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.
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
By Peter J. Nash
May 24, 2013
This photo of Babe Ruth and Gary Cooper is believed to have a forged Babe Ruth inscription but was sold anyway at REA last weekend.
Despite the published opinion of author Ron Keurajian stating that it was bogus and a supporting statement from actor Gary Cooper’s daughter, Marie Cooper-Janis, indicating that her family never had such an item in the family-held “Cooper Collection,” the controversial “Pride of the Yankees” photo, allegedly inscribed by Babe Ruth to Cooper, was sold by Rob Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions last weekend for a final sale price of $11,850. Lifson and REA will pocket approximately $3,700 in commissions on the sale of the photo said to be a counterfeit. As stated in REA’s auction rules, all sales are final.
The REA sale price was considerably less than the price realized when the same photo sold previously at Mastro Fine Sports and Legendary Auctions in 1999 and 2010 for close to $25,000 and $15,600 respectively.
That plunging price could be the result of two Haulsofshame.com published reports indicating that the alleged signed photo was a counterfeit and was supported by the opinion of Keurajian who identified the very same item as a fake in his autograph handbook, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide (McFarland). Keurajian refers to a specific forger in the book and states, “He (the forger) has gone so far as to create a forged 8×10 photo inscribed to movie star Gary Cooper.”
-Ralph Gary Brauner had the high bid of $9,000 on the photo at REA until he read a Hauls of Shame report about the Ruth-Cooper photograph and requested that the auction house retract his bid. Auction President, Rob Lifson, denied that request and Brauner proceeded to contact the Newark office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to report REA’s sale of the questioned item.
In regards to his dealings with REA and Keurajian’s published opinion, Brauner told us, “When I spoke to them (REA) I was told it is whom you choose to believe. I did not mention his (Keurajian’s) name. It is the old story if you were not there for the signing you can not be totally sure.”
As for his contact with the Newark office of the FBI, Brauner said, ”I spoke to the FBI when I first contacted you and I was told the incident of the photo was not big enough for their involvement. Obviously they did not figure the forger may have signed hundreds of things.”
Subsequently Brauner contacted an FBI agent in the New York City office and says the agent responded to his request via email. Says Brauner, “I emailed him and said I thought it should be pulled.” The agent, however, did not respond to him after that email exchange. The collector also posed the question, “I wonder why any of the later owners got rid of it so soon, buyers remorse? Or maybe they became more knowledgeable, so to speak.”
-Babe Ruth’s own granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, also reached out to an FBI agent to discuss the Cooper-Ruth photo and other suspect Ruth items in the REA sale. Unlike Brauner, Ruth’s granddaughter never received a call back from the FBI agent. Says Ruth Tosetti, “Seeing how serious this problem is with forgeries of my grandfather’s signature, I’m very disappointed that the FBI didn’t follow up and respond to this situation.” Tosetti had been in contact with the same agent on several occasions to discuss issues ranging from Babe Ruth’s stolen will (which has been recovered), Ruth’s World Series rings which vanished at the time of Claire Ruth’s death and the proliferation of Ruth forgeries in the memorabilia marketplace.
Sources familiar with FBI operations told Hauls of Shame that since a March 1st announcement of major budget cuts made by FBI Director, Robert Mueller, some investigations, including those focusing on the baseball memorabilia trade, may have suffered as agents and their cases experienced significant cut-backs. That would be good news for the baseball memorabilia forgers and other assorted fraudsters who operate nearly scott-free in the widely unregulated billion-dollar memorabilia industry.
-Bill Mastro was the former owner of the tainted Cooper-Ruth photo which was sold in 2010 as part of the former hobby-king’s collection. Mastro is currently under Federal indictment as a result of a multi-year FBI investigation and awaiting a court date in Chicago Federal Court to see if Judge Ronald A. Guzman will accept the terms of a plea agreement that has already been tossed out of court multiple times. Sources indicate that the Judge is said to want a stiffer penalty for Mastro and may want him to provide additional information about his former employees and other hobby entities including authentication companies like PSA/DNA and JSA. Mastro’s new court date is set for May 31.
Experts believe the 1932 U. S. Caramel card of Babe Ruth (left) bears an authentic signature while the 1933 Goudey Ruth card sold by REA last week exhibits a Ruth forgery.
-Jimmy Spence is Rob Lifson’s preferred authenticator and the recent auction conducted by the Watchung, New Jersey, auction house was filled with problematic Babe Ruth items accompanied by JSA LOA’s.
Case in point is the 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth baseball card alleged by JSA and REA to have actually been signed by the Bambino. The card sold for over $20,000, but experts tell Haulsofshame.com it is a forgery that contrasts an authentic signature of Ruth which graces a 1932 U. S. Caramel card sold at Superior Auctions in the early 1990s.
The Ruth signature on REA's offering (left) appears similarly non-genuine as specimens appearing at Heritage (center) and Legendary (right).
-JSA and REA stood behind several highly questionable baseballs alleged to have been signed by Babe Ruth. One of which (also bearing a signature of Lou Gehrig) sold for over $25,000 despite the fact that experts say the Ruth signature appears to be a secretarial signature similar to those mentioned in Part 4 of the Hauls of Shame “Operation Bambino” series.
One collector questioned a similar ball sold by Heritage last month for $96,000 (pictured above, center) and questioned JSA directly as to how they could determine the signature was genuine when it contrasted another in the same sale. The collector, who requested anonymity wrote to JSA stating, ”I looked at the Ruth autograph and the way the “R’s” are signed are completely different when comparing both balls! You are the “expert” but to me it looks like each ball was signed by a different person? I do not want to throw away a large amount of $$, how do you explain this?”
-Wade Hampton of JSA replied to the collector stating, “The 2 baseballs that you referenced were signed in substantially different eras. The first ball is an on the run signature of Ruth and Gehrig from their playing days and the second is from 1940s after Ruth had long retired. Signature(s) change and evolve as is the case with these Ruth examples. ”
So, JSA has now added Babe Ruth “On-the-run” autographs to their authenticating repertoire.
-Dan Brouthers’ alleged signature on an “ex-Halper” baseball fetched close to $48,000 in the REA sale. That ball and another allegedly signed by John M. Ward were identified as forgeries by experts but still sold for big-bucks. The Ward ball sold for close to $20,000. REA’s “enhanced” baseballs signed by the likes of “Sliding” Billy Hamilton and Roger Bresnahan sold for $7,110 and $5,925 respectively. The “enhanced” Frank Chance ball failed to receive an opening bid at $1,000 even though REA described it as “one of the holy grails for any Hall of Fame single-signed ball collector.” The bids placed on these balls, despite our warnings to collectors, is proof that vintage single-signed baseballs are the hobby’s most treacherous collectible. Credit Jimmy Spence and his “video spectral comparator” for creating a new collecting category.
-Christy Mathewson’s Won In The Ninth sold at REA for a hammer price of only $6,500. The book has been known to sell for upwards of $20,000, but reports illustrating experts opinions that these Matty signatures are secretarial appear to be making some headway. Nonetheless, another Matty is currently being offered by Legendary without the book. The secretarial Mathewson signature is encapsulated in a PSA/DNA tomb with a bid of $7,000.
REA withdrew a group of alleged Babe Ruth autographs and the 1863 Harry Wright cricket CDV purchased by Keith Olbermann in 2000.
“First Baseball Card” Flop
-Keith Olbermann purchased the 1863 Harry Wright Grand Match cricket CDV from MastroNet and REA in 2000 and sources indicate that he was also the consignor to the REA spring sale. REA announced that the Wright CDV was withdrawn at the request of its consignor but gave no particular reason. Olbermann is mum on the subject and has not responded to a request for comment. At the time the CDV was pulled it had not received its opening bid of $50,000. Haulsofshame.com has since uncovered additional information suggesting that the Wright CDV and photo album, sold at Butterfield & Butterfield in 1997, may have been part of George Wright Collection donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1941. Stay tuned for additional coverage.
