Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash

July 23, 2015

Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, removed a valuable 1869 Red Stockings Peck & Snyder trade card from its upcoming sale at next weeks National Convention after Hauls of Shame published a report showing that the card was stolen from the New York Public Library’s famous Spalding Collection. The card, owned by Net54 moderator Leon Luckey, was purchased at a 2000 MastroNet auction conducted by partners Bill Mastro and Rob Lifson and represents only one of several copies of the same card that have made their way out the front door of the Fifth Avenue branch of the library.

Luckey recently locked a thread about the scandal on his collector internet forum as members were highly critical of his conduct in offering the card for sale while knowing it was suspected to have been stolen from the library.  Based upon Heritage’s lot description, which mentions that the card shows evidence of a stamp on the reverse, it is clear that both Luckey and Heritage were aware that the card was very likely stolen property, yet failed to inform prospective auction bidders.  In fact, one source familiar with the FBI investigation into the provenance of the card told Hauls of Shame that Luckey was actually informed that the card was stolen when it was returned to him at the convention last year.

Leon Luckey posted a high resolution scan of the back of his 1869 P&S card from 2007 to 2010 (left) but intentionally reduced the resolution by at least 30% in 2010 (right). The reduction in the image quality made it impossible to identify the remnants of the NYPL ownership stamp.

In addition, Hauls of Shame has uncovered evidence which shows that Luckey also removed high-resolution scans of the back of his card from his website in May of 2010 after we published several follow-up articles about the NYPL thefts first highlighted in the New York Times in July in 2009. Luckey reduced the resolution by at least 30% rendering it nearly impossible to identify the NYPL ownership stamp on the reverse.

Heritage’s removal of the card made national news when the New York Daily News reported that the “FBI is working with NYPL officials to determine if (the) rare 1869 trade card that had been offered by the Texas auction house was stolen from the library’s  Spalding Collection decades ago.”  Daily News reporter Michael O’Keeffe failed to acknowledge that Hauls of Shame broke the story first based upon visual evidence posted in our last report. O’Keeffe also quoted Heritage’s Chris Ivy as saying, “Heritage Auctions has no interest in selling stolen material.” Heritage has previously removed two other items stolen from the NYPL, an 1879 player contract of Ezra Sutton and an 1894 season pass which once belonged to baseball pioneer Henry Chadwick.

The 1869 card removed from the Heritage sale was sold to Luckey by Mastro and Lifson in 2000 but it was also sold previously by Lifson in another Robert Edward Auctions sale in 1997.  O’Keeffe and the Daily News failed to report that fact and that they had published an article in 2009 about the NYPL thefts in which Lifson lied to O’Keeffe and stated he never stole materials from the NYPL collection. Lifson, however, later admitted on SI.com that he had been caught stealing from the Spalding Collection when he was a student the Wharton School of Business at UPenn.  Lifson also oversaw the sale of scores of other stolen items from the NYPL when he acted as the consultant to Sotheby’s 1999 Barry Halper Collection sale. Lifson was a long-time supplier and a close confidant of Halper who has also been accused of masterminding the NYPL heist in the 1970s.

Halper, the deceased former New York Yankee partner, was also a close friend of New York Daily News reporter Bill Madden who acted as his personal PR representative and published dozens of articles and personal profiles of the collector spanning from the 1970s through 1999 when Halper sold a portion of his collection to MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame for $8 million. Several million dollars of that material, however, including a jersey and bat attributed to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, were exposed as fakes by Hauls of Shame in 2010, and since that time Madden, O’Keeffe and editor Teri Thompson have protected both the deceased Halper and his associate Lifson. O’Keeffe even published an article recently lauding the disgraced Halper as a collecting inspiration for Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson.

Bill Madden revealed Halper's ownership of the stolen Harry Wright correspondence in his 1977 TSN column and the KC Star reported that Halper allegedly paid $3 for his 1869 Reds Peck & Snyder card (inset right).

Madden wrote about Barry Halper’s ownership of a framed 1869 Red Stocking photograph in a 1977 Sporting News article that also identified Halper as the owner of the Harry Wright Correspondence Collection which had been stolen from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection. Three large scrapbook volumes filled with thousands of letters addressed to Wright vanished from the library and ended up in Halper’s possession in 1977 as evidenced in Madden’s report. Six years later in 1983, an article published in the Kansas City Star highlighted Halper’s Peck & Snyder card and quoted him stating how he allegedly acquired his copy of the card.  The Star stated, “Halper paid $3 for the first baseball card ever printed, a picture of professional baseball’s first team–the Cincinnati Red Stockings.”  Said Halper, “It was just sitting there at an antique sale.  I don’t think there’s another one. It may be  worth more than $10,000 today.”  Halper also told the writer, “I try to get what I want.”

