By Peter J. Nash
August 5, 2013
Ex-Hobby King Bill Mastro (left) could plead guilty or go to trial related to his trimming of the T-206 Wagner (Photo by S. Cummings). His former friend and partner, Rob Lifson, (right) has avoided prosecution despite having knowledge the card was trimmed when he purchased and sold the card.
Bill Mastro is scheduled to appear in a Chicago courthouse today for a status hearing that will likely result in either a trial date being set or a change of plea being entered if, in fact, he and his lawyer, Mike Monico, have finally cut a deal with the Feds that is agreeable to Judge Ronald A. Guzman.
Mastro was already scheduled to plead guilty to one count of fraud way back on April 9th when reports indicated that the former auction king would have to admit to altering and trimming the famous T-206 Honus Wagner card he purchased in a Long Island baseball card shop in 1985 with his old friend and former partner Rob Lifson who used to describe his partner Mastro and his cohorts as “thirty-five people who work for our company (MastroNet) and they’re all honest and they are all working to have a great auction and auction company.” (Click here for: Lifson audio from 2002).
But Judge Ronald A. Guzman rejected Mastro’s plea deal with prosecutors for a second time because he supposedly viewed the deal too soft on the former hobby honcho. The proposed plea agreement presented by prosecutors did not require Mastro to testify against his co-defendants and former MastroNet employees and Michael O’Keeffe of the New York Daily News said that hobbyists “complained that the proposed sentence was too light.” O’Keeffe quoted anonymous collectors asking, “Where is any sign of remorse?”
Mastro would only have done 30 months (or less) in a federal pen, but that deal was taken off the table again as Judge Guzman postponed Mastro’s last scheduled court date on May 31 to today in Chicago.
Another segment of the hobby, however, is asking a different question: How did Mastro’s old partner-in-crime, REA auction head, Rob Lifson, avoid prosecution? Some say Mastro could give up evidence on his old partner, Lifson, but sources say the auctioneer was a key government informant against Mastro in the FBI’s multi-year investigation into the former ”King of Memorabilia.” Lifson recently denied Haulsofshame.com’s reports claiming that a source fingered Lifson as an informant in the case when he told blogger Murray Chass, “I was a minority owner and employee of MastroNet from 2000 to 2002. He (Hauls of Shame) knows nothing of me being a ‘government informant.’ Virtually all if not all of their crimes in the indictment occurred long after I left MastroNet so that speaks for itself.”
Lifson, however, skirts the most relevant “crime” charged in the Mastro indictment involving Mastro and his company promoting the trimmed-Wagner card as the most valuable and most pristine example in existence. The claims the government made in the indictment focused on the 2000 sale of the Wagner card by Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions when he was an officer and owner of MastroNet. Despite Lifson’s denials, one of Michael O’Keeffe’s sources has told Haulsofshame.com that O’Keeffe has acknowledged Lifson’s admission to him that he was, in fact, an informant in the Mastro case. O’Keeffe’s source claims that Lifson lied to Chass.
Both Mastro and Lifson have come a long way since the days they shared hotel rooms, dealer tables and deals in the mid to late 1970’s and 1980’s as aggressive young dealers obsessed with old cardboard. Back in the day, some say they stalked elderly collectors like prey inside their apartments and homes. Sources say that both men know of all the skeletons that have piled up in each others closets since the time they both co-wrote a book in 1983 dedicated to sideshow and circus freaks called, Enter The Sideshow. By the year 2000, both men had already established successful auction businesses and decided to join forces to form what was known as MastroNet.com, a sports collectibles auction house behemoth that became the driving force behind the the growth of the unregulated baseball collectibles industry. But it turns out the defining moment in their careers actually occurred back on a cold night in 1985 during their visit to Robert Sevchuk’s little card shop in Hicksville, Long Island, when they encountered for the first time the slice of cardboard that would later become known as “The Card.” Decades later, in 2005, Rob Lifson recounted his recollections of that night for New York Daily News reporter Michael O’Keeffe and that account was included in the book of the same name co-written by O’Keeffe and his News editor, Teri Thompson, and released by Harper-Collins in 2008.
Mastro and Lifson were once so close they co-authored this 1983 book, "Enter the Sideshow" dedicated to original photography featuring assorted sideshow and circus-freaks of the 19th century. Hobby celebs Mastro and Lifson autographed this 1981 program from the 1st National Sports Collectors Convention in 1980,
O’Keeffe says he first met Lifson in 2000 at a press confrence in Mickey Mantle’s restaurant on Central Park West when both Lifson and Mastro were promoting the upcoming sale of that same Honus Wagner card by Lifson’s company, Robert Edward Auctions, which had just become a subsidiary of MastroNet.com. O’Keeffe said that Lifson predicted that the card could sell for over $1 million and that it was “the Mona Lisa of trading cards.” O’Keeffe says he was “mesmerized as Mastro executives talked about a trading card in terms usually reserved for fine art.” O’Keeffe then asked Lifson about the provenance of the Wagner card and was told how the Chicago collector Mike Gidwitz, known for his stash of original Mad Magazine art, was selling the card and that it was purchased in 1996 at Christie’s for $641,500. O’Keeffe then told Lifson, “You’ve only taken me back ten years. Where was this card for the first seventy years of its life?” O’Keeffe wrote in, The Card: ”Lifson gave me a funny look. He seemed uncomfortable. Finally, he said he didn’t know.” Lifson then told O’Keeffe to talk to Bill Mastro since he had “discovered” the card in 1985 and bought it for $25,000.
NYDN reporter Michael O'Keeffe first met Rob Lifson at a press confrence for the Gretzky-McNall Wagner in 2000. A few months later he was kicked out of Bill Mastro's MastroNet offices after he asked if the Wagner card had been restored or trimmed.
It didn’t take O’Keeffe too long to figure out that Lifson had not been truthful in his response as he later wrote, “Lifson failed to mention that he, too, was at the card shop when Mastro bought the Wagner, and that he even funded the transaction.” Lifson lied to O’Keeffe upon his first meeting and when O’Keeffe traveled months later to Chicago to interview Bill Mastro he was rebuked after he asked the auction honcho if there was any truth to rumors that “there was a deep dark secret behind the Gretzky T206 Wagner” and that the card had been altered or restored. O’Keeffe wrote in The Card: ”Mastro denied that the T206 Wagner has ever been restored and refused to discuss its provenance. He cursed a blue streak, then he threw me out of his office.”
By 2003, Mastro felt the same way about Lifson as the two men had become enemies and went through a MastroNet divorce by which Lifson returned to owning Robert Edward Auctions as its sole proprietor and later became O’Keeffe’s primary source for his book, The Card. In order to write the book O’Keeffe needed one of the liars to cooperate with him as a source and the liar he cozied up to was Lifson. Despite knowing that Lifson had just as much knowledge of the shenanigans related to the Wagner card as Mastro did, O’Keeffe wrote an entire chapter devoted to Lifson that portrayed him as “A White Knight” in the hobby. O’Keeffe described Lifson glowingly as a crusader fighting fraud and battling card doctors and other scoundrels who would trim and alter cards to improve their condition. To help sell his story, O’Keeffe painted Lifson as his “good guy” and pitted him against his villainous arch-rival, Bill Mastro. O’Keeffe was able to take advantage of the hatred between the former friends and business partners who had once shared tables at the National and later partnered up to form the biggest sports auction enterprise in history.
Bill Mastro and Rob Lifson joined forces at the 1983 National Convention and placed this full page advertisement in The Trader Speaks. Both Lifson and Mastro tell their customers: "Our condition standards are second to none."
In the book, O’Keeffe carefully crafted passages that dealt with the original Mastro and Lifson discovery of the card in Hicksville in 1985 from Lifson’s perspective:
1. “Only Mastro and Lifson would be allowed in for a look at the treasure inside; and Lifson himself would barely get a glimpse, relegated to the front of the store while Mastro made the deal in the back.”
2. “The transaction took half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes, long enough for Lifson to grow bored with the cards in Sevchuk’s glass cases. After Mastro let Lifson glimpse the card for just a few seconds, he continued his wheeling and dealing as soon as he and Lifson got back into the Honda.”
3. O’Keeffe also quoted the card’s original owner: ” Alan Ray, would say later that Mastro and Lifson “knew what they were going to do with that card,” but Lifson wouldn’t see the card again for years, not until it had been slabbed between two sheets of plastic and graded, labeled as the most valuable card in the world.”
What O’Keeffe appears to have been consciously establishing in these three passages, based solely upon the testimony of Lifson, was the assertion that Rob Lifson never got a good enough look at the card in its raw state before Bill Mastro later altered and trimmed it to improve the condition of its edges and corners. Such a description of Lifson’s involvement would create cover for him and establish that Lifson could not have known for sure if the card was trimmed since he never got a good look at it on the day that he financed 100% of the deal to purchase the card. Based upon O’Keeffe’s reporting, Lifson could not be accused of having committed fraud himself when he handled the same card in 1996 and 2000.
This point is relevant to a specific charge made in the original indictment against Mastro which deals specifically with representations made about the T-206 Wagner:
“It was further part of the scheme that in marketing materials distributed on behalf of Mastro Auctions, which were intended to portray Mastro Auctions to potential bidders and consignors as a premier seller of valuable items for which a strong market existed, defendant MASTRO represented that Mastro Auctions had sold the most expensive baseball card in the world, a Honus Wagner T-206 card. In making this representation, however, defendant MASTRO knowingly omitted the material fact that defendant MASTRO had altered the baseball card by cutting the sides of the card in a manner that, if disclosed, would have significantly reduced the value of the card.”
The charge in the indictment indicates that Mastro Auctions had “sold the most expensive baseball card in the world,” however it was actually Lifson’s Robert Edward Auctions, operating as a subsidiary of MastroNet, that had actually conducted the sale of the card when it was auctioned off to collector Brain Siegel for $1.25 million in 2000. If O’Keeffe’s reporting was accurate and the current Mastro plea deal comes to fruition, are we to believe that when the card sold at REA in 2000 Bill Mastro knew the card was trimmed, but Rob Lifson didn’t?
The infamous Gretzky-McNall Wagner was purchased by Arizona DiamondBacks owner, Ken Kendrick, for $2.8 million and was on loan to the Hall of Fame from 2010 to 2011.
In the course of his reporting for The Card, O’Keeffe was told the card was trimmed by the person who actually graded the card for PSA in 1996, Bill Hughes. Hughes allegedly admitted to O’Keeffe that he knew the card had been cut from a sheet when he graded it. O’Keeffe quoted Hughes as saying, “The card is so outstanding, it would have been sacrilegious to call that card trimmed and completely devalue it.” In addition, Bill Heitmann, a long time hobby veteran and author of the T206 reference book, The Monster, also told O’Keeffe he had seen the card before and after it was graded by PSA and believed it had been trimmed to enhance its condition.
In 2007, Heitmann also talked about Hughes and the Wagner card on a collector forum stating, “When PSA was first starting up, they were practically doing handstands to get to grade the T206 Wagner that McNall and Gretzky had just bought. I happened to know the pedigree of the card and knew that it had been trimmed. The guy who was going to grade the card stopped by my home on the way to PSA headquarters to grade the card. He knew that the card had been trimmed, but told me PSA had to grade the card because the good publicity that would come from grading the card was all that was important and, besides the card was within the size limitations for T206.”
Heitman even revealed that he had talked to Wayne Gretzky’s partner in the card, Bruce McNall. ”I actually talked once to Bruce McNall about this and he acknowledged that he knew the card had been trimmed. So PSA, the owners of the card and the grader of the card knew it was trimmed. But put some plastic over it and all was forgotten,” said Heitman. Mastro and Lifson rival Josh Evans, of Lelands, provided even more damning allegations related to the Wagner when he told O’Keeffe that Bill Mastro, himself, had told Evans he had trimmed the card shortly after he first sold it to west coast sporting goods magnate Jim Copeland in 1989.
Bill Mastro, of course, knew that he had trimmed the card; Bruce McNall, who purchased it for $250,000 knew it was trimmed; Bill Hughes knew it was trimmed and even Bill Heitman went on the record stating it was trimmed. Josh Evans’ revelation that Mastro admitted trimming the Wagner was the cherry on top. According to O’Keeffe’s reporting everyone but Rob Lifson had seen and (or) known the card was trimmed. The guy who originally purchased and financed the card for $25,000 in 1987 had no idea it was trimmed? Lifson was the same guy who said in his 1983 advertisement with his partner Bill Mastro: “Our condition standards are second to none.”
Bill Heitman also went on the record stating, ”A company purporting to be a grader or authenticator is only as good as the people doing the work. By 1980, I could tell whether a pre-WWII card was authentic or trimmed just by examining it closely. Why? I had handled so many of the cards that it almost became a sixth sense. The grading services would do the hobby a real service if it hired people who really know the cards.”
Bill Mastro and Bill Heitman appear in Baseball Card News" in July of 1984 as "leading authorities" in the hobby.
Another detractor was Lifson’s long-time customer, Keith Olbermann, who had for years also been of the opinion that the card had been altered. When Mastro’s indictment was made public last August, Olbermann took to his MLB.com “Baseball Nerd” blog to recount events from 1991 when his friend Matt Federgreen of the Beverly Hills Baseball Card Store had been asked to examine the card for Bruce McNall and brought back pictures to Olbermann. Olbermann remembers: “I took one look at the photos and said “It’s been trimmed.” Matt laughed. “That’s what I told Bruce. He said thanks very much, he said he thought so too, he said he’d probably buy it any way, and he walked me to the door, and he paid me a very generous fee, and I left.”
Soonafter, Olbermann found some old pictures of another Wagner that had been offered on the circiut back in the 1980s. He continued his story: “By the following Sunday I had found in my rabbit’s warren of card-related stuff, photos of a Wagner that had been offered for sale in the early ’80s by a fellow who owned a baseball card store on Long Island outside New York City. I had no doubt and neither did Matt. Between his photos and mine we were looking at before-and-after shots of the same card. Before and after somebody with the guts of a burglar and the skills of a circumcision specialist had trimmed the thing.“
In the early 1980s Rob Lifson already considered himself a “card scholar” and along with Bill Mastro, was one of the most savvy dealers in regards to the grading of cards. In fact, when Barry Halper purchased what he described as a “supermint” blank-backed T-206 Eddie Collins proof card he said that Lifson and Mastro had authenticated the card. After getting the opinion of the two guys he called “knowledgeable authorities” Halper wrote in The Trader Speaks that “The Doubting Thomas’” of the hobby could rest assured that it was “not a card which was put together with glue or taken from another series.” Ironically, that same T-206 Collins proof card is today part of Olbermann’s private collection having acquired it after actor Charlie Sheen purchased it from Halper.
In April of 1977 Barry Halper announced in "The Trader Speaks" his "find" of a "supermint" and blank backed T-206 proof card of Eddie Collins he enlisted the services of Rob Lifson and Bill Mastro to authenticate it.
Like Olbermann, Lifson could spot a trimmed card from a mile away and of course Lifson was aware of Olbermann’s opinion of the card. Several sources indicate that Lifson did, in fact, see the card before it was trimmed and confirm that Lifson was well aware of the enhancement to its condition. He was well aware of the trimming when he, himself, was the winning bidder of the card for $651,000 at Christie’s in 1996, and when he auctioned off the card at REA in 2000 for $1.25 million.
In addition to Olbermann and Lifson another MastroNet employee in 2000, Mike Guitterez, also knew the card was altered and had gone on the record in the Chicago Tribune as early as July of 1991 claiming it was trimmed. Gutierrez said, “The card was definitely cut (altered) at some point. The card was said to be mint-the best possible grade. Looking at it, you see it`s not mint. It`s near-mint to mint. It has some wear, which to the naked eye is almost invisible. I don`t know when it was cut, or by whom, but it sure was. I have no doubt.” Gutierrez made his comments while working as a consultant for Bruce McNall’s auction house Superior Galleries in Beverly Hills, Calif., which had displayed the card at the 1991 National Sports Collectors Convention. In the same article, McNall even responded to Gutierrez’ claims and said, “That (the card was trimmed) is what people are saying. We’ve heard all that talk. We talked with people before we bought the card, and we’re both happy with it. Any time you have something like this, people will say things. Sotheby’s stands behind the card. I have no intention of returning it or selling it.”
Back in 1991, McNall and his partner in the card, Wayne Gretzky, relied on the opinion of PSA founder and president David Hall who told the Tribune, “It`s in the mid-range of acceptable size. We used five-, 10- and 20-power magnification to examine the card. Compared to other (Wagner) cards, it looks about the same. It isn`t mint like Sotheby’s offered, but it`s still probably the finest specimen known.” Hall did not deny that the card was trimmed.
Others who claimed they knew the Mastro/Lifson Wagner was trimmed include Keith Olbermann (left, with one of his own Wagners); former Mastro employee Mike Gutierrez (center) and even Bruce McNall and Wayne Gretzky (right).
One of our sources, a veteran collector of high-end artifacts who was once a close associate of Lifson, revealed to this writer back in 2000 what he described as the true story behind the Wagner as he heard it directly told to him by Lifson. Our source will remain anonymous and from here on in be known simply as “Hobby Deep-Throat,” the man who confirmed that Lifson had first hand knowledge the card had been trimmed to enhance its condition and value.
The same question has even been posed to Lifson on collector forums like Net54 where in 2009 he was asked and refused to answer this question posed by a collector with the handle “MikeU”:
“Rob, When working at MastroNet, did yourself or anyone at MastroNet or anyone at PSA auction a PSA 8 T206 Wagner in 2000 that was knowingly hand cut or trimmed? We are worried about Doug taking a spoon to surface wrinkles. What about the biggest question in our entire hobby. Let the truth be known.”
Shortly after the night that Lifson and REA auctioned off the famous card in May of 2000, “Hobby Deep-Throat” revealed to this writer that Lifson did, in fact, know the Wagner card he was selling had been trimmed and that both he and Mastro had failed to disclose this to prospective bidders in the REA/MastroNet sale. Referring to a direct conversation he once had with Lifson, “Hobby Deep Throat” said, “He (Lifson) told me years ago that Mastro trimmed it.” He added, “He told me that Mastro cut it off from a full sheet and there was a guy on Long Island that had the sheet.” Of course, this conversation occurred years before The Card was published.
Rob Lifson (left) outbid Bill Mastro (center) at Christie's and took home the Wagner card for $651,500. Lifson said he was only bidding for Mike Giudwitz, but "Hobby Deep-Throat" disputes that claim.
When Lifson was interviewed by Alexandra Peers of the Wall Street Journal for a September 21, 1996 article before the sale of the Wagner at Christie’s, the details of the original transaction were different. Peers reported that Mastro and Lifson were approached and baited with information about the card at a Philadelphia card show and that both men “bit.” Peers wrote, “Traveling to a baseball card shop in rural New York, the two men found their holy grail and more.” Lifson told her, “It was a miracle, once in a lifetime.” Peers added, “As the anonymous seller hovered in the background, the two dealers paid a total of $25,000 for the Honus Wagner card and other rarities. Mastro, however, later became sole owner of the card and bragged that someday it would be the first $100,000 collectible.” With the card close to being auctioned on the block by Christie’s, Lifson told Peers that he had already left a bid “in excess of $300,000 with Christie’s but (wasn’t) optimistic.” Lifson added, “I have less than 1-percent chance of getting it for that.” Lifson knew that he would be bidding against his friend Bill Mastro for the card. Mastro and Lifson were both aware that the card was trimmed and now the two men who discovered and purchased the card in its raw state were bidding against each other for the now transformed “Gretzky Wagner.” When the Wall Street Journal asked Lifson for his opinion of the card he said, “It’s the Mona Lisa of the field.”
Click Here: For Short Audio Clip of Hobby Deep-Throat on Lifson’s knowledge of Mastro’s trimming the Wagner
(Stay tuned for the continuation of this series and entire audio of the shocking revelations made by “Hobby Deep-Throat” in Part 4 of our 10-part series on the Mastro Investigation. Click here for: Part 1 and Part 2 )
By Peter J. Nash
July 28, 2013
After a 4-year FBI investigation into the thefts of the "Harry Wright Letters" NYPL President Tony Marx (inset) has given away the donated artifacts to be sold on eBay.
