By Peter J. Nash
July 23, 2015
Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, removed a valuable 1869 Red Stockings Peck & Snyder trade card from its upcoming sale at next weeks National Convention after Hauls of Shame published a report showing that the card was stolen from the New York Public Library’s famous Spalding Collection. The card, owned by Net54 moderator Leon Luckey, was purchased at a 2000 MastroNet auction conducted by partners Bill Mastro and Rob Lifson and represents only one of several copies of the same card that have made their way out the front door of the Fifth Avenue branch of the library.
Luckey recently locked a thread about the scandal on his collector internet forum as members were highly critical of his conduct in offering the card for sale while knowing it was suspected to have been stolen from the library. Based upon Heritage’s lot description, which mentions that the card shows evidence of a stamp on the reverse, it is clear that both Luckey and Heritage were aware that the card was very likely stolen property, yet failed to inform prospective auction bidders. In fact, one source familiar with the FBI investigation into the provenance of the card told Hauls of Shame that Luckey was actually informed that the card was stolen when it was returned to him at the convention last year.
Leon Luckey posted a high resolution scan of the back of his 1869 P&S card from 2007 to 2010 (left) but intentionally reduced the resolution by at least 30% in 2010 (right). The reduction in the image quality made it impossible to identify the remnants of the NYPL ownership stamp.
In addition, Hauls of Shame has uncovered evidence which shows that Luckey also removed high-resolution scans of the back of his card from his website in May of 2010 after we published several follow-up articles about the NYPL thefts first highlighted in the New York Times in July in 2009. Luckey reduced the resolution by at least 30% rendering it nearly impossible to identify the NYPL ownership stamp on the reverse.
Heritage’s removal of the card made national news when the New York Daily News reported that the “FBI is working with NYPL officials to determine if (the) rare 1869 trade card that had been offered by the Texas auction house was stolen from the library’s Spalding Collection decades ago.” Daily News reporter Michael O’Keeffe failed to acknowledge that Hauls of Shame broke the story first based upon visual evidence posted in our last report. O’Keeffe also quoted Heritage’s Chris Ivy as saying, “Heritage Auctions has no interest in selling stolen material.” Heritage has previously removed two other items stolen from the NYPL, an 1879 player contract of Ezra Sutton and an 1894 season pass which once belonged to baseball pioneer Henry Chadwick.
The 1869 card removed from the Heritage sale was sold to Luckey by Mastro and Lifson in 2000 but it was also sold previously by Lifson in another Robert Edward Auctions sale in 1997. O’Keeffe and the Daily News failed to report that fact and that they had published an article in 2009 about the NYPL thefts in which Lifson lied to O’Keeffe and stated he never stole materials from the NYPL collection. Lifson, however, later admitted on SI.com that he had been caught stealing from the Spalding Collection when he was a student the Wharton School of Business at UPenn. Lifson also oversaw the sale of scores of other stolen items from the NYPL when he acted as the consultant to Sotheby’s 1999 Barry Halper Collection sale. Lifson was a long-time supplier and a close confidant of Halper who has also been accused of masterminding the NYPL heist in the 1970s.
Halper, the deceased former New York Yankee partner, was also a close friend of New York Daily News reporter Bill Madden who acted as his personal PR representative and published dozens of articles and personal profiles of the collector spanning from the 1970s through 1999 when Halper sold a portion of his collection to MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame for $8 million. Several million dollars of that material, however, including a jersey and bat attributed to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, were exposed as fakes by Hauls of Shame in 2010, and since that time Madden, O’Keeffe and editor Teri Thompson have protected both the deceased Halper and his associate Lifson. O’Keeffe even published an article recently lauding the disgraced Halper as a collecting inspiration for Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson.
Bill Madden revealed Halper's ownership of the stolen Harry Wright correspondence in his 1977 TSN column and the KC Star reported that Halper allegedly paid $3 for his 1869 Reds Peck & Snyder card (inset right).
Madden wrote about Barry Halper’s ownership of a framed 1869 Red Stocking photograph in a 1977 Sporting News article that also identified Halper as the owner of the Harry Wright Correspondence Collection which had been stolen from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection. Three large scrapbook volumes filled with thousands of letters addressed to Wright vanished from the library and ended up in Halper’s possession in 1977 as evidenced in Madden’s report. Six years later in 1983, an article published in the Kansas City Star highlighted Halper’s Peck & Snyder card and quoted him stating how he allegedly acquired his copy of the card. The Star stated, “Halper paid $3 for the first baseball card ever printed, a picture of professional baseball’s first team–the Cincinnati Red Stockings.” Said Halper, “It was just sitting there at an antique sale. I don’t think there’s another one. It may be worth more than $10,000 today.” Halper also told the writer, “I try to get what I want.”
By 1983 there were only a few documented examples of the rare 1869 Reds card known to exist and two of them belonged to Rob Lifson’s top clients Halper and George Lyons. Lyons revealed his 1979 acquisition of the card in his Trader Speaks column along with a rare 1873 Victoria card of the Boston Red Stockings which is also believed to have been stolen from the Spalding Collection. Lyons’ acquisition of both cards took place just months before Rob Lifson was apprehended stealing items from the NYPL. A third Peck & Snyder card was offered for sale in a Trader Speaks auction in 1980 by New Jersey dealer Rick Barudin who claimed that the card was one of “only 7 known to exist.” That card re-appeared for sale in a 1995 Bill Mastro “Best of Yesterday” auction published in Sports Collectors Digest. Oddly enough, Mastro notes in his lot description that the back of the card had “some deliberate places of unexplained wear.”
The NYPL currently has four Peck & Snyder trade cards of the 1869 Reds. 1.) Pasted in Harry Wright's scrapbook. 2.) Recovered by FBI c. 2009 with no visible stamp on the reverse. 3.) A trimmed copy pasted into Henry Chadwick's scrapbook. 4.) A trimmed copy with no visible NYPL stamp on the reverse which appears on the NYPL website.
Back in 1985, dealer Lew Lipset claimed in his Old Judge newsletter that he had knowledge of “10 to 12″ existing 1869 Reds cards. Today there are approximately 35 copies of the Peck & Snyder Red Stocking trade card known to exist and the New York Public Library currently has four examples in their possession. The library once had at least seven copies in its collection including three examples that were stolen, one of which being the Heritage auction lot in Leon Luckey’s possession. The second stolen copy was removed from a Legendary auction in 2012 and is currently in the possession of dealer JC Clarke. The third stolen copy has never surfaced publicly since it was credited to the NYPL in the 1960 book Baseball: The Early Years by Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills. The library also recovered another stolen copy via the FBI in 2009, but prior sales of that example are unknown.
This NYPL copy of the 1869 Reds card was documented as library property in the 1960 book Baseball: The Early Years ny the Seymours. The card has never surfaced publicly since the book was published in 1960.
The example that was withdrawn from Legendary Auctions at the 2012 National Convention was traced back to the estate of a deceased post card collector from New York City. As reported in our last article, Leon Luckey’s card can be traced back to Lifson’s 1997 Robert Edward Auctions sale and a Christie’s sale in 1996. Lifson’s 1997 lot description made no mention of the ink spots on the back of the card and called it “one of the finest examples of this great rarity known to exist.” When the same card was offered at Christie’s in September of 1996 it did not sell as bidders failed to meet the high reserve price.
A source with intimate knowledge of the Barry Halper collection back in 1996 tells Hauls of Shame he believes Halper consigned the 1869 Reds card to his friend Don Flanagan, at Christie’s, and then after it failed to sell consigned it to Lifson’s sale in 1997. In that same REA sale, Halper also consigned his most prized possession, the uniform Lou Gehrig wore when he made his “Luckiest Man” speech at Yankee Stadium. Lifson, however, made no reference to Halper’s ownership of the uniform in his lot description. In the mid-1990s Halper sold many choice items in his collection after his family business, Halper Brothers Paper Products, went bankrupt and he was embroiled in litigation with his cousins who owned the company with him. Halper claimed to have acquired the Gehrig uniform directly from the slugger’s widow in her apartment but, as will be revealed in our upcoming book The Madoff of Memorabilia, Halper’s acquisition story was a total fabrication.
In 1999 Halper sold a different 1869 Reds Peck & Snyder card when Lifson worked as the special consultant to Sotheby’s for the Halper Collection sale. That example of the card is also under suspicion as being stolen from the NYPL and in the Sotheby’s catalog Lifson did not show an image of (or describe the condition of) the back of the card which sold for $9,775.
The stolen 1869 Reds trade card appeared in REAs 1997 sale (top left) after it failed to sell in a 1996 Christie's auction (top right). A source claims that Barry Halper consigned the card to his friends Don Flanagan (bottom left) and Rob Lifson (center). Current owner Leon Luckey (bottom right) is left holding a very expensive bag.
If Leon Luckey’s card traces back directly to both Halper and Lifson, it will represent more damaging evidence suggesting that both men worked together to rob millions in treasures from the NYPL collection in the 1970s. Our source added, “Why doesn’t Luckey demand that Lifson produce the consignment records for that 1997 lot? REA doesn’t destroy bidder and consignor records, so it should take only seconds for Lifson to show that Halper did or did not consign that stolen item to REA. Lifson admitting to selling Halper the card in the first place is another story. Good luck with that.”
Net54 members that have been very critical of Luckey’s actions in selling the stolen card feel as if they’ve been censored by their moderator and have let him know as much in the comments section of our previous report. Very few of the Net54 members, however, have mentioned Lifson’s name and his well known past as the only library thief ever apprehended in the act at the 5th Avenue branch of the NYPL. One Net54 member told us, “They are all afraid of getting banned from his auctions or being harassed by his lawyers.” Another Net54 member came to Luckey’s defense telling us, “Compared to Lifson Leon is a saint. He didn’t rob the NYPL and he’s an amateur compared to Lifson in terms of having doctored and altered baseball cards during his career as a dealer.”
The NYPL did not respond to our inquiry asking for an update on the status of the recovery of Luckey’s stolen card. Sources indicate that the card is still in the Net54 moderator’s possession. The NYPL also failed to respond to our inquiry asking to explain why they had recently filed a lawsuit and were pursuing criminal prosecution against a woman who tried to sell a Benjamin Franklin manuscript stolen from the library.
In the comments section of our last report Harry Wright’s great-great granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, expressed her family’s dismay with the NYPL scandal stating:
“How “lucky” for Mr. Luckey that he can count on profits from these stolen goods to send his children to college while most of the rest of us have to work hard at earning an honest living and our children have to take out loans to do the same. And some these artifacts at one point belonged to my ancestor, Harry Wright. Too bad they ended up at they NYPL only to be stolen for some criminals and an auction house with no integrity to benefit from. Even if my family had them in our possession, they would not end up at auction so I could pay for my own children’s college! These items belong in, and were intended to remain in the public eye for all to see and learn about. They are a part of American History. Too bad my great-great grandfather didn’t pass them along to family to care for. I am sure he felt he was preserving important baseball history by doing what he did. It is a beyond shameful what can happen to the intentions of such an honorable man!”
Keep an eye out for our upcoming “NYPL Hot 100 List” featuring the top 100 artifacts stolen from the Spalding Collection (Leon Luckey’s stolen card is in the Top 10). If you have additional information about Luckey’s stolen Peck & Snyder card or any others stolen from the NYPL please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Peter J. Nash
July 13, 2015
Last year at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, an FBI agent took possession of an 1869 Red Stocking trade card owned by Net54 moderator Leon Luckey suspecting that the relic had been stolen from the New York Public Library’s famous Spalding Collection. Sources indicate that the agent wanted to examine the back of the card for evidence of an NYPL stamp and that after examining it, the card was returned to Luckey, the co-owner of Brockelman & Luckey Auctions.
During the convention, a collector inadvertently posted on YouTube a video which caught Luckey talking to his partner Brockelman about the card in question as the collector was filming the materials displayed in Luckey’s showcases. That same card which was returned to Luckey is now appearing in the current Heritage auction as part of the sale of his type-card collection. Heritage, however, has posted a high-resolution scan of the back of Luckey’s 1869 card and the image clearly reveals an NYPL stamp featuring one of the library’s sculpted marble lions which are named patience and fortitude and have stood guard at the entrance of the 5th Avenue branch since it opened in 1911. The evidence of the stamp on the back of the card is unimpeachable evidence that Luckey’s prized possession was stolen from A.G. Spalding’s collection which has been housed at the library since 1921. The library has suffered staggering multi-million dollar losses as a result of a 1970s heist that has been reported on in the New York Times and the New York Post.
Leon Luckey's 1869 P&S trade card of the Red Stockings shows the remnants of a red stamp on the reverse.
Why the FBI returned the stolen relic to Luckey last year after examining it is unclear. What is clear, however, are the remnants of the red NYPL stamp that definitively document it as property of the City of New York. When we examined the scan of the back and viewed it as a negative image (similar to an x-ray) the word “Library” from the oval NYPL stamp was clearly visible along with the circle that follows the word.
A closer x-ray view of the back of the HA card (left) reveals the word "Library" and a following circle that match the NYPL oval stamp (right) exactly.
Hauls of Shame also sent the Heritage back scan to a skilled SABR member who overlayed it on top of an NYPL stamp found on another card in the Spalding Collection. The result was an exact match for every visible point of emphasis on both the Peck & Snyder card and the oval NYPL stamp.
An oval red stamp that appears on the backs of other NYPL Spalding photos (left) appears to show points of emphasis which are identical to the remnants left on the card being sold by Heritage (right).
The remnants and the full stamp exhibit the exact same lettering, graphics and lion outline and definitively prove that Heritage is, yet again, selling property stolen from one of the nation’s most prestigious research libraries.
When the NYPL lion stamp is overlay-ed on the image of the surface on the reverse of Leon Luckey's card, the result shows an exact match confirming that the Heritage auction lot was stolen from the NYPL.
Luckey’s card is an 1869 trade card issued by the Peck & Snyder sporting goods company and depicts the members of the champion Cincinnati Red Stockings who went undefeated that season. The card is one of several examples that were stolen from the NYPL including another card which was confiscated by the FBI at the National Convention in 2012 when it was being sold by Legendary Auctions. The FBI examined the card under an ultraviolet light which revealed another blue rectangular stamp used by the library to document ownership of Spalding items. That card was offered for sale by auctioneer Doug Allen who has recently plead guilty to charges of wire fraud in an FBI probe into corruption in the memorabilia industry. The stolen card currently for sale at Heritage was also previously sold by Allen and his former partner Bill Mastro at MastroNet in 2000. Mastro has also plead guilty to wire fraud in the same case and Luckey’s stolen card can be traced back to Mastro’s former partner, Rob Lifson, who sold the stolen card in his own Robert Edward Auctions sale in 1997.
The stolen 1869 P&S card was sold by Rob Lifson (left) at REA in 1997 and again by Lifson and Bill Mastro (center left) at MastroNet in 2000, Net54 moderator Leon Luckey (center right) allegedly purchased the card from MastroNet and consigned it to Chris Ivy (right) of Heritage in 2015.
Lifson, of course, is notorious as the only individual to ever be apprehended while stealing similar 19th century photographs and cards from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection. When Lifson was caught stealing in 1979 TIME Magazine reported that he had $5,000 cash on his person and that the thief claimed to have made that cash selling cards in “just one day.” Many of the stolen NYPL relics ended up in the collection of Lifson’s top client Barry Halper and sources indicate that the current card for sale at Heritage was offered at Christie’s in 1996 and prior to that was part of the Halper Collection.
Luckey and Chris Ivy of Heritage Auction Galleries were hoping that the 1869 rarity would fetch a six-figure price considering the auction house calls the card the highest graded example in existence. But after Hauls of Shame alerted the NYPL and the FBI of the presence of the library stamp on the reverse their plans to cash in on the stolen treasure began to unravel. In fact, sources indicate that both Luckey and Ivy were aware that the card had the NYPL stamp and was stolen property as Ivy and Heritage noted in the lot description: “Fragments of some type of red stamp appear on the upper part of the verso. There is surface marring or erasure on the back in the same upper quadrant. This could be a library stamp, a collector stamp or the mark of some retailer.” There is no question that the stamp is a library stamp—an NYPL stamp featuring a lion. Heritage’s false claims that the ink remnants could be from a “collector” or “retail” stamp are wholly disingenuous and demonstrate what appears to be outright consumer fraud.
Further suggesting that Luckey had prior knowledge his card was stolen is evidence that shows the Net54 moderator had displayed the back of his card with a high resolution scan until May 2010 when he intentionally changed the scan to a low resolution image that made it impossible to examine the remnants of the red stamp on the reverse. Luckey basically admits his knowledge that the card is stolen in the course of his 2014 conversation with his partner Scott Brockelman that was posted by collector Jerry Spillman on YouTube. In that conversation Luckey states that the FBI agent (who he referred to as a “Private detective, NYPL”) was “confident” that his card was stolen from the library. Luckey and his partner also allude to knowing who stole the card originally in this exchange:
“Luckey: He (the FBI Agent) is like, man, you don’t really have to worry about it, you didn’t steal it. (unintelligible)
Brockelman: Well, I know, but they obviously know who did. I have a pretty good idea. I’m sure they probably do.”
Luckey also references a conversation he had with New York defense attorney and collector Jeffrey Lichtman stating: “Lichtman says no way they (the FBI) could take it, he says it’s been way too long.” Luckey also claims that dealer Kevin Struss owned the card previously stating, “Well, Kevin Struss had it, he sold it to Montgomery in ‘97. Just talked to Kevin, he said he can’t remember exactly where he got it. He says he might, he probably has a record of where he got it (unintelligible), he didn’t know offhand. Kevin sold it to him…” Struss likely bought the card after it was sold by Rob Lifson in the 1997 REA auction.
The 2014 conversation between Leon Luckey and his partner was posted on YotTube (left) and mentions the 2012 FBI seizure of another stolen 1869 trade card with an NYPL stamp. The stamp was defaced but an ultraviolet light revealed that it was NYPL property (right).
Luckey also references the FBI seizure of the other 1869 Reds card from Legendary’s 2012 auction stating:
“Take a picture of the back and bring out, like they did at the last (unintelligible) a few years ago. Where I saw, they had a Peck and Snyder, from JC, it had a faint mark on the back, and they put it under some kind of instrument, and it brought it out perfectly. It said NYPL, I did not see that. So, some kind of infrared, so...”
The “JC” that Luckey refers to is J.C. Clarke who apparently was the consignor of the other stolen card to the Legendary sale. The card was pulled from the sale and then returned to Clarke and it is unclear if it was ever actually returned to the NYPL.
We sent the transcript of the conversation to one of the nation’s top card collectors who is also a Net54 member and he responded to us stating, “The Brockelman paranoia in that transcript is startling. For such beacons in the hobby (Luckey and him) seem most concerned about keeping a stolen card. No mention of any loss by the NYPL.”
Angela Montefinise, the NYPL’s Director of Communications said she could not comment on the current FBI investigation into this particular card but a source familiar with the probe said the library is aggressively pursuing recovery of the six-figure Spalding treasure.
Hauls of Shame asked Chris Ivy of Heritage Auctions for comment on why he was selling another item stolen from the NYPL but the auction house’s sports director failed to respond to our inquiry. Heritage has a long history selling stolen goods from the NYPL including the 1879 player contract of Ezra Sutton signed by Harry Wright and Henry Chadwick’s 1894 NY Giant season pass.