By 1983 there were only a few documented examples of the rare 1869 Reds card known to exist and two of them belonged to Rob Lifson’s top clients Halper and George Lyons. Lyons revealed his 1979 acquisition of the card in his Trader Speaks column along with a rare 1873 Victoria card of the Boston Red Stockings which is also believed to have been stolen from the Spalding Collection. Lyons’ acquisition of both cards took place just months before Rob Lifson was apprehended stealing items from the NYPL. A third Peck & Snyder card was offered for sale in a Trader Speaks auction in 1980 by New Jersey dealer Rick Barudin who claimed that the card was one of “only 7 known to exist.” That card re-appeared for sale in a 1995 Bill Mastro “Best of Yesterday” auction published in Sports Collectors Digest. Oddly enough, Mastro notes in his lot description that the back of the card had “some deliberate places of unexplained wear.”

The NYPL currently has four Peck & Snyder trade cards of the 1869 Reds. 1.) Pasted in Harry Wright's scrapbook. 2.) Recovered by FBI c. 2009 with no visible stamp on the reverse. 3.) A trimmed copy pasted into Henry Chadwick's scrapbook. 4.) A trimmed copy with no visible NYPL stamp on the reverse which appears on the NYPL website.

Back in 1985, dealer Lew Lipset claimed in his Old Judge newsletter that he had knowledge of “10 to 12″ existing 1869 Reds cards. Today there are approximately 35 copies of the Peck & Snyder Red Stocking trade card known to exist and the New York Public Library currently has four examples in their possession. The library once had at least seven copies in its collection including three examples that were stolen, one of which being the Heritage auction lot in Leon Luckey’s possession.  The second stolen copy was removed from a Legendary auction in 2012 and is currently in the possession of dealer JC Clarke.  The third stolen copy has never surfaced publicly since it was credited to the NYPL in the 1960 book Baseball: The Early Years by Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills. The library also recovered another stolen copy via the FBI in 2009, but prior sales of that example are unknown.

This NYPL copy of the 1869 Reds card was documented as library property in the 1960 book Baseball: The Early Years ny the Seymours. The card has never surfaced publicly since the book was published in 1960.

The example that was withdrawn from Legendary Auctions at the 2012 National Convention was traced back to the estate of a deceased post card collector from New York City. As reported in our last article, Leon Luckey’s card can be traced back to Lifson’s 1997 Robert Edward Auctions sale and a Christie’s sale in 1996. Lifson’s 1997 lot description made no mention of the ink spots on the back of the card and called it “one of the finest examples of this great rarity known to exist.” When the same card was offered at Christie’s in September of 1996 it did not sell as bidders failed to meet the high reserve price.

A source with intimate knowledge of the Barry Halper collection back in 1996 tells Hauls of Shame he believes Halper consigned the 1869 Reds card to his friend Don Flanagan, at Christie’s, and then after it failed to sell consigned it to Lifson’s sale in 1997.  In that same REA sale, Halper also consigned his most prized possession, the uniform Lou Gehrig wore when he made his “Luckiest Man” speech at Yankee Stadium.  Lifson, however, made no reference to Halper’s ownership of the uniform in his lot description. In the mid-1990s Halper sold many choice items in his collection after his family business, Halper Brothers Paper Products, went bankrupt and he was embroiled in litigation with his cousins who owned the company with him. Halper claimed to have acquired the Gehrig uniform directly from the slugger’s widow in her apartment but, as will be revealed in our upcoming book The Madoff of Memorabilia, Halper’s acquisition story was a total fabrication.

In 1999 Halper sold a different 1869 Reds Peck & Snyder card when Lifson worked as the special consultant to Sotheby’s for the Halper Collection sale.  That example of the card is also under suspicion as being stolen from the NYPL and in the Sotheby’s catalog Lifson did not show an image of (or describe the condition of) the back of the card which sold for $9,775.

The stolen 1869 Reds trade card appeared in REAs 1997 sale (top left) after it failed to sell in a 1996 Christie's auction (top right). A source claims that Barry Halper consigned the card to his friends Don Flanagan (bottom left) and Rob Lifson (center). Current owner Leon Luckey (bottom right) is left holding a very expensive bag.

If Leon Luckey’s card traces back directly to both Halper and Lifson, it will represent more damaging evidence suggesting that both men worked together to rob millions in treasures from the NYPL collection in the 1970s.  Our source added, “Why doesn’t Luckey demand that Lifson produce the consignment records for that 1997 lot?  REA doesn’t destroy bidder and consignor records, so it should take only seconds for Lifson to show that Halper did or did not consign that stolen item to REA.  Lifson admitting to selling Halper the card in the first place is another story. Good luck with that.”