The large 11-lot group of JSA-authenticated photographs alleged to have been signed by Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner was also withdrawn from the REA sale at the request of the consignor. The signed photos, like the Cooper-Ruth photo, were identified as forgeries by several experts and sources indicate that Lifson and REA withdrew the items to save face after its consignor’s provenance story began to unravel. The consignor, Dean Laigle, told us his side of the story and why he says the lots were removed:
“When my mother gave them to me, she knew I was a huge baseball fan and she barely knew who Babe Ruth was and had no reason to keep them. She didn’t even know they had any value to them at all. We come from a fairly large family and most of my relatives were after them so they could sell them and make a quick buck. I told my mother that I would hold on to them and protect them for her if she ever wanted them back for whatever reason. When Rob Lifson asked me to write the LOP, I did so with the expectation that my name or my mother’s name would not be used. He called me one day and said he just needed some information to verify that I am who I said I am and that my family actually exists. I gave him my mother’s name and all her important information so that he could privately check up on us. I asked him not to contact my mother because she did not know I was trying to auction them off. My mother’s home recently went into foreclosure and she cares for my brother who has MS. She is not in the best of health herself I thought she could use the money to help get a caretaker for him and possibly get her home out of foreclosure. Instead, he contacted her almost immediately. My mother read the LOP I wrote and felt violated that now everyone knows it is her. He also pressed her for more information which she really wasn’t able to provide. She ended up telling him something a little different than what she told me but she couldn’t even remember what she told me. I asked her about what she said to him and she thought that maybe she had confused the photographer with someone else but wasn’t sure. In her 25 years of working for the state of Maine, she had thousands of clients. Some members of my family found out about this and immediately went to the REA auction site and started to cause problems as they saw the photos were increasing in value daily. I love my family but they are all after something that isn’t theirs, if you know what I mean. Because of the friction is was causing my family and the trust that Rob violated, I asked him to withdraw the photos. I do not need the money as I am well off (so to speak) but my intent was to give the money to my mother. She is a proud woman and will not accept help from me but if she received money from the photos then I think it would be different since the photos were hers in the first place.”
As for the authenticity of the photos, Laigle said:
“I’m sure JSA has some issues but he can’t be wrong 100% of the time.” He added, “I would be willing to let anyone who thinks they are an expert view them. REA is returning them to me and I have already been contacted by other’s that want to still buy them. Obviously someone thinks they are real.”
-REA’s consignor has not yet resurfaced with the photographs for sale. It appears that Rob Lifson and REA came to their own conclusion that the photographs were not genuine despite the opinions and LOA’s he received from his alleged expert, Jimmy Spence.
(If you have any information related to these stories or others drop us a line at: Tips@haulsofshame.com )
By Peter J. Nash
May 17, 2013
Rob Lifson includes a 1999 thank you letter from fraudster Barry Halper in his Spring catalog.
The Spring auction season is upon us and the catalogs from the likes of Heritage, SCP and REA have already made their way to the doorsteps of collectors all around the country.
In Dave Kohler’s SCP catalog collectors got a look at Reggie Jackson’s million-dollar jersey from the night he became Mr. October hitting three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. They also got a peek at an alleged signed photo of the 1927 Yankees with an LOA from the family of George Pipgras. But the pinstripes on Jackson’s jersey were a dead giveaway that the jersey was not the genuine article and several experts we spoke with are of the opinion that the 1927 signed photo of the Bronx Bombers is a forgery. An alleged forgery that SCP sold for close to $300,000. SCP and Kohler ended up pulling the Jackson jersey from the sale.
Chris Ivy and Heritage Auction Galleries sold a Lou Gehrig ball that we reported was likely a forgery for close to $70,000 and an alleged 1935 Babe Ruth Yankee uniform that originated from the infamous Barry Halper Collection for close to $300,000. Heritage changed its original catalog lot description online and removed all reference to Halper’s name due to the recent documentation of scores of uniform forgeries in his collection . That ploy worked well for their consignor who originally bought the jersey from Halper at Sotheby’s for $79,500.
The first copy of Robert Edward Auctions’ catalog went to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in what REA President Rob Lifson calls, “an annual tradition.” This despite the fact that one ex-Hall official has confirmed that Lifson was banned from the Hall’s National Baseball Library with his name appearing on an internal watch-list containing the names of known institutional thieves.
Lifson was apprehended stealing rare CDV photographs from the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection in 1979 and has been linked to the sales of numerous stolen artifacts that once belonged to his former mentor, the deceased New York Yankee partner and collector, Barry Halper. It is Halper who has been identified by a source prominent in baseball circles as the self-admitted mastermind behind the multi-million dollar heist from the library.
When the Hall of Fame opens up their complimentary copy of the 2013 REA catalog they can view the inside cover and read the 1999 thank you letter that Halper sent to Lifson describing the “spectacular job” he did serving as the special consultant for the Sotheby’s auction of his collection in 1999. Halper notes Lifson’s “unparalleled knowledge, judgment, experience,” and “integrity” in the letter from the man described as a “Friend of Robert Edward Auctions.”
The Hall of Fame is all-too-familiar with Barry Halper and his once celebrated collection having been victimized to the tune of several million dollars after purchasing counterfeit and misrepresented artifacts from him in 1998 including fakes attributed to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Mickey Mantle and other baseball legends. One would think Lifson’s inclusion of Halper’s letter would raise a few eyebrows in Cooperstown considering the Hall has removed the “Barry Halper Gallery” space from the museum after the magnitude of frauds perpetrated by him were uncovered and exposed by Haulsofshame.com in 2010 and 2011.
Hobbyists and fellow auctioneers are baffled by Lifson’s inclusion of the Halper letter in the catalog and one prominent collector told Hauls of Shame, “It’s the giant white elephant in the room. I think he’s in serious denial.”
While Lifson includes the letter of praise from Halper in the catalog, he is not as quick to reveal a Halper provenance on items being offered for sale in the current auction. Case in point is Lifson’s offering of what is described as a rare single-signed baseball of 19th century Hall of Famer Dan Brouthers. Nowhere in the lot description does Lifson mention that the baseball originated from the Halper Collection and that he actually sold the ball for Halper in the early 1990s for close to $20,000.
The Dan Brouthers signatures illustrated to the left are housed in the Baseball Hall of Fame's Long Papers Collection (the top two are believed to have been signed by someone other than Brouthers). The signatures are written on endorsed and cancelled paychecks from the Boston Players League team in 1890. The signature at the bottom is from a 1917 letter written by Brouthers that was donated to the Hall of Fame.
I know about the Halper provenance because I’m the person who purchased the baseball from Lifson and Halper believing that I was acquiring the genuine article once held in the hands of the 19th century batting champion.
The ball was authenticated by world-renowned handwriting expert Charles Hamilton, however, Hamilton had no exemplars with which to compare to the signed ball and unfortunately relied primarily on the “Halper Provenance” and the fact that it was signed on a genuine c.1919 National League ball with what appeared to him to be period ink. (Halper also claimed to have a Brouthers signature executed in pencil on 1890’s ledger pages, however, the pencil signatures on those pages are of questioned authenticity as opposed to the ink signatures which are considered by experts as genuine.)
This alleged Dan Brouthers pencil signature was executed on the 1890s ledger pages from the Barry Halper Collection which sold for $92,000 at Sotheby's in 1999. The Brouthers signature and all of the other signatures signed in pencil on the ledger pages are believed to be non-genuine and added at a later date, while the ink signatures appear to be genuine.
Hamilton did not have the opportunity to study the illustrated authentic Brouthers exemplars that have been made available recently via the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Frederick Long Papers Collection, which includes numerous Boston team payroll checks endorsed by Brouthers. In addition, the Hall also has in its collection an authentic 1917 handwritten letter executed by Brouthers as the manager of a semi-pro club in Brooklyn, NY.