Leon Luckey has recently come under fire from some members of his Net54 forum after he stated he “appreciated” a recent gift he accepted from Bill Mastro and that he would not be writing a “victim letter” to the Judge who will decide how long Mastro’s prison sentence will be. In years past Luckey has been a staunch supporter of both Bill Mastro and Doug Allen and has also been accused of bidding on his own items in Mastro auctions as a co-conspirator in Mastro’s shill-bidding schemes. New York defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman recently called out Luckey on his forum stating, “Hey, don’t blame me for holding up a mirror to your face and forcing you to eat your own words. You complain about fraud in the hobby and yet when push comes to shove you’ve defended Mastro and Allen for years. For years.”
Ironically, Luckey has his own criminal record as a confessed drug dealer and convicted felon who was caught distributing narcotics in 1986 as well as having 5-50 lbs of marijuana in his possession. He had also been arrested for distributing narcotics three years earlier. Luckey, however, has responded to his critics like Lichtman stating on Net54, ” I venture to guess I do more than 99.9% of the people in the hobby (you are right there too) to weed out fraud. I can’t stand it. Not sure if you have ever seen where I have said, ‘If you are doing something bad in the hobby I will be your worst friend,’ but I have said it many times. I have helped numerous authorities to work fraud cases in the hobby….Secret Service, Dept. Of Homeland Security, Postal Agents, Postal Inspectors, local authorities etc.”
Despite the overwhelming visual evidence showing that the card was stolen from the NYPL and his own words captured on the video at the National, Luckey responded today to criticism from forum member John McDaniel who told him, “There’s the whole Peck & Snyder card mess that’s traveling the hobby rumor circles of you potentially having a card connected to Mastro that may have been stolen from the NYPL.”
Luckey responded stating, “The Peck and Snyder card has been examined and no mark is discernible. Just like it says in the description. “There is surface marring or erasure on the back in the same upper quadrant. This could be a library stamp, a collector stamp or the mark of some retailer.” It has been examined and whatever was erased can’t be made out with any known equipment today. It has been tested. I only know where I got it and have an invoice for it. If you know more please let us know. I know the provenance of it for the last 25 yrs and that is all.”
Apparently selling stolen property donated to institutions doesn’t phase Luckey and with his 1869 card still for sale on the Heritage website it appears he isn’t willing to help the FBI (who he claims to have on his speed dial) recover this particular stolen treasure.
Here is the full transcript of the Luckey-Brockelman conversation referenced in the article:
Transcript: Leon Luckey and Scott Brockelman at National Convention in 2014 from video posted on YouTube by collector Jerry Spillman
Luckey: Brian said ‘I will bring you a picture.’
Brockelman: Huh? for What?
Luckey: Peck and Snyder.
Brockelman: What do you mean?
Luckey: Picture of the back. (lowered voice) (unintelligible) NYPL. Oh you didn’t hear?
Brockelman: Well I knew, I mean, what’s, I didn’t know he’s, what, we are bringing this guy around, what, inspecting everybody’s cards now?
Luckey: I don’t know, if I want to say to him, I can say no. So he looked at it. Thinks it. (lowered voice) Private detective, NYPL.
Brockelman: Well, when, it was first. If he thinks that he certainly has the equipment.
Luckey: He says he’s confident.
Brockelman: Why wouldn’t he have (unintelligible) the picture with him forever.
Luckey: Well he’s going to do it now.
Brockelman: And I was thinking…
Luckey: Take a picture of the back and bring out, like they did at the last (unintelligible) a few years ago. Where I saw, they had a Peck and Snyder, from JC, it had a faint mark on the back, and they put it under some kind of instrument, and it brought it out perfectly. It said NYPL, I did not see that. So, some kind of infrared, so…
Brockelman: But, why wouldn’t you have already had that with you, obviously they knew they were coming here to do that.
Luckey: He had no idea, no, they weren’t coming here to do that. He just said ‘Can I see it?’
Brockelman: No, no, they were coming here to do that. Unintelligible…
Luckey: Maybe, maybe.
Brockelman: So they just took it away from you?
Luckey: Well I gave it to (unintelligible) to look at under a…
Brockelman: Well they sure as hell not going to give it back to you. I would, they would need to have a form from the library that says uh, that we are…..
Luckey: Well, no, no. I think I will get it back for now, I just don’t know the long term prognosis.
Luckey: Lichtman says no way they could take it, he says it’s been way too long.
Brockelman: I don’t know.
Luckey: I don’t know. 10k is what I have into it. I don’t know, it’s a little unsettling the whole thing.
Brockelman: No, I don’t think they just happen to come over here and say ‘look at that’.
Luckey: Maybe not.
Brockelman: I think they already have…
Luckey: Although he didn’t bring his stuff. He’s borrowing somebody else’s so I don’t know.
Customer: Do you have any cabinet cards.
Woman: Cabinets, (unintelligible)
Luckey: He’s like, man, you don’t really have to worry about it, you didn’t steal it. (unintelligible)
Man’s voice: You taking pictures, huh?
Brockelman: Well, I know, but they obviously know who did. I have a pretty good idea. I’m sure they probably do.
Luckey: Well, Kevin Struss had it, he sold it to Montgomery in ‘97. Just talked to Kevin, he said he can’t remember exactly where he got it. He says he might, he probably has a record of where he got it (unintelligible), he didn’t know offhand. Kevin sold it to him (unintelligible)
Brockelman: I’m….I just can’t believe that they just happen to come up to your table. (Unintelligible)
Luckey: Well, they just found one, one or two years ago, last year…..
Voice: Hey Frank, what’s going on.
Frank: How are we doing?
Frank: Leon, how are you?
UPDATE (July 14th 4:50 PM): Heritage has withdrawn the stolen Peck & Snyder card from its current sale.
By Peter J. Nash
June 29, 2015
“Too Late” Davis will finally get his dying wish and have a fitting headstone placed above his unmarked grave at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. The pending fulfillment of the wish is 115 years late, but that’s all the more fitting for the baseball pioneer nicknamed “Too Late” by his Knickerbocker Base Ball Club colleagues. Over the weekend at the SABR45 conference in Chicago it was announced that a newly formed committee devoted to placing grave markers over 19th century players buried in unmarked graves would make Davis their first official project.
Bob Gregory, the Chairman of the newly formed 19th Century Baseball Grave Marker Committee, distributed a flyer to SABR members revealing the plans to erect a monument over Davis’ gravesite and detailed how members could contribute to the project. Gregory said, “Donations may be made in any amount, large or small, but to help initiate the project, a $25 donation is suggested; approximately the equivalent of one dollar at the time of Davis’ passing in 1899.” The announcement was a long time coming as plans for the monument date all the way back to the 19th century when Davis was still living and as recent as 2004 when it was first discovered that Davis was, in fact, buried in an unmarked grave.
James Whyte Davis, whose career in baseball spanned from the 1850’s to the 1870s, wrote a letter in 1893 to New York Giants owner Edward B. Talcott which was published in the New York Sun and included the manner in which he saw fit to be honored by the baseball fraternity:
“My good friend,
Referring to our lately conversation on Baseball I now comply with your request to write you a letter on the subject then proposed by me and which you so readily and kindly offered to take charge of, after my death, namely, to procure subscriptions to place a Headstone on my grave.
My wish is that Baseball players be invited to subscribe Ten Cents each and no matter how small a sum is collected, it will be sufficient to place an oak board with an inscription on my resting place, but whatever it may be, I would like it as durable as possible without any ornamentation—simply something that “he who runs may read.”…
All relations and immediate friends are well informed that I desire to be buried in my baseball suit, and wrapped in the original flag of the old Knickerbockers 1845, now festooned over my bureau and for the past eighteen years and interred with the least possible cost.
I suggest the following inscription in wood or in stone:
Wrapped in the Original Flag Of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of N.Y.,Here lies the body of James Whyte Davis, A member for thirty years. He was not “Too Late,” Reaching the “Home Plate.” Born March 2, 1826. Died ______ ….”
Unfortunately for Davis, Talcott and the National League never got around to honoring him with a monument after he passed away in 1899 and he ended up buried in Brooklyn’s storied cemetery without any recognition at all.
James Whyte's letter to NY Giant owner Edward B. Talcott was published in the NY Sun and stirred up some controversy amongst baseball fans (left). Davis was one of the best-known figures in 19th century baseball with his likeness included in the famous 1865 baseball print published by Leslie's (right).
In 2004, while researching for my book Baseball Legends of Green-Wood Cemetery, I discovered that the majority of Davis’ Knickerbocker teammates were interred in the same Brooklyn cemetery and was able to confirm that Davis’ last resting place was also in Green-Wood. But unlike my discoveries of monuments erected above the graves of his other teammates like Duncan Curry and Fraley Niebuhr, my search for Davis’ final resting place ended with the realization that his final wish was never fulfilled and that he’d been buried in an unmarked grave in the “public section” of the cemetery.
Hoping to deliver Davis his dying wish I formulated a loose plan to establish something called the “Elysian Fields Monument Trust” which I hoped could work in conjunction with Green-Wood’s excellent “Saved In Time” program to refurbish and erect monuments for long-lost pioneers of the game like Davis. I enlisted the help of historian John Thorn, who jumped on board immediately, but our plans never took flight with the two of us being the only contributors to the cause. I thought it would be fitting to collect 10c from each current MLB player, but that plan never materialized. A decade later, the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) brought the original idea to fruition when they worked with Green-Wood to refurbish the monument of Brooklyn Excelsior pitcher Jim Creighton. But despite the interest and support for Creighton, James Whyte Davis was still buried in an unmarked grave.
The public announcement made by SABR this weekend was originally initiated this past Spring when John Thorn attended SABR’s Frederic Ivor-Campbell 19th Century Conference in Cooperstown and had a dinner discussion about Davis’ plight with Ralph Carhart and Marjorie Adams, the great granddaughter of Davis’ former teammate “Doc” Adams. As a result of the informal meeting, Thorn reached out to several SABR members and started the ball rolling to develop a formal plan to institute the new program to aid players without headstones or markers, with “Too Late” Davis being the first project on the agenda.
After corresponding with several SABR members, 19th Century Committee Chairman Peter Mancuso secured the support of SABR and its Executive Director, Marc Appleman, while Ralph Carhart discussed details with Jeff Richman of Green-Wood to get the go-ahead to start work on the Davis headstone. In an email sent to interested SABR members back in May Mancuso said, “SABR’s authorization and support will also increase exponentially the publicity (and in turn donations) necessary to the project’s mission. Marc Appleman has already offered to announce this new project initiative during his report at SABR’s Annual Business Meeting at SABR 45 in Chicago next month.”
While Davis’ prospects look good for finally having a suitable headstone above the grave site where he was buried in the original Knickerbocker team flag, there is a much more troubling reality for Davis’ personal archive which included the team correspondence, score books, rule books and meeting books spanning from the 1840s to the 1870s. As described in John Thorn’s book Baseball In The Garden Of Eden, Davis left his Knickerbocker treasure trove to his good friend and baseball scribe Henry Chadwick. Chadwick, in turn, left Davis’ Knickerbocker archive (along with his own) to Albert Goodwill Spalding in 1908 and after Spalding’s death in 1915 his widow bequeathed the entire collection of baseball history to the New York Public Library.
Jame Whyte Davis' archive of Knick BBC correspondence was compromised at the NYPL when thieves cut and sliced important letters and documents out of NYPL scrapbook volumes housing the Spalding Collection. In some cases portions of scrapbook pages were cut out (left) while in others portions of letters were cut and removed from documents which remained pasted in scrapbooks.
Sadly, many of the treasures that Davis’ generously passed on to Chadwick have become victims of vandalism and theft as greedy dealers and collectors schemed in the 1970s to wrongfully remove hundreds of rare and important documents that Davis had preserved for posterity. With the aid of sharp objects, the thieves excised rare letters from the Knickerbocker Correspondence Collection scrapbooks and score pages from important matches in the team’s score books. They also swiped rare pamphlets and rule books issued by the ball club. The evidence of some of the thefts is clearly visible in the scrapbooks and bound volumes which still show the aftermath of the cutting and slicing which enabled the robbers to safely abscond with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of baseball treasures.
The Knick scrapbooks at the NYPL include correspondence written to and by James Whyte Davis and examination of the actual scrapbooks today reveals numerous instances of vandalism and theft where portions of pages and entire letters have been removed from the volumes.
Missing from Davis’ contribution to the Spalding Collection are numerous “Challenge Letters” to and from the Knickerbocker BBC requesting matches against the top teams of the era as well as important club membership and resignation letters, one of which was written by the “Father of Professional Baseball,” Harry Wright, when he left the Knicks for the rival Gotham Club in 1863. Also missing are important score sheets from the famous June 19, 1846 Knick match against the “New York Club” as well as other items listed on the original 1922 inventory including the Knick By-Laws and Constitutions from 1858 and 1866. The thieves even managed to smuggle out the original panoramic photograph of Davis on the field with the Knickerbockers and the Brooklyn Excelsiors in 1859. The image is one of the most important in baseball history as it represents the earliest image of baseball teams on an actual playing field. It is also very likely that the uniform Davis is wearing in the photograph is the same garment that he was “wrapped in” when he was buried at Green-Wood in 1899.
This original photo of the Knickerbockers and Brooklyn Excelsiors taken in 1859 is currently missing from the NYPL. James Whyte Davis appears in the photo (circled in red) and enlarged to the far left.
The thefts from Davis’ archive are tantamount to grave-robbing but little action has been taken by the baseball research community to spearhead any effort to recover and restore the NYPL’s Knickerbocker archive to its original splendor. In fact, it is actual SABR members and advertisers for the most part who have acted as the buyers and sellers of the stolen materials from the Davis and Chadwick baseball libraries.
One such SABR member even went so far to reveal on collector forum Net54 his knowledge of the whereabouts of the original letter Davis wrote expressing his wishes to be buried in the Knickerbocker flag. The member, a Brooklyn memorabilia dealer named Barry Sloate, said that the letter (which was likely stolen from Davis’ NYPL archive) was “in the same place for many years” and later joked, “So, if his wish came true, all we have to do is dig him up and the flag is ours!”
SABR member Barry Sloate (right) revealed knowledge of a stolen Davis letter on Net54 as well as joking that he could dig up the body of James Whyte Davis to secure the Knickerbocker flag he was buried in.
Interestingly enough, Sloate is also the dealer who claimed on the same internet forum that he had owned and sold many artifacts stolen from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection including: the 1852 By-Laws of the Eagle Base Ball Club; (8) challenge letters to and from the Knickerbocker BBC; a tintype photograph of Harry Wright; and a host of score pages stolen from Henry Chadwick’s personal score book from the late 1850s. (Only the 1852 Eagle By-Laws have been recovered by the NYPL). When questioned about his ownership and sale of the stolen materials on the same collector forum in 2009, Sloate responded stating, “As for pieces I have sold in the past I have sold dozens of rare items and I will admit I do not know the provenance of any of them. I hope all of them were good but like I said, I do not know their source.” Responding in particular to the sale of one of the stolen Knickerbocker challenge letters in his own auction Sloate added, “The person who consigned the Knickerbocker letter is now deceased. I can not go back to him anymore.”
The photograph of the Knickerbocker Score Book at the NYPL shows evidence of score sheets being cut from the spine of the volume. One sheet excised from the volume was from a June 19, 1846 match. The image of that same page was documented in several baseball books before it was stolen.
The first signs of the thefts of Davis’ Knickerbocker materials from the NYPL surfaced in 1983 when John Thorn discovered that the important score pages for the famous June 19, 1846 match between the Knicks and the New Yorks had been sliced out from the spine of the NYPL volume housing the team score books. Luckily for researchers these pages had been previously photographed by authors like Dr. Harold Seymour, Dorothy Seymour Mills and Robert Smith who had included images of the score sheets in published works.
In a Hauls of Shame interview in 2010 Thorn described his discovery stating, “I was surprised to find that the game of June 19, 1846 was not present, nor was the second game played that day, whose date had erroneously been “revised” to June 20. Inquiring of an NYPL staffer about this I was informed in writing that in the microfilming process the “second game” had been missed, and I was supplied with a clear photocopy. But there was no comment about the absence of the game of June 19. I returned to the NYPL in about 1987 to view the game books again, and saw clearly that the page on which the June 19, 1846 game would have been recorded had been excised by a razor blade or Exacto knife.” As far as the value of the stolen sheets today Thorn added, “One can’t place a price on this any more than one could have placed a price on the Mona Lisa after it was stolen from the Louvre back in 1911. The only person who would buy it would be one who could pay big bucks for an object he could never display to friends.”
Perhaps, some of the publicity that may come with SABR’s planned placement of a headstone at his grave will shine an additional light to help locate the whereabouts of “Too Late” Davis’ plundered Knickerbocker treasures.
Anyone who would like to contribute to the Davis monument fund can make a tax exempt donation with a check payable to: “SABR” with “19cBB Grave Marker Project” written on the check’s memo line. The checks can be sent to:
Society For American Baseball Research
Cronkite School at A.S.U.
555 N. Central Ave #416
Phoenix, AZ 850041
By Peter J. Nash
May 18, 2015
Rob Lifson, the New Jersey auctioneer who was caught decades ago stealing rare 19th century photographs from the New York Public Library, said his apprehension was an isolated incident and that he never swiped any other artifacts from the library’s famous Spalding Collection. But new evidence revealed in a front page story published by a University of Pennsylvania newspaper in 1978 shows that even before he was caught stealing at the NYPL, Lifson already had in his possession a rare card of the 1873 Boston Red Stockings team which fit the exact description of two cards that had vanished from the institution. At the time Lifson was caught stealing, the library’s copies of the cards were considered the only examples known to exist.
In addition, two veteran hobby sources have confirmed for Hauls of Shame that Lifson sold at least two rare 1873 Boston cards prior to 1980 and that two decades later, in 2000 and 2001, he sold an example of the same card two times at Robert Edward Auctions. Lifson also sold that same card privately to collector Jim Copeland prior to 1990 and ended up bidding on the card with his paddle (#58) when it was again offered at Sotheby’s in 1991 and failed to reach its $8,000 reserve price. Additionally, Lifson sold a different example of the 1873 card in his 1994 and 2005 auctions and yet another card that appeared in his 2006 auction. The card Lifson offered in the 2006 auction sold for over $16,000. As of 2015, there have been only ten 1873 Boston cards confirmed to exist and five of those examples surfaced after 2000 with no provenance issues or visible evidence of NYPL ownership marks having been removed.
For years Lifson denied any involvement in the NYPL thefts and in 2009 he lied to NY Daily News reporter Michael O’Keeffe denying he ever stole from the library. Lifson, however, has also made several conflicting confessions; one in which he stated he only stole a single CDV photograph and another with Sports Illustrated in which he said he had “secreted” a few rare images at the time he was caught. Both of those accounts, however, are at odds with a 1979 TIME Magazine article and reporters notes regarding the thefts written by David Aikman which stated that a 19 year-old college student was caught stealing a “cache of smiling infielders.” Aikman’s report claimed that the culprit had $5,000 cash on his person when apprehended and that the thief told the NYPL peace officer who arrested him that he’d made the cash selling baseball cards in “just one day.”
