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By Peter J. Nash

Aug. 22, 2011

This photo of Cap Anson was once part of the NYPL's collection as documented in this cropped 1920s photographic print.

 

“Cap” Anson is wanted by the FBI. No, not for hurling racial epithets at “Fleet” Walker or as a witness to an unsolved, racially motivated, 19th century hate crime.  The Feds are pursuing “Cap” because he’s been stolen from the New York Public Library’s famous A. G. Spalding Collection and he’s travelling with a problematic “Letter of Authenticity.” 

 A cabinet card portrait of the Hall of Famer, Adrian C. Anson, produced by Chicago’s Stevens Studios in 1888, was originally donated to the library by the widow of magnate Albert G. Spalding in 1921, and was captured on film for a 1929 book series called the Pageant of America: The Annals of American Sport. The penciled in crop marks are visible on a 1920s silver-gelatin print (pictured, left), which is still part of the NYPL’s collection.

The original Anson photo was stolen from the NYPL sometime in the 1970s and afterwards was possessed by collector Barry Halper and located at his home in Livingston, NJ.  Halper sold the cabinet photo around the time he liquidated his collection at Sotheby’s in 1999 and the cabinet has been offered for sale by several hobby dealers since that time. (The Anson cabinet appears as number 90 on the Haulsofshame.comHalper Hot 100 List“.)

The last public appearance made by the missing Anson photo was in a 2004 ”Letter of Authenticity” written by authenticator Mike Gutierrez for his own authentication company (MGA).  The cabinet photo was later offered as a Anson autograph by Sports Cards Plus. In the letter Gutierrez states that the inscription, “A. C. Anson, Chicago” found on the cabinet’s reverse, was written in the hand of the Hall of Famer who collected over 3,000 hits during his 19th-century career.  Gutierrez wrote, “I believe that Cap Anson signed this cabinet card in his own handwriting.”
The Anson photo appears on the LOA still bearing the exact same ink inscription on the lower right hand corner of the original.  That same ink inscription also appears on the NYPL’s silver gelatin print from 1929.  Sources indicate the photo was returned to Sports Cards Plus under the suspicion that it had been stolen from the NYPL collection.

This Letter of Authenticity written by Mike Gutierrez features a Cap Anson cabinet photo that was stolen from the NYPL. The letter states the card bears the authentic signature of Anson when it is nothing more than a period ink identification of Anson.

  
  
The Anson cabinet does not appear on the library’s “Missing List,” which was compiled in 1987 when an inventory of the Spalding photo collection was documented for the first time since 1922.  Another Anson cabinet noted as “Anson, Cap Chicago (New York, Falk),” is on the list, but the Stevens cabinet appears to have been mistakenly omitted by the NYPL.  The same Stevens photo is credited to the Spalding Collection in the 1929 book from the Pageant of America series.  The credit for the Anson photo in the book reads: “….from a photograph in the Spalding Collection at the New York Public Library.” 

The NYPL's missing "Cap" Anson photo by Stevens Studios was credited to the Spalding Collection in the 1929 book, Pagaent of America: The Annals of American Sport.

The Anson cabinet  once had the rectangular NYPL stamp featured on its reverse, however, that mark has been erased or bleached out.  Not only is the rare cabinet photo contraband, it was also never signed by “Cap” Anson.  The period ink inscription on the reverse is an  identification of Anson, not his actual signature.  The proof of this appears on other Stevens cabinets that are still part of the Spalding Collection.

Autograph expert Ron Keurajian also confirmed for us that the Stevens cabinet photo was not signed by Anson.  “In my opinion, the inscription on the back of that card is not in the hand of Cap Anson, it is merely an identification for filing purposes” said Keurajian.

These three photos were stolen from the NYPL and recovered by the FBI. They bear the same handwritten identifications as the missing Anson photo. Unlike the Anson cabinet, all three still retain their original NYPL ownership stamps. They also feature the NYPL storage box number in the upper left hand corner.

The Anson cabinet produced by the Stevens Studios was similar to several other NYPL cabinet photos featuring Buck Ewing, Mike Tiernan and Roger Connor.  Those three photos had also been stolen from the library, but have since been recovered by the FBI and returned to the Fifth Avenue Branch.  The three photos currently appear on the NYPL’s website as part of its digital collection. 

Like the Anson cabinet, the other Stevens cabinets in the NYPL collection feature period identifications in the same hand. The cabinet of New York Giant slugger Roger Connor includes a period ink identification, not his signature.

Each of those cards feature period ink identifications on their reverse in the same handwriting that appears on the missing Anson cabinet photo.

This is an authentic signature of Adrian C. "Cap" Anson signed during his days as manager of the Chicago National League Baseball Club.

 
The missing Anson photograph has changed hands several times since it was stolen from the NYPL decades ago.  The earliest known owner of the stolen item was Barry Halper and after Halper’s Sotheby’s auction in 1999, the same cabinet was offered along with another stolen cabinet photo of Harry Wright.  The Wright photo was offered at auction by Lew Lipset in April of 2005 and was later recovered by the FBI, but somehow the Anson cabinet has eluded the Feds.  When the Wright cabinet was auctioned by Lipset it was offered as an autographed photo of Harry Wright and was also “accompanied by a Mike Gutierrez COA.”  However, like the  Anson cabinet, that photo was not signed by HarryWright either.  The card bears a period identification of Wright in pencil, not his signature.  