We asked expert and author Ron Keurajian what he thought of the Brouthers ball and after viewing it on the REA site referred us to quote him from the Brouthers autograph study in his book which states, “I know of no signed…. baseballs.” Keurajian also says, “Just about 100 percent of Brouthers signatures in the market are forgeries.”
Of course, the REA Brouthers ball is accompanied by a Jimmy Spence/JSA LOA just like another highly suspect offering by Lifson which he claims is an authentic baseball signed by Hank O’Day, the newly elected Hall of Famer and umpire.
This alleged Hank O' Day baseball bears little resemblence to the six authentic O'Day signatures found in the HOF's Herrmann Papers Archive ranging from 1902 to 1921.
The ball also features what is described by REA as a secretarial signature of Babe Ruth and another of Cincinnati Red player Mike Mitchell.
The Mitchell signature appears to be the only authentic scrawl on the ball when compared to other authentic versions of his signature originating from the August Herrmann Papers Collection at the Hall of Fame.
Considering the Ruth and O’Day names written on the ball do not resemble the authentic signatures of the two Hall of Famers it is much more likely the ball is simply a Mike Mitchell signed ball with the names of Ruth and O’Day written on it for some reason. REA erroneously claims the Ruth signature is written in another hand and just assumes that the alleged O’Day is genuine based solely upon JSA’s flawed opinion.
The next remarkable baseball in the REA sale that appears grossly misrepresented is the alleged “Sliding” Billy Hamilton single-signed baseball. REA states:
“….Hamilton has signed the ball “Sliding Billy Hamilton” in black fountain pen across the sweet spot, directly below which he has added the date: “Sept 2 1929.” Both the signature and date grade “8″ overall; however, each has been professionally enhanced. That fact was revealed when James Spence Authentication examined the ball under a video spectral comparator, which allows for the observation of latent writing and/or markings. It is important to note that James Spence Authentication has deemed the Hamilton signature authentic, but it must be properly qualified with regard to the enhancement. Normally, such enhancements are vintage in nature, done by an early owner to help preserve a fading signature. Not so with this example! This ball was professionally enhanced during the late 1990s and we did not need a video spectral comparator to come to that conclusion. We know this because Robert Edward Auctions originally sold this very ball in our September 8, 1994, auction. At that time we duly noted the condition of the signature in our catalog description: “Signature grades only a “4″ or a “5″ due to general wear but is clearly and entirely legible.” In particular, the central “Billy” portion of the signature was badly worn and faded, much more so than any other part of the writing. The next time we saw this ball was a few years later, when it was offered by another auction house, only now the signature had miraculously improved. After a few inquires, we later learned that the original purchaser of the ball from our auction had the signature professionally enhanced for aesthetic reasons. Our consignor purchased the ball at that auction and it has remained in his collection ever since.
While collectors will forever debate the pros and cons of cosmetically altering a signed ball in such a manner, the fact remains that this is, to the best of our knowledge, the only known Billy Hamilton single-signed ball extant. Hamilton’s signature, in any form, is exceedingly rare.”
When Mastro sold the Billy Hamilton single-signed baseball in 1998 there was absolutely no mention of "enhancement" in the lot description.
When the exact same ball appeared in a Mastro Auction in 1998, four years after it originally sold at REA in 1994, there was absolutely no mention of the ball being “enhanced for aesthetic reasons.” Jimmy Spence also authenticated the ball for Mastro in that 1998 sale.
The "enhanced" "Sliding" Billy Hamilton baseball is shown in its "before & after" states in a 1994 REA auction photo (right) and today in the 2013 REA catalog (left).
The extent of REA’s so-called enhancement, which improved the visibility of Hamilton’s alleged signature, is quite striking when compared to REA’s original photo of the same ball from its 1994 auction.
Why didn’t REA include the photograph of the ball from when it appeared in its 1994 auction? Perhaps REA didn’t want bidders to have the opportunity to see the level of “enhancement” administered to the ball. More importantly, who actually enhanced the ball in the first place? Was it the same person who “enhanced” the now infamous Harry Truman ball that was exposed by Hauls of Shame last year?
These photographs are of the same single-signed Harry Truman baseball. On the left is how it looked when it sold at MastroNet in 2001. On the right is how it appeared at EAC Galleries in 2005 as the "finest example extant.""
When did the concept of enhancing single-signed baseballs come into vogue? Who enhanced the Hamilton and Truman balls?
The same goes for REA’s alleged Frank Chance and Roger Bresnahan single-signed baseballs which JSA says were enhanced as well. In 1999 Jimmy Spence authenticated both balls for Mastro without any mention of enhancement. An expert we consulted with went a step further and identified both signatures as outright forgeries. So, is there now a new market for graded and enhanced fakes too?
REA and JSA say the single-signed balls of Frank Chance and Roger Bresnahan are enhanced, but experts are of the opinion they are fakes. REA fails to disclose that late expert Charles Hamilton deemed the John M. Ward ball REA is selling was a forgery.
Lifson and REA also fail to disclose that the alleged John M. Ward single-signed mini-ball they are selling was deemed a forgery by late handwriting expert Charles Hamilton back in 1994. (Hamilton had numerous genuine Ward signatures as exemplars when he gave his opinion.) REA also fails to disclose that this same ball sold in a 1999 Mastro Fine Sports Auctions sale with LOA’s from Jimmy Spence and Mike Gutierrez. At the time Bill Mastro told this writer, “I had to twist Jimmy Spence’s arm to get a letter on that one.” I have first hand knowledge of this ball because I originally purchased it from an associate of Barry Halper for over $20,000 in the early 1990s.
The episode featuring the Ward ball is a good example illustrating how auctioneers like Lifson would shop for opinions of so-called experts like Spence to say an item was genuine, despite the fact that a well-known expert like Hamilton had already deemed it a forgery.
Ironically, Spence later authenticated the same ball and also lied under oath in court depositions stating that he had actually studied and worked with Charles Hamilton. In reality, Spence had only visited Hamilton on a few occasions accompanying a collector who was dropping off materials to Hamilton for authentication.
Speaking of fakes, we can’t forget REA’s other lots alleged to be forgeries by experts including the inscribed Babe Ruth photo to Gary Cooper and the 1933 signed Babe Ruth Goudey baseball card. Six other Ruth signed photos (and several others alleged signed by Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner) were withdrawn from the auction after being called out as fakes, but REA says the lots were withdrawn at the request of the consignor, not because they were counterfeits.
A testament to Spence’s lack of expertise is another lot withdrawal in the REA sale of an alleged Winston Churchill letter from 1945. Spence certified it authentic, but the document was actually a mass produced “pre-printed” letter created to look like a handwritten original. When informed of Spence’s authentication of the letter expert Ron Keurajian responded, “The Churchill facsimile letters are common and are known to the most novice of collectors. To the trained eye they are easily exposed as a pre-printed document. I find it hard to believe that any experienced authenticator would be fooled by them.”
How can Spence consider himself capable of authenticating non-sports signatures when he clearly has more than enough trouble identifying genuine Babe Ruth autographs?
This is a close up of the signatures on an alleged 1927 photo signed by the Yankees. Experts believe the signatures are forgeries, but SCP allegedly sold the item for close to $300,000
SCP Auctions appears to have outdone REA in the Babe Ruth fakes sweepstakes as they sold a PSA/DNA authenticated 1927 Yankee team photo allegedly signed by the Bambino and his teammates. Hauls of shame.com is of the opinion that that the signatures on the photo are not authentic and every expert we consulted with agreed. One of them remarked, “That thing is a joke.” Additional ridicule was directed at many of the single-signed baseballs offered by SCP, Heritage and REA:
Experts consider these alleged single-signed balls of the HOF's early Induction class to be non-genuine. The alleged Jim Bottomley ball certified authentic by Jimmy Spence and JSA is included as an example of one of the worst forgeries ever to get a Spence LOA..