The year before Lifson was caught at the NYPL he was a Wharton School freshman and the subject of a November 1978 feature story about his impressive baseball card collection. The UPenn paper noted that “students of Lifson’s age were more likely to deal illegal substances than the pictures of Mickey Mantle” and Lifson told reporter, Joel Siegel, that the oldest card in his collection was one that featured the 1873 Boston Red Stockings. According to 19th century photo historian, Jimmy Leiderman, the card, which was larger than a carte-de-visite (CDV) and smaller than a traditional cabinet card, was actually known as a “Victoria Card” and included portraits of A. G. Spalding and Harry Wright, the two men who were part of the 1873 team and had preserved both of the cards donated to the NYPL in 1921. While there were at least two specimens identified on the Spalding Collection inventory, both of those 3 1/4″ x 5″ cards had vanished from the library and it is suspected that one or two other 1873 cards could also have been included in personal scrapbooks of Harry Wright and A. G. Spalding which were also stolen from the library. These cards have always been considered exceedingly scarce and there were less than (5) copies known to exist by the time the library created its internal “Missing List” of stolen items in 1987.
Rob Lifson was caught stealing CDVs at the NYPL in 1979 but a UPenn paper shows that by 1978 he already owned one of the rarest cards listed on the NYPL "Missing List" (inset). The rare 1873 Boston team card was described as the Wharton student's oldest card. The 1873 card pictured (inset) was sold by Lifson at least two different times.
The report from November 21, 1978, called Lifson “card crazy” and described how the 18-year old had gone “as far as Chicago and Detroit in search of items for his collection.” The article also said that the Wharton freshman’s “real collecting interests lie in the cards printed in the 1880’s.” Lifson told Siegel that the 19th century cards he collected were “rare but not expensive” and that “not many people collected them.” Lifson also told the writer he had no idea how much his collection of over 100,000 cards was worth including the card the paper highlighted stating: “His oldest card is an 1873 team picture of the Boston Red Sox.”
By 1978, the only published references documenting the existence of the 1873 Boston cards (produced by Wilson & Co. and photographed by the Richardson Studio) appeared in the NYPLs 1921 Spalding Collection inventory catalog and the UPenn newspaper article describing Lifson’s collection. Both of the NYPL’s Boston cards were specifically identified in the Spalding inventory and baseball researcher Charles Mears later placed them in “Box 4″ and labeled the back of each card with a handwritten “4″ in the top corner.
By 1978, Rob Lifson was considered one of the country’s premier baseball card dealers specializing in 19th and early 20th century rarities and by the time he entered Wharton he had already appeared on the CBS Evening News and was featured as a whiz-kid collector by National Geographic. By his own admission he was considered a “card scholar” by many in the hobby and had developed close ties some of the most prolific collectors including deceased New York Yankee limited partner Barry Halper, deceased stock broker George Lyons (the brother of film critic Jeffrey Lyons) and another prominent collector of Boston-related items. While it was well known that Lifson was Halper’s primary dealer by 1978, another collector who focused on 19th century rarities, the late New York advertising executive Bruce Dorskind, had made public statements that Lifson was also George Lyons’ main supplier. That being said, by 1983 Halper, Lyons and the other collector all owned examples of the 1873 Boston card and sources indicate that all of them originated with Lifson. The only card owned by the trio that was photographically documented by 1983 was Halper’s card which appeared as an illustration in the SABR pictorial publication called The National Pastime edited by John Thorn and Mark Rucker (The card was misidentified as being from Lew Lipset).
George Lyons (bottom left) wrote about his acquisition of an 1873 Boston team card in a 1979 issue of The Trader Speaks (top). Barry Halper (center, left) owned his card as early as 1982. Sources say these cards were supplied by Rob Lifson (center, right) who was caught stealing from the collection of A.G. Spalding (right) in 1979.
George Lyons’ 1873 card was not illustrated but he wrote about his acquisition for his column in The Trader Speaks. In the February, 1979, issue Lyons wrote, “Last month I purchased two of the oldest baseball cards I’ve ever seen. One is a team photo of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings picturing the Wright Brothers…on an early advertising circular…..The other is of the 1873 Bostons. In this case, the twelve players are pictured individually in ovals with their names beneath.” Noting the rarity of the cards he compared them both to a then-$500 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card and commented, “Can you imagine what these are worth!” Lyons, now deceased, wrote his column and acquired his 1873 card before Lifson was caught stealing at the NYPLs Fifth Avenue branch. In addition, several copies of the 1869 Red Stockings trade card had also vanished from the library.
In this same time period the other prominent collector also purchased his 1873 card. That collector, who is still living, has his Boston card in his possession and recently told Hauls of Shame, “I know I got mine in the late 1970s and it was from either Rob Lifson or (Bill) Mastro.”
So, how many of these rare cards were actually circulating as of 1983 and where did they all come from?
Our research indicates that: Two copies had resided in the NYPLs Spalding Collection since 1921 and vanished sometime before 1987; Rob Lifson owned a copy of the card he told the UPenn reporter about in November of 1978; A source says George Lyons acquired his copy in a deal with Lifson in January of 1979 and that same source says Barry Halper also acquired his card from Lifson which was illustrated in the 1983 SABR publication. Meanwhile, the prominent collector recalls buying his card from either Lifson or his then-associate Bill Mastro. So, the question arises: Did the two stolen cards from the NYPL end up with either Lifson, Lyons, Halper or the other collector? Or were there actually six different copies known at that time (as opposed to four)? To answer those questions accurately we have to examine all of the 1873 cards that have surfaced through 2015 including the example graded by SGC (30 Good 2) which was offered for sale by Heritage Auctions last week and went for $17,925. That same card sold previously (ungraded) at Lelands in 2002 for $5,955 and had a very small area of paper loss in the upper left hand corner which was lower than the placement of where the NYPL box number would be and the abrasion smaller than the size of the library’s rectangular stamp.
Nine of the ten known examples of the 1873 Boston card appear above. It is certain that two of these examples are from the NYPLs Spalding Collection. (Top Row l to r): Mastro 2003/2007; REA 2006; Copeland-Sotheby's 1991 and REA 2000, 2001; REA 1994 and 2005; Halper-Sotheby's-Clean Sweep 1999. (Bottom Row l to r): Lipset 2001; Sotheby's 1992 and Legendary 2010; Lelands 2002 and HA 2015 (SGC graded); Hunt 2006 (Deacon White Estate).
While there were only a handful of examples known in the early 1980s, today we are certain that at least ten examples of the 1873 card exist and we have secured photographic evidence of nine examples with the tenth copy belonging to the veteran collector who bought his card in the 1970s.
All of the evidence available to us today suggests that the four Victoria cards appearing in the bottom row of our illustration above can be ruled out as being missing from the NYPL. One card surfaced at Hunt Auctions as part of the estate of Hall of Famer Deacon White and two others surfaced in sales at Lelands in 2002 and Legendary in 2010 (also sold at Sotheby’s in 1992). The first card in the bottom row can also be ruled out and was sold in 2003 by hobby veteran Lew Lipset who made some telling observations about the 1873 cards in his lot description. Lipset wrote of his card, “The back shows no bleach marks, as found on several copies of this card, or abrasions…” Lipset was familiar with the evidence of bleaching on the backs of cards stolen from the NYPL and had experienced them first-hand in his hobby career. The same went for tell-tale abrasions which also eliminated or obscured the NYPL ownership stamps or the handwritten numbers placed in the upper left corner of most every card. Lipset’s card showed no visible evidence of NYPL ownership and he also mentioned in his description that another 1873 Boston CDV had recently been sold for close to $18,000 because it was a “graded very good copy” of the rarity.
When Lew Lipset sold a legitimate 1873 Boston card (left) he noted that other cards had bleach marks or abrasions on their backs. The PSA-graded example that was sold by Mastro for $17,000+ shows tell-tale signs of being stolen from the NYPL. The reverse of the card is bleached in both areas where the NYPL storage number and stamp were placed. When compared to a CDV still in the NYPL collection (right) the evidence is overwhelming.
The card identified by Lipset was sold by Mastro Auctions for $17,900 and was graded and encapsulated in a PSA plastic holder marked “VG 3″ with a serial number of “11542078.” Mastro described the example as one of only two such cards ever graded by PSA. In fact, both of those graded 1873 cards appear to be two of the first CDV-style cards ever encapsulated by the company at a time when advanced collectors had not yet embraced the grading and slabbing of CDVs or cabinet cards. What was most interesting about the slabbed Boston card sold by Mastro was, however, the fact that the reverse of the card did show the tell-tale signs of NYPL ownership marks that had been bleached out just as Lipset had described. Upon examination through the barrier of its plastic tomb it is clearly visible to the naked eye where the numeral was placed in the corner and where the rectangular NYPL blue stamp was once placed as well. Mastro even noted as much in the description stating, “A portion of the reverse has a few abrasions (including a 1/4″ vestige of the penciled numeral, “4“).”
The back of the $18,000 Boston team CDV sold by Mastro shows sections that bleached out NYPL marks. The lot description notes the remnants of a "4" in the left corner and enhancements of the image reveal remnants of the "4" and the rectangular NYPL stamp. Another NYPL card marked with a "4" appears above for comparison as well as the NYPL inventory page showing the cards were located in boxes "4" and "11" (top) .
Mastro’s observation in the catalog described the bleached fountain pen notation “4″ and confirms that the card was NYPL property having been stored in “Box 4″ of the Spalding Collection as identified by Charles Mears. While the numeric notations were executed in a distinct handwriting style it was unknown that Mears was the author until historian John Thorn uncovered a 1922 Spalding Collection inventory booklet that Mears had marked up and identified himself (“Names by C. W. Mears”) as the person who catalogued the Spalding items and documented the specific storage boxes where each photo could be found. Thorn examined the booklet in the early 1980s and made a photocopy of its entire contents before it also vanished from the library. According to NYPL sources, Thorn’s photocopy is the only surviving proof of Mears’ work but the library and the FBI have been unable to locate the original.
Charles Mears numbered each Spalding Collection photo in conjunction with its corresponding storage box (inset). He also noted his work in a master copy of the 1922 Spalding Collection inventory booklet (left) where Mears identified himself as the author of the notations (center). Historian John Thorn discovered his master booklet in the 1980s and photocopied its contents before it vanished from the NYPL.
A source who was active collecting in the late 1970s and early 1980s told Hauls of Shame he believes that this example sold by Mastro is the card that was owned by George Lyons and described in his 1979 Trader Speaks column. Around the same time period, Lyons also owned a Cap Anson Stevens cabinet card that was stolen from the library with similar bleaching to obscure the NYPL marks and our source believes the Anson cabinet and the 1873 card were sold to him by Lifson in the late 1970s. In 2003, collector Hal Lewis bought the same 1873 card in the Mastro sale for $17,900 and in 2007 another owner sold it through Mastro again where it realized a sales price of $17,956.
The next highly suspect 1873 Boston card is very likely the second missing NYPL example. Again, Rob Lifson figures prominently in this card’s provenance and it has passed through his hands (and his auction house) on three different occasions and once privately when he sold it to collector Jim Copeland around 1989. In a 1991 issue of The Old Judge, Lew Lipset, stated that Lifson had sold Copeland “a million dollars” worth of items from his personal collection and Copeland’s 19th century holdings included several rarities fitting the description on missing NYPL items including the 1873 card. Copeland’s card, however, differed from the 1873 cards Lipset later described as being bleached but did have “abrasions” on the reverse. When Rob Lifson offered this example at REA in 1993 he described his former “Copeland Card” as exhibiting “Minor paper loss on reverse from at one time being removed from an album…” When it appeared at auction in 1991 Sotheby’s said it was “removed from an album so it has a bit of paper removed from its blank back.” Neither Lifson or Sotheby’s consultant Bill Mastro had any direct knowledge that the card had actually been removed from a scrapbook.
Another 1873 card suspected as NYPL property was bought c.1990 by Jim Copeland (left) from Rob Lifson (right). Lew Lipset's TOJ detailed Lifson's sale of "one million dollars" of 19th c. material to Copeland (right).
Since the time of the Copeland auction this particular card has bounced around the hobby like a hot potato and has always been under suspicion of being stolen. If it was actually taken from the library in the 1970s it then went from Lifson to Copeland sometime between 1989 to 1991. It then resurfaced in two other public auctions conducted by Lifson and REA in 2000 and 2001 where it sold for a fraction of its 1991 Sotheby’s estimate at less than $2,000. The same card has also appeared for sale on eBay and via the late dealer “Broadway Rick” Kohl. For the past decade the card’s whereabouts have been unknown. It should be noted that the reverse of this example of the 1873 card was never illustrated in any of the REA or Sotheby’s sales and Hauls of Shame has not been able to locate an image of the back. One collector who previously owned the card told us, “As I recall, the back paper loss was one section in the middle that wasn’t too big.” Another former owner of the same card told us, “I do remember the photo clarity was poor and there was a paper loss on the back, maybe half-dollar size.”
Barry Halper's 1873 Boston card (right) appeared on 1982 SABR contact sheets with other items missing from the NYPLs Spalding Collection including (l to r) cdv's of Deacon White, Ross Barnes and John Ryan.
The third likeliest suspect as one of the two missing NYPL Boston cards is the example that spent several decades in the Barry Halper Collection. The card was first documented on the original SABR contact sheets from a photo shoot John Thorn and Mark Rucker conducted in 1982 at Halper’s residence in Livingston, NJ. Thorn and Rucker were in the process of compiling images for inclusion in the SABR National Pastime publication which was a review of 19th century baseball photography. Halper’s example is highly suspect because it appears among other rare photographs that fit the description of other missing items from the NYPLs Spalding Collection including ultra-rare cdv’s of Deacon White, Ross Barnes and John Ryan. Halper’s 1873 Boston card that was photographed by Thorn and Rucker was later offered for sale in 1999 at Sotheby’s along with a rare and trimmed 1872 Boston BBC trade card. The two cards sold together for only $5,175 and in 2000 dealer Steve Verkman offered the 1873 card for sale in an SCD advertisement. The last known owner of the Halper copy had the card graded and encapsulated by PSA as a “PR-FR 1″ and the former owner confirmed for Hauls of Shame that the back of the card exhibited visible paper loss.
Another suspect 1873 Boston BBC card appeared in REAs 1994 sale (left) and was described as having “minor paper loss on reverse from one time being removed from an album.” The same card sold again at REA in 2005 in a graded PSA holder for $9,280.
The fourth suspect 1873 Boston card appeared in 1994 and 2005 sales conducted by Lifson and REA and is in question primarily for its lot description which, like the Copeland-Lifson example, describes damage on the back of the card as, “a small amount of paper loss (approximately 10%, not affecting the several lines of copyright text) to the reverse from having once been affixed, and then removed from a scrapbook.” The card was encapsulated and graded “Authentic” by PSA and sold for $9,280 but Lifson and REA did not include an image of the damage on the reverse of the card.
The fifth through tenth examples known to exist all appear to be legitimate non-NYPL examples of the 1873 card and show minimal or no back damage with no evidence of bleaching whatsoever. The veteran collector who purchased his card in the 1970s told us his card has a clean back with no paper loss. These cards also have no blatant provenance issues with one of the cards originating from the estate of Hall of Famer Deacon White. In addition, only one of these six cards has been linked to the known library thieves in the hobby, in particular, Lifson. These facts significantly increase the probability that the cards Lifson handled directly could very well have included the two examples stolen from the library.
We contacted the former UPenn writer, Joel Siegel, to see if he had any further recollections about the story he wrote about the “card-crazy” freshman nearly thirty-seven years ago. Siegel, who is currently the managing editor for NY 1 and the former political editor for the New York Daily News said he couldn’t recall the story but said, “The name rings a bell.” Siegel added, “I gravitated to off-beat stories about strange and interesting subjects. I once wrote about a student who was called the ‘domino wizard’ and I suppose the baseball card collecting freshman was just as interesting.” Siegel, who had left the college paper by the spring of 1979, also had no recollection of Lifson’s apprehension at the NYPL or hearing of the incident making the news at UPenn.
Hauls of Shame sent a copy of the 1978 UPenn article to the NYPL and askedthe library’s Director of Media Relations, Angela Montefinise, whether the institution would investigate which of the ten existing copies of the 1873 card were stolen from the library? Montefinise responded stating, “The Library’s goal is to retrieve all items from its collection and make those items available to the public. It has procedures in place when a possible item comes to its attention, and it continues to follow those procedures, actively pursuing items when possible.” Montefinise could not comment on the status of the FBI investigation into the Spalding Collection thefts which commenced in 2009 and the New York office of the FBI says the Bureau will not divulge whether the NYPL probe is still active. The NYPL, FBI and US Attorney are currently embroiled in a legal battle with a Long Island woman to recover a million-dollar Benjamin Franklin manuscript that was also stolen from the library.
By Peter J. Nash
April 24, 2015
Last month it was revealed in court papers that former Mastro Auctions exec Doug Allen was accused by the Detroit Public Library of stealing two photos from its Ernie Harwell Collection. This month, Allen’s former partner and documented library thief, Rob Lifson, of Robert Edward Auctions in Watchung, New Jersey, is selling two photos that fit the description of items stolen from the New York Public Library and appear on its Spalding Collection “Missing List.” The list was created after library officials took an 1987 inventory of the donated Spalding photographic holdings and found that over one hundred rarities were missing including an 1879 cabinet card image of A. G. Spalding and his Chicago White Stockings and a cabinet card of the 1879 Boston team listed as “Unidentified group with Harry Wright.”
The 1879 Chicago photograph is being sold by REA as “newly discovered” and was identified in the published 1922 NYPL Spalding inventory as “White Stockings of Chicago. 1870. California Team” with the names of every player identified on the cabinet mount. The date of 1870, however, was a typographical error as the White Stockings only had a California tour in 1879 and all of the players listed appear in the photograph. REA’s Boston cabinet card features the same image that NYPL officials were unable to identify in 1922 and described as “Cincinnati, Boston or Philadelphia?” for (3) photographs. Two of those items went missing from the library but the one surviving NYPL copy features the same image as the REA auction lot depicting Wright and his 1879 club.
It’s been nearly 100 years since the original NYPL Spalding inventory identified the 1879 White Stockings photo as NYPL property and the example being offered by REA and its President, Rob Lifson, represents the first appearance of any photograph fitting the description of that missing Spalding treasure. In its current auction catalog Lifson and REA describe the lot as:
“Exceedingly rare team cabinet card capturing eleven members of the Chicago White Stockings’ “California Tour” team in 1879, including Cap Anson and A. G. Spalding. This is the first example of this extraordinary Chicago team cabinet we have ever seen or handled….”
REA's current lot description calls the 1879 Chicago White Stocking cabinet photo a "newly discovered example" that neither REA or auction President Rob Lifson had ever handled or seen before.
According to REA, the newly discovered rarity came from outside of the hobby and not from an established or well known collector. In the lot description REA details the provenance of the photo without mentioning the consignor’s identity:
“This card was part of a small but very exciting new find of three nineteenth-century cabinet cards that came to us last fall. (Two of the cards, an 1878 Boston team cabinet and a 1879 White Stockings team cabinet, sold in our fall auction.) All three cards had, for decades, been in the possession of a noncollector’s family. The only time these cards have even had a “brush” with the modern collecting world was in 1989, when members of the family, curious as to what the cards were and if they had any value, decided to have them appraised. Because they lived in California, they brought them to Richard Wolfers Auctions in San Francisco and were told by a representative of the company that the cards were valuable and worth thousands of dollars. At that time, the owner decided not to sell them and instead gave them to her grandson, a young 8-year old collector who was passionate about baseball, with instructions to keep them in a safe deposit box at the bank. The grandson, our consignor, has now decided that the time has come to sell them.”