Scroll to bottom for Update:
Back in the 1950s, Dorothy Seymour Mills held Harry Wright’s letters in her own hands at the New York Public Library’s famous Spalding Baseball Collection. She was conducting research with her late husband, Dr. Harold Seymour, for his Cornell University dissertation and their groundbreaking book Baseball: The Early Years which are both considered the first scholarly works dealing with our National Pastime. The NYPL’s Harry Wright correspondence archive was a key component in the Seymour research because it was a comprehensive day by day record of the man considered the “Father of Professional Baseball” spanning from 1865 to 1894.
Mills and her husband took copious notes documenting each letter they cited in their work as originating from the pages of four giant scrapbooks of Wright’s letters which were housed in the library’s manuscripts division. A few of the most important documents the Seymour’s discovered in the treasure trove of missives were poignant letters to Wright from pitcher Jim Devlin who had been banished for “throwing games” in one of baseball’s first gambling scandals. The down-and-out Devlin was begging the magnate Wright for any type of work possible to help feed his struggling family.
In July of 2009, those very same letters from Devlin that Mills utilized at the library over sixty years ago appeared for sale in Major League Baseball’s All Star Fanfest Auction conducted by auctioneer David Hunt. The letters were offered by Hunt as a “Cache of Rare 19th Century Letters With Relation to Harry Wright.” Hunt told the New York Times that his consignor found the stash of letters in a “grandparents estate” while Harry Wright’s granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, asked Times reporter Jack Curry, “Why would someone have them if they weren’t related to him? Why would they be in their grandmother’s attic?” The NYPL President and CEO at the time, David Ferrerio, told the Times the situation was very “disconcerting” and added, “We try our hardest to make sure we’re protecting the collection.”
Guzzi knew that her great-grandfather had bequeathed his entire baseball archive to the National League in 1895 and afterwards it became part of the collection of baseball pioneer Albert G. Spalding whose widow donated his entire archive to the NYPL in 1921. Dorothy Seymour Mills knew the letters in the auction were property of the New York Public Library and her citations and research notes housed at Cornell University’s rare and manuscript division proved it unequivocally. At the time Mills identified lot 254 in the Hunt sale as the same Devlin letter she saw at the library and said, “This is proved on page 219 of the doctoral dissertation that I helped my late husband prepare for Cornell University.” Seymour’s footnote identified the exact same letter being offered for sale and based upon her proofs, the Times headline read: Another Clue That Baseball Auction Has Stolen Items.
The Hunt Auctions catalog presented a Nov. 11, 1877 letter that was previously cited as NYPL property by Dorothy Seymour Mills and her late husband Dr. Harold Seymour in a Cornell dissertation and on research notes (bottom left) taken at the NYPL in the 1950s. The ownership proofs (top right) were presented to the FBI by Haulsofshame in 2009.
The Devlin letters for sure had been stolen from the library and all of the others were suspected to have originated from three of Wright’s correspondence scrapbooks which were documented as missing when the library took an inventory in 1983. Based upon Mills’ testimony, the New York Times reported that the evidence unearthed caused the auction house to pull the letters from the MLB auction and the NYPL enlisted the aid of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who officially commenced a probe into the alleged Spalding Collection thefts. Mills recounted her experience aiding the FBI on NPR and later wrote an essay about her experience entitled, When Baseball Obsession Goes Too Far, The FBI Steps In.
Now, four years after the FBI opened its investigation into the missing Wright letters, Haulsofshame.com has learned that the Feds have returned the letters they collected in 2009 to the original consignor from the Hunt/MLB auction. In addition, several of those questioned documents have just appeared for sale on eBay while another Wright letter, also believed to have been stolen from the NYPL scrapbooks, is appearing for sale at Huggins & Scott Auctions. A collector and eBay seller we interviewed revealed that he had purchased twenty-five of the Wright letters from the original 2009 auction consignor and confirmed that the consignor informed him that the entire “cache of Wright letters” was returned to him by the FBI in late 2012. The consignor, who asked for anonymity, told Haulsofshame.com that the FBI agent he dealt with said he would not interfere if he tried to sell them. He was told, “There will be collectors who will want to buy them.”
A letter sent by player Dan Casey to Harry Wright in 1889 appeared as the first "Wright Letters" lot in the 2009 Hunt/MLB catalog before it was turned over to the FBI in 2009 as a document suspected to have been stolen from the NYPL Wright scrapbooks. In July, the same letter was posted for sale on eBay in two parts, one of which being Harry Wright's notations written on the letter for his response. The seller ended the auction when contacted by Haulsofshame.com. The cabinet photo of Wright pictured has also been stolen from the NYPL and is currently listed on the NYPL's "Missing List."
The FBI was right, as the consignor posted a message on the collector forum Net54 which is owned, operated and moderated by a criminally convicted felon named Leon Rantz Luckey of Allen, Texas. Luckey’s membership includes several collectors who are notorious for buying, selling and showing-off contraband artifacts from institutions and his biggest advertiser, Rob Lifson of Robert Edward Auctions, was actually apprehended stealing items from the Spalding Collection in 1979. In reporting the incident TIME Magazine said the culprit was caught stealing a “cache of smiling infielders.” In recent years Lifson has made several conflicting confessions.
The owner of the stolen Wright letters reached out to collectors on Luckey’s forum in late January asking what the value of a Jim Devlin letter to Harry Wright might be. The consignor also posted a link to Haulsofshame.com’s “10 Most Wanted National Baseball Treasures” list and pointed to another Devlin letter written to Wright which was also part of the NYPL collection but not part of the Hunt cache he inherited from a grandparent. A collector responded to the consignor’s message in February and says that he purchased the documents for his personal collection. ”He told me they were returned and his to do whatever he wanted to. The FBI gave him their blessing so I bought them,” he said. The buyer also confirmed that the two Devlin letters were in the consignor’s possession and that he had been “saving up to purchase one of the Devlin letters, too.” The collector told Haulsofshame.com that he knew of the background of the letters and also says that he purchased them to preserve and keep them together should the NYPL ever pursue them on their own.
After the "Wright cache of letters" was returned to the Hunt Auctions consignor, he posted this message at the collector forum of ex-felon Leon Luckey (bottom left) looking to price his two Devlin letters for sale. In the post he references the Halper Devlin letter posted on the HOS "10 Most Wanted Missing National Baseball Treasures" list (right).
The Devlin letter featured on the Haulsofshame.com website’s “10 Most Wanted” list was sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 as part of the Barry Halper collection. In the course of the four-year FBI investigation many of the Harry Wright letters were traced back to Halper, the New York Yankee partner who died in 2005. One FBI agent said, “Most everything seems to lead back to Halper,” and for good reason, since it was Halper who once showed The Sporting News what was described as “his collection of written correspondence by Harry Wright.” Viewing Halper’s collection at his residence in July of 1977, Bill Madden wrote a feature for his “The Sports Collector” column and highlighted a Devlin letter to Wright and another from slugger Ed Delahanty’s father sent to Wright in 1889. Madden reported that Halper showed him the correspondence by “flipping the plastic-covered pages of yet another scrapbook.”
A few months later in 1977, Halper gave writer Peter Golenbock a call and said, “I just picked up something the other day you’d really get a kick out of. It’s a letter written by James Devlin to Harry Wright.” Golenbock described the letter as a “priceless treasure (historically), a link to one of the most sordid chapters in baseball history” and he published the entire letter dated November 25, 1877, in his “World of Baseball Autographs” column in The Trader Speaks. It should be noted that the surviving Wright Scrapbook No. 2 (which is still at the NYPL) includes two additional letters from Devlin to Wright dated February 24, 1878 and November 14, 1879. In addition to Golenbock, several sources have confirmed that Halper had a sizable archive of Wright letters in the late 1970s and he sold scores of them when he liquidated his collection at Sotheby’s in 1999. Halper’s Devlin letter sold for $8,050.
Barry Halper's Devlin letter was featured in an October 1977 issue of "The Trader Speaks" in a column written by author Peter Golenbock. Halper's letter was not cited by the Seymours and was sold at Sotheby's in 1999.
In February of 2012, Haulsofshame.com published excerpts from an interview with a source who alleged Halper had admitted he was responsible for the NYPL heist. The source disclosed that in the early 1980s Halper was questioned by a family member of the source as to what the origins were of some rare items Halper was offering. The source said, “Barry bragged to (my relative) that a lot of his collection came from that (the New York Public Library).” The source added, “Barry said it was there for the taking and Barry was quite proud of it. (My relative) absolutely could not tolerate it.” We asked the source to confirm that the thefts were from the NYPL and the source stated, “Yes, the New York Public Library, he used to talk about how he did it.” When asked to delve further into details the source stated, “These were conversations he and (my relative) had, and obviously, (my relative) and I talked about it, but I can’t remember that Barry himself, but he also hired other people to do it and told them and how to go do this, so it was just something that once we knew, that was the end of the relationship (with Halper). It always amazes me because he was trading on he was always bigger than life, and people just let him get away with it and I just couldn’t believe it.”
Barry Halper sits in his den c.1984 with a stolen 1879 contract signed by Harry Wright hanging on his wall (outlined in red). It is Ezra Sutton's contract and was once part of the NYPL collection as evidenced by the 1953 letter from NYPL to Dr. Seymour about the same contract (bottom left). Halper had many other stolen NYPL items including an 1875 letter awarding Boston the pennant documented in the Seymour notes at Cornell (top left); photos of Wright (bottom right) and others with obscured NYPL ownership stamps like the CDV depicted here of Andrew Peck.
Many of Halper’s offerings at Sotheby’s have also been confirmed as stolen from the NYPL having been documented verbatim in the Seymour research notes at Cornell. Most notable was a letter to Wright from Morgan Bulkeley awarding Boston the 1875 Pennant and another was an 1879 contract signed by Wright and player Ezra Sutton. Both items were described in detail by the Seymour and Mills and the contract was even documented as being displayed in the NYPL’s main exhibition room in 1922. In addition to documents, Halper also had many rare photographs that exhibited evidence of an NYPL ownership stamp, including several portraits of Harry Wright.
Based upon our source’s testimony, Halper likely coordinated the thefts before he purchased a 2% interest in the New York Yankees in 1979 and became one of George Steinbrenner’s limited partners. With evidence suggesting that an MLB owner was involved in the theft and possession of letters donated to organized Baseball and the National League, one would think Bud Selig and MLB Security would conduct their own investigation to aid the NYPL and FBI. Sources indicate, however, that Selig and MLB are reluctant to look into “one of their own” even though Halper also swindled and defrauded MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 when he sold them several million dollars of counterfeit artifacts including what he alleged was “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s 1919 Black Sox jersey.
When the Hunt letters appeared in the 2009 MLB auction MLB spokesman Matt Bourne said Selig was, “eagerly awaiting further information on this matter,” and MLB President Bob DuPuy told the Times he commended Hunt Auctions for “deciding to withdraw merchandise that is not properly documented.” Haulsofshame.com followed up and called MLB’s Matt Bourne to ask if Selig & Co. had conducted their own investigation into Halper, but Bourne was unavailable for comment. Halper’s ownership interest in the Yankee franchise passed to his widow, Sharon Halper, who is currently listed as a Yankee limited partner.
Sources indicate that the FBI returned the letters to David Hunt and that the auctioneer passed the documents, many of which are still affixed to c. 1920’s scrapbook paper, to his consignor. Of the forty-five documents returned, over 33% of the auction lots, including the Devlin letters, were proven to be NYPL property based upon the Seymour’s published works and the corresponding research notes at Cornell which quoted verbatim the content of many of the Hunt Auction letters. Lot 253 in the Hunt auction has Devlin describing an auction of his home as he writes, “The sherriff is on the ground and it will be sold Tuesday.” At Cornell, Dr. Harold Seymour’s original NYPL research note also states, “The sherriff is on the ground and it will be sold Tuesday” and identifies his source as a Nov. 2, 1877 letter located on pages “44 and 45″ of “Wright Corres. 1″ at the NYPL. The FBI received a full report documenting these proofs in September of 2009 provided by this writer. Sources indicate neither the FBI nor the NYPL have ever visited Cornell to examine the Seymour Papers on their own.
Dorothy Seymour Mills is depicted on SABR's prestigious "Seymour Medal" (far left). When Mills proved letters in the 2009 Hunt sale were NYPL property library CEO David Ferrerio was on his way out having been appointed National Archivist by President Obama (2nd left). Tony Marks (3rd from left) replaced Ferrerio and has been the NYPL CEO during the 4-yr FBI probe which kicked off with the David Hunt (far right) auction and the reporting of Jack Curry (2nd from right) of the Times (now a Yankee/YES broadcaster).
The woman who provided the original “smoking gun” evidence to the FBI and Jack Curry of the New York Times when the letters were originally pulled from the auction is disturbed by the FBI and NYPL actions. Dorothy Seymour Mills, who has also been honored with her likeness on SABR’s “Harold and Dorothy Seymour Medal” for her “lifetime contributions to baseball’s historical scholarship” was in disbelief wondering, “How can the FBI give Hunt it’s blessing?”
There’s no question that many of the letters Mills singled out four years ago belonged to the library when David Ferrerio made his comments to The New York Times. Mills added, “David Ferrerio could not have been trying “his hardest” to protect this valuable collection if he didn’t even know it had been sold.”
Mills also had strong words for Ferrerio’s successor, NYPL President and CEO, Tony Marx, ”I believe the leadership of our famous New York Public Library needs to be fired. Scholars are going to be shortchanged even more when this administration starts moving important scholarly books off-site. I have long considered the great NYPL my second home and have a painting of the entrance, with the famous lions, on my office wall. I feel like turning it over so that I won’t have look at it and remember what’s happening to our valuable cultural asset.”
Mills also made a point to stress how important the NYPL collection was in shaping her career as a historian and author and noted recent comments in the MLB Insiders Club Magazine made by Jim Gates, Librarian of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Mills says Gates noted her “efforts as a researcher and writer for making baseball history an accepted field of study” and how due to her efforts there are now “dozens of graduate students of both genders laboring away at baseball-related dissertations.”
Mills told us it would not have been possible without cultural assets like the Spalding Collection. ”I couldn’t have done it without the NYPL. But I wonder if today I would even be able to start such a huge project depending largely upon original manuscript material. I doubt it,” she said.
The NYPL displayed its T206 Wagner for All-Star Game week (left) and had All-Star themed apple sculptures at the library entrance (center left). Harry Wright (inset) never envisioned his letter (center right) on ebay; Protesters say the NYPL is being "Looted" by trustees (right).
Marx and the NYPL have also come under fire from other historians and scholars in the wake of his $350 million renovation plans for the famous Fifth Avenue Branch which calls for relocating almost one million books from the NYPL stacks to a storage facility in New Jersey. Two separate lawsuits were filed this month against the library, one of which alleges that the “destruction of the stacks” would “surely doom the NYPL’s mission to serve the public’s research and reference needs.” Historian Mills agrees with the charges and adds, “They’re acting in the same way about changing the NYPL from a great research library, famous world-wide, to a neighborhood lending library and gathering spot for coffee drinkers, because they got a big bunch of money to do it.”
Historians like Mills view the recent give-away of the valuable Harry Wright letters as a similar travesty of scholarship and a violation of the wishes of Harry Wright who bequeathed his baseball archive to the National League and Spalding in 1894 so it could serve as “a nucleus or beginning of a historical collection of memoranda and facts bearing upon our grand national game of baseball.” Spalding’s widow, in fact, entertained several offers for the collection but chose the NYPL because it would be “most accessible to the greatest number of lovers of our national game.”
The library just capitalized on its baseball holdings last week by displaying a rare T206 Honus Wagner card from the Goulston Collection and, ironically, the entrance was adorned with MLB All Star Game-themed apple sculptures just four years after the Wright letters were offered for sale in MLB’s 2009 All-Star Game auction. The give away of the documents that represented Harry Wright’s life’s work has come as a great surprise to his great-great granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, who was shaken by the news. Guzzi said, “I find this whole thing so backwards and ridiculously wrong. I feel like I must be missing some valuable piece of information because otherwise, none of this makes any sense to me and really makes me heart sick. It was my understanding that it was obvious these items were among the missing stolen items from the NYPL Harry Wright collection. If that is the case, how does it make sense that they be returned to the seller/consignor to do with as they please?”
MLB Commish Bud Selig (left) has made no effort to recover Wright's letters; Baseball artifact thieves have even stolen the codicil to Harry Wright's will that instructed the donation of his personal archive to the National League in 1895 (center). This 1874 Warren cabinet photo of Wright is missing from the NYPL collection and documented as NYPL property in a book by Robert Smith (right).
Guzzi has viewed the evidence supplied by Dorothy Seymour Mills and Haulsofshame.com and like many baseball researchers feels, “Until it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that these items are not stolen property, why would the FBI not hold onto them indefinitely? I wish I or my family had the money to purchase all of these items so that this nonsense would come to an end.”
The nonsense Guzzi describes is the shady baseball artifact trade that has even extended to the theft of her great-great grandfather’s last will and testament from a Philadelphia courthouse. The codicil to that document bequeathing his letters and archive to the National League in 1895 was also sold by the auctioneer that offered the stolen letters in 2009, David Hunt. Despite being notified that he also sold the stolen codicil to Wright’s will, Hunt has failed to recover and return the document he sold for over $10,000 in the late 1990s. Hunt did not respond to requests for comment.
Guzzi is understandably disturbed. She added, “This is my great-great grandfather’s legacy we are talking about and I feel utterly helpless. These documents are a major part of history and will be lost forever if something isn’t done immediately to return them to their rightful resting place at the NYPL.”
We also contacted a descendant of A. G. Spalding, who compiled the entire NYPL collection, and informed him about the FBI return of the Wright letters. Keith Spalding Robbins, the Godson of Spalding’s only son Keith Spalding said, “Such profiteering from stolen goods is a cancer that erodes the integrity and hurts the legitimacy of the sports memorabilia marketplace and must be eradicated.” Robbins said he recalled his family discussing the Spalding thefts at the dinner table in the late 1970s and added, “The Spalding Collection is not just a collection of books images and letters, it is a record of achievement and baseball knowledge of small towns and numerous families. The archives need to be restored and returned to the public for all to see, enjoy and learn from.”
Responding to our inquiries about the Wright letters, the NYPL’s Director of Communications, Angela Montefinise, said, “The New York Public Library is fully committed to retrieving all items stolen from its Spalding collection in the 1970s. While we are being patient with Federal investigators – who have an extremely difficult job definitively proving that items came from the Library – we are also actively pursuing other options to try to ensure that our materials are returned. For example, we have reached out to at least one auction house directly to request that an item be removed from sale, as we believe it originated in the Spalding collection.”
In response to the outcry over the FBI’s return of the letters Montefinise added, “As for the letters being (returned) by Hunt’s, we have to defer to the FBI on this matter, as it is conducting the investigation. What we can say is that The New York Public Library has made it extremely clear to all involved that it wants all of its materials returned and made accessible to the public, where they belong. The Library never conceded that these items were not ours, and certainly never instructed the auction house to sell the materials. That is completely untrue.”
Sources indicate that the library has contacted Huggins & Scott Auctions and identified the Harry Wright letter they are currently offering as NYPL property. The company has not yet responded to that inquiry and auction rep Josh Wulkan has not responded to ours.
How do the FBI and NYPL explain returning the Devlin letter dated Nov. 2, 1877 from the 2009 Hunt MLB sale (left) in which Devlin writes, "The sheriff is on the ground and it will be sold on Tuesday" (outlined in red, left). Dr. Harold Seymour's handwritten research note at Cornell Univ. quotes from the exact same letter and cites the exact same passage verbatim regarding the "sherriff" from the exact same date and from the "Wright Corres(pondence Scrapbook) 1. p.p. 44 and 45" (all oultlined in red). (Courtesy Cornell Univ. Rare and Manuscript Division).
Special Agent Jim Margolin from the FBI’s New York City press office declined comment on the return of the Wright documents but added, “The investigation into the Spalding Collection thefts is still open and active.” But the FBI failed to answer how the US Attorney apparently failed to make a case to keep the letters despite the fact that eight of the twenty-five Hunt lots were verified as NYPL property through the Seymour citations, research notes and the eyewitness testimony of Dorothy Seymour Mills. The remaining lots which were not cited included letters pasted to jagged pages ripped out of scrapbooks and bearing the same dates as the missing Wright scrapbooks.
