May 3, 2011
James Spence Authentication (JSA) recently authenticated a Jack Johnson autograph on a trading card issued two years after the boxer’s death. They authenticated an alleged Harry Wright signature that was actually signed by a 19th century telegraph operator (the item was pulled from three different auctions). They even authenticated secretarial signatures of Presidents Warren Harding and Zachary Taylor as genuine. In addition, AutographAlert.com published an investigative report that exposed how the authentication company failed to authenticate a host of genuine items that they had previously certified as authentic.
And who can forget JSA’s authentication of a 19th-century letter alleged to have been written by Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty. Even though the auction house selling the letter in 2006 was presented with authentic exemplars of Delahanty’s signature and handwriting directly from Delahanty’s relatives and his biographer, Dr. Jerrold Casway, JSA went ahead and authenticated the document that was actually written in 1899 as a secretarial letter by Delahanty’s Phillies manager, Billy Shettsline. What’s more, the signature of Delahanty on the letter was even misspelled, D-E-L-E-H-A-N-T-Y. JSA didn’t even note in their LOA that the name was misspelled.
Unfortunately, a collector relying on JSA’s advertised expertise paid over $30,000 for the bogus letter and later consigned it to Robert Edward Auctions in 2009. At the time, experts informed REA of the problems with the letter, but the auction house didn’t withdraw it until Delahanty’s biographer, Dr. Jerrold Casway, produced period newspaper reports showing that Delahanty was in Cleveland on December 27, 1899. The letter JSA authenticated was written by manager Billy Shettsline in, “Philada(lphia), Pa. Dec. 27, 1899.”
In the last few weeks, Haulsofshame.com readers have identified a number of other questionable JSA authentications of Hall of Famer signatures featured in sales as the Spring baseball auction circuit swings into full gear. Browsing catalogues and websites packed with thousands of items available for consumers, an army of collectors may be unknowingly placing bids on forgeries of Hall of Famers with a false sense of security that what they are buying is authentic-simply because it comes with a letter of authenticity (LOA) from JSA. Our readers have recently made us aware that JSA has certified as authentic several questionable signatures alleged to have been penned by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Ty Cobb.
From EBAY to major auction houses, errors and mistakes abound, and a recent interview by Haulsofshame.com with an individual, who has spoken regularly with the FBI over the past year, indicates that James Spence and JSA have been the subject of complaints made to the the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The long-time autograph collector revealed to us correspondence brought to the attention of the Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, that illustrates the need for a full-investigation into the work executed by third-party authenticators, including JSA. Backlash against JSA and other third party authenticators has recently come to light thanks to the watchful eye of veteran dealers and collectors on Internet websites and forums like AutographAlert.com and Net54. Our source, urged collectors and dealers to report all suspect items authenticated by JSA to the New York office of the FBI at: email@example.com. Our source also suggests that anyone who feels they have been victimized by a JSA letter of authenticity should report their situation to the New Jersey Attorney General’s office Division of Consumer Affairs at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
HERE ARE THE TOP TEN QUESTIONABLE RUTH, GEHRIG AND COBB ITEMS RECENTLY AUTHENTICATED BY JSA. OUR READERS HAVE VOICED THEIR CONCERNS BY IDENTIFYING THESE ITEMS. WHAT’S YOUR OPINION?
1. Babe Ruth Cut Signature- on a 2006 ”Upper Deck Exquisite Dual Cuts” card offered in the 2011 Spring sale of Robert Edward Auctions. The card currently has a bid of $3,000. Addressing a post on Net54 by a collector known as “ruth-gehrig“ stating: “This has to be the worst “authentic” Babe Ruth signature out there,” REA president Rob Lifson posted this response:
We were aware that this was a strange looking Ruth. We’re not autograph experts, but I don’t think one has to be to look at this signature with skepticism. At best, we thought, it’s not the most beautiful Ruth signature, and is uncharacteristically sloppy; at worst, we thought, it’s not authentic. When it came in by mail we immediately contacted the consignor and expressed concern it might not be accepted even though it had apparently been authenticated by UDA’s authentication process.
The consignor then told us an interesting story: He told us that he originally had a different Upper Deck card with a Ruth signature but that the Ruth signature was not authentic. It was a stamped signature. So he went to Upper Deck with his complaint and they agreed that an error had been made and arranged for his problem Ruth signature card to be replaced. This is what it was replaced with. (I don’t know if his original card had only a Ruth signature, or if all they did was replace the Ruth signature in this card, I just can’t remember.)
On September 3, 2010, even before being evaluated in person, we sent an image of the card (front and back) to JSA with this message just in case it could be eliminated without even seeing it in person (we thought that might be the case), and if so, we could send it right back to the consignor. The text of our message read: “Is this good? It has such a strange look. It has an unusual history too – The guy that is sending this to us originally had a different Ruth-cut Upper Deck card that had a printed Ruth signature (it was a stamped sig) so they replaced it with this. Is this good?” JSA immediately responded in the affirmative that they do believe they remember certing this item. We later arranged for in-person review of this item again by JSA (as we do with all signed items, even those that have already been authenticated), and JSA confirmed in person that they had no issues with the authenticity, and formally reaffirmed their opinion. Sometimes we’ve had signatures rejected as forgeries by JSA that have been very surprising (we thought they were going to be fine). Sometimes we see signatures that for some reason we have our antennae up and we expect that there might be a problem, and in the opinion of the authenticators there isn’t. That was the case with this item. So, that’s the story of the Upper Deck Authenticated Ruth-Gehrig card.”
