Breaking News

By Peter J. Nash
Oct. 14, 2013

(Clockwise from top left) The PSA-8 Wagner (center) was trimmed by Bill Mastro; Purchased by Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall; Graded and authenticated by PSA and David Hall; and identified as a trimmed card by; Lew Lipset; Mike Gutierrez; Bill Heitman and Keith Olbermann.

The action in the room at Sotheby’s auction house was frenzied as heads in the front row turned to see who was bidding on the “mint-condition” T-206 Honus Wagner tobacco card that auctioneer Robert Woolley had introduced as the “Holy Grail.”

Woolley had just sold a pristine T-206 set (minus a Wagner) for $90,000 and looked towards the phone bank as a bidding war took shape.  The bid started at $228,000 and approached $300,000 as Colorado memorabilia dealer Mark Friedland raised his paddle every time a mystery phone bidder countered him with another increment. With the tally heading towards $400,000, the audience reacted to each bid until Friedland raised his paddle one last time at $405,000.

Within seconds the phone bidder delivered the final blow and Woollsey dropped his hammer swiftly entering the winning bid of $410,000 for the buyers who would later be revealed as Hockey great Wayne Gretzky and LA Kings owner Bruce McNall.  The crowd burst into applause for what was the highest price ever paid for a piece of baseball memorabilia.

Afterwards, Friedland told reporters, “I gave it my best shot, but when the phone bidder passed the $400,000 mark, I knew he was prepared to go all the way to half-a-million if that’s what it took to get the card.  At that point I decided to drop out.”

Taking it all in was the maestro of the 1991 sale and the Sotheby’s sports consultant, Bill Mastro. He was the mastermind behind the auction and the guy who originally sold the Wagner card to the Sotheby’s consignor for $110,000, just two years earlier.  In organizing Sotheby’s first baseball auction, Mastro had successfully taken the hobby mainstream with the sale of west-coast sporting goods mogul Jim Copeland’s treasure-trove and the sale of the hobby’s “holy grail” was just the icing on the cake.  Mastro told reporters that “Gretzky, himself, was on the phone doing the bidding” and after the sale the newsletter, The Old Judge, remarked, “It’s certain that the hobby will never be the same.”

Mastro had to breathe a sigh of relief, however, as there were rumors circulating before the sale alleging that his former Wagner card had been altered to improve its condition.  Allegations that it had been fraudulently trimmed were being leveled in a hobby that was also being recognized for what the Wall Street Journal would call an “epidemic of forgeries” in a marketplace where prices had skyrocketed.

The Journal interviewed the Sotheby’s consultant a year after the sale and reported that Mastro believed altered cards were a big problem in the hobby with sellers who would “trim cards with bent corners to restore them to mint condition.”  The Journal said Mastro told them that “serious collectors regard(ed) this as ruining the card.”  Writer Alexandra Peers echoed Mastro’s concern in reporting that after his Sotheby’s auction “questions about authenticity dog(ged) almost every major sale.” Unfortunately for Bill Mastro, the questions about his pristine Honus Wagner card would continue to dog him as well.

The crowd at Sotheby's (left) witnessed the $451,000 sale of the "mint condition" T206 Wagner (center) at the Copeland Auction organized by the card's previous owner, Bill Mastro (right).

After the Sotheby’s sale, one of the hobby’s most knowledgeable dealers, Lew Lipset, was the first to report the controversy developing around Mastro’s card in The Old Judge newsletter.  Lipset, who had attended the auction, described the “World Series” atmosphere in the room when the bidding stopped at $410,000 but noted that “the story for that card was only starting.”  According to Lipset, the news that McNall and Gretzky won the card didn’t surface until late that evening and by the next day he said, “reports circulated that the Wagner card was being returned because it was trimmed and/or restored.”

Lipset investigated the rumors and got denials from McNall’s LA Kings front office but also had a “reliable source” who told him the card had not been returned and that ” a representative of the buyers indicated he knew the card was altered.”  Lipset also noted that “it was the impression of several advanced collectors who viewed the card at Sotheby’s that the Wagner card was altered.”  In the Old Judge Lipset wrote that, “A top grade paper conservator should be able to tell if a 100 year old card has been trimmed or recut by magnifying the edge and comparing the aging process to either side of the card or a similar card.”  According to Lipset, the $451,000 Wagner, “Even if properly preserved, had to go through an aging process.”