REA also claims that they had seen the same image on the 19th century baseball uniform website, Threads of the Game, but what REA fails to mention, however, is that they provided the image for that same website after they acquired a digital copy from their consignor. The written description of the same 1879 Chicago photograph has been accessible in the published inventory of the Spalding Collection since 1922.
The REA auction lot of the 1879 Chicago cabinet fits the description of an item listed in the 1922 NYPL Spalding inventory and the 1987 "Missing List" created after losses were discovered by NYPL officials.
Considering the fact that REA’s Rob Lifson has claimed in the past to have handled more rare cabinet cards and CDV’s than any other dealer or auctioneer, the fact that he says he’s never seen this cabinet photo should at least open up a dialogue as to how his consignor’s family acquired the rare photograph? In addition, considering the fact Lifson, himself, was apprehended stealing CDV’s and cabinet cards from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection in 1979, it should also be addressed why he never mentioned the documentation of the missing NYPL copy in his lot description? Could lot number five in REA’s “blockbuster” Spring auction be A. G. Spalding’s missing “California Team” treasure?
Dealer Rhys Yeakley sold this "1915 re-shoot of the original" 1879 White Stockings photo. Unlike the REA auction lot, this image appears to be from a larger 'Imperial' size photo. (Photo courtesy of Rhys Yeakley)
Although REA fails to identify or mention the existence of the missing NYPL example, this writer has been aware of the photographic image since 2009 when a copy of the 1879 photo was forwarded to the FBI and included in a 300-page report detailing the library heist in the 1970’s and the whereabouts of scores of stolen Spalding artifacts. At the time, memorabilia dealer Rhys Yeakley of Prewarsports.com had offered on his website what he described as a “1915 re-shoot” of one of the original 1879 albumen prints depicting Spalding’s “California Team.” Yeakley’s offering of the 1879 team photo provided the NYPL and the FBI a visual representation of the missing artifact and at the time was the only known resource to document what investigators needed to look for in the NYPL recovery process.
The image captured on the 2nd generation print appears to be an Imperial size cabinet much larger than the example being offered by REA. When we asked Yeakley if he could recall where his photo originated he told us, “I think it came from the Helms Museum when that collection was being sold on eBay maybe 5-6 years ago.”
In 2009 an image of the 1879 Chicago cabinet was submitted to the FBI and NYPL in a report (left) documenting the thefts. The report was submitted after the NY Times (right) reported that Spalding items were offered in an MLB auction.
The FBI investigation was commenced when a “rare cache” of 19th century letters sent to baseball pioneer Harry Wright appeared in a 2009 MLB All Star Game auction. The letters were once part of several scrapbook volumes of Wright’s correspondence that vanished from the NYPL in the 1970s and the New York Times published several articles quoting historian Dorothy Seymour Mills who confirmed that several letters in the sale were cited by her and her late husband in published works. Since 2009 the FBI has been investigating the NYPL thefts and has attempted to recover items with Spalding Collection provenance but they have been highly unsuccessful in their recovery efforts. To date the NYPL has only recovered a handful of thousands of stolen items that are now in private hands.
Lifson & REA have sold items stolen from NYPL's Spalding Collection: (Top Row l to r) 1872 signed Warren CDVs of Geo. Wright, Ross Barnes and Cal McVey; 1875 Hartford BBC CDV; Andrew Peck signed cabinet card (Second Row l to r) Harry Wright cabinet cards by MacIntire, Randall & Warren; Alexander Cartwright Tabor cabinet photo; 1874 AG Spalding letter to Harry Wright (Third Row l to r) 1889 Geo Stallings letter to Wright; 1873 Boston BBC CDV, Rob Lifson, Barry Halper (Bottom Row) Knick Challenge letters from Excelsior, Star and Hamilton teams.
While Lifson is the only individual ever apprehended stealing artifacts from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection, his company, Robert Edward Auctions, has also sold more items documented as being stolen from the NYPL than any other auction house. The 1999 Halper Collection sale at Sotheby’s actually contained more stolen items but Lifson also oversaw that sale as Sotheby’s hand-picked consultant in-charge. Lifson wrote up the lot descriptions and handled scores of stolen item that were being sold by his long-time associate and top client, New York Yankees partner Barry Halper.
When Lifson first opened his auction house in 1991 he advertised his knack to “unearth rare baseball items” but is it a coincidence that so many items matching descriptions of missing Spalding items have made their way into his auctions? That being said, there is also another rarity being sold in Lifson’s current auction that fits the description of an additional NYPL missing artifact featuring Harry Wright.
REA describes another 1879 cabinet card in its auction as "One of the most extraordinary nineteenth-century team cabinets we have ever seen! This is the only example of this team cabinet we have ever seen, let alone handled.".
Originating from what REA calls a different consignor is an 1879 cabinet card of Wright’s Boston Red Stockings that REA and Lifson describe as:
“One of the most extraordinary nineteenth-century team cabinets we have ever seen! This is the only example of this team cabinet we have ever seen, let alone handled (though from collectors we are aware of the existence of at least one other example in damaged condition)…”
It’s yet another example of REA receiving an ultra-rare consignment that fits the description of a photograph missing from the Spalding Collection. The 1922 library inventory identifies three photographs as “Unidentified group with Harry Wright” and baseball researcher Charles Mears marked his own inventory booklet and noted that the same 3 photos were stored in boxes 4, 5 and 11 and that one of them was “identified by C. W. Mears.”
An example of REA's 1879 Boston cabinet card in a larger (Imperial) format appears as part of the Spalding Collection at the NYPL but it appears that perhaps two other cabinets like it are currently missing.
Oddly enough, box 11 also housed some of the collection’s over-sized cabinet photographs and the example that is marked on the reverse with a handwritten “11″ by Mears features the exact same image that is found on REA’s “most extraordinary” example. The other two photos identified as “Unidentified groups with Harry Wright” (once stored in boxes 4 and 5) are missing from the collection. All of the evidence suggests that the “unidentified group” from the NYPL inventory was Wright’s 1879 club.
Hauls of Shame has also located another copy of the 1879 Boston cabinet photo that was sold by Bill Mastro and “The Best of Yesterday” in a 1995 SCD phone auction. That photo is mounted on a cabinet card that does not identify the photographer and Mastro described the card as having “blank reverse.” The REA cabinet photo, the larger NYPL copy and the cabinet card sold by Mastro are the only three 1879 cabinets we could confirm exist.
A second example of the 1879 Boston cabinet card (left) was sold by Bill Mastro in a 1995 SCD phone auction (right).
The FBI and the NYPL have both been notified of the 1879 photographs appearing in the REA sale and when asked about the status of the six-year investigation into the NYPL heist, the FBI’s Supervisory Special Agent in the Bureau’s New York Press office, Chris Sinos, declined comment on whether the Spalding Collection probe is still “on-going.” It is unlikely that the FBI or the NYPL will take any action or claim title to the items that may have been stolen from the Fifth Avenue Branch in New York City. Library President Tony Marx has done little to reclaim the millions of dollars in artifacts that the institution failed to protect, preserve and recover in the name of the baseball pioneer whose widow bequeathed them to the City of New York in 1921. Angela Montefinise, the NYPL’s Director of Media Relations, told us “The Library’s goal is to retrieve all items from its collection and make those items available to the public. It has procedures in place when a possible item comes to its attention, and it continues to follow those procedures, actively pursuing items when possible.” Montefinise and the NYPL declined comment as to whether the FBI investigation is still in effect and did not answer any questions we had regarding specific items that have been returned to the library. In addition, Jaqueline Bausch, the library’s VP and Deputy General Counsel denied a New York State Freedom of Information Law request made by Hauls of Shame stating that the New York Public Library is a “private and not for profit corporation.”
The NYPL and the FBI have returned stolen artifacts to consignors who could not establish clear title or provenance for their items and in other cases have claimed that the objects did not show NYPL ownership marks. The two photos in the current REA sale do not display any visible NYPL stamps or identifying marks, but it is documented that Rob Lifson has used at least one conservator named Louise Kuflik to remove NYPL marks from a stolen Spalding Collection cabinet photo. The 1879 Boston cabinet does, however, show evidence of the removal of writing on the back as REA identifies, “the presence of faint traces of erased pencil on the blank reverse (close inspection reveals that “Boston 1878″ was written at one time)
Hauls of Shame contacted Spalding descendant, Keith Spalding Robbins, and informed him of the sale of the suspect 1879 Chicago photo and the NYPL rejection of our FOIL request. Robbins told us, “The NYPL is a most perplexing place. The thefts of the items from the Spalding archives (highlight) two issues. One, of Library misappropriation of donated items and, two, (it’s supply) of foundational items that have spawned a billion-dollar sports memorabilia industry that both private vendors privately benefit (from).” Robbins also feels that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred should be involved in the recovery process and added, “What is just as displeasing is the new commissioner’s silence on the issue, and thus it begs the question is he the CEO of Baseball or the Commissioner of the best interests of the game?”
The surviving Spalding Collection photo of the 1879 Boston team was originally donated to the National League as the property of Harry Wright and it clearly features his handwriting on the reverse of the photo identifying each player. The two missing 1879 Boston team photos were also bequeathed to organized baseball. Back in 2009 when the stolen Wright letters appeared in the MLB All-Star Game auction, auctioneer David Hunt said the “rare cache” of letters was consigned by a man who inherited them from his grandparents. At the time Wright’s great great granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, told New York Times reporter Jack Curry, “It seems odd to me. Why would someone have them if they weren’t related to him? Why would they be in their grandmother’s attic?”
The same question can be asked about REA’s offerings of these two rare 1879 photographs featuring Spalding and Wright. Where did these grandmas and grandpas obtain their photos of MLB’s founding fathers?
(Editor’s Note: The co-chairman of SABR’s Pictorial History Research Committee, Mark Fimoff , has informed us that a cropped image of the 1879 White Stockings appeared in “The Baseball Anthology – 125 Years,” Joseph Wallace, Aberdale Press, 1994, p. 77 with a credit to Culver Pictures.)
By Peter J. Nash
April 23, 2015
(Scroll to bottom for Update):
Internet auction bidding has exceeded $1 million for what Robert Edward Auctions calls the “Oceanside Wagner,” a high-grade PSA-3 example of the famous T206 Honus Wagner tobacco card slated to be sold on Saturday. According to the auction house lot description, the card was “entirely unknown to the modern collecting world for nearly a century until it was discovered in the basement of an Oceanside, New York, home in 2008 alongside hundreds of other 1910-era tobacco cards.”
The rather scarce Wagner card, however, was actually discovered 16 years earlier in Rockville Centre, New York, in a Civil War-era children’s desk that once belonged to Frederick Tietz Jr., the only son of a silk importer who lived in a mansion in the Richmond Hill section of Queens. The card’s only link to Oceanside is that Tietz’ grandson resides in that town and discovered the card in 1992 when moving the antique desk. In an interview last week Keith Pearsall told Hauls of Shame, “My grandfather was born in 1899 and as a kid collected all kinds of cards and the male relatives in the family doted on him and gave him cards from their cigarette packs. When I moved the desk, which had T-206 cards glued to its underside, a cigar box fell out and it was packed with almost an entire set of the T-206’s, including the Wagner.” Since the time the discovery was made public in 1993, Sports Collectors Digest dubbed the card “The Pearsall Wagner,” but the card could just as easily have been named “The Kid From Queens Wagner” or even “The Show ‘n Tell Wagner.” Says Pearsall, “I once let my daughter Deb take the Wagner into school for show and tell. What a commotion that caused.”
The 1918 draft card of Frederick Tietz Jr., the original owner of REAs "Oceanside Wagner." The $1 million card appears on FOX Business News 106 years after Tietz obtained the card in Richmond Hill, Queens.
Having re-named the same card the “Oceanside Wagner,” REA devotes space in its lot description explaining the phenomenon of identifying the 60 to 70 surviving copies of the hobby’s “holy grail” with names like the “The Jumbo Wagner” and “The Die-Cut Wagner.” Of the phenomenon the auction house says:
“Every T206 Wagner naturally has a great story, sharing the Wagner legend that is now part of classic American folklore, and every Wagner also has an additional story relating to its provenance. Collectors have always been fascinated with all aspects of the history of Wagners: how they were discovered, where they have been purchased, when, for how much, where they have been, how they have happened to survive. Sometimes there are more questions than answers, and sometimes a Wagner is special in ways that no other examples share.”
But the naming of Wagner cards has also created some confusion as auction houses like REA have taken liberties to re-name Wagners previously identified or sold under different monikers. Another case in point is SCP Auctions’ recent offering of what they called the “Chesapeake Wagner,” a card that had already been named “The Cooperstown Wagner” by REA for a 1995 auction. That same card was also sold in 1993 at Nutmeg Auctions in Connecticut after the owners of a Cooperstown memorabilia shop named Mickey’s Place outbid ESPN broadcaster Keith Olbermann to take home the Wagner. That card was publicly displayed for two years in the store located less than one block from the Baseball Hall of Fame, thus giving it the name– “The Cooperstown Wagner.”
REA sold the "Cooperstown Wagner" in 1995 (left) but the same card was re-named and re-sold as the "Chesapeake Wagner" by SCP in 2014.
But despite the well-documented provenance of that card, SCP’s David Kohler, who actually purchased the “Cooperstown Wagner” from REA in 1995, never mentioned the previous sales and decided to re-name the Wagner to reflect the background of the card’s most recent owner (and SCP consignor) from Chesapeake, Virginia. In doing so, SCP and Kohler buried a chapter of the Wagner card’s actual provenance in an attempt to make the card appear fresher to the market. Unlike paintings and fine art bolstered by detailed provenance records, the auctioneers selling the “Mona Lisa of Cards” rarely document the Wagner’s true chain of ownership. It appears that REA is continuing this tradition by leading collectors to believe that the “Oceanside Wagner” was discovered in a basement in 2008.
The existence of REA’s current “Oceanside Wagner” was first made public in a 1993 issue of Sports Collectors Digest. The report published in SCD stated, “Another T-206 Honus Wagner card has surfaced in the hobby, this one in the New York area.” The news came from Keith Pearsall who was representing his family after inheriting the collection of tobacco cards his grandfather had shown him in the 1960s. At the time of the 1993 report, SCD said the “Pearsall Wagner” was not for sale and that the family wanted to exhibit the treasure that could actually be traced back to its original owner.
The discovery of the "Pearsall Wagner" was reported in SCD in 1993 (left). In 2008, the card sold for $791,000 and was graded "VG 40" by SGC (center). The same card was re-graded "PSA-3" and is for sale at REA (right).
A decade later in 2004, an article was published in the Long Island Herald revealing how the Wagner card was originally discovered when “Pearsall and his sister, Susan Farrell, moved their grandfather’s belongings from their parents’ Rockville Centre home in 1992.” The tobacco cards were revealed when “an old box fell apart in Pearsall’s hands” and he recognized the famous Wagner card. Pearsall then took the Wagner to a local card shop owned by Norman Siegal who verified it was the real deal.
Realizing his grandfather’s card was extremely valuable, Pearsall sought out appraisals for his treasure from the Smithsonian, Christie’s, the Baseball Hall of Fame and even collector Barry Halper who inquired if the card was for sale. Pearsall even recalls speaking with dealer Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen and being offered $15,000 for the card despite the fact that Rosen told him it was a fake. In addition to being interviewed by SCD, mainstream media outlets like Bloomberg News and Charles Kuralt’s CBS radio show invited Pearsall on to talk about his discovery. According to the Herald report, Kuralt’s interview with Pearsall “was heard by a sick boy who, through the Baltimore-based Grant-A-Wish Foundation, asked to meet Pearsall and see his Wagner card.” Pearsall granted the sick boy his wish and told the Herald reporter, “The boy could have asked to have seen John Glenn or Ronald Reagan, and I work for the Town of Hempstead. I’m a civil servant, a regular guy, and I just happen to have hit the lottery in a unique form.”
Those first interviews and requests spurred Pearsall on to exhibit his card at fundraisers and charity events “to raise money for causes he supported.” According to Pearsall, his most memorable experience drew a large crowd for the Grant-A-Wish Foundation. Pearsall said ”1,000 people an hour came to view (the) Wagner card, including baseball greats Willie Mays and Jim Palmer.” Said Pearsall, “Willie Mays danced with my mother that night, and told me, ‘You know, I knew Honus Wagner.”
The “Pearsall Wagner” spent most of its time in Pearsall’s safe deposit box and according to the LI Herald article by Joseph Kellard, his insurance carrier “require(d) that he routinely switch the card from one bank to another and that armed security accompany him to certain events — to display them for a cause in his hometown.” Pearsall’s interview with Kellard was even conducted inside a bank vault. Living in Oceanside, Pearsall and his Wagner participated in other local fundraisers and an article published in the LI Herald in 2004 estimated that the “Pearsall Wagner” was “worth possibly $1 million.”
Writer Joseph Kellard recalled his 2004 bank-vault interview with Keith Pearsall on Facebook (left). Antiques Roadshow appraiser Philip Weiss (center) sold collector Eric Brehm (right) the "Pearsall Wagner" for $791,000.
Four years after those fundraisers, the Pearsall family finally decided to consign the T-206 Wagner to Philip Weiss Auctions in their own backyard of Oceanside. Auction house owner Philip Weiss, who also works as an appraiser on PBS‘ Antiques Roadshow, knew the Pearsall family for decades and had even coached their son in Little League and Junior hockey. Weiss assured Pearsall he could sell the Wagner for a substantial price even though the auction was scheduled after Black Monday and the stock market crash of 2008. Despite those circumstances, Weiss came through for the family with some spirited bidding as evidenced on a video of the sale posted on YouTube. The video shows Pearsall and his wife rejoicing after Colorado collector Eric Brehm placed the last bid via phone for $700,000 (plus a $91,000 buyers premium). In it’s current lot description, REA does not identify the Pearsall family or Philip Weiss Auctions by name but does say that the Wagner was “carefully saved for generations in the family of the original owner (and) was presented as part of a New York-based estate auction.”
Auctioneer Philip Weiss (left) conducts the live sale for the "Pearsall Wagner" in 2008. Owner Keith Pearsall (right) sits in the audience as a bidder in the back of the room raises his paddle for a $600,000 bid.
Many owners selling their Wagner cards choose to remain anonymous in auction listings and REA makes no mention of Eric Brehm’s purchase of the card from Weiss in 2008. Brehm re-entered the hobby in 2006, after a 20-year collecting hiatus, and focused on the T-206 set also known as “The Monster.” Of the classic tobacco issue, Brehm told fellow collectors on Net54, ” It is to baseball card collecting what Mount Everest is to mountain climbing: it is there, it is big, it is beautiful, it is mysterious, it is the king of its domain, and it is very, very challenging. I can’t imagine I would ever be able to collect the whole set but it is fun to work on it anyhow — the journey in this case being perhaps more important than arriving at the summit.” Having acquired his Wagner in 2008, Brehm reached his personal Everest quickly and after owning the card for the past seven years stands to make a substantial profit on his original investment.
Several news outlets including the NY Daily News, CBS and New Jersey’s Star Ledger have already repeated REA’s innacurate account of the Wagner card’s provenance but high-end collectors in the market for a Wagner card might want to pay particular attention to REA’s claims regarding the condition of the “Oceanside Wagner” against the existing population of Wagner cards. REA says:
“The offered card is one of only four examples graded at this level by PSA with three additional VG examples graded by SGC. Only four examples grade higher (all by PSA): one NM-MT 8, one EX 5, one EX 5 (MC), and one VG-EX 4. By any measure, this is one of the highest-grade examples of the T206 Wagner in existence!”