Experts confirmed their opinions that the above referenced “Sucker’s Dozen +3″ was chock-full-of-alleged-fakes (over $250,000 worth). How the TPA’s and the alleged expertise of Steve Grad and Jimmy Spence could let these alleged forgeries to creep into major sales is remarkable. If they can’t get Ruth, Cobb, Gehrig, Young and Wagner right what confidence can collectors have in the LOA accompanying their own “certified- authentic” items?
Recent Tim Keefe and George Wright forgeries offered by Coaches Corner are just as authentic as a Winston Churchill offered by REA with a Spence LOA. JSA couldn't tell that the Churchill letter was a mass-produced facsimile copy.
Are your LOA’s in the league with Jimmy Spence’s expert opinions on Winston Churchill and the Babe Ruth to Gary Cooper embarrassment? Some would say you’d be better off buying some Tim Keefe or Amos Rusie signed balls at Coaches Corner. Fakes are fakes no matter who is selling them.
The Matty Won in the Ninth secretarial signatures from HA and REA are pitted against a genuine signature from Matty's 1912 Pitching in a Pinch (also for sale at REA). REA uses a 1910 Mathewson letter (bottom) to support the Won in the Ninth inclusion in its Spring sale.
Returning to the Spring sales were the much-maligned secretarial-signed Christy Mathewson Won In The Ninth books. Heritage sold one for close to $9,000 while REA has a current bid of $4,750 on a Matty fake and $6,500 on a genuine Matty signature featured on a 1912 copy of Pitching In A Pinch.
Expert Ron Keurajian has stated in articles and in his autograph handbook that the signed bookplates in Won In The Ninth were not executed in Mathewson’s hand. REA and JSA, however, are hanging their hat on a 1910 Mathewson letter sold by Hunt Auctions that they claim shows similarities to the bookplate signatures. Keurajian disagrees with that opinion and it is important to note that the Mathewson secretarial signatures were attempts to mimic Matty’s actual signature. That is why there are similarities between the examples in question.
This time around the major auction houses had surprisingly few items believed to have been stolen from major institutions. We were most surprised that there weren’t any August Herrmann-related documents included in the sales.
There was, however, a beautiful and rare cut signature of Hall of Famer Ned Hanlon that was sold by Heritage and advertised as being clipped from an “official document.”
Ned Hanlon's will was stolen from a Baltimore Courthouse in the 1990s. The will was recovered and bears Hanlon's autograph on a typed signature line. It is believed that other signed probate documents were stolen from the Hanlon file and clipped for "cut signatures" like one sold by Clean Sweep auctions (middle) and Heritage (bottom).
Oddly enough, Hanlon’s last will and testament and other probate documents were stolen from a Baltimore courthouse in the early 1990s and the will was offered by Mastro Auctions in 2000 before the FBI stopped the sale. It is believed that other “cut signatures” were clipped from additional pages executed by Hanlon that were not recovered by the authorities. One such Hanlon “cut signature” appeared in Steve Verkman’s Clean Sweep auction in 2009, and another just sold at Heritage for $6,572.
In its lot description Heritage wrote, “Hanlon went to work as Parks Commissioner for the City of Baltimore, and this elegantly scripted 9/10 black fountain pen signature almost certainly derives from an official document of some form signed in that capacity.”
Actually, it is more likely it was clipped from a legal document in his probate file that has been documented as having been stolen from the Baltimore Probate Court. The Hanlon signature on the will appears to have been written above a similar black signature line created by a typewriter. The illustration featured above speaks volumes about the Heritage offering, which included no information related to the provenance of the item.
Jimmy Spence of JSA and Steve Grad of PSA/DNA have authenticated scores of signatures on documents stolen from institutional and municipal collections. At least they know for sure that these signatures are actually real when they issue their LOA’s.
It’s easy money for the big-time TPA’s endorsed by eBay and virtually every major auction house.
By Peter J. Nash
May 10, 2013
The alleged "First Baseball Card" purchased by Keith Olbermann in 2000 was discovered in 1997 by Antiques Roadshow appraiser and alleged Hall of Fame thief Mike Gutierrez (inset).
Scroll to Bottom For Update:
The Robert Edward Auctions lot description of the alleged “First Baseball Card” once owned by Keith Olbermann is long on speculation that the CDV is one of the most important relics in the hobby but rather short on the issue of provenance.
REA’s Rob Lifson wrote a few thousand words describing in detail the merits of the card and the research he claims was conducted by everyone from officials at the New York Public Library to a “historian for hire” in New Jersey. It isn’t until the end of the write-up that Lifson heads a short paragraph in bold dedicated to the CDV’s “Provenance.”
Lifson says he spoke to hobby veteran Lew Lipset, who sold the CDV and other Harry Wright related materials in one of his own auctions in 1998, and asked if he could contact the person who originally consigned the lot to Lipset’s sale. Lifson says that Lipset obliged, and that he spoke with the consignor who confirmed that the Wright CDV originated in a lot offered at Butterfield & Butterfield Auctions in California in November of 1997.
What Lifson fails to reveal to his customers, however, is that Lew Lipset was part owner of the Wright material when it sold in his own auction in 1998 and his partner in the items, which he fronted the cash for to purchase at Butterfields, was long-time hobby dealer Mike Gutierrez, now a consignment director at Heritage Auctions of Dallas, Texas, and an on-air appraiser for PBS’ Antiques Roadshow. At the time of his “discovery” of the Wright collection in 1997, Lipset says Gutierrez was working as the sports consultant for Butterfield & Butterfield in Los Angeles.
Lifson, of course, wouldn’t want to advertise that Olbermann’s rare and important CDV of Harry Wright originated with Mike Gutierrez. It is Gutierrez who was the prime suspect in a late 1980s FBI investigation into thefts from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and it is Gutierrez who has been recently linked to the sales of several rare photographs that ended up appearing in auctions conducted by Lew Lipset. That’s not to mention that our last report indicated that there may be four unidentified cricket CDVs missing from Harry Wright’s donated archive at the New York Public Library. That’s the same library that auctioneer Rob Lifson was apprehended at in 1979 for attempting to steal several similar CDV cards. TIME Magazine covered Lifson’s arrest and stated that he was caught with a “cache of smiling infielders” and $5,500 cash on his person. TIME reporter David Aikman says NYPL security told him the culprit said he made the cash selling baseball cards in just one day.
With so many stolen and suspected stolen institutional artifacts hitting the market in recent years, the pairing of Lifson and Gutierrez related to the CDV Keith Olbermann paid over $80,000 for in 2000 is curious to say the least. But is there really anything to worry about? Is this nineteenth-century gem legit or just another in a long line of plundered treasures that the “Father of Professional Baseball” once donated graciously with the best of intentions.
While it appears there may be four missing cricket player photographs from the NYPLs Spalding Collection and Wright archive, it is also important to note that Harry’s brother and fellow Hall of Famer, George Wright, had his own archive of baseball memorabilia donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1941 by his son Irving Wright. Considering Mike Gutierrez’ close links to items believed to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame, the Wright family’s donation to Cooperstown needs to be examined closely.
Cooperstown's Otsego Farmer newspaper reported the donation of George Wright's baseball archive to the Hall of Fame in 1941.
Wright was first approached by Hall of Fame officials to donate his collection to the fledgling institution in 1935 when he was first considered for induction. However, Hall curator, Alexander Cleland, learned that Wright was ambivalent about granting access to his collection since he had loaned out a few items to other parties who had never returned them. The incident apparently left a bad taste in Wright’s mouth so he declined Cooperstown’s first request.