Lipset knew a thing or two about Wagners as he’d sold another one to Mastro for $25,000 in his own auction in 1981.  That Wagner was “oversized” and Lipset noted in his lot description: “Has oversize margins and it would be possible (if someone wanted) to “trim” to a mint card.”  Lipset considered the card perhaps the finest example among the 40 or 50 copies known to exist at the time.  In identifying the opportunity to trim an oversized Wagner down to mint condition, Lipset may have inadvertently egged someone on to trim the card that would be sold as a “mint” copy to the Great One and McNall a decade later.

Hobby veteran Lew Lipset (inset top left) reported that Bill Mastro's (inset top right) former Wagner card sold at Sotheby's (inset bottom left) may have been trimmed in his "The Old Judge" newsletter. Lipset noted how the card should have been examined by a paper conservator.

After the sale, Lipset’s sentiments were echoed by others including then KCBS-TV broadcaster Keith Olbermann and Superior Galleries auction consultant Mike Gutierrez.  Olbermann discussed the Wagner controversy on his half-hour Sunday show with co-host Matt Federgreen, who also owned the Beverly Hills Card Shop.  On his Baseball Nerd blog at MLB.com, Olbermann recently recalled how McNall contacted Federgreen before the 1991 sale for his opinion on the trimming issue. Olbermann recalled, “Something was very wrong. I couldn’t go with Matt to the inspection of the Wagner that McNall had arranged for him. But Matt took a bunch of pictures, and the next time he came in to the studios he brought them.” (In 2012, Olbermann contradicted this statement saying that he actually met with McNall.)

When Olbermann examined the photos he told Federgreen it looked trimmed and Federgreen said that was exactly what he’d told Bruce McNall but that McNall told him he’d “probably bid on the card anyway.” But after examining the photos of the Sotheby’s Wagner, Olbermann now claims that he had additional evidence proving the card was trimmed stating he’d found pictures of “a Wagner that had been offered for sale in the early ’80s by a fellow who owned a baseball card store on Long Island” and that when he compared the photo to the pristine Wagner it was like seeing “before and after” shots of the same card.

Keith Olbermann (left) questioned the Wagner in the Copeland Sale (center) on his CBS-TV telecast in LA. His friend, Matt Federgreen told buyers Bruce McNall and Wayne Gretzky (right) that the card looked "trimmed."

A few months after the Sotheby’s sale the Chicago Tribune published an article entitled, “$451,000 Wagner Card May Not Be In Mint Shape,” and quoted Mike Gutierrez, a consultant for McNall’s Superior Galleries, as stating the card was trimmed.  Gutierrez said, “The card was altered at some point… I don’t know when it was cut, or by whom, but it sure was.  I have no doubt.”

Unlike Gutierrez, Josh Evans, a hobby competitor heading Lelands auction house in New York City, knew who had trimmed the now famous card.  According to Evans, Mastro had told him directly that he’d trimmed the card after he purchased it with Rob Lifson in Bob Sevchuk’s card shop in 1985.  In an interview earlier this month,  Evans recalled, “He told me on several occasions and then he’d say, ‘Now just shut up and stop talking about it’.”

With all of this evidence circulating in the hobby rumor-mill, Bruce McNall somehow still went ahead with his plans to purchase the card at Sotheby’s.  McNall, however, was by no means some rube when it came to buying spectacular relics.  At the age of 24 he had pursued the “Athena Decadrachm” which was known as the “Mona Lisa of Greek Coins” and paid $420,000 for the coin at auction in 1974.  At the time the sale price quadrupled the highest price ever paid for a coin at auction.  According to a Sports Illustrated profile of McNall published just two months after the purchase of the Wagner card, he sold that same coin a week later in 1974 for $470,000.

The Wagner was PSA's first graded card after Gretzky and McNall submitted the card for encapsulation. McNall displayed the card at the 1991 National to promote his Superior Galleries baseball auctions. PSA advertised the grading of the card on the poster given away at the National. (Courtesy of AutographPlanet.com)

Although several published reports claim buying the Wagner was McNall’s brainchild, SI reported that the idea was hatched by Gretzky after he was steered to the Wagner card by an autograph hound “who haunted the Kings’ hotel lobby” in Chicago.   After his encounter with the fan he had “wondered if it wouldn’t be fun to invest in the rarest baseball card.”  SI reported that Gretzky pitched the idea to McNall, who already knew about the offering of the pristine Wagner and the finest T-206 set being offered at Sotheby’s, and the two “agreed to go halves on the entire collection and to spend a maximum of $500,000.”   The final bid on the set was $90,000 and the Wagner went for a final bid of $410,000. SI reported that Gretzky asked McNall, “How did you work that out?”