REAs Brian Dwyer, appeared with the Wagner on ESPN’s Mint Condition calling the Wagner “one of the finest examples in existence” and claimed that “only four cards are rated higher.” REA and Dwyer may be accurate in respect to the Wagner cards graded by SGC and PSA, but they fail to reference the overall population of cards in relation to the “Oceanside Wagner” and go too far in stating the card is “one of the highest grade examples.” Hauls of Shame has documented images of at least 60 copies of genuine Wagner cards and of those examples there are at least (14) examples in better condition and (2) in at least the same condition as the card being sold by REA. ( T206Resource.com has an online gallery showing 43 examples of the Wagner card).
Wagners in better condition than "Oceanside Wagner" (bottom row in red): (Top Row l to r): 1.)The Met's Burdick Wagner; 2.) Baseball Hall of Fame ; 3.) Larry Fritsch; 4.) Jacobs-Mastro-Goode Wagner 5.) "Gelman-Shanus Wagner"; 6.) Unverified copy-1999 Mastro ad. (Second Row l to r) 7.) "The Jumbo Wagner" PSA-5 (MC); 8.) Scott Ireland's PSA-5; 9.)The trimmed "Gretzky-McNall Wagner" 10.) Frank Nagy SGC 40 VG; (Third Row l to r) 11.);"Miceli-Forman-Cohen Wagner" SGC VG-40; 12.) "MastroNet Wagner" PSA-3; 13.)The "McKie-Halper-Finkelstein-Goodwin Wagner" SGC VG-40; 14.) "Drier-Tull Wagner" PSA-4/SGC 50; (Bottom Row l to r) 15.) Sotheby's sale 1992; 16.) "1977 Trader Speaks Wagner" (w/Piedmont back); 17.) "1983 Beckett Guide Wagner"
The high-grade Wagners that outshine the REA example include museum pieces like Jefferson Burdick’s card at the Met and the Hall of Fame copy purchased from Barry Halper in 1998. Others are buried in prominent collections owned by Larry Fritsch’s family, New York collector Corey Shanus, a west coast collector who owns the Mastro-Goode Wagner, Vermont collector Scott Ireland (who owns a PSA-5) and a PSA 4/SGC 50 example owned by movie mogul Thomas Tull.
Three other SGC VG-40 examples of the Frank Nagy, Tom Miceli and Fred McKie Wagners join a PSA VG-3 card sold by MastroNet in 2000 to comprise a group of cards in comparable condition. In addition, an ungraded Wagner sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby’s in 1992; the “1977 Trader Speaks Wagner” (w/Piedmont back); and the “1983 Beckett Price Guide Wagner” all appear to be in better condition than REA’s Wagner which has a small crease. An argument could also be made that all of these cards mentioned are in better condition than the trimmed PSA-8 “Gretzky-McNall Wagner” which should be designated with the lowest “Altered/Authentic” grade.
In relation to the condition of other known “authentic” and lower grade Wagners, REA also states:
“Of the forty-six T206 Wagners listed on the combined PSA and SGC population reports (which may be a bit high as several examples have been crossed between the two companies over the years), twenty-three grade Poor or “Authentic,” one grades Fair, and eleven grade Good.”
This overview illustrates that the the “Oceanside/Pearsall Wagner” falls near the 25th percentile of known Wagners. That’s a far cry from being one of the finest condition Wagner cards in existence. In terms of value, the current bid of approximately $1 million, appears to be where it should in relation to the most recent sales of cards graded higher. On ESPN’s Mint Condition REAs Brian Dwyer (who used to work as a card grader for SGC) said the auction house expects the card to bring $1.5 million or more. Dwyer also told the NY Daily News that the card would “appeal to guys not necessar(il)y in the hobby” and would be “attractive to guys who look at it as an investment.” To date, only the trimmed-Mastro Wagner and the superior PSA-5 (MC) “Jumbo Wagner” have surpassed the $2 million mark. The only other million dollar sales include the PSA-4 “Drier Wagner” which was sold to movie mogul Thomas Tull for about $1.5 million and the SGC VG-40 example which was sold by Goodwin & Co. in 2012 for $1,232,466. Based upon those sales, it appears that anyone bidding over a million dollars for REA’s “Oceanside Wagner” could be overpaying to join the exclusive “Wagner Club.”
REAs Rob Lifson (left) and his partner Bill Mastro (center) defrauded Brian Seigel when they sold him the trimmed-PSA-8 "Gretzky-McNall Wagner" (right) in 2000. Back in 1996 at Christie's Lifson bid against Mastro and took home the fraudulent Wagner card for $651,500. Lifson said he was only bidding for his friend, Mike Gidwitz (right).
The last time REA sold a million-dollar Wagner was back in 2000 when the company was a subsidiary of MastroNet. REAs President, Rob Lifson, and his former partner Bill Mastro, made headlines selling the PSA-8 card for $1.26 million just fifteen years after they bought it from Allan Ray for $25,000. Both men have handled more Wagner cards than any other dealers or auctioneers in the industry and when Lifson opened REA in 1991, he said he’d already handled “eleven T206 Wagners” including the PSA-8 example. Lifson and REA identify that card in the current catalog as the “most valuable and famous” Wagner due to the fact it was later sold to Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick in 2007 for $2.8 million. Lifson and REA, however, do not identify that card as the highest graded Wagner with its PSA-8 designation because Mastro recently admitted in a plea agreement that he fraudulently trimmed the card to enhance its condition and value. The Federal Government indicted Mastro in 2012 for mail fraud and also for fraudulently promoting and advertising the trimmed Wagner card as the finest example known.
REA’s Rob Lifson also fraudulently promoted the trimmed Wagner when he and Mastro were partners at MastroNet in 2000. Lifson and Mastro together defrauded bidders and collector Brian Seigel who purchased the trimmed Wagner in the REA auction for $1.26 million. After the sale Seigel said he would not have purchased the card “without PSA’s seal of approval.” At the time of the sale, Lifson not only had full knowledge that Mastro had trimmed the Wagner, but sources claim that Lifson was also the majority owner of the card at the time of the sale having purchased the card at Christie’s in 1996 with his friend Michael Gidwitz for $641,000. Gidwitz has declined Hauls of Shame’s requests for comment about the claims regarding his ownership of the card with Lifson. Lifson and Mastro split three years after selling the fraudulent Wagner and in the years that followed Lifson was an informant against his ex-partner and was scheduled to appear as a Government witness in a trial that was scheduled for 2014. That trial, however, never occurred since all of the Mastro defendants accepted plea agreements and are currently awaiting sentencing in June.
PSA issued a press release rejoicing in REA's million dollar sale of the trimmed Wagner in 2000 (left). REA's Brian Dwyer (right) says the owner of the fraudulent Wagner, Ken Kendrick (center), could still turn a profit on his card.
Despite the well-known Wagner fraud linked to his boss, REA’s Brian Dwyer told NY Daily News reporter Michael O’Keeffe, “If Kendrick were to sell that (Wagner) card now, he would not lose money.” O’Keeffe, a Lifson associate who utilized the auctioneer as his primary source for his book, The Card, published an article about the REA offering last week and while he detailed Mastro’s trimming of the Wagner, he again made no mention of the part Lifson played in the fraud and added, “Dwyer doesn’t think Mastro’s admission matters.”
Other well-known hobbysists like ESPN’s Keith Olbermann think the admission does matter and have called the card a fraud while questioning the credibility of PSA for giving the “deceptively altered” card a high-grade. When Mastro accepted his plea deal Olbermann wrote that PSA had received “enormous publicity–and undeserved credibility for encasing the card in the first of its plastic slabs.”
Many collectors agree that if Kendrick’s Wagner was properly re-holdered as “Altered” and “Authentic” he would have little chance to ever recoup his original investment. Attorney and outspoken card collector Jeffrey Lichtman told us, “That card in an “A” holder would not sell for $2.8 million — the 8/Gretzky-McNall flip and holder is part of the iconic nature of the card.” But Lichtman doesn’t think that will ever happen adding, “I don’t think Kendrick has any such responsibility to turn the card in for an accurate flip — solely because it’s not required pursuant to the submission documents. And who would want their card put into an “A” holder from an 8? The card is obviously well enough known to be altered anyway, so it doesn’t make a difference.” Kendrick is on the record saying he doesn’t plan to sell any of his cards and intends to pass them on as “a legacy to (his) children.”
Collectors Universe removed any mention of the fraudulent PSA-8 Wagner from all annual reports and SEC filings after the Mastro indictments in 2012, but PSA currently features the trimmed card on its website’s “record breakers” page noting SCP’s private sale to Kendrick. Highlighting the incestuous relationship between PSA and auction houses, that page also features an advertisement and link for REA’s current auction.
The current PSA website features the $2.8 million Wagner trimmed by Bill Mastro on the "PSA Record Breakers" page along with an advertisement for Robert Edward Auction's current sale.
Several industry executives we spoke with believe that REA’s re-naming of the “Pearsall Wagner” and its presentation of an inaccurate provenance history is simply a matter of Rob Lifson not wanting to give recognition to a competitor and to create the impression that the card is “fresher to the market” than it really is. (Lifson also fails to mention he previously sold a $100,000 Ty Cobb T-206 card and a $30,000 Eddie Plank T-206 card which also appear in his current sale) But the re-naming could also be the result of REAs desire to distance itself from the link that exists between the “Pearsall Wagner” and the Mastro-trimmed Wagner sold by REA in 2001. In 2004, the Long Island Herald reported how the fame of that card contributed to Keith Pearsall realizing he had actually made the important discovery of his own “lottery ticket” back in 1992. The Herald reported that upon seeing the Wagner card, “Pearsall’s eyes grew larger as he recalled reading that hockey great Wayne Gretzky had purchased the same card a year before for $451,000.”
Twenty three years after he discovered his unaltered Wagner tucked away in his grandfather’s desk, Keith Pearsall is aware of Bill Mastro’s trimming of the other infamous Wagner card and his pending prison sentence for auction fraud. He says his grandfather wouldn’t have approved of trimming and altering cards for profit adding, “My granddad was the straightest shooter ever, he wouldn’t stand for any type of dishonesty.” Pearsall also reflected on his Wagner journey and the hobby itself telling us, “Gretzky buying that card at Sotheby’s made it famous but I’m glad we had a friend like Phil Weiss sell our card for us. To tell you the truth, with all the fraud in that industry, I’m kinda glad we got rid of the Honus Wagner when we did.”
UPDATE (May 1, 2015): Wagner Doctor Bill Mastro Scheduled For Sentencing In Chicago On August 20th; REA Wagner Falls Short Of Company Expectations And Fetches $1.32 Million
Despite speculating that the “Pearsall-Oceanside Wagner” would sell for $1.5 million and even $2 million on FOX Business News, REA’s Brian Dwyer and Rob Lifson couldn’t coax any buyers to bid on the card during the last day of the auction on April 25th and it sold for a hammer price of $1.1 million. With the buyers premium of 20% added on, an anonymous buyer snagged the card once owned by Frederick Tietz Jr. of Richmond Hill, Queens, for a total of $1.32 million.
The price realized was very close to the sum that the trimmed and fraudulent “Gretzky-McNall Wagner” sold for at Robert Edward Auctions in 2000 when Lifson and his ex-partner Bill Mastro sold the altered card to unsuspecting collector Brian Seigel for $1.26 million. Just after REA closed out its 2015 Spring sale, a Federal Court Judge in Chicago announced this week that Bill Mastro is scheduled to be sentenced on August 20th. Court papers reveal that the sentencing is being scheduled now because Mastro waived his rights to contest the Government’s calculations of losses suffered by his victims of auction fraud and shill-bidding. No date was given by Judge Ronald Guzman for the sentencing of Mastro’s co-defendants.
By Peter J. Nash
March 13, 2015
(Scroll to Bottom for Update)
In our last report we detailed several issues that sources said would surface in the RR Class Action Lawsuit related to allegations of shill-bidding and fraud and the reported suicide of RR’s CFO and bookkeeper Karen “Kay” Burris. Late Thursday the class action website posted a 2008 affidavit written by Burris for her attorney that alleges a myriad of criminal activity that occurred at the New Hampshire auction house and shows that the former RR employee feared for her safety after experiencing “veiled threats” from her boss (and RR owner) Bob Eaton. Just two weeks after signing the 12-page affidavit making the serious allegations against Eaton and his company Burris was found dead in her home in what the current Amherst Chief of Police described to Hauls of Shame as a “self-inflicted gun-shot wound.”
Sources indicate that Plaintiff Michael Johnson and his attorneys posted the affidavit on the lawsuit website after it was officially submitted as evidence in the Santa Barbara, California, court house serving as the venue for the litigation. Before the detailed affidavit was posted on the website, Hauls of Shame contacted the Amherst Police Department to confirm details of Burris’ death and to ask whether any statement written by her alleging wrongdoing by RR Auctions was ever entered as evidence in the case. Chief of Police Mark Reams told us he had never seen any such statement and that evidence in the case presented by RR after the company fired her showed that “she embezzled money from the company.” Chief Reams also stated that Burris’ husband settled a civil case with RR by paying back funds claimed by the auction house. Reams was the officer called to the Burris household and found the ex-RR bookkeeper dead and the victim of what he described as a “self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.” Reams also confirmed that he did not have any autopsy report in the Burris case file and was not aware of any claims that Burris feared for her life before she was found dead. In 2012, Reams replaced former Police Chief, Peter Lyon, who was his superior at the time of Burris’ death.
Karen Burris signed an affidavit just weeks before her death stating that she feared for her own safety and the safety of her family as a result of divulging information detailing alleged fraud and shill-bidding at RR Auctions.
The 2008 Burris affidavit posted on the class action website, however, appears to shed some more light on her relationship with RR and Eaton and shows that Burris did, in fact, fear for the safety of herself and her family. Burris also stated that her lawyer John Kacavas was going to “vigorously” defend her against RR’s claims of “financial improprieties.”
We followed up with Chief Reams and sent him a copy of the Burris affidavit for comment and he responded, “I am not in a position to review the affidavit, but can say that the alleged embezzlement was reported to our agency on 3/6/2008 at which point we initiated an investigation. Mrs. Burris died less than one month later on 4/2/2008 in the midst of that investigation.” Reams also confirmed that Burris died ”prior to the issuance of an arrest warrant.”
The 12-page affidavit prepared and signed by Karen Burris (left) was posted on the RR Class Action Lawsuit website on Thursday. Amherst Police Chief Mark Reams (right) says the police had no knowledge of Burris' statement at the time of her death and is currently "not in a position to review" the affidavit.
At the beginning of the document she gives an overview of her career at the auction house and the scope of the illegal activities she alleges:
“I believe that for the past five-plus years I have been working as a key employee of a privately-held company that systematically and knowingly defrauded certain buyers and sellers via its international auctions of important documents, important autographs and historical ephemera. I also believe that R&R and its principals have organized a group (of) industry insiders and associates that regularly colluded via phone, email, the U. S. Postal Service, and private couriers to regularly fix bidding in its monthly international auctions to affect the outcomes in favor of certain buyers at times; and certain sellers at other times.”
Burris continues her narrative and describes how she worked for the company for close to six years and rose from the position of office manager to CFO and bookkeeper after receiving training from Bob Eaton’s mother, Janet Eaton, who held both of those positions before she left work after developing cancer. Burris noted her work with Eaton, Bobby Livingston, Bill White and Elizabeth Otto and also revealed that Otto had “intimate knowledge of several years of R&R’s and Bob Eaton’s chicanery with allowing items into auction knowing their respective authenticity was either questionable, or many times knowingly fake.”
The Burris’ affidavit reveals that the CFO became part of the Eaton family “inner circle” and assumed a myriad of responsibilities which put her in a position to witness what she alleges are auction house improprieties:
“During the course of my employment with R&R I was provided almost daily briefings which included intimate details of illegal and dubious practices designed to defraud R&R clients (consignors) and the general public (bidders and successful buyers). On numerous occasions and on behalf of the family, I was asked to solve problems on a case by case basis, ranging from: Inquiries of claimed theft and fraud from former and current bidders/clients; from the US Justice Department regarding several instances where items appearing in R&R’s auctions were deemed stolen from the US National Archives; to members of the U.S. Congress and other luminaries claiming the same with their respective personal items either bought or sold via R&R; to numerous attorneys for their respective clients whereby “official notice” was demanded claiming ownership of various documents in R&R’s possession…..”
The Burris affidavit alleges that PSA/DNA authenticator John Reznikoff engaged in shill-bidding on his own consignments and that his monthly proceeds from RR auction sales ranged from the "$1,000's to $100,000."
Burris’ affidavit gives the most intimate details in relation to what she describes as rampant illegal shill-bidding at the auction house which she claims involved Bob Eaton and PSA authenticator and RR consultant John Reznikoff. In regard to Reznikoff Burris stated:
“A major consignor (to) R&R is allowed to bid on his own items to move up bids to the point that he is willing to sell the item. A special procedure was designed by Bob Eaton to permit collusion on prices, bid rigging; and profits for items placed into R&R auctions by Reznikoff. Reznikoff’s bidder number is 204.”
Burris goes on to describe further how Eaton and John Reznikoff engaged in shill bidding activity similar to the actions that took down auction kingpin Bill Mastro and Mastro Auctions:
“In any given auction, if Reznikoff “wins” his own item in a particular auction because he or Eaton could not max-out the bidding on that item with an unknowing bidder (or bidders), it is processed internally by Bill White differently than all other winning bids are processed- there is no sales invoice generated for him and the item shows as unsold on the “after auction profit list.” This system was designed by Bob Eaton, in direct collaboration with Reznikoff , so that Reznikoff was guaranteed a profit to his personal liking on any particular item; and a “no sale-no commission” policy so that he would continue to supply a higher quality (supposedly) number of items when R&R couldn’t get or didn’t have enough in any given auction. I know of numerous instances of this occurring over the past five years. Reznikoff consigns to almost every auction and has usually 10 or more items in each. Monthly consignor checks to Reznikoff range in value from $100’s to $100,000 each month. He bids on his own items with the full knowledge and consent of Bob Eaton and Carla Eaton.”
Burris also revealed her intimate knowledge of the bidding process and the RR computer system:
“To get the R&R bid logs one needs an administrative password- log-in to the website using that password and then you can click on any item, see the current high bidder, the maximum that they have on an item and there is a button you can use to see the bid log. It gives the name, number and amount of the bid as well as the time it was placed. Under the administrative password there is also a report called “auction totals.” When selected this generates a complete report of the current sales totals for the auction in process. It was designed as part of the web bidding process and implemented by Steve Long. Steve Long was told that when designing the report to ensure that the total omitted any high bids by the house auction bidder 0. These are the reserve bids. However, the totals on the administrative report generated off the website are subsequently not correct as they include bids from those consignors who are bidding on their own items on either their own bidder number of the bidder number given to them specifically to bid on their own items. The true auction sales report is generated in the company’s internal system after the auction by Bill White- after he has taken out the fictitious bids.”
Burris alleges that Heritage CEO Brian Halperin (left) was shill-bid by Eaton and RR on a Charles Schulz item (2nd from left) that sold for close to $40,000.
