Dec. 2, 2011
Babe Ruth’s signature has long been the top target of skilled forgers and this past summer some low-grade fakes attributed to the Bambino made their way into the news. Not only were the autographs bogus, so were the letters of authenticity offered with them.
Legitimate letters of authenticity issued for Ruth signatures by the two leading companies are requirements for any advanced or novice collector. Ruth signed items with letters from James Spence Authentication (JSA) and PSA/DNA have commanded top dollar at major auction houses and on eBay. Baseballs alleged to have been signed by Ruth have regularly sold for tens of thousands of dollars for decades and most recently have changed hands for upwards of a reported $300,000. Gem-mint, single-signed, Babe Ruth baseballs have become the most desired collectibles in the billion-dollar baseball memorabilia business. JSA and PSA/DNA have signed off on and authenticated most all of the record breaking specimens sold at auction over the last decade. Recent and current sales at Gem Mint Auctions, Huggins and Scott, Heritage and Lelands have also featured some Ruth blazers that are commanding big bucks.
However, industry experts, collectors and even sources at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have questioned whether the majority of these high-end beauties are worth more than the vintage baseballs they are signed upon. The most spectacular examples that have sold at auction for prices ranging between $50,000 and $100,000 are now the targets of a new investigation endorsed by Babe Ruth’s granddaughter, Linda Ruth-Tosetti.
Tosseti has followed closely the proliferation in the marketplace of forged signatures attributed to her grandfather and has been vocal about her concerns for collectors who have been taken advantage of. She has voiced her concerns to the FBI and she hopes that the findings of an investigation launched by Haulsofshame.com will expose the forgers and authenticators who have made her grandfather’s signature a tool of their trade.
Said Ruth-Tosetti, “I can’t believe how these crooks have lined their pockets forging my grandfather’s signature. It’s a shame and it needs to be stopped. I’ve made my concerns known to an agent at the FBI and I hope they will be able to put an end to this. In my opinion, the authenticators are as bad as the forgers, it’s ridiculous. I can even tell that Babe didn’t sign most of these.”
Autograph expert Ron Keurajian has long held the belief that the majority of the high-end Ruth balls selling for record-prices are forgeries. If Keurajian’s claims are backed up by the findings in this investigation, the results could be devastating for authentication outfits like JSA and PSA/DNA, who have authenticated the alleged forgeries. To date both companies have made an overwhelming number of mistakes in their work and have cost collectors hundreds of thousands of dollars. Complaints made in letters written to the FBI about both companies have resulted in agents taking a close look at the authenticators and their flawed work.
The Haulsofshame.com investigation will enlist the services of ex-FBI agents, non-hobby forensic document examiners and handwriting experts with the professional credentials that are lacking at the sports authentication outfits currently endorsed by eBay and most every major auction house as their official ”third-party authenticators.”
The results of the investigation will be released some time in 2012 and will also be submitted to the FBI for its benefit and to assist the on-going efforts to combat the proliferation of forgeries in the marketplace.
Babe Ruth’s signature is the cornerstone of baseball autograph collecting and he revolutionized the idea that fans could collect the signatures of their favorite players on balls, cards and virtually every other item imaginable. The Babe Ruth autograph is an American icon, but how many of them out there are real?
One knowledgeable collector we interviewed shared a fitting observation about Ruth authentications and the experts who have issued them. He said, “If these Ruth signatures were certified in error in large numbers by these companies, then a major crack in the foundation of collector confidence will emerge. One that may prove to be unrepairable. There would be a domino effect of refund requests and lawsuits if these signatures are not the genuine article they were advertised to be.”
In examining the high-end Ruth single-signed balls that have sold for record prices, several experts have already pinpointed different handwriting styles evidenced in the Ruth signatures. Many of the balls appear to have been signed in several hands other than the Bambino’s. Future reports in this 10-part series will illustrate the handwriting of what appears to be the work of several forgers signing Ruth’s name on baseballs in mint condition.
The first wave of high-grade Ruth single signed balls first appeared in sales on the west coast in the early 1990s at Richard Wolfers Auctions and Superior Galleries. It wasn’t until 1999, during the Halper auction at Sotheby’s, that Ruth singles started commanding prices in the high five-figures. Recently, Joe Orlando of PSA/DNA claimed that the highest graded Ruth single ever certified by his company changed hands in a private transaction for $300,000.
(This is Part 1 in a 10-part series focusing on the proliferation of high-end Ruth forgeries.)