The cabinet card last appeared in an LOA written by Mike Gutierrez in 2004. Gutierrez claimed the card had a genuine autograph on the reverse. The number "9" on the reverse indicated it was stored in "Box 9" of the NYPL's Spalding Collection.

We contacted Mike Gutierrez, who is currently employed by Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, to ask who submitted the photo to him for authentication and if he knows the current whereabouts of the Anson cabinet.

Through Heritage’s Director of Sports Auctions, Chris Ivy, Gutierrez said, “He does not recall” who submitted the photo to him in 2004. 

Ivy did not respond to questions asking if Gutierrez still believed the card was actually signed by Anson.

This is not the first time Gutierrez’ name has been linked to items stolen from institutional collections.  Ex-Hall of Fame employee Bill Deane and another ex-Hall official have confirmed that in the 1980s Gutierrez was a suspect in an FBI investigation into thefts from the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown.  The ex-Hall official also confirmed that Gutierrez’ name appeared on a list maintained by the library of individuals banned from entering or researching at the Cooperstown facility.

This Harry Wright photo was stolen from the NYPL and certified by Mike Gutierrez as an authentic Harry Wright signature. The inscription is a period identification, not a signature.

Gutierrez is currently listed as one of the authenticators for James Spence Authentication (JSA) specializing in vintage baseball autographs.  Gutierrez is also an appraiser for the PBS program, Antiques Roadshow.

We contacted David Kohler of Sports Cards Plus Auctions (SCP) and asked if he could confirm that he offered the Anson cabinet for sale and whether it was returned to him under suspicion of being a stolen item.

Additionally, we asked Kohler where he acquired the Anson cabinet and why the photo has never been returned to its rightful owner, the New York Public Library?

Kohler did not respond to our requests.

 
If anyone knows the current whereabouts of this “Cap” Anson cabinet card, please contact: tips@haulsofshame.com or the New York office of the FBI at: ny1@ic.fbi.gov


9 Comments

  1. Maybe Ole Cap bleached it. It’s fits his MO.

    Comment by wolger johnson — August 22, 2011 @ 10:55 am

  2. My ” BIG ” question now is ,if it was stolen in 1970 and they knew Halper had it, why the hell didnt they go and snatch his ass then,why wait till now,all these years later ????? This makes no sense and who the hell knows where it is now.

    Comment by Herbie Buck — August 22, 2011 @ 10:57 am

  3. Mike does not “recall” lots of items.

    Comment by Gregg — August 22, 2011 @ 11:00 am

  4. The reckless disregard for institutions and the law in the memorabilia industry is stunning. Why are the items still circulating amongst collectors?

    Comment by Dixie — August 22, 2011 @ 11:41 am

  5. Why do these people with crappy histories and known facilitators of stolen goods (if not worse) still have jobs with heritage and or jsa? FBI should be questioning jsa and heritage.

    Comment by Ben Babs — August 22, 2011 @ 1:12 pm

  6. Just a few thoughts in response to Dixie’s question above:

    It begins with a gullible public (not unique to sports collectibles, either) who need only the very limited “authentication” provided by self-styled experts in the field before they fork over wheelbarrows of cash for bogus or stolen items.

    No public institution will publicly admit a crime committed at or within it until after it is resolved, if then. There are good reasons for this: the first suspects are always internal (just as a murder victim’s family are immediately included among the suspects until cleared). I would also bet that nearly all the thefts from public libraries and museums have occurred with internal knowledge of their employees and/or their complicity.

    Official Law enforcement may or may not be involved immediately, at least not until an in-house investigation is already underway, if then. There is also a bad reason for this — shame that the public trust vested in them has been breached, violated.

    Decades can elapse before such a theft is solved (think of all the unsolved thefts in the art world, major works by important artists who are household names — Picasso, Rembrandt, even Leonardo’s Mona Lisa was stolen and not recovered for several years — you get the idea).

    There is, therefore, plenty of time for items to be passed from thieves to collectors to more thieves to more collectors. Collectors are like the investors in the Madoff funds: they trust and don’t ask too many questions, not until it is too late and their money is gone.

    Crime occurs first with soft targets. At least until very recently the combination of gullibility, institutional silence and huge amounts of money was too tempting to ignore — for the career criminals and the disreputable buyers/sellers AND collectors who could not resist it.

    However, with the spotlight trained squarely on the problem, the target is suddenly no longer quite as soft. But it is a story that needs to move beyond the world of collectibles and sports, and into the wider arena of the news media where, at least to me, it has seemed conspicuously absent. But this website is likely the turning point in this story and the tide will eventually be turned, I think.

    Comment by Gene Zonarich — August 22, 2011 @ 2:02 pm

  7. Zonarich makes persuasive points to describe the reasons these crimes drag on so long. Nobody has yet figured out why people are mean enough to steal everybody’s baseball heritage.

    Comment by Dorothy Mills — August 23, 2011 @ 8:26 am

  8. Very nice site!

    Comment by John374 — August 28, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

  9. Yay google is my king aided me to find this great website!

    Comment by Peter — October 20, 2011 @ 5:57 am

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