners selling their Wagner cards choose to remain anonymous in auction listings and REA makes no mention of Eric Brehm’s purchase of the card from Weiss in 2008. Brehm re-entered the hobby  in 2006, after a 20-year collecting hiatus, and focused on the T-206 set also known as “The Monster.”  Of the classic tobacco issue, Brehm told fellow collectors on Net54, ” It is to baseball card collecting what Mount Everest is to mountain climbing: it is there, it is big, it is beautiful, it is mysterious, it is the king of its domain, and it is very, very challenging. I can’t imagine I would ever be able to collect the whole set but it is fun to work on it anyhow — the journey in this case being perhaps more important than arriving at the summit.” Having acquired his Wagner in 2008, Brehm reached his personal Everest quickly and after owning the card for the past seven years stands to make a substantial profit on his original investment.

Several news outlets including the NY Daily NewsCBS and New Jersey’s Star Ledger have already repeated REA’s innacurate account of the Wagner card’s provenance but high-end collectors in the market for a Wagner card might want to pay particular attention to REA’s claims regarding the condition of the “Oceanside Wagner” against the existing population of Wagner cards.  REA says:

“The offered card is one of only four examples graded at this level by PSA with three additional VG examples graded by SGC. Only four examples grade higher (all by PSA): one NM-MT 8, one EX 5, one EX 5 (MC), and one VG-EX 4. By any measure, this is one of the highest-grade examples of the T206 Wagner in existence!”

REAs Brian Dwyer, appeared with the Wagner on ESPN’s Mint Condition calling the Wagner “one of the finest examples in existence” and claimed that “only four cards are rated higher.” REA and Dwyer may be accurate in respect to the Wagner cards graded by SGC and PSA, but they fail to reference the overall population of cards in relation to the “Oceanside Wagner” and go too far in stating the card is “one of the highest grade examples.” Hauls of Shame has documented images of at least 60 copies of genuine Wagner cards and of those examples there are at least (14) examples in better condition and (2) in at least the same condition as the card being sold by REA. ( T206Resource.com has an online gallery showing 43 examples of the Wagner card).

Wagners in better condition than "Oceanside Wagner" (bottom row in red): (Top Row l to r): 1.)The Met's Burdick Wagner; 2.) Baseball Hall of Fame ; 3.) Larry Fritsch; 4.) Jacobs-Mastro-Goode Wagner 5.) "Gelman-Shanus Wagner"; 6.) Unverified copy-1999 Mastro ad. (Second Row l to r) 7.) "The Jumbo Wagner" PSA-5 (MC); 8.) Scott Ireland's PSA-5; 9.)The trimmed "Gretzky-McNall Wagner" 10.) Frank Nagy SGC 40 VG; (Third Row l to r) 11.);"Miceli-Forman-Cohen Wagner" SGC VG-40; 12.) "MastroNet Wagner" PSA-3; 13.)The "McKie-Halper-Finkelstein-Goodwin Wagner" SGC VG-40; 14.) "Drier-Tull Wagner" PSA-4/SGC 50; (Bottom Row l to r) 15.) Sotheby's sale 1992; 16.) "1977 Trader Speaks Wagner" (w/Piedmont back); 17.) "1983 Beckett Guide Wagner"

The high-grade Wagners that outshine the REA example include museum pieces like Jefferson Burdick’s card at the Met and the Hall of Fame copy purchased from Barry Halper in 1998. Others are buried in prominent collections owned by Larry Fritsch’s family, New York collector Corey Shanus, a west coast collector who owns the Mastro-Goode Wagner, Vermont collector Scott Ireland (who owns a PSA-5) and a PSA 4/SGC 50 example owned by movie mogul Thomas Tull.

Three other SGC VG-40 examples of the Frank Nagy, Tom Miceli and Fred McKie Wagners join a PSA VG-3 card sold by MastroNet in 2000 to comprise a group of cards in comparable condition. In addition, an ungraded Wagner sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby’s in 1992; the “1977 Trader Speaks Wagner” (w/Piedmont back); and the “1983 Beckett Price Guide Wagner” all appear to be in better condition than REA’s Wagner which has a small crease. An argument could also be made that all of these cards mentioned are in better condition than the trimmed PSA-8 “Gretzky-McNall Wagner” which should be designated with the lowest “Altered/Authentic” grade.