In one passage Burris details how Heritage Auctions executive Brian Halperin was shill-bid on a Charles Schulz autographed item:
“Some consignors have been given separate bidder numbers specifically so that they can use those to bid on their own items…Joe Long, uses an account set up in the name “Gerry Long”. A “Gerry Long” bid on “Joe Long” items and to my knowledge has never bid on anyone else’s items. In this February 2008 auction Gerry Long bid on the Charles Schulz item, item 594 catalog 330 and the eventual sales price was $38,569.09 (with bidder’s premium) “Joe Long” was the actual consignor of this Schulz item. This item was ultimately purchased by the CEO of Heritage Auctions, Mr. Brian Halperin, so much so that an avid R&R bidder, Mrs Charles Schulz herself, deemed the final price too high for the value of this particular Schulz item.”
In another passage Burris described in great detail how another RR client named Simone Peterson was defrauded by Eaton:
“When I first worked there, bidder 5461 was used to bid against maximum bids. I noticed it because I always took the bids placed by a regular client named Simone Peterson (NY) bidder 6132. Simone is an insisting collector on items that start out at $100. I noticed that many times she was being bid against by bidder 5461 who never won the item but always took her to one or two bids below her maximum. In this way, she paid huge ridiculous amounts for items because Eaton knew what she would be willing to pay for any given item because of the maximum bids she already placed on the item that he could see on his computer screen. He knowingly and amusedly took advantage of her “addiction” for especially desired items—almost as a sport. At some point I checked on who the “counter” bidder was in these bidding wars with my “client” Simone and realized that it was not an actual person or persons, but rather an account kept by R&R to bid in its own auctions. At the time bidder 5461 had a name: O. Wright from Kitty Hawk.”
Burris claims that RR sold a large number of fake items alleged to have been signed by famous artists like Pissarro (left). According to Burris, many fake Pissarro prints were consigned to RR by attorney Danny Brams (right).
Burris’ affidavit also deals with issues of authenticity and alleges that RR and Eaton at times knowingly sold non-genuine autographed items including an Elvis Presley signed guitar, a Beatles album and a large group of material consigned by attorney Danny Brams from Florida:
“R&R has sold numerous (more than 100) items purportedly signed by Chagall, Miro, Picasso and Dali. Most of these were consigned by Dan Brams dba as Paper Treasures. They came to my attention originally when I fielded questions about them from bidders concerned about their authenticity. A number of these were returned to R&R when subsequent review by art experts confirmed their non-authenticity. Bob Eaton and I had a conversation about not taking these items anymore and while he agreed that they were problems with these items, that Dan Brams had an explanation for them so we would continue to list them. Among these items, as an example, R&R sold a Pissaro Item 377, Catalog 269, selling price $5,850, which was recently returned by the purchaser after it had been examined by the Pissaro Institute and determined to be non-authentic. R&R has sold 100s of these prints/book photos and has issued refunds on all that have been returned. However, there are still dozens of these in the hands of R&R winning bidders and the potential loss for the continued refunds would be in the $100,000’s.”
Sources indicate that several FBI agents have received copies of the Burris’ statement and according to one hobbyist familiar with the RR lawsuit the FBI has shown an interest in the case and in the recent news that former Mastro Auctions IT director William Boehm also worked for RR. Boehm, who plead guilty to one count of lying to FBI agents after destroying Mastro bidding records, was scheduled to be sentenced in Chicago Federal Court earlier this month but sources say sentencing has been postponed until at least June.
Here is the entire Karen Burris Affidavit.
UPDATE (Sat. March 14, 2015): Johnson Motion For Class Certification Denied But Press Release Reveals New Action Against RR Related To Shill-Bidding
In Santa Barbara Superior Court yesterday, Judge Donna Geck denied a motion for the certification of Michael Johnson’s proposed class action on behalf of California consumers who purchased bogus items from R&R Auction in New Hampshire. Last night, the RR Auction Lawsuit website posted a press release in response to the decision which stated:
“The Court did not rule on the merits of Mr. Johnson’s claims, but instead, determined that the case could not procedurally be tried as a class action because of individualized issues involving autographed items purchased by the members of the proposed class. Essentially, the Court ruled that anyone that was sold forged items during 2008-2012 would have the ability to pursue their own individual claims against R&R. In addition to the ability for others to now pursue their own cases against R&R Auction for the purchase of inauthentic items, the Burris evidence demonstrates that another class action or suit in State or Federal Courts may be filed against R&R for shill bidding.”
According to sources familiar with class action certifications the denial of the motion did not relate specifically to the sheer numbers of alleged victims in the class but the fact that RR customers had claims for different items with different sales prices and damage amounts. The ruling opens the door for many individual suits against RR to be filed in the near future. Johnson’s attorneys at Christman, Kelley & Clarke, say they will continue their litigation against RR for the sale of bogus autographed memorabilia and, according to the press release, will include new claims ”recently discovered from a former R&R employee that R&R Auction engaged in a systematic scheme to defraud its customers by engaging in “shill bidding” through conspiring with others to bid on memorabilia it auctions on its website with the intent to artificially increase its price or desirability.” The basis for Johnson’s new claims is identified in the press release as being “a copy of a signed and notarized affidavit from Karen Burris, a former RR Auction employee who passed away shortly after executing the affidavit. Ms. Burris’ sworn affidavit implicates R&R Auction in a variety of illegal activities, including shill bidding and the knowing sale of forged memorabilia to its customers.”
The press release also indicates that Mr. Johnson’s attorney will “amend his complaint to assert these additional violations of consumer protection laws.” Those laws prohibit the sale of bogus autographed memorabilia, and provide for the recovery of damages and penalties which could equal 10 times actual damages. Johnson’s attorneys state that based upon his “estimated actual damages of $130,000″ Johnson will seek “a civil penalty of at least $1.3 million.” In the press release Matthew Clarke of Christman Kelley & Clarke said, “This is another step in the right direction of ultimately making Mr. Johnson whole and holding R&R Auction accountable for its fraudulent and deceptive business practices.”
RR Auction did not publish a press release on the company website but Steve Cyrkin of Autograph Magazine Live published a post claiming that he received a press release from RR which stated:
“Lawyers for Michael Johnson, the son of an oil industry tycoon, effectively admitted defeat today in Santa Barbara County Superior Court after Judge Donna Geck issued a tentative ruling denying Johnson’s motion for class action certification in a lawsuit filed in October 2012 in which Johnson alleged that $84,000 in autographed items he’d purchased through R&R were later found to be inauthentic.”
Cyrkin’s post of the RR release also stated:
“In what R&R’s attorney’s predict will be a fatal blow to Johnson’s suit, now on its second set of lawyers, Judge Geck issued a six-page tentative ruling Wednesday denying class action status to the case “Because of the findings that the class is not ascertainable, the class is not numerous and individual issues predominate over common issues.”
Hauls of Shame will continue post any new information about the case as it becomes available.
(Editor’s Note: Amherst Police Chief Mark Reams states that he had no knowledge of details related to the 2008 settlement between the Burris family, Karen Burris’ estate and RR Auction. Reams called Hauls of Shame to clarify what he said and noted that the only details he was aware of were published in New Hampshire newspapers.)
By Peter J. Nash
March 4, 2015
It’s not a baseball memorabilia dispute but every baseball collector will be familiar with the names of the characters getting dragged into the RR Auction class action lawsuit. The litigation, initiated by collector Michael Johnson, has been brewing for over three years in Santa Barbara Superior Court and the lawsuit is on track to receive California class certification in the next few weeks. Take a look at your PSA/DNA LOA’s and you’ll see the facsimile signatures of the so-called experts who have been dodging subpoenas in the case for months now including PSA President Joe Orlando; Pawn Stars regular Steve Grad, and John Reznikoff. Even the former kingpin of the memorabilia and auction industry, Bill Mastro, is on the list to be deposed as he awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to mail fraud last year in a Chicago Federal Court.
Orlando and Grad are still currently evading service of subpoenas while the deposition of PSA authenticator Bob Eaton has been up on a video link at the RR Auction lawsuit website since January. Grad’s video-taped deposition is highly anticipated in the hobby considering he fabricated his professional bio and was exposed lying under oath about his education in another litigation. The deposition of Eaton, who is also the owner of RR Auctions and claims to do $25 million annually in revenue, is a must-see for anyone who buys, sells or collects autographs. One collector who watched the video told us, “It’s hard to believe that a PSA/DNA LOA with his name on it could be worth the paper it’s written on after watching that video.”
Eaton’s name and facsimile signature were recently reported as having been removed from PSA/DNA LOA’s and sources have confirmed that recently issued PSA certifications make no mention of Eaton. In his deposition Eaton said he was no longer affiliated with PSA and that his company no longer offers a “lifetime guarantee” or even letters of authenticity on items they sell. Eaton couldn’t recall who prints his monthly auction catalogs and also couldn’t remember filing lawsuits within the hobby and against former employees.
Bill Mastro was instrumental in bolstering the careers of authenticators (l to r) Steve Grad, John Reznikoff and Roger Epperson. Epperson was recently exposed for authenticating a large group of Michael Jackson forgeries some of which ended up in RR auction sales. Many of the forgeries were sourced to actor Corey Feldman but the actor denied ever owning them and claimed a photo accompanying the forgeries had his head photo-shopped onto the image (right).
Eaton also said he had no knowledge of his “entertainment expert” Roger Epperson authenticating or consigning Michael Jackson forgeries to his auction house despite evidence suggesting that he did. Eaton’s consignment director, Elizabeth Otto, however, admitted under oath that Epperson and PSA experts Grad, Reznikoff and Eaton consign their own authenticated materials to the New Hampshire auction house. Otto also stated that the autograph submission protocol at RR and PSA/DNA is “anonymous” and that experts do not know the identity of consignors, but sources indicate that internal RR documents contradict Otto’s testimony.
Otto also said that Bob Eaton was not on the “PSA payroll” or compensated by PSA for having his name and signature appear on PSA LOAs but she could not directly answer why Eaton would work for PSA without compensation. In her deposition Otto also claimed that William Boehm, another associate of Bill Mastro who plead guilty and is also awaiting sentencing in the Mastro case, had acted as the webmaster and outside IT consultant for the auction website. RR’s Vice President Bobby Livingston went a step further in his deposition and said that Boehm was a freelancer who worked for RR and “oversees the function of the auction software.” Boehm was working for RR after he was indicted for lying to FBI agents about destroying auction bidding records and company computers for Bill Mastro.
As one collector told us after watching all of the RR video testimony, “This class action lawsuit really shows the behind the scenes collusion between the auction houses and the third-party authenticators.” Another veteran collector said, “This very well could be the beginning of the end for PSA/DNA.” But if that’s the case, what is the RR Auction class action really all about and how is PSA/DNA involved in the litigation? And why are the lawyers who represent PSA and its parent company, the publicly held corporation Collectors Universe (CLCT), also representing Bob Eaton and RR Auctions?
The RR Class Action lawsuit website details the items purchased by Michael Johnson which were rejected by PSA/DNA including alleged autographs of The Eagles, Eric Clapton and the Moody Blues.
The original underlying claims made in the lawsuit relate to collector Michael Johnson’s RR auction purchases of over $100,000 of autographed Rock n’ Roll memorabilia including album covers, guitars and drum heads allegedly signed by the likes of Vanilla Fudge, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Paul McCartney, Cream, Eric Clapton, the Moody Blues and the Rolling Stones. According to the complaint and the lawsuit website, Johnson had all of the material sent to PSA/DNA for letters of authenticity to be issued, but all of the items were deemed non-genuine by PSA and expert Steve Grad. After he was notified that the items he won from RR were failed, Johnson complained to Eaton and RR vice president Bobby Livingston and subsequent email exchanges between Livingston and his boss show that Eaton called Johnson a “nut case.” The exchanges also reveal that RR had discussions with PSA which resulted in another email exchange which referred to Johnson’s items and stated: “PSA-Now They Are Real.”
A portion of an email between RR owner Bob Eaton and VP Bobby Livingston reveals that PSA/DNA reversed its opinions on the items they failed. The RR email states, "PSA-Now they are real."
The email exchanges were turned over to Johnson’s attorneys in discovery and they reveal the inner workings of the auction house’s authentication process and the incestuous relationship between RR and PSA/DNA, the company that auction house owner Bob Eaton has served as an expert for and is listed on hundreds of thousands of letters of authenticity. RR didn’t immediately refund Johnson’s money and in doing so, RR and Eaton opened up the door for the filing of the class action lawsuit amid claims that many other California residents who bid on items in RR’s auction sales were also the victims of fraud and deception that stemmed from the authentication processes utilized and manipulated by RR and PSA/DNA. A closer examination of the email threads turned over by RR also reveals that the documents received in discovery may have been doctored or fraudulently altered to delete information which included direct email exchanges between RR and PSA/DNA including its President Joe Orlando and senior authenticator Steve Grad. Adding to the controversy and conflicts of interest is the fact that RR and PSA/DNA are represented by the same attorneys, Keith Attlesey and Suzanne Storm of the California lawfirm Attlesey & Storm.
While Bob Eaton's name and signature have been removed from PSA/DNA LOAs, he still appears as an expert on Jimmy Spence's (inset) website for his company JSA.
While Eaton still appears as an expert on Jimmy Spence’s website for the authentication company JSA, his name and signature appear to have been removed from the PSA/DNA LOAs after he was noticed for his deposition back in October. The last LOA we could find with his facsimile signature was issued in November of 2014. Eaton’s name had appeared on PSA/DNA LOA’s under the Collectors Universe umbrella for over a decade since he joined PSA in late 2003. Prior to 2004, the PSA/DNA letters only included the names and signatures of Jimmy Spence and Steve Grad but by 2005 Spence had left PSA and the new LOA’s issued by the company included the names of Grad, Reznikoff, Zach Rullo, Roger Epperson and Eaton as the members of the “PSA Authentication Team.”
It is interesting to note that Eaton and the PSA team authenticated scores of Babe Ruth forgeries that were sold by Mastro Auctions and MastroNet during that same time period and it is no surprise that Bill Mastro, the godfather of the third-party authentication system, is listed on the class action website for an upcoming deposition. It was Mastro who was instrumental in installing Jimmy Spence and ex-Mastro employee Steve Grad as the lead authenticators for PSA/DNA and it was Mastro and his MastroNet partner Rob Lifson who devised language and regulations in the MastroNet catalogs between 2000 and 2003 which insulated the auction house from liability for selling forgeries and successfully set up a system to market and distribute forgeries throughout the hobby with little recourse for collectors.
Bob Eaton was included as a PSA/DNA expert on all LOAs issued by Collectors Universe from 2005 until 2014. After Eaton was noticed for his deposition in the class action lawsuit, his name stopped appearing on PSA/DNA LOA's as evidenced on a January 2015 LOA (right). Eaton's facsimile signature appears on a 2005 PSA/DNA LOA certifying a Babe Ruth forgery as a genuine signature (right) .
There has been little in-depth reporting about the Johnson case and the “hobby press” hasn’t really acknowledged the legal wranglings. Most of the chatter about the case has surfaced on autograph forums and long-time PSA supporter, Steve Cyrkin, made the most notable public comments about the case recently before he was added to the class action website’s list of individuals scheduled to be deposed. Cyrkin addressed the lawsuit and said:
“If you’re perplexed why this lawsuit was filed, since R&R offered to refund Johnson’s money and all grading and shipping fees, this may make it easier to understand: There’s a California law covering signed sports memorabilia, Calif. Civil Code 1739.7, that specifies 10-times losses plus legal fees and costs for selling fake signed memorabilia. I hear it has been successfully used in cases involving non-sports signed memorabilia as well. I think that Johnson is trying to use this law to try shakedown R&R. R&R offered Johnson his money back and more according to the deposition testimony, so I can’t imagine any judge or jury awarding a civil penalty. I think that at best all Johnson will get is what’s specified under R&R’s terms and conditions in force when he bought the items.”
Cyrkin even published the California statute he was referring to which states:
“(g) Any consumer injured by the failure of a dealer to provide a certificate of authenticity containing the information required by this section, or by a dealer’s furnishing of a certificate of authenticity that is false, shall be entitled to recover, in addition to actual damages, a civil penalty in an amount equal to 10 times actual damages, plus court costs, reasonable attorney’s fees, interest, and expert witness fees, if applicable, incurred by the consumer in the action. The court, in its discretion, may award additional damages based on the egregiousness of the dealer’s conduct. The remedy specified in this section is in addition to, and not in lieu of, any other remedy that may be provided by law.”
Cyrkin made his public statements just before he lost three motions in California Superior Court as a defendant in a defamation suit filed against him by autograph dealer Todd Mueller of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Mueller’s suit alleges malicious defamation and business interference and sources familiar with that litigation allege that documents obtained in discovery by Mueller’s attorneys (the same firm representing Johnson) evidence collusion between PSA/DNA and auction houses and also suggest that Cyrkin, Orlando, Grad, Epperson, Reznikoff and Jimmy Spence of JSA worked in concert to destroy Mueller’s reputation and his business to further their position as a monopoly in the authentication industry.
Cyrkin, who is a co-founder of PSA and currently employed by the company in its coin division declined comment about his public statements regarding Johnson’s alleged “shakedown” of RR Auctions. Cyrkin is the moderator of the website Autograph Magazine Live and is known throughout the hobby as a notorious seller of forged items through his now defunct company Starbrite Autographs. Cyrkin has also claimed in court papers to have several mental disorders and he also has as a history of legal troubles including a $500,000 judgment entered against him by the Provident Life and Accident Insurance Co. for committing insurance fraud. Johnson and his attorney, Dugan Kelly, declined to comment or respond to Cyrkin’s allegations of a “shakedown” but did say there could be additional filings in the class action suit against RR later this week.
The depositions of Bob Eaton, Bobby Livingston, Bill White and Elizabeth Otto are currently on the RR lawsuit website (top row). On deck are (l to r) Steve Grad, Joe Orlando, John Reznikoff, Steve Cyrkin and Bill Mastro.
Hauls of Shame interviewed several parties familiar with the details of the RR class action and the Mueller litigation who disagree with Cyrkin’s commentary and, based upon those interviews, we’ve determined that there are multiple issues that could interest the FBI in relation to the RR Auctions and PSA/DNA:
1. Allegations of collusion between RR Auctions and PSA/DNA.
2. RR’s alleged sale of bogus autographs accompanied by RR and/or PSA/DNA LOA’s.
3. Allegations that RR Auctions’ office manager Karen “Kay” Burris may have been a murder victim contrary to reports that she committed suicide just weeks after RR filed police reports and a lawsuit against her alleging the embezzlement of $111,000. Sources say that Burris had first-hand knowledge of fraud and shill-bidding at RR and that Eaton and RR Auctions settled out of court with Burris’ family after her death.
4. Allegations of collusion and racketeering between PSA/DNA employees and major auction houses.
5. Questions about the professional qualifications of PSA/DNA authenticators and how its “so-called experts” could render opinions on the 400,000+ autographed items per year. In its 2014 Annual Report Collectors Universe states that PSA/DNA employs “6 autograph experts with an average of 25 years of experience in the autograph memorabilia market, as well as outside consultants that (they) use on a contract basis.”
Hauls of Shame has confirmed that at least two FBI agents have expressed interest in reviewing the RR class action lawsuit depositions as well as the upcoming depositions of PSA/DNA employees. Bob Eaton was asked in his deposition if he was currently being investigated by the FBI and he responded that he was unaware of any such investigation. A Federal agent has also made it known to several hobbyists that the New York office of the FBI would like to hear from any collectors who feel they have been victimized by any third-party authentication company and said they can report their experiences by calling 718-286-7100. We requested interviews with Joe Orlando and Bob Eaton but neither executive responded to comment on the on-going litigation.
