By Peter J. Nash
May 17, 2013
Rob Lifson includes a 1999 thank you letter from fraudster Barry Halper in his Spring catalog.
The Spring auction season is upon us and the catalogs from the likes of Heritage, SCP and REA have already made their way to the doorsteps of collectors all around the country.
In Dave Kohler’s SCP catalog collectors got a look at Reggie Jackson’s million-dollar jersey from the night he became Mr. October hitting three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. They also got a peek at an alleged signed photo of the 1927 Yankees with an LOA from the family of George Pipgras. But the pinstripes on Jackson’s jersey were a dead giveaway that the jersey was not the genuine article and several experts we spoke with are of the opinion that the 1927 signed photo of the Bronx Bombers is a forgery. An alleged forgery that SCP sold for close to $300,000. SCP and Kohler ended up pulling the Jackson jersey from the sale.
Chris Ivy and Heritage Auction Galleries sold a Lou Gehrig ball that we reported was likely a forgery for close to $70,000 and an alleged 1935 Babe Ruth Yankee uniform that originated from the infamous Barry Halper Collection for close to $300,000. Heritage changed its original catalog lot description online and removed all reference to Halper’s name due to the recent documentation of scores of uniform forgeries in his collection . That ploy worked well for their consignor who originally bought the jersey from Halper at Sotheby’s for $79,500.
The first copy of Robert Edward Auctions’ catalog went to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in what REA President Rob Lifson calls, “an annual tradition.” This despite the fact that one ex-Hall official has confirmed that Lifson was banned from the Hall’s National Baseball Library with his name appearing on an internal watch-list containing the names of known institutional thieves.
Lifson was apprehended stealing rare CDV photographs from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection in 1979 and has been linked to the sales of numerous stolen artifacts that once belonged to his former mentor, the deceased New York Yankee partner and collector, Barry Halper. It is Halper who has been identified by a source prominent in baseball circles as the self-admitted mastermind behind the multi-million dollar heist from the library.
When the Hall of Fame opens up their complimentary copy of the 2013 REA catalog they can view the inside cover and read the 1999 thank you letter that Halper sent to Lifson describing the “spectacular job” he did serving as the special consultant for the Sotheby’s auction of his collection in 1999. Halper notes Lifson’s “unparalleled knowledge, judgment, experience,” and “integrity” in the letter from the man described as a “Friend of Robert Edward Auctions.”
The Hall of Fame is all-too-familiar with Barry Halper and his once celebrated collection having been victimized to the tune of several million dollars after purchasing counterfeit and misrepresented artifacts from him in 1998 including fakes attributed to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Mickey Mantle and other baseball legends. One would think Lifson’s inclusion of Halper’s letter would raise a few eyebrows in Cooperstown considering the Hall has removed the “Barry Halper Gallery” space from the museum after the magnitude of frauds perpetrated by him were uncovered and exposed by Haulsofshame.com in 2010 and 2011.
Hobbyists and fellow auctioneers are baffled by Lifson’s inclusion of the Halper letter in the catalog and one prominent collector told Hauls of Shame, “It’s the giant white elephant in the room. I think he’s in serious denial.”
While Lifson includes the letter of praise from Halper in the catalog, he is not as quick to reveal a Halper provenance on items being offered for sale in the current auction. Case in point is Lifson’s offering of what is described as a rare single-signed baseball of 19th century Hall of Famer Dan Brouthers. Nowhere in the lot description does Lifson mention that the baseball originated from the Halper Collection and that he actually sold the ball for Halper in the early 1990s for close to $20,000.
The Dan Brouthers signatures illustrated to the left are housed in the Baseball Hall of Fame's Long Papers Collection (the top two are believed to have been signed by someone other than Brouthers). The signatures are written on endorsed and cancelled paychecks from the Boston Players League team in 1890. The signature at the bottom is from a 1917 letter written by Brouthers that was donated to the Hall of Fame.
I know about the Halper provenance because I’m the person who purchased the baseball from Lifson and Halper believing that I was acquiring the genuine article once held in the hands of the 19th century batting champion.
The ball was authenticated by world-renowned handwriting expert Charles Hamilton, however, Hamilton had no exemplars with which to compare to the signed ball and unfortunately relied primarily on the “Halper Provenance” and the fact that it was signed on a genuine c.1919 National League ball with what appeared to him to be period ink. (Halper also claimed to have a Brouthers signature executed in pencil on 1890’s ledger pages, however, the pencil signatures on those pages are of questioned authenticity as opposed to the ink signatures which are considered by experts as genuine.)
This alleged Dan Brouthers pencil signature was executed on the 1890s ledger pages from the Barry Halper Collection which sold for $92,000 at Sotheby's in 1999. The Brouthers signature and all of the other signatures signed in pencil on the ledger pages are believed to be non-genuine and added at a later date, while the ink signatures appear to be genuine.
Hamilton did not have the opportunity to study the illustrated authentic Brouthers exemplars that have been made available recently via the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Frederick Long Papers Collection, which includes numerous Boston team payroll checks endorsed by Brouthers. In addition, the Hall also has in its collection an authentic 1917 handwritten letter executed by Brouthers as the manager of a semi-pro club in Brooklyn, NY.
We asked expert and author Ron Keurajian what he thought of the Brouthers ball and after viewing it on the REA site referred us to quote him from the Brouthers autograph study in his book which states, “I know of no signed…. baseballs.” Keurajian also says, “Just about 100 percent of Brouthers signatures in the market are forgeries.”
Of course, the REA Brouthers ball is accompanied by a Jimmy Spence/JSA LOA just like another highly suspect offering by Lifson which he claims is an authentic baseball signed by Hank O’Day, the newly elected Hall of Famer and umpire.
This alleged Hank O' Day baseball bears little resemblence to the six authentic O'Day signatures found in the HOF's Herrmann Papers Archive ranging from 1902 to 1921.
The ball also features what is described by REA as a secretarial signature of Babe Ruth and another of Cincinnati Red player Mike Mitchell.
The Mitchell signature appears to be the only authentic scrawl on the ball when compared to other authentic versions of his signature originating from the August Herrmann Papers Collection at the Hall of Fame.
Considering the Ruth and O’Day names written on the ball do not resemble the authentic signatures of the two Hall of Famers it is much more likely the ball is simply a Mike Mitchell signed ball with the names of Ruth and O’Day written on it for some reason. REA erroneously claims the Ruth signature is written in another hand and just assumes that the alleged O’Day is genuine based solely upon JSA’s flawed opinion.
The next remarkable baseball in the REA sale that appears grossly misrepresented is the alleged “Sliding” Billy Hamilton single-signed baseball. REA states:
“….Hamilton has signed the ball “Sliding Billy Hamilton” in black fountain pen across the sweet spot, directly below which he has added the date: “Sept 2 1929.” Both the signature and date grade “8″ overall; however, each has been professionally enhanced. That fact was revealed when James Spence Authentication examined the ball under a video spectral comparator, which allows for the observation of latent writing and/or markings. It is important to note that James Spence Authentication has deemed the Hamilton signature authentic, but it must be properly qualified with regard to the enhancement. Normally, such enhancements are vintage in nature, done by an early owner to help preserve a fading signature. Not so with this example! This ball was professionally enhanced during the late 1990s and we did not need a video spectral comparator to come to that conclusion. We know this because Robert Edward Auctions originally sold this very ball in our September 8, 1994, auction. At that time we duly noted the condition of the signature in our catalog description: “Signature grades only a “4″ or a “5″ due to general wear but is clearly and entirely legible.” In particular, the central “Billy” portion of the signature was badly worn and faded, much more so than any other part of the writing. The next time we saw this ball was a few years later, when it was offered by another auction house, only now the signature had miraculously improved. After a few inquires, we later learned that the original purchaser of the ball from our auction had the signature professionally enhanced for aesthetic reasons. Our consignor purchased the ball at that auction and it has remained in his collection ever since.
While collectors will forever debate the pros and cons of cosmetically altering a signed ball in such a manner, the fact remains that this is, to the best of our knowledge, the only known Billy Hamilton single-signed ball extant. Hamilton’s signature, in any form, is exceedingly rare.”
When Mastro sold the Billy Hamilton single-signed baseball in 1998 there was absolutely no mention of "enhancement" in the lot description.
When the exact same ball appeared in a Mastro Auction in 1998, four years after it originally sold at REA in 1994, there was absolutely no mention of the ball being “enhanced for aesthetic reasons.” Jimmy Spence also authenticated the ball for Mastro in that 1998 sale.
The "enhanced" "Sliding" Billy Hamilton baseball is shown in its "before & after" states in a 1994 REA auction photo (right) and today in the 2013 REA catalog (left).
The extent of REA’s so-called enhancement, which improved the visibility of Hamilton’s alleged signature, is quite striking when compared to REA’s original photo of the same ball from its 1994 auction.
Why didn’t REA include the photograph of the ball from when it appeared in its 1994 auction? Perhaps REA didn’t want bidders to have the opportunity to see the level of “enhancement” administered to the ball. More importantly, who actually enhanced the ball in the first place? Was it the same person who “enhanced” the now infamous Harry Truman ball that was exposed by Hauls of Shame last year?
These photographs are of the same single-signed Harry Truman baseball. On the left is how it looked when it sold at MastroNet in 2001. On the right is how it appeared at EAC Galleries in 2005 as the "finest example extant.""
When did the concept of enhancing single-signed baseballs come into vogue? Who enhanced the Hamilton and Truman balls?
The same goes for REA’s alleged Frank Chance and Roger Bresnahan single-signed baseballs which JSA says were enhanced as well. In 1999 Jimmy Spence authenticated both balls for Mastro without any mention of enhancement. An expert we consulted with went a step further and identified both signatures as outright forgeries. So, is there now a new market for graded and enhanced fakes too?
REA and JSA say the single-signed balls of Frank Chance and Roger Bresnahan are enhanced, but experts are of the opinion they are fakes. REA fails to disclose that late expert Charles Hamilton deemed the John M. Ward ball REA is selling was a forgery.
Lifson and REA also fail to disclose that the alleged John M. Ward single-signed mini-ball they are selling was deemed a forgery by late handwriting expert Charles Hamilton back in 1994. (Hamilton had numerous genuine Ward signatures as exemplars when he gave his opinion.) REA also fails to disclose that this same ball sold in a 1999 Mastro Fine Sports Auctions sale with LOA’s from Jimmy Spence and Mike Gutierrez. At the time Bill Mastro told this writer, “I had to twist Jimmy Spence’s arm to get a letter on that one.” I have first hand knowledge of this ball because I originally purchased it from an associate of Barry Halper for over $20,000 in the early 1990s.
The episode featuring the Ward ball is a good example illustrating how auctioneers like Lifson would shop for opinions of so-called experts like Spence to say an item was genuine, despite the fact that a well-known expert like Hamilton had already deemed it a forgery.
Ironically, Spence later authenticated the same ball and also lied under oath in court depositions stating that he had actually studied and worked with Charles Hamilton. In reality, Spence had only visited Hamilton on a few occasions accompanying a collector who was dropping off materials to Hamilton for authentication.
Speaking of fakes, we can’t forget REA’s other lots alleged to be forgeries by experts including the inscribed Babe Ruth photo to Gary Cooper and the 1933 signed Babe Ruth Goudey baseball card. Six other Ruth signed photos (and several others alleged signed by Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner) were withdrawn from the auction after being called out as fakes, but REA says the lots were withdrawn at the request of the consignor, not because they were counterfeits.
A testament to Spence’s lack of expertise is another lot withdrawal in the REA sale of an alleged Winston Churchill letter from 1945. Spence certified it authentic, but the document was actually a mass produced “pre-printed” letter created to look like a handwritten original. When informed of Spence’s authentication of the letter expert Ron Keurajian responded, “The Churchill facsimile letters are common and are known to the most novice of collectors. To the trained eye they are easily exposed as a pre-printed document. I find it hard to believe that any experienced authenticator would be fooled by them.”
How can Spence consider himself capable of authenticating non-sports signatures when he clearly has more than enough trouble identifying genuine Babe Ruth autographs?
This is a close up of the signatures on an alleged 1927 photo signed by the Yankees. Experts believe the signatures are forgeries, but SCP allegedly sold the item for close to $300,000
SCP Auctions appears to have outdone REA in the Babe Ruth fakes sweepstakes as they sold a PSA/DNA authenticated 1927 Yankee team photo allegedly signed by the Bambino and his teammates. Hauls of shame.com is of the opinion that that the signatures on the photo are not authentic and every expert we consulted with agreed. One of them remarked, “That thing is a joke.” Additional ridicule was directed at many of the single-signed baseballs offered by SCP, Heritage and REA:
Experts consider these alleged single-signed balls of the HOF's early Induction class to be non-genuine. The alleged Jim Bottomley ball certified authentic by Jimmy Spence and JSA is included as an example of one of the worst forgeries ever to get a Spence LOA..
Experts confirmed their opinions that the above referenced “Sucker’s Dozen +3″ was chock-full-of-alleged-fakes (over $250,000 worth). How the TPA’s and the alleged expertise of Steve Grad and Jimmy Spence could let these alleged forgeries to creep into major sales is remarkable. If they can’t get Ruth, Cobb, Gehrig, Young and Wagner right what confidence can collectors have in the LOA accompanying their own “certified- authentic” items?
Recent Tim Keefe and George Wright forgeries offered by Coaches Corner are just as authentic as a Winston Churchill offered by REA with a Spence LOA. JSA couldn't tell that the Churchill letter was a mass-produced facsimile copy.
Are your LOA’s in the league with Jimmy Spence’s expert opinions on Winston Churchill and the Babe Ruth to Gary Cooper embarrassment? Some would say you’d be better off buying some Tim Keefe or Amos Rusie signed balls at Coaches Corner. Fakes are fakes no matter who is selling them.
The Matty Won in the Ninth secretarial signatures from HA and REA are pitted against a genuine signature from Matty's 1912 Pitching in a Pinch (also for sale at REA). REA uses a 1910 Mathewson letter (bottom) to support the Won in the Ninth inclusion in its Spring sale.
Returning to the Spring sales were the much-maligned secretarial-signed Christy Mathewson Won In The Ninth books. Heritage sold one for close to $9,000 while REA has a current bid of $4,750 on a Matty fake and $6,500 on a genuine Matty signature featured on a 1912 copy of Pitching In A Pinch.
Expert Ron Keurajian has stated in articles and in his autograph handbook that the signed bookplates in Won In The Ninth were not executed in Mathewson’s hand. REA and JSA, however, are hanging their hat on a 1910 Mathewson letter sold by Hunt Auctions that they claim shows similarities to the bookplate signatures. Keurajian disagrees with that opinion and it is important to note that the Mathewson secretarial signatures were attempts to mimic Matty’s actual signature. That is why there are similarities between the examples in question.
This time around the major auction houses had surprisingly few items believed to have been stolen from major institutions. We were most surprised that there weren’t any August Herrmann-related documents included in the sales.
There was, however, a beautiful and rare cut signature of Hall of Famer Ned Hanlon that was sold by Heritage and advertised as being clipped from an “official document.”
Ned Hanlon's will was stolen from a Baltimore Courthouse in the 1990s. The will was recovered and bears Hanlon's autograph on a typed signature line. It is believed that other signed probate documents were stolen from the Hanlon file and clipped for "cut signatures" like one sold by Clean Sweep auctions (middle) and Heritage (bottom).
Oddly enough, Hanlon’s last will and testament and other probate documents were stolen from a Baltimore courthouse in the early 1990s and the will was offered by Mastro Auctions in 2000 before the FBI stopped the sale. It is believed that other “cut signatures” were clipped from additional pages executed by Hanlon that were not recovered by the authorities. One such Hanlon “cut signature” appeared in Steve Verkman’s Clean Sweep auction in 2009, and another just sold at Heritage for $6,572.
In its lot description Heritage wrote, “Hanlon went to work as Parks Commissioner for the City of Baltimore, and this elegantly scripted 9/10 black fountain pen signature almost certainly derives from an official document of some form signed in that capacity.”
Actually, it is more likely it was clipped from a legal document in his probate file that has been documented as having been stolen from the Baltimore Probate Court. The Hanlon signature on the will appears to have been written above a similar black signature line created by a typewriter. The illustration featured above speaks volumes about the Heritage offering, which included no information related to the provenance of the item.
Jimmy Spence of JSA and Steve Grad of PSA/DNA have authenticated scores of signatures on documents stolen from institutional and municipal collections. At least they know for sure that these signatures are actually real when they issue their LOA’s.
It’s easy money for the big-time TPA’s endorsed by eBay and virtually every major auction house.
By Peter J. Nash
May 10, 2013
The alleged "First Baseball Card" purchased by Keith Olbermann in 2000 was discovered in 1997 by Antiques Roadshow appraiser and alleged Hall of Fame thief Mike Gutierrez (inset).
Scroll to Bottom For Update:
The Robert Edward Auctions lot description of the alleged “First Baseball Card” once owned by Keith Olbermann is long on speculation that the CDV is one of the most important relics in the hobby but rather short on the issue of provenance.
REA’s Rob Lifson wrote a few thousand words describing in detail the merits of the card and the research he claims was conducted by everyone from officials at the New York Public Library to a “historian for hire” in New Jersey. It isn’t until the end of the write-up that Lifson heads a short paragraph in bold dedicated to the CDV’s “Provenance.”
Lifson says he spoke to hobby veteran Lew Lipset, who sold the CDV and other Harry Wright related materials in one of his own auctions in 1998, and asked if he could contact the person who originally consigned the lot to Lipset’s sale. Lifson says that Lipset obliged, and that he spoke with the consignor who confirmed that the Wright CDV originated in a lot offered at Butterfield & Butterfield Auctions in California in November of 1997.