Having been informed of the responses provided by the library and the FBI, Dorothy Seymour Mills responded, “I thought the FBI was more efficient than that. I’ve lost confidence in them. The FBI should have demanded the return of Library property.” As for the NYPL response she said, ”The Library should have asserted its rights over that material instead of leaving it all to the FBI. At the very least the Library officials should have given a press conference saying it wanted its possessions back and (said) why the FBI couldn’t get it for them. The Library should have pointed out how strong the evidence was. This is really disappointing.”
A source familiar with the FBI probe says that there have also been other significant items recovered by the FBI, some said to have been taken via civil forfeiture, and others that were seized and since returned to other owners. An item said to have been recovered was at least one of the missing Harry Wright scrapbooks which was described as mangled with most of its pages and contents removed. Both the NYPL and FBI declined to comment on any additional recoveries.
Keith Spalding Robbins, the man whose family originally made the generous gift of the Spalding Collection to the library in 1921 left us with this, “I would suggest that some of the descendants of the 19th century baseball (pioneers) stand on the steps of the NYPL and hold a press conference demanding to know what has happened and that a crime has occurred.” Robbins also noted that City officials bear responsibility saying, ”It’s most infuriating and disappointing that the priceless material of the Spalding Collection at the NYPL was stolen by a bunch of wanna-be wise guys from New Jersey, and the only thing of meaning for the current crop of Mayoral candidates is figuring how to keep their pants on rather than protecting treasured material that belongs to Public Library and the citizens of New York.”
(More coverage of the NYPL Spalding Collection thefts can be found in the Sunday edition of the New York Post)
UPDATE (July 31, 2013): Another Stolen Harry Wright Document Is Sold At Premier Auctions In Arizona For $2,244; Auction House Now Linked To Two Pages Ripped From Wright’s Account Ledger Books In NYPLs Spalding Collection-
On the heels of the New York Post and Haulsofshame.com reports revealing the FBI’s return of stolen Harry Wright letters to the 2009 Hunt/MLB All-Star Game auction consignor, Premier Auctions of Arizona has offered and sold yet another document that clearly originated from Harry Wright’s personal archive that was donated to the National League in 1895.
The document signed by Harry Wright that is being offered by Premier Auctions (right) fits the description of items stolen from NYPLs Spalding Collection and the "Harry Wright Note and Account Books Collection. This page would have originated from volume 16 or 18 as indicated on the NYPL inventory document (above, left).
The document appears to have been ripped from either Wright’s original account book ledger or one of Wright’s incoming correspondence scrapbooks which were donated to the NYPL in 1921 by A. G. Spalding’s widow. The document offered by Premier is dated from 1892 and originated either from volume 16 or 18 in the Wright “Note and Account Books 1860-1893″ at the New York Public Library. The auction house describes the document as:
Approximately 6” x 7 ¾” sheet from a ledger written and signed in black fountain pen while Wright was manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1892, Nm/Mt signature. The sheet was for a road trip to Baltimore that season and “Statement of Baltimore trip Aug. 12/92” is handwritten by Wright on the reverse. The sheet has three intersecting folds and an irregularly trimmed top edge but is in otherwise remarkable condition given its age. Fantastic example from the posthumously inducted Hall of Famer. JSA Auction LOA.
This is the second document believed to have been stolen from the NYPL’s collection that Premier has offered for sale, the last of which was reported by Haulsofshame.com earlier this year. We interviewed author Daryl Brock about the document:
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.
Premier never responded to our inquiries about the first offering earlier this year and they failed to respond to our inquiry yesterday. We asked if the two documents were consigned by the same consignor and whether the auction house had any provenance information on the document dated from 1892. Premier list its principals as Jasmani Francis, an appraiser from PBS’ Antiques Roadshow, Walter Cerini and Matthew Palmero who is listed as a former employee of Mike Gutierrez the current consignment director at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas.
NYPL spokesperson Angela Montefinise did not respond to our inquiry about the document being offered by Premier. Montefinise told the New York Post last weekend, “The NYPL has made it extremely clear that it wants all of its materials returned and made accessible to the public.” Several baseball historians we spoke with agreed that his document originated from the Wright collection with one calling the current offering a “pathetic joke.”
In our last report historian Dorothy Seymour Mills called for the firing of NYPL President Tony Marx for his failures in recovering the stolen material for the library.
The Huggins & Scott Wright letter (center) shares similar characteristics with another Wright letter stolen from NYPL (left). Huggins & Scott's Josh Wulkan (right) refuses to comment on the letter's provenance.
Premier sold the Wright document earlier this evening for $2,244, considerably less than what a legitimate document signed by Wright in ink would command. One collector told us he stayed away from the Premier lot because he believed it was stolen from the NYPL.
Wright’s great-great granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, was disturbed that another document was sold. She said, “At what point are people going to realize what a travesty it is that these documents of such significant historical value continue to find their way into the hands of greedy collectors/sellers? These materials should be kept together for all to see and we need to demand they be returned to their rightful home at the NYPL. Why is this latest Harry Wright letter allowed to be up for bidding at Premier Auctions of Arizona? I implore the Auction house to do the right thing and remove it from the block, pending further investigation.”
Legitimate documents signed by Wright are very scarce and are worth anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000. There are only a handful of legitimate letters written by Wright in private hands. A Wright letter stolen from the NYPL Harry Wright scrapbooks is also being offered by Huggins & Scott in their current auction.
Josh Wulkan of Huggins & Scott has still not responded to inquiries about the provenance of that auction lot.
By Peter J. Nash
July 25, 2013
Jack Smalling, author of the "Baseball Autograph Collectors Handbook " (inset), says HOF historian Lee Allen (inset) gifted him two rare letters addressed to August Herrmann. One is signed by newly minted HOFer Hank O'Day and worth upwards of $20,000.
When Baseball Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen secured August Herrmann’s entire archive of correspondence from Cincinnati Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr., it was a feather in his cap and a huge addition to the developing baseball library he headed.
Allen, a former employee of Crosley’s Reds, was in Cooperstown in 1960 when the archive of over 45,000 documents arrived via several delivery trucks and The Sporting News quoted Allen as saying, “This is the most valuable accumulation of baseball lore ever assembled in one place.”
After the collection arrived Allen reached out to his friend Dr. Harold Seymour to tell him about some of the treasures he’d found buried in the files. Allen wrote, “The Garry Herrmann papers have arrived….The most interesting thing I have found so far is a letter from Hank O’Day to the NL office written the night after the Merkle play, explaining exactly what happened.”
Over the years, similar letters from the Hall archives which were sent by O’Day and others to the league and Herrmann have mysteriously found their way into auctions and the personal collections of autograph collectors obsessed with obtaining the genuine signatures of as many Baseball Hall of Famers as possible. To date, enough evidence has been compiled and presented by Haulsofshame.com to illustrate that the National Baseball Library’s Herrmann Papers archive was the victim of a large scale heist of historic documents in the 1980s at a time when the collection was disorganized and had not yet been microfilmed. Thus, any document addressed to Herrmann appearing for sale is considered a possible stolen item from the Hall’s collection and several have been pulled from sales conducted by Heritage and Robert Edward Auctions while others have been auctioned off by Clean Sweep and Huggins & Scott despite warnings.
Adding to the controversy is the fact that the Baseball Hall of Fame itself has failed to claim title or pursue recovery of any of the rare and valuable documents allegedly claiming they cannot determine if they were stolen. That being said, the Hall has also failed to pursue recovery of other stolen photographs which were visually documented as Hall property in photo shoots conducted at the museum in the 1980s. Incident reports alleging the thefts and documenting the sales of stolen property can be found at the Cooperstown Police Department.
Back in February two more documents addressed to August Herrmann appeared for sale in what hobby veteran Lew Lipset called his “final auction.” One was a letter from Hall of Famer Miller Huggins regarding his playing for Herrmann’s Reds and the other was a 1921 letter signed by the entire Reds team supporting the team’s hiring of a trainer named George Hoskins. The second document became more notable when the Reds’ manager, ex-umpire Hank O’Day, was elected to the Hall of Fame for induction this summer in Cooperstown. The Huggins letter is estimated to be worth between $5-10,000 and the letter signed by O’Day at least $20,000 considering the scarcity of the newly minted Hall of Famer’s signature.
Both letters were removed from Lipset’s auction when this writer pointed out the issues to the auctioneer but remarkably Lipset said his consignor had some interesting information to offer about the provenance of the two extremely valuable letters. The consignor, veteran autograph collector and dealer, Jack Smalling, told him that both letters were given to him as a gift by Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen for research work he’d assisted with. Lipset also said that Smalling told him they were the only two letters given to him by the Hall historian who passed away in 1969. Back when they were given to him the letters had little monetary value, perhaps a few hundred dollars at best.
Jack Smalling claims that HOF historian, Lee Allen, gave him these two letters addressed to August Herrmann as a gift for work he'd done for the Hall. One letter is signed by Hank O'Day and the 1921 Reds (left) and the other is signed by HOFer Miller J. Huggins in 1903 (right).
Back in March Lipset sent out an email to customers stating, “The two letters have been withdrawn because of erroneous information given to us. The letters are owned by Jack Smalling (of the long time best selling Baseball Address Book). They were given to Jack in the 1960’s by Lee Allen, an officer at the Hall of Fame as a thank you for research done by Jack for the Hall. The Huggins letter has Kevin Keating’s COA, the 1912 letter did not, as I didn’t realize the significance of the Hank O’Day signature at the time. The letters were confused with Herman papers taken in a HOF theft about 15 years ago. These were obviously not included. The disposition of these letters will be decided after the auction.”
Most recently Lipset sent out another email indicating the letters will be appearing for sale in the “Heritage auction concluding Thursday August 1st in Chicago at the National in Chicago.” Lipset added, ”These letters were pulled from my auction because some questions were raised, not on their authenticity, but how they were obtained. There is no doubt in my mind they were obtained legitimately.”
But how could Lipset know for sure? In our last report it was revealed that around 1990 Lipset sold several rare documents signed by the 19th century New York Giants that appear to have been stolen from the National Baseball Library and he had no recollection where he acquired them. How could he determine whether these Herrmann letters were legitimately transferred without having answers from Lee Allen? One thing that is for sure, however, is that the two letters given to Smalling originated from the Herrmann Papers archive in Cooperstown and the Heritage Auction lot description makes no mention whatsoever of the provenance of the letters and the story told by Smalling. Chris Ivy of Heritage did not respond to our inquiry for comment.
When I was first informed by Lipset that these two documents were being offered in his auction I notified him about the Herrmann Papers provenance issues which I assumed he was already aware of. Lipset said he consulted with a friend who was an attorney who suggested he contact the Baseball Hall of Fame. I also consulted with a prominent baseball historian for his advice and it was suggested that since Lee Allen worked for the Reds before he came to the Hall of Fame it could have been possible that he took possession of these two letters before the entire archive was donated to the Hall by Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr. in 1960. I asked Lipset to confirm with Smalling if he was given the documents at the National Baseball Library or at Allen’s Cooperstown home? Lipset said Smalling responded that the letters were sent to him by mail.
Lee Allen (top right) served as the HOF's historian until his death in 1969 and was responsible for the NBL acquiring the August Herrmann papers archive from Reds owner Powell Crosley Jr. in 1960. The collection was described in TSN in 1960 (left) and was the backbone of the NBL when Ford Frick dedicated the new library building in 1968 (bottom right).
Based upon that information I thought it was still plausible that these two letters could be the only “Herrmann Letters” in private hands which were not wrongfully removed from the Hall of Fame. I even mentioned the O’Day letter to a collector who then asked me to pass along an offer to Smalling via Lipset if the letters were found to be legitimate.
Looking further into the situation, I emailed historian Dorothy Seymour Mills, who was the first researcher to have access to the Herrmann Papers for her book Baseball: The Golden Years. Mills had also been a good friend of Lee Allen and knew him personally and had actually been a guest in Allen’s Cooperstown home with her late husband Dr. Harold Seymour. I asked Mills for her take on Smalling’s story and whether she thought that Allen could have legitimately given away Herrmann documents for the work that Smalling had done at the Hall. Mills had never been given any letters for assistance that she and her husband had furnished for Allen. Mills responded to my inquiry saying, “When we were researching the Herrmann Correspondence in the same room with Lee while he wrote one of his books, we found that Lee had “put aside” in his desk drawer certain documents he had found that he thought would be most helpful to him in his work. He showed us those documents.” In regard to Allen gifting the Herrmann letters to Smalling Mills noted that Allen was a “kind and gregarious” man and added, “I would not be surprised to learn that he had made a gift of some Herrmann Correspondence documents to a friend that he felt he owed something to. I think he had a strong ownership feeling about the correspondence and may not have considered such an act wrong, although of course it would have been.”
Dorothy Seymour Mills says Lee Allen put special documents from the Herrmann Papers archive in a file in his library office. One such document was a 1908 affidavit signed by Fred Merkle (left) with his testimony about the infamous "Merkle Incident" of 1908. The affidavit was from the protested game files and remains at the Hall while other affidavits that should still be part of the collection, like a 1908 affidavit signed by Joe Tinker (right), were sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby's in 1999.
Mills’ response cast additional doubt as to whether the two documents could ever be determined as being legitimately gifted by Allen to Smalling and I advised the potential buyer and Lipset of the new information. Lipset responded that he had contacted the Hall of Fame and said, “I was told that a very small part of the Herrmann items were stolen and that the donation was voluminous and that basded on what I said regarding Lee Allen, he didn”t think there was a problem selling them.” Lipset did not identify the Hall employee he spoke with. Lipset added, “I have an email from the Hall of Fame apologizing for not getting back to me and I am still waiting for a response as to whether there is a problem selling them. If there is, they will be pulled and returned to Jack Smalling. Otherwise, they will be auctioned as intended.”
Lew Lipset (left) was set to auction the consignments of Jack Smalling (center left) which featured a document signed by newly elected HOFer Hank O'Day (center right). The letters were pulled from Lipset's sale and ended up with Chris Ivy (right) at Heritage Auction Galleries.
The letters were pulled from the Lipset auction but have now resurfaced as a consignment from Smalling to Heritage Auctions’ 2013 National Convention Platinum Night Auction. Despite the questions as to whether Allen legitimately gifted the O’Day and Huggins documents to Jack Smalling, they will likely not be scrutinized by officials at the Baseball Hall of Fame who have historically ignored any evidence of thefts from the Herrmann collection and have failed to pursue recovery of property owned by New York State under the Museum’s charter. It is ironic that the Smalling documents have landed at Heritage, an auction house that has already pulled numerous documents from prior sales because of suspicions they were stolen from Cooperstown and also employs Mike Gutierrez as a consignment director despite the fact that he was the prime suspect in a 1980s investigation into stolen documents and photographs from the Hall of Fame. An eyewitness who accompanied Gutierrez on a trip to the National Baseball Library in the late 1980s told the hobby newsletter, The Sweet Spot, that he saw Gutierrez stealing documents from the Herrmann Papers collection. A source tells Haulsofshame.com they have knowledge of Gutierrez directly selling another similar letter from Huggins to Herrmann in a private transaction with a collector.
If the appearance of letters addressed to Herrmann in auctions were not enough of a mystery the new claims made by Smalling of being gifted rare documents by Lee Allen make the Herrmann Papers saga even more confusing. Smalling is the only hobbyist known to ever make such a claim and would have been given the documents by Allen prior to his sudden death on May 20, 1969. Sources indicate that Smalling provided Allen with desperately needed information regarding the addresses and whereabouts of retired ball players that bolstered Allen’s own research which Marty Appel has described as “30 years collecting the largest baseball demographic file in the country.”
Jack Smalling's status as a hobby pioneer comes primarily for his work compiling lists of former MLB player addresses which collectors used for autograph requests. Smalling placed the top ad in the December, 1970, issue of The Trader Speaks along with "Data Sheet #23 (551-575)" which featured the address of 1919 Black Sox player Charles "Swede" Risberg. He placed the bottom ad in TTS in 1978 hoping to buy and sell autographs.
Smalling is regarded as a trailblazer in the hobby who tracked down and documented the current addresses of former players for autograph hounds and shared his information in columns he wrote for early hobby publications like The Trader Speaks. But Smalling also operated as an autograph collector and dealer and over the decades has amassed a considerable collection of baseball rarities. Lipset says that when Deacon White was elected for induction earlier this year, the Hall reached out to Smalling for an exemplar of White’s autograph. Lipset said Smalling had a White autograph in his possession but Hall officials didn’t realize that they already had a letter written by White which is part of the Herrmann Papers.
From his home in Ames, Iowa, Smalling declined to be interviewed today in regard to his selling his “gifts” from Allen at Heritage, but several dealers and hobbyists have expressed their feeling that Smalling is undoubtedly telling the truth about Allen giving him the valuable letters addressed to Herrmann. While every other Herrmann letter appearing for sale at auction has had absolutely no reference to its origin or provenance, it is refreshing to see these two with an actual history dating back to the 1960s, in the same decade Lee Allen secured the Herrmann archive for the Hall.
We spoke with one autograph collector who was active in the 1960s and he confirmed that several other very young collectors had helped Allen obtain addresses and information just like Smalling had and that Allen, instead of paying them, gave them new addresses and autographs for their collections. The collector made it clear that he had never heard that a Herrmann letter or other historic documents were ever given in exchange for work.
Lee Allen discovered this 1908 letter written by Hank O'Day regarding the infamous "Merkle Incident. Unlike the 1921 letter to August Herrmann in the current Heritage Auction, Allen chose to retain this historic letter in the NBL archive." (Herrmann Papers, National Baseball Library)
We may never know the actual circumstances under which Lee Allen “gifted” Jack Smalling letters from Herrmann’s archive in exchange for work he had done for the Hall. As someone who knew him personally, Dorothy Seymour Mills felt Allen displayed a sense of ownership over the Herrmann archive and that feeling is echoed in a 1963 letter he wrote to Hall of Fame President Paul Kerr to informally apply for the Hall’s Director position. In the letter Allen made the case that his “wide acquaintance in the world of baseball,” his “personal honesty,” and his dedication in building the library collections, including “obtaining the Herrmann papers,” qualified him for the Director position.
But although Allen said he “would rather be Director of the Hall of Fame than President of the United States” his desire to hold that position would never be fulfilled. As Hall historian he had experienced what he described as a “spiritual rebirth” after “years of wandering” and said that in Cooperstown he had “Found a home where I want to spend the rest of my days.” He was devoted to the Hall and the inductees who had achieved excellence in the game and although he felt he ”did not have the God-given ability to join their ranks” he was “determined to excel also, as their interpreter.” Allen ended his plea to Kerr with a prophetic pledge to the Hall as he wrote, “My only remaining ambition then would be to serve you until I was ready for the coroner’s table that awaits us all.”
Whether Lee Allen gave away the Herrmann letters legitimately or not, one thing is clear. He gave his life to the Hall.
By Peter J. Nash
July 10, 2013
A copy of a letter tucked away in a HOF file shows that Red Foley sent the Hall of Fame some of the rarest and most valuable baseball player signatures as a donation in 1970.
“Red” Foley was a fixture at the New York Daily News for decades and was the official scorer for the Mets and Yankees for even longer. A baby-faced, cigar chomping, teetotaler, Foley wrote a column called “Ask Red” that led to his own baseball column at the newspaper and later in life he even had New York City’s best baseball bar (Foley’s) named after him by its owner Shaun Clancy in 2003.
When Foley passed away at the age of seventy-nine in 2008, his colleagues including Bill Gallo and Phil Pepe spoke highly of the man who was remembered as a straight shooter who preferred to call a sacrifice a “sac-fly” in his baseball reporting.
Today, the bar that bears his name features an impressive collection of over two thousand autographed baseballs and photographs from baseball legends ranging from Duke Snider to Derek Jeter and nearly everyone in between. When Red Foley passed Clancy was lucky enough to save a few autographs Red had collected for himself, two Hall of Fame plaque postcards autographed by Casey Stengel and Zach Wheat which are now on display at the bar along with inscribed photos from inductees to Foley’s own “Irish-American Baseball Hall of Fame,” which has honored the likes of John J. McGraw, “King” Kelly and even Yankee GM Brian Cashman. Says Clancy, “Its a shame, but I think most of Red’s souvenirs and autographs were thrown away when his apartment was cleaned out after his death. We’re lucky to have saved these few signed Hall of Fame plaques he collected.”
