Aug. 22, 2011
“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.com “Halper 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.
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 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.
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.
Each of those cards feature period ink identifications on their reverse in the same handwriting that appears on the missing Anson cabinet photo.
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.
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.
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.