What Lifson fails to reveal to his customers, however, is that Lew Lipset was part owner of the Wright material when it sold in his own auction in 1998 and his partner in the items, which he fronted the cash for to purchase at Butterfields, was long-time hobby dealer Mike Gutierrez, now a consignment director at Heritage Auctions of Dallas, Texas, and an on-air appraiser for PBS’ Antiques Roadshow. At the time of his “discovery” of the Wright collection in 1997, Lipset says Gutierrez was working as the sports consultant for Butterfield & Butterfield in Los Angeles.
Lifson, of course, wouldn’t want to advertise that Olbermann’s rare and important CDV of Harry Wright originated with Mike Gutierrez. It is Gutierrez who was the prime suspect in a late 1980s FBI investigation into thefts from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and it is Gutierrez who has been recently linked to the sales of several rare photographs that ended up appearing in auctions conducted by Lew Lipset. That’s not to mention that our last report indicated that there may be four unidentified cricket CDVs missing from Harry Wright’s donated archive at the New York Public Library. That’s the same library that auctioneer Rob Lifson was apprehended at in 1979 for attempting to steal several similar CDV cards. TIME Magazine covered Lifson’s arrest and stated that he was caught with a “cache of smiling infielders” and $5,500 cash on his person. TIME reporter David Aikman says NYPL security told him the culprit said he made the cash selling baseball cards in just one day.
With so many stolen and suspected stolen institutional artifacts hitting the market in recent years, the pairing of Lifson and Gutierrez related to the CDV Keith Olbermann paid over $80,000 for in 2000 is curious to say the least. But is there really anything to worry about? Is this nineteenth-century gem legit or just another in a long line of plundered treasures that the “Father of Professional Baseball” once donated graciously with the best of intentions.
While it appears there may be four missing cricket player photographs from the NYPLs Spalding Collection and Wright archive, it is also important to note that Harry’s brother and fellow Hall of Famer, George Wright, had his own archive of baseball memorabilia donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1941 by his son Irving Wright. Considering Mike Gutierrez’ close links to items believed to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame, the Wright family’s donation to Cooperstown needs to be examined closely.
Cooperstown's Otsego Farmer newspaper reported the donation of George Wright's baseball archive to the Hall of Fame in 1941.
Wright was first approached by Hall of Fame officials to donate his collection to the fledgling institution in 1935 when he was first considered for induction. However, Hall curator, Alexander Cleland, learned that Wright was ambivalent about granting access to his collection since he had loaned out a few items to other parties who had never returned them. The incident apparently left a bad taste in Wright’s mouth so he declined Cooperstown’s first request.
Wright passed away in August of 1937 before he was inducted into the newly established shrine, however, Wright’s son saw the merits in donating the entire collection of baseball and cricket related holdings to the Hall. In 1941, The Otsego Farmer newspaper in Cooperstown announced the donation of Wright’s treasure-trove which included his favorite bat (autographed), his trophy bat from his stint as a Washington National in 1867, a colorized photo of his 1868 Union of Morrisania team and scores of photos and ephemera documenting his play with the famous Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869.
Cooperstown's Otsego Farmer announced the donation of artifacts to the HOF from George Wright's son in 1941. The relics were featured in John Thorn's book, "Treasures of the Hall of Fame." The collection included rare photographs and family heirlooms like an 1857 cricket book (above) passed on to George Wright by his father Sam in 1865.
Also included in the collection were cricket bats and balls and family heirlooms like an instructional cricket book, Felix On The Bat, passed down to the Hall of Famer by his father Sam Wright in 1865. Wright inscribed the cricket book as “Given to me by my father in the year of 1865. Often I have viewed its contents when a boy looking forward to some day to play the game of cricket well. G.W.”
Historian John Thorn wrote about the same book in Treasures of the Hall of Fame stating, “It was presented to Samuel Wright, father of Harry and George in 1858, on his Benefit Day at the St. George Cricket Club, Elysian Fields, Hoboken, where the English-born Sam was the cricket professional and Harry and George two of the key players (Harry by 1854, George beginning in 1861).”
The inclusion of this relic in the Wright family Hall of Fame donation is important to note because it illustrates that cricket-related materials were part of George Wright’s collection and were considered historically important due to the influence that the game of cricket had on baseball in the mid-nineteenth century.
The photographic materials found in the collections of both Harry and George Wright at the NYPL and Cooperstown are quite comprehensive and include virtually every individual pose known to exist of each Hall of Famer as well as most every team portrait extant. That tally includes all of the portraits of both brothers stolen from the NYPL as illustrated in a recent Haulsofshame.com report.
What are the odds that both Wright brothers had, despite their voluminous institutional collections, failed to retain a Jordan & Co. CDV depicting themselves at the time of the 1863 cricket and baseball event? Keep in mind that the Jordan & Co. CDVs were, unlike the majority of the photographs in both collections, actually commissioned and created by Harry Wright.
The 1997 Butterfield auction description said the CDV album being offered featured 30 CDV's of Wright family relatives when it actually included at least 1/3 of the group as easily verifiable cricket CDV's featuring both George and Harry Wright as well as two copies of the well known Matthew Brady image featuring Sam and Harry Wright.
Then, ask what the odds are that such items would finally surface as a lot in a non-baseball sale at a California auction house with no mention of provenance. Not only was the provenance not disclosed, but the description of the CDV photo album was clearly misrepresented as simply a family photo album when it had two copies of the well-known Harry and Sam Wright Brady CDV and at least nine others with cricket poses and cricket equipment visible. Far from just a family album of Wright relatives and by 1997 the Wright father and son CDV had been featured as a premier item in Richard Wolfers’ “Treasures” auction. Add to that equation the fact that Mike Gutierrez was the auction consultant and the individual who wins the lot in the auction along with Lew Lipset as his partner. Knowing Gutierrez’ controversial past in relation to missing items from the Hall of Fame’s collection, what are the odds his discovery of the Wright material was simply a coincidence or an astounding find?
This rare cabinet card of Harry Wright (left) and an 1869 Red Stockings trade card (right) were both stolen from the Hall of Fame, but were photographed before they vanished sometime in the 1980s. The theft of both relics is unimpeachable proof that Wright-related materials have been stolen from Cooperstown.
Then consider the fact that a heist occurred at the Hall of Fame in the 1980s which resulted in the wrongful removal of what is believed to have been millions of dollars in baseball artifacts, documents and photographs from the National Baseball Library. At least one rare portrait of Harry Wright has been documented as having been stolen from Cooperstown. Unimpeachable proof that a rare Kalamazoo Bat cabinet card of Wright was stolen from the museum is illustrated in several of the Hall’s annual Induction Day yearbooks. Like many of its plundered artifacts the Hall photographed the Wright cabinet before it vanished and that photo has been used to represent Wright’s likeness in the annual programs. The Wright photograph may even have been donated by George Wright since five duplicates of the same photo were part of Harry’s archive at the NYPLs Spalding Collection in 1921. Today, only one of those cabinet cards of Harry remains at the library while the other four are missing and likewise the victims of theft. The 2013 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards lists the value of the Harry Wright K-Bat cabinet between $30,000 and $60,000.
In addition, a Peck & Snyder trade card featuring the Wright Brothers and their 1869 Red Stocking ball club has also vanished from the Hall after being documented via photograph in 1983 as part of a SABR photo shoot. A similar card just recently sold at Legendary Auctions for over $80,000, while another offered by Legendary last summer was withdrawn from an auction after it was identified as having been stolen from Harry Wright’s NYPL archive as part of the Spalding Collection. George Wright’s donation to the Hall in 1941 also featured an Imperial sized cabinet photograph of the 1869 Reds also produced and sold by the Peck & Snyder Sporting Goods company (That cabinet photo still remains in Cooperstown). With the theft of the Red Stocking trade card from the National Baseball Library, the most comprehensive baseball collection in the world is now lacking even one copy of the famous card. At least five copies of the Peck & Snyder Reds card were stolen from Harry Wright’s collection at the New York Public Library and two of those have since been recovered by the FBI.
The Warren cabinet of George Wright inscribed by his brother Harry (far left) was stolen from the NYPL but documented when it was exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York in the 1950's. The 1997 Butterfield offering featured many rare images of George Wright suggesting that the collection originated from George, not Harry.
Now, consider the theft of those two Cooperstown relics and the fact that the prime suspect in the 1980s FBI investigation into the Hall of Fame robberies was, Mike Gutierrez, the same person who “discovered” the rare CDVs of George and Harry Wright by Jordan & Co. in the Butterfield auction in 1997.
While our previous report shows there are at least four cricket photos missing from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection, could Olbermann’s Harry Wright CDV have actually originated from George Wright’s collection housed at the Baseball Hall of Fame? The photo album of alleged Wright family related CDV’s contained more images of George than it did Harry.
When George Wright’s collection was donated to the Hall of Fame in 1941 his grandson, George Wright II was 18 years old and fondly recalled his trips to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox with his late grandfather, the Baseball Hall of Famer. One of his biggest thrills growing up was being introduced to Babe Ruth by his granddad and personally receiving an autographed ball from the Bambino. George II, unfortunately, took the ball home and played with it, thus obliterating the signature.
George II’s son, and the great-grandson of the baseball legend, Denny Wright, is well acquainted with the family history of his famous descendant and can attest to the fact that the Wright family retained little in regard to George Wright’s baseball and cricket careers. Wright says, “Last May my Dad passed away and while going through his belongings there weren’t any original photos or baseball items. All he had was a typed two-page document related to golf in New England. That’s all he had and growing up I don’t recall ever seeing any other sports related material within the family, especially photos.” Wright also says he does not recall anyone in the family possessing or auctioning off a family photo album, Wright added, “My grandfather was George Wright’s second son and he had a sister who never married. My father only had a sister, so that’s the only relatives out there. If there was any sports related material my Dad would have saved it.”
Correspondence in the HOF's collection shows that Irving Wright maintained the collection of his father, George Wright, and that he donated the entire collection to Cooperstown in 1941. (Cleland Papers, NBL)
Correspondence in the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Cleland Papers Collection supports Wright’s assertion. Between 1935 and 1937 the Hall of Fame made several inquiries to Wright’s son, Irving, through A.G. Spalding & Bros. executive Julian W. Curtiss. After Wright’s election to the Hall, Museum secretary Alexander Cleland asked if the Wright family might be “willing to give (the museum) something to add to the museum” but was denied when Curtiss responded stating that Irving Wright felt “he would like to retain the baseball memorabilia that illustrated so perfectly the activity of his father’s life.” In 1941, the Museum’s persistence paid off as they acquired the entire collection as a donation.
Denny Wright’s grandfather, Irving, was also a sporting man who twice won the National Mixed Doubles Tennis championship in 1917 and 1918 and later in life served as the President of the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston. Irving’s brother, Beals Wright, was an even more accomplished athlete who won Gold Medals in Tennis at the 1904 Olympics and won the U.S. National Championship of Tennis in 1905. Denny Wright noted that Beals Wright had two daughters, but it appears that his grandfather (Beals’ only brother) ended up as the sole custodian of George Wright’s collection. If there were any items that Beals retained they were likely located in George Wright’s former house in Dorchester, Massachusetts, which Beals lived in after his father passed away. In 2006, several damaged and framed baseball photographs once belonging to George Wright were sold on eBay. Those items were allegedly found in the same house by the most recent owners of the Wright homestead, which had fallen into serious disrepair.
The Harry Wright CDV and Wright CDV album traces back to Mike Gutierrez and Lew Lipset's partnership on the lot at Butterfield and Butterfield in 1997; to MastroNet Auctions in 2000 when Rob Lifson and Bill Mastro sold it to Keith Olbermann for over $80,000.
Haulsofshame.com has attempted to access the Hall of Fame’s accession records in order to review the 1941 Wright family donation, however, Hall officials Brad Horn and John Odel have been unresponsive to requests and appear to be blocking the public access to this data.
The lack of any solid provenance related to the 1997 Butterfield offering warrants a review of the inventory to see if there were any photo albums donated by Irving Wright to the Hall in 1941.
Contrary to Rob Lifson’s claim in his current REA lot description of what Lew Lipset told him about the Wright CDV, Lipset told Haulsofshame.com something entirely different. In regard to the original Butterfield auction in 1997 and his link to Mike Gutierrez, Lipset told us in an email, “I do remember the Butterfield auction. Mike was working for Butterfield as a consultant and he called me with a description of the album. I told him to “buy it”. We were partners on it.” Lipset also recalls that Gutierrez was a consultant for Butterfield at the time and even Gutierrez’ Antiques Roadshow bio states that he appraised Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball for Butterfield in 1999.
Lipset went as far as to say he had little first hand knowledge about the Butterfield auction and actually expressed doubt that the Wright materials appeared in an auction. Lipset said, “I said Mike was working as a consultant as that was what he told me. I never saw the auction that these cards were in and only had Mike’s word for it. That Butterfield auction would have been about 6 months before I auctioned them.”
Lipset could not locate a hard copy of his actual auction from March 1998 for us stating he only remembered his auction later that same year, “It was Oct. 1998. I have a listing on the computer and probably have a catalog buried in my garage somewhere. Lot 9 was a photo of Harry Wright, wife and children in 1866. This was apparently with the CDV album. I have no recollection of it. Lot 10 was CDV of Harry and father Samuel. Write-up notes (said): “Was in the Wright family album auctioned last March and was the only duplicate in the collection. About five copies known of this most desirable pose.”
Lipset is aware of the controversy regarding Gutierrez’ alleged involvement in the Hall of Fame thefts and told Haulsofshame.com he accompanied Gutierrez on one trip to the National Baseball Library in the late 1980s. Lipset said Gutierrez asked him to come because he was pitching a proposal to Hall officials to access Hall of Famer family information to track down artifacts. “The one time I went to the Hall with Mike, which I think I told you about, we weren’t there very long. We were in Tom Heitz’ office discussing Mike’s “idea” and don’t believe anywhere else. I don’t think Mike was off by himself, but then, I don’t really remember.”
Lipset indicated that he and Gutierrez no longer speak to each other and also told us he had interviewed at Heritage Auction Galleries for a position as a consignment director at the time Gutierrez accepted the same position working for the auction company CEO’s son, Chris Ivy. Gutierrez has never responded to Haulsofshame.com inquiries, however, sources we spoke with suggested that either Ivy or Antiques Roadshow producers might be able to find out what his involvement was in the 1997 Butterfield auction.
Several sources have also alleged that Gutierrez is linked to a scheme in which stolen archival materials have been in essence “laundered” as consignments to different auction houses via third parties. Gutierrez first became a suspect in the Hall of Fame thefts in 1989 when he sold New York auctioneer Josh Evans a stolen signed photo of Babe Ruth with white-out covering its library accession number. In 1998, the hobby newsletter, The Sweet Spot, also revealed the testimony of a person who accompanied Gutierrez to the Hall’s library and stated he saw Gutierrez steal documents from the Hall’s August Herrmann Papers Collection as he photocopied documents in the library.
The REA website shows that the 1863 Harry Wright CDV has been "removed per request of the consignor."
UPDATE (May 16): Olbermann-Wright “First Baseball Card” Withdrawn From Current Robert Edward Auctions Sale
After failing to receive an opening bid of $50,000, Robert Edward Auctions has posted a notice stating that the 1863 Grand Match cricket CDV of Harry Wright has been removed from its current sale. REA states, “Lot withdrawn per request of consignor.”
It is not clear who that consignor is, but the card was last purchased by Keith Olbermann for over $83,000 at a MastroNet/Robert Edward Auctions sale in 2000. Olbermann has not responded to inquiries asking if he is still the owner of the CDV or whether he disposed of the CDV REA had dubbed “The First Baseball Card.”
It is also unclear whether the removal of the CDV is related to the evidence suggesting that 4 cricket cards are currently missing from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection and other evidence suggesting that the CDV may have been part of a 1941 donation made by Hall of Famer George Wright’s family to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Last week Haulsofshame.com reported that REA failed to disclose that Heritage Auction Gallery’s consignment director, Mike Gutierrez, allegedly discovered the CDV in a 1997 Butterfield & Butterfield auction and that veteran dealer Lew Lipset financed the purchase as Gutierrez’ partner.
By Peter J. Nash
May 6, 2013
REA's 1863 Harry Wright CDV was sold alongside the fraudulent and trimmed Gretzky-McNall T206 Honus Wagner in an REA/MastroNet sale in 2000.
Robert Edward Auctions has made quite a fuss over its offering of an 1863 cricket CDV of Harry Wright in an attempt to establish it as the “First Baseball Card.” REA president Rob Lifson goes on at length about the research his company has conducted to make the case that the CDV purchased for $83,543 by Keith Olbermann in a 2000 REA/MastroNet auction should be considered for the loftiest of titles in the card-collecting realm.
Lifson writes, “Because this card was the first card picturing a baseball player available to the general public (as well as the first printed for the purpose of promoting the commercial retail sale of a product to the public), it is by definition the very first baseball card.”
Lifson’s research is nothing ground-breaking or original, as most of it was already conducted by the consignor who placed the CDV with MastroNet to sell in 2000. It was the consignor who researched the New York Public Library’s “Harry Wright Notebooks” and discovered the entries related to the production of the Jordan & Co. CDV-cricket tickets.
In fact, a source familiar with REA’s own recent research at the NYPL says that Lifson did not view any library materials and asked librarians just one question. In his lot description, however, Lifson thanked NYPL librarians stating that they were “accommodating above and beyond, to the point of doing research for us.” There is a certain irony in Lifson’s recent claim as the auctioneer was once apprehended stealing similar CDV cards from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection in 1979 while attending the Wharton School of Business.
Based primarily upon the research conducted by the original consignor, Lifson made the same case for the Wright CDV back in 2000 when he sold it in the same auction as the now infamous Gretzky-McNall T206 Honus Wagner card. It was in that REA/MastroNet sale that several sources allege Lifson and his partner Bill Mastro defrauded winning bidder Brian Siegel because both men had full knowledge that Mastro had trimmed the Wagner card to enhance its condition and value a short time after both men purchased the card in a Long Island card shop in 1985.