When the Chicago Tribune asked McNall about the Wagner controversy after the Copeland sale he said, “That (the card was trimmed) is what people are saying.  We’ve heard all that talk.  We talked with people before we bought the card, and we’re both happy with it.  Any time you have something like this, people will say things.  Sotheby’s stands behind the card.  I have no intention of returning it or selling it.” McNall’s confidence in the card, however, had been bolstered considerably by the time the Tribune published his statements on July 9, 1991,  as the Wagner had recently been graded and authenticated by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) in Newport Beach, California.  The company was an off-shoot of another outfit that had gained its reputation grading and encapsulating coins and Bill Mastro’s mint condition Honus Wagner card was the first ever graded by the company’s new sports authentication division under the auspices of founder and Chief Executive David Hall.  The card was graded sometime before McNall displayed it at the 1991 National Convention in Anaheim to promote his own baseball relic auctions at Superior Galleries.

PSA advertisements from the 1990s stress the grading companies ability to spot alterations and trimming. They claim that if a customer buys a PSA graded card, "You can be sure that you are getting a card that has not been trimmed or altered in any way."

At the time he gave the card to PSA, McNall was invested in coins graded by Hall’s other company and, according to several sources, was well-aware of the potential value for grading baseball cards in the same manner. The Chicago Tribune asked David Hall about the company’s grading of the Wagner card and he responded, “It’s in the mid-range of acceptable size.  We used five, 10 and 20-power magnification to examine the card.  Compared to other (Wagner) cards it looks about the same.”  Hall, who the Tribune identified as “one of three members of the firm (PSA) who graded the Wagner” didn’t directly address any of the allegations regarding trimming and alteration.

Since the grading of its first submission by McNall and Gretzky, PSA has grown into a giant in the collectibles industry and twenty years after grading the Wagner card PSA and Hall claimed in trade publication ads that the company had “authenticated more than 3,000,000 cards, among them virtually every sportscard of major historical importance and high monetary value.”  But for several years in the early 90s the business struggled with what Hall claims were “only 300 to 600 submissions per month.” A marketing campaign which included pimping the PSA-8 Wagner card helped to change that as the card was exhibited at grading booths at collector conventions with ads saying “See the World’s Most Valuable Sportscard On Display.” By 1996, the company was distributing to collectors “Free PSA Information Kits” and PSA advertisements stressed the ability and integrity of its graders stating, “You can be sure that you are getting a card that hasn’t been trimmed and altered in any way.”

PSA founder David Hall presided over the company as it touted its grading of the PSA-8 Wagner and went as far as using its authentication as a vehicle to sell stock in its parent company Collectors Universe (CLCT).

Hall and PSA even went so far as to utilize the PSA-8 Wagner to sell stock in its parent company Collectors Universe (CLCT) a public company traded on NASDAQ.  After the Wagner sold for over $1.25 million at auction in 2000 PSA published an ad stating, “You can’t own a piece of the T206 Honus Wagner card, but you can own a piece of the company that graded it, Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA).”  The ad listed the phone number with “more information about how you can own stock in Collectors Universe.”

Despite the lingering doubts about the Wagner card, almost every time its been offered the seller has made a hefty profit and since it was authenticated in 1991, PSA has graded “over 20 million cards and collectibles.”  PSA rode the Wagner gravy train for over two decades until things came to a screeching halt in August of 2012 when the US Attorney’s office in Chicago indicted auction king and PSA-client, Bill Mastro, for multiple counts of fraud. One of those counts charged Mastro with having fraudulently promoted the Wagner card as the most expensive card in the world when he knew it had been altered and was a fraud.  In line with what Lipset, Olbermann, Gutierrez and others had suggested in public in the past, was now the subject of an FBI investigation and a grand-jury focusing on multiple counts of fraud committed by Mastro and his auction company.