As far as the civil litigation is concerned, one major dealer with over thirty years in the autograph industry is skeptical that the RR class action could ever impact PSA/DNA or Collectors Universe in a significant way. He told us, “I do not see depositions or a court case on the horizon, the parties (at PSA) that have refused service will continue to do so until they throw so much money at this that they will make it go away. Too much at stake to forfeit a monopoly, unfortunately that is the reality.”
By Peter J. Nash
February 18, 2015
Scroll to Bottom for Update:
“Shoeless” Joe seemed to be everywhere last week blowing up Twitter and making the rounds on the nightly news. As reported by the likes of ABC News, CBS News and FoxSports, Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, is selling what Sports Auction Director Chris Ivy claims is “now known as the only “Shoeless” Joe Jackson signed photograph in existence.” Reporter John Seewer first interviewed Ivy for the Associated Press and his story subsequently hit the wire and was later carried by hundreds of news outlets without mentioning that another alleged Jackson-signed photograph was sold by Sotheby’s for $43,000 in 1999 and was authenticated by Heritage’s current consignment director, Mike Gutierrez. Heritage and Ivy did not disclose any of this information to the Associated Press reporter and despite PSA/DNA President Joe Orlando telling the AP his company’s job is “to be the skeptic, especially if it is too good to be true,” other experts in the field believe that the Jackson signature is not genuine.
Ron Keurajian, the author of Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide has a very different opinion about the Heritage offering and told us, “I have maintained that there are no Joe Jackson signed photographs in existence. After viewing the 1911 Jackson photograph I see no reason to change my opinion. The Dallas Police Department should be made aware of the pending sale.” Keurajian’s opinion that Jackson signed photos do not exist was published in his book which was released by McFarland in 2012.
In January, Chris Ivy appeared on the TV-show A Piece of the Game and in direct opposition to Keurajian’s published opinion described the Jackson photo as “the only signed Joe Jackson photo in existence” and the work of a photographer named Frank W. Smith. But the other Jackson photograph that was sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 was also taken by the same photographer who was working for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Leader and had utilized similar images of the Cleveland Naps players to create a composite photograph depicting all of their signatures—including Joe Jackson. When Heritage Auctions revealed their autographed photo collection to attendees of last year’s National Convention in Cleveland, they sourced the “find” of signed 1911 Cleveland photographs to the family of Frank W. Smith. However, as revealed in the AP report, the consignor is actually a woman named Sharon Bowen who claims her late husband, William Bowen, purchased the photos from a family that was allegedly friends with Smith. Heritage’s current catalog describes the collection as “Named for the Cleveland Plain Dealer photographer who assembled the remarkable collection, The Frank W. Smith Collection is a truly peerless amalgamation of one-of-a-kind vintage photography and the flawless autographs of the subjects captured.” Heritage’s of the collection adds:
“Among the targets of Smith’s lens and autograph requests appear some of the true immortals of the game, most notably the legendary “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, the illiterate superstar whose path to Hall of Fame immortality was derailed by the scandal of the 1919 World Series fix. His labored pencil signature on Smith’s skilled portrait establishes the pristine relic as the only known Joe Jackson signed photo in existence.”
Heritage is offering what they call "The Frank W. Smith Collection" featuring an alleged pencil-signature of Shoeless Joe Jackson on one of his 1911 photographs. The Jackson photo was one of dozens found in a photo album allegedly discovered in a barn outside Cleveland.
Although it’s not specifically noted in the actual lot description, Heritage reveals that its alleged Jackson signature is signed in pencil and, as reported in the past week, several experts have questioned the autograph’s authenticity. The pencil signature is uncharacteristically over-sized and takes up a good portion of the 8×10 silver gelatin photograph—all red flags that any handwriting expert would take into account before rendering an opinion. The AP report also states that PSA examined the pen pressure to render its opinion when the actual photograph was signed in pencil and would leave a much different impression than a steel-tipped pen. In addition, the Heritage signature starkly contrasts the Jackson signatures executed on the Sotheby’s photo shot by Smith and on the 1912 team composite photograph which was also featured as a supplement to the Cleveland Leader newspaper in 1912. The signatures included on Smith’s 1912 composite resemble the actual handwriting of the players depicted including many of the same players appearing in Heritage’s photo album.
Photographer Frank W. Smith created a composite cabinet photo of the 1912 Cleveland team featuring the signatures of each player. The composite was published as a supplement to the "Cleveland Leader" and credited to Smith (right). The composites show facsimile signatures of Joe Jackson, Nap Lajoie and other Cleveland players.
The fact that Heritage did not acknowledge or inform its bidders of a very public sale of another alleged signed Jackson photograph at Sotheby’s is troubling considering its consignment director, Mike Gutierrez, authenticated all of the autographed items for the 1999 Sotheby’s sale of the Barry Halper Collection. That same Jackson photograph was also known by Gutierrez and other authenticators five years earlier when it was sold at Robert Edward Auctions in 1994 a year after this writer purchased it at Lelands as a photograph “signed by his wife.” It was purchased for $1,200 (which Lelands says was once owned by sportswriter Gene Schoor) with no expectation it had been signed by Jackson, but when world renowned handwriting expert Charles Hamilton examined the photo in person he claimed it was a genuine Jackson signature.
The Jackson signature which appears on Frank W. Smith's 1912 Cleveland team composite (top left) is similar to another ink-signed portrait also taken by Smith and sold at Sotheby's in 1999 (top right). Heritage's alleged Jackson pencil-signature on a 1911 Smith photograph starkly contrasts the signatures on the Smith composites.
Hamilton stated that the signature had been enhanced with what he called “photographer’s ink” used by newspapers to darken signatures for publication. At the time in 1993 I was working with Hamilton and co-writing a reference book on baseball autographs and we had both just examined copies of the first authentic Jackson signatures found on promissory notes sourced back to Jackson relatives and friends. Hamilton told me he believed that underneath the black photographers ink he might find Jackson’s genuine signature and asked if he could use an eraser to lightly remove the covering. When he was finished the original purple-tinted ink that had been applied to the photo in 1912 was revealed.
After examining the signature closely and comparing it to the signatures on the mortgage notes Hamilton stated his opinion that the signature was executed in Jackson’s hand. Hamilton also noted the fact that the signature was clearly much more uniform and neat than the other signatures he had compared it to but he still identified the scrawl as the product of Jackson’s hand. Hamilton was also aware that the Jackson portrait was part of a larger composite that was likely published due to the presence of the photographer’s ink that was most likely applied by the photographer Frank W. Smith or someone in his employ.
The 1912 Jackson photo by Smith was sold at Lelands in 1993 as Mrs. Jackson's signature (top left). Charles Hamilton authenticated the signature as Jackson's own in a certification signed in March of 1994 (top right). The photo was then sold to collector Barry Halper (bottom right) in a REA sale in Sept. of 1994 (bottom left).
In March of 1994, Hamilton wrote a certification stating that the Jackson signature was “an authentic, original signature of Jackson” and “entirely different from the signatures signed for Jackson by his wife.” Hamilton added, “Every single letter is different, and matches very closely the signatures known to be genuine on his orders to pay dated from Savannah, Ga.” Later, in September of 1994, I consigned the photograph to Rob Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions where it was described as “the only unquestionably authentic Joe Jackson autograph in existence” and was sold to Lifson’s top client and New York Yankee minority partner Barry Halper. Lifson further described the Jackson portrait as “the most astounding of all autographed baseball photographs and one of the most incredible “find” stories of all time.”
The surviving 1912 team composite created by Smith featured all of the signatures of the Cleveland team and it is interesting to note that the surviving cabinet photo he created in 1912 has a very similar (almost identical) portrait of Jackson with a similar signature that has clearly been enhanced with the same type of photographer’s ink. It is important to note that the photo Halper purchased in 1994 and the Heritage Jackson photo being sold in 2014 are both sourced to Frank W. Smith and although they were allegedly executed within one year of each other, they look totally different.
The REA-Sotheby's Jackson signature (left) and the current Heritage offering (right) contrast some of the earliest genuine signatures executed by Jackson from 1914 to 1917.
Ron Keurajian, however, disagrees with Hamilton’s opinion and stated such in his 2012 book where he says he has never seen an authentic photograph signed by Jackson. In our interview with Keurajian last week he confirmed his opinion and extended it to the current photograph of Jackson being offered by Heritage. In offering his dissenting opinion of both photographs he is disputing the authentications of the deceased Hamilton, one of the most prominent handwriting experts of all time, and Steve Grad, the lead authenticator for PSA/DNA a subsidiary of the public company Collectors Universe and the current on-air expert used by the History Channel’s hit Cable-TV show Pawn Stars.
Grad and PSA/DNA, along with Heritage, also appear to be disputing Hamilton’s opinion in that they claim the current auction lot is the only signed Jackson photo in existence. Although former PSA/DNA authenticator and current Heritage consignment director Mike Gutierrez rubber-stamped Hamilton’s opinion for Sotheby’s in 1999 to facilitate a $43,000 sale for Barry Halper—PSA and Grad have made public statements dismissing the existence of the well-documented artifact.
Comparing Grad’s skills as an authenticator to Charles Hamilton, however, is almost impossible to do. In his 1996 New York Times obituary Hamilton was credited with “inventing the term philography” and was said to have authored 17 books on handwriting analysis and autographs. In the early 1990s several baseball collectors had Hamilton examine their collections and he uncovered scores of forgeries that had been authenticated by current Heritage employees Mike Gutierrez and Mark Jordan.
The late handwriting expert Charles Hamilton (left) advertised in Sports Collectors Digest in 1996. Steve Grad (center) is the lead authenticator at PSA/DNA. In his book "Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs" (right) Ron Keurajian says that Joe Jackson signed photos are non-existent.
Although Hamilton’s experience with baseball material was limited, he was recognized throughout the world as the leading handwriting expert who had uncovered frauds including the “Hitler Diaries” and worked with law enforcement on the “Zodiac Killer” and “Son of Sam” cases. Steve Grad’s claim to fame is his experience chasing celebrities and athletes down for in-person autographs and for being mentored by former hobby kingpin Bill Mastro who recently plead guilty to auction fraud and is awaiting sentencing in March. In a 2011 deposition Grad admitted he had no formal training in handwriting analysis and credited Mastro with training him as an authenticator and teaching him how to spot fakes and forgeries. In the same deposition Grad confirmed that he had fabricated his professional resume as he lied under oath about his educational background claiming to be a college graduate when, in fact, he is not.
In further contrast to Grad’s background, Ron Keurajian is a well-respected portfolio manager and attorney who does not work professionally as an authenticator but has dedicated several decades of his life to the study and analysis of baseball and historical autographs and handwriting. In addition to publishing the most comprehensive work dedicated to the handwriting and autographs of Baseball Hall of Famers Keurajian is currently working on his second book dedicated to historical autographs in every major field of interest. Keurajian is also credited with uncovering several major frauds including the exposing a forged Ty Cobb diary that was purchased by MLB and displayed at the Baseball Hall of Fame as well as many other bogus autographs that had been certified genuine by PSA/DNA including laser copy and auto-pen signatures. The most egregious errors and instances of authentication malpractice committed by Grad and PSA have been documented in Hauls of Shame’s 2013 Worst 100 authentication blunders report. In light of these very public blunders by Grad and PSA many collectors of high-end materials seek out Keurajan’s opinion and put little faith in the LOA’s issued by PSA/DNA. One of the top autograph collectors in the country told Hauls of Shame yesterday that he would not be bidding on the Jackson photo based on Keurajian’s opinion.
The authenticity of the Christy Mathewson signature in the Frank Smith Collection has also been challenged by experts. Above the Heritage Matty signature is displayed next to authentic Mathewson signatures ranging from 1908 through the teens.
Keurajian isn’t the only autograph aficionado who has questioned the authenticity of the Jackson photos and the balance of photographs in Heritage’s Frank W. Smith Collection. Several veteran dealers and collectors told us they questioned the authenticity of the photos signed by Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, Nap Lajoie and Rube Marquard. In particular, the alleged signatures of Mathewson and McGraw exhibit troubling warning signs in relation to spacing and letter formation and contrast genuine examples of their signatures executed during the same time period.
Authentic signatures of John J. McGraw executed between 1900 and 1927 (in red) contrast the alleged McGraw signature being sold by Heritage.
In addition, the signatures of other Cleveland players have also been questioned and have created even more doubt about the veracity of the Heritage and PSA/DNA claims. Questions have been raised regarding the use of pencil on some photos and the pen notations on others do not appear to have faded the way vintage c.1911 ink should have. Others have noted that while most all of the Cleveland player signatures resemble authentic examples, they fall short and in many cases appear to have been signed slowly and deliberately.
Alleged signatures of Cleveland players from Heritage's Smith Collection appear above facsimile signatures that Smith actually used in a team composite he created in 1912.
One prominent dealer we spoke with said he was instructing clients to stay away from the Heritage lots and told us, “Look at the salutations on the lot of non-Hall of Famers and compare those. It becomes very obvious that something is amiss without even looking at the Jackson, Mathewson or Nap (Lajoie), especially the number of “Yours Truly” and (the) lack of inscriptions.” It is interesting to note that Heritage pictures three other photographs from Smith featuring non-baseball subjects from Cleveland and all three of those photos feature personalized inscriptions by the subjects to Smith. Not one of the “Smith Collection” baseball player photographs are personalized and it appears that none of the photos removed from the album feature Smith’s stamp on the reverse. In addition, PSA/DNA and Heritage make an assumption, supported by no evidence, about the additional pencil writing on the Jackson photo stating, “Jackson’s writing abilities began and ended at his signature, and thus it was photographer Frank Smith himself who added the inscription, “Alexandria, Mar. 1911″ below.” As far as we know, neither PSA or Heritage have any exemplars of Smith’s actual handwriting.
In its catalog Heritage pictures three photos personally inscribed to Frank Smith with his stamp on the reverse (right). None of the baseball photos are inscribed to Smith and the Jackson photo does not have Smith's stamp on its reverse. .
One fascinating aspect of the Heritage photographs is that they are attributed to Frank W. Smith who was credited as the creator of the team composite photograph published in the Cleveland Leader in 1912. Any authenticator examining the 1911 Smith photographs at Heritage would have to compare all of the signatures to the facsimiles on the 1912 Smith composite. After comparing them, any authenticator would come to the conclusion that the alleged 1911 and 1912 Joe Jackson signatures contrast each other significantly. Why?
Frank Smith created this composite cabinet photo of the 1912 Cleveland team which incorporated facsimile signatures of each player including Joe Jackson. It is believed that Smith enhanced each of the signatures for publication.
If all of the other Cleveland player facsimiles were actual signatures that had been enhanced or “gone over” with darker ink is it possible that Jackson did not sign his portrait photo and that Smith (or someone else) executed a signature for him in his absence. If that was the case, why would Smith have executed a signature that did not look like other signatures signed by Jackson on mortgage documents and his draft card? And if Jackson had actually signed the 1911 photo for Smith (one year earlier) why wouldn’t Smith have copied that signature example for his 1912 team composite? Lastly, if Smith (or someone working for him) actually signed Joe Jackson’s name, what’s to say that Smith didn’t sign (or copy) all of the Cleveland player signatures himself?
Another clue that could shed some more light on the authenticity of the Cleveland and New York player autographs is the “F. W. Smith Photographer” stamp that Heritage displayed in its video clip via the Associated Press. That stamp lists Smith’s business address as “1330 East 124th Place, Cleveland, Ohio” and it appears the stamp is featured on the back of one of the three non-baseball photos pictured in the Heritage catalog (but not included for sale). An item published in the Cleveland Leader, however, shows that Smith purchased that same property on October 24, 1913,thus suggesting that any photos bearing this stamp were created in 1913 or later. If any of the baseball photos Heritage is selling have this stamp, it is likely they were prints created two years after spring training and it would be highly unlikely that they were actually signed in 1911 .
Heritage shows an "F.W. Smith" photographer's stamp (inset) in an AP video clip, but that stamp shows an address of a location that Smith didn't buy until 1913 as evidenced by a report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in October of 1913 (inset).
Students of handwriting analysis and recognized experts rarely rely on the provenance or the “story” that accompanies a signed item that is submitted for an opinion. Experts like Charles Hamilton or Ron Keurajian rarely need to hear a story to render an opinion and focus on the actual handwriting. The same can not be said for PSA/DNA and Steve Grad who have regularly been exposed authenticating fakes because they relied on the source of a signed item rather than the handwriting itself. Grad’s most stunning authentication of a forgery based upon provenance was found in the LOA he wrote for an 1899 letter said to be written by HOFer Ed Delahanty which sold for $35,000 at Hunt Auctions. Although the signature was mispelled “D-e-l-e-h-a-n-t-y” and written in a different hand, Grad authenticated it because it originated from the archives of the H&B Bat Company in Louisville, KY. The vintage letter had actually been written on behalf of Delahanty by his manager, Billy Shettsline.
Heritage has also fallen victim to similar authentication mishaps with several baseballs they’ve sold as having been “game-used” in famous contests. In 2013, they claimed to have the last out ball of the 1917 World Series sourced to White Sox pitcher Red Faber with an affidavit from Faber’s family, but that ball was manufactured in 1926 as evidenced by the Spalding manufacturing stamps. In Heritage’s current auction they have another fraudulent offering with great provenance from the family of Roger Bresnahan which they claim is the “last out ball” from the 1905 World Series. The ball is accompanied by a 1905 news article quoting Bresnahan as saying he put the ball in his pocket after the game’s last strikeout, but the baseball being sold is a Reach American League ball and the last game of that World Series was played in New York at a National League Park. It would be impossible, under Major League rules at the time, for an AL ball to have been used in a championship game at the New York grounds. In addition, the inscription on the ball is not in Bresnahan’s hand and the last out of that game was a ground out by Lave Cross to short, not a strikeout.
While the provenance of the photo collection cannot turn forged signatures into genuine examples, we were still interested to verify the information Heritage has made public about their “find” in a Cleveland barn. We called the consignor, Sharon Bowen, at her home in Cleveland, Ohio, and spoke to her daughter who scheduled an interview for Monday morning. Bowen, however, was not available when we called and did not return our call. Bowen’s late husband was a former executive director of the Salvation Army in Cleveland and also the development director at the Cleveland Natural History Museum and it’s likely her acquisition story is legitimate. Many questions have been raised, however, about the original seller who sold the cache of photos to her husband for only $15,000 just five years ago.
PSA/DNA's Steve Grad and Joe Orlando took to Twitter to promote Heritage's Joe Jackson signed photo and ABC News' coverage of the offering.
We called Chris Ivy of Heritage to ask him why he described the Jackson photo as the only one in existence and why he failed to disclose to the AP reporter the existence of the other Jackson photo previously authenticated by his own employee, but he failed to respond to our inquiry. We also wanted to ask Ivy if the photos of the Cleveland and New York players had any “F.W. Smith” stamps on the backs of the photos and why the three non-baseball photos inscribed to Frank W. Smith and pictured in the catalog were not being sold and who owns them?
We also contacted the Associated Press and reporter John Seewer and informed the news organization of Heritage’s failure to disclose knowledge of the Sotheby’s sale and the controversy regarding the authenticity of the Heritage offering. AP writer Marilynn Marichione responded to our inquiry and informed us that AP news managers were “looking into it.”