Wright passed away in August of 1937 before he was inducted into the newly established shrine, however, Wright’s son saw the merits in donating the entire collection of baseball and cricket related holdings to the Hall. In 1941, The Otsego Farmer newspaper in Cooperstown announced the donation of Wright’s treasure-trove which included his favorite bat (autographed), his trophy bat from his stint as a Washington National in 1867, a colorized photo of his 1868 Union of Morrisania team and scores of photos and ephemera documenting his play with the famous Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869.
Cooperstown's Otsego Farmer announced the donation of artifacts to the HOF from George Wright's son in 1941. The relics were featured in John Thorn's book, "Treasures of the Hall of Fame." The collection included rare photographs and family heirlooms like an 1857 cricket book (above) passed on to George Wright by his father Sam in 1865.
Also included in the collection were cricket bats and balls and family heirlooms like an instructional cricket book, Felix On The Bat, passed down to the Hall of Famer by his father Sam Wright in 1865. Wright inscribed the cricket book as “Given to me by my father in the year of 1865. Often I have viewed its contents when a boy looking forward to some day to play the game of cricket well. G.W.”
Historian John Thorn wrote about the same book in Treasures of the Hall of Fame stating, “It was presented to Samuel Wright, father of Harry and George in 1858, on his Benefit Day at the St. George Cricket Club, Elysian Fields, Hoboken, where the English-born Sam was the cricket professional and Harry and George two of the key players (Harry by 1854, George beginning in 1861).”
The inclusion of this relic in the Wright family Hall of Fame donation is important to note because it illustrates that cricket-related materials were part of George Wright’s collection and were considered historically important due to the influence that the game of cricket had on baseball in the mid-nineteenth century.
The photographic materials found in the collections of both Harry and George Wright at the NYPL and Cooperstown are quite comprehensive and include virtually every individual pose known to exist of each Hall of Famer as well as most every team portrait extant. That tally includes all of the portraits of both brothers stolen from the NYPL as illustrated in a recent Haulsofshame.com report.
What are the odds that both Wright brothers had, despite their voluminous institutional collections, failed to retain a Jordan & Co. CDV depicting themselves at the time of the 1863 cricket and baseball event? Keep in mind that the Jordan & Co. CDVs were, unlike the majority of the photographs in both collections, actually commissioned and created by Harry Wright.
The 1997 Butterfield auction description said the CDV album being offered featured 30 CDV's of Wright family relatives when it actually included at least 1/3 of the group as easily verifiable cricket CDV's featuring both George and Harry Wright as well as two copies of the well known Matthew Brady image featuring Sam and Harry Wright.
Then, ask what the odds are that such items would finally surface as a lot in a non-baseball sale at a California auction house with no mention of provenance. Not only was the provenance not disclosed, but the description of the CDV photo album was clearly misrepresented as simply a family photo album when it had two copies of the well-known Harry and Sam Wright Brady CDV and at least nine others with cricket poses and cricket equipment visible. Far from just a family album of Wright relatives and by 1997 the Wright father and son CDV had been featured as a premier item in Richard Wolfers’ “Treasures” auction. Add to that equation the fact that Mike Gutierrez was the auction consultant and the individual who wins the lot in the auction along with Lew Lipset as his partner. Knowing Gutierrez’ controversial past in relation to missing items from the Hall of Fame’s collection, what are the odds his discovery of the Wright material was simply a coincidence or an astounding find?
This rare cabinet card of Harry Wright (left) and an 1869 Red Stockings trade card (right) were both stolen from the Hall of Fame, but were photographed before they vanished sometime in the 1980s. The theft of both relics is unimpeachable proof that Wright-related materials have been stolen from Cooperstown.
Then consider the fact that a heist occurred at the Hall of Fame in the 1980s which resulted in the wrongful removal of what is believed to have been millions of dollars in baseball artifacts, documents and photographs from the National Baseball Library. At least one rare portrait of Harry Wright has been documented as having been stolen from Cooperstown. Unimpeachable proof that a rare Kalamazoo Bat cabinet card of Wright was stolen from the museum is illustrated in several of the Hall’s annual Induction Day yearbooks. Like many of its plundered artifacts the Hall photographed the Wright cabinet before it vanished and that photo has been used to represent Wright’s likeness in the annual programs. The Wright photograph may even have been donated by George Wright since five duplicates of the same photo were part of Harry’s archive at the NYPLs Spalding Collection in 1921. Today, only one of those cabinet cards of Harry remains at the library while the other four are missing and likewise the victims of theft. The 2013 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards lists the value of the Harry Wright K-Bat cabinet between $30,000 and $60,000.
In addition, a Peck & Snyder trade card featuring the Wright Brothers and their 1869 Red Stocking ball club has also vanished from the Hall after being documented via photograph in 1983 as part of a SABR photo shoot. A similar card just recently sold at Legendary Auctions for over $80,000, while another offered by Legendary last summer was withdrawn from an auction after it was identified as having been stolen from Harry Wright’s NYPL archive as part of the Spalding Collection. George Wright’s donation to the Hall in 1941 also featured an Imperial sized cabinet photograph of the 1869 Reds also produced and sold by the Peck & Snyder Sporting Goods company (That cabinet photo still remains in Cooperstown). With the theft of the Red Stocking trade card from the National Baseball Library, the most comprehensive baseball collection in the world is now lacking even one copy of the famous card. At least five copies of the Peck & Snyder Reds card were stolen from Harry Wright’s collection at the New York Public Library and two of those have since been recovered by the FBI.
The Warren cabinet of George Wright inscribed by his brother Harry (far left) was stolen from the NYPL but documented when it was exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York in the 1950's. The 1997 Butterfield offering featured many rare images of George Wright suggesting that the collection originated from George, not Harry.
Now, consider the theft of those two Cooperstown relics and the fact that the prime suspect in the 1980s FBI investigation into the Hall of Fame robberies was, Mike Gutierrez, the same person who “discovered” the rare CDVs of George and Harry Wright by Jordan & Co. in the Butterfield auction in 1997.
While our previous report shows there are at least four cricket photos missing from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection, could Olbermann’s Harry Wright CDV have actually originated from George Wright’s collection housed at the Baseball Hall of Fame? The photo album of alleged Wright family related CDV’s contained more images of George than it did Harry.
When George Wright’s collection was donated to the Hall of Fame in 1941 his grandson, George Wright II was 18 years old and fondly recalled his trips to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox with his late grandfather, the Baseball Hall of Famer. One of his biggest thrills growing up was being introduced to Babe Ruth by his granddad and personally receiving an autographed ball from the Bambino. George II, unfortunately, took the ball home and played with it, thus obliterating the signature.
George II’s son, and the great-grandson of the baseball legend, Denny Wright, is well acquainted with the family history of his famous descendant and can attest to the fact that the Wright family retained little in regard to George Wright’s baseball and cricket careers. Wright says, “Last May my Dad passed away and while going through his belongings there weren’t any original photos or baseball items. All he had was a typed two-page document related to golf in New England. That’s all he had and growing up I don’t recall ever seeing any other sports related material within the family, especially photos.” Wright also says he does not recall anyone in the family possessing or auctioning off a family photo album, Wright added, “My grandfather was George Wright’s second son and he had a sister who never married. My father only had a sister, so that’s the only relatives out there. If there was any sports related material my Dad would have saved it.”
Correspondence in the HOF's collection shows that Irving Wright maintained the collection of his father, George Wright, and that he donated the entire collection to Cooperstown in 1941. (Cleland Papers, NBL)
Correspondence in the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Cleland Papers Collection supports Wright’s assertion. Between 1935 and 1937 the Hall of Fame made several inquiries to Wright’s son, Irving, through A.G. Spalding & Bros. executive Julian W. Curtiss. After Wright’s election to the Hall, Museum secretary Alexander Cleland asked if the Wright family might be “willing to give (the museum) something to add to the museum” but was denied when Curtiss responded stating that Irving Wright felt “he would like to retain the baseball memorabilia that illustrated so perfectly the activity of his father’s life.” In 1941, the Museum’s persistence paid off as they acquired the entire collection as a donation.