Little did Red know that Clancy and Foley’s Bar on West 33rd St. near the Empire State Building wouldn’t be his only link to baseball treasures and the autographs of Baseball Hall of Famers. Little did Red know he’d one day help crack a long standing cold-case related to a heist at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, all because a copy of a letter written to him was saved by one of his old pals. Little did he know he’d help start the ball rolling for the recovery of the signatures of some the greatest Irishmen ever to play the game for the New York Giants: “Smilin” Mickey Welch, Roger Connor, “Orator” Jim O’Rourke and “Buck” Ewing.
Tucked away for decades in a thick Hall of Fame library file on the subject of baseball autographs was a copy of a letter written to Red Foley in February of 1970 from his friend Ken Smith, the Director of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Before he was top-dog at the Hall, Smith was a beat baseball writer for the New York Mirror and was an old friend of Red Foley and virtually every other baseball scribe in New York City. His letter to Foley was a thank you of sorts for helping the Hall secure what Smith described as an important trove of early relics related to the 19th century game.
This excerpt from a 1970 letter between HOF Director Ken Smith and Red Foley documents the Hall's receipt of the rare signed pay receipts of HOFers Buck Ewing, James O'Rourke, Roger Connor, Mickey Welch and Jessie Burkett.(National Baseball Library, Cooperstown, NY)
The relics Smith spoke of were autographed New York Giant payroll receipts, signed by Hall of Famers Ewing, Connor, O’Rourke and Welch, (as well as by German Hall of Famers Amos Rusie and Jessie Burkett), and were a significant pick-up for the Hall as financial instruments that gave insight into what a star player’s paycheck looked like in the late nineteenth-century.
Financial documents collected by the Hall have been a great resource to scholars and researchers going as far back as Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills’ work studying the NBL’s August Herrmann papers in the early 1960’s and today with University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse Professor Michael Haupert’s ground-breaking research on the economic history of Major League Baseball and player salaries. In regard to the Giant pay receipts Haupert told us, “Primary sources are the gold standard for serious research. Documents such as those housed in libraries and museums are the only way we can get reliable information about how institutions operated. My own research, which is centered on the financial history of the sports industry, relies heavily on primary material I have accessed in the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.”
Back in 1970, there wasn’t an established market for financial documents or rare baseball autographs, but even back then collectors of Hall of Fame signatures knew that the Giant receipts were rare as rare could be. As a donation to the Hall, however, their value was not too significant at a time when a rare T206 Honus Wagner tobacco card was known to sell for under a thousand bucks. Smith made it clear to Foley that the generosity of the donor, a friend of Foley’s cousin, identified only as “Mrs. McSherry,” was greatly appreciated as he expressed specifically in his letter, ”The museum does not purchase display and library material.” Smith wrote to Foley, “I certainly appreciate yours and your cousin’s kindness in remembering the Hall of Fame as a place where these signatures would be welcome.” Smith appears to have recognized the importance of the documents and their availability for future researchers like Haupert.
Considering Smith’s enthusiasm and the documentation of Red Foley’s assistance in securing the delivery of such a rare cache of signed receipts to Cooperstown, it was an item that appeared in an autograph collector newsletter in 1990 that was the first sign of possible foul-play related to the rare receipts . In the article, collector Dick Patman chronicled sales from an unnamed auction of what appear to be the very documents that Foley sent to Ken Smith back in 1970. Patman described the documents as “scarce, high-quality material(s)” that were then commanding “record prices.”
Based upon the existence of the copy of the letter in the Hall of Fame files and our first inquiry at the National Baseball Library, these documents have been determined missing from the archives at the National Baseball Library. When asked if the accession records could be reviewed to confirm what name the 1970 donation appeared under, Hall spokesman Brad Horn denied access to the records and would not reveal if the Hall was in possession of other similar receipts as the 1970 letter to Foley indicated that there may have been some additional “coupons” that Mrs. McSherry was in possession of.
This article by Dick Patman published in an autograph collector newsletter (left) identified several signed 19th century NY Giants payroll receipts that were also identified as donations to the HOF by Director Ken Smith (right) in a 1970 letter to Red Foley.
In his 1990 column, Patman reported the auction sale of the receipt signed by James O’Rourke for $4,500 in 1990 and the sale of the Ewing and Connor receipts at an earlier auction for $3,300 and $3,600. The “Smilin” Mickey Welch receipt appeared in a Richard Wolfers auction along with another O’Rourke item that appears to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame, a 1916 letter written to Reds owner August Herrmann by the “Orator”. The letter sold at Wolfers shows O’Rourke asking Herrmann for tickets to the 1916 World Series at Fenway Park and the corresponding letter, still in the Hall of Fame archive, was dated five days later and sent to Herrmann to thank him for sending those very same tickets he had requested.
The rare Giant pay receipts appeared in elaborate color auction catalogs produced by Richard Wolfers Auctions in San Francisco, California. The Welch and O’Rourke receipts (and O’Rourke letter) appeared for sale in the much-hyped “Treasures of the Game” live auctions hosted by Wolfers founder and successful Democratic fundraiser Duane Garrett. Garrett, a close friend of Al Gore and President Clinton was the fundraising guru of California politicians Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein and established his sports auction house after success in the stamp coin and fine-art fields. However, claims of the auction house selling bogus goods and accusations of shill bidding cast a wide shadow over Garrett’s enterprise and in 1996, the political guru and Bay-Area radio talk-show host allegedly committed suicide by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The stolen NY Giant payroll receipts that have sold at auction (Top to bottom): Buck Ewing; James O'Rourke; Mickey Welch; Jesse Burkett.
Over the decades these rare documents have vanished into the top collections in the country with barely a hint that they were treasures removed from the Cooperstown archives. Perhaps the rarest of them all is the receipt signed by Buck Ewing. The Ewing document was encapsulated and authenticated by PSA/DNA and sold for $35,513 at a Mastro auction in 2007 . Industry experts estimate that the Ewing, Connor and Welch receipts are worth between $35,000 to $50,000 each. The signatures on these documents are some of the only known surviving examples of the autographs of the rarest of Hall of Famers. They are the ultimate prizes for collectors. To put it into perspective, Hunt Auctions once sold a letter written by Buck Ewing for $40,000 and a ledger featuring a signed page with the signatures of Connor, Ewing, O’Rourke and Welch for close to $100,000 in 2004.
(Left) Sept. 22, 1916 James O'Rourke letter to August Herrmann asking for 1916 World Series Tickets. (Right) Sept. 27, 1916 James O'Rourke letter to August Herrmann thanking him for sending him requested tickets to the 1916 World Series. The Sept. 22nd letter was sold by Wolfers Auctions and the Sept. 27th letter still resides in the HOFs Herrmann Papers Collection.
An on-going investigation into the Hall of Fame thefts by Haulsofshame.com has traced the secreted documents back to the original auctioneer who offered them in 1989 and 1990, hobby veteran Lew Lipset and his Four Base Hits and Old Judge auctions. Dick Patman was referring specifically to Lipset’s sales of the Ewing, Connor, O’Rourke and Welch documents when his 1990 article was published.
Lew Lipset confirmed for Haulsofshame.com that he did, in fact, sell the rare Giant documents and also revealed that the winning bidder on a few of the lots was auctioneer Duane Garrett from Wolfers Auctions, which explains how some of the autographs made their way into the San Francisco auctioneer’s sales. Lipset confirmed that the Buck Ewing document was the first he offered and sold for $3,625 in September of 1989. Duane Garrett purchased the O’Rourke and Welch receipts for $4,500 and $4,400 respectively early in 1990 and Lipset did not have any information on the sale of the Connor autograph in his November 1990 sale. When the Giant pay receipts were offered for sale it was noted that the ends of the documents were trimmed or clipped. When he sold the Buck Ewing autograph Lipset noted the document was “Partially cut at right, not affecting signature.” It is likely that the documents were cut to remove the National Baseball Library accession information which would have indicated the year of donation and the sequence of the item’s donation during that time period.
Responding to our inquiry about the documents Lipset said, “I remember when I got ‘em. It was one of those too good to be true things. I didn’t give a thought to the fact that they could be stolen.” We asked Lipset where he acquired the documents that were stolen from the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown and he responded, “I have no recollection where I got these but I remember I was suspicious not because of the origin but if they were real and I brought them to Mike Gutierrez, who told me they were good. It is also my recollection that they were in my collection for a few years before I sold them, so I would have purchased them a few years before the auctions.” We asked Lipset if he had any records that might show the identity of the seller and he answered, “I have no check records from that far back, so I have no idea.”
The stolen NY Giant pay receipts signed by Buck Ewing, James O'Rourke and Roger Connor appeared in the above catalogs of Long Island auctioneer Lew Lipset in 1989 and 1990.
Lipset’s mention of taking the stolen documents to Mike Gutierrez is notable for it was Gutierrez who was the prime suspect in the 1980s Hall of Fame heist and it was also Gutierrez who was working as a consignment agent for Wolfers Auctions at the time the stolen receipts and Herrmann letters were offered in the “Treasures of the Game” auction. Gutierrez is currently the consignment director for Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, and an on-air appraiser for PBS’ Antiques Roadshow.
Lipset and Gutierrez have a long history of partnering on memorabilia deals and the purchases of collections over the years. Gutierrez even served as the point-man for Lipset’s autograph survey published in the late 1980s in his hobby newsletter, The Old Judge. In one of the surveys Lipset even went as far to mention that Gutierrez had made several trips to the Hall of Fame to seek out exemplars for the survey and autograph price guide Lipset published.
When we asked Lipset about his links to Gutierrez he even mentioned taking a trip to the National Baseball Library with Gutierrez in the late 1980s. Lipset said, “The one time I went to the Hall with Mike, we weren’t there very long. We were in Tom Heitz’ office discussing Mike’s idea and I don’t believe anywhere else. I don’t think Mike was off by himself, but then I don’t really remember.” The “idea” Lipset mentioned was a proposal Gutierrez was making to Hall officials to give him access to Hall of Famer families and relatives so he could purchase their memorabilia and, in turn, donate portions of the purchases to the Hall since the museum is not permitted to purchase artifacts.
Lew Lipset (left) sold the stolen NY Giant pay receipts after he visited the HOF with Mike Gutierrez (center, shown appraising an item for PBS) who later sold Josh Evans of Lelands (right) a Babe Ruth signed photo with a HOF accession number on its reverse. Gutierrez was the FBIs prime suspect in the HOF thefts but was never prosecuted.
Lipset says it is his recollection that nothing ever transpired with that proposal and couldn’t recall much more. However, auctioneer Josh Evans, of Lelands, also says he had knowledge of Gutierrez’ proposal and said it died in the water after Gutierrez sold him a signed Babe Ruth photograph that had white-out placed over its Hall of Fame accession number on its reverse. Evans reported the incident to Hall officials and an FBI investigation commenced with Gutierrez as the main suspect in thefts that were believed to far exceed just the Ruth photograph. Sources close to Hall officials at the time say that the investigation was thwarted due to concerns of bad publicity that could hinder future donations to the museum. In 1983, the Hall had experienced a slew of bad publicity related to another theft scandal reported in The Sporting News and the New York Post when Joe Reichler, from Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s office, sold off a cache of World Series programs and other publications that had been loaned to Kuhn by the Hall.
Just last year a CDV photograph of the 1870 Philadelphia Athletics that was verified as stolen from the National Baseball Library was sold at Legendary Auctions in Chicago as Hall of Fame officials did nothing to either claim title to or challenge the sale of the donated artifact. Despite the fact that Haulsofshame.com illustrated how the 1870 CDV was photographed by the Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) in 1983 while it was still part of the collection, the card sold for about $1,600 (about $8,000 less than a legitimate one Legendary sold in 2010).
Interestingly enough, SABR photographed other photos as Hall of Fame property in 1983 that have also ended up being sold in auctions conducted by Lew Lipset. Lipset sold an 1886 and 1894 cabinet photos of the NY Giants team and a Horner portrait of John J. McGraw that appear on contact sheets and in a SABR publication produced as a result of the shoot at the Hall in ‘83. (Next to the 1886 photo on the contact sheet is a photo that was not stolen depicting a team from Ottawa, Canada, recently profiled by Hall curator Tom Shieber on his blog).
When we asked Lipset back in December where he acquired the 1886 Giant team cabinet photo he said, “I know I had the 1886 in my collection for years before I put it in the auction. Its the same one as in the SABR publication. I have no record or recollection where I got it from.” After Lipset sold the photo in his own sale, Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, auctioned the same cabinet card for over $10,000.
Contact sheets from a photo shoot by SABR at the Hall in 1983 have served as "smoking guns" to further expose the HOF heist. NYDN writers Bill Madden and Michael O'Keeffe reported on the thefts in 2000 at the same time Madden hailed Barry Halper's sale of fraudulent artifacts to the HOF. In the thirteen years since their special report, neither Madden or O'Keeffe have ever followed up on the story.
Haulsofshame.com filed police reports recently with the Cooperstown Police reporting the thefts of the 1870 Philadelphia Athletics CDV as well as the 1886 Giants cabinet card and a 1915 letter sent by the Boston Red Sox and Babe Ruth to August Herrmann and the National Commission requesting their World Series money. Officials at the Hall of Fame have tried their best to bury their heads in the sand hoping this scandal would somehow vanish just like all of the relics and documents that were victimized in the 1980s heist at the Hall. Most recently the Hall has even denied Haulsofshame.com access to viewing museum accession records to verify the names of donors of the confirmed stolen artifacts, including the payroll receipts sent by Red Foley.
Coincidentally, Red Foley’s old paper and employer, The New York Daily News, was actually the first news outlet to report on the Hall of Fame thefts in 2000 when writers Bill Madden and Michael O’Keeffe published, “Cooperstown Haul of Fame: Thieves Steal Millions in Baseball Treasures”, and confirmed that current Heritage Auctions consignment rep, Mike Gutierrez, was the prime suspect in the 1980’s thefts. But since Bill Madden was honored with the Hall’s J. G. Taylor Spink Award in 2010 and received accolades from the Hall hailing him as a “watchdog on the burgeoning sports memorabilia industry” and pointed to his “1994 exclusive for the Daily News exposing corrupt and fraudulent practices prompted an FBI investigation that resulted in shutting down two prominent auction houses,” Madden has never reported further on the new and voluminous evidence that has surfaced confirming the magnitude of the 1980s heist.
Madden also gave a pass to his close friend and memorabilia fraudster Barry Halper who defrauded the Hall and MLB by selling them several million dollars in bogus artifacts including the alleged jersey, “Black Betsy” bat, glove and pocket watch of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson. Madden wrote glowing reports in his column about the Halper purchase and the bogus Jackson materials. But since the time Madden was awarded the Spink honor and was also appointed to the BBWAA’s Hall of Fame Historical Overview Committee, the museum’s “Barry Halper Gallery” has vanished from the museum and its floor plans.
Barry Halper stands in the now defunct "Barry Halper Gallery" at the Baseball Hall of Fame above the fake Shoeless Joe Jackson jersey he sold MLB for millions. Halper's good friend, Bill Madden, wrote glowing reviews in the Daily News of the HOF acquisition of the fake Jackson jersey and others. Madden was presented with the J. G. Taylor Spink award at the HOF Inductions in 2010 (top right). In 2013 Madden (center) was inducted into Foley's Irish-American Baseball Hall Of Fame.
If Madden or his newspaper opened up old wounds and reported further on the thefts it would likely upset Hall Chairman, Jane Forbes Clark, who, despite smoking guns firing repeatedly at the Hall with new confirmations of thefts, continues to oversee a large-scale cover-up of the brewing scandal. None of them, however, ever anticipated Madden’s old Daily News colleague “Red” Foley firing another shot from the grave confirming the thefts of the most valuable baseball autographs in the world.
Red’s timing couldn’t be better as Madden was just recently inducted into Foley’s “Irish Baseball Hall of Fame.” Considering Madden’s failure to follow up on his original report about the Hall of Fame heist, former Hall of Fame employee and researcher Gabe Schechter takes Madden’s issues with the Hall a step further. Says Schechter, “That’s the only Hall of Fame Madden belongs to, despite the common misconception that as a winner of the Spink Award he was inducted into the Hall. He was not. He’s part of a museum exhibit showing the winners of the Frick and Spink Awards. Madden helped perpetuate this myth by declaring, in a 2010 promotional tape for the Daily News, ‘when I was elected last December. . .’ thus elevating the misconception into either self-delusion and deliberate deception.”
Meanwhile, the Baseball Hall of Fame continues to ignore the overwhelming evidence of theft and deception and Bill Madden prefers to devote his columns to the A-Rod Biogenesis documents that were offered in what he calls the “seedy world of baseball memorabilia.” Of those controversial documents one of Madden’s unnamed sources, a memorabilia dealer, told him, “This stuff should go in the Hall of Fame.”
Neither the Hall nor Madden seem too interested in what’s got out.
SABR member and author Michael Haupert has a contrary viewpoint. He adds, “When these documents disappear or fall into private hands, whether by design or skulduggery, it removes them from the public domain, thus robbing scholars of the opportunity to conduct valuable research. The loss of primary material leaves a hole in the story that is often impossible to fill.”
By Peter J. Nash
July 5, 2013
A bogus P. T. Barnum autograph on ebay comes with a PSA/DNA LOA. Looks like Joe Orlando has some "suckers" getting cheated.
Earlier this week, I stumbled across a PSA/DNA slabbed signature of 19th century entrepreneur P. T. Barnum and wondered if PSA had ever authenticated a bogus Barnum autograph. I’m currently putting together an article dedicated to the “100 Worst PSA and JSA Authentications of All-Time” so, I thought the “Sucker born every minute” quote would work well if a PSA or JSA blunder on Barnum had been documented.
All it took was one email inquiry to Travis Roste of AutographPlanet.com and I was sent a link to a current Barnum cabinet photo being offered on eBay and some in-depth analysis of Barnum signatures authored by expert Steven Koschal. For $2,500, an eBay customer can take home a bogus autographed cabinet photo of Barnum with a PSA/DNA letter of authenticity signed by Joe Orlando, the man who coined the PSA motto, “Never get cheated.”
Although it has been documented that Barnum did not actually coin the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” the gem attributed to him could easily be updated to say: “There’s an eBay or PSA/DNA customer born every minute.” As Koschal has illustrated definitively in his signature studies, the eBay cabinet photo being offered with the PSA/DNA LOA is nothing more than a pre-printed facsimile signature of Barnum embedded in the actual albumen photograph. Its a classic Barnum humbug or as baseball historian John Thorn might put it, a “jape” or a “Barnum-esque prank.” It’s a phony and one things for sure: Someone surely did get cheated compliments of Joe Orlando and eBay’s officially endorsed authenticator, PSA/DNA.
PSA partner eBay is currently offering this bogus signature of P. T. Barnum for $2,500 with a 2005 LOA signed by Joe Orlando, President of PSA/DNA
The cabinet photograph currently being offered on eBay by “JustCollect” is one of many similar facsimile signature specimens which were created by a New York photographic studio operated by Charles Eisenmann. According to Steven Koschal, who has written several articles on the subject in international autograph publications, there are several poses of Barnum which feature different versions of his facsimile autograph with dates from 1885 and 1886. The autographs and the dates are identical depending on which version you are presented with and fluctuations exist only in the resolution or quality of the albumen photos created by the photographic studio.
The current eBay offering (left) matches other examples sold at eBay in June (center) and Cowans Auctions (right).
It appears that several auction houses have figured this out without using the services of a third-party authentication company like PSA. Wes Cowan, of Cowan’s Auctions offered an 1886 example and described it clearly as a facsimile signature. Even R&R Auctions, which is owned by PSA authenticator Bob Eaton, got it right when they offered another example identified as being a pre-printed signature in the photo. That Barnum facsimile signature sold for $160.
A similar cabinet photo in the collection of the Oshkosh Public Museum (bottom left) has the identical facsimile signature (bottom top) of Barnum as the eBay offering (bottom right and top). The "P" in both versions (highlighted in the red circles) exhibits the exact same skip of the pen found on the original prototype signature used by the photographer.
Eaton’s own facsimile signature, however, also appears on the 2005 PSA/DNA LOA certifying as authentic the Barnum signature currently being offered on eBay. Eaton’s signature appears along with the signatures of Steve Grad, Mike Gutierrez, Roger Epperson, Zach Rullo and John Reznikoff, PSA’s authenticator for historical material.
Without the aid of the TPA’s, other sellers and auctioneers have sold the same facsimile signatures as the real deal for the past few decades including several sold recently by Heritage Auctions and others sold by EAC Gallery, Signature House, Goldberg Auctions, EAH Auctions and Donald Steinitz Autographs. The Barnum cabinet currently being sold on eBay was also previously sold by Lelands as an authentic signature even before it had a PSA LOA.