Net54 members that have been very critical of Luckey’s actions in selling the stolen card feel as if they’ve been censored by their moderator and have let him know as much in the comments section of our previous report.  Very few of the Net54 members, however, have mentioned Lifson’s name and his well known past as the only library thief ever apprehended in the act at the 5th Avenue branch of the NYPL.  One Net54 member told us, “They are all afraid of getting banned from his auctions or being harassed by his lawyers.”  Another Net54 member came to Luckey’s defense telling us, “Compared to Lifson Leon is a saint.  He didn’t rob the NYPL and he’s an amateur compared to Lifson in terms of having doctored and altered baseball cards during his career as a dealer.”

The NYPL did not respond to our inquiry asking for an update on the status of the recovery of Luckey’s stolen card.  Sources indicate that the card is still in the Net54 moderator’s possession.  The NYPL also failed to respond to our inquiry asking to explain why they had recently filed a lawsuit and were pursuing criminal prosecution against a woman who tried to sell a Benjamin Franklin manuscript stolen from the library.

In the comments section of our last report Harry Wright’s great-great granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, expressed her family’s dismay with the NYPL scandal stating:

“How “lucky” for Mr. Luckey that he can count on profits from these stolen goods to send his children to college while most of the rest of us have to work hard at earning an honest living and our children have to take out loans to do the same. And some these artifacts at one point belonged to my ancestor, Harry Wright. Too bad they ended up at they NYPL only to be stolen for some criminals and an auction house with no integrity to benefit from. Even if my family had them in our possession, they would not end up at auction so I could pay for my own children’s college! These items belong in, and were intended to remain in the public eye for all to see and learn about. They are a part of American History. Too bad my great-great grandfather didn’t pass them along to family to care for. I am sure he felt he was preserving important baseball history by doing what he did. It is a beyond shameful what can happen to the intentions of such an honorable man!”

Keep an eye out for our upcoming “NYPL Hot 100 List” featuring the top 100 artifacts stolen from the Spalding Collection (Leon Luckey’s stolen card is in the Top 10). If you have additional information about Luckey’s stolen Peck & Snyder card or any others stolen from the NYPL please contact us at: tips@haulsofshame.com


21 Comments »

  1. Wow, Leon engaged in a cover-up to hide the stamp on the back of the card? You mean an unemployed, convicted drug dealer would do such a thing? And he lied about what the FBI told him about the card so that he could sell stolen property? Well, I’ll just wait patiently white he posts the findings from his “investigation” about the card.

    And why is it that Leon calls three respected collectors “vile prick,” “idiot” and “liar” when he’s the only one of the four who’ has ever been accused of hobby fraud, is the only one of the four with a criminal conviction and rhe only one without a job?

    Comment by David — July 23, 2015 @ 9:03 am

  2. I’m glad to see that sometimes the FBI actually pays attention to your revelations so that they have some effect.

    Comment by Dorothy Seymour Mills — July 23, 2015 @ 10:14 am

  3. is anyone getting arrested? are they still in business? ANSWER IS YES!

    Comment by vic franklin — July 23, 2015 @ 11:12 am

  4. I’ve collected sports memorabilia since the 70’s and its amazing how corrupt this hobby has been, from these clowns to the operation bullpen mess in the 90’s, and I’m sure there’s much more we don’t even know about. This was a fun hobby but now its all about greed and its full of crooks, conmen, and thieves.

    Comment by Joe — July 23, 2015 @ 12:09 pm

  5. Unemployed? Don’t be fooled, Net54 is not a charity forum owned and moderated by Leon. He makes a modest living off the site revenue!

    Comment by Barry — July 23, 2015 @ 1:01 pm

  6. I have every auction catalog from as far back when the hoppy was starting to take off thanks to Mickey Mantle and has I thumb threw some of the Mastro catalogs I just wonder how much bogus items they were auctioning off way back when. It a shame, truely a shame that no wonder kids dont collect anymore.