In relation to the condition of other known “authentic” and lower grade Wagners, REA also states:

“Of the forty-six T206 Wagners listed on the combined PSA and SGC population reports (which may be a bit high as several examples have been crossed between the two companies over the years), twenty-three grade Poor or “Authentic,” one grades Fair, and eleven grade Good.”

This overview illustrates that the the “Oceanside/Pearsall Wagner” falls near the 25th percentile of known Wagners. That’s a far cry from being one of the finest condition Wagner cards in existence.  In terms of value, the current bid of approximately $1 million, appears to be where it should in relation to the most recent sales of cards graded higher. On ESPN’s Mint Condition REAs Brian Dwyer (who used to work as a card grader for SGC) said the auction house expects the card to bring $1.5 million or more. Dwyer also told the NY Daily News that the card would “appeal to guys not necessar(il)y in the hobby” and would be “attractive to guys who look at it as an investment.”  To date, only the trimmed-Mastro Wagner and the superior PSA-5 (MC) “Jumbo Wagner” have surpassed the $2 million mark.  The only other million dollar sales include the PSA-4 “Drier Wagner” which was sold to movie mogul Thomas Tull for about $1.5 million and the SGC VG-40 example which was sold by Goodwin & Co. in 2012 for $1,232,466.  Based upon those sales, it appears that anyone bidding over a million dollars for REA’s “Oceanside Wagner” could be overpaying to join the exclusive “Wagner Club.”

REAs Rob Lifson (left) and his partner Bill Mastro (center) defrauded Brian Seigel when they sold him the trimmed-PSA-8 "Gretzky-McNall Wagner" (right) in 2000. Back in 1996 at Christie's Lifson bid against Mastro and took home the fraudulent Wagner card for $651,500. Lifson said he was only bidding for his friend, Mike Gidwitz (right).

The last time REA sold a million-dollar Wagner was back in 2000 when the company was a subsidiary of MastroNet. REAs President, Rob Lifson, and his former partner Bill Mastro, made headlines selling the PSA-8 card for $1.26 million just fifteen years after they bought it from Allan Ray for $25,000. Both men have handled more Wagner cards than any other dealers or auctioneers in the industry and when Lifson opened REA in 1991, he said he’d already handled “eleven T206 Wagners” including the PSA-8 example. Lifson and REA identify that card in the current catalog as the “most valuable and famous” Wagner due to the fact it was later sold to Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick in 2007 for $2.8 million. Lifson and REA, however, do not identify that card as the highest graded Wagner with its PSA-8 designation because Mastro recently admitted in a plea agreement that he fraudulently trimmed the card to enhance its condition and value. The Federal Government indicted Mastro in 2012 for mail fraud and also for fraudulently promoting and advertising the trimmed Wagner card as the finest example known.

REA’s Rob Lifson also fraudulently promoted the trimmed Wagner when he and Mastro were partners at MastroNet in 2000. Lifson and Mastro together defrauded bidders and collector Brian Seigel who purchased the trimmed Wagner in the REA auction for $1.26 million. After the sale Seigel said he would not have purchased the card “without PSA’s seal of approval.” At the time of the sale, Lifson not only had full knowledge that Mastro had trimmed the Wagner, but sources claim that Lifson was also the majority owner of the card at the time of the sale having purchased the card at Christie’s in 1996 with his friend Michael Gidwitz for $641,000. Gidwitz has declined Hauls of Shame’s requests for comment about the claims regarding his ownership of the card with Lifson. Lifson and Mastro split three years after selling the fraudulent Wagner and in the years that followed Lifson was an informant against his ex-partner and was scheduled to appear as a Government witness in a trial that was scheduled for 2014. That trial, however, never occurred since all of the Mastro defendants accepted plea agreements and are currently awaiting sentencing in June.

PSA issued a press release rejoicing in REA's million dollar sale of the trimmed Wagner in 2000 (left). REA's Brian Dwyer (right) says the owner of the fraudulent Wagner, Ken Kendrick (center), could still turn a profit on his card.