Denny Wright’s grandfather, Irving, was also a sporting man who twice won the National Mixed Doubles Tennis championship in 1917 and 1918 and later in life served as the President of the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston. Irving’s brother, Beals Wright, was an even more accomplished athlete who won Gold Medals in Tennis at the 1904 Olympics and won the U.S. National Championship of Tennis in 1905. Denny Wright noted that Beals Wright had two daughters, but it appears that his grandfather (Beals’ only brother) ended up as the sole custodian of George Wright’s collection. If there were any items that Beals retained they were likely located in George Wright’s former house in Dorchester, Massachusetts, which Beals lived in after his father passed away. In 2006, several damaged and framed baseball photographs once belonging to George Wright were sold on eBay. Those items were allegedly found in the same house by the most recent owners of the Wright homestead, which had fallen into serious disrepair.
The Harry Wright CDV and Wright CDV album traces back to Mike Gutierrez and Lew Lipset's partnership on the lot at Butterfield and Butterfield in 1997; to MastroNet Auctions in 2000 when Rob Lifson and Bill Mastro sold it to Keith Olbermann for over $80,000.
Haulsofshame.com has attempted to access the Hall of Fame’s accession records in order to review the 1941 Wright family donation, however, Hall officials Brad Horn and John Odel have been unresponsive to requests and appear to be blocking the public access to this data.
The lack of any solid provenance related to the 1997 Butterfield offering warrants a review of the inventory to see if there were any photo albums donated by Irving Wright to the Hall in 1941.
Contrary to Rob Lifson’s claim in his current REA lot description of what Lew Lipset told him about the Wright CDV, Lipset told Haulsofshame.com something entirely different. In regard to the original Butterfield auction in 1997 and his link to Mike Gutierrez, Lipset told us in an email, “I do remember the Butterfield auction. Mike was working for Butterfield as a consultant and he called me with a description of the album. I told him to “buy it”. We were partners on it.” Lipset also recalls that Gutierrez was a consultant for Butterfield at the time and even Gutierrez’ Antiques Roadshow bio states that he appraised Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball for Butterfield in 1999.
Lipset went as far as to say he had little first hand knowledge about the Butterfield auction and actually expressed doubt that the Wright materials appeared in an auction. Lipset said, “I said Mike was working as a consultant as that was what he told me. I never saw the auction that these cards were in and only had Mike’s word for it. That Butterfield auction would have been about 6 months before I auctioned them.”
Lipset could not locate a hard copy of his actual auction from March 1998 for us stating he only remembered his auction later that same year, “It was Oct. 1998. I have a listing on the computer and probably have a catalog buried in my garage somewhere. Lot 9 was a photo of Harry Wright, wife and children in 1866. This was apparently with the CDV album. I have no recollection of it. Lot 10 was CDV of Harry and father Samuel. Write-up notes (said): “Was in the Wright family album auctioned last March and was the only duplicate in the collection. About five copies known of this most desirable pose.”
Lipset is aware of the controversy regarding Gutierrez’ alleged involvement in the Hall of Fame thefts and told Haulsofshame.com he accompanied Gutierrez on one trip to the National Baseball Library in the late 1980s. Lipset said Gutierrez asked him to come because he was pitching a proposal to Hall officials to access Hall of Famer family information to track down artifacts. “The one time I went to the Hall with Mike, which I think I told you about, we weren’t there very long. We were in Tom Heitz’ office discussing Mike’s “idea” and don’t believe anywhere else. I don’t think Mike was off by himself, but then, I don’t really remember.”
Lipset indicated that he and Gutierrez no longer speak to each other and also told us he had interviewed at Heritage Auction Galleries for a position as a consignment director at the time Gutierrez accepted the same position working for the auction company CEO’s son, Chris Ivy. Gutierrez has never responded to Haulsofshame.com inquiries, however, sources we spoke with suggested that either Ivy or Antiques Roadshow producers might be able to find out what his involvement was in the 1997 Butterfield auction.
Several sources have also alleged that Gutierrez is linked to a scheme in which stolen archival materials have been in essence “laundered” as consignments to different auction houses via third parties. Gutierrez first became a suspect in the Hall of Fame thefts in 1989 when he sold New York auctioneer Josh Evans a stolen signed photo of Babe Ruth with white-out covering its library accession number. In 1998, the hobby newsletter, The Sweet Spot, also revealed the testimony of a person who accompanied Gutierrez to the Hall’s library and stated he saw Gutierrez steal documents from the Hall’s August Herrmann Papers Collection as he photocopied documents in the library.
The REA website shows that the 1863 Harry Wright CDV has been "removed per request of the consignor."
UPDATE (May 16): Olbermann-Wright “First Baseball Card” Withdrawn From Current Robert Edward Auctions Sale
After failing to receive an opening bid of $50,000, Robert Edward Auctions has posted a notice stating that the 1863 Grand Match cricket CDV of Harry Wright has been removed from its current sale. REA states, “Lot withdrawn per request of consignor.”
It is not clear who that consignor is, but the card was last purchased by Keith Olbermann for over $83,000 at a MastroNet/Robert Edward Auctions sale in 2000. Olbermann has not responded to inquiries asking if he is still the owner of the CDV or whether he disposed of the CDV REA had dubbed “The First Baseball Card.”
It is also unclear whether the removal of the CDV is related to the evidence suggesting that 4 cricket cards are currently missing from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection and other evidence suggesting that the CDV may have been part of a 1941 donation made by Hall of Famer George Wright’s family to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Last week Haulsofshame.com reported that REA failed to disclose that Heritage Auction Gallery’s consignment director, Mike Gutierrez, allegedly discovered the CDV in a 1997 Butterfield & Butterfield auction and that veteran dealer Lew Lipset financed the purchase as Gutierrez’ partner.
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By Peter J. Nash
May 6, 2013
REA's 1863 Harry Wright CDV was sold alongside the fraudulent and trimmed Gretzky-McNall T206 Honus Wagner in an REA/MastroNet sale in 2000.
Robert Edward Auctions has made quite a fuss over its offering of an 1863 cricket CDV of Harry Wright in an attempt to establish it as the “First Baseball Card.” REA president Rob Lifson goes on at length about the research his company has conducted to make the case that the CDV purchased for $83,543 by Keith Olbermann in a 2000 REA/MastroNet auction should be considered for the loftiest of titles in the card-collecting realm.
Lifson writes, “Because this card was the first card picturing a baseball player available to the general public (as well as the first printed for the purpose of promoting the commercial retail sale of a product to the public), it is by definition the very first baseball card.”
Lifson’s research is nothing ground-breaking or original, as most of it was already conducted by the consignor who placed the CDV with MastroNet to sell in 2000. It was the consignor who researched the New York Public Library’s “Harry Wright Notebooks” and discovered the entries related to the production of the Jordan & Co. CDV-cricket tickets.
In fact, a source familiar with REA’s own recent research at the NYPL says that Lifson did not view any library materials and asked librarians just one question. In his lot description, however, Lifson thanked NYPL librarians stating that they were “accommodating above and beyond, to the point of doing research for us.” There is a certain irony in Lifson’s recent claim as the auctioneer was once apprehended stealing similar CDV cards from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection in 1979 while attending the Wharton School of Business.
Based primarily upon the research conducted by the original consignor, Lifson made the same case for the Wright CDV back in 2000 when he sold it in the same auction as the now infamous Gretzky-McNall T206 Honus Wagner card. It was in that REA/MastroNet sale that several sources allege Lifson and his partner Bill Mastro defrauded winning bidder Brian Siegel because both men had full knowledge that Mastro had trimmed the Wagner card to enhance its condition and value a short time after both men purchased the card in a Long Island card shop in 1985.