In 1992, Bill Mastro told the Wall Street Journal that cards were "ruined" if altered or trimmed. After an indictment over twenty years later, (bottom) he admitted he fraudulently promoted the PSA-8 Wagner card he trimmed and altered himself. (Photo by Steve Cummings)

The allegations in the indictment that the PSA-graded Wagner card was a fraud put into question the credibility and reputation of the authentication giant.  David Hall and PSA issued no public statements addressing the issue and declined interview requests by Michael O’Keeffe of the New York Daily News.  O’Keeffe, who claimed to have a source in attendance at the PSA lunch at the 2012 National Convention reported that Hall told guests that PSA had “never considered that it had been altered.”  The source also said that Hall questioned whether Bill Mastro had cut a deal with the Feds and just agreed to say the card was trimmed for his own self interest.

O’Keeffe is the co-author of the 2007 book about the Wagner called, The Card, and in that book he revealed perhaps the most damning piece of evidence against PSA in the Wagner scandal—-that PSA grader Bill Hughes (who had graded the card with Hall in 1991) told O’Keeffe he knew the card had been trimmed and altered when he graded and authenticated it in 1991.  In a 2005 interview Hughes told O’Keeffe, “I was aware it was part of a strip.  We (PSA) were aware of that when the card came to PSA and I graded the card.  This card was obviously cut, but if it had been a disgusting card that was cut, of course we would have graded it trimmed.”  In Hughes’ opinion, “The card is so outstanding, it would have been sacrilegious to call the card trimmed and completely devalue it.”  O’Keeffe reported that his source also said Hall addressed the admission by stating that Hughes denies making those comments and that it was “an out and out lie that he knew the card was trimmed.”

But according to a Government Memorandum filed in support of a proposed plea agreement by Bill Mastro, the card was altered by trimming.  The document filed in  Chicago Federal Court in April states that as part of a proffer agreement Mastro admitted to “having cut the sides of the T206 Honus Wagner card despite prior statements to the contrary.”  Last year a source with knowledge of the FBI investigation also claimed that the government had a wiretap where Mastro made a similar admission.

Earlier this year Hall appeared in an ESPN 30 for 30 mini-documentary about the Wagner card and discussed his grading of the card stating, “I think I may be the only person in the world that’s examined the card under magnification” and that despite the very public statements about “trimming” made by Lipset, Olbermann, Gutierrez and others in major newspapers and network TV, Hall added, “Those rumors have been around for awhile.  We didn’t really talk about those rumors.”  Hall added, “It doesn’t look trimmed to me.”

In the same documentary film Keith Olbermann contradicted Hall and opined, “The most famous Honus Wagner card is, to some degree, fraud.”

Not just to some degree, though.  As of October 10, 2013, it’s officially a full-blown fraud now that Bill Mastro has admitted in Federal court that he did, in fact, cut the Wagner card with a paper slicer to enhance its condition and value.  US Attorneys in Chicago released a 30-page plea agreement that could send Mastro to prison for as many as five years for one count of mail fraud.  Mastro’s admission finally puts to bed speculation in the hobby that the card was legitimate and calls into question the company that graded the card with a “PSA-8, Near Mint” designation.

Despite the overwhelming evidence suggesting the contrary, Collectors Universe, PSA and Joe Orlando (left) claim in a cease & desist letter (right) that Hauls of Shame has made false statements about PSA's grading of Mastro's trimmed T206 Wagner card.

In late September, before Mastro’s trimming admission in court, PSA and Collectors Universe finally issued a formal statement about the Wagner card in the form of a cease and desist letter sent to Haulsofshame.com.  In the letter, attorneys representing the company and CEO Joe Orlando claim that reports published by Hauls of Shame have spread “false, destructive and defamatory rumors about the company.”  PSA attorney Keith A. Attlesey, of Attlesey/ Storm LLP, claims that Hauls of Shame’s assertions that the company was “founded on a fraud” and that the company “knowingly grad(ed) a trimmed and altered card” (the PSA-8 Wagner) are false.  PSA and CU also claim that Hauls of Shame falsely reported that they “provided inaccurate and misleading authentication and grading while under the influence of Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall.” In addition, the letter states that claims made “that the company is under investigation by the ‘Feds’ regarding the investigation of the T206 Wagner card” are also false.  PSA and Collectors Universe are threatening litigation if these statements (and others) are not removed from the Hauls of Shame website in “5 days.”

Just as David Hall and PSA claimed they “Didn’t really talk about those rumors (about the Wagner trimming)” back in 1991, Collectors Universe and PSA CEO Joe Orlando appear to be ignoring the overwhelming evidence suggesting that PSA was “founded on a fraud.”  The PSA-8 Wagner scorecard tells the tale:

Some of the players in the Wagner trim saga:(left to right) Michael O'Keeffe; Rob Lifson, Josh Evans and Bill Heitman.