While the AP and other news organizations flooded the news cycle and social media with inaccurate stories giving more credibility to the questioned Jackson photo and creating a platform for an unpaid PSA/DNA advertisement, veteran collectors we spoke with were almost unanimous in their opinions that the Heritage photos are not genuine. Despite the fact that PSA President Joe Orlando told the AP that “the stars aligned” for Stcve Grad’s authentication of the photo, one collector who owns a genuine Jackson signature on a legal document told us, “I think the PSA folks messed up certing these photos, but that would not be something new.” Most all collectors and dealers we spoke with did not want their names published because of Heritage’s practice of banning individuals from bidding in auctions who are critical of items for sale or the company’s business practices.
One prominent dealer told us that if the current owner of the Sotheby’s Jackson signed photo wanted to consign his item to Heritage it would “Be accepted with open arms by Chris Ivy who would then secure a PSA/DNA LOA from Grad and Orlando; advertise it nationally as “the only known ink autograph of Joe Jackson” and then set the auction estimate at $200,000. Meanwhile, the 1911 Jackson photo in Heritage’s current “Platinum Night Auction” currently has an alleged online bid of $90,000 before live bidding starts Saturday night in New York City.
(UPDATE: Feb. 20, 2015) AP Issues Clarfication On “Shoeless” Joe Story But Makes No Mention Of Dispute Over Authenticity Of Heritage Lot; Source Says FBI Is Investigating Jackson Photo & Balance Of Questioned Frank W. Smith Collection
Late yesterday the Associated Press issued a clarification in regard to their original report about the alleged “Shoeless” Joe Jackson photo being offered for sale tomorrow in New York City at Heritage Auctions’ “Platinum Night Auction.” In the clarification published by ABC News and several other news outlets the AP stated:
“In a story Feb. 9, The Associated Press reported that a century-old image was the first photo signed by Shoeless Joe Jackson to be authenticated by autograph experts, according to Heritage Auctions. The story should have made clear that a Jackson-signed photo, authenticated by a handwriting expert, was sold by Sotheby’s in 1999 and that memorabilia experts have since disputed the validity of the signature on that photo.”
Although the AP addressed the inaccuracy of its original report regarding the existence of another alleged Jackson signed photo at Sotheby’s in 1999, it made no mention of the controversy over its authenticity and the stated opinion that it is not genuine by expert and SABR award-winning author, Ron Keurajian. Keurajian confirmed that AP reporter John Seewer did not contact him for comment but BlackBetsy.com operator and Joe Jackson historian Mike Nola confirmed that Seewer did contact him seeking information about the 1999 Sotheby’s sale. Seewer and Heritage Auctions have still not responded to inquiries made by Hauls of Shame.
A source familiar with the controversy over the much-hyped Heritage auction lot confirmed for Hauls of Shame that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the authenticity of the Jackson photo and other photographs in the Frank Smith Collection. The source said he spoke directly with an FBI agent about the auction offerings including many other single-signed baseballs also identified as possible forgeries.
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By Peter J. Nash
February 9, 2015
Legend had it that “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was an illiterate incapable of signing his own name and filmmaker John Sayles contributed to this perception in his film Eight Men Out when he portrayed Jackson signing a fictional 1920 confession with a shaky and tremulous “X.”
Sayles’ portrayal of the disgraced slugger, however, was based more on folklore than fact, for the real Joseph Jefferson Jackson was capable of signing his own name as evidenced by a wide array of surviving legal documents executed during his lifetime. Mortgage documents, promissory notes, contracts, real estate agreements, court transcripts and identification documents issued by the state of South Carolina have survived and are the best tangible proof that Jackson could actually sign his name. These genuine documents serve as proof that authentic signatures do exist of the legendary player who was banned from the game and has been denied entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Fueled by the legend and the folklore, the value of Jackson-signed items has skyrocketed over the past few decades as evidenced by the sale of a signed 1916 promissory note that recently fetched close to $130,000. But with sales prices of Jackson signatures are setting records, acquiring a Jackson signature still remains a very dangerous proposition for any collector hoping to secure an authentic scrawl of the Greenville native.
It all started back in the late 1980’s when real Jackson signatures were virtually non-existent and highly sought after by major collectors like Barry Halper. Halper believed he had a genuine Jackson signature but it was actually a ghost-signed version penned by his wife. It wasn’t until 1989 that Katie Jackson’s signatures were dismissed as secretarial and a year later autograph auctioneer Herman Darvick offered what he claimed was an authentic signature of Jackson allegedly cut from a legal document. The signature looked entirely different than any of the signatures that Mrs. Jackson had sent back to collectors who had written to her husband at their home in Greenville, South Carolina.
In 1991 Bill Madden reported on Barry Halper's alleged acquisition of a genuine Joe Jackson signature in a Herman Darvick auction. Halper previously thought a signature executed by Jackson's wife (Katie) was authentic (inset in red). Madden published an image of Jackson's real signature on his drivers license.
Halper’s quest to acquire Jackson’s signature in Darvick’s auction was covered on the pages of The Sporting News by his close friend and personal PR-man, Bill Madden. Halper had already boasted to Madden about owning Jackson’s Black Sox jersey from 1919 and his famous “Black Betsy” bat, both of which he said he acquired from Jackson relatives in the mid 1980’s. But Halper had come to the realization he didn’t own an authentic Jackson signature and when Darvick’s appeared he was prepared to pursue it aggressively to fill the hole in his collection.
When it was all said and done, however, Halper lost the signature in a fierce bidding war with New York dealer and auctioneer, Josh Evans, of Lelands, who ended up winning it for $23,100. Halper regretted losing out on the signature and after the sale approached Evans with an offer to trade him game-used jerseys of Yogi Berra, Warren Spahn and Jim Palmer for the Jackson signature. Evans took him up on the offer and Halper subsequently told Madden, “I hated parting with those uniforms, I have others of all three players. Who knows if I’ll ever have another chance at an authentic “Shoeless”‘ Joe Jackson autograph?”
On the left are authentic Jackson signatures from legal documents spanning from 1915 to 1951. On the right are four highly questionable offerings by Herman Darvick that several experts have deemed Jackson forgeries.
After Halper’s acquisition, Leland’s advertised their purchase at Darvick’s auction as being the “largest sum ever paid for any 19th or 20th century autograph. Darvick claimed that the Jackson cut signature he sold originated from a Jackson relative, but during that same time period a close Jackson family friend sold an authentic cache of Jackson signed legal documents and financial instruments to Dan Knoll, a prominent memorabilia dealer from Chicago. The first of those documents, a 1916 mortgage promisory note signed by Jackson, made its way into a 1993 Lelands sale where the auctioneer described the document as the “first verifiably authentic Joe Jackson autograph offered.” When world renowned handwriting expert, Charles Hamilton, examined the genuine Lelands document, he deemed the $23,000 Darvick cut signature a forgery. The genuine Lelands document was purchased at auction by Barry Halper for over $25,000. Several other authentic Jackson mortgage notes followed the Lelands offering and appeared for sale throughout the 1990’s but during that same time period Herman Darvick sold several other highly questionable Jackson’s including another cut signature, a baseball, a photograph and a signed book.
The three authentic Jackson signatures at the top of this illustration starkly contrast the four Jackson forgeries sold by dealer Herman Darvick. The forgeries were executed on clipped legal documents, a baseball and a book.
When examined and compared closely to the unimpeachable examples of Jackson’s genuine signature on legal documents, all of the alleged Jackson signatures sold by Darvick exhibit tell-tale signs of forgery. The Darvick examples appear to be slowly executed, almost drawn, with laborious heavy strokes that lack the spontaneity and flow of genuine Jackson signatures. One of the most telling characteristics of the forgeries is found in the last end stroke of Jackson’s “n” which tapers to a needle-like point in most all of Jackson’s authentic signatures, but stops abruptly with a thick ink build-up in the forged examples. Although Jackson appears to be very deliberate in what some say is his “drawing” of his own signature, the authentic examples all share a common flow and spontaneity.
We asked several experts to examine the alleged Jackson autographs sold by Darvick and give us their opinions:
-Ron Keurajian, author of Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, said: “Joe Jackson’s autograph is an extreme rarity and limited to signed legal documents or signatures removed therefrom. The Jackson signed book, featured on the History Channel’s Pawn Stars, is, in my opinion, a forgery, and a poorly executed one at that.” As for Darvick’s signed photo and ball, Keurajian does not believe there are any genuine signatures of Jackson that exist on either baseballs or photographs.
-Josh Evans recalled his purchase of the first Jackson cut from Darvick’s auction in 1990 and told us, “I always regretted that one. I never actually saw it before I bought it if you can believe that (the good old days). I heard about it the day before and bid based on Darvick’s rep. I sold it to Halper and we spoke about it being questionable but he never agreed.” HOS has been unable to determine when Halper disposed of the Jackson forgery and who subsequently acquired it.
-Mike Nola, is not a handwriting or autograph expert but he is a Jackson historian who curates the website BlackBetsy.com, and he told us: “He (Jackson) could not really sign his name. He was simply following a pattern taught to him by (his wife) Katie. If you look closely at each of his known signatures, they all differ in some way because he was drawing the signature and no two would be exactly alike.”
-Olan Chiles, was a well known collector of autographs on checks and lived in Greenville, SC. as a youth. A veteran autograph collector with over thirty years experience knew Chiles who told him first hand accounts of meeting Jackson in person. The collector told us: ”Olan told me he used to visit Jackson and his wife often at their liquor store and always asked for an autograph. He would be handed a pre-signed item (signed by the wife). In all the time he knew Jackson he was NEVER able to acquire an authentic autograph, which tells me that the signing process for him must have been so laborious that he only did it when he absolutely had to.”
As for Darvick’s examples of Jackson he said, “I did not like any of them” and added, “The point I was trying to make initially (regarding Chiles) is that (if) someone who was positioned so close to Jackson and was unable to secure an autograph, this leads me to believe that the group the family cut loose represents probably the only authentic Joe Jackson signatures in the public domain. His signature is just too easy to replicate.”
Herman Darvick appears on JSA's website as one of the company "experts" and notes his sale of the "first authentic signature of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson.
Herman Darvick has worked as an authenticator for PSA/DNA and is currently listed on the SGC website as a staff member and on the JSA website as one of Jimmy Spence’s experts with his “field of expertise” being “historical” and “political” autographs. The Darvick bio on the JSA site also references the Joe Jackson forgery stating that Darvick handled “the first authentic signature of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson ever sold.” An embarrassing episode for both Darvick and JSA occurred recently when the History Channel’s hit cable-TV show Pawn Stars featured a Darvick-authenticated Jackson autograph signed on a book (the bottom signature in the above illustration). Pawn shop owner Rick Harrison allegedly purchased the book for $13,000 with an LOA from Darvick and was then told by PSA/DNA it was their opinion that the signature was not genuine.
When the Pawn Stars episode aired Mike Nola added some additional information about Jackson’s signing habits when he posted on a collector forum: “I interviewed Eugene Estes (and that name means little to history, except that he witnessed Joe signing his will). Mr. Estes told me that Joe struggled to sign his name, that he practiced on the back on an envelope three times before setting pen to paper on the Will. Mr. Estes said Joe stopped several times during the signing, which in my opinion would make it looked “traced”. Now, I am not saying PSA got it wrong, but there is enough reasonable doubt in my mind that if I were Rick Harrison, I’d have it forensically tested for period ink and that the ink had been on the page for a period of between 1947 (when the book was published) and December 5, 1951 (The date Joe Jackson ceased to be a living entity). The signature on the book looks different than the one that appears on his will, but the one on his will appears different that the one that appears on his 1941 mortgage note and that one appears different that the one on his 1949 drivers license. In other words…..all his signatures differ somewhat, since he was just tracing a pattern taught to him by his wife Katie. I sent Rick Harrison an email and told him as much.”
Darvick originally authenticated and sold an alleged Jackson-signed book (left) that ended up in the hands of Pawn Stars star Rick Harrison who sent the book to PSA/DNA and Steve Grad who issued a rejection letter (right). Jackson's genuine signature from 1946 appears at the bottom, right.
Since the time Hauls of Shame reported and identified the book authenticated by Darvick as a forgery, the JSA authenticator posted several comments on this site defending his certification stating, “If anyone was going to forge Joe Jackson’s signature on the book, he/she would have used Mrs. Jackson’s Joe Jackson signature to copy. Her signing of her husbands name appeared in many collections as an authentic Joe Jackson autograph. Collectors had never seen a real Joe Jackson signature before I sold this signature which was cut from as building document with a partial date (of) April 1936 typed on the verso.” Declining to address the signature itself and its rejection by PSA/DNA, Darvick added, “The signed Joe Jackson book was signed by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson as I stated in my April 1994 COA.” As for Darvick’s sale of the $23,100 Jackson forgery in 1990 he said, “At the time of my 1990 auction, no one, no baseball autograph dealer, no sports auction house, NO ONE questioned the authenticity of the Joe Jackson I sold.”
Contrary to Herman Darvick's claim, genuine Jackson signatures on his 1949 drivers license (left) and his 1920 White Sox contract (right) were known and publicly displayed before his sale in 1990.
But Darvick’s claim that “collectors had never seen a real Joe Jackson signature before (his)” is entirely false. Before Darvick sold his cut to Lelands in December of 1990 there was already an authentic Jackson-signed 1920 contract on public display at the Chicago Historical Society in the fall of 1989. Darvick already knew this as evidenced in Bill Madden’s 1991 article about the Darvick sale which quotes autograph aficionado Clarence Jerabek as having seen Jackson’s authentic signature on that contract and on several legal documents. Jaribeck told Madden, “Through Shoeless Joe’s relatives, I got to see what an actual signature looked like. It’s on a copy of a drivers licence that is signed by both Joe and his wife.” In addition, Jerabek had already published an article about Jackson’s ability to sign his name in Pen and Quill.
By 1990, several hobbyists had also seen genuine signed documents owned by Jackson family members and friends including Lester Irwin and Joe Anders. Darvick actually contacted Jerabek before he sold his cut in 1990 as documented in The Sporting News which quoted Jerebek as saying, “Darvick asked me what I thought it was worth and I told him at least $1,500 to $2,000. When he went back to the owner, however, the guy told him to put it up for auction.” Madden said in his article that Darvick’s Jackson cut was “obtained by a collector from a relative of Jackson” but Hauls of Shame’s interviews with Jackson family members and Joe Anders, a family friend who was given the signed cache of legal and financial documents from the family, show otherwise. No Jackson family member we could locate ever sold a cut signature to a collector. Interestingly enough, Darvick never mentioned anything about the provenance of his alleged Jackson cut in his auction catalog and when we sent Darvick emails asking him to reveal the source of his Jackson cut signature he did not respond.
Jackson signed this letter along with the 1917 White Sox requesting their World Series money from August Herrmann and Ban Johnson. The unquestionably authentic document was discovered in the HOF's August Herrmann Papers Collection. Jackson's signature (inset in red) shows less spacing between letters when compared to most of the financial documents he signed during the same era.
“Shoeless” Joe appears to have had difficulty signing his name regularly during his lifetime and its well-documented he avoided putting pen to paper whenever he could, thus delegating signing duties to his wife Katie. The verifiable authentic signatures attributed to Jackson on legal documents and contracts (illustrated in this article) are the only examples we can be confident are authentic. We’ll never be as sure about the other alleged signatures on baseballs and other mediums like photographs, even if they come with a PSA or JSA certificate of authenticity. At best, even with strong provenance, some experts will always consider these Jackson signatures “unauthenticatible.” One signed item, however, that is unquestionably authentic and signed by Jackson in the presence of his White Sox teammates is a 1917 team-signed letter to American League President Ban Johnson. The letter was signed by Jackson and every player requesting their share of the World Series receipts for their victory over John J. McGraw’s Giants. The document had remained hidden in the files of the National Baseball Library’s August Herrmann Papers Collection until Hauls of Shame uncovered it a few years ago while researching stolen documents from the same collection. The document is the most clear and convincing evidence that Jackson could and did sign his name along with his teammates on items that did not required a signature in conjunction with a financial transaction.
Alleged partial and full samples of Jackson's signature were found on an envelope said to have originated from the Jackson family. Those samples were sliced into three different examples which were encapsulated in graded holders by PSA/DNA. Another fragment signed just "Joe" was offered in SCD in 1999 (bottom).
Aside from the iron-clad signatures on the legal and financial documents originating from Jackson’s family and friends, other more dubious examples have surfaced for sale in the auction marketplace. When the authentic- signed Jackson documents surfaced in the early 1990s there were several other signatures and fragments of signatures that were alleged to have Jackson family provenance as well. Three such signatures were found on the back of an envelope and another just signed “Joe” was said to have originated from a small note pad that once belonged to Jackson. The three examples of writing included on the envelope were originally sold in 1997 by Mastro & Steinbach Auctions as originating “directly from the Joe Jackson estate” and years later the envelope was cut into three pieces which were ultimately encapsulated and authenticated in three separate PSA/DNA holders. The “Jo” example was paired with a partial Pete Rose signature (“Pete”) in a PSA holder. The “Joe” partial notebook signature was offered in SCD by Frank Foremny in 1999.
In addition to the cut signatures manufactured from the one envelope (which are considered by most experts as genuine) both PSA/DNA and JSA authenticated another alleged Jackson cut that was purchased by the Leaf Trading Card Company and inserted into a 2010 Joe Jackson relic card. The card ended up selling at Heritage Auction Galleries in 2011 for $26,290 with LOA’s from b0th JSA and PSA/DNA. In their promotional materials, Leaf estimated that the value of the alleged autograph was between $70,000 and $100,000. This alleged Jackson signature has been identified as a forgery by several experts we interviewed.
Another alleged Jackson signature was sold publicly for $72,000 at Legendary Auctions in August of 2010 with an LOA (and Grade of 9) from PSA/DNA and Steve Grad. The alleged Jackson pencil signature was signed on a page from an autograph album that Legendary stated, “Has changed ownership a couple of times since its origin in the ’40’s” allthough it was originally acquired by a young girl from Greenville, SC., in that era. The woman, Sarah Taft, allegedly had Jackson sign the album but none of the other pages in the volume are signed except for one by her father Eddie Taft.
Alleged cut signatures of Jackson were included in a 2010 Leaf relic card and a 2013 Legendary Auction with LOA's from JSA and PSA/DNA. Experts who examined both of these signatures, however, are of the opinion they are forgeries when compared to genuine examples of Jackson's signature from his 1915 Draft Card (bottom left) and a 1946 mortgage note (bottom right).
All of the experts we spoke with are of the opinion that the alleged Jackson signed page sold at Legendary is a forgery. In fact, one expert believes that the forger used the authentic signature on Jackson’s last will and testament as his template. When we asked Ron Keurajian about the signature, he referred us to his book which states that the only authentic Jackson signatures he’s seen are found on legal documents. One long-time dealer added, “PSA and JSA have no clue on Jackson’s signature outside of the obvious legitimate legal documents.”
The AP featured an alleged Jackson photo authenticated by PSA/DNA and currently for sale at Heritage. Another Jackson photo sold at Sotheby's in 1999 for $43,000 (right).
In our next report on Jackson’s handwriting we’ll examine the photographs alleged to have been signed by Jackson. In particular, we will focus on the PSA/DNA authenticated photo appearing in Heritage’s Platinum Night Auction later this month and compare it with another Jackson signed photograph sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 for $43,000.