Due to the fraudulent enhancement of the card, the Wagner should not have received its “PSA-8″ grade, but rather the much less desirable “PSA-Authentic” grade, which was assigned to the PSA-encapsulated Harry Wright CDV which Lifson now claims, “Unquestionably qualifies for the monumentally important status of “The First Baseball Card.” Like the trimmed T206 Honus Wagner, which Lifson once told the Wall Street Journal was the “Mona Lisa” of baseball cards, the Harry Wright CDV has received the royal treatment from the REA hype-machine. Lifson now adds, “Remarkably, this title only scratches the surface of its great historical significance.”
Lifson’s new research, however, fails to note that two other cards issued with the Wright CDV, of William Hammond and William Crossley could also lay title to the “First Card” based upon his criteria. Both Hammond and Crossley also played in the same “Grand-Match” baseball game that Harry Wright did in conjunction with the CDV-tickets.
REA adds in its full-auction description:
“In fact, accompanying this lot is a copy of a notice published in the base ball section of September 19, 1863 edition of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle under the headline “Out Door Sports – Base Ball” that reads “New York vs. Brooklyn – The match between the two nines of the above cities that was to have been played yesterday will be commenced at 2 P.M. on the St. George’s Grounds. Several cricketers are to play on the part of New York.” The “several cricketers” referred to as playing for New York against Brooklyn on September 19, 1863 are Crossley, Hammond, and Harry Wright.”
Despite this fact, Keith Olbermann is in agreement with Lifson and got peeved recently when the mainstream media erroneously published a myriad of reports stating that a CDV of the 1865 Brooklyn Atlantics team was the first actual baseball card. On his MLB Baseball Nerd blog Olbermann indicated that the Atlantic CDV, which sold for $92,000 at auction, should not be considered a baseball card. Olbermann wrote:
“So, the 1865 Atlantics carte de visite, while a great item, doesn’t meet the standard definition of a baseball card.
Even if it did it would be far from the earliest known card. There were six different photographic cards issued in 1863 that simultaneously:
A) advertised a tournament featuring the Brooklyn Excelsiors playing the famed New York Knickerbockers in the “Grand Match At Hoboken” along with two cricket competitions;
B) served as admission tickets to the matches; and
C) cost extra because the photographs were designed to be saved as souvenirs.
Those are baseball cards. The records of how many were sold even survives: 150 of future Hall of Famer Harry Wright, 57 of a player named Crossley, 47 of another named Hammond, and 11 of Harry’s father Sam. A fifth card later surfaced showing the Wrights together, and two different poses of Crossley are known.”
Keith Olbermann, a prolific collector of baseball cards, shows off his T206 Wagner to Tim Hudson (MLB.com); The Harry Wright CDV he bought in 2000 is currently for sale via Rob Lifson (right) who is shown bidding on the trimmed Gretzky Wagner at Christie's in 1996.
In its lot description REA expands upon Olbermann’s opinion and goes into great detail as to why the card should be considered the first, however, Lifson & Co. offer very little information about the provenance of the rare card it calls, “Of astounding significance, and long recognized as one of the earliest cards known to exist.”
Much like the shady origins of the Mastro-trimmed Honus Wagner card, the provenance of the Harry Wright CDV is equally dubious. While it has never been definitively confirmed where collector Alan Ray originally acquired the Wagner card or the printers sheet it was allegedly cut from, it has likewise never been determined where the Harry Wright CDV actually originated from. In 2000, Lifson wrote in a Sports Collectors Digest article that the Wright CDV was “In fact, the example saved by Harry Wright for his personal collection.”
In 2013, REA describes the journey of the CDV starting on the West Coast in the late 1990s stating:
“….in 1998 the card had been auctioned by legendary collector/dealer/auctioneer Lew Lipset (author of The Encyclopedia of Baseball Cards). In preparing this auction writeup, we contacted Lew Lipset to ask if he could help us with tracing any additional provenance, and Lew graciously provided us with the contact information of the consignor as well as a copy of the original auction (which included descriptions of the other items that accompanied the Harry Wright card and therefore provided additional information). We spoke to the consignor and learned that that the Harry Wright card was included in an album purchased at a (non-baseball related) Fine Books & Manuscripts auction conducted by Butterfield’s Auctions in California. (An original copy of this July 16, 1997 Butterfield’s Auction catalog accompanies). The entire lot, which included materials ranging in date from the 1860s to the 1930s, was sent to Lew Lispet for auction and was mostly sold intact, with the few more desirable items included offered separately. The materials obviously originated from a Wright family member as it contained mostly family photos and no baseball photos or content with the exception of two 1863 Grand Match At Hoboken Benefit cards (one of Harry Wright and one of Crossley), strongly suggesting the possibility that these very cards were personally used for admission to the grounds by members of the Wright family!“
With no supporting evidence, REA and Lifson appear to be suggesting that someone in Wright’s family or perhaps a close relative may have consigned the photo album to Butterfield’s in 1997 and that Lew Lipset received the Wright CDV and other items with the album as a consignment from a third party.
But in 2013, rare photographs and CDV’s of the “Father of Professional Baseball,” Harry Wright, immediately call to mind the myriad of missing portraits from Wright’s personal archive housed at the New York Public Library as part of the A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection. There are over twenty missing portraits and tintypes of Wright and close to two-thousand missing documents that were once housed in library scrapbooks made to secure his personal correspondence. In his last will and testament Wright bequeathed his entire baseball archive of papers and photographs to the National League so that it would constitute the “nucleus” of a collection that could one day be studied for insights into the game’s earliest days. Hall of Famer and National League president A. G. Spalding incorporated Wright’s archive into his own and after he passed away in 1915 his widow decided to donate the entire treasure trove to the NYPL.
In July of 2009 a “rare cache” of Wright’s stolen papers appeared in an MLB All-Star Game auction conducted by Hunt Auctions and several of the rare letters addressed to Wright were identified by historian Dorothy Seymour Mills as the exact same documents she held in her own hands while researching at the library in the 1950s. An FBI investigation was commenced and Jack Curry of The New York Times interviewed one of Harry Wright’s blood relatives, his great-great granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, and reported: “(Guzzi) said her family had few artifacts from Wright’s career. She said the family would be monitoring the situation.” She added, “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 Wright family CDV album containing what REA calls the "First Baseball Card" featuring Harry Wright mysteriously appeared in a Butterfield & Butterfield auction in California in 1997.
Guzzi and her side of the family retained just one relic from Grandpa Harry’s baseball-days, a rather beat up CDV photograph of his champion Cincinnati Red Stockings team of 1869. Aside from that item, Guzzi says the family had no other original photographs or documents from his career. It was her understanding that everything was donated after he passed away in 1895.
So, a Wright family photo album featuring some of the rarest Harry Wright CDVs in existence showing up in a Butterfield & Butterfield auction in 1997 is curious to say the least. When the CDV album was sold there was absolutely zero scrutiny or mention of where it originated. At the time collector Barry Halper still owned his entire collection which featured a wide array of stolen Wright materials ranging from CDVs, cabinet photographs and letters stolen from the NYPLs Wright Correspondence Collection. When Halper sold his collection in 1999 at Sotheby’s, with REA’s Rob Lifson as the head consultant, the market was inundated with stolen materials related to Harry Wright.
The NYPLs Spalding Collection currently includes four Jordan CDVs with backs denoting they are tickets to the 1863 matches at the St. George's Cricket Grounds. The 1922 inventory notes the inclusion of four unidentified CDVs and one identified as Sam Wright (top). The two CDVs below the Wright duplicates feature cricketer William Hammond.
The New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection inventory in 1922 included one entry designating, “Unidentified cricket player (Jordan & Co.) 4 photographs, 4 players” and another handwritten entry added by researcher Charles Mears later in the 1920s identifying an additional group; “Cricket players (4) unidentified,” on the same inventory page. Of the four unidentified photographs of “cricket players” identified in 1922, three had backs identifying them as the 1863 Jordan & Co. “tickets” to the St. George Grounds.
The NYPL collection also features one "non-ticket" Jordan CDV of an "unidentified" cricket player (Crossley) and a Brady CDV of Sam and Harry Wright that bears no NYPL ownership stamps on its reverse.
The fourth unidentified example of the Jordan & Co. CDV images is devoid of the “ticket back” and has just a generic “Jordan & Co.” back. Another cricket related image included in the Spalding holdings was an E. T. Anthony CDV shot by Matthew Brady of Harry Wright and his father Sam holding cricket equipment. All of the cricket CDVs are marked with NYPL stamps except for the Brady image which bears no ownership mark of the NYPL.
Based upon Charles Mears’ handwritten notations in one of the NYPLs 1922 master inventory booklets of the Spalding Collection there were four unidentified Jordan CDVs and separate entries for one (duplicate) Jordan CDV of Sam Wright (Wright, Sam) with his name identified in ink on the front and another entry for “Wright, Harry, and another. Cricket (New York , Anthony.),” which was the Brady image of Harry and his father Sam.
Researcher and collector Charles W. Mears (right) helped organize and inventory the Spalding Collection and added handwritten notations to one of the NYPLs 1922 inventory booklets. He noted (4) additional "unidentified" cricket player photos in addition to the (4) Jordan & Co. CDVs already identified in the volume.(Top, right) Mears identified other photos which Wright appeared in his own hand and initialed "CW Mears." (Bottom) (C. W. Mears Photo, Cleveland Public Library)
But in addition to those entries in the actual inventory, Mears added in his own handwriting additional notations which appear to suggest that one additional CDV of Harry Wright and Sam Wright was in the collection as well as “Cricket players (4) Unidentified.”
If we take Mears’ notes to encompass the entire cricket related CDVs in the Spalding Collection, it appears that the NYPL is missing another four unidentified cricket player photographs and one duplicate Anthony CDV of Harry and Sam Wright by Brady.(Mears did not identify the unidentified (4) cricket players as CDVs).
It also appears that the library is missing another extremely important artifact related to Harry and Sam Wright, the actual St. George’s Cricket Club’s “Register of Play,” the official score book of the club used between 1848 and 1867. That score book would have recorded the matches related to the production of Wright’s Jordan & Co. CDVs and may have offered more clues to researchers. The St. George volume, however, like so many other Wright-related artifacts, is missing from the Spalding Collection along with several important pages that were cut and wrongfully removed from the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club’s score book.
While the NYPL still retains this 1863 image of Henry Chadwick and Harry Wright at a St. George's Cricket Club match, Charles Mears' notes suggest there may be additional cricket photos missing from the NYPL's Spalding Collection along with the actual St. George's Cricket Club score book which recorded matches from 1848 to 1867. (Spalding Collection, NYPL)
In its lot description of the Wright CDV REA opines on the number of known Jordan & Co. cricket CDVs:
“Several other 1863 Grand Match At Hoboken Benefit card examples are known to exist (we believe fewer than ten in total are known to date), including two examples of Sam Wright and two of Crossley that are in the Spalding Collection at The New York Public Library, several additional examples of Crossley (including one that that was discovered by a non-collector in the midwest as recently as 2007!), one example featuring Harry and Sam Wright together (an astounding card with an image that has previously not been published or even seen and which is presented as the following lot in this auction) and at least one Hammond.”
Considering REAs claims of the staggering rarity of the Jordan & Co. CDVs, it would appear that a closer look at the population and provenance of the known examples is warranted.
This "newly discovered" Jordan & Co. CDV-ticket featuring Sam and Harry Wright appears for sale in REA's Spring Auction.
When Lifson sold the Wright Cricket-CDV as part of MastroNet in 2000 he said this about the provenance of the card:
“The only other examples known from this set, the existence of which we have become aware of during the process of researching this card, are a part of the Spalding Collection at The New York Public Library. Included in the Spalding Collection are two cards of Sam Wright, two of Crossley, (and none of Hammond or Harry Wright). It is interesting to note that this Harry Wright card was discovered in an album of photographs which surfaced in California in 1998. This album belonged to Harry Wright personally. The Harry Wright card offered in this lot was in fact the example saved by Harry Wright for his personal collection.”
It should be noted that Lifson had no evidence whatsoever to make such a claim, neither from Butterfield & Butterfield Auctions nor from a Wright descendant. In fact, Wright’s last will and testament specifically noted that his entire baseball and sports archive was to be bequeathed to the National League so as to form a “nucleus” of a collection to tell the story of the development of the game.
Harry Wright's 1895 codicil to his will, in his own hand, specifies that his executors bequeath pictures related to both cricket and baseball to the National League.
The codicil to Wright’s will (which has been stolen from a Philadelphia Courthouse and subsequently sold at Hunt Auctions) was executed on September 28, 1895:
“All of my books and memoranda bearing upon or concerning the National Game of Baseball, Cricket and other sports….including pictures and other valuable matter…..I give and bequeath unto the National League and American Association of Professional Base Ball Clubs and their successors in the sincere hope and wish that they may use them as a nucleus or beginning of a historical collection of memoranda and facts bearing upon our grand national game of baseball…”
As noted earlier, in the thirteen years that have transpired since Keith Olbermann’s purchase in 2000, Lifson’s story has changed to this:
We spoke to the consignor and learned that that the Harry Wright card was included in an album purchased at a (non-baseball related) Fine Books & Manuscripts auction conducted by Butterfield’s Auctions in California. (An original copy of this July 16, 1997 Butterfield’s Auction catalog accompanies). The entire lot, which included materials ranging in date from the 1860s to the 1930s, was sent to Lew Lispet for auction and was mostly sold intact, with the few more desirable items included offered separately. The materials obviously originated from a Wright family member as it contained mostly family photos and no baseball photos or content with the exception of two 1863 Grand Match At Hoboken Benefit cards (one of Harry Wright and one of Crossley), strongly suggesting the possibility that these very cards were personally used for admission to the grounds by members of the Wright family!”
Lew Lipset offered the Harry Wright CDV in 1998 with a minimum bid of $600 and identified the entire offering as "The Harry Wright Collection."
First Lifson stated it belonged to Wright, personally, and then theorized that it was once in the possession of a “Wright family member.” The first attribution to Harry Wright specifically was noted in 1998 when Lew Lipset sold the group of material as the “Harry Wright Collection.” The basis for that determination at the time was, perhaps, related to Lipset stating:”It is believed that the handwriting identifying most of the pictures is Harry Wright’s.”
Based upon the album’s alleged ties to Harry Wright and the Wright family is it possible that the Olbermann-Harry Wright CDV originated from the Spalding Collection and is one of the photos Charles Mears noted was missing from the NYPL? Or could it have originated with Harry’s brother, George, or one of his family members? And regardless of the origins of the CDV, who actually consigned the Wright materials to Butterfield & Butterfield and to Lew Lipset?
Despite the hoopla in the auction description, which calls the Harry Wright CDV “The First Baseball Card,” REA is still seeking an opening bid of $50,000. Haulsofshame.com contacted Keith Olbermann to confirm whether or not he is the current consignor of the Wright CDV to the REA sale. Olbermann, a well-known and prolific collector, did not respond to our inquiry but sources indicate that it is more likely that he may have previously traded or sold the card to acquire another item he desired. Several sources said Olbermann rarely, if ever, has sold items from his impressive collection.
Watch for our next report about the “Dubious Provenance of the Olbermann-Harry Wright CDV.”
By Peter J. Nash
April 28, 2013
REA uses Babe Ruth's likeness in advertisements to solicit materials for auctions.
For Updates Scroll Down To Bottom:
As Bill Mastro prepares for his next court appearance, perplexed that Federal Judge Ronald A. Guzman has tossed his guilty plea agreement with the government two times already, his ex-partner and the alleged government informant who dropped dime on him, Rob Lifson, is still operating his auction business, Robert Edward Auctions, and continuing his sales of fraudulent and counterfeit items, one of which is an item Mastro once owned and quite possibly shill bid back when he and Lifson were buddies and business partners.
Lot 931 in the current REA auction is described as an incredible autographed photograph allegedly presented to Pride of the Yankees star Gary Cooper by Babe Ruth. Ruth allegedly inscribed the photo, “A pleasure working with you.” The photograph was previously offered by Mastro Fine Sports Auctions back in 1999 but was sold again in December of 2010 at Legendary Auctions as part of the Bill Mastro Collection auction for $15,600. Legendary described the photo as “among the finest and most important association pieces on which the Bambino ever put pen to paper.” Next month REA will auction the photo it describes as “one of finest Babe Ruth signed photos we have ever seen and we cannot imagine a more significant Ruth-signed Pride of the Yankees piece.” The photo is authenticated by both PSA/DNA and JSA but Lifson fails to mention the photograph’s “Mastro provenance.” PSA and Steve Grad say they even graded the photo “Mint-9.” The earliest LOA linked to the photo was written in February of 1999 by Mike Gutierrez who stated, “I believe that Babe Ruth signed this in his handwriting. The signature matches that in my file.”
But there’s a very big problem with this too-good-to-be-true Lifson-REA offering: It features a bogus autograph and inscription of the Babe considered by several experts a well-executed forgery created by a forger with a distinctive style that has been appearing in sales and auctions since the 1990s.
The current high-bidder on the item at $8,000, however, reached out to Haulsofshame.com after recently learning about an article published on this site in 2010. Said collector, Ralph Gary Brauner, “After bidding $8,000 on the above item in the ongoing REA 2013 auction, I found an article saying it is a fraud. It has 3 COA’s. They will not remove my bid. Can you help me?”
REA is offering this photo that was formerly auctioned and owned by former Memorabilia King Bill Mastro. Expert Ron Keurajian believes it is a well-executed forgery.
The photograph the REA bidder is concerned with was featured in a Haulsofshame.com report in 2010 which chronicled the many questionable Ruth signed items that authenticated by Jimmy Spence. In that report, author and expert Ron Keurajian said of the alleged Cooper photo, “In my opinion, its a well executed forgery.”