Despite the well-known Wagner fraud linked to his boss, REA’s Brian Dwyer told NY Daily News reporter Michael O’Keeffe, “If Kendrick were to sell that (Wagner) card now, he would not lose money.” O’Keeffe, a Lifson associate who utilized the auctioneer as his primary source for his book, The Card, published an article about the REA offering last week and while he detailed Mastro’s trimming of the Wagner, he again made no mention of the part Lifson played in the fraud and added, “Dwyer doesn’t think Mastro’s admission matters.”

Other well-known hobbysists like ESPN’s Keith Olbermann think the admission does matter and have called the card a fraud while questioning the credibility of PSA for giving the “deceptively altered” card a high-grade. When Mastro accepted his plea deal Olbermann wrote that PSA had received “enormous publicity–and undeserved credibility for encasing the card in the first of its plastic slabs.”

Many collectors agree that if Kendrick’s Wagner was properly re-holdered as “Altered” and “Authentic” he would have little chance to ever recoup his original investment. Attorney and outspoken card collector Jeffrey Lichtman told us, “That card in an “A” holder would not sell for $2.8 million — the 8/Gretzky-McNall flip and holder is part of the iconic nature of the card.” But Lichtman doesn’t think that will ever happen adding, “I don’t think Kendrick has any such responsibility to turn the card in for an accurate flip — solely because it’s not required pursuant to the submission documents. And who would want their card put into an “A” holder from an 8? The card is obviously well enough known to be altered anyway, so it doesn’t make a difference.” Kendrick is on the record saying he doesn’t plan to sell any of his cards and intends to pass them on as “a legacy to (his) children.”

Collectors Universe removed any mention of the fraudulent PSA-8 Wagner from all annual reports and SEC filings after the Mastro indictments in 2012, but PSA currently features the trimmed card on its website’s “record breakers” page noting SCP’s private sale to Kendrick. Highlighting the incestuous relationship between PSA and auction houses, that page also features an advertisement and link for REA’s current auction.

The current PSA website features the $2.8 million Wagner trimmed by Bill Mastro on the "PSA Record Breakers" page along with an advertisement for Robert Edward Auction's current sale.

Several industry executives we spoke with believe that REA’s re-naming of the “Pearsall Wagner” and its presentation of an inaccurate provenance history is simply a matter of Rob Lifson not wanting to give recognition to a competitor and to create the impression that the card is “fresher to the market” than it really is. (Lifson also fails to mention he previously sold a $100,000 Ty Cobb T-206 card and a $30,000 Eddie Plank T-206 card which also appear in his current sale)  But the re-naming could also be the result of REAs desire to distance itself from the link that exists between the “Pearsall Wagner” and the Mastro-trimmed Wagner sold by REA in 2001.  In 2004, the Long Island Herald reported how the fame of that card contributed to Keith Pearsall realizing he had actually made the important discovery of his own “lottery ticket” back in 1992. The Herald reported that upon seeing the Wagner card, “Pearsall’s eyes grew larger as he recalled reading that hockey great Wayne Gretzky had purchased the same card a year before for $451,000.”

Twenty three years after he discovered his unaltered Wagner tucked away in his grandfather’s desk, Keith Pearsall is aware of Bill Mastro’s trimming of the other infamous Wagner card and his pending prison sentence for auction fraud. He says his grandfather wouldn’t have approved of trimming and altering cards for profit adding, “My granddad was the straightest shooter ever, he wouldn’t stand for any type of dishonesty.”  Pearsall also reflected on his Wagner journey and the hobby itself telling us, “Gretzky buying that card at Sotheby’s made it famous but I’m glad we had a friend like Phil Weiss sell our card for us. To tell you the truth, with all the fraud in that industry, I’m kinda glad we got rid of the Honus Wagner when we did.”

