May 23, 2011
A rare cabinet photo of Boston Americans pitcher George “Nig” Cuppy that sold recently on eBay once hung on the walls of “Nuf Ced” McGreevy’s famous 3rd Base Saloon from 1901 to 1920 in Roxbury, Massachusetts. In 1923 the same photo was donated by McGreevy with nearly two hundred other rare photos from his storied baseball collection to the Boston Public Library to constitute the “M. T. McGreevy Collection of Baseball Pictures.”
In 1962, McGreevy’s daughter, Alice, told Red Sox broadcaster Curt Gowdy that her father had once been offered “a substantial sum for his collection,” but rather “preferred to donate the rememberances to “places public” for the enjoyment of the citizens of Boston as well as visitors to the city.”
McGreevy, the founder of the raucous Boston fan club known as the Royal Rooters, has been recognized by many as the most famous baseball fan of all-time and one of baseball’s first true collectors. He showcased his collection in the tavern, which also served as the headquarters for his Royal Rooters and Boston players like Hugh Duffy and Babe Ruth. Before there was a Baseball Hall of Fame, McGreevy’s saloon was the closest thing there was to a baseball museum accesible to fans.
Nuf Ced’s collection, along with the A. G. Spalding Collection at the New York Public Library, is considered one of the greatest assemblages of early baseball photography. But since McGreevy intended to share his collection and make it accesible to the public for viewing, the treasure trove became the target of opportunistic theives. Unfortunately, the photograph of “Nig” Cuppy and nearly sixty other valuable photographs once owned by “Nuf Ced” vanished from the library at Copley Square sometime between 1978 and 1981 as the victims of a well-orchestrated heist. Several of the missing items are large team photos sized approximately 24 inches by 16 inches.
A few weeks ago, nearly thirty years after its disappearance, Paul Dunigan Jr. was given the missing cabinet photo of “Nig” Cuppy by his mother, who found it in her attic in Lowell, Massachussets. Dunigan then listed the photo with some other miscellaneous antiques on EBAY as a generic, “Vintage Early Baseball Player Photograph Pitcher.” Dunigan only mentioned that the name “Cuppy” was written in pencil on the reverse.
Collector David Maus, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, took note of the photograph he recognized as being taken during the Red Sox spring training trip of 1901 by the Holsinger Studios of Charlotesville, Virginia, and thought he had a bonifide ”steal” when he placed the winning bid of $66.00. But when he recieved the photograph in the mail he noticed some familiar marks and notations on the photograph and referred to the Haulsofshame.com website to view items that had been previously recovered by the Boston Public Library.
Comparing his purchase to other items produced by Holsinger Studios, Maus soon after realized that the photograph he’d purchased might be one of Nuf Ced McGreevy’s long-lost treasures. The BPL’s ownership stamps had been defaced and concealed with black ink and other stamps designed to deceive anyone examining the photograph.
The BPL website displays all of the McGreevy Collection photos and Maus was able to view other Holsinger cabinet photos that had not been vandalized. Those photos featured the oval “Boston Public Library” stamp and the “Cabinet” designation showing which cabinet the photograph was stored in the Print Department: “Cab. 23. 59. 15.”
Maus sent an email to Haulsofshame.com and asked, “I recently purchased a cabinet photograph that appears to have been stolen from the Boston Public Library, like these 3 under “recovered items and artifacts” on your website…Just need some guidance if you have any?”
We confirmed Maus’ concerns that the Cuppy photo was a stolen item and included on the BPL’s “missing list” and then contacted the library’s “Keeper of Special Collections,” Susan Glover, to arrange its return.
Having been informed of the situation by Maus, the EBAY seller, Paul Dunigan Jr., also contacted Susan Glover to confirm that the photo had been stolen from the collection and then issued a refund for the transaction. Dunigan also informed Glover that his father, who passed away in 2004, had sold his baseball memorabilia collection in the early 1980s to dealer Lew Lipset. Dunigan told Haulsofshame.com, “I’ll keep my eyes peeled for any others that might turn up in my mother’s house.”
So, how did one of McGreevy’s rare photos end up in an attic in Lowell?
Dunigan confirmed that his father had purchased items in his collection from the late New York Yankee owner and collector, Barry Halper, and that it was possible the photo could have been acquired from the Halper Collection, which has been linked to a host of stolen institutional artifacts. After Halper’s death in 2006 his wife, Sharon Halper, experienced a similar situation when she discovered several rare photos in her house that turned out to be stolen from the BPL’s McGreevy Collection.
Halper’s widow consigned large photographs of the 1891 Boston and the 1882 Buffalo teams to Robert Edward Auctions in 2007, but this writer reported the items, which displayed similar vandalism to conceal the BPL marks, to Aaron Schmidt of the library’s Print Department. Schmidt subsequently recovered both items from Halper’s widow.
Halper sold his collection at Sotheby’s in 1999 for over $20 million and included several other items stolen from the BPL and other institutions that still had their library ownership stamps visible. Despite publicity and heightened awareness of the fact that the items are stolen, the purchasers have still not come forward to return the missing photographs to the library, as collector David Maus has.
Thanks to Maus, Nuf Ced’s Cuppy cabinet photo is now close to finishing a Field of Dreams-esque journey from Boston-to-Iowa and back. A formal return of the photo to the BPL is being scheduled at McGreevy’s reconstituted 3rd Base Saloon at 911 Boylston St. in Boston. McGreevy’s helped the BPL recover another one of their missing photos in 2009. The rare photo of heavyweight champ John L. Sullivan and Red Sox third-baseman, Jimmy Collins, is currently on display at McGreevy’s.
The BPL’s Susan Glover has high praise for David Maus. Said Glover, “The Boston Public Library is grateful to collectors like David Maus for examing a recent purchase, recognizing the BPL ownership marks, and prompting returning it.”
From his home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Maus told us, “I’ts a great feeling to be able to play a small role in helping return the BPL’s McGreevy Collection to its original state. I urge all other current collectors to be proactive in trying to return any other stolen historical baseball artifacts to their rightful owners.”
Back in 1984, the BPL’s “Keeper of Prints,” Sinclair Hitchings, and veteran collector Bob Richardson successfully recovered nearly twenty of McGreevy’s stolen photos that had surfaced for sale at baseball card shows and in collector magazines. Since the year 2000, the BPL’s Aaron Schmidt, who was recently transferred away from the McGreevy Collection to another department because of library budget cuts, spearheaded several more recoveries of McGreevy original photographs.
Thanks to these in-house efforts, without the aid of a security staff or the resources of law enforcement, only about 36 of McGreevy’s treasures are still missing. With David Maus’ discovery there’s another one down, and just 35 to go.
(EDITORS NOTE: The writer of this article is a founder and co-owner of McGreevys 3rd Base Saloon Co. and also co-owner of the reconstituted McGreevy’s 3rd Base Saloon at 911 Boylston St. in Boston, MA. In 2007 he wrote and produced the Emmy-nominated documentary film about McGreevy’s exploits, Rooters: The Birth of Red Sox Nation.)