Due to the fraudulent enhancement of the card, the Wagner should not have received its “PSA-8″ grade, but rather the much less desirable “PSA-Authentic” grade, which was assigned to the PSA-encapsulated Harry Wright CDV which Lifson now claims, “Unquestionably qualifies for the monumentally important status of “The First Baseball Card.” Like the trimmed T206 Honus Wagner, which Lifson once told the Wall Street Journal was the “Mona Lisa” of baseball cards, the Harry Wright CDV has received the royal treatment from the REA hype-machine. Lifson now adds, “Remarkably, this title only scratches the surface of its great historical significance.”
Lifson’s new research, however, fails to note that two other cards issued with the Wright CDV, of William Hammond and William Crossley could also lay title to the “First Card” based upon his criteria. Both Hammond and Crossley also played in the same “Grand-Match” baseball game that Harry Wright did in conjunction with the CDV-tickets.
REA adds in its full-auction description:
“In fact, accompanying this lot is a copy of a notice published in the base ball section of September 19, 1863 edition of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle under the headline “Out Door Sports – Base Ball” that reads “New York vs. Brooklyn – The match between the two nines of the above cities that was to have been played yesterday will be commenced at 2 P.M. on the St. George’s Grounds. Several cricketers are to play on the part of New York.” The “several cricketers” referred to as playing for New York against Brooklyn on September 19, 1863 are Crossley, Hammond, and Harry Wright.”
Despite this fact, Keith Olbermann is in agreement with Lifson and got peeved recently when the mainstream media erroneously published a myriad of reports stating that a CDV of the 1865 Brooklyn Atlantics team was the first actual baseball card. On his MLB Baseball Nerd blog Olbermann indicated that the Atlantic CDV, which sold for $92,000 at auction, should not be considered a baseball card. Olbermann wrote:
“So, the 1865 Atlantics carte de visite, while a great item, doesn’t meet the standard definition of a baseball card.
Even if it did it would be far from the earliest known card. There were six different photographic cards issued in 1863 that simultaneously:
A) advertised a tournament featuring the Brooklyn Excelsiors playing the famed New York Knickerbockers in the “Grand Match At Hoboken” along with two cricket competitions;
B) served as admission tickets to the matches; and
C) cost extra because the photographs were designed to be saved as souvenirs.
Those are baseball cards. The records of how many were sold even survives: 150 of future Hall of Famer Harry Wright, 57 of a player named Crossley, 47 of another named Hammond, and 11 of Harry’s father Sam. A fifth card later surfaced showing the Wrights together, and two different poses of Crossley are known.”
Keith Olbermann, a prolific collector of baseball cards, shows off his T206 Wagner to Tim Hudson (MLB.com); The Harry Wright CDV he bought in 2000 is currently for sale via Rob Lifson (right) who is shown bidding on the trimmed Gretzky Wagner at Christie's in 1996.
In its lot description REA expands upon Olbermann’s opinion and goes into great detail as to why the card should be considered the first, however, Lifson & Co. offer very little information about the provenance of the rare card it calls, “Of astounding significance, and long recognized as one of the earliest cards known to exist.”
Much like the shady origins of the Mastro-trimmed Honus Wagner card, the provenance of the Harry Wright CDV is equally dubious. While it has never been definitively confirmed where collector Alan Ray originally acquired the Wagner card or the printers sheet it was allegedly cut from, it has likewise never been determined where the Harry Wright CDV actually originated from. In 2000, Lifson wrote in a Sports Collectors Digest article that the Wright CDV was “In fact, the example saved by Harry Wright for his personal collection.”
In 2013, REA describes the journey of the CDV starting on the West Coast in the late 1990s stating:
“….in 1998 the card had been auctioned by legendary collector/dealer/auctioneer Lew Lipset (author of The Encyclopedia of Baseball Cards). In preparing this auction writeup, we contacted Lew Lipset to ask if he could help us with tracing any additional provenance, and Lew graciously provided us with the contact information of the consignor as well as a copy of the original auction (which included descriptions of the other items that accompanied the Harry Wright card and therefore provided additional information). We spoke to the consignor and learned that that the Harry Wright card was included in an album purchased at a (non-baseball related) Fine Books & Manuscripts auction conducted by Butterfield’s Auctions in California. (An original copy of this July 16, 1997 Butterfield’s Auction catalog accompanies). The entire lot, which included materials ranging in date from the 1860s to the 1930s, was sent to Lew Lispet for auction and was mostly sold intact, with the few more desirable items included offered separately. The materials obviously originated from a Wright family member as it contained mostly family photos and no baseball photos or content with the exception of two 1863 Grand Match At Hoboken Benefit cards (one of Harry Wright and one of Crossley), strongly suggesting the possibility that these very cards were personally used for admission to the grounds by members of the Wright family!“
With no supporting evidence, REA and Lifson appear to be suggesting that someone in Wright’s family or perhaps a close relative may have consigned the photo album to Butterfield’s in 1997 and that Lew Lipset received the Wright CDV and other items with the album as a consignment from a third party.
But in 2013, rare photographs and CDV’s of the “Father of Professional Baseball,” Harry Wright, immediately call to mind the myriad of missing portraits from Wright’s personal archive housed at the New York Public Library as part of the A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection. There are over twenty missing portraits and tintypes of Wright and close to two-thousand missing documents that were once housed in library scrapbooks made to secure his personal correspondence. In his last will and testament Wright bequeathed his entire baseball archive of papers and photographs to the National League so that it would constitute the “nucleus” of a collection that could one day be studied for insights into the game’s earliest days. Hall of Famer and National League president A. G. Spalding incorporated Wright’s archive into his own and after he passed away in 1915 his widow decided to donate the entire treasure trove to the NYPL.
In July of 2009 a “rare cache” of Wright’s stolen papers appeared in an MLB All-Star Game auction conducted by Hunt Auctions and several of the rare letters addressed to Wright were identified by historian Dorothy Seymour Mills as the exact same documents she held in her own hands while researching at the library in the 1950s. An FBI investigation was commenced and Jack Curry of The New York Times interviewed one of Harry Wright’s blood relatives, his great-great granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, and reported: “(Guzzi) said her family had few artifacts from Wright’s career. She said the family would be monitoring the situation.” She added, “It seems odd to me. Why would someone have them if they weren’t related to him? Why would they be in their grandmother’s attic?”
The Wright family CDV album containing what REA calls the "First Baseball Card" featuring Harry Wright mysteriously appeared in a Butterfield & Butterfield auction in California in 1997.
Guzzi and her side of the family retained just one relic from Grandpa Harry’s baseball-days, a rather beat up CDV photograph of his champion Cincinnati Red Stockings team of 1869. Aside from that item, Guzzi says the family had no other original photographs or documents from his career. It was her understanding that everything was donated after he passed away in 1895.
So, a Wright family photo album featuring some of the rarest Harry Wright CDVs in existence showing up in a Butterfield & Butterfield auction in 1997 is curious to say the least. When the CDV album was sold there was absolutely zero scrutiny or mention of where it originated. At the time collector Barry Halper still owned his entire collection which featured a wide array of stolen Wright materials ranging from CDVs, cabinet photographs and letters stolen from the NYPLs Wright Correspondence Collection. When Halper sold his collection in 1999 at Sotheby’s, with REA’s Rob Lifson as the head consultant, the market was inundated with stolen materials related to Harry Wright.
The NYPLs Spalding Collection currently includes four Jordan CDVs with backs denoting they are tickets to the 1863 matches at the St. George's Cricket Grounds. The 1922 inventory notes the inclusion of four unidentified CDVs and one identified as Sam Wright (top). The two CDVs below the Wright duplicates feature cricketer William Hammond.
