Nov. 11, 2011
Our last Chin Music installment included a report of Hunt Auctions offering a copy of Christy Mathewson’s 1910 book, Won in the Ninth, in their November sale at the Louisville Slugger Museum. The book, according to the auction description, allegedly bears the genuine autograph of the Hall of Famer on a presentational bookplate pasted onto its end-paper.
Mathewson’s publisher appears to have created 500 presentational copies for promotional use which feature alleged Mathewson signatures, “compliments of” the author.
Hunt estimates the book could sell for as much as $10,000, but longtime collector and autograph expert Ron Keurajian believes that the Mathewson signatures were “ghost-signed” by someone other than Mathewson.
In Keurajian’s opinion, the bookplates on the Mathewson books do not bear the genuine signature of the legendary pitcher known as “Big Six.” Keurajian first made his opinion public in an article he wrote for Sports Collectors Digest in December of 2004 and the controversy over the Matty signatures made waves again when Sotheby’s offered a copy in a 2005 sale. At the time of that offering the New York Daily News reported that, “autograph expert Stephen Koschalcontacted Sotheby’s and Sports Cards Plus to raise heck and although Koschal says neither company responded, the piece was withdrawn less than 24 hours before the auction.”
The book offered by Sotheby’s/SCP was authenticated by PSA/DNA and the News also quoted PSA head Joe Orlando as saying, ”There’s no proof this was signed by a secretary. What this sounds like to me is a bit of jealousy.”
Since the time of that 2005 sale, the major authentication outfits JSA and PSA have continued to authenticate the signatures and the Mathewson Won in the Ninth books, that were once shunned by collectors, have commanded sale prices topping $16,000.
Our last Chin Music column reported that JSA and PSA authenticated “$150,000 in Matty Fakes,” based upon Keurajian’s expert opinion that these books are, in fact, ghost-signed and bearing secretarial signatures. Haulsofshame.com contacted Hunt Auctions president, David Hunt, and asked him if he was planning to withdraw the book from the November sale? Hunt did respond to our inquiry, but stated that he did not want his comments on the record and, as of today, the book still appears in tommorow’s sale as lot 651 with a current bid of $5,798. Another copy was recently removed from an auction as questions of its authenticity were brought to the attention of eBay where it was being offered as a “Buy it Now” for $15,000, and yet another copy was offered by Colossal Auctions with an estimate of $9,000-$11,000.
When asked if he had contacted JSA to see the Mathewson signature exemplars they utilized that enabled them to certify the signature as authentic, Hunt again declined comment.
The James Spence Authentication (JSA) letter of authenticity that accompanies the Mathewson Won in the Ninth books states:
“The signature(s) is/are consistent considering a wide range of specific qualities including slant, flow, pen pressure, letter size and formation and other characteristics typical of our extensive database of known exemplars we have examined throughout our hobby and professional careers.”
Since Hunt Auctions could not provide us with the exemplars utilized by JSA to authenticate the book, we contacted JSA directly. JSA, however, and their principal, James Spence Jr, did not respond to our inquiries.
Considering the controversy regarding the Won in the Ninth signatures, if JSA has legitimate exemplars of Mathewson’s signature from the 1910 era that support their opinion, they should be able to produce them for the benefit of collectors who appear to have purchased these books as a result of JSA’s authentication.
THE CASE AGAINST MATTY’S “WON IN THE NINTH”
The most problematic piece of evidence against the Mathewson signatures featured on Won in the Ninth, is Matty’s own personal copy of his 1912 book, Pitching in a Pinch. The book, inscribed by Mathewson and once owned by the pitcher, was donated to Keystone Junior College in Pennsylvania by his widow, Jane Mathewson.
It appears that this authentic Mathewson signature differs from the Hunt Auctions Won in the Ninth example in every category listed in JSA’s “Letter of Opinion” including: “slant, flow, pen pressure, letter size and formation.”
How could the signatures on both books signed by Mathewson as an author (in a 2-year period) appear to be so contradictory? And what other exemplars from this time period did JSA utilize to form their opinion?
We were able to locate several authentic exemplars of Mathewson’s signature signed during the 1910-era that were very similar to the Matty’s authentic signature in the 1912 copy of Pitching in a Pinch:
Another authentic example of Mathewson’s signature on a copy of Pitching in a Pinch was sold at REA in 2007:
Another example of Mathewson’s signature on a copy of Pitching in a Pinch appeared in a recent SPC auction:
Another exemplar is a 1908 affidavit signed by Mathewson giving his statement in regard to the famous “Merkle Incident.” The document is part of the Hall of Fame’s Herrmann Papers archive.
Again, this 1908 example is very similar to the 1912 Pitching in a Pinch signature in all aspects listed by JSA, although it does exhibit some slight fluctuations in letter formation.
Other Mathewson signature examples from the 1910 era found in the HOF’s Herrmann archive include:
The authentic Matty signature examples portrayed in this study are all in direct conflict with the 1910 “Won in the Ninth” example being offered by Hunt Auctions.
Hunt Auctions is also offering an authentic letter written in 1910 by Mathewson (above) in its current auction. The handwritten letter, according to Ron Keurajian, is executed in Mathewson’s own hand.
Unlike the many exemplars we found, the Matty signature on this letter does share similarities with the the handwriting exhibited by the Won in the Ninth signature.