1.  US Attorneys state in a filed memorandum that Bill Mastro has actually admitted to trimming the card and fraudulently promoting it as the finest in existence.

2.  Bill Hughes, David Hall’s grading partner on the Wagner in 1991, told Michael O’Keeffe, of the NYDN, that he had advance knowledge the card had been trimmed and cut from a sheet when it was graded by PSA.  Despite this being common knowledge within the company, when the Wagner sold for $2.35 million in 2007, current PSA President Joe Orlando told FOX News: “This particular one was preserved in spectacular condition.  It’s the Holy Grail of baseball cards.”

3.  Bill Heitman, a hobby pioneer and author of the T-206 book The Monster, supported Hughes’ statement on collector forum Net 54 stating in 2005, “When PSA was first starting up, they were practically doing handstands to get to grade the T206 Wagner that McNall and Gretzky had just bought.  I happened to know the pedigree of the card and knew that it had been trimmed.  The guy who was going to grade the card stopped by my home on the way to PSA headquarters to grade the card.  He knew that the card had been trimmed, but told me PSA had to grade the card because the good publicity that would come from grading the card.”  He added, “I actually talked once to Bruce McNall about this and he acknowledged that he knew the card had been trimmed.  So, PSA, the owners of the card and the grader of the card knew it was trimmed.  But put some plastic over it and all was forgotten.”

4.  Keith Olbermann, of ESPN, claims that he has photos taken of the card before it was trimmed which show the “before and after” state of the PSA-8 Wagner.

5.  Alan Ray, who originally sold the Wagner to Mastro and Rob Lifson in 1985, took the “before” photos of the card after it was cut from a sheet of T206’s and before Mastro further trimmed it to achieve its near-mint status.  In an interview with Hauls of Shame earlier this month Ray was asked how many cards in addition to the Wagner were in the original deal he cut with Mastro and Lifson.  Ray said,  ”There was about 60 or 70 T-206 cards.”  While Ray would not divulge anything further, it is believed those cards were also cut from sheets, including the T-206 Eddie Plank card Mastro sold to collector Charlie Conlon.

The T206 Plank that was cut from the same sheet as the Wagner was sold by Lifson and Mastro to collector Charley Conlon in 1986. When it was graded by PSA in 2009 it was designated "Altered" and "Authentic." REA sold the card in 2009 and described it as not being trimmed, but cut from a "printers sheet" decades after the issue was first created.

6.  PSA appears to have further exposed the Wagner trimming with its grading of the Eddie Plank card that was also part of Mastro & Lifson’s 1985 purchase from Alan Ray and cut from the same alleged printer’s sheet as the Wagner card.  Instead of grading that card a PSA-8, like the Wagner, they graded it “Altered” and “Authentic.”  When Mastro sold the card to collector Charlie Conlon in 1986 he wrote a letter stating the card was, “one of the finest copies known to exist.”  When sold as the “Gretzky-McNall Mate” at REA in 2009, Rob Lifson said, “It is our opinion that this card was long ago cut from a sheet that was saved by the printer, and was carefully cut from the sheet possibly decades after being printed…the Plank does have a very slight irregular cut……but it is not trimmed.”  Are we really to believe that Lifson didn’t know Mastro cut it himself?

7. A source known as “Hobby Deep-Throat” told this writer in 2000 that Mastro and his partner Rob Lifson both committed fraud when they sold the Wagner card at MastroNet/Robert Edward Auctions via eBay for $1.26 million to Brain Siegel.   A former close associate of Lifson, the source claims Lifson told him of his first hand knowledge that the card had been trimmed by Mastro.

8.  Josh Evans, of Lelands, has claimed publicly that in the 1980s Bill Mastro admitted to him on several occasions that he had trimmed the Wagner card to enhance its condition and value.

9.  Bill Mastro admits in open court that he did, in fact, trim and cut the four sides of the card that became known as the “Holy-Grail” of the hobby.

10. Kirk Harris, a west coast coin collector, acquired through SCP Auctions the high grade T-206 set from Jim Copeland’s collection that was purchased by Gretzky and McNall.  Sources indicate that many of the other cards Mastro trimmed were included in this set and were subsequently graded by PSA as “PSA-8″ (and higher) like the Wagner.