Joe Orlando's PSA/DNA LOA notes examination of pen pressure and other characteristics of an "authentic signature."
What is most amazing about the current PSA-LOA’d Barnum photo on eBay is the fact that the information documenting that the Barnum signature is bogus is so readily accessible and well known among collectors and dealers. One veteran autograph dealer we spoke with said, “Most of this stuff was common knowledge thirty years ago. If someone over there would have taken the time to read a book about autographs once in a while they would have known this stuff already.”
Back in 2003 Cowan’s Auctions described a Barnum cabinet correctly as a pre-printed facsimile and, eight years later, the exact same cabinet photograph was offered for sale in a Heritage auction having transformed into an “authentic signature” of Barnum which sold for over $1,500. (Cowan estimated the value between $100 and $150)
In 2003 Cowans Auctions correctly offered this Barnum cabinet dated in 1885 as a pre-printed facsimile.
In 2011, the exact same Barnum cabinet previously sold at Cowans as a facsimile was sold by Heritage Auction Galleries as an authentic Barnum signature.
The Cowan’s to Heritage transformation illustrates how sellers, auctioneers and authenticators fail to examine the items they are presented with and how buyers knowingly attempt to pass off non-genuine items as real with the aid of the TPA’s.
Over the past few decades PSA claims to have authenticated millions of autographed items and with each stunning blunder similar to the “eBay Barnum facsimile” the company continues to lose credibility with thousands of prior authentications coming into question.
One hundred of the worst authentications rendered by PSA and JSA will be on public display soon. Stay tuned. P. T. Barnum will surely make the cut.
By Peter J. Nash
June 28, 2013
PSA/DNA includes a bogus signature of Cap Anson on its "Autograph Facts" page. The cabinet card shown is also stolen from the NYPL's Spalding Collection.
Last winter a monumental PSA/DNA error was exposed after the authentication company included a bogus signature of Hall of Famer Smilin’ Mickey Welch as an exemplar on its online “Autograph Facts” section intended to aid and educate collectors.
In addition, it was also determined that the signature displayed wasn’t just bogus (it was a period identification not a signature) it was also written on an 1888 Stevens cabinet photo that was stolen from the New York Public Library’s famous Spalding Collection.
The Welch card had a handwritten numeral “9″ written on its reverse and the remnants of a defaced NYPL ownership stamp. The “9″ (written by researcher Charles W. Mears) signified the card was once housed in “Box 9″ of the library’s photo archive before it was stolen in the 1970s along with several other Stevens cabinet photographs. After the Haulsofshame.com report was published, PSA/DNA removed the Welch signature and cabinet card from the Welch “Autograph Facts” page.
In our report we illustrated all of the NYPL Stevens cabinet photographs including the missing Welch example and four cards that had been recovered by the NYPL of Buck Ewing, Roger Connor, Mike Tiernan and Danny Richardson. Another missing Stevens cabinet of Cap Anson was illustrated and when displayed together all of the examples revealed that none of the cards were signed by the players, rather the cards featured fancy script period identifications of the subjects on the backs of the Stevens cabinets.
This illustration was included in our report from early 2013 showing that a Mickey Welch cabinet card was stolen from the NYPL and that it was not signed by Welch. The handwritten names on the cards are identifications, not signatures.
Despite having illustrated that all of these signatures are non-genuine, a review of the current PSA “Autograph Facts” page for Adrian “Cap” Anson reveals that PSA/DNA has also included the handwritten identification of Anson on the stolen cabinet card as an authentic exemplar of Anson’s signature.
The Cap Anson cabinet photo illustrated by PSA on its "Autograph Facts" page has the same handwritten "9" written on its reverse along with a script identification of Anson, not a signature. The larger space circled in red shows evidence of the removal of the NYPL ownership stamp which can be seen more clearly on the PSA website (inset).
The handwritten identification was clearly placed on the Anson card by the same person who placed the identifications on the Welch, Connor and Ewing cards. It is definitively non-genuine, and stolen property to boot.
Vaudeville theatre contracts alleged to have been signed by Cap Anson appear on PSA's "Autograph Facts" page and have been sold at auction with PSA LOA's.
The PSA problems on Anson, however, do not end with the identification on the stolen Stevens cabinet photo. PSA also includes a signature exemplar found on a vaudeville theatre contract which is also a non-genuine example. The contract bears a secretarial signature signed by someone other than Cap Anson and has long been considered non-genuine by a majority of dealers and collectors until PSA/DNA began issuing LOA’s for the questioned documents.
In the early 1990’s, Bill Mastro purchased a large cache of documents from Anson’s granddaughter including genuine personal correspondence written by Anson to family members as well as many secretarial examples executed on documents related to Anson’s work as a Chicago City Clerk. Also purchased in the group were the secretarial signed vaudeville contracts which Mastro sold in his auctions as authentic as early as 1997 in a Mastro & Steinbach sale.
Most of the Anson documents (authentic and secretarial) were purchased from Anson's granddaughter by Bill Mastro. Mastro sent the letter (above) to this writer in the early 1990's revealing his purchase and the discussion of the "various styles" of his signature.
Some of the Anson secretarial signatures exhibit similarities to authentic examples, but they are easily identified by experts and dealers familiar with Anson’s very distinctive handwriting. Author Ron Keurajian examines Anson’s signature in his book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, and notes that “Anson signed many letters and documents as city clerk. The majority are secretarialy signed.” Keurajian also comments on the theater contracts saying, “The contracts are signed “Captain Anson and Daughters.” I have seen two of them. Both were signed by someone other than Anson.”
On the left appear known authentic signatures of Anson ranging from (top to bottom) 1871 Rockford BBC contract (Illinois Hist. Society); 1883 (Chicago BBC Pay receipt), 1894 (Halper Hotel ledger), 1897 (ALS), 1906 Chicago clerk (ALS); 1906 (Herrmann Papers, NBL); and 1906 signature on card. To the right illustrated are known non-genuine and secretarial examples of Cap Anson's signature including (top to bottom:1889 Membership to Marlybone Cricket Club; NYPL Stevens cabinet photo; (2) c 1906 Chicago city court documents; (3) 1918 theater contract signatures; City Court document cut-2004 Topps card.
To illustrate Keurajian’s point it is useful to examine known genuine Anson signatures side-by-side with known secretarial examples. One noteworthy characteristic that appears to be found in almost all Anson signatures, regardless of the era in which it was signed, is the way Anson never closed his “o” at the end of his last name. The slant ans spacing between letters is also very consistent throughout his lifetime.
Upon close review, it is our opinion and the opinion of several experts we consulted with that the alleged signature on the stolen NYPL cabinet photograph and the alleged signatures on the 1918 theater contracts were not executed by Cap Anson. The prevalence of flawed authentications of Anson secretarial signatures is best illustrated by a 2004 Topps cut signature card featuring a non-genuine Anson cut from one of the Chicago City Clerk documents purchased by Bill Mastro. The non-genuine signature sold for close to $5,000 on eBay in 2004.
An authentic cut signature of Anson was used for an Upper Deck trading card (left). A non-genuine Anson secretarial signature was used for a 2004 Topps Tribute-Cut Signature Edition trading card. The bogus signature cut from a Chicago court document sold for $4,504 on eBay in 2004.
Considering our prior report about the alleged Mickey Welch signature on another stolen Stevens cabinet and PSA’s removal of that item from its “Autograph Facts” page, we can only surmise that Joe Orlando and Steve Grad actually believe the signature is an authentic Anson. Other PSA authenticators like Mike Gutierrez have even written letters of authenticity stating as much in the past. In 2005, Gutierrez certified the signature as authentic for his own MGA authentication company.
For the Anson signature on the NYPL’s Stevens cabinet to be authentic, the identifications and inscriptions on all of the other Stevens cabinets at NYPL would have to have been executed by Anson as well, for every single one is written in the same hand. A comparison of each of those examples of handwriting illustrates this assertion definitively. None of the cabinet photos bear the signatures of the players depicted.
The alleged Cap Anson autograph authenticated by PSA was written by the same person who inscribed all of the NYPL Stevens cabinets as evidenced by the distinctive "C" found on the reverse of each cabinet photo. The evidence strongly suggests the person who inscribed the cards was not Cap Anson.
The key to identifying the hand that executed each inscription is found in the distinctive capital “C” which is found in the alleged Anson signature and every other Stevens cabinet from the NYPL Spalding Collection. While PSA/DNA or Mike Gutierrez may argue that the writing on the back of the Anson cabinet is his actual signature, that opinion would have a better chance of being embraced if the other Stevens examples did not exist. It is likely PSA would argue that there are points of similarity in the Anson inscription and some authentic exemplars, but when examined in the totality of the multiple inscriptions it is clear that the handwriting bears no resemblance to the actual hand of Anson which can be examined thoroughly in surviving letters and correspondence.
PSA’s authentication of the Anson secretarial signature and its continued support of its flawed opinion suggests that the authentication company continues to present counterfeit items as legitimate because prior sales were based upon a PSA opinion. Admissions of errors by the authentication company would likely result in a chain reaction of unhappy buyers and sellers requesting refunds and other relief via litigation. Sources indicate that PSA continues to support problematic opinions to protect its bottom line and its relationship with big clients like eBay and PSA advertisers who operate the major auction houses.
Back in 2011, a report was published on this site alerting collectors that the Anson cabinet photo was stolen and asking anyone with information about the current whereabouts of the card to contact us. The article,Wanted By The FBI: Cap Anson, also reported that the signature on the card was not an authentic Anson and included an image of Mike Gutierrez’ LOA from 2004. Reports that the stolen Anson cabinet is still in private hands illustrates how ineffective the FBI’s four-year investigation into the NYPL thefts has been.
Albert G. Spalding’s Stevens cabinet card featuring his pal Cap Anson is the quintessential hobby “hot-potato” and its journey through the hobby will be chronicled further in this writer’s upcoming book which will shed additional light on how this baseball treasure has passed through the hands of Spalding, the NYPL, Rob Lifson, Barry Halper, George Lyons, Lew Lipset, Walter Handelman, Mike Gutierrez, Dave Kohler of SCP Auctions and two others who returned the card to sellers when they found out the card was stolen. Those two parties were told the cabinet card was to be returned to the NYPL. Only the person currently in possession of the card knows if additional names can be added to this “Who’s Who” list of hobby notables.
We asked NYPL President Tony Marx and Director of Media Relations Angela Montefinise if the stolen Anson cabinet has been returned to the library by the FBI or any other party. Late yesterday, Montefinise responded, “I am working on it right now.”
By Peter J. Nash
June 20, 2013
So-called experts Steve Grad and Jimmy Spence battle it out over one of the greatest muffs in authentication history.
Self-proclaimed authentication heavyweights Steve Grad of PSA/DNA and Jimmy Spence of JSA have lots of explaining to do for boxing autograph aficionados now that they’re engaged in a battle of opinions over a controversial Rocky Marciano letter which was consigned to the current auction at Lelands.
The letter appearing as lot 110 in the Lelands catalog was just withdrawn last night by the auction house even though it has a JSA sticker affixed to its reverse representing its alleged authenticity and attesting that Marciano signed the letter on what appears to be the boxer’s official stationary and letterhead. Lelands’ removal is likely related to the withdrawal of a similar letter on the same stationary back in March of 2012 by Paragon Auctions. In its lot description Paragon specifically noted, “JSA has informed us that these letters are secretarial.”
Asked about the withdrawal, Josh Evans, of Lelands said, “I just don’t feel comfortable. I’d rather err on the side of caution.” Evans said he first learned of the controversy from a client a few days ago.
JSA’s determination that the document was not actually signed by the boxing champ who hailed from Brockton, Massachusetts, is at odds with Spence’s own prior authentications and numerous sales of similar letters sold at auction with accompanying letters from Steve Grad and PSA/DNA, including another current auction offering on eBay. But boxing autograph expert Travis Roste has recently determined that the alleged Marciano signatures are not even secretarial and that the letters themselves are bogus and feature fantasy commentary attributed to Marciano voicing his opinions on Muhammed Ali, Sonny Liston and others.
PSA/DNA illustrates the bogus Rocky Marciano autograph as an authentic exemplar.
What is astounding, but by no means surprising considering PSA/DNA’s track record, is that Steve Grad and PSA President Joe Orlando feature one of the bogus Marciano signatures on the company’s “PSA Autograph Facts” page as an authentic Marciano exemplar. So, in a nutshell, JSA is battling its own contradictory opinions, while PSA/DNA marches on blindly promoting a forgery as a genuine signature on an item that has sold on average for over $2,000. Travis Roste told us, “There’s a lot of people who bought those letters who are going to want refunds. What’s Joe Orlando going to do?”
He might not do much, as PSA has recently ignored other monumental blunders including an authentication of an alleged photo and autograph of Baseball Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins. Despite a Haulsofshame.com report illustrating definitively that the man featured in the PSA-authenticated photo is not Jimmy Collins and that the alleged signature on the photo was misspelled “Jimmie” instead of “Jimmy,” PSA/DNA has continued to display the item as an authentic exemplar on the PSA Autograph Facts page. The company’s inaction in removing and correcting its flawed authentication is now being viewed as PSA engaging in what some see as outright fraud with intent since PSA has full knowledge they are deceiving their customers and the general public. PSA did remove non-genuine signatures of Smilin’ Mickey Welch and Candy Cummings after Haulsofshame.com exposed them in additional reports, however, PSA has continued to misrepresent the bogus Jimmy Collins photo as the real-deal.
A suited-up Alfred E. Neuman (center) resembles the real Jimmy Collins more than the bogus Collins photo (left). PSA head Joe Orlando (right) continues to fraudulently represent that the non-Collins photo is authentic.
Travis Roste provided us with several authentic examples of Marciano’s signature from his website AutographPlanet.com and they starkly contrast the signatures featured on the alleged letters being sold to collectors as legitimate examples. When compared side by side it is evident that the questioned letters exhibit a more uniform look spanning over the period of an entire decade while the authentic versions show changes over time in Marciano’s signature and exhibit certain characteristics that are not found on the letters.
Illustrated above on the left are authentic Marciano signatures (including contracts and legal documents) ranging from 1959 to 1969 (top to bottom. To the right are examples of the questioned Marciano signatures on the "Reinmuth Letters" ranging from 1960 to 1969 (top to bottom).
One of the most prevalent differences between the authentic examples and the signatures on the questioned letters is the way the ending “o” in “Marciano” is constructed. After examining a large group of letters Travis Roste told us, “You look at the end of the “o” in Marciano in the fakes and they are all the same, they meet up perfect with the circle. In the real Marciano’s, a lot of them flip over the top back to the left. You don’t see that even once in ten years of the signed letters.” Another element that is problematic relates to the formation of letters in his first name “Rocky.” Roste added, “In all the fakes, the “o” and “c” in Rocky are super small, 1/10 the size of the capital “R.” Some are barely visible but in real Marciano signatures, as shown, the “o” and “c” are normal size, about 1/4 to 1/5 the size of the capital “R” in Rocky. And all the fakes over the ten year purported period are all very small and all look the same. This is a huge red flag.”
We agree with Roste and are of the opinion that all of the Marciano signatures on the Reinmuth letters were executed in a hand different than that of Rocky Marciano.
Beyond the actual signatures, the problems with the letters extend to the factual content and even the identity the recipient himself. All of the questioned letters are dated between 1961 and 1969 and are all addressed to an alleged writer named William H. Reinmuth Jr. from a magazine called “Sports Quest.” In 2011, a selection of the letters made their way to John Cameron the author of the biography Redemption: The Life and Death of Rocky Marciano. On his website, Cameron first said he thought the letters were “remarkable, offering Marciano’s own insights into his career” but soon after thought that “there is something about them that sits wrong.” Cameron could not verify the authenticity of the letters because he could not verify the source. Cameron could not confirm the existence of “Sport Quest” and in relation to Reinmuth could only verify that the address on the letters did exist. Cameron even asked Rocky Marciano’s brother if he had heard of Reinmuth or the magazine and was told by Marciano that the letters “may not be legit.”
PSA and JSA have been authenticating the Marciano-Reimuth forgeries for years. To the left is the letter just pulled by Lelands and to the right is a PSA LOA issued in 2006 for a similar letter sold in 2013 at Juliens Auctions.
On his blog in 2011, Cameron wrote, “If these letters are fakes, then the author knows his stuff for on the surface the contents seem to shed little light on Rocky himself, yet with a little digging, the information is not that remarkable, most can be culled from research, biographies, interviews and the like.” Our own research reveals that a William H. Reinmuth was a professor of Chemistry at Columbia University and died in 1983 at the age of fifty-one. The New York Times reported that Reinmuth was survived by “his wife Joan, a daughter, Amy, and two sons, Jared and Kriston.” In one of the suspect letters Marciano wishes Reinmuth a Happy New Year in 1967 writing, “May you, Connie and little Eric enjoy.”
Haulsofshame.com contacted Cameron for his reaction to Leland’s pulling the Marciano letter from its current auction and the author said, “Just to let you know, I dug as deep as I could into these letters and I do not believe they are genuine.” Cameron added, ”Another thing that made me seriously contemplate the authenticity of these letters was the letterhead on each. Sure, Rocky had paper with a letterhead, it was his trademark in correspondences to writers and journalists. I have seen several letters from Marciano to other journalists plus some private correspondences and the letterheads on these are not the same as (those) purported letters, plus over the years the letterhead was prone to change, whereas those on the letters, regardless of claimed date, remained constant.”
Considering the serious problems with the handwriting itself and the questions regarding the authenticity of the source and the identity of the recipient, William Reinmuth, how could PSA/DNA and JSA have authenticated so many of these dubious documents? How could Jimmy Spence of JSA determine that they were “secretarial” letters rather than outright forgeries? The situation is reminiscent of the determination of Spence and JSA that a Babe Ruth letter accompanying an alleged lock of Ruth’s hair was a “non-malicious secretarial” when it was, in fact, an outright forgery which matched another Ruth forgery found on Barry Halper’s famous 500 Home Run Club signed sheet. The sheet featuring the forged Ruth signature was sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 by Rob Lifson and Halper for over $57,000, while the bogus hair and the letter authenticated by Spence was sold by Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions in 2007 for $38,000.
Despite being notified of their error, PSA still displays a bogus signature of boxer Bob Fitszimmons (bottom left) on its "PSA Autograph Facts" page (right). A genuine Fitszimmons (top left) bears no resemblance to the PSA certified fake.
The ineptitude of Spence and JSA assisted Lifson in selling bogus Babe Ruth hair to a customer who put his faith in Spence’s opinion just as another bidder had when Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions sold one of the forged Marciano letters in 2006 with a JSA LOA for $2,610. That letter was also authenticated by Steve Grad and Mike Gutierrez for PSA/DNA. PSA has a history of authenticating boxing forgeries as evidenced further on its PSA Autograph Facts page where the company also illustrates a forged/secretarial signature of boxing champ Bob Fitzsimmons as an authentic exemplar. An outspoken critic of PSA, Travis Roste has shown publicly that the signature on the website is not genuine and was executed by the boxers wife, but PSA and Joe Orlando have ignored that evidence and have continued to present the bogus signature as authentic. The non-genuine signature bears no resemblance whatsoever to other authentic signatures also appearing on the PSA Autograph Facts page dedicated to Fitzsimmons’ autograph.
Considering that PSA’s Steve Grad is the new authenticator for the History Channel show Pawn Stars, it would be interesting to see what he would say now if one of these letters walked into the Las Vegas store. Will PSA and Grad admit they have made astounding authentication blunders spanning over several decades or will they commit fraud as they have in the cases of the company’s authentications of the bogus Jimmy Collins and Bob Fitzsimmons signatures (just to name a few)? Since both PSA and JSA have authenticated so many of the bogus Marciano letters already, the revelation that they are forgeries will surely have collectors asking auctioneers and dealers for refunds and compensation. The entire episode will also serve as additional evidence for agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation who have been keeping a close eye on the business practices of both of the embattled authentication outfits. In addition to instances of “authentication malpractice” and mistakes, the FBI has spoken to several dealers and collectors who allege that both PSA and JSA have also committed outright fraud and have engaged in racketeering.
One hobbyist who asked not to be named summed it up like this, “I used to think that they were innocent mistakes, but its becoming painfully obvious that these mistakes are intentional, which crosses the line from stupid to illegal.”