    Comment by Kenny Oneal — July 23, 2015 @ 4:38 pm

  7. Discussing Leon’s involvement is censored on Net54 and censored on PSA Collectors Forum… Hmmm….

    Comment by Bill — July 23, 2015 @ 7:29 pm

  8. As I follow Peter Nash’s “Hauls of Shame” column I mostly think of the pillaging of our history…because baseball history is not only baseball history. Several of my learned colleagues in SABR’s Nineteenth Century Committee have pointed out to me that the theft of historical baseball artifacts from our libraries, museums and other archives is just the tip of the iceberg, as this crime knows no subject boundaries. We are fortunate to get some sense of how our world of baseball historical research is being impacted by these losses. Now, consider all other disciplines of historical study along with the documents and artifacts which support such work. Perhaps, “Hauls of Shame” can serve as a prototype for a National or even International media linked data base to bring focus (and possible recovery of items) to a problem of immense proportion.

    Comment by Peter Mancuso — July 23, 2015 @ 10:42 pm

  9. It’s disturbing that the library has items withdrawn from auctions and then appears to never follow up with any real action taken. Now all of a sudden no comment from them? I tried to find any new reports on that Ben Franklin theft but I could only find the articles first published

    Comment by Howard M — July 24, 2015 @ 3:21 pm

  10. I did nothing wrong. I just bought a baseball card.

    Comment by Emperor with no clothes — July 24, 2015 @ 4:12 pm

  11. Bringing up Leon’s conviction is stupid. Why? Everyone in this hobby has done far worse than Leon has ever done. This hobby is plagued with criminals that just haven’t been caught. It’s easy to pick on him (and I am no way saying he’s got a halo), but I am saying that there are far worse people out there and the National this week will showcase the scum of the scum behind booths. We complain, complain, complain about the hobby but until the government cares, all we can do is complain and the government needs to recognize that this is a serious problem.

    Comment by Ron — July 25, 2015 @ 12:29 pm

  12. So attempting to sell a stolen card from the NYPL to make a 90k profit (minus commission) doesn’t warrant jail time? Give me a break. This is why this BS fraud goes on. I hope the Feds make an big example of Leon Luckey to send waves through the collecting community. Maybe he can be put in a cell next to his buddy Mastro.

    Comment by Scott — July 25, 2015 @ 2:05 pm

  13. I say put Leon Luckey on the stand and let the beans start spilling!

    Comment by Brad W — July 25, 2015 @ 2:52 pm

  14. Maybe the Feds are waiting for The National.
    Many of the rotten eggs in one basket so to speak.
    Better call Saul.

    Comment by David — July 25, 2015 @ 4:03 pm

  15. “Everyone in this hobby has done far worse than Leon has ever done”, really? Ron your an idiot, you must be Leon’s Daddy.

    Comment by Pete Rose — July 25, 2015 @ 11:28 pm

  16. I’m hoping for a followup article on WHAT happens to the stolen 1869 card found to be in Luckey’s possession. If the NYPL doesn’t persue its return its a shame and slap in the face to the original donators intentions.

    Comment by George — July 26, 2015 @ 2:55 am

  17. Leon takes more heat on this — justifiably so — because unlike the numerous scumbags who will flock to Chicago for the Nationals this week, he owns a hobby message board on which he repeatedly boasts that he fights fraud in the hobby (more than 99.9 percent of other people, no less).

    So when the Gaped Crusader — who has the FBI on speed dial — repeatedly gets caught exhibiting unethical and unlawful behavior, then, yes, he’s going to be criticized.

    Leon always has wanted to have it both ways. He wants to say he fights fraud and then also benefit from fraud. He wants to sell ads on Net 54 but then say that he doesn’t protect advertisers (use the 54 search function to read what a joke this claim is).

    He has invited all of the harsh posts on this website because he decided to censor them on his own. Another brilliant move.

    Comment by Dan II — July 26, 2015 @ 10:44 am

  18. Leon likes to dish it out but can’t take it… I hope there is a followup to what happens to the stolen card and NYPL does pursue legal matters.

    Comment by Scott — July 27, 2015 @ 8:28 pm

  19. What is the latest? Has the card been returned to the NYPL? No arrest yet? The card needs to be retuned ASAP if it has not been.

    Comment by Library Supporter — July 31, 2015 @ 5:12 pm

  20. People on Leon’s message board started a thread which criticized him… He locked it. Someone later started a thread telling a story of how Leon threatened him at the National this week for talking bad about him on the thread… Leon replied by saying he had “no comment” and then later added something (when the new thread started picking up steam) to the effect of “can’t we get back to baseball card talk??” The chatter at the National was that a lot of people have lost a lot of faith and respect for him.

    Comment by Y.T. B.B.O.C. — August 4, 2015 @ 4:58 pm

  21. Y.T. B.B.O.C. get your facts straight, the locked thread was not about Leon, it was about the Mastro Sentencing Hearing……….. It just escalated from there.

    Comment by Jeff Burdick — August 8, 2015 @ 12:50 pm

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