What’s more, Keurajian specifically referenced this same photograph and the forger in his recently published autograph handbook, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, stating:
“One forger has created some very convincing forgeries with baseballs and 8 x 10 photographs his favorite target. The famous image of Ruth swinging and facing directly into the camera is one of his favorites. He signs the forgery “Sincerely, Babe Ruth” across his chest. He has Ruth’s hand allmost down to the fine points. Letter construction is very good but unlike a true master forger, he does not have the right speed. The forgeries are clean but methodic. The hand does not evidence a shakiness nor does it have the fast bouncy feel of a genuine Ruth. The lines are uniform and lack variant pressure. He has gone as far as to create a forged 8 x 10 photo inscribed to movie star Gary Cooper. Overall, these forgeries are very nice but they look too perfect.”
(Left) Close up of the detail of the forger's work, creating a bogus inscription to Gary Cooper. Keurajian's book points out the slow and methodical style of the forger and the fact that his creation is just "too beautiful" to be a genuine Ruth. (Right) An authentic Ruth inscription c. 1934 shows the true fluidity and bounce of Ruth's signature as described by Ron Keurajian in his book.
Perhaps the greatest irony of REA’s inclusion of this blatant forgery in its current sale is the fact that REA president Rob Lifson was featured in a Q&A section in Keurajian’s book where he gave advice for collectors on how to obtain authentic autographed items. As for Ruth signatures, Lifson said:
“If a Babe Ruth autograph is of interest and it looks good to your eye, but an authenticator whose knowledge you respect regarding Babe Ruth signatures is not comfortable writing a letter on it (or even worse, states that he believes it is a forgery) that should be of great concern.”
Apparently this wasn’t a great concern for Lifson when he accepted the forged Ruth photo as a consignment knowing full-well that expert Keurajian had already deemed it a forgery.
Incredibly, these same style forgeries have already even been identified by authenticator PSA/DNA who included a similar Ruth forgery in a 2012 report illustrating what to look for to avoid buying a fake. That forgery, usually signed “To John” was also found created in the form of a laser-printed forgery which featured what appears to be an original handwritten forgery of the “Gary Cooper” forger. While on one hand PSA appears to admit being duped by this particular forgery, on the other they have not been forthright in reversing their opinions on LOA’s already issued for other forgeries.
The Babe Ruth forgery authenticated by Spence and Grad for Mastro (left) was executed by the same hand of the forger who created the "To John" Ruth laser-printed forgeries (right) that hit the market in 2000. John Rogers posted warnings for collectors in SCD (inset, bottom right).
The laser-printer scam was uncovered back in 2001 by Ruth collector John Rogers of North Little Rock, Arkansas. Other similar forgeries infiltrated the market and appeared previously in Mastro auctions and were authenticated by both Steve Grad and James Spence.
PSA/DNA was still using this Ruth forgery in their print advertisements as late as 2005, evidenced by this ad from SCD in April of 2005.
The same style of forgery was even featured and utilized in PSA/DNA print advertisements placed in Sports Collectors Digest and other hobby publications. Third-Party authentication companies like PSA/DNA and JSA were first developed as the brainchild of Bill Mastro in the late 1990s and perfected by 2001 when Mastro joined forces with Lifson to form hobby auction behemoth MastroNet.com.
Mastro devised a business model that absolved auction houses of virtually all liabilities related to fakes and frauds he sold as long as they had a “Letter of Authenticity” (LOA) from his preferred authenticator. The “third-party authenticator” then crafted its own LOA incorporating language that protected itself from any liability, just like the auction house. The collusion between the two companies MastroNet and PSA/DNA (and later also adding JSA to that scheme) sufficiently shielded both entities from liability and granted the authenticators the power to turn worthless forgeries into expensive treasures, simply by writing a fancy letter. In a nutshell, Mastro and Lifson came up with a successful scheme to tell their customers: ”All Sales Final- No Returns.”
The current offering of the bogus Babe Ruth photo to Gary Cooper illustrates this perfectly as Rob Lifson and REA, who have full knowledge that experts have reported and deemed the item a forgery, feel they can justify its sale and the collection of their auction commission simply because the third party authenticators have issued a fraudulent LOA. Solidifying this point is a long-winded disclaimer printed in REA’s current catalog which basically states Lifson has no responsibility whatsoever if the autographs he sells are fakes.
Bill Mastro (left) created the system by which auctioneers like his old partner Rob Lifson (center) can knowingly ofer bogus materials to the general public like the forged Babe Ruth photo to Gary Cooper (right) with virtually no recourse for buyers.
One collector told us, “All Lifson is doing is playing a game created by him and Mastro. Play dumb and blame the authenticator who has no real liability and says he’s only offering an opinion. He plays Mickey the Dunce while he’s fleecing customers. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s lucky he ratted out Mastro to save his own skin I guess.”
Lifson has a long history of selling Ruth fakes dating back to his close association with former Yankee partner and collector Barry Halper. Halper hand-picked Lifson as the special consultant for the 1999 liquidation of his collection at Sotheby’s and Lifson handled and wrote the description for one of the most infamous Ruth fakes of all-time featured on what Halper bragged was his “500 Home Run Club Sheet” which allegedly featured Ruth’s signature along with every player who also hit 500 or more homers in their career. In a 1989 interview with Ruth biographer Robert Creamer for a Smithsonian Magazine cover story Halper said he first got the sheet from his father with Ruth’s signature already on it. Halper did not tell Creamer he had ever met Ruth in person.
Halper's Ruth signature on his famous 500 HR Club sheet was a forgery and starkly contrasts authentic examples of the Bambino's signature.
However, by 1999, Halper and Lifson wrote up the sheet’s Sotheby’s description and claimed that Halper obtained Ruth’s signature in person at Babe Ruth Day in 1948. Experts agree that the Ruth signature is a poorly executed forgery and several sources believe that Halper himself was the forger. Lifson and Halper sold the sheet to SONY Music Publishing CEO Martin Bandier at the Sotheby’s sale for over $55,000, despite the fact that many hobby insiders questioned the authenticity of the alleged Ruth scrawl.
Gary Cooper’s daughter, Maria Cooper Janis, heads the Gary Cooper Endowed Fund For Students and has also established the Cooper Collection at the University of Southern California School of Cinema, an archive of memorabilia and films related to the Hollywood legend. The spokesperson at Cooper’s foundation, Bettina L. Klinger, confirmed to Haulsofshame.com that the Cooper collection is maintained by Mrs. Cooper-Janis and that it has never been the practice of the family to let go of or sell memorabilia or artifacts from Cooper’s acting career.
The forged Ruth-Gary Cooper photo appeared in a 1999 Mastro Fine Sports sale as lot 833 and sold for over $22,000. Mastro offered no provenance information on the photo.
We sent Cooper’s daughter a scan of the photo being offered by REA and she is currently checking the collection for any similar items.
UPDATE: Gary Cooper’s daughter, Maria Cooper-Janis, responded to our inquiry and said, “I, of course, have seen that photograph in our family archives, (and) have several shots of Gary Cooper and Babe Ruth at some moment, but none of them are autographed and the picture you refer to was never in our possession.”
Collector John Rogers recalls the photograph surfacing at a National Convention in the mid-1990s as part of several “too-good-to-be-true” offerings of signed materials ranging from Ruth to Walt Disney. Rogers told us, “I remember at the time someone warning me to stay away from this guy’s stuff, including the Cooper photo.” It’s not clear how the photograph made its way into the Mastro auction.
Back in 1998 a similar Ruth signature appeared in a Mastro auction on a c. 1928 OAL Barnard baseball. Several experts we consulted with agreed that the signature appears to be a forgery and shares several characteristics with the forged Ruth signature on the Gary Cooper photo. The Mastro catalog description stated, “This one should inspire PSA to branch out and grade autographed balls, it would be a 10.” While the experts we spoke with would not go as far as saying the two forgeries were executed by the same hand it is clear that the PSA-Mastro connection kick-started the PSA/DNA autograph division and as they did with baseball cards and the infamous trimmed T-206 Wagner, likely founded the enterprise by authenticating Ruth fakes at its inception.
The forged Babe Ruth signature on the Gary Cooper photo (bottom left) shares similarities with another alleged Ruth forgery executed on a baseball sold by Mastro Fine Sports in 1998 (right). The lot description staes that the ball "should inspire PSA to branch out and grade autographed balls."
In addition to the problematic Ruth photo alleged to have been presented to Gary Cooper, Lifson and REA include another group of highly questionable Babe Ruth signed photographs in its current sale. The group of signed photos is described by REA as:
“eleven extraordinary signed photos (six Babe Ruth, three Ty Cobb, one Honus Wagner, and one Joe Cronin) that for over thirty years have been in the possession of our consignor’s family. All of the photos appear in this auction and each shares the same unique provenance. Our consignor’s mother was a state-employed healthcare worker in Maine, where she provided “in home” care to elderly residents. During the early 1980s one of her patients was a former Boston-area sports photographer. He had no wife or children and in his declining health he began giving her some of his possessions, as thanks for her kindness. One of the last gifts he presented her with was a stack of signed photos that he had accumulated during his career. He had told her that they were the only things of value he had left and he wanted her to have them. She graciously accepted them and then simply put them away in a drawer, where they remained until her son recently found them while helping her clean out the house.”
REA's questionable offering of a cache of alleged Babe Ruth signed photographs is attributed to a Boston photographer but the auction house offers no solid provenance information.
The lot description reveals little about the true provenance of the photographs, only an unsubstantiated story that many times accompanies forged material.
A close inspection of the alleged Ruth signatures, however, reveals an assortment of red flags as to the genuineness of the handwriting. None of the photographs are inscribed or personalized and all appear on unusual second generation photos. Most importantly, over a dozen hobbyists and experts we respect agreed with us that every one of the Ruth signatures appears to be a forgery. One even relpied, “Ugh.”
Incredibly, one of the photographs is even signed “George H. Babe Ruth.” Every expert, dealer and collector we spoke with said they have never seen a photo signed that way, let alone without an inscription or personalization. In our voluminous exemplar files we could only find several instances of Ruth signing “George H. Herman Ruth” on documents and contracts and “George H. Babe Ruth” on 1935 All-America Board of Baseball certificates. REA doesn’t even mention the unusual nature of this ultra-rare version of Ruth’s signature.
In addition to REA offering the Ruth-Cooper photo for sale knowing full well that experts had deemed it a fake, the auction house’s inclusion of the dubious Ruth 8 x 10s from a mysterious Boston sportswriter highlights the fact that Jimmy Spence at JSA and Steve Grad at PSA/DNA do not know Babe Ruth’s signature or handwriting. Considering the high volume of Ruth authentications these companies have turned out to auction houses like REA and Heritage, collectors should be on guard and not content that the Ruth in their collection is authentic. Says one of the most prominent collectors in the country, “Just because you have a fancy letter with fancy signatures and stickers or a plastic slab that doesn’t mean you have something that is real. Isn’t that what this hobby is supposed to be all about?”
Halfway through our independent “Operation Bambino” investigation we believe we are close to blowing the lid off the network of Ruth forgers and the massive work product they have been introducing into the marketplace for decades. (These forgeries are far superior and dwarf the scope of the FBI’s previous “Operation Bullpen”). Based upon the evidence uncovered by Hauls of Shame to date we have made this preliminary conclusion: If you own an autographed Babe Ruth item with an LOA from either JSA or PSA/DNA you should be scared, very scared. The likelihood it is authentic could be a 50/50 proposition.
Collectors are gullible and dealers and auctioneers like Rob Lifson and REA are quick to post disclaimers stating they are not autograph experts and that: ”The bottom line is that neither REA nor any other auction house or any dealer or any collector can truly “guarantee” that a given autograph is authentic. It can even be difficult to prove with certainty that an autograph is not authentic.”
The bottom line, however, is this: If a dealer or an auction house hides behind the philosophy of a Bill Mastro or a Rob Lifson they shouldn’t be selling autographs and collecting commissions. If they don’t stand behind what they are selling and look the other way when the 3rd party authenticators they rely upon are exposed as inept and quite possibly committing fraud, why do uninformed collectors keep coming back for more?
A perfect example of the gullible nature of collectors and dealers is a recent offering by Huggins & Scott of a Babe Ruth signature on an alleged ticket from his 700 HR game in Detroit. The alleged Ruth ticket sold for $12,000.
The alleged Ruth signature on the 700 HR-Game ticket shows an unusual formation of the letter "a" in Babe. It appears to have been written backwards in the wrong direction than the Babe would actually sign his name. In addition, the very short and abrupt crossing of the "t" and the arrow-like formation ending on the "h" are highly uncharacteristic of a genuine Ruth and further suggest forgery.
Experts we spoke with quickly dismissed the Ruth signature as a forgery pointing to the signature itself as not having the look and feel of Ruth’s genuine handwriting. In fact, as examined by the naked eye and also under high magnification it is visible that the letter “a” in “Babe” was written backwards, a clear mistake of the forger and a tell-tale sign of a Bambino fake. The signature also exhibits highly unusual and uncharacteristic ink distribution throughout the signature, especially in the “a” in “Babe.” In addition, the short and abrupt crossing of the “t” and the unusual formation created at the very end of the signatures “h” also highly suggest forgery.
Hauls of Shame voiced concerns about the Ruth ticket to Huggins & Scott via Twitter on April 6 and again via email to Huggins VP Josh Wulken on April 10. When informed that we had spoken with an expert and well-known author who had indicated that he could not authenticate the Ruth ticket Wulken responded, “I have no idea who that is and everybody has opinions. We are selling the opinions of those who authenticated it.” Jimmy Spence and JSA authenticated the ticket and in the past have issued LOA’s for several high ticket Christy Mathewson signed baseball’s that are considered by several experts to be forgeries. Huggins & Scott say they stand 100% behind Spence.
One prominent collector told us, “When collectors ignore the evidence and the opinions of true experts they set themselves up for disaster. Sad to say, but most of them get what they deserve and their collections are filled with fakes.”
Babe Ruth’s own granddaughter, Linda Ruth-Tosetti, endorsed “Operation Bambino” at its inception back in 2010 and is even more concerned now with the proliferation of Ruth fakes in the marketplace. In regard to the current offering at REA Ruth-Tosetti told us, “This is really getting out of hand. The collectors better start doing homework on what they are buying! Just because a “so called” expert says it is real does not make it so. Maybe only in the mind of the sucker who buys one of these forgeries.”
When asked what she thinks the solution might be to the problem Ruth -Tosetti added, ”The authorities should get on these “experts” along with the auction houses. What are their credentials? How do they come to a conclusion that the autograph is real?
What I have seen was deemed fake once already. Are they thinking, that it is forgotten, so lets run the fakes again? When is this insanity and greed going to stop?”
Sources indicate that the FBI is aware of the REA Ruth offerings and are investigating the sales of the questioned items.
UPDATE (April 29): The highly questionable Babe Ruth signed photographs, which several experts have deemed forgeries, have been withdrawn from the current REA auction. The auction house posted this language on each lot description:
“LOT WITHDRAWN (along with lot #’s 861, 862, 881, 917, 929, 975, 977, 983, 984): This lot has been withdrawn at the request of our consignor due to REA’s efforts to provide additional information regarding provenance being excessive (which they may have been). We are honoring the consignor’s request and apologize for any inconvenience to the consignor and to bidders.”
UPDATE (May 1): Experts Uncover More Ruth Fakes in Heritage and REA Auctions; Feds Building Cases Against PSA, Joe Orlando, Steve Grad, Jimmy Spence and Auctioneers
REA and Rob Lifson just withdrew ten autographed lots that Haulsofshame.com and other experts called out as fakes and the auctioneer’s disingenuous explanation that the withdrawal was at the request of its consignor is being widely ridiculed by collectors and dealers throughout the hobby. REA, however, has not removed the alleged photo signed by Babe Ruth to Gary Cooper despite expert Ron Keurajian calling it a fake and Gary Cooper’s own daughter confirming that the photo was never in the possession of her family or the “Cooper Collection” the family archive she curates. Sources indicate that Lifson does not believe that Cooper’s daughter Maria Cooper-Janis confirmed this information for Haulsofshame.com.
Experts say the three Babe Ruth signed Goudey's being offered by HA (top row) are poorly executed forgeries as is the one being sold by REA (bottom left). A forgery sold at Coaches Corner (bottom right) appears to be a better forgery than the others being offered by the major auctioneers.
In addition, more questioned Ruth items have been presented to Haulsofshame.com for examination and it has been determined that REA and Heritage Auction Galleries are offering for sale what experts are calling four bogus Babe Ruth signed 1933 Goudey baseball cards. The cards currently have bids ranging from $8,500 to $25,000 but are all poorly executed forgeries. In fact, a forgery sold previously by Coaches Corner on a ‘33 Goudey is actually more well-executed than any of the cards currently being offered by Chris Ivy and Rob Lifson (see example above).
In his lot description for the alleged fake he is offering, Rob Lifson, states, “An autographed example of this card is virtually non-existent.” Lifson adds, “This is one of only a small number of Babe Ruth signed 1933 Goudey cards we have seen (probably fewer than 10) and the first we have handled since 1999.”
As evidenced by the REA and Heritage catalogs, amazingly, four are now available for gullible collectors to purchase, three of which have been authenticated and encapsulated by PSA/DNA. The REA example comes with an LOA from James Spence/JSA.
REA’s withdrawal of the forged Ruth photographs and their continued sale of the Ruth-Cooper photograph are currently being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a source who has been in contact with a Federal agent confirmed for Haulsofshame.com that the Feds are building cases against PSA/DNA, Joe Orlando, Steve Grad, JSA, Jimmy Spence and auctioneers like Lifson and Ivy who continue to offer bogus material with fraudulent LOA’s. The source told us, “They are just trying to get prosecutors involved to take it further.”