With all of this evidence in direct conflict with PSA’s denials David Hall has stated on the recent ESPN film that his company “pays out under the terms of (their) grading guarantee” and that PSA “stands behind the product.  If the card were to be returned via a fraud claim, it would be current owner Ken Kendrick who would have to make such a request.  However, the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who paid $2.8 million for the card in a private sale in 2007, seems unlikely to make any such demand.  When asked recently if he’d ever sell the card by Steve Berthiame on FOX Kendrick said, “I’ve never sold a baseball card ever and I don’t plan to sell.”  Luckily for PSA Kendrick plans on passing along his trimmed Wagner to his kids.

Arizona Diamondback owner Ken Kendrick is profiled on the PSA website for his collection, including his trimmed T206 Wagner that was exhibited at the Hall of Fame (center) from 2010 to 2012. The HOF noted Kendrick's cards were in "stunning condition, crucial to the high-end baseball card aficionado" (right).

Kendrick is heavily invested in PSA-graded products much like many other collectors who still support PSA despite the questions about the company’s credibility.  From 2010 through 2012 Kendrick’s collection, including the trimmed Wagner were exhibited at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown but no mention of the card’s controversial past was identified in the museum’s exhibit.  In fact, the museum’s signage introducing the exhibition called “The Ultimate Card Set” stated that Kendrick’s cards were “the most treasured rarities of all time” and stressed that “All are in stunning condition, crucial to the high-end baseball card aficionado.” Hall official, Brad Horn, currently appears on the PSA website giving a testimonial identifying a relationship between the two entities and the “great synergy between the Hall and PSA.”

Sources indicate that a class-action lawsuit is in the works against Kendrick and the Hall of Fame on behalf of the 500,000+ paid visitors to the museum who viewed the Wagner card without any disclaimer about the card’s dubious past and the strong suspicion it had been altered.

The PSA website includes glowing testimonials from MLB owner Ken Kendrick and Brad Horn from the Baseball Hall of Fame regarding the companies grading abilities. Kendrick, owner of the fraudulently enhanced Wagner, calls PSA the "ultimate decider on giving official identity and value to a card."

The PSA website also includes a lengthy profile article about Kendrick called “The Man, the Collector, the Card and the Collection” and Kendrick speaks highly of the company saying, “I would never think of acquiring a card that had not been authenticated and graded.  PSA has become the ultimate deciders on giving official identity and value to a card.  They provide a great service.”

PSA removed a similar profile article featuring Bill Mastro from its website after he was indicted in August of 2012.  That profile, entitled, “Bill Mastro- The Ringmaster of Memorabilia” quotes Mastro as saying, “Consumer confidence, that is the big thing.  The more authentications that exist on an item, the better.  Knowing that respected companies such as PSA and PSA/DNA have authenticated something, authentication that will run with the item for life, brings real confidence to buyers.  Collectors want that confidence and they are willing to pay for it.”

With or without the ringmaster’s hat in the auction game collectors are still paying PSA hansomely despite the FBI probes and assorted controversies.  Since Mastro was indicted last year Collectors Universe and PSA reported robust earnings and a 10% increase in revenues for authentications of cards and autographs.  It seems that Kendrick and many other PSA customers are satisfied with PSA’s products and the company’s advertised promise: “We can help turn your cardboard into gold.”

They sure did deliver on that promise for Bill Mastro.

Now that Mastro’s former treasure been exposed as “fools-gold,” what does PSA have to say?

A call on Friday afternoon to PSA’s attorney, Keith Attlesey, for PSA’s reaction to the Mastro admission of trimming was not returned.

(For more on the Mastro-Wagner controversy see Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this on-going series of reports.)


By Peter J. Nash

Oct. 10, 2013

US Attorneys in Chicago just filed a superseding indictment against ex-hobby king Bill Mastro.

(UPDATED) When he was indicted in July of 2012, Hauls of Shame reported that hobby kingpin Bill Mastro was caught on a Federal wiretap admitting he had trimmed and altered the now infamous T-206 Honus Wagner card.  Today, in Federal court in Chicago, that wiretap was confirmed as Mastro plead guilty to one count of mail fraud and trimming the Wagner.

A Federal indictment described as superseding the previously-filed indictments against Bill Mastro and former Mastro employees Doug Allen and Mark Theotikos, was filed earlier this week in the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, by Assistant United States Attorneys Nancy DePodesta and Steven Dollear.