Secretarial signatures, in many cases, are executed to replicate the handwriting of the original subject and, like outright forgeries, are expected to show some visible similarities to the genuine signature. Mathewson’s signature varied throughout his lifetime (as evidenced by the handwriting samples illustrated in this article) and these variations have made it more difficult to ascertain whether the Won in the Ninth signatures are genuine or secretarial. However, Mathewson’s signature variations actually help support the case that the Won in the Ninth signatures were ghost signed because they are all very similar in construction and letter formation. Experts like Keurajian can tell if these are executed in the same hand as verified exemplars (like the 1908 Merkle affidavit) because they can pinpoint the essence of Matty’s handwriting that underlies the visible variations. In Keurajian’s opinion they were not signed by Mathewson.
THE GHOST-SIGNER vs. “BIG SIX”:
Christy Mathewson and sportswriter John Wheeler teamed up to write a series of magazine articles on “inside baseball” featuring recollections from Mathewson’s career and those articles were the foundation for a collaboration between the two men that produced the 1912 book, Pitching in a Pinch. Mathewson was actually involved in the creative process with Wheeler and was listed as the author and recognized in reviews which praised his work in the New York Times. As evidenced in this article, several surviving copies of the book bear Mathewson’s authentic signature as opposed to Won in the Ninth, which appears to have been ghost-signed.
In contrast to Pitching in a Pinch, Won in the Ninth appears to have been entirely ghost-written by sportswriter W. W. Aulick as a work of fiction geared towards young boys without any real creative contribution from Mathewson. The book was part of a series in which Matty had no direct involvement in writing the fictional baseball stories. An essay published on pophistorydig.com notes that the Won in the Ninth/Aulick series, “were more products of publishers capitalizing on Mathewson’s popularity than they were the writer’s works of art.” Is it plausible that Matty’s lack of direct involvement in Won in the Ninth project would make it more improbable for him to personally autograph 500 presentational copies of that book and that a ghost-signer would more likely have signed them as part of the publisher’s promotional campaign?
Books authored by players and “ghosts” date back to the nineteenth century. MLB’s official historian John Thorn told us, “ ”Baseball players permitted newspaper ghosts to write “their” thoughts from the 1880s on. King Kelly’s Play Ball was perhaps the first book “by” a player. Pitching in a Pinch is par for the course, neither better nor worse.“
Thorn also distinguished between books like Matty’s Pitching in a Pinch and the genre of books like Won in the Ninth and First Base Faulkner, that were produced for young boys. Said Thorn, “The kids’ books “by” athletes are, in effect licensing and endorsement deals, having nothing to do with authorship.”
Over the past twelve years numerous copies of the 1910 Mathewson Won in the Ninth book have sold at public auction accompanied by letters of authenticity from the major authentication companies. Authenticators James Spence and Steve Grad appear to believe they are genuine.
Ron Keurajian noted in his SCD article: “These signatures are very pleasing to the eye and appear more sharply angled and the letters are slightly larger and appear more uniform than authentic Mathewson signatures.”
Here are several alleged Mathewson signatures from known copies of Won in the Ninth:
JSA and PSA have authenticated virtually all of the Won in the Ninth books that have entered the marketplace since 2000. One of the first copies was authenticated by James Spence for MastroNet’s auction in November, 2000, when he was employed by PSA/DNA.
Commenting on the Won in the Ninth signatures in his SCD article, Keurajian said: “I have been told these are genuine but like Mathewson signed balls a lot of controversy has been generated over them.”
Despite that controversy, the major authentication companies have certified these items for over a decade and continue to do so, as evidenced by the current Hunt Auctions offering.
Upon examination of all of the exemplars utilized in this report, Ron Keurajian, reiterated his original opinion that the Matty Won in the Ninth signatures were the product of a “ghost-signing.”
Keurajian’s original opinion from 2004 stated: “Some experts tell me they are real while others say they are not. In my opinion these plate signatures are ghost-signed and not signed by Mathewson.”
He added, “These signatures deviate too much from Mathewson’s hand. If you contemplate a purchase of one of these books proceed with caution.”
Lelands is one of the few auction houses we found that has not offered copies of Won in the Ninthin their recent sales. The only copy we could find that Lelands sold was the personal copy of Frank Stevens and was part of their Harry M. Stevens auction in 1996.
Lelands does not rely on third-party authenticators like JSA and PSA/DNA and they stand behind their in-house expertise in autograph authentication as a guarantee for their customers.
Veteran dealer and authenticator Richard Simon also shared with us his view on the history of the Matty Won in the Ninth books. We asked Simon if he recalled how the hobby viewed these books pre-1999? Said Simon, “I don’t (know) about the year, but the books for a period of time were thought of as authentic and quite sometime ago the thinking in the hobby changed and the consensus among many, but not all, was that the signatures were secretarial.”
Stephen Koschal, who first alerted Sotheby’s about the Matty signatures in 2005 sees it this way, “With regard to the signed Christy Mathewson books being offered for sale over the years in auctions, I have written to auction houses and copied in the authenticators and their principals regarding these books. They have been advised these signatures are not genuine yet they ignore all correspondence. To this day, several years later, they still authenticate these signatures as genuine. Only possible reason for this is to not admit past faulty authentications and they fear all the refunds that would have to be made from past sales.”
As of today, despite the arguments and evidence suggesting the contrary, collectors are bidding on Won in the Ninth simply because it has been certified as genuine by JSA, the company that will not provide an argument to support its own challenged authentication. All that’s available for bidders today from JSA is the vague letter of opinion and authenticity accompanying the questioned Hunt Auctions lot.