Another collector said, “This Marciano mess shows that PSA and JSA just don’t know what they’re doing. They’re either not examining the items at all or they are just exposing their lack of skill. They are not experts.”
UPDATE (Sat. June 22): Haulsofshame.com has obtained copies of several of the forged letters from Rocky Marciano to William Reinmuth and here are some excerpts revealing more about the content:
“My opinion is that Liston took this kid Clay too lightly and didn’t respect his ability in any way. In the fight game you can never do this. No matter how much any opponent bragged or yelled before our fight I never took him for granted. Maybe Liston learned something the other night that could help him in the rematch. Take care and Keep punching.”- February 28, 1964
“To me a man’s religious choice is his own personal decision and should stay that way. I will tell you that I was as shocked as everybody else by Clay being so publicly loud about it. I don’t agree with the way he uses an opportunity to promote his religion and an upcoming fight all at the same time. I believe that just like politics and religion, a fighter shouldn’t use his popularity and fame to try and spread the word and influence others about his religious beliefs. It should be kept separate from fighting.” – January 9, 1967
“You are right about the growing public disgust for Clay regarding his decision not to fought in the “White mans’ army.” Yes I did take offense at that and some of his other statements……..I spoke with Joe Louis again the other day and he told me that he reminded Clay that he wound up as better and prouder American as a result of his hitch in the army. He said that Clay just went on about not being treated equal in his own country and that he wouldn’t take part in killing on foreign soil and that he would fight on this soil so that his people would be recognized as equals here.” -May 16, 1967
“Received Ali’s letter yesterday regarding his situation. He asked if I would be willing to write a letter of support for his Judge at the upcoming court date.”-September 19, 1967
“Received a call from the great Mickey Mantle yesterday and he had me doubled over laughing. He said I should have held out for more money and that I should have taken less money as long as I would go down in the history books as having a win over Ali. But you know that Mickey has a way of putting things in his own hysterical way!”- May 24, 1969
Above is a selection of some of the the forged Marciano letters that have appeared for sale at public auction.
By Peter J. Nash
June 13, 2013
This 1948 letter sent by HOFer Joe Tinker to Hall President Paul Kerr sold for $4,800 at auction but is believed to have been stolen from the NBL in Cooperstown.
The archives of the National Baseball Library are immense and include over 2.5 million items ranging from the 19th century paychecks of ballplayers like Mike “King” Kelly to the day to day correspondence between Hall of Fame officials, ballplayers and ballplayers’ relatives.
Over the years Hall of Fame librarians and executives have attempted to track down everything from memorabilia to cemetery plot documents in order to compile player files that contain as much information as possible for researchers and historians to utilize in their work. Whenever an item would come to the library related to a particular player it would undoubtedly end up in that players file for all to see.
Napoleon Lajoie’s relatives sent letters regarding the proper pronunciation of his last name; Ty Cobb’s relatives sent in documents about their grandfather’s career as a Georgia politician; Lou Gehrig’s widow sent letters about moving her late husband’s remains to Cooperstown; and lots of Hall of Famers sent thank you notes and requests to Hall of Fame Presidents and officials like Ernest Lanigan, Sid Keener, Bob Quinn, Paul Kerr and Ken Smith.
Ty Cobb wrote to Paul Kerr about travel plans for Induction Day while Joe Tinker thanked him for his “beautiful plaque.” “Home Run” Baker apologized for missing an Induction Day due to illness while “Wahoo” Sam Crawford confirmed that he and his wife would arrive in Cooperstown on a Monday before the 1957 Inductions. Most all of the correspondence that was received at the Hall’s New York City and Cooperstown offices was date stamped “RECEIVED” and afterwards made its way into some of the 16,000 general player files housed in the National Baseball Library. Although these documents were placed in the library files by dutiful historians and librarians like Lee Allen and Cliff Kachline, it appears that the only ones remaining in the archives today are the documents with relatively little monetary value. Meanwhile, the more valuable documents featuring the signatures and autographs of Hall of Fame inductees are gone—vanished from the files.
As part of our investigation into the multi-million dollar thefts of documents and photographs from the National Baseball Library we only had to look at completed auction sales to see where they all went. Since the early 1990s these very letters, all property of New York State the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, have been sold off by several dealers and auction houses. A 1948 letter written by Joe Tinker to the Hall sold for $4,800 at Legendary Auctions in 2008. In the letter Tinker expressed his gratitude for his Hall of Fame plaque and said, “My heart will still be with the Hall of Fame.”
Huggins & Scott is offering a 1946 letter sent by HOFer Nap Lajoie to the Hall of Fame requesting postcards (left). A Horner photo of Lajoie was stolen from the HOF library and sold at auction with the HOF ownership marks defaced.
Another one of those documents is currently being offered by Huggins & Scott Auctions which also recently sold several items believed to have been stolen from the Hall’s Frederick Long Papers Collection. This time they are selling a 1946 letter sent by Nap Lajoie to the Hall requesting some souvenir plaque postcards. Lajoie writes: ”Hall of Fame: Cooperstown N.Y.-Please send me cards for the amount of enclose checks would like some of the brown cards if you have them.”
Shouldn’t someone at Huggins & Scott have asked, “How did a letter addressed to the Hall of Fame from a Hall of Famer get out of the Hall of Fame?” In other cases shouldn’t auctioneers have asked, “Hey, how could a letter sent to the President of the Hall of Fame regarding Hall of Fame business and date stamped as received by the museum end up in an auction?” Did the auctioneers and authenticator Jimmy Spence of JSA ask these questions before this document was entered into this sale? Apparently not.
A letter sent by HOFer "Wahoo" Sam Crawford stamped "Received" by the HOF in 1957 was sold by Mastro in 2006 (left) but appeared first in a 1994 "Mr. Mint" auction. Alan Rosen (top right) sold a group of letters addressed to the HOF including the Nap Lajoie letter in the Huggins & Scott sale.
The letter currently up for sale and the others previously sold at auction were not consigned to the sales by the family members of the Hall Presidents and executives, either. In fact, the consignors and sellers of these items can show no provenance whatsoever related to the documents which all appear to have been swiped from the Hall of Fame files at some time in the 1980s as part of a massive heist of Hall history. The main targets of the thefts were the NBL’s August Herrmann Papers archive; Ford Frick and National League Papers; Frederick Long Papers and the internal files of the institution itself. Even player photo files have been looted as evidenced by a $20,000 Nap Lajoie Horner cabinet card that was offered for sale recently by Heritage Auction Galleries until we published an article at Deadspin identifying the stolen artifact.
Hall of Famer Ty Cobb was known as a prolific letter writer and the Cooperstown files were once filled with scores of missives sent from the “Georgia Peach” to Paul Kerr and other Hall Presidents including Stephen C. Clark. Cobb letters written to Kerr (some several pages long) have been appearing at major auctions for decades and chronicle Cobb’s travel itineraries for Induction Day, his health problems and his plans to bring his young grandsons to Cooperstown. The Cobb letters sent to Kerr have sold for thousands of dollars at public auctions including Memory Lane, Mastro, Lelands and Hunt Auctions. One of the earliest appearances of a Cobb letter to Kerr appeared as Lot #6 in Mike Gutierrez’ 1996 “World Series Auction” and also included Kerr’s carbon copy letter to Cobb from the Hall of Fame files in the Hall’s New York City office.
In 1996 a Ty Cobb letter to HOF President Paul Kerr (along with Kerr's carbon copy answer) was sold by Mike Gutierrez with his own LOA.
In 1989, it was Gutierrez who sold auctioneer Josh Evans of Lelands a Babe Ruth autographed photograph that was stolen to from the National Baseball Library and had the Hall of Fame accession number on the reverse covered with white-out. The incident kicked-off an FBI investigation into thefts at the Hall and Gutierrez became the prime suspect having also been accused by a person who accompanied him on a trip to the library with wrongfully removing documents from the Hall’s August Herrmann Papers. The anonymous eyewitness told the hobby newsletter The Sweet Spot and Josh Evans that he saw Gutierrez “steal a Nap Lajoie letter from the (August) Herrmann archive.” Evans has said that the witness described how Gutierrez, ”Would take ten original letters, photocopying them, returning nine originals and putting one original and nine photocopies in his briefcase.”
Ex-Hall of Fame library employee Bill Deane has said in a prior Haulsofshame.com report, “After Tom (Heitz) brought it to the attention of the brass, they said (Gutierrez) is not allowed here.” The ex-Hall of Fame official we spoke with stated that Gutierrez was banned from the National Baseball Library but the Hall refused to file charges or follow through with prosecution. At the time Hall officials had no idea how much material had been stolen from the library, including the letters to Kerr and other officials.
In 1994, Alan "Mr. Mint" Rosen sold a small group of documents addressed to the HOF and officials Paul Kerr and Ernest Lanigan.
Another significant group of these Hall of Fame documents appear to have surfaced in a 1994 SCD telephone auction conducted by Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen. In his February 28th auction Rosen featured letters written to Paul Kerr from “Home Run” Baker in 1961, Sam Crawford in 1957 and “Kid” Nichols in 1949 and another 1946 letter addressed to Hall historian Ernest Lanigan from Joe Tinker. Rosen also sold the same 1946 Nap Lajoie letter that Huggins & Scott is currently offering in their online auction. In his lot description Rosen noted the scarcity of Lajoie letters which he thought were, “Certainly worth more than a Jordan rookie.”
The letter written to Lanigan by Joe Tinker has superb historical content and in the auction description Rosen called it, “A fabulous letter that sends chills up and down my spine every time I read it.” Tinker tells Lanigan that he can not locate several trophies he had won since “most were given to my boys” and in addition to describing how he started playing ball in Kansas in 1889 for $35 a week he added, “I feel highly honored to be voted into the Hall of Fame along with my two pals, Evers and Chance.” The Hall of Fame files do still retain other letters written to Lanigan who regularly corresponded with players for biographical and statistical information in the capacity of the Hall’s historian. One such document that is still in the NBL files is a letter from Hall of Famer Hugh Duffy stating his belief that his Boston Nationals of the late 1890s were, “the greatest club ever put together–barring none.”
Another large group of twenty letters addressed to Kerr were sold by Richard Galasso Auctions in 1994 including letters written by Tom Yawkey, Billy Evans, Clark Griffith and one lot including twenty letters written to Kerr as Hall president from various MLB team executives and the Commissioner’s office.
The letter from Joe Tinker to HOF historian Ernest Lanigan (left) was stamped "Received" at the Hall of Fame offices in 1948 but it sold in a Mr. Mint auction in 1994. Still in the HOF files are many other letters to Lanigan like the one from Hugh Duffy (right).
According to the NBL’s ABNER database, the library still retains correspondence sent to Museum officials from Hall of Famers. A 1966 letter to Hall Director Ken Smith from Jackie Robinson shows he was unable to attend an Induction ceremony and a 1947 letter from Clark Griffith to President Stephen C. Clark thanked him for a birthday card.
The letter (above, left) written by "Kid" Nichols to HOF President Paul Kerr sold at auction in 1994. The letter to the right is also adressed to Kerr from Cy Young's neighbor offering to sell the HOF Young's jewelry. The letter is stamped "Received" and is currently part of the NBL archive.
When Stephen C. Clark died in 1960, Hall secretary and long-time Clark Estates employee, Paul Kerr, was named President and assumed that position until he retired in 1977. Over the years Kerr received correspondence from all sorts of people connected to the game of baseball and others who were related or acquainted with ballplayers and had artifacts or objects the museum desired. Looking through the general player files in the National Baseball Library there are hundreds of letters addressed to Kerr dealing with everything from acquisitions of artifacts to day to day Hall business.
The NBL files include hundreds of letters sent to Hall official Paul Kerr including one from an attorney investigating moving the remains of Lou Gehrig to a crypt in the Museum and other letters to Kerr from Gehrig's widow, Eleanor. (National Baseball Library, Cooperstown, NY.)
Strangely enough, the more desirable and valuable letters from the Hall of Famers he interacted with, including Ty Cobb, are no longer found in the Cooperstown files. Examples of letters to Kerr still found at the Hall range from offers of Cy Young’s jewelry from one of his neighbors to missives from Lou Gehrig’s widow and her attorney contemplating an offer to actually move Gehrig’s cremated remains from a cemetery to a proposed crypt in the museum at Cooperstown.
HOF Presidents and Directors (l to r): Stephen C. Clark; Paul Kerr; Ken Smith; & current President Jeff Idelson
Added to the growing population of documents which appear to have been stolen from the NBLs Herrmann, Frick, National League and Long collections, the internal documents addressed to the Hall of Fame presidents and officials make the scope of the 1980s heist of the Cooperstown archive even more remarkable. In light of the clear and convincing evidence, the question that must now be asked is what other donated materials outside of these collections have been looted as well?
We asked dealer Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen if he recalled where he got his stash of Hall of Fame documents for his 1994 auction and he responded, “That was 20 years ago, I have no idea.”
Huggins & Scott VP, Josh Wulkan, says the Lajoie letter he is currently selling came “from an estate of a long time collector who passed away.” This past February the auction house revealed that it was selling the collection of former employee Barry T. Malkin who died in October of 2012. Sources indicate that the Lajoie letter is from Malkin’s collection and that Malkin likely acquired the letter in the 1994 Mr. Mint auction or from a more recent purchaser. Lajoie letters have been known to sell in range of $2,000 to $5,000. When asked how Hall of Fame correspondence ended up in private hands or if he knew of the Hall of Fame selling their internal documents in the past, Wulkan declined to answer. Recently, Wulkan also failed to provide any answers regarding the provenance of two lots in his last auction which appear to have been stolen from the Hall’s Frederick Long Collection.
Hall of Fame spokesperson, Brad Horn, declined comment and current Hall President, Jeff Idelson, was unavailable for comment and travelling on business in California.
An advanced collector who is also a customer of Huggins & Scott told us, “I don’t know why they don’t just pull it, its addressed to the Hall of Fame for Christ’s sake. It should just be stamped “stolen” on it. Why do they even take something like that on consignment?”
UPDATE (June 13 9:30AM): Huggins & Scott VP, Josh Wulkan, responded in regard to the Lajoie letter and our report regarding the consignor and said, “The collection was not from Barry Malkin. His collection was sold in February.”
UPDATE (June 14 12:00AM): The Napoleon Lajoie letter suspected to have been stolen from the Baseball Hall of Fame was not withdrawn from the Huggins & Scott auction and sold earlier this evening for a hammer price of $2,100.
Earlier today, another Huggins & Scott employee contacted Haulsofshame.com and took issue with the inclusion of the name of the deceased collector identified in our report by sources as the former owner of the Lajoie letter.
At approximately 2PM on Wednesday we asked Huggins & Scott VP Josh Wulkan via email if the Lajoie letter was the former property of the deceased collector identified by our sources yesterday but Wulkan did not respond to our inquiry. Wulkan did respond, however, at 9:10AM after our story was already published on Thursday morning to inform us that the deceased collector identified in our report did not own the Lajoie letter. Wulkan claims the letter was owned by another long-time collector who was also recently deceased. We updated our report with that correction at 9:30AM. Explaining why he did not respond to our inquiry on Wednesday Wulkan said, ”I was traveling all day yesterday and the WiFi on the plane was not working.”
By Peter J. Nash
June 6, 2013
Alleged expert, Steve Grad, of PSA/DNA brings his skills to History Channel's hit show Pawn Stars this month.
Steve Grad may be the new on-air autograph authenticator for the History Channel’s hit show Pawn Stars, but a few decades ago he was better known for chasing down celebrities for their autographs and for working in the mail room for Federally indicted hobby big-wig Bill Mastro at Mastro Fine Sports Auctions in Chicago.
Grad actually started his career in radio as a sidekick known as “Psycho Steve the Slob” on “Mancow’s Morning Madhouse” show on WRCX 103.5 FM in Chicago. After quitting Mancow’s show in 1996, Grad had another short stint on the One-On-One Radio Network but left the broadcasting business to establish his own autograph and sportscard business.
Grad’s career as a dealer, however, was also short-lived and highlighted by his removal from the floor of the 1998 National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago. Grad was accused of attempting to sell forgeries from a push-cart and according to an eyewitness account was escorted from the Rosemont Exhibition Center by convention security. When asked about the incident in a court ordered deposition related to a 2006 lawsuit filed against Bill Mastro’s auction house, Grad did not deny the incident happened but instead stated he did not recall being ejected from the show.
In 1999, Grad gave up his business and went to work for Bill Mastro in his auction house mail room focusing on cataloging and research and in no time the hobby-kingpin was grooming Grad as an in-house autograph authenticator. Grad worked with other alleged experts like Mike Gutierrez and Jimmy Spence examining items submitted to Mastro for his blockbuster auctions. In a short time Grad, himself, was considered a full-fledged expert by Mastro and by 2002 moved on to work exclusively for Mastro’s preferred authentication company, PSA/DNA. By 2004, Grad was still authenticating Mastro catalog material including lots like this one:
Steve Grad Autographed Celebrity 8 x 10 Photo Collection (59)
Most of today’s hobby enthusiasts know Steve Grad in his current role as an autograph authentication expert for PSA/DNA. Very few people in the hobby know Steve in his past role as a very aggressive young man who haunted hotel lobbies, train stations, sporting and concert events, getting leading Hollywood and sports personalities to sign items for him (lying, pleading, begging… you name it, nothing is out of bounds when in-person signatures are ultimate goal). These 59 signed 8″ x 10″ photos are among some of Steve’s favorites. All are NM to NM/MT photos (49 color and 10 b/w) with bold “9-10″ Sharpie signatures. Seven of the photos are professionally framed and matted. Highlights include: Bob Hope, Jimmy Carter, Shirley Temple, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Milton Berle, Phil Hartman, Clayton Moore (Lone Ranger) and Charlton Heston. LOA from James Spence & Steve Grad/PSA DNA.
Steve Grad authenticated his own signed 8 x 10 collection for a Mastro auction in 2004.
With an accompanying Letter of Authenticity (LOA) issued by himself and his PSA authenticating partner, Jimmy Spence, the auction lot sold for $1,730. Mastro’s lot description suggests that Grad acquired every one of the signatures himself, so, the LOA was a no-brainer. It’s not known what Spence brought to the table in this particular authentication. What more did PSA/DNA need other than employee Grad’s word?
Grad’s claim that the signatures were from his own personal stash of “over 100,000 in-person autographs” was about all he really had to offer, having no formal training whatsoever in either handwriting analysis or forensic document examination. Even Grad admits on the PSA website, “It is not an exact science. You can’t earn a degree in autograph authentication. In this business, knowledge is acquired one way – experience. I have a passion for autographs.”
On the PSA website Grad also pays tribute to Mastro for putting him on at MastroNet without any credentials. Says Grad, “I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Dan Knoll and Bill Mastro. If it hadn’t been for them, I may have never had the chance to do what I’m doing today.” Despite Mastro’s support and vote of confidence as a hobby “expert,” Grad and Spence went on to leave their own marks with some memorable instances of authentication malpractice including a “magically appearing Honus Wagner autograph” on a 1939 Hall of Fame First Day Cover offered by Mastro in 1999. The item was first authenticated by Spence and Gutierrez for Mastro when the alleged Wagner signature was so light it was barely visible to the naked eye, but by the time it reached another Mastro/REA sale in 2001 Spence (for PSA) and Gutierrez and Grad (for Mastro) certified and graded the Wagner signature an 8 out of 10- as bold as can be. Was it magic or just some good-old hobby fraud?
Steve Grad poses with Bill Mastro (left). The magically appearing Honus Wagner autograph (certed by PSA) surfaced on an REA lot (center) two years after it was not visible on the same item authenticated by Spence and Grad in 1999.
Moving forward another decade Grad and Spence parted ways as Spence started his own authentication outfit known as JSA, thus leaving behind Grad as the top autograph guru at PSA’s main offices in Newport Beach, California. Today, Grad is known as PSA’s “Principal Authenticator” and is regularly featured in company-produced video clips showing off his alleged authentication skills for current and prospective customers pointing out forgeries of Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams and other more obscure Hall of Famers. Just last year Grad appeared in one such clip called, “PSA/DNA’s Steve Grad Uses Technology To Help Expose A Baseball Autograph Forgery.” In the video, Grad uses what PSA/DNA describes as , “different types of high-tech tools to help expose a Jesse Burkett autograph forgery.” In the clip PSA says that, “Grad shows the viewers one technique used to alter baseballs, in hopes of tricking an unsuspecting buyer – re-painting. In this video, Grad exposes the lengths some people will go to for a buck and illustrates why credible 3rd-party authentication is so important.”