A source says the Feds are building cases against (l to r) Joe Orlando, Rob Lifson, Jimmy Spence and Steve Grad.
Babe Ruth’s granddaughter, Linda Ruth-Tosetti, has been at the forefront trying to stop the proliferation of forgeries of her grandfather’s signature and has spoken with an FBI agent about how serious the problem is.
UPDATE (May 7): Operation Bambino: Heritage Sells Alleged Bogus Babe Sigs For $82,000; REA Still Selling Fake Ruth to Gary Cooper Photo and Alleged Fake Signed 1933 Goudey; Rob Lifson Sold Barry Halper’s Fake Goudey At Sotheby’s in 1999; Spence Authenticated Sig In 2005 For SGC
Despite ridicule from a small contingent of experts who know Babe Ruth’s signature and handwriting well, Heritage Auction Galleries went ahead with the sale of the three 1933 Goudey cards alleged to have been signed by Ruth for the alleged “son of a Depression-era newspaper vendor at Fenway Park.” One card sold for $50,787 and the other two for $20,315 and $11,352 respectively. It’s true, there is a sucker born every minute.
These three Ruth Goudey cards are considered fakes by experts but were sold at Heritage for over $80,000.
Meanwhile, REA is still offering the bogus Babe Ruth inscribed photograph to Gary Cooper despite the fact that expert Ron Keurajian has identified it as a forgery and the Cooper family has confirmed that the photo was never part of their well known “Cooper Collection” maintained by Cooper’s daughter Maria Cooper-Janis. The bidder, who asked that his bid be removed after learning in a Hauls of Shame article that the item was a fraud, was actually outbid by someone who placed a bid of $9,000. But then that bidder, Ralph Gary Brauner, called REA again and was told by REA’s Tom D’Alonzo that the consignor of the fraudulent photo directed REA to remove Brauner’s bid, thus dropping the high bid to $8,000. It appears that another bid has been placed since at $8,500. REA has also added what appears to be a new JSA auction LOA that is undated.
Barry Halper's alleged bogus Babe Ruth signed Goudey was sold by Rob Lifson at Sotheby's in 1999. The same card was certed authentic by Jimmy Spence (center) for SGC years later. The current offering by REA (right) is also alleged to be a counterfeit.
REA is also still offering its own alleged autographed 1933 Ruth Goudey card despite the opinion of several experts we spoke with who believe the signature is a forgery. REA’s Rob Lifson has a history selling atrocious Babe Ruth forgeries, in particular another 1933 Goudey that he entered into the 1999 Sotheby’s sale of the Barry Halper Collection. That card, widely considered a fake, sold for $17,250 and years later was authenticated by James Spence in an SGC graded holder and sold at SCP/Sotheby’s in December of 2005.
The Ruth forgery sold by Lifson and Halper at Sotheby’s does not exhibit any characteristics of an authentic Ruth signature. We’re guessing Halper told Lifson he had that one signed in-person by Ruth when he signed his infamous 500 Home Run Club sheet on Babe Ruth Day at Yankee Stadium in 1947. REA has also added an undated letter from the consignor of the lot descriptions for the alleged signed Babe Ruth photos that have been withdrawn from the sale.
Click these links for our previous Operation Bambino reports: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
By Peter J. Nash
April 26, 2013
Heritage's Chris Ivy thinks a forged Lou Gehrig ball is genuine based upon HA research.
After withdrawing an alleged single-signed Lou Gehrig baseball from its Platinum Live NYC Auction in February after Haulsofshame.com published a report alleging that the ball was believed to be a forgery, Chris Ivy and Heritage Auction Galleries have returned the questioned sphere to the auction scene. Ivy and Heritage are hanging their hat solely on the fact that they believe, based upon their own research, that Gehrig could have signed an American League Official William Harridge baseball featuring “two stars” incorporated into the sweet-spot graphics.
Heritage is now calling the ball, “One of his (Gehrig’s) very last autographs” and the auction house claims the ball has a current bid of $26,000 on the controversial ball.
Ivy claims that he’s found several 1939 All Star Game balls that prove Gehrig could have signed such a ball and that those balls were released publicly before Gehrig lost the use of his hands due to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Ivy also stresses that both of his authenticators, PSA/DNA and JSA, stand behind their original determination that the Gehrig autograph is genuine. In February, a New York Post article reported how the authenticity of the Gehrig ball and another, alleged to be the actual last out ball from the 1917 World Series, were being challenged.
The alleged 1917 ball was actually an official National League baseball manufactured in 1926, thus making it impossible for Heritage’s stated claim to be true. Baseball expert Brandon Grunbaum, of HistoryoftheBaseball.com, concurred with Haulsofshame.com’s determination that the 1917 ball was created in 1926 based upon period stamping on the ball and the number of actual stitches found on the ball, which differed from authentic 1917 baseballs.
Grunbaum also furnished original images from the Spalding baseball factory in Chicopee, Massachusetts, which revealed that baseballs being manufactured in early 1939 for that upcoming season did not feature the “two-star” graphics on the sweet spots of the finished baseballs. Grunbaum’s discovery suggested that the probability of Lou Gehrig signing one of the “two-star” versions of an “Official American League” baseball, was very unlikely if not impossible. The Heritage Gehrig ball was signed on one of the “two-star” versions.
Additional research conducted by Haulsofshame.com, however, also suggests that it is possible for a “two-star” American League ball to have appeared before the outset of the 1940 season. A 1939 All-Star game signed baseball originating from the estate of Leo Durocher, sold by Hunt Auctions, was the strongest evidence we could find to show that the “two-star” version could have been released in late 1939. Ball expert Brandon Grunbaum recently told us, “I think it was possible to have early two star baseballs show up in mid to late 1939. I’m finding that this is the case with most of the baseballs that date after the previous year, occasionally some are showing up on late in the previous season.”
Our report, however, did not rely solely upon the “two-star” issue to determine that the Gehrig signature on the baseball was not genuine. Although it was important to illustrate Grunbaum’s discovery suggesting that Gehrig would not have signed such a ball at that time, it was the suspect signature itself that led Haulsofshame.com to first dispute the ball’s authenticity. (When Chris Ivy first stated that our report was incorrect because he had found two baseballs with the “two-star” design that were dated from 1939, further research conducted by Haulsofshame.com and collector David Maus found that those baseballs identified by Ivy were actually from Yankee Spring Training in 1940.)
The Heritage Gehrig ball (left) shows a distinct space between the loops of the "L" and "G" and also the full formation of a small "u" that is connected to the capital "G" in Gehrig's last name. The red arrows point to these signs of forgery on the HA ball and the Mastro ball (right). These elements are uncharacteristic of Gehrig's handwriting and suggest forgery. It appears that a forger may have realized this mistake on the Heritage example, as the "u" has been partially rubbed or erased.
The Heritage Gehrig ball bears almost the exact same signature style which appeared on another baseball sold by Bill Mastro in an auction in 2006. Both alleged Gehrig signature’s exhibit tell-tale signs of forgery as illustrated in the side by side study above.
A side by side illustration of two genuine signatures signed by Gehrig on baseballs from 1937 and 1938 show how the "L" and "G" loops touch (or intersect) and how Gehrig would never make the formation of a full "u" in "Lou", rather choosing to continue into his capital "G" with a single line.
When examining genuine Gehrig signed baseballs from the same time period between 1936 and 1939 it is clear that certain shared characteristics from these examples are lacking on the Heritage and Mastro examples. Gehrig’s “L” and “G” meet and intersect, unlike the awkward space between the same letters in the forgery. The genuine examples also incorporate a single line and not a fully formed “u” in “Lou” that extends into the capital “G.”
The two Gehrig forgeries exhibit the full formation of a lowercase "u" in "Lou" and in the case of the Heritage example (left, bottom) an apparent attempted erasure of the forger's error.
A close inspection of the Heritage Gehrig baseball reveals that a forger likely realized he’d made the mistake of writing a fully formed “u” and thus attempted to rub or erase the upstroke of the “u.” Heritage and Ivy’s determination that its Gehrig ball is authentic simply because of unverified information regarding the alleged appearance of Official American League” balls prior to the 1940 season and the LOA’s from its experts speaks volumes on how rampant fraud is in the autograph and auction marketplace. The fact that Ivy could return such a questioned Gehrig to the current Heritage sale is remarkable considering the history of flawed Gehrig opinions of both James Spence and Steve Grad.
The saga of the shady Gehrig ball is perhaps summed up best by New York dealer and authenticator, Richard Simon, who has actually been banned by Heritage for questioning prior auction offerings. Simon told us, “Personally I would not bid on this ball. I see too many problems with it.”
Heritage’s new lot description which advertises the ball as one of the last Gehrig ever signed states:
The triple stars on the Official American League (Harridge) stamping is the key ingredient here, the tell-tale sign that establishes this exceedingly rare single as one of the very last ever autographed by the dying Iron Horse. For years, the hobby had been misinformed about the debut of this stamping format, with most jumping to the reasonable but incorrect conclusion that the change was made in 1940, when this stamping style became standard format for Junior Circuit horsehide. But our authenticators, and our own research, confirm that the first examples surfaced no later than July 11, 1939, when a number of All-Star Game balls were signed on the very field where Gehrig had given his tearful Yankee Stadium farewell a week earlier. The legendary first baseman was likewise on hand for the Midsummer Classic, as honorary captain of the American League, and appears in genuine format on some of those team balls signed that day.
Experts we spoke with are of the opinion that the balls Heritage is referring to are forgeries as well, including lot 81293 in HA’s current sale, a 1939 Yankee team ball allegedly signed by Gehrig. When the current Heritage Gehrig is compared to authentic exemplars of Gehrig’s signature executed on baseballs between 1936 and 1939 the contrast between the genuine and non-genuine is striking.
The Gehrig ball being offered by Heritage (center) contrasts ten surrounding Gehrig signatures on baseballs believed to be authentic by several experts Haulsofshame.com consulted with. All of the alleged authentic exemplars are believed to have been signed between 1936 to 1939.
How can Heritage continue to blindly stand by their alleged experts when their track-record authenticating Lou Gehrig autographs is so remarkably flawed?
To illustrate that point, here are some of the most blatant instances of Gehrig authentication malpractice and quite possibly outright fraud committed by JSA or PSA/DNA:
1. Lou Gehrig April 26, 1940 letter: Alleged to have been written and signed by Lou Gehrig and certified authentic by Jimmy Spence for PSA/DNA. The letter sold for $9,500 at Hunt Auctions February, 2001, sale despite the fact that by April 1940 Gehrig could not sign his own name and was using a rubber stamp to sign letters written on the letterhead of the City of New York Parole Commission. Spence, despite having an expensive “spectrograph” machine capable of high magnification, could not tell the difference between an authentic signature and a rubber stamp. Six years later a similar rubber-stamped Gehrig letter dated Oct. 24, 1940 appeared in a Mastro Auction with this disclaimer regarding the Gehrig signature: ”…by October 1940, his incapacitating disease had reduced him (Gehrig) to stamping his signature.”
Expert Ron Keurajian noted the fact that Gehrig used a stamp to sign letters towards the end of his life. He illustrates the stamp in his book which matches exactly the stamp featured on the Hunt Auctions letter authenticated as genuine by Jimmy Spence and PSA.
2. Lou Gehrig Signed Photograph: Jimmy Spence and PSA certified as authentic an alleged Lou Gehrig autographed photograph offered in a Robert Edward Auctions sale.
A close look at the alleged post-1934 Gehrig signature certified genuine by James Spence reveals it is not genuine.
We’ll let this one speak for itself as it barely even resembles an authentic signature of the “Iron Horse.”
This Gehrig autoograph certified authentic by Spence bears little resemblence to a genuine specimen.
3. The Gehrig-Cuyler Single-Signed Baseball: One of the most infamous Spence-Gehrig blunders was on the alleged single-signed Gehrig ball personalized to Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler. The work of this forger fooled Spence and was even utilized on PSA literature and business cards according to a source we spoke with.
Spence authenticated this forgery along with several others attributed to a false provenance story involving Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler.
4. Lou Gehrig Cut Signature: slabbed and authenticated by Steve Grad and PSA/DNA. This item is currently for sale as lot 82406 in Heritage’s May 2nd auction. Every expert we consulted with was of the opinion that this plastic tomb was devoid of an authentic Gehrig.
This alleged Gehrig was encapsulated by PSA/DNA despite the obvious problems with the signature.
5. Lou Gehrig on Forged 1937 AL All Star Baseball: This almost too-well-executed forgery has the tell tale signs of the work of a popular 1990s forger who turned out lots of product that had the appearance of what experts described as looking “too beautiful.”
Experts agree that thiis gem is the work of a well-known 1990s forger who created beautiful "too good to be true" team and single signed baseballs ranging from the 1919 Black Sox to the 1927 Yankees.
6. Lou Gehrig Cut Signature: sold for over $3,000 in a Mastro auction with an LOA from Spence and Grad despite the fact it is a slowly executed, almost drawn forgery of Gehrig’s signature at the outset of his career.
This alleged Gehrig cut signature is considered non-genuine by several experts.
7. Lou Gehrig signature on alleged 1939 NY Yankee team ball: Currently being offered as lot 81293 in Heritage’s current auction. Experts, however, consider this ball non-genuine despite its JSA and PSA LOA’s.
This Yankee team ball alleged to be from 1939 and signed by Gehrig is considered non-genuine by several experts.
8. Lou Gehrig signed Yankee team ball allegedly from Spring Training 1939: The Gehrig signature on this ball is considered by every expert we consulted with as “non-genuine.”
9. Lou Gehrig Signed Notebook Page: Currently being offered as lot 81362 in Heritage’s Spring 2013 auction, this signed album page is also considered a forgery by several experts we consulted with.
10. Lou Gehrig alleged signature on a 1939 All Star team signed baseball: Offered by Memory Lane Auctions, this baseball is alleged to have been signed by Gehrig when he served as the honorary AL All-Star team captain, however, several experts we consulted with are of the opinion that the signatures featured on this baseball are not authentic. According to the experts the signature lacks the proper slant, size and spacing of an authentic Gehrig, just like the current single-signed ball being offered by Heritage.
Experts say this baseball allegedly signed by Lou Gehrig at the 1939 All-Star Game, is not authentic.
By Peter J. Nash
April 20, 2013
Barry Halper stands above the bogus "Shoeless" Joe Jackson jersey he sold MLB and the HOF for over $1million in 1998. The "Jackson" chain stitched name was forged.
Heritage Auction Galleries says that they have the Bambino’s last Yankee uniform from 1935 for sale in its Spring catalog and according to the Dallas auctioneer’s lot description the garment was:
“Purchased by famed collector Barry Halper, who sold it in his historic 1999 auction. At that time the jersey was touring with the Baseball Hall of Fame and our consignor had to wait several weeks before he was able to take ownership.”
Heritage also added:
“We must note that Halper sought to enhance the display appearance of the jersey by adding a chain stitched “Babe Ruth” to the interior collar” and that “the decision to remove this alteration will be left to the winning bidder.”
Sometime since the catalog was sent out to bidders Heritage has removed the Barry Halper name from the online description to the jersey referring to him now as just a “noted collector.” No doubt Heritage (and possibly the consignor) realized that an “ex-Halper” provenance is no longer a plus for garments that were once owned by the deceased Yankee partner who has been linked to scores of documented uniform frauds and forgeries including the counterfeit “Shoeless” Joe Jackson jersey he sold to MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame for over $1 million in 1998. That jersey had an “enhanced” chain-stitched name of “Jackson” in its collar.
A 2010 Haulsofshame.com report exposed the fraudulent “Shoeless Joe” relic as a fake and the Hall of Fame later admitted to the New York Post that materials used to create the jersey were not available at the time Jackson played for the infamous “Black Sox.”
SCP Auctions is offering a Hall of Fame worthy artifact that they claim is the actual jersey Reggie Jackson wore on the night he hit three home runs in the “House That Ruth Built” during Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. The jersey was covered heavily in the mainstream media where it was described as having the potential to be the most valuable baseball jersey of the modern era. SCP President David Kohler told reporters, “The providence coming directly from Reggie Jackson along with his desire to help out the” Mr. October Foundation for kids is going to knock this out of the park, SCP Auctions feels very strongly that this will set a record for a contemporary game worn baseball jersey. We would not be surprised if it approached seven figures.”
Reggie's alleged 1977 WS jersey from game six (top, left) matches the one he wore in the clubhouse with Bob Uecker after the game (top, right), but the jersey he wore on the field shown on game tape (bottom) is not the same Yankee pinstripes.
Kohler and SCP claimed that the jersey was “photomatched” to that actual event including a photograph of Jackson being interviewed in the Yankee clubhouse by Bob Uecker showing the exact same Yankee pinstripe configuration which authenticators view as a fingerprint of sorts in examinations of Yankee home uniforms. But late Friday, after realizing that the jersey Jackson was wearing in the post game interview was not the same jersey as the one he wore on the field, the auction house issued a statement saying Reggie’s jersey has been withdrawn from the sale. SCP said in the statement:
“SCP Auctions, in agreement with Reggie Jackson, has decided to withdraw his 1977 Yankees jersey attributed to Game 6 of the 1977 World Series from our current auction. Photographic evidence indicates that this jersey was worn by Reggie in the Yankees clubhouse after Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, however, further detailed analysis of video footage of the game shows some subtle inconsistencies between this jersey and the one he wore on the field during the game. This is based primarily on analysis of the pinstripe alignment relative to the sewn on “NY” crest on the front of the jersey. Since taking this jersey home from Yankee Stadium on the night of October 18, 1977, Reggie has kept this jersey for 35 years believing it to be the one he wore on the field. However, SCP Auctions and Reggie Jackson are in agreement that further research is required to positively validate this jersey as his game worn jersey from that night.”