Based upon Rob Lifson’s response it appears that, although REA seriously questioned the Ruth autograph, they still decided to go along with James Spence’s “expert opinion” on the item Spence recognized as having previously authenticated for UDA.
2. Lou Gehrig Cut Signature- featured on the back of the same 2006 “Upper Deck Exquisite Dual Cuts” card being offered in the 2011 Spring sale of Robert Edward Auctions. The card currently has a bid of $3,000.
3. Babe Ruth Signature on a “Blarney Stone Restaurant/Bar, NYC, match cover- Offered on EBAY last week with an opening bid of $2,000 or as a “Buy it Now” for $2,200 “w/full JSA.”
Close up of the Babe Ruth “Blarney Stone” autograph LOA prepared by JSA.
4. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig Cut Signatures- sold in February, 2011, by Beckett Select Auctions, and featured on a “2011 Topps Tribute Legendary Lineup Cuts” card. The card featuring the alleged genuine signatures was authenticated by JSA and sold for $20,000 to Cleveland Indians pitcher, Chris Perez. In December, experts called the Ruth and Gehrig signatures “poorly executed forgeries” on this site.
5. Lou Gehrig signed baseball- sold in Heritage Auction Galleries Spring 2011 sale for $3,883.75. The ball was authenticated with an “Auction LOA from James Spence Authentication.” The ball once had additional signatures on it and Heritage also notes, “Professional restoration has eliminated any sign of the other signatures which once joined this tough Hall of Famer.”
6. Babe Ruth Single Signed baseball- sold at Heritage Auction Galleries Spring 2011 sale for $6,572.50 and authenticated with an “Auction LOA from James Spence Authentication.”
7. Babe Ruth signed photograph- sold for $15,600 as Lot 459 in Legendary Auctions December 2010 sale. Allegedly inscribed to actor Gary Cooper. This photo was also authenticated by James Spence in 1999 when it sold for $22,960 in a Mastro Fine Sports auction.
Expert Ron Keurajian identified this item for us and previously wrote about the forger who he believes created it in an article he wrote for Sports Collectors Digest. Keurajian identified these alleged Ruth signatures:
“The first tip off is they are too neat, too perfect. Ruth signed in bold up and down strokes that correlated into a signature that is large, uneven, almost whimsical. The fake Ruths are level and lack the up and down strokes. What you need to do in focus in on the bottom of the signature. The fake ones will be level as if written on a straight line.”
As for this Ruth signed photo to Gary Cooper, Keurajian told us, “In my opinion, its a well executed forgery.”
8. Babe Ruth Single Signed Ball- offered as Lot 63942 in American Memorabilia Spring sale with a PSA/DNA letter by James Spence and a “JSA Full letter” by James Spence. The current bid on the ball is $7,587 and the auction ends on May 5th.
This is at least the second time James Spence has authenticated this particular Ruth ball. When it sold in Mastro Fine Sports Auctions’ November, 1999, sale as lot 628, it was accompanied by a Spence LOA.
9. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig signed baseball- Appearing as lot 1044 in Robert Edward Auctions’ 2011 Spring sale with an authentication by JSA.
The alleged Babe Ruth signature:
The alleged Lou Gehrig signature:
10.Lou Gehrig Single Signed Ball- this ball sold for $10,157.50 in Heritage Auction Galleries sale this past November. In their lot description Heritage wrote: “Close inspection by James Spence has revealed that the greeting was long ago traced over by its recipient, but it must be stressed that the signature itself is unaffected by this enhancement.”
BONUS ITEM: How about JSA’s authentication of this alleged signature of Ty Cobb on EBAY:
This mini-bat being offered on EBAY was identified by one of our readers who doubts its authenticity. The mini-bat, allegedly signed by Cobb, is being offered for $17,000. We showed this listing to Cobb expert Ron Keurajian, who had this to say: “In my opinion its a fairly well executed forgery but its labored appearance lacks the flow of an authentic Cobb signature.”
Keurajian is considered an expert on Cobb’s signature. A few years ago Keurajian informed the Baseball Hall of Fame that it was his opinion that their alleged 1946 diary of Ty Cobb (purchased by Major League Baseball from Barry Halper) was not written in Cobb’s hand and was a forgery. The Hall of Fame sent the diary to the FBI for analysis and the FBI experts concurred with Keurajian’s opinion.
The JSA letter of authenticity that accompanies the mini-bat, allegedly signed by Cobb, offers very little detail as to why JSA considers the signature genuine.
What’s your opinion of these questioned items identified by Haulsofshame.com readers? Contact us with your opinion at: email@example.com