UPDATE (May 1, 2015): Wagner Doctor Bill Mastro Scheduled For Sentencing In Chicago On August 20th; REA Wagner Falls Short Of Company Expectations And Fetches $1.32 Million

Despite speculating that the “Pearsall-Oceanside Wagner” would sell for $1.5 million and even $2 million on FOX Business News, REA’s Brian Dwyer and Rob Lifson couldn’t coax any buyers to bid on the card during the last day of the auction on April 25th and it sold for a hammer price of $1.1 million.  With the buyers premium of 20% added on, an anonymous buyer snagged the card once owned by Frederick Tietz Jr. of Richmond Hill, Queens, for a total of $1.32 million.

The price realized was very close to the sum that the trimmed and fraudulent “Gretzky-McNall Wagner” sold for at Robert Edward Auctions in 2000 when Lifson and his ex-partner Bill Mastro sold the altered card to unsuspecting collector Brian Seigel for $1.26 million.  Just after REA closed out its 2015 Spring sale, a Federal Court Judge in Chicago announced this week that Bill Mastro is scheduled to be sentenced on August 20th.  Court papers reveal that the sentencing is being scheduled now because Mastro waived his rights to contest the Government’s calculations of losses suffered by his victims of auction fraud and shill-bidding. No date was given by Judge Ronald Guzman for the sentencing of Mastro’s co-defendants.


12 Comments »

  1. I don’t see why everybody has a problem with making pretty pictures to promote tobacco use.

    Comment by Joe Camel — April 23, 2015 @ 8:44 am

  2. Peter, I’m continually amazed at the due diligance you do. Knowing the pedigree of all these items, when they sold, for how much, and to whom (often with photos and original articles!). You’re an invaluable resource. Thank you for your efforts!

    Comment by jared kraus — April 23, 2015 @ 11:32 am

  3. I LOVE IT EVERY ARTICLE IS REA-MASTRO- SAME PEOPLE AND NOTHING GETS DONE. DONT U GET TIRED OF REPORTING THE SAME NAMES AND NOTHING HAPPENS- IT’S AN OLD STORY ALREADY-

    Comment by vic franklin — April 23, 2015 @ 2:00 pm

  4. I’d rather have the REA Pearsall Wagner rather than the cut up card created by Mastro. You’d think a guy in Kendrick’s position wouldnt want to pass on a fraud to his kids as a legacy. Oh wait, he’s an MLB owner, what was I thinking?

    Comment by Chris — April 23, 2015 @ 9:12 pm

  5. Can you imagine if Mr. Mint got away with it for 15K saying it was fake? He’d be in the Mastro house. I’m surprised he had it in a Long Island vault, the mob knocks out these vaults, try Park Avenue.

    Comment by Weezer — April 23, 2015 @ 9:35 pm

  6. You don’t mention if you reached out to Monsieur Mint for his recollections of offering $15K for a fake. Did you?

    Comment by Joe — April 23, 2015 @ 10:00 pm

  7. The Wagner is up to $1.1 million.

    Comment by Chris — April 24, 2015 @ 9:34 pm

  8. The Wagner didn’t get another bid on the final day of the auction and went for the hammer price of $1.1 million

    Comment by admin — April 26, 2015 @ 9:14 am

  9. They say the camera adds 10 lbs….that must explain why WAGNER #2 (Top left, 2nd from left HOF one?) , his face looks Fat….

    fake?

    Comment by Justin Brooks — April 27, 2015 @ 9:06 pm

  10. Maybe Wagner shared a meal with Kit Young and gained weight.

    Comment by Weezer — April 28, 2015 @ 2:41 pm

  11. 05-02-2015

    I worked and lived with the Larry Fritsch family for 12 weeks during the summer of 1974. Became friends with them all and hope to talk to Jeff Fritsch soon. I ended up
    in San Diego and kept in touch with Larry Fritsch for awhile. He was working a deal for $25,000 to buy a T-206 Honus Wagner in late 1974. He was trying to decide if he should do it. I told him, “go ahead and get a REAL one – someday you’ll be glad you did.” I heard from Larry a few weeks after he bought one. Good move on his part and I bet his family has it well tucked away. Roger Christensen

    Comment by Roger Christensen — May 2, 2015 @ 11:04 pm

  12. Highly energetic article, I liked that a lot. Will there be a part 2?

    Comment by www.lefery.com.hr — May 18, 2015 @ 10:09 am

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