Adding to the controversy over the withdrawal of the lot is the fact that Jackson once had a fire that destroyed his home in the Oakland Hills in 1991 and news reports stated that he lost his memorabilia. Jackson was reportedly preparing to move and was quoted in the Wisconsin State Journal as saying, “I was devastated absolutely devastated. I was in the process of getting everything gathered for the move. My baseball memorabilia, my art collection, my gun collection, my bronze collection.”
JET Magazine published pictures of the remains of Jackson's house (top) and reports published in newspapers (Wisc. State Journal) stated Jackson had lost his "baseball memorabilia." Could he have lost his 1977 WS jersey in that 1991 fire?
Jackson’s entire neighborhood was destroyed by the fire which was called at the time one of the most destructive fires in California history. The Orange County Register quoted Jackson as saying, “I don’t own a tie. I don’t own another pair of shoes, another shirt.” Reports also indicated that Jackson’s losses were “well over a million dollars” and that he had “consulted his insurance carrier.”
Could Jackson’s actual 3-HR jersey have been destroyed in the 1991 fire that obliterated Jackson’s house and did Jackson know that the jersey he consigned to SCP was not the actual jersey he wore on that fateful October night in 1977?
It appears that the Yankee pinstripe jersey being offered by SCP is the same jersey that Jackson is wearing in the clubhouse after the game, which would also suggest that Jackson didn’t lose all of his memorabilia (including that particular jersey) in the fire at his residence.
Kohler and SCP stressed that they hold themselves to the “highest standards of integrity and diligence with regard to authentication, and deeply regret any inconvenience this has caused our valued clients.” At the time the Jackson jersey was pulled from the auction bids were approaching $215,000, according to SCD.
Current standards for uniform authentication are much more stringent than they were at the time when Barry Halper was considered the “King of Collecting” and sold off his collection at Sotheby’s. Items with a Halper provenance now must be scrutinized even closer considering the large cross section of fakes and misrepresented garments that have entered the marketplace. Considering Halper’s fakes fooled the Baseball Hall of Fame, MLB and major auction houses, Heritage now finds itself in a bind with its current offering of what they allege is “Babe Ruth’s Final New York Yankees Jersey.” The jersey was originally sold at Sotheby’s as part of the Barry Halper Collection and the Halper provenance was specifically noted in the Heritage Auction catalog.
The Heritage Catalog description of the alleged Ruth jersey mentions the Halper provenance as did the online lot description. Heritage has since removed the Halper attribution from the online offering.
Despite that inclusion of Halper’s name it appears that Chris Ivy and Heritage have withdrawn the Halper name from its lot description choosing to refer to him now as “a noted collector” instead. Heritage’s claim of Halper’s enhancement of the garment with the “Babe Ruth” chain-stitch is also concealed and is also attributed to a “noted collector.” How Heritage determined that Halper himself had the Ruth chain-stitched name added simply to enhance display is not known especially since Halper died back in 2005 and is currently unavailable for comment.
Barry Halper's jersey attributed as the Bambino's last features a chain-stitch that appears to have been added much later and is not consistent with stitching added by the Spalding Company.
When the jersey was first handled and written up by Halper’s close associate and Sotheby’s consultant, Rob Lifson, there was virtually no mention of the chain-stitched name of Ruth being added to simply enhance the jersey for display purposes. The Sotheby’s description led bidders to believe that the stitched Ruth name was original to the garment, which at the time was on display as a loan to the Babe Ruth Museum’s traveling exhibit “sponsored by the Ryland Group Inc.” Halper sold the jersey in the Sotheby’s sale for $79,500. Sources indicate the winning bidder of the lot did not purchase it believing that Halper added the chain stitched name simply to “enhance the display appearance of the jersey.”
It is more likely that the chain-stitching was added to the jersey to fraudulently enhance its value and bolster the claim that the garment was actually issued to Ruth. That would match the description of scores of other Hall of Famer jerseys in the Halper Collection that sold at Sotheby’s. The auction house sold off hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bogus jerseys attributed to players who were identified with similar fraudulent chain-stitching that has been determined to have been added to the garment at a much later time. Jerseys attributed to Mickey Mantle, “Stan the Man” Musial, Eddie Cicotte, John McGraw and other 19th century players like Buck Ewing and Wilbert Robinson all turned out to be fakes featuring doctored or deceptive chain-stitching.
The chain-stitched names in Halper's Joe Jackson (top, left), Eddie Cicotte (top, right) and Wilbert Robinson (bottom) jerseys were determined to have been all added fraudulently well after their manufacturing date.
Both Sotheby’s and Heritage state that the Ruth jersey was acquired from the widow of sportswriter Al Helfer who wrote an alleged letter in October of 1990 stating, “During a charity game this baseball uniform (NY #3) was given as a gift to my husband Al Helfer by Babe Ruth because of their similar size and Babe Ruth told Al to keep it as a memento.” In addition to that letter, both Halper and Heritage utilize an item published in a 1951 issue of Complete Baseball by the editors of Sport Life Magazine which state: “A couple of his (Helfer’s) proudest possessions include a set of golf clubs presented by Honus Wagner and a uniform worn by Babe Ruth which the Bam gave Al after a ball game back in 1939.”
The 1951 article doesn’t specify whether Helfer was gifted an actual Yankee uniform and doesn’t mention the year of the uniform or whether Ruth ever wore it. The provenance story is vague and considering Halper’s confirmed history of fabricating and embellishing provenance stories, it is difficult to put much faith in the magazine article and the unauthenticated letter allegedly written by Helfer’s widow.
If Halper went as far as fabricating a false-story that he traveled to the home of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s widow to purchase his 1919 White Sox jersey and “Black Betsy” bat, how can Heritage and its consignor be so sure that the story linked to the alleged Ruth jersey is legitimate? This also considering that Heritage in its lot description has already admitted that the jersey itself has been altered and enhanced with the addition of the “Babe Ruth” chain-stitch in the collar. How can Heritage know that the Ruth chain-stitch isn’t a calculated fraud similar to the Ruth chain-stitch found on the inside collar of the fake 1920 Ruth jersey Halper claimed to have acquired from ex-Brooklyn Dodger Ollie O’Mara? Has Heritage tracked down the Helfer family or relatives to verify the story? When Haulsofshame.com tracked down Ollie O’Mara’s son in Reno, Nevada, he claimed his father never had a baseball uniform collection and never sold materials to Barry Halper. Several Halper fakes with a fabricated O’Mara provenance were sold along with the alleged 1935 Ruth jersey at Sotheby’s including Baltimore jerseys attributed to Wilbert Robinson and Hughie Jennings. The Robinson jersey sold for $27,600, however, when it sold again at Legendary Auctions nearly a decade later it sold for only a few thousand dollars as an old jersey unattributed to Robinson even though Robinson’s name was chain-stitched into the garment. Comparisons to authentic Baltimore jerseys form the period also confirmed the fact that Halper’s alleged treasure was bogus.
Will Heritage’s questioned Ruth jersey attributed to Ruth in a year he didn’t even play meet the same fate as Halper’s bogus Robinson? Is it just a generic Yankee jersey that was coupled with a good story in a magazine? Did Barry Halper add the chain-stitched Ruth name to create another Halper-special?
You can’t really blame Heritage for wanting to hide the Halper provenance considering that the Baseball Hall of Fame has even removed the “Barry Halper Gallery” from its museum. That’s the same gallery space where the fakes attributed to “Shoeless Joe” were exhibited to Hall of Fame visitors for years.
We asked uniform expert Dave Grob of MEARS for his opinion on the offering of the alleged Jackson and Ruth jerseys and he summed up the situation like this, saying, “Provenance and or current ownership should not be more important or valuable to the collector as should be the timely and transparent results of research into the artifact in question. As I have said on numerous occasions, provenance can not make any item into something that it is not.”
By Peter J. Nash
April 10, 2013
Wright's Wronged: Only four portraits of baseball's Wright Bros. survived the NYPL heist. (Spalding Collection, New York Public Library)
When Elizabeth Churchill Spalding sent her late husband’s baseball collection to the New York Public Library in 1921, it was comprised of the baseball archives of baseball pioneers Albert Spalding, Henry Chadwick, James Whyte Davis and Harry Wright. The collection included manuscripts, scrapbooks, score books, correspondence and photographs of the pioneers and the men who shaped the game in the 19th century.
In the 1970s, however, the Spalding Collection was targeted by thieves who pulled off a remarkable heist that resulted in the disappearance of thousands of documents and manuscript pages from Wright’s personal archive, including pages which were cut and sliced from the baseball pioneer’s handwritten diaries and account books. One of those stolen pages was offered and sold by Premier Auctions in Arizona last month
Daryl Brock, author of If I Never Get Back, a celebrated novel that incorporates Harry Wright as a character, utilized the NYPL collection in his research and recalls viewing the first volume of Wright’s “Note and Account Books” which covered the years 1860 through 1871. We showed Brock the stolen page offered by Premier and afterwards he recalled the volume he examined. ”Pages were missing and I have no way of knowing if the one in question now was one of them. The small penciled page sure looks like the same format though,” said Brock.
A page dated from 1863 in the NYPL's Wright Account Books archive (left) shows that the page fragment offered by Premier Auctions originated from the same type of ledger notebooks found in the Spalding Collection.
In addition to the manuscript materials, thieves have also looted the bountiful collection of photographs that emanated from Harry Wright’s archive and were documented in the original inventory as including over twenty portraits of the “Father of Professional Baseball” and another ten of his brother, Hall of Famer, George Wright.
When the library conducted an inventory of the Spalding Collection’s photographic holdings in 1986, photo archivists could only locate three portraits of Harry and just one of George. It was solid proof that the library thieves were just wild about baseball’s famous Wright brothers. It appears that two of the portraits may have survived because they were likely housed in their original frames (and were not even identified on the 1922 inventory) and the third was a rare Kalamazoo Bat cabinet card of Wright that was one of six duplicates once in the collection (that means the other five have vanished). The Kalamazoo Bat card of Wright is listed as being worth $62,500 in The Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. To date, the library and the FBI have recovered two more portraits, one a cabinet photo shot by Boston photographer Taylor and an 1872 CDV shot by Boston photographer Warren. The Wright cabinet was identified when it was listed for sale in a Lew Lipset auction in 2005, and the CDV was snagged after being offered for sale on eBay back in 1999.
The year 1999 also saw several other stolen Wright photos surface as they hit the auction block at Sotheby’s as part of the Barry Halper Collection. The Sotheby’s auction featured several cabinet photos and a CDV of Wright in dress clothes which appeared as lot 1350. At the same time another CDV portrait of Harry in 1868 surfaced in a MastroWest auction in 2000. A missing tintype of Harry shot in Cape May, NJ, also surfaced in a Barry Sloate auction.
All of these portraits of Harry Wright were stolen from the NYPLs Spalding Collection. The examples in the bottom row are presented with the reverse of each card exhibiting defacement of the NYPL ownership stamp and storage designation.
After Halper’s death in 2005, his estate and his widow consigned two other Wright cabinet photos to Rob Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions, in Watchung, NJ. One was an inscribed cabinet by Randall and the other a MacIntire cabinet of Wright in spectacles. Both cabinet cards showed the tell tale signs of having once been part of the Spalding Collection with sections of paper loss on each card’s reverse where NYPL stamps and identifications were once located but now defaced. A collector named Ken Wirt, of Springfield, Missouri, purchased the stolen MacIntire cabinet at REA and regularly shows it off on collector forum Net54.
This page from the 1922 NYPL guide to the Spalding Collection includes specific inventories for the portraits of George and Harry Wright (outlined in red). The additional handwritten notes and numeric designations were added by collector and researcher Charles W. Mears.
Based upon the surviving and recovered photos still at NYPL (as well as others identified on the SABR contact sheets of photo shoots at the NYPL in 1983 before they were stolen), it appears the NYPL collection at one time had every known portrait of Harry Wright except for one: the standing portrait of Wright holding a ball photographed by Jordan & Co. for the 1863 Grand Benefit Match CDVs. That CDV was purchased in 2000 by Keith Olbermann for over $82,000 in the same Robert Edward Auctions sale that featured the infamous trimmed Gretzky-McNall T206 Honus Wagner. The fraudulent offering of the PSA-8 graded Wagner brought over $1.2 million for Lifson and his then partner, the currently indicted hobby kingpin, Bill Mastro, who had his guilty plea agreement nixed for a second time by a Federal Judge in Chicago yesterday.
What are the odds that Harry Wright saved a copy of virtually every other portrait ever taken of him, except for the significant 1863 Jordan & Co. CDV, which he created as a ticket and is documented in his personal notebooks still housed in the Spalding Collection ?
These five portraits of Harry Wright were all featured on CDV photographs once housed in the famous Spalding Collection. The only one that remains in the collection is the example to the far right which was recovered when a seller offered it on eBay in 1999.
Of all the CDV photographs of Wright that he saved for himself (and were identified on the original 1922 NYPL Spalding Collection inventory) only one remains and even that one was stolen. That Warren CDV of Wright in his Boston uniform appeared on eBay in 1999 and was recovered by the NYPL when collectors noticed the defaced NYPL stamp on the CDVs reverse. Two other CDV portraits of Wright are documented in published books including A. G. Spalding’s America’s National Game in 1911 and in John Durant’s The Story of Baseball, which includes a credit to the NYPL.
There are two tintype portraits of Harry Wright missing from the NYPLs Spalding Collection and there are only two known to exist in private hands having sold at public auction. One sold at "19th Century Only Auctions" (far left and right) and the other by dealer Barry Sloate in 2002 (center).
In addition to the CDV-style photographs of the 1860s and the cabinet-style images of the 1870s and 1880s that were originally housed in the Spalding Collection, there were also two “tintype” portraits of Wright noted in the 1921 inventory. They were listed as: “Wright, Harry. (Cape May, N.J., Heiss) Tintype” and “Wright, Harry. Charleston S.C. 1886- Tintype.” Only two Wright tintypes have ever appeared at public auction; one was sold by 19th Century Only Auctions for $6,500 in 2005, and another was sold by Brooklyn dealer Barry Sloate in 2002. In his lot description Sloate states his offering was “one of the very few known tintypes to picture a famous and identifiable player, much less a Hall of Famer.”
This Warren CDV (left) and McCormick cabinet photo of George Wright were stolen from the Spalding Collection but have yet to be recovered.
As we’ve illustrated here, virtually every donated portrait photograph of both Harry and George Wright has been looted from the NYPLs Spalding Collection yet, somehow, the most important of those photos, the 1863 Jordan & Co. CDV of Harry, is somehow accepted as not having been part of the comprehensive Harry Wright collection. Instead, we are to believe that the CDV appeared legitimately along with several never-before-seen CDV’s of George Wright as “unearthed treasures” in a Butterfield & Butterfield auction in 1997, with no mention whatsoever as to provenance. One of the CDV’s was a c. 1866 photograph by Grotecloss featuring George Wright and what appears to be his Unions of Morrisania baseball teammate Tommy Beals. The NYPL’s Spalding Collection lists several “unidentified” Grotecloss CDV’s on its “Missing List” of unaccounted photos.
The 1997 Butterfield auction included the Harry Wright Benefit Ticket CDV and several cricket related CDV's featuring his brother George Wright. Another Grotecloss CDV of George with an unidentified "friend" was also included and sold later by dealer Barry Sloate. The unidentified friend on the 1866 CDV may be George's baseball teammate Tommy Beals from the Union BBC.
From here we will take a much closer look at the history and provenance of the 1863 Jordan CDV of Harry Wright and the circumstances surrounding its discovery in 1997. We will examine the current offering of the card at Robert Edward Auctions Spring sale and review the research that the auction house has published as part of the lot description for the upcoming auction.
The known population of Jordan & Co. CDVs and CDVs/Tickets:(Top row l-r) Harry Wright (CDV-Ticket,Butterfield/Lipset); George Wright (CDV,Butterfield/Lipset); Harry & Sam Wright (CDV-Ticket REA, 2013); Crossley, Black Cap (CDV-Ticket, Leiderman/Mastro); (2nd Row l-r) Hammond- w/ball(CDV-ticket); Crossley- black cap (CDV-ticket); Crossley-White cap (CDV-Ticket) (All Barry Sloate); (3rd Row l-r) Sam Wright (2) (CDV-Ticket,NYPL); Crossley-White cap (CDV, NYPL); Hammond w-ball (CDV-ticket, NYPL); Hammond w/bat (CDV-ticket, NYPL)
In addition, we will also document the entire population of Jordan & Co. CDVs in both private hands and at the New York Public Library, thus giving a new and fresh perspective on the CDV-ticket issue created and sold by Harry Wright to promote both cricket matches and baseball games in 1863.
Just recently Haulsofshame.com confirmed that one of the E. T. Anthony CDV’s featuring Harry and Sam Wright is missing fron the NYPL’s Spalding Collection. The original inventory listed one example but in the 1920’s researcher and collector Charles W. Mears indicated on a subsequent NYPL inventory that the collection featured a duplicate of that same CDV. Mears made a handwritten notation in the NYPL’s master inventory booklet that was examined and documented by historian John Thorn in 1983.
There are only four known copies of the E. T. Anthony CDV featuring Sam and Harry Wright. The NYPL had two in its collection but only one remains (far left). Only three other examples have surfaced publicly including one that surfaced in a 1992 Wolfers auction (far right) and two others that appeared in a Butterfield & Butterfield auction in 1997.
The first Wright father and son CDV appeared in Richard Wolfers 1992 “Treasures of the Game” auction as the #1 lot with an estimate of $10,000-$12,500. Two additional copies appeared in a Butterfield & Butterfield auction in 1997 allegedly originating from a CDV photo album with an alleged Wright family provenance. With only three examples known to exist in private hands, the odds are great that one of those three examples is the missing NYPL CDV. (A newly discovered Jordan & Co. ticket-CDV featuring a different pose of Sam and Harry Wright appears as lot #7 in REA’s current sale).