The New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection inventory in 1922 included one entry designating, “Unidentified cricket player (Jordan & Co.) 4 photographs, 4 players” and another handwritten entry added by researcher Charles Mears later in the 1920s identifying an additional group; “Cricket players (4) unidentified,” on the same inventory page. Of the four unidentified photographs of “cricket players” identified in 1922, three had backs identifying them as the 1863 Jordan & Co. “tickets” to the St. George Grounds.
The NYPL collection also features one "non-ticket" Jordan CDV of an "unidentified" cricket player (Crossley) and a Brady CDV of Sam and Harry Wright that bears no NYPL ownership stamps on its reverse.
The fourth unidentified example of the Jordan & Co. CDV images is devoid of the “ticket back” and has just a generic “Jordan & Co.” back. Another cricket related image included in the Spalding holdings was an E. T. Anthony CDV shot by Matthew Brady of Harry Wright and his father Sam holding cricket equipment. All of the cricket CDVs are marked with NYPL stamps except for the Brady image which bears no ownership mark of the NYPL.
Based upon Charles Mears’ handwritten notations in one of the NYPLs 1922 master inventory booklets of the Spalding Collection there were four unidentified Jordan CDVs and separate entries for one (duplicate) Jordan CDV of Sam Wright (Wright, Sam) with his name identified in ink on the front and another entry for “Wright, Harry, and another. Cricket (New York , Anthony.),” which was the Brady image of Harry and his father Sam.
Researcher and collector Charles W. Mears (right) helped organize and inventory the Spalding Collection and added handwritten notations to one of the NYPLs 1922 inventory booklets. He noted (4) additional "unidentified" cricket player photos in addition to the (4) Jordan & Co. CDVs already identified in the volume.(Top, right) Mears identified other photos which Wright appeared in his own hand and initialed "CW Mears." (Bottom) (C. W. Mears Photo, Cleveland Public Library)
But in addition to those entries in the actual inventory, Mears added in his own handwriting additional notations which appear to suggest that one additional CDV of Harry Wright and Sam Wright was in the collection as well as “Cricket players (4) Unidentified.”
If we take Mears’ notes to encompass the entire cricket related CDVs in the Spalding Collection, it appears that the NYPL is missing another four unidentified cricket player photographs and one duplicate Anthony CDV of Harry and Sam Wright by Brady.(Mears did not identify the unidentified (4) cricket players as CDVs).
It also appears that the library is missing another extremely important artifact related to Harry and Sam Wright, the actual St. George’s Cricket Club’s “Register of Play,” the official score book of the club used between 1848 and 1867. That score book would have recorded the matches related to the production of Wright’s Jordan & Co. CDVs and may have offered more clues to researchers. The St. George volume, however, like so many other Wright-related artifacts, is missing from the Spalding Collection along with several important pages that were cut and wrongfully removed from the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club’s score book.
While the NYPL still retains this 1863 image of Henry Chadwick and Harry Wright at a St. George's Cricket Club match, Charles Mears' notes suggest there may be additional cricket photos missing from the NYPL's Spalding Collection along with the actual St. George's Cricket Club score book which recorded matches from 1848 to 1867. (Spalding Collection, NYPL)
In its lot description of the Wright CDV REA opines on the number of known Jordan & Co. cricket CDVs:
“Several other 1863 Grand Match At Hoboken Benefit card examples are known to exist (we believe fewer than ten in total are known to date), including two examples of Sam Wright and two of Crossley that are in the Spalding Collection at The New York Public Library, several additional examples of Crossley (including one that that was discovered by a non-collector in the midwest as recently as 2007!), one example featuring Harry and Sam Wright together (an astounding card with an image that has previously not been published or even seen and which is presented as the following lot in this auction) and at least one Hammond.”
Considering REAs claims of the staggering rarity of the Jordan & Co. CDVs, it would appear that a closer look at the population and provenance of the known examples is warranted.
This "newly discovered" Jordan & Co. CDV-ticket featuring Sam and Harry Wright appears for sale in REA's Spring Auction.
When Lifson sold the Wright Cricket-CDV as part of MastroNet in 2000 he said this about the provenance of the card:
“The only other examples known from this set, the existence of which we have become aware of during the process of researching this card, are a part of the Spalding Collection at The New York Public Library. Included in the Spalding Collection are two cards of Sam Wright, two of Crossley, (and none of Hammond or Harry Wright). It is interesting to note that this Harry Wright card was discovered in an album of photographs which surfaced in California in 1998. This album belonged to Harry Wright personally. The Harry Wright card offered in this lot was in fact the example saved by Harry Wright for his personal collection.”
It should be noted that Lifson had no evidence whatsoever to make such a claim, neither from Butterfield & Butterfield Auctions nor from a Wright descendant. In fact, Wright’s last will and testament specifically noted that his entire baseball and sports archive was to be bequeathed to the National League so as to form a “nucleus” of a collection to tell the story of the development of the game.
Harry Wright's 1895 codicil to his will, in his own hand, specifies that his executors bequeath pictures related to both cricket and baseball to the National League.
The codicil to Wright’s will (which has been stolen from a Philadelphia Courthouse and subsequently sold at Hunt Auctions) was executed on September 28, 1895:
“All of my books and memoranda bearing upon or concerning the National Game of Baseball, Cricket and other sports….including pictures and other valuable matter…..I give and bequeath unto the National League and American Association of Professional Base Ball Clubs and their successors in the sincere hope and wish that they may use them as a nucleus or beginning of a historical collection of memoranda and facts bearing upon our grand national game of baseball…”
As noted earlier, in the thirteen years that have transpired since Keith Olbermann’s purchase in 2000, Lifson’s story has changed to this:
We spoke to the consignor and learned that that the Harry Wright card was included in an album purchased at a (non-baseball related) Fine Books & Manuscripts auction conducted by Butterfield’s Auctions in California. (An original copy of this July 16, 1997 Butterfield’s Auction catalog accompanies). The entire lot, which included materials ranging in date from the 1860s to the 1930s, was sent to Lew Lispet for auction and was mostly sold intact, with the few more desirable items included offered separately. The materials obviously originated from a Wright family member as it contained mostly family photos and no baseball photos or content with the exception of two 1863 Grand Match At Hoboken Benefit cards (one of Harry Wright and one of Crossley), strongly suggesting the possibility that these very cards were personally used for admission to the grounds by members of the Wright family!”
Lew Lipset offered the Harry Wright CDV in 1998 with a minimum bid of $600 and identified the entire offering as "The Harry Wright Collection."
First Lifson stated it belonged to Wright, personally, and then theorized that it was once in the possession of a “Wright family member.” The first attribution to Harry Wright specifically was noted in 1998 when Lew Lipset sold the group of material as the “Harry Wright Collection.” The basis for that determination at the time was, perhaps, related to Lipset stating:”It is believed that the handwriting identifying most of the pictures is Harry Wright’s.”
Based upon the album’s alleged ties to Harry Wright and the Wright family is it possible that the Olbermann-Harry Wright CDV originated from the Spalding Collection and is one of the photos Charles Mears noted was missing from the NYPL? Or could it have originated with Harry’s brother, George, or one of his family members? And regardless of the origins of the CDV, who actually consigned the Wright materials to Butterfield & Butterfield and to Lew Lipset?
Despite the hoopla in the auction description, which calls the Harry Wright CDV “The First Baseball Card,” REA is still seeking an opening bid of $50,000. Haulsofshame.com contacted Keith Olbermann to confirm whether or not he is the current consignor of the Wright CDV to the REA sale. Olbermann, a well-known and prolific collector, did not respond to our inquiry but sources indicate that it is more likely that he may have previously traded or sold the card to acquire another item he desired. Several sources said Olbermann rarely, if ever, has sold items from his impressive collection.
Watch for our next report about the “Dubious Provenance of the Olbermann-Harry Wright CDV.”