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By Peter J. Nash

Dec. 2, 2011

A sampling of the record-breaking Babe Ruth Single-Signed balls sold at auction. A new investigation will determine how many of them were actually signed by the "Sultan of Swat".

 

 
 
 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.” 

This c. 1930s baseball bears an authentic signature of Babe Ruth.

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.”

These baseballs feature more alleged autographs of Babe Ruth that have sold for record prices at the major baseball auction houses.

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.)


18 Comments »

  1. Hi Peter,
    Thanks again for publishing such a fine article. My friend, I am so looking forward to your book!
    Every alert you send shows more and more the extent of what can simply be called the hobby’s collective black eye. I’ve been a full-time card guy since the 1970’s and just when I think I’ve seen it all in regards to the scams, BANG….. you post more twisted tales!
    Peter, please keep this hard work coming! We all need to see it and spread the word. With your permission I am forwarding these to my friends, family and customers.
    Have a pleasant weekend my friend!
    Bill Hedin

    Comment by bill Hedin — December 2, 2011 @ 11:11 am

  2. The companies who “claim” they can authenticate autographs and the incompetents who work for them are as big a problem as the forgers. Most forgeries don’t get passed a professional autograph dealer who specializes in this area. Thus the forged item does not enter the market place.

    The high percentage of these forgeries are purchased at auction by uneducated collectors/investors with deep pockets. Obviously, in most cases, the auction house is not capable as to knowing the validity of Ruth’s signature, some could care less. In addition, the auction houses are very much aware of the incompetency of the authenticatinmg companies however will still pay for many of the worthless COA’s they receive form the authenticating companies. The auction house will take no blame for the sale of the spurious items. They can easily fall back on the statement “we don’t know autographs, the authenticating company says it’s real so we sold it”. In the end, the authenticating company says, “it’s just our opinion” and a judge will say “there’s no law against being stupid”.

    Comment by Steve Koschal — December 2, 2011 @ 11:41 am

  3. It is a rotten shame, that John Q Public gets duped when he buys something and spends his hard earned $ on something that turns out to be a store price of a few $,s, when he spent thousands for a worthless piece of junk.The companies who stoop so low,to make that fast $, should be put in jail,right along with the person who did it, cause they fall into the same catagory, “CROOKS”.

    Comment by Herbie Buck — December 2, 2011 @ 3:40 pm

  4. Steve,I havent seen one authenicator make the statement,”In Their Opinion”.They make the statement that it is the real thing and swear by it and sign the paperwork so stating it.If anyone would be that stupid to go along with that statement put on paper and just paid big $,s for a item,they deserve to be taken for a ride.Concrete evidence is what makes it real and in a court of law,a judge wouldnt make that statement,when someone swears to it.

    Comment by Herbie Buck — December 2, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

  5. I can hear the excuses now, “we thought they could have been signed after Babe had a few beers.”

    Comment by Harry — December 2, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

  6. If you pay extra to join their collectors club, they give as a perk a 2 hour turnaround time at memorabilia shows.

    Sometimes purported Rembrandt paintings take years to conclusively authenticate after many experts carefully inspect it. Now we have the two hour special.

    We have authenticators seemingly authenticating Babe Ruth balls while still under the plexiglass ballcube, not taking the ball out to inspect it.

    This is what we get this day and age of the efficiency revenue stream model of authentiating.

    Comment by Travis Roste — December 2, 2011 @ 8:10 pm

  7. JSA LOA’s state:

    “This document shall serve as a letter of authenticity for the aformentioned item which James Spence Authentication LLC has thoroughly examined.”

    also..

    “It is our considered opinion that the signature item is genuine…..This letter must appear on our proprietary water marked paper and bear the live signatures of both James Spence and a notary public.”

    The letter is signed “Autographically Yours, James Spence Jr.”

    PSA/DNA’s LOA’s read in part:

    “This letter will serve as a certificate of authenticity….This item has been examined by one or more PSA/DNA experts. On behalf of Collectors Universe, it is our considered opinion that the signature(s) is/are genuine….”

    Comment by admin — December 3, 2011 @ 10:01 am

  8. Having been in the collectibles market for over 20 years, I and many others have stated for the longest time, in most cases, a COA is only worth the paper it is printed on. It is sad that this continues to happen, but people do not do their homework. I continue to see fake item after fake item listed on auction sites and other memorabilia sites, and they continue to sell for ridiculous prices. So many are clearly a fake, yet they get bid after bid. I hope consumers finally start to wake-up and do their own research before buying. If in doubt, do not buy it. Unless you see it signed first hand, or buy from a company that has a pristine track record, avoid the item and move on. These forgeries need to end and the sales of these items need to be stopped immediately. Consumers need to be protected. Thanks Peter for this important information. Take care…..Brad – http://www.HistoryOfTheYankees.com

    Comment by Bradfrord H. Turnow — December 3, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

  9. Just shows you what can be done with a large advertising budget and a gullible collector base.
    How much of an ad budget does PSA have?

    Comment by Richard Simon — December 4, 2011 @ 11:14 am

  10. With the advent of the authenticator, collectors have become lazy. They rely too much on the autheticator instead of doing the reasearch themselves.

    Love the site, Peter, keep educating us!

    Comment by Ken Richard — December 4, 2011 @ 8:32 pm

  11. looks like the curse of the bambino is alive and well!

    Comment by Harry — December 5, 2011 @ 12:25 am

  12. What the hell is real and fake in the sports memorbilia hobby? If almost everything that JSA and PSA authenticate is suspect then the hobby is fucked. JSA and PSA authenticate almost everything so that means everything with JSA and PSA LOA is shit. If this is true who can authenticate in the sports memorbilia hobby and not get greedy. Everyone in the business is shady you can’t really trust anyone. Don’t tell me to trust those AUTOGRAPH ALERT PEOPLE or those guys from autograph live. All they do is slander one another. This does not help anyone in the hobby. If this keeps going on none of are collections will be worth anything.

    Comment by James — December 6, 2011 @ 5:45 am

  13. Love your blog!

    Comment by Patrick Vogland — December 13, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

  14. Like someone once wrote about 1900 years ago; Money is the root of all types of evil.

    Comment by Marc Rettus — January 8, 2012 @ 7:26 am

  15. There are a lot of VERY different examples to view for sale on Ebay right now for big money. 150 plus items.

    http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=babe+ruth+psa+&_sacat=51&_sop=3&_odkw=babe+ruth+psa+jsa&_osacat=51&_trksid=p3286.c0.m270.l1313

    http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=babe+ruth+jsa&_sacat=51&_sop=3&_odkw=babe+ruth+psa&_osacat=51&_trksid=p3286.c0.m270.l1313

    Keep up the great work!!

    Comment by Marv — January 13, 2012 @ 10:52 am

  16. Thanks for sending those, lots of problems there.

    Comment by admin — January 13, 2012 @ 10:05 pm

  17. I have recently started a site, and the information you provide on this site has helped me greatly. Thank you for all of your time & work.

    Comment by Connie — February 16, 2013 @ 11:10 pm

  18. Thank you for sharing with us, I conceive this website truly stands out : D.

    Comment by Will Gurwell — April 29, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

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