With the confirmation that the CDV featuring Harry and Sam Wright is missing, are all of the Jordan & Co. CDV-tickets that were originally part of the Spalding Collection in 1922 accounted for?
(Look out for our next installment about the 1863 Harry Wright CDV by Jordan & Co.)
By Peter J. Nash
April 4, 2013
Season tickets for the Boston BBC in 1903 (top) and 1876 (bottom) are being offered in Huggins & Scott's Spring auction.
(FOR UPDATE SCROLL TO BOTTOM)
Baseball season is finally here and many fans are busy lining up their season tickets for MLB’s 2013 campaign. Collectors, likewise, are hitting the spring baseball auctions to chase down relics from seasons long gone, and in the case of Huggins & Scott Auctions, eyeballing a few original season ticket books and passes for the Boston Beaneaters Base Ball Club from the long-gone seasons of 1876 and 1903.
The auctioneer describes the 110-year-old 1903 season ticket booklet as:
“An amazingly well preserved book (which) features a gorgeous leather bound cover (bearing) lustrous gilt lettering which reads “Boston Base Ball Club, Season 1903, 104”. The page inside the front cover records the ticket holder as “Mr. Fred E. Ling” and is signed by team treasurer J.B. Billings.”
The second Boston relic in the sale from the season of 1876 is described as:
“A very appealing Boston Baseball Season Ticket pass from the NL’s inaugural season 1876. Certified Authentic by SCG this dynamic ducat also bears the signature of Team President N. T. Apollonio with JSA authentication noted on the flip. This extremely rare relic appears to be unused, as the “Admit” line is not filled out.”
The complimentary tickets from 1903 are said to be worth over $6,000 but they didn’t belong to “Fred E. Ling” as the auction house described. The tickets were actually issued to Boston team treasurer Frederick E. Long, the man who ran the day to day financial operations for the Boston franchise from the 1870s through the 1890s. Long handled all of the team bank accounts; issued paychecks to players like “Old Hoss” Radbourn and “King” Kelly; corresponded with managers like Harry Wright when the team was on the road and oversaw all of the stockholders of the club for every season he was affiliated with the Boston nine since they joined the National League in 1876.
In 1983, Long’s descendants donated his personal archive of baseball files and mementos to the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown, New York, constituting the “Frederick E. Long Papers Collection”, one of the most magnificent archives of baseball business records known to exist from the 19th century. Included in the archive is the voluminous correspondence between Long and Hall of Famers Harry Wright and A. G. Spalding, bank books, stock ledgers, cancelled checks, promissory notes and, yes, complimentary tickets issued by the club along with the lists of fans they were distributed to by Long.
The Frederick Long Collection in Cooperstown includes a consecutive run of Long's own season ticket booklets for the seasons spanning from 1895 to 1902. Pictured above in their archival box at Cooperstown are the 1899, 1900, 1901 and 1902 booklets. (National Baseball Library, Cooperstown)
The Huggins & Scott offering of a 1903 ticket book issued to Long is curious to say the least since the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Long Papers archive (which spans from 1871 to 1905) lists the entry for Box #20, Folder 2 as: “Season Ticket Books and Passes- 1871 to 1902.” In fact, the archive includes Long’s personal complimentary ticket booklets for the seasons of 1895, 1896, 1897, 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901 and 1902. There’s no 1903 ticket booklet in Cooperstown and no 1904 or 1905 examples either. Long, however, did receive a complimentary pass from the Boston club in 1905 as evidenced in a letter from Geo. B. Billings that is currently found in the Long archive. Where, then, did the 1903 booklet being offered at auction come from?
The 1902 season ticket booklet housed at the HOF in the Long Papers Collection (left) is the last of a series in the collection which starts in 1895. The Huggins & Scott offering (right) appears to have originated from the same collection.
We sent images of the Hall of Fame’s similar items and also asked Huggins & Scott’s Josh Wulkan where his consignors acquired the 1903 ticket book and 1876 pass. Wulkan said, “We have no comment at this time.” At time of the publication of this article both lots were still included in the current sale which ends on April 11th.
The Long Papers Collection at the HOF includes several unused 1876 season passes for the Boston BBC, two of which are numbered 122 and 123. The Huggins & Scott offering is in the exact same sequence at #124.
If it appears that the 1903 booklet may be missing from the Hall’s Long Papers Collection, the origins of the 1876 season pass are even murkier considering that the Long archive includes at least eight identical unused and unexecuted passes from the same season? Then consider that the Huggins & Scott pass is designated #124 and the Hall of Fame’s Long Papers collection includes the two preceding unused passes numbered 122 and 123. What are the odds the Huggins & Scott offerings weren’t part of the infamous 1980s heist at the Hall?
Items stolen from the Hall of Fame have been showing up in public auctions for the past few decades, but recently it appears that owners of stolen and suspect materials are becoming more confident in selling the material since the Hall has not pursued recovery of any of its property even when there is photographic documentation of the items at the Hall before they were wrongfully removed. Most recently the Hall failed to make an effort to recover an 1870 Philadelphia Athletics CDV that appeared in a Legendary auction. Items from the National Baseball Library’s August Herrmann Papers collection, Ford Frick Papers collection and photographic collections appear to have been hit the hardest by the 1980s heist which is believed to have resulted in millions of dollars in memorabilia vanishing from the institution.
In 2006, REA sold a July 25, 1879, letter from Harry Wright to Frederick Long written in Syracuse, NY (left). The HOF's Long Collection includes a series of correspondence in that time period and a letter Wright sent to Long on July 27th from a Syracuse hotel.
The Frederick E. Long Papers collection appears to have been victimized as well, with the first strong proof of theft surfacing in a 2006 Robert Edward Auctions sale of an 1879 letter written to Long by Boston manager Harry Wright. The Long collection features a sizeable group of Wright’s correspondence with Long during the season of 1879 including a series of letters sent to Long on July 23rd, July 25th, August 3rd, and August 7th. The REA offering was a letter from Wright dated on July 27, 1879, and sent from Syracuse, New York, just like the letter Wright sent two days earlier from the Syracuse House Hotel. REA sold the letter for $4,350.
The HOF's Long Papers archive includes signed documents featuring signatures of the most sought after Hall of Famers as evidenced by this 1890 promissory note signed by "King" Kelly. (Frederick E. Long Papers, National Baseball Library, Cooperstown, NY)
Frederick Long also maintained the stockholder records of the Boston Base Ball Club and the archive still contains Long’s handwritten ledger pages documenting every shareholders stake in the baseball club. It is suspected that the large cache of original Boston BBC stock certificates and certificate stubs that surfaced in the hobby years ago had its origins oin the Hall’s Long Collection as well. If items were, in fact, stolen from Long’s donated materials, it appears the thieves missed the most valuable items in the collection, dozens of signed cancelled payroll checks issued to Hall of Famers “King” Kelly, Dan Brouthers and “Old Hoss” Radbourn. Industry experts we spoke with said each of those signed documents would be worth anywhere between $25,000 and $100,000 each if ever offered at public auction. These rare documents from Long’s files have now been microfilmed, so any attempt of a theft would be easily uncovered by Hall officials and librarians.
The curious case of Frederick E. Long’s season tickets, however, is likely not a case the Baseball Hall of Fame is interested in solving. Although the items appearing in the Huggins & Scott sale have been reported to the Cooperstown Police Department, Hall officials refused to respond or issue a statement when contacted by Haulsofshame.com.
UPDATE (Friday April 12th):
Huggins & Scott Sells Suspected 1903 Boston Ticket Book & 1876 Pass For Big Bucks; Huggins & Scott Consignment Agent Previously Sold Another 1897 Boston Beaneater Relic Stolen From Baseball Hall Of Fame
Despite being presented with overwhelming evidence that their two lots appear to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame’s Frederick E. Long Collection, Huggins & Scott and auction VP Josh Wulkan chose not to remove the questioned artifacts and sold the 1903 Fred Long ticket book for a hammer price of $6,500 and the 1876 unused season pass for $7,500.
Unlike bigger auction houses (REA and Heritage) which have withdrawn similar items when presented with evidence suggesting a Hall of Fame provenance, Huggins & Scott has chosen to take the route Steve Verkman and Clean Sweep Auctions has chosen: to ignore the evidence and proceed with the sales of materials believed to have been stolen from the National Baseball Library. Huggins & Scott did the same recently when they sold a letter written by Fred Clarke that originated from the August Herrmann Papers archive, despite the fact it had been removed from a Heritage Auction in 2010.
The Hall of Fame has compounded the problem by choosing to ignore the same evidence in a futile attempt to save face after embarrassing losses which are reported to total in the millions. Despite police reports filed with the Cooperstown Police by Haulsofshame.com, Hall President Jeff Idelson and PR rep Brad Horn failed to issue a statement and have also failed to respond to Cooperstown Police Chief Michael Covert. Huggins & Scott also failed to call the Cooperstown Police to confirm the filing of a report despite being given that information. The Cooperstown Police cannot investigate the matter unless the victim, the Baseball Hall of Fame, comes forward and acknowledges the loss of the artifacts on the record.
Wulken and Huggins & Scott expressed defiance when we contacted them and even left the name in the lot description of the 1903 ticket booklet as “Fred Ling” despite the fact they have the correct information showing the booklet was issued to “Fred Long” the same man whose family donated his entire baseball archive (including his ticket books and season passes) to the Hall in 1983.
Pressed with the simple question as to where his consignor (or consignors) acquired the suspect items Josh Wulkan told us, “Neither consignor had any information to add.” When we followed up and stated, “You are going on the record that your consignors didn’t tell you where they got these items,” Wulkan responded, “I didn’t say that. If you are going to write articles and quote me, please make sure you do so accurately.” Wulkan added that he was displeased with previous Haulsofshame.com reports stating, “You made me look like an asshole.”
In the mid 1990s Huggins & Scott consignment agent Ron Vitro sold this photo stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame featuring Fred Long's 1897 Boston Beaneaters. The photo was returned to the NBL collection in Cooperstown.
During the auction a source contacted us and suggested that the two Boston ticket lots may have been supplied to the auction by Huggins & Scott’s New York consignment agent Ron Vitro. Vitro has been linked to the sale of another Boston-related artifact verified as stolen from the Hall of Fame. In the mid 1990s Vitro sold this writer a rare Elmer Chickering cabinet photograph of the 1897 Boston Beaneater team and the Royal Rooters posing on the steps of the Eutaw Hotel in Baltimore. The photo was returned to the Hall when it was revealed the Hall had photographic evidence proving the image was stolen from the library collection. The acknowledgment of the theft and the recovery of the item were processed by Hall librarian Tom Heitz at a time when the Hall was actively seeking recoveries of missing items. The reverse of the photo Vitro sold also showed evidence of the removal of HOF ownership marks. When asked about Vitro’s past sale of another stolen Hall artifact related to Fred Long’s Beaneaters Wulkan answered, “No. Neither lot came through Ron Vitro.” Wulkan again offered no other information about where the two Fred Long lots came from. According to the Huggins & Scott website the auction house will haul in close to $5,000 in commissions.
An employee from another auction house summed it up best telling us, “Huggins & Scott is very soft on provenance.”
By Peter J. Nash
March 25, 2013
Albert G. Spalding's genuine signature is found on letters stolen from the NYPL collection bearing his name.
There’s no shortage of genuine exemplars of handwriting available for so-called experts to authenticate signatures of Hall of Fame pitcher and nineteenth century sporting goods magnate Albert Goodwill Spalding. In most of our reports Spalding’s name is linked to the infamous thefts from his magnificent baseball collection housed at the Fifth Avenue branch of the New York Public Library in New York City. Some of the items stolen from that collection include handwritten letters sent to his friend and associate, Harry Wright, who served as his manager and mentor when he played for the Boston Red Stockings in the early 1870s.
Wright’s diaries, account books, correspondence and scrapbooks were the cornerstone of Spalding’s collection and over the years have been the target of thieves who have raided assorted volumes and manuscript pages for autographs and valuable ephemera. Just this week a page that was torn and wrongfully removed from Wright’s account books housed at the NYPL appeared for sale at Premier Auctions in Arizona and went for a hammer price of $1,099. (The same stolen ledger page sold at RR Auctions in 2009 for over $1,000 and was described by Steve Grad of PSA/DNA as being written in a different hand but signed by Wright). The NYPL inventory of the Spalding Manuscript collection conducted in 1986 and 2005 shows that the collection’s Wright “Note and Account Books 1860-1893″ have three volumes missing and many pages of the surviving volumes have been vandalized. NYPL’s Brook Astor Director of Collections Strategy, Victoria Steele, did not return calls for comment on the sale of the manuscript page, which was actually written (and signed) entirely in Harry Wright’s hand.
Premier Auctions in Arizona is offering this account ledger page (left) with Harry Wright's autograph in its current auction; The vandalized page originated from the NYPL's Harry Wright Note and Account Books archive which was listed in a 1986 inventory (right).
The stolen NYPL items extend to handwritten letters penned by Albert Spalding to Wright which have also been sliced and diced out of voluminous scrapbooks created by library officials when they received Harry Wright’s correspondence collection as part of a donation from Spalding’s widow in 1921. Two extremely significant Spalding letters have been sold in the last decade at auction and are, no doubt, missives wrongfully removed from one of the four scrapbooks of Wright’s personal correspondence that used to sit on the shelves of the rare books and manuscripts division of the library. Collector Barry Halper was the mastermind of the library heist and as early as 1977 he was showing off his stolen treasures to sportswriter Bill Madden on the pages of The Sporting News. In 2009 a “cache of rare letters” from the Wright correspondence collection appeared for sale at MLB’s FanFest auction and an FBI investigation was commenced.
Five years earlier, in 2004, four-page letter written to Wright by Spalding from London while the Boston Red Stockings team was traveling on a world tour, appeared for sale at Robert Edward Auctions in Watchung, New Jersey. Auctioneer Rob Lifson’s lot description described the letter as:
“….a most extraordinary letter, with substantial content, from Al Spalding to Harry Wright, and with reference to Henry Chadwick, written during the first baseball World Tour of 1874. All writing is perfectly immaculate and neat. The letter is in Near Mint condition, with signature and all writing grading “10.” One of the most historically significant of all nineteenth-century baseball letters. LOAs from Mike Gutierrez/GAI and James Spence & Steve Grad/PSA DNA.”
Of course the letter was found to be authentic by the alleged experts James Spence and Steve Grad, as it was once part of Harry Wright’s personal archive housed at the library in volume 1 of the Wright Correspondence scrapbooks. Lifson didn’t mention that fact in his lot description or the fact that the reverse of the last page exhibited evidence of having been once adhered to a scrapbook page. Still, the authenticators had four full pages of Spalding’s actual authentic handwriting to examine and also file away in their exemplar files for future authentications.
This authentic 4-page letter written in 1874 by Spalding to Harry Wright was stolen from the NYPLs Spalding Collection and sold for close to $25,000 in a 2004 Robert Edward Auctions sale.
At the same time the REA Spalding letter was being sold another appeared on the market in a Mike Gutierrez auction that was also addressed to Wright and dated from New Years Eve, 1877 (and also originating from NYPL Wright scrapbook Vol. 1).
That Spalding letter, which deals with early issues related to club memberships in the recently formed National League, was authenticated by Mike Gutierrez of MG Auctions and an outfit named “Global Authentication.”
This page from a 2004 Mike Gutierrez auction catalog shows the sale of another Spalding letter stolen from the NYPLs Spalding Collection. The letter is also addressed to Harry Wright and discusses National League issues for the 1878 season on New Years Eve, 1877.
In May of 2006, Lifson and REA offered another authentic letter written by Spalding in 1900 and sent to Hall of Famer Henry Chadwick. (This letter was not stolen from the NYPL Wright archive, rather purchased by this writer directly from the great-great-grandchildren of Henry Chadwick.) REAs lot description included this passage about the letter and its authentication:
“Extremely significant content on many counts, especially in light of Spalding’s dream to have baseball represented in the Olympics, and his long-standing desire to spread the gospel of baseball throughout the world. LOAs from James Spence/JSA and Steve Grad, Mike Gutierrez & Zach Rullo/PSA DNA.”
The letter is proof positive that Steve Grad of PSA/DNA and other authenticators like Gutierrez and James Spence had examined and possessed authentic exemplars of Spalding’s genuine handwriting in their exemplar files– several handwritten letters spanning from the 1870s to the turn of the 20th century.
A letter written by a Spalding employee (and not AG Spalding) was sold at Memory Lane Auctions (left) and RR Auctions (right) in 2007 with an LOA from Steve Grad and PSA certifying it as authentic.
The fact that Steve Grad, in particular, had these exemplars in his possession makes a recent discovery made by autograph expert Steve Koschal quite remarkable. While rummaging through some old exemplar files, Koschal came across a few Spalding entries including the 2004 Gutierrez offering and another that appeared in a February, 2007, auction conducted by RR Auctions and described as a handwritten letter penned by Spalding on A.G Spalding & Brothers sporting goods stationary. RR said the letter was dated on November 11, 1895 and addressed to a Kendallville, Indiana, merchant stating:
“We herewith send you a detailed statement of your a/c as it appears in our ledger showing the balance of 5.35 as claimed by us. We shall feel obliged by your checking same over and pointing out any errors on our part.”
The auction house said the letter was signed “S” and was accompanied by an LOA from Steve Grad and PSA/DNA and another from RR Auctions. Neither the auction house nor the authenticators bothered to consider the likelihood that magnate A. G. Spalding, who had already by 1895 placed his brother James at the helm of the sporting goods company, would be sending handwritten collection letters for $5.35 to small town merchants in Indiana. He wouldn’t have. If Steve Grad and PSA had examined the document utilizing the exemplars of authentic Spalding letters they had already issued LOAs for in previous auction sales, the 1895 letter would have been rejected and readily identified as a fraudulent attempt to pass off a generic Spalding company letter as a gem signed by Spalding himself. Grad, however, did have access to the authentic documents, which makes this situation more problematic and indicative of how PSA/DNA and auction houses conduct business.
