Feb. 21, 2011
Earlier this month Baseball Hall of Fame officials allowed a New York auction house to sell off a letter suspected to have been stolen from the National Baseball Library’s famous August Herrmann Papers Collection. Hall officials did not request the auctioneer to stop the sale of the letter, addressed to Cincinnati Reds owner, August Herrmann, nor did they make a claim of ownership.
Instead, Hall of Fame spokesperson, Brad Horn, told Clean Sweep Auctions that they could not definitively determine if the document came from their collection, even though the Herrmann Papers archive includes over 45,000 documents that constitute what appears to be the entire personal and business correspondence of Herrmann from the turn-of-the-century through the late 1920s.
The Herrmann archive, stored for years in a room in the upper deck grandstand at Crosley Field until its donation in 1960, was always believed to encompass the entire holdings of Reds, Herrmann and National Commission files from the turn-of-the-century to the 1930s. No alternate source for Reds and Herrmann related documents has ever been established. Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen told The Sporting News in 1960: “This is the most valuable accumulation of baseball lore ever assembled in one place.”
This week another document suspected to have been removed from the Hall of Fame’s collection is being sold on EBAY; It’s a 1901 Promisory note executed by then-Cincinnati Reds owner John T. Brush, documenting a loan to the Cincinnati Base Ball Club:
The August Herrmann Papers archive at the National Baseball Library features similar financial documents related to the Reds franchise at the turn of the century.
This is one of the documents presently found in “Box 1″ of the Herrmann Papers collection:
And here is the 1901 Promisory Note signed by John T. Brush, currently being sold on EBAY for $717.65:
This note executed by Brush on August 15, 1902, just eight days before the specimen that is currently part of the Herrmann Papers archive in Cooperstown, was sold in 2008 by Robert Edward Auctions:
How could the August 23, 1902 document be part of the Hall of Fame collection, and the other two notes be up for sale in public auction? Can the Hall of Fame explain why they are not in the collection and can the sellers prove where the documents originated?
The Herrmann Archive was donated to the Hall by Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr. in 1960 and the National Baseball Library conserved and catalogued the entire Herrmann archive in 2005, thanks to a grant from the Yawkey Foundation. The library prepared a detailed guide describing the contents of each of the 150 boxes of documents in the collection and each box has its enclosed folders designated by name, date and subject.
Official business records and documents that appear should be part of the Herrmann papers archive have been sold at public auction over the past twenty years. This group of documents, sold at Mastro Auctions (depicted below), includes what they described as “Museum Quality Items.” The auction lot included: The 1902 resignation letter of John T. Brush; The Reds’ 1902 Articles of Incorporation; Reds’ Corporate Resolutions of 1902; Aug. Herrmann’s President’s reports; a 1907 Reds payroll sheet; and a trustee’s bank book and season pass lists for 1905 and 1906:
Below is page ten of the library’s Herrmann Papers Guide, which includes “Box 1.” The contents of this box include business records of the Cincinnati franchise dating back to 1877. There are seperate files devoted to “Sale of Cincinnati” and ”Purchase of the Club in 1902.”
Here is an excerpt from page ten of the Herrmann Papers Guide, dedicated to Box 1:
Based on the important documents included in these Hall of Fame files it is necessary for officials to explain why these additional documents are not currently found in the Herrmann Papers archive:
1. The Articles of Incorporation of the Cincinnati Reds Base Ball Club, sold at Mastro Auctions in 1998 and 2001, and at Wolfers Auctions in the early 1990s:
2. The check August Herrmann used to purchase the Cincinnati Reds from John T. Brush, sold at Robert Edward Auctions in 2008:
3. This 1909 payroll check to Frank Bancroft from August Herrmann was sold in a 2004 Mike Gutierrez Auction. Folder 6 of Box 1 in the Herrmann archive includes documents related to “Player Salaries 1909″:
4. This Cincinnati Red player payroll receipt was signed by future Yankee manager Miller J. Huggins. The Herrmann files feature folders related to “Player Saleries.” It appears the file for 1907 may be missing. This receipt sold at a Christies auction in 1994:
5. This August 16, 1902 letter written by John T. Brush to August Herrmann pertains to his resignation as Chairman of the Reds. It appears to have been stolen from the file that included all correspondence related to the sale in Box 1, Folder 3 of the Herrmann archive. This letter was sold by Mastro Auctions:
How can the previous letter from Brush be in the marketplace legitimately if a letter from Brush to Herrmann (below), written just weeks before, is presently found in the Hall of Fame’s Herrmann archive, “Box 1, Folder 3, (Sale of Cincinnati) June-October”:
Over the past several decades, documents both confirmed stolen and suspected stolen from the Herrmann papers archive have sold publicly and privately in the baseball collectibles marketplace. To date, neither the Hall of Fame, nor any seller of these documents has been able to establish a legitimate secondary source of August Herrmann’s personal papers. Based upon the many confirmed instances of theft from the National Baseball Library, it would appear the burden of proof would lie with the sellers of these suspect documents to prove where their documents originated. As a public trust and caretaker of donated materials, the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has a responsibility to pursue recovery of artifacts stolen from their collections.
How can the Baseball Hall of Fame properly determine what has been wrongfully removed from their great collection if they have not thoroughly investigated the issue themselves?
(Editor’s Note: The information regarding auction sales of items suspected to have originated from the Hall of Fame collection (not including the current EBAY offering) was presented to the Baseball Hall of Fame in October of 2009.)
Update: We have been informed that the present seller of the John Brush signed note on EBAY acquired it from another dealer who originally purchased the item from another EBAY auction in 2007.