Burkett’s signature is exceedingly scarce in any form with some of the only verifiable exemplars found in the Baseball Hall of Fame’s library as part of the August Herrmann Papers Collection. That being said, the alleged Burkett autograph appearing on the ball Grad was examining could have easily been identified as a forgery by any advanced dealer or collector without access to PSA’s “Pro-Scope” magnifier. Grad, however, wanted to show with the aid of his apparatus that the ball the forger used was one that dated to c. 1970 and had once featured the signatures of the New York Mets, which had been concealed and painted over. Grad wanted to prove 100% that the ball he examined was a forgery and he accomplished his goal. He didn’t, however, plan on opening a huge can of worms in the process regarding his prior authentications of alleged Jesse Burkett autographs.
Steve Grad examines on a video monitor what he thinks is an authentic exemplar of Jesse Burkett's signature. The signature is a forgery based upon an authentic example found on an 1890 pay receipt (inset). It is clear that the forged signature on the ball was modeled after the exemplar on the genuine document.
In evaluating the Burkett forgery on the ball Grad illustrates on his video monitor what he considers to be an authentic exemplar of the 19th century star’s signature on another baseball. It features a jet-black Burkett signature on a ball dating to the 1920’s that was sold at Robert Edward Auctions in 2007 for over $26,000 and accompanied by a PSA/DNA letter of authenticity written by Grad and Jimmy Spence.
There’s just one big problem with this Burkett ball: The exemplar used by Grad to out the other forgery is a forgery itself. Grad used a fake to uncover a fake, so to speak. Grad, Spence and the companies they represent have never been able to properly identify an authentic Burkett signature and have thus helped forgers flood the market with expensive bogus signatures of the man known to his Worcester, Massachusetts, friends as “The Crab.”
The forgery sold by REA features a style of signature Burkett would have penned in the 1890's, three decades removed from the time he could have signed the c 1920's baseball which would bear a much different signature if authentic.
The Burkett forgery sold by REA was based upon a known signature attributed to Burkett dating to 1890 and found on a New York Giant payroll receipt believed to have been signed by Burkett to collect his salary. It is the earliest known signature of the Hall of Famer who only played for the New York during one season in 1890 before he was picked up by Cleveland the next season.
The 1890-style Burkett signature bears little resemblance to his later autograph found on letters and documents dated close to twenty years after Burkett joined the Giants. (The 1890 Burkett pay receipt is an authentic document and has been identified as an item stolen from the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown, New York. Hall of Fame records show the document was donated in 1970.)
The placement of the 1890-style autograph on a baseball which appears to have been created decades later should have been a big red flag in the authentication process. The alleged Burkett signature is signed on a Tober “International League” ball that was likely manufactured in the 1920s. When asked whether the date of the ball’s manufacture was in the 1920s expert Brandon Grunbaum told us, “I would say more 1920’s, I wouldn’t say any earlier.”
Another point of reference that Grad and PSA should have utilized were authentic Burkett signatures signed in close proximity to the period the ball was manufactured. In his book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, author Ron Keurajian includes a genuine Burkett exemplar he tracked down in the files of Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass. The signature was found on Burkett’s contract to coach the Holy Cross baseball team in 1917 and bears little resemblance to the alleged signature placed on the REA ball. Considering the stark contrast, how could the REA ball ever have been issued a letter of authenticity? The signature on the ball also differs greatly from a 1908 example of Burkett’s signature illustrated on PSA’s website in an article devoted to Burkett’s autograph published on April 27, 2004. The other exemplar illustrated in the PSA article was the 1890 payroll receipt.
In the article, PSA also states:
“Only one lucky collector covets the sole front-signed check (name your price) drawn on The New York (Giants) Base Ball Club. Burkett actually signed this anomaly after the signature of Harry J. Boyle was scratched out. Occasionally, a signed Albertype (Artvue is impossible) plaque postcard ($2800 and increasing in value) is pried out of someone’s collection but beware of forgeries. This would be a prime target of the counterfeit hand. Signed bats, gloves and other exotic forms of signed memorabilia should be dismissed having but an astronomical chance of being valid.”
PSA left out the medium of signed baseballs as prime targets for forgery. Both Steve Grad and his former partner, Jimmy Spence, appear to have no idea what Burkett’s authentic signature or handwriting actually looks like. To demonstrate this point it is necessary to examine verifiable authentic exemplars of ”The Crab.”
A study of Burkett signatures from 1890-1923: (Top to Bottom) 1. 1890 NY Giant Payroll Receipt; 2. Letter to August Herrmann 1908; 3. 1923 Letter to August Herrmann; 4. 1917 Coaching Contract with Holy Cross College.
Burkett’s signature from the time period of 1908 to 1934 appears to be rather uniquely formed and carefully constructed. The capital “J” is formed in several different unusual forms and the last name “Burkett” shows more consistency. In his book, Ron Keurajian describes his handwriting as “pensive” with some “shakiness” and notes that “his signature evidences average flow without a rapid appearance.”
Jesse Burkett filled out a Sporting News information questionaire (above) in the 1930s and his genuine handwriting on that document shows the increasing illegibility of his signature.
In September of 1935, the New York Times reported that Burkett was working for the State Highway Dept. “flagging traffic on a highway job” in Southbridge, Massachussets, when he was “struck by (a) car.” Burkett was severely injured and hospitalized with what the Hartford Courant described as “severe bruises and a possibility of internal injuries.” From the time of his recovery in 1935 until his death two decades later Burkett’s signature is believed to have further deteriorated although it is very difficult to identify authentic examples. Post-accident Burkett signatures exhibiting a very shaky scrawl are easy to replicate for forgers and numerous alleged examples have entered the marketplace with PSA LOA’s. Keurajian notes in his book his inability to locate a Burkett signature “penned later in life.” He adds, “It is safe to say that nearly all of the signatures offered for sale are forgeries.”
James Spence authenticated the alleged B&W HOF plaque of Burkett signed in a very tremulous hand (top, left). Steve Grad and PSA authenticated another B&W plaque (top, right and bottom, left inset) that bears no resemblence to an authentic Burkett figure from the time period these cards were issued. Mike Gutierrez authenticated a similar plaque in his own auction (bottom, right).
In its 2004 signature study of Burkett’s autograph, PSA also focused on the likelihood that Burkett could have signed B&W Hall of Fame Plaque-postcards issued by the Albertype Company. PSA said such an acquisition would only be possible if, “a signed Albertype (Artvue is impossible) plaque postcard ($2800 and increasing in value) is pried out of someone’s collection but beware of forgeries. This would be a prime target of the counterfeit hand.”
But when it comes to the authentication of Albertype Black & White Plaques, PSA/DNA’s lack of expertise is most apparent. The plaque postcards of Burkett were produced only between 1946 and 1952, so Burkett could only have signed them in the seven year period leading up to his death on May 27, 1953. As indicated by PSA in its own article, “For several years, he (Burkett) was confined to his bed suffering from hardening of the arteries.” In his book Ron Keurajian references the plaques stating, “Forged Hall of Fame postcards are common.”
A signed Black & White Albertype is a great rarity and in 2008 an example authenticated by Grad and PSA/DNA sold at Heritage Auction Galleries for $22,705. Another sold at Hunt Auctions a year earlier for $33,000 and was slabbed and certified authentic by Jimmy Spence and JSA. Both examples commanded top dollar but both of the signatures bear virtually no resemblance to each other. The signature Grad certified looks nothing like an authentic Burkett signature and Spence’s has some resemblance but is so tremulous and shaky that it is almost illegible. How Grad and Spence could definitively state authenticity and write a supporting LOA for either Burkett is a mystery. All of this, when author Ron Keurajian states in his book that he has never seen “a signed Hall of Fame plaque postcard of any kind.”
$33k Burkett vs. $22k Burkett: How could these two alleged Burkett signatures have been signed by Burkett between 1946 and 1953? Steve Grad authenticated the bottom example, while Jimmy Spence (right) LOA'd the signature on top.
The authentications of both Burkett signatures on the Albertype plaques by Grad and Spence illustrate what some observers claim is outright fraud being committed by PSA and JSA. Many times the certifications appear based upon who submits the item and not on the merits of the item itself.
An individual who was interviewed recently by the Federal Bureau of Investigation about PSA’s business operations told us, “When they fail a first item they previously authenticated for another seller one could wonder if they were just incompetent. When the 50th one happens it’s not just incompetence (it’s) racketeering and collusion.” The same individual, who asked to remain anonymous, also confirmed that the FBI is interested in PSA’s authentication of questionable and bogus material for preferred customers and that the FBI specifically mentioned Grad and his boss Joe Orlando. He added, “The alleged authenticators constantly use forged or non-authentic exemplars while attempting to authenticate material submitted to them. This is just one reason why so many authentic autographs are deemed not genuine.”
Considering the illustrations we’ve provided of unquestionably authentic Burkett signatures it is even more troubling to have found other alleged Burkett items authenticated by Steve Grad and PSA/DNA. How does Grad justify authenticating this one:
This PSA/DNA authenticated "Jesse Burkett Cut" sold at Legendary in 2007 for.
Additionally, having certified the above as genuine, how does Grad justify his authentication of this one:
PSA certified this "Burkett Cut" as genuine when it was sold at Legendary in
While the second example at least resembles an authentic Burkett signature, the first is not even close. How could Grad and PSA have authenticated both?
When the PSA/DNA authenticated items are gathered for examination and compared against each other it becomes even more apparent that Grad is either incompetent or passing bogus items with criminal intent.
In selecting Grad as their new authenticator for the new season of Pawn Stars, the History Channel is likely hoping to avoid some of the embarrassing mistakes made previously on the show by alleged experts Drew Max on FDR, PSA’s John Reznikoff on Al Pacino and JSA’s Herman Darvick with “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
Little do Rick or Chumlee know about Grad’s expensive authentication blunders on Ed Delahanty, Albert Spalding, Mickey Welch, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Candy Cummings, Jimmy Collins, Rocky Marciano, and a host of others. Grad and PSA have even authenticated signatures on items manufactured after the alleged signers died including a letter dated ten years after WWII Admiral Nimitz passed away.
Considering Grad’s track record the producers of the show have reason to be nervous as Grad’s first episode is slated to air tonight on June 6. Hopefully, a Pawn Stars customer won’t walk in the shop with a photo signed by Babe Ruth to Gary Cooper or a $20,000 autographed photo of Hall of Famer Jimmy Collins. Grad authenticated a Collins photo for PSA but the signature did not resemble a genuine example; was misspelled “Jimmie”; and was not even a photograph of the actual player Jimmy Collins, bearing no resemblance to the all-time best Red Sox third-baseman. Grad also authenticated the Ruth and Cooper signed photo despite the fact that expert Ron Keurajian opined it was a fake and Cooper’s granddaughter stated the family never had such a photo in their possession.
Grad appears with the Pawn Stars on the History Channel (left)(Photo- Left Field Pictures). Grad authenticated a bogus photo of Jimmy Collins (center). The real Jimmy Collins (right) bears no resemblance to the man in the photo Grad authenticated.
Despite being notified of these facts via a past Haulsofshame.com report, Grad and PSA have chosen to keep the bogus autograph and photo up on its PSA Autograph Facts page which is alleged to be a service for customers who can view “authentic exemplars” of famous and collectible sports legends. Despite having knowledge the item is bogus, Grad and his boss Joe Orlando continue to commit fraud by exhibiting the photo to the general public as being genuine. PSA just can’t admit they’ve made a mistake, or is it more than that?
The PSA authenticated Burkett forgery which was sold at REA for close to $30,000 (bottom left) was used as a template for another Burkett forgery on a straw hat sold by Coaches Corner. The forged Burkett baseball pictured to the right was featured in the PSA video
In authenticating the forged Burkett ball that sold for close to $30,000 at REA, Grad and PSA have created an environment in which this forged version of Burkett’s signature has become a template for others which show up regularly in the infamous Coaches Corner auctions. The REA-PSA Burkett style forgery has even surfaced on an alleged “Jesse Burkett autographed straw hat” at Coaches Corner.
Travis Roste, a vocal critic of Grad and a boxing expert from AutographPlanet.com, has witnessed the legitimization of forged exemplars. In relation to the Burkett forgeries he told us, “Grad used other exemplars to authenticate the REA ball, and issued an LOA for it, then when he made the video, he uses that same ball as an exemplar. So, a specimen submitted for authentication by an auction house then becomes the exemplar. That’s how “exemplar creep” comes into play.”
Roste added, “A authenticates B. B then authenticates C. C authenticates D, and then D authenticates E. But if you compare A and E, they look nothing like each other even though each authentication in between might look somewhat similar. PSA just doesn’t know when to stop.”
Watch out Pawn Stars. If you’re not careful, you just might get bit by Steve Grad and PSA/DNA.
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By Peter J. Nash
May 30, 2013
Brandon Steiner (bottom left) hopes a Jackie Robinson glove will bring $1 million in his "Ground-Breaking Auction."
For Updates Scroll to Bottom:
The buzz about the movie 42 was growing and the upcoming anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s Major League debut on April 15, 1947, only added to the excitement. Hollywood’s take on the baseball pioneer’s story was ready to hit theaters and the number “42″ was creeping into everyday conversation and the mainstream media. On MLB’s special day in 2013 every Major League player would be wearing number “42″ in honor of Jackie.
Memorabilia hawkers were sure to capitalize on the 42 hype as MLB issued special “Jackie Robinson Day” baseballs and even TMZ joined the fray posting a celebrity Q&A called, “I Own a Cool Piece of Jackie Robinson History.”
Enter Brandon Steiner, the founder and CEO of the successful Steiner Sports Memorabilia company, the leader in the “hand-signed and game-used” memorabilia industry having partnerships with the New York Yankees and Major League Baseball. While the bulk of his business revolves around current stars Steiner recently ventured into the world of high-end vintage memorabilia and helped fatten up the college fund for Don Larsen’s grand-kids by selling the actual uniform Larsen wore for his “Perfect Game” in the 1956 World Series. The perfect Yankee pinstripes fetched a cool $756,000.
As the 42 movie premiere and “Jackie Robinson Day” approached, Steiner busted-out another World Series relic with a link to the Brooklyn Dodgers: The baseball glove Jackie Robinson used in World Series play in 1955 and 1956. The glove was slated for sale in a new “ground-breaking” auction of vintage memorabilia, a big step up from Steiner staples like Yankee Stadium dirt and the autographed balls that make their way into the gift-baskets of Derek Jeter’s one-night stands. Robinson’s glove was the type of treasure that the Steiner PR machine could pimp in every media category. Steiner was ready to do what he does best; convincing customers that they can’t live without whatever his company is selling along with the claim that the company “prides itself on 100% authenticity.”
On his first stop, Steiner spoke with Michele Steele on her ESPN show, Mint Conditon, and stressed the importance of the baseball treasure introduced as “a 1955 World Series game-used Jackie Robinson glove.” Considering its importance and its ties to an American icon, Steele said she’d never heard of such an item ever being sold and asked, “How do you know it’s real?”
Steiner responded confidently, “We photo match.” He added, “You gotta go through a lot of photos especially on this particular item, there’s no Jackie Robinson gloves that we know of especially with game use, used in the 1955 World Series. Probably even the last glove he ever wore. It’s a rare glove. We’ve done a lot of photo matches and everything works out.”
Steiner’s answer suggesting that he had identified the same glove in actual photos satisfied Steele who moved on to ask about the rarity and value of the leather mitt that her guest said could approach “seven figures.” Steiner said, “We’re hoping that the glove goes for over half-a-million and up towards a million. It’s going to be interesting to see the interest here with the movie coming out and that kind of excitement.”
The ESPN segment ended with Steele adding, “It would not be an understatement to say this is a Hall of Fame worthy item.”
A glove attributed to Jackie Robinson is included in the HOF collection (left) and is featured on a 2013 Pannini baseball card (right) endorsed by MLB and the Hall.
Steele’s observation was more revealing than she knew for in Cooperstown, New York, another Rawlings baseball glove attributed to game use by Robinson was sitting in a museum display case at the very same Baseball Hall of Fame she had referenced. In fact, the Panini card company (formerly Donruss) had just issued a trading card set featuring select Hall of Fame artifacts including Robinson’s mitt identified as the “Glove Used During The Official Game” on April 15, 1947.
Now, if there existed a million-dollar glove attributed to Jackie Robinson, the one on display at the Hall would surely fit the bill. The glove said to have been worn on his hand that historic day has been photographed and presented in Hall of Fame publications, but the claim made by Pannini on its card has its own issues as Robinson played his initial game at 1st Base while the Hall’s is a fielders glove. The card also states that the glove was used “during his Hall of Fame career.”
That issue withstanding, it appears that neither Steiner Sports or ESPN picked up the phone to check with Cooperstown to see what they actually had on display. On the day of Robinson’s anniversary Steiner’s Executive-VP, Steve Costello, brought the Robinson glove onto the set of Fox Business News to appear on the show “Markets Now” after the premiere of the movie 42 raked in $27.3 million, making it the number one movie in America sixty-six years to the day of Robinson’s historic game.”
Like ESPN’s Steele, the FOX host asked Costello if the glove he brought on the show was the real-deal, asking, “Are you sure of that?” Costello responded, “It’s the only Jackie Robinson glove in existence and as we were talking about earlier it’s been photo-matched. The provenance is the 55 and 56 seasons when he played both second base, third base and left field.”
The FOX host prodded further, “But how do you know for sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the glove? It’s a Rawlings, couldn’t it be just another Rawlings that looks almost exactly like it, how do you tell?”
Steiner claimed on ESPN's "Mint Condition" and FOX Business News that the Robinson glove was "game-used" in the 1955 and 1956 World Series. On FOX a Steiner VP said the glove was "unequivocally" Robinson's glove.
Costello assured him, “Well, it goes through a huge, huge process which goes along the provenance of when the glove was made, when Rawlings gloves were made in that era and on top of that this glove has actually been photo matched.”
Again, Costello, like his boss Steiner, was focusing on this concept of what they call “photo-matching” and said on camera, “And photo-matching is something that we have done with the Don Larsen jersey last year, and that means that it unequivocally is that glove.”
“100-percent,” the host asked? “100-percent photographic evidence,” Costello responded, despite the fact that neither he nor Brandon Steiner had furnished any of the alleged “photo-matches.” The FOX host even questioned whether the Hall of Fame might have a glove, or spikes, or a hat attributed to Robinson and Costello again answered, “There’s absolutely no (Robinson) glove there.” Said Costello, “Back then it was just a guy wearing a glove out to play and he wasn’t thinking of historical significance.”
Although the TV hosts were asking relevant questions about whether the glove was authentic, none of them asked where the glove actually came from. Where had this historic lump of leather been for the past half-century since Dem Bums finally became World Champs in 1955? What was the real story?
According to an April 10 article published on the Paul Fraser Collectibles Newsletter, “The glove has been consigned along with a game used bat and caps, which were reportedly discovered in a New York City building in which Robinson once rented an office.” On April 11th, Steiner issued a press release stating that a letter of authenticity was provided by Dennis Esken who was identified as being “renowned in the industry.” In the press release Esken said, “This rare gem is the only Jackie Robinson glove known to exist. It was discovered in NYC tucked away in a garage, wrapped in plastic.” The New York Daily News published their own report claiming that while “Most of the time it’s nothing but marketing hyperbole,” this time “Steiner Sports actually delivers.” Esken told the News, “It is definitely Jackie’s glove. It is real.”
Glove collector and expert Dennis Esken (far right) told Sotheby's that Barry Halper's alleged "circa 1960" Mickey Mantle glove they sold was made years later in 1964 or 1965. Esken's claim appeared in a 2003 NYDN article about the same misrepresented Mantle glove that Billy Crystal paid $239,000 for.