The letter LOAd as a genuine Spalding, although it was actually written by a Spalding employee in 1895 (left), contrasts a genuine letter written by Spalding in 1900 (right).
We’re not sure what the letter sold for at RR Auctions but incredibly the letter (and accompanying ephemera) appeared just seven months later in a Memory Lane auction as lot 1114 and sold for $947.05, considerably less than an authentic Spalding letter should have sold for. Memory Lane posted the PSA/DNA logo alongside images of the bogus letter described as “Albert G. Spalding Handwritten Letter, PSA/DNA Authenticated.”
There are so many reasons, aside from handwriting, that rule this document out as an authentic Spalding letter, however, when the actual handwriting itself is compared against genuine specimens, Grad and PSA/DNAs letters of authenticity can be summarily dismissed as fraudulent instruments that transformed a relatively worthless piece of paper into a liquid asset. This situation, however, is not an isolated incident as PSA/DNA and Grad have continued authenticating Spalding forgeries as authentic including a recent offering encapsulated in a PSA/DNA holder.
An alleged Spalding autograph was encapsulated and authenticated by Grad and PSA/DNA (top) despite the fact the handwriting exhibits all of the traits of a forgery when compared to an authentic inscribed copy of Spalding's 1911 book, America's National Game (Bottom). We believe the forger used this authentic example (once in the Barry Halper Collection) as his guide. The key is how he attempted to replicate the word "Loma" which appears to be the product of a problem with Spalding's original pen.
Steve Verkman and Clean Sweep Auctions in January featured what appeared to be a cut and inscribed page bearing what was advertised as Spalding’s signature sealed in a plastic tomb created by PSA and marked “Cut-Albert Spalding PSA/DNA Certified.” Clean Sweep called it a “true 3×5″ and made no mention of Spalding’s book from 1911, however, if this item is compared against an actual authentic inscribed copy of Spalding’s 1911 book it becomes quite apparent that PSA/DNA has certified yet another Spalding forgery. The slabbed signature sold for $3,302, but when compared to scores of other authentic exemplars written by Spalding in inscribed copies of his book presented as Christmas gifts for his friends and colleagues in December of 1911. The Clean Sweep offering is a fairly well-executed forgery but exhibits evidence of being copied and patterned directly from an authentic exemplar from the 1911 book which was once part of the Barry Halper Collection (see illustration). PSA should have realized this because they actually have two additional authentic examples of Spalding signed books dated from December of 1911 on its “Autograph Facts” page.
In stark contrast to the PSA encapsulated Spalding inscription sold at Clean Sweep are two authentic Spalding exemplars actually signed by Spalding in December of 1911. These two exemplars appear on PSA's "Autograph Facts" page.
In 2004, Grad and PSA even published a study of Spalding’s handwriting and correctly noted the tremulous characteristics found on exemplars written during the last decade of his life. PSA and Grad wrote:
“From his early days in the league until his demise, Spalding’s right hand penned his name carefully and slowly. His earlier signature was rounder, larger and more ostentatious in Spencerian style capitalization, often using all the letters in his first name. Most of what survived are sharp jagged examples, from the last decade of his life, that exhibit motor skill deterioration, having been effected by a series of strokes. His upper case “AG” is an unbroken line construction with a conventional “A” extending the (sometimes elongated) connector into the single upper loop “G”. This character seems oddly unfinished with its terminal stoke darting vertically downward, punctuated arbitrarily on either side of this stroke.”
The Spalding PSA-authenticated forgery (top left) not only clashes with the handwriting exhibited on five other authentic Spalding inscriptions signed in 1911, it also includes a period placed after the abbreviation "Calif". It appears the forger may have given himself away here as well with this period placement.
The encapsulated Spalding signature exhibits hesitations and stoppages that are characteristic of a forgery and lacks the uniformity of what PSA correctly identified in their study as the “sharp, jagged examples from the last decade of (Spalding’s) life.” The most striking deficiency in the PSA certified forgery is the absence of these very sharp and angular strokes that define Spalding’s handwriting at this period in his life. The forgery lacks the natural flow of Spalding’s handwriting and the contrast is most apparent when the forgery stands next to the five genuine examples in our illustration.
In addition, we noticed that the forger may have made a critical mistake that also gave him away; the forged and slabbed signature includes a period placed after Spalding’s abbreviated “Calif.” We examined at least ten authentic inscribed and signed Spalding books with the “Point Loma” inscription and none of them included punctuation after the “Calif” abbreviation. Only the PSA authenticated forgery included a period.
Most collectors would be fooled by this decent forgery which is a great example to illustrate how a forger can replicate a signature and convince an alleged expert it is genuine. Of course it “looks like” a genuine Spalding, that’s what the forger is trying to achieve. However, when analyzed closely it is exposed that it only mimics an authentic signature and shows evidence of another hand, that of the forger. At least the slabbed Spalding actually looked like Spalding’s scrawl, whereas the 1895 Spalding company letter exhibited virtually no resemblance to Spalding’s actual handwriting.
Ron Keurajian examined the PSA-certed Spalding forgery and referred us to his book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, and his section devoted to Albert G. Spalding. In his study, Keurajian states that authentic examples of the 1911 Spalding book “are a fine source of Spalding signatures” but stresses that, “Due to the slower nature of his hand, Spalding’s signature from any era of his life, is easily replicated.” Keurajian adds, “Well executed forgeries exist in quantity, so caution is warranted. Most of the Spalding signatures in the market are forgeries.”
That would include these two misrepresented Spalding forgeries authenticated by Steve Grad and PSA/DNA.
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By Peter J. Nash
March 15, 2013
This portrait of Jimmy Collins was hung in "Nuf-Ced" McGreevy's 3rd Base Saloon. (Courtesy McGreevy Collection, Boston Public Library)
UPDATE: PSA Fraudsters Appear To Be Sticking With The Fake “Jimmie” Collins (scroll to bottom for update info)
Not too long ago I had a conversation with Richard Johnson, the curator of the New England Sports Museum, and I described for him an interesting talk I once had with James Collins Walsh the grandson of Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins. Walsh told me how he had attended the Irish wake of his grandfather in his old house in Buffalo when he was a young boy. The body of his grandfather, he said, lie on view in an open casket on top of a block of ice and his family and friends celebrated raising pints in honor of the man known as the Boston Red Sox all-time best third-sacker. Collins’ grandson said the event got so festive that a few men actually took Jimmy’s body out of the casket and sat granddad in a chair so he could be among his friends who were telling stories about his glory days at the old Huntington Grounds and drinking from a huge silver loving cup presented to him by “Nuf Ced” McGreevy and the Royal Rooters way back in 1904.
Richard thought the story was remarkable and said something like, “Hey, that would make for a great song.” So, I responded, “Yeah, it could be named ‘The Wake of Jimmy Collins’ by the Dropkick Murphy’s.” It just so happened that Ken Casey of the Dropkick’s is my partner in McGreevy’s 3rd Base Saloon, in Boston, a faithful reincarnation of the turn-of-the-century watering hole that was, in part, nicknamed in honor of Collins, Boston’s most beloved ballplayer of the dead-ball era. I told Richard if he wrote the song I’d pass it along to Ken and see what he thought. Ken and the band had already successfully revitalized the Red Sox fight song “Tessie” in 2004, so I thought it had a shot considering also that the most prominent photograph on the walls of the 3rd Base Saloon (both then and now) is a mammoth portrait of Jimmy Collins.
Months later Richard and I participated in a John F. Kennedy Library Forum along with Ken celebrating the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park and soon after I got an email from Richard with the lyrics for the song. I passed them along to Ken and sure enough the lyrics struck a cord.
Richard’s lyrics gave the Sox skipper “one last toast” and made the cut when Ken unveiled the final product on the band’s new album Signed and Sealed in Blood with the introduction of the song, “Jimmy Collins’ Wake,” a number that evokes visions of T206 baseball cards and incorporates the names of old-timers like “Patsy” Dougherty, “Buck” Freeman, “Chicken Jack” O’Brien and Honus Wagner. After hearing the song for the first time I laughed and reminded them both that the inspiration for the song was the singular reminiscence of the man who actually knew Jimmy and attended his wake–his grandson. A fitting tribute for sure.
Not too long after I heard Ken perform the song at McGreevy’s, I was checking out the PSA website and its “Autograph Facts” section which had recently added some new exemplars of Hall of Famer signatures, including the man Boston fans called the “People’s Choice.” I had just recently provided some exemplars of Collins’ authentic signature to author Ron Keurajian for use in his new autograph handbook, so I was curious to see what exemplars PSA was using.
The current PSA "Autograph Facts" page features this alleged inscribed photo by Jimmy Collins (left). Ron Keurajian's autograph hand book includes several authentic exemplars from c.1906 (right) (McFarland)
One was an excerpt from an authentic letter. The second was a note said to have been written by Collins and the third was a 1928 portrait allegedly signed and inscribed by Collins to two friends. But there was a big problem with this photo since the man in the depicted didn’t look like anything like Jimmy Collins. How could this be? Were my eyes deceiving me? Not at all, I could easily ascertain this was not Jimmy Collins. The ears were too big, the nose too round and the hairline was off. How could PSA have authenticated this one?
I figured I should also seek out the opinion of the man who penned the lyrics for “The Wake of Jimmy Collins.” Richard Johnson is also the co-author of Red Sox Century, the definitive history of the Red Sox franchise, and quite familiar with all of the existing dead-ball images that feature the likeness of Jimmy Collins. When I showed the photograph to Richard, he responded:
“This dapper gentleman looks nothing like the Hall of Fame third baseman, manager and Boston baseball legend. Perhaps he is named Jimmie Collins but he isn’t THE Jimmy Collins that managed the Boston Americans to victory in the first ever World Series in 1903. Didn’t somebody look at Google images?”
The alleged signed Jimmy Collins photo authenticated and appearing on the PSA "Autograph Facts" section is flanked by actual portraits of Collins ranging from 1903 to the 1940s. The facial structure of Collins is nothing like the man in the alleged autographed Collins photo.
Could the man who gazed into the face of his deceased granddad at that Irish wake when he was a kid offer an opinion? I sent the photo to James Walsh but hadn’t heard back from him by the time this article was published. I’m betting his response will be the final nail in PSAs coffin.
Beyond the photo itself, even more troubling is the fact that the handwriting doesn’t resemble that of Jimmy Collins from that era either. PSA had an authentic letter written by Collins available for comparison and still erred miserably. The letter posted as an exemplar for Collins was a 1935 thank you note to Ford Frick for sending him a lifetime pass for National League games.
PSA utilizes this authentic Jimmy Collins letter as an exemplar of the HOFer's handwriting on its "Autograph Facts" section of its website. The document is believed to have been stolen from the NBL and the donated Ford Frick Papers..
We know this letter is undoubtedly authentic for it is believed to have been stolen from the National Baseball Library’s Ford Frick Papers which include hundreds of such thank you letters for season passes. The thefts of the Frick letters were covered in a recent article we published stating that Cooperstown may have lost close to $500,000 in documents wrongfully removed from the Frick holdings housed in the library.
If anything, the alleged 1928 signed photograph incorporates handwriting that is more similar to Collins’ handwriting several decades earlier, as evidenced on authentic letters from the turn of the century. Still, although there are slight similarities, the writing on the photograph is not in the hand of Jimmy Collins. Not only does it not resemble Collins’ handwriting, the PSA exemplar is clearly misspelled “Jimmie” when the Red Sox star usually signed his name “Jimmy.”
This is an authentic letter written by Jimmy Collins at the turn of the century.
Despite these fatal flaws, however, PSA didn’t realize that the subject in the alleged Collins photograph was not Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins.
That being said, PSA and JSA actually got one right on a recent Collins offering at Huggins & Scott Auctions. The Jimmy Collins 3×5 card they certified as authentic actually is. So, why can’t they tell that the photograph (which doesn’t even depict Collins) bears a forgery or a signature of another guy named “Jimmie”? Steve Grad and PSA haven’t had much luck when it comes to the spellings of Irish ballplayers as evidenced by Grad’s infamous Big Ed Delahanty blunder.
Advertised as PSA’s lead expert, Steve Grad was a MastroNet employee before he started working for the authentication giant and recently was said have secured a spot as the sports expert on the hit cable-TV show Pawn Stars on the History Channel. Despite his resume, Grad’s questionable skills as an authenticator have been thoroughly exposed by our recent reports illustrating numerous forged and non-genuine items that he and his company have certified as authentic.
This authentic Collins signature sold recently in a Huggins & Scott auction for $8,800.
Grad has recently authenticated high-profile forgeries and non-genuine secretarial signatures of players ranging from Mickey Welch to Lou Gehrig and is responsible for some of the most astounding blunders in authentication history including the certification of a full secretarial letter falsely attributed to Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty that was also misspelled ”D-e-l-e-h-a-n-t-y.” That worthless letter was sold by Hunt Auctions for over $30,000 based upon Grad’s LOA and an additional letter from his old colleague James Spence of JSA. Grad and PSA have also certified as authentic a laser-copy signature of Ty Cobb and another alleged Cobb scrawl signed on a ball manufactured after the “Georgia Peach’s” death. He even certified as authentic a well known 1990s Babe Ruth forgery for Heritage Auctions who tried to unload it for $110,000. Grad’s recent mistakes on bogus signatures of Candy Cumming’s, Mickey Welch and the Jimmy Collins photo featured in this report have become a common occurrence for the company that claims to have authenticated over 20 million collectibles since the company’s inception.
PSA/DNA's lead authenticator, Steve Grad (far left) got his start with indicted hobby kingpin Bill Mastro (left) and is now the preferred expert linked to eBay offerings. He'll also be on Pawn Stars as an expert next season. If Rick and the boys were looking for some controversy and a link to hobby indictments and guilty pleas, they found it.
We consulted with autograph expert Ron Keurajian in regard to the Collins signatures and he referred us to his book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide and his study of Collins’ signature. In regard to Collins signed photographs, Keurajian says he has “never seen a genuinely signed photo” and although he says the Huggins & Scott 3×5 of Collins is genuine he states in his book that other album pages and index cards feature forgeries “signed as either ‘James J. Collins’ or ‘Jimmy Collins’ and the phrase ‘Third Sacker’ is penned underneath the signature.” To show what lengths some people will go to get a signature of the Red Sox legend, Keurajian says “his will is in the market” referring to Collins’ last will and testament that was stolen from a Buffalo, NY, courthouse in the 1990s and is still missing, buried in some collectors treasure-trove.
With the luck of the Irish it just might make its way back someday. With a little more luck, the owner of the bogus “Jimmie Collins” photo with a PSA LOA might get a refund.
A Happy St. Patrick’s Day Weekend to all of our readers!
(UPDATE Fri. March 22nd): PSA Fraudsters Appear To Be Sticking With Their Fake “Jimmie” Collins on “Autograph Facts”
Its been a week since we released our story exposing PSA/DNA’s flawed authentication of the alleged “Jimmie” Collins autographed (and misspelled) photo that does not even feature the likeness of the real Hall of Famer, “Jimmy” Collins. As reported by Haulsofshame.com, PSA included the photograph on its website as part of a trademarked section it describes as:
PSA AutographFacts™ is the ultimate online resource for the most coveted signatures from the world of sports, history and entertainment. From legendary baseball players to U.S. Presidents to music icons, each signor is profiled in detail. Unlike most other manufactured collectibles, autographs connect the collector with the subject as a result of the personal touch.
In our last report, we exposed two other glaring mis-authentications of 19th century rarities falsely attributed to Hall of Famers Smilin’ Mickey Welch and Candy Cummings. The alleged Welch autograph (which would have been worth upwards of $50,000) was only a period identification on a cabinet card that had been stolen from the New York Public Library and the Cummings was a period secretarial notation simply identifying Cummings as well. After we released our report, PSA removed rather quickly the embarrassing inclusions from the Autograph Facts database. Not so with the current fraudulent “Jimmie” Collins photograph.
PSA has chosen to keep the embarrassing entry in its online database, thus misrepresenting to its customers, and collectors at large, what a Jimmy Collins signed photograph should look like. It is simply a signed photo of someone who is not Jimmy Collins, another person who just happened to be named “Jimmie” Collins and shared some very slight similarities in his handwriting with the Hall of Famer.
PSA states that a signed Jimmy Collins photograph is worth only $7,500, however, several industry experts we spoke with estimated that genuine examples would command well over $25,000 if authentic. We can only speculate as to what price was paid by the collector who currently owns the fake Collins photo. We can also only speculate as to whether the seller of the photograph had close ties to PSA/DNA and its authenticators. Several collectors we spoke with allege that PSA/DNA has engaged in what can only be viewed as racketeering and showing favoritism to preferred clients and agents by knowingly authenticating non-genuine items and thus transforming worthless items into extremely valuable treasures simply for the fact that they are accompanied by a fraudulent PSA/DNA letter of authenticity or opinion. If this is the case with this particular alleged Collins photograph it will serve as another piece of evidence against the authentication giant that has already come under close scrutiny by Federal investigators for its role in authenticating and grading the trimmed T206 Honus Wagner card that has played a significant role in the indictment of ex-hobby kingpin, Bill Mastro. If the Wagner card represents the worst of PSA in regards to card grading, the “Jimmie” Collins photo is its equivalent in relation to autographed items (but at least the Wagner card, itself, is real).
The public exposure of this fraud by Haulsofshame.com and the choice that PSA/DNA has made in continuing to fraudulently include it among authentic exemplars, should give collectors great concern in regard to their own items which are accompanied by PSA LOA’s.
Stay tuned for our next report Monday which will expose yet another alleged PSA fraud.