The primary source claiming that the glove was actually game-used by Robinson was Dennis Esken who is listed in Steiner’s lot description for the glove as the “lead Glove Authenticator.” Esken has been collecting game-used gloves for decades and has been identified by the Daily News in other reports as “one of the nation’s top glove experts.” In 1999, Esken made waves when he showed up at the Sotheby’s sale of the Barry Halper Collection and informed auction consultant Rob Lifson that a lot sold as a “circa 1960″ Mickey Mantle glove was actually manufactured as late as 1964. Esken says Lifson dismissed his claim as “just an opinion” having sold the glove to actor Billy Crystal for $239,000. But Esken says, “I told him it was a fact, not an opinion. He just didn’t want to hear it.” Several years later Rawlings senior glove designer Bob Clevenhagen backed up Esken’s claim when Crystal called him asking what year his Mantle glove was manufactured. According to the New York Daily News, Clevenhagen told Crystal that the glove was”Made no earlier than 1964 and most likely used in 1966.” The episode bolstered Esken’s credibility as an expert in the murky waters of memorabilia authentication.
But Esken isn’t just an authenticator, he’s a collector who has authenticated gloves in his own collection attributed to Mickey Mantle in 1956 and 1961, Yogi Berra in 1960 and Roberto Clemente in 1968 . Esken loaned his 1956 Mantle World Series glove to the Hall of Fame where it was on display for five years and recently loaned his 1961 Mantle glove to the Yankees who exhibited it in their museum for a year. Esken’s public display of his gloves at the Hall and Yankee Stadium has also bolstered his profile and likely contributed to his being chosen by Steiner to authenticate its Jackie Robinson glove. Or not.
Steiner’s lot description notes that Esken also applied “some restoration” to the glove, but they don’t mention that this very same Jackie Robinson glove was offered for sale at an American Memorabilia auction just last year on the anniversary of Robinson’s debut. The glove was offered in its original unrestored state with the same letter of authenticity drafted by Esken and dated October 12, 2012. The Las Vegas auction house offered the glove as a “Mid-1950s Jackie Robinson Game Used Glove” stating that it was the only Robinson glove known to exist and claimed “we have a photo of Robinson holding this exact glove as well as others that are available.” Alas, another claimed “photo-match.”
In 2012 American Memorabilia claimed that a 1956 photo of Jackie Robinson (top left) showed him holding the same glove they were selling. But a photographic comparison of the glove in restored and unrestored form (bottom, far right and center) reveals the glove has one punched hole in its index finger while the one in Robinson's actual hand has two (bottom far left). A view of the glove from FOX Business News shows one hole on the inside and another on the outside of the glove.
The photograph posted by the auctioneer was a famous image of Robinson packing up his equipment at his Ebbets Field locker after being traded to the New York Giants in December of 1956. Robinson is holding what appears to be a Bob Dillinger Rawlings model glove similar to the auction lot. In essence, the auction house was claiming that Robinson was holding their glove and that it was his last. But a close examination of the glove in the photograph as compared to the actual glove American Memorabilia was selling reveals definitively that both gloves are, in fact, not the same. The interior side of the index finger on the glove pictured in Robinson’s own hand clearly exhibits two punched holes for the glove’s lacing while the American offering exhibits just one hole. It’s an anti-photo match.
The glove didn’t sell in the 2012 auction failing to receive an opening bid at the reserve price of $75,000. Now, one year later, the exact same glove appears in Steiner’s auction with a minimum bid price of $42,000 and already has a current bid of $310,835 with only three bids having been placed. The chain of events has several executives in the auction industry scratching their heads. How’d this happen when there isn’t even one visible “photo-match” posted on Steiner’s website which advertises the glove as the one Robinson used in his “Final Season and 1955 World Series.” Steiner also indicates that the reserve price set on the lot has been met.
Robinson is shown wearing a Rawlings BD model glove in several images shot in 1956 by Hy Peskin (left) and others which are undated (middle, right). Teammate Don Zimmer (right) says that players used several gloves each season.
Players in the 1950’s were known to use several gloves each season usually breaking in one or two new ones at Spring training and then using them throughout the long 154 game season. One of Robinson’s contemporaries, New York Giant Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, recalls using several each season. Says Irvin, “Most of us used two or three, sometimes four, but once you got a good one you tried to stay with it. If you used it too much you’d wear it out. You wouldn’t practice with it, you’d make it your game glove.”
From his residence in Florida, Robinson’s former Dodger teammate in 1954, 55 and 56, Don Zimmer, told Haulsofshame.com that he also used several gloves. ”I’d use one, but I’d also have a back up glove and when I went between second base and shortstop I’d change gloves. I’d use a Lonnie Frey (Rawlings) model and switch to a (Wilson) A 2000,” said Zimmer. When asked if Robinson had different gloves for each position Zimmer said, “I don’t know for sure but I’d think he would have.”
Taking the claims of Irvin and Zimmer on face value it would seem prudent to research existing photographic evidence of Robinson wearing baseball gloves in 1955 and 1956 in order to support the rather lofty claims made by Esken and Steiner who also claim to have other photos available showing Robinson wearing the glove.
This Lelands auction lot shows an original wire photo showing Robinson before Game 1 of the 1955 World Series wearing a glove with an "open-web" contrasting the glove being sold by Steiner Sports.
Surprisingly, some Internet sleuthing quickly yielded a Lelands auction lot offered in 2006 showing Jackie Robinson and his teammates wearing their gloves just before Game 1 of the 1955 World Series. (Another search yielded a second current offering on eBay which reveals the photo was published just six days before Game 1 of the 1955 Series.) As can be seen clear as day, Robinson is wearing a glove with an open web unlike the Steiner glove which features a Rawlings closed “solid-V-Anchor” web. Robinson played Game one through Game 6 at third base for the Dodgers but was benched by Walter Alston in the deciding Game 7. Like Zimmer stated, its possible Robinson used this glove for play at a particular position during 1955. So, how could a definitive claim be made that Robinson wore the Steiner glove in the Fall Classic?
Taking it a step further, a review of the 1955 MLB World Series Video reveals several scenes featuring views of the actual glove Robinson was wearing on the field during actual games. At 10:08 of Game 2 in the video Robinson is shown wearing a glove with a web similar to that of the Steiner offering, but at the end of Game 3 and at 17:38 of Game 4 Robinson is shown wearing a full, closed web that differs from the Steiner glove. None of the views from the 1955 Series match the glove that Robinson posed with for the news photo published on September 22, 1955. If this exercise proves anything it’s that claims for a glove’s game-use need to be backed up with sufficient visual evidence and that players used multiple gloves during the course of a season and even in a single World Series.
To date no film or video clips definitively show the Steiner glove on Robinson's hand in the 1955 or 1956 WS. The clip to the left shows his glove at the end of Game 3 in 1955 and the screen shot of the film to the right shows him holding his glove at Spring Training.
That being said, the Steiner website provides very little to support their “photo-match” claims for the glove they hope will realize upwards of $1 million at auction. The only visual given is a scan of a page headed: “Dennis Esken-Glove Authenticator-The Ball-Stops Here,” which states the World Series game use and includes two very small undated images of Robinson wearing his glove at Spring training in Vero Beach, Florida. We called Steiner numerous times for the past few weeks requesting its alleged “photo-match” evidence, but received nothing.
After contacting Victor Moreno at American Memorabilia, we were referred to Dennis Esken who provided us with larger files of the two images he claims prove that Robinson actually wore the Steiner offering. The overall basis for his claim is the number “42″ written in black ink on the right side of the glove’s strap to the left of the Rawlings label. (The glove was missing its original Rawlings label so Esken attached a makeshift replacement patch “for aesthetic purposes.”) Esken claims that the glove Robinson is wearing at Vero Beach depicts the same handwritten “42″ that is found on the glove strap of the Steiner offering. The enlargement he provided showed a “42″ placed in what appears to be the same section of the glove as the Steiner glove.
(Top, left) Close up of the "42" written on the glove Robinson is wearing in an undated photo taken at Vero Beach, FL. during Sprint training (top, right). Glove expert Denny Esken claims the "42" is a "photo-match" to the Steiner offering (Bottom). (Enlargement Courtesy of Dennis Eskin)
Esken knows his gloves and no doubt can also identify which models Robinson was known to wear. Photos from the period show him wearing several different models in images taken during his Dodger career. As for the photo he says supports his claim Esken says, “The photo isn’t dated but I know that the glove was made in 1954. That photo is from 1955 or 1956. The glove isn’t brand new.” Esken believes he may have received the glove in Spring Training. He adds, “The glove is also a “U” laced palm. Therefore, I don’t really need a photo to date it like other authenticators.”
Esken claims to have knowledge of certain glove nuances that were incorporated by Rawlings glove makers on examples for certain players. Esken is unwilling to share much of that knowledge publicly as he claims that such information would aid forgers trying to create fraudulent game-used items. What Esken also won’t answer, however, is where the Robinson glove actually came from and who consigned it to the American Memorabilia auction in 2012. All he told us was that it “was found by an old Russian woman in a building that Robinson once leased office space.” Steiner VP Brett Schissler told the Daily News that the glove was accompanied by a bat (also in the Steiner auction) and a hat that the News reported were all given by Robinson to “a New York area-family he leased office space from after he retired from baseball.” The News also reported that the family “sold the glove to a collector who consigned it to Steiner.”
When the glove appeared for sale in 2012 the owner of the glove under the name “JRMemorabilia” posted a message at CollectorsWeekly.com on its “Show & Tell” message board and stated, “This glove has been in my family for years along with 3 other items. It has been examined by experts and it is one of our family’s prized possessions.” The owner mentioned that the glove had the “iconic jersey number “42″ written in black felt tip on the intact wrist strap” and the only comment on the post was left by American Memorabilia telling collectors they could click on an auction link and bid on the glove. The owner also posted a Robinson bat on the site stating, “PSA GU 9 Jackie Robinson game used bat. It has been in my family for a few years along with three other items. It is one of our most prized possessions.”
The owner of the Robinson posted this message at CollectorsWeekly.com under the name JRMemorabilia when the Robinson glove was open for bids at American Memorabilia.
Who was the mystery owner of this small group of items attributed to Jackie Robinson? Was it the old Russian lady and her family or someone else? And did they own a parking garage or the building Robinson leased office space in or perhaps both? Did the family sell the glove to the “collector” before the American Memorabilia sale or were they the consignor? Neither Victor Moreno or Dennis Esken are willing to reveal the details. Moreno told us he was not at liberty to disclose the identity of a consignor or details of a “private transaction after an auction.”
Still, even with the most solid provenance from the player himself or his family, it is extremely difficult to actually prove a specific player ever used a glove on the field in an actual game or for a certain period of time. Unless a glove has a particular mark or imperfection that is readily identifiable, like the written “42″ on the Steiner glove, it is tough to distinguish iron-clad authenticity. When Steiner sold Don Larsen’s Perfect Game jersey last year the authentication involved comparisons between the pinstripe alignment of the jersey against photos of Larsen from the game in 1956. Every point of analysis was a match. It was the opposite outcome of a situation that arose last month when Haulsofshame.com broke a story about the million-dollar jersey alleged to have been worn by Reggie Jackson when he hit three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. Although the jersey was consigned by Jackson, himself, the pinstripe alignment was not the same as what appears on the Game 6 video of Jackson hitting each home run. Sports Cards Plus, which featured the jersey on the cover of its catalog, pulled the jersey from the sale.
As stated, gloves are more difficult to identify on the field at a certain time. The photo provided by Eskin suggests that the Steiner glove is the same Rawlings BD model that Robinson used and has the number “42″ handwritten on the glove strap in a space that appears to be the same as the “42″ in the photo. But, unlike Yankee pinstripes, it is not possible to definitively confirm that both of the numbers written on the glove and this photo are the same. The angle of the photo and the resolution of the image are not enough for Esken or Steiner to say the glove is “unequivocally” Robinson’s. It does look like it is the same glove, but considering the secrecy behind where the glove originated, you still have to consider that someone may have tracked down the right model glove and forged the “42″ in the same spot using period photos as a guide.
Based upon Esken’s own analysis, the handwritten “42″ makes or breaks the glove. But with an unverified “photo-match” from an undated Spring Training photo it is difficult to see how Steiner can claim game use in the 1955 and 1956 World Series, let alone an unequivocal claim that it was once owned by Robinson.
With an alleged current bid topping $300,000, someone out there is really rolling the dice on that handwritten “42″. There had to be other photographs showing Robinson wearing a Rawlings BD model glove with a 42 written on it. There had to be some more supporting evidence to justify the Huffington Post publishing an article stating, “The Market For Jackie Robinson Memorabilia Soars.”
An undated photo of Robinson in a game at Wrigley Field shows a clearer and more definitive 42 on his glove (left,top right). The 42 appears to match the number on the Steiner offering (bottom right) and the undated Esken photo of Robinson at Vero Beach (center).
After reviewing perhaps one hundred more photographs of Robinson we stumbled onto Bill Burgess’ excellent website Baseball Fever and found posted what appears to be Robinson playing third base in a game wearing the exact same glove Steiner is offering. The ivy on the outfield wall reveals the game was at Wrigley against the Cubs, but at first glance all you can see is that Robinson is wearing what looks like a Rawlings model glove with an Anchor-web. It wasn’t until we enlarged the image that we realized the 42 was present and it wasn’t until we turned the image upside down that we were able to see that this 42 was strikingly similar to the Steiner offering. Without a high-resolution image of the 42 it is still difficult to reach a definitive conclusion. Burgess had no information that indicated when the photograph was taken.
Placing Robinson on the field in one undated photo at Wrigley (and posing at Vero Beach in another), however, is a far cry from establishing that the same glove was “game-used” during the 1955 and 1956 World Series. The video tape review of the 1955 Series has already revealed that Robinson wore an open-web glove in Game 2, but how could anyone ever prove it was this same glove considering how many gloves Robinson was known to use in the course of a season? Even proving that a handwritten 42 on a glove is a “photo-match” isn’t quite enough. We even found Robinson wearing another 42 glove in yet another undated photo from the same time period.
This undated Getty image of Robinson (top left) shows him wearing a Rawlings BD model glove with a "42" written on the strap. An enlargement of the image (left) shows that the handwritten numerals contrast the 42 on the Steiner glove (inset, top). Is it possible this glove could also be the one being worn in the "photo-match" utilized by Steiner? (bottom,left)
A Getty image shows Robinson posing at Spring Training and resting on his knee is a glove featuring a jet-black 42 on what appears to be another Rawlings Dillinger model. When that image is enlarged and compared to the Steiner glove’s 42 it is evident that both gloves are different. Two different gloves with two different 42’s. Was this second glove used in the 1955 or 1956 World Series, too? Without verifiable proof, it is impossible to say. To say either glove was used in the World Series without providing any additional proof is a misrepresentation. You also have to consider the possibility that the Spring training “photo-match” Esken found is actually this glove and not the Steiner offering. With some more research, maybe the same 42 will be unearthed, captured on film or on a photograph taken on the field in October of 1955 or 1956. Or maybe not.
Don Zimmer remembers how he and Robinson used to mark their gloves with numbers or initials using a laundry marker on the strap. ”Jackie and us guys would put the numbers on the gloves so they wouldn’t get lost. Back then we wouldn’t bring them in the dugout, we’d leave them on the field at the end of the inning. Sometimes guys would do crazy things and take the glove and put shaving cream or a garden snake in it.”
Hopefully the $310,000 bidder going after the Robinson glove won’t fall victim to a more serious surprise and a false sense of security thinking that he’s purchasing what Steiner, ESPN and FOX have already advertised as the actual glove Jackie wore when Dem Bums finally brought a title back to Brooklyn. For now, the evidence just isn’t there to support such claims.
When we asked Dennis Esken if he overreached in his 2012 LOA with the claim of World Series use in 1955 and 1956 he said, “They (Steiner) didn’t ask me for anything. They didn’t ask me for the ones (photos) I had. They just want to sell it. They want to make maximum profit, that’s all the auction houses want to do.” According to Esken, Steiner didn’t conduct the photo-matching they claimed on ESPN and FOX, they just used his old LOA. Esken also said he’d send us any other supporting photos he could find. Calls yesterday to Steiner auction rep Michael Kleinman and the Steiner Media office were not returned.
Dennis Esken, who is identified on his LOA as a “renowned glove expert” summed up the entire Robinson glove mystery with this: ”It’s the perception of these collectors. Perception becomes reality.”
UPDATE (May 31): Glove collector and expert, Dennis Eskin, contacted Haulsofshame.com after this article was published and wanted to add to his previous comments. He said: “I tried to accommodate you the best I could have. I do not give out my photos for public knowledge. They can research just like I had to! The Jackie Robinson glove is the real deal. The new owner of that glove can meet me and will get all the details. He is the only one that is entitled to it. He paid for that along with the glove.”
UPDATE (May 31 5:55 PM): STEINER SPORTS RESPONDS TO HAULS OF SHAME REPORT ON $310,000 JACKIE ROBINSON GAME-USED GLOVE
In a telephone conference this afternoon, Steiner Sports CEO, Brandon Steiner, and Vice President, Steven Costello, responded to the May 30 report published by Haulsofshame.com about the auction lot alleged to be a game used glove used by Jackie Robinson in the 1955 World Series and the end of his career as well. Both Steiner and Costello stated that they relied solely on the expert report issued by Dennis Eskin and that they had not conducted their own independent authentication of the glove. Costello said, “Steiner is very committed to authenticity and we always rely on experts. We were told Dennis is the leading glove authenticator in the country.” In regards to the claim that the glove featured in the auction was the only Robinson gamer known to exist Costello added, “We called the Hall of Fame to check that and the Hall said they did not have a Robinson glove on exhibit . I believe FOX also called to check that too.” Steiner and Costello were unaware of the Pannini trading card featuring the Hall’s Robinson glove until they saw our published report.
When asked whether the claims of game use in the World Series of 1955 and the claim that the glove was used in 1956 and the end of Robinson’s career Steiner and Costello agreed that the information revealed in the report illustrated that the claims made by authenticator Dennis Esken were not verifiable. Costello said that the auction lot description would be updated to reflect the new information that had been presented. Costello also stated that the additional photo revealed in the article, “Shows Robinson actually wore the glove.”
An exhibit case at the Hall of Fame (left) used to include a glove attributed to Robinson, but is not currently on exhibition. Robinson wore a first-baseman's mitt in 1947 (right).
Brad Horn, a spokesperson at the Baseball Hall of Fame, was unavailable for comment and on vacation until June 3. Costello and Steiner also said they had someone in Cooperstown visit the museum today to confirm that a glove attributed to Robinson was not on display in the museum. It is likely the glove was removed from the exhibit to be photographed for the trading card.
In addition to the Robinson glove believed to be included in the Hall of Fame’s collection, New York auctioneer, Josh Evans, of Lelands, also told us in an interview that he had handled another game used Robinson glove. Said Evans, “I sold a glove, the first baseman’s glove seen in the famous and memorable photo taken in Robinson’s den.” It is believed that was the glove Robinson used in his first game for the Dodgers in 1947. Over the past few decades,Lelands has handled numerous items consigned directly by Robinson’s widow, Rachel Robinson, and the Robinson estate.
UPDATE (June 3): The Jackie Robinson Game Used Glove failed to receive another bid and sold at Steiner Sports “Ground-Breaking” auction for $373,000 (including buyers premium). Despite acknowledging that there was not sufficient evidence to support claims the glove was used by Robinson in the 1955 and 1956 World Series, Steiner also failed to update or correct the lot description. Steiner started the bidding at $42,000 and noted a secret reserve price was in place. After the auction opened for bidding at the beginning of May only three bids were executed and the bid escalated to $310,000 with Steiner noting that the reserve price had been met.
The Steiner final price failed to pass the the prior record price for a glove sold at auction set by Barry Halper when he sold Lou Gehrig’s alleged “Last Glove” at Sotheby’s in 1999 for $387,500. Despite Halper’s claims regarding that glove, Gehrig’s authentic last glove was on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame as a donation from the Gehrig family. Halper purchased the glove from Gehrig’s teammate Babe Dahlgren, but inconsistencies in the stories told by both Dahlgren and Halper suggest that the glove was misrepresented and a six-figure fraud.
(Considering the potential value and historical significance of an artifact like Jackie Robinson’s World Series glove, we’d like nothing more than to help prove this glove is the one, so if anyone has any other photographs, film or supporting documentation please forward it to: Tips@Haulsofshame.com )
Illustrated above are excerpts from Dennis Esken's 2012 LOA for the glove he identified as being worn by Jackie Robinson in the 1955 and 1956 World Series.
Here is a Gallery of Images Showing Jackie Robinson Wearing Baseball Gloves Which We Utilized For Research Purposes:
Images From c.1945-1950
Images From c. 1951-1954
Images From c.1954-1956