Mastro appeared in Federal court for his change of plea hearing and according to reports out of Chicago earlier today has plead guilty to the one count of mail fraud linked to shill-bidding in his auction sales.  In admitting he trimmed the infamous T-206 Honus Wagner card Mastro has further tainted the hobby’s most prominent relic now owned by Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick.

The charges listed in the superseding indictment are identical to those found in original indictment filed in July of 2012, however, the new indictment does not include the names of Doug Allen, Mark Theotikos and William Boehm in the caption which now lists only Bill Mastro individually.  Also missing from the new superseding indictment are numerous Grand Jury counts included at the end of the original papers charging Allen, Theotikos and Boehm with various instances of wrongdoing.

DePodesta and Dollear also filed a “Felony Designation Sheet for Criminal Proceedings” which was approved by Judge Ronald Guzman and Magistrate Judge Gilbert.

The US Attorney’s office in Chicago released Mastro’s 30-page plea agreement which states that the Feds want Mastro to serve between 57 and 60 months in prison. Part of the plea deal, unlike previous ones in front of the court, also has Mastro agreeing to cooperate with the government as its probe of the memorabilia and auction industry continues.  Sources indicate that the government’s biggest target could be authentication giant Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA), the company that graded the Wagner card for Bruce McNall and Wayne Gretzky after they purchased it at Sotheby’s in 1991.  The Wagner was the first card ever graded by the company and its founder David Hall.

Prosecutors with knowledge that Mastro had trimmed the Honus Wagner card he and partner Rob Lifson originally purchased in 1985 told Judge Guzman they could prove that Mastro altered the sides of the over-sized card with a “paper slicer.”  What prosecutors discovered is what hobby-insiders have known for years–that the card was a fraud and was fraudulently sold by others like Mastro’s former MastroNet partner Lifson who also knew the card was trimmed when he sold it through Robert Edward Auctions to Brian Seigel in 2000 for over $1.2 million.

Bill Mastro was the "King of Memorabilia" when he published this "Size Matters" add in SCD for his MastroNet behemoth.

Judge Guzman asked Mastro in court if he had trimmed the card.  “Are these facts true?” he asked.  Mastro answered, “Yes, your honor.”

In relation to sentencing the Chicago Sun Times reported earlier today:

“His guilty plea Thursday was a case of second-time lucky for the 60-year-old Palos Park man. Judge Ronald Guzman in April rejected an earlier plea deal Mastro had agreed with prosecutors that would have capped his sentence at 2½ years.”

Kim Janssen, Federal Court reporter for the Sun Times, added, “Under the new deal, prosecutors will again ask Guzman to limit Mastro’s prison term to 30 months, but the judge’s hands will not be tied.”

The Sun Times also reported that Mastro would have to pay a $250,000 fine and “will have to cooperate in the prosecution of his alleged accomplices, Doug Allen, Mark Theotikos and William Boehm.”

Mastro responded earlier today on the blog of attorney Paul Lesko at CardBoardConnection.com in the comments section of an article Lesko published back in July regarding letters sent to the Judge in the Mastro case by collectors claiming to have been Mastro victims.  Mastro said:

“Dear Paul- The bat purchased by Richard Levy in 2006 was unique in that it was the only known example from his MVP season of 1949. What Richard Levy failed to reveal to my judge after the fact is that he sold his bat in Ken Goldin’s July auction, lot #2 for over $156,000. I wonder if he’ll be so diligent as to write my judge another letter telling him to disregard his first letter? As for Mike Mumby who complained of possible shill bidding back in 1998, he regularly continued to purchase items in our auction up until 2008 before we closed. If he was so abused by us why keep doing business with us. Several months ago a collector and lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, who considers himself some sort of watch dog for the hobby, decided to publish my judges name and address on a popular website and encouraged collectors who thought they were ripped of to write directly to my judge. I have never met or talked with Lichtman in my whole life. I have no idea where such resentment comes from but to date my judge has received 2 letters….2! I had over 30,000 people on our mailing list and 2 people wrote letters. This is the first time I have responded to anything regarding my case with the government. It has been the most horrible ordeal me or my family have ever had to deal with and I wish people would please think hard before they try and interject their conjectures into such a sensitive matter. Bill Mastro”

For more coverage on the Mastro saga check out Friday’s broadcast of Cardboard Connection Radio on @BlogTalkRadio.

Bill Mastro responded to his guilty plea and letters written to Judge Guzman on Paul Lesko's CardBoardConnection.com column.

(This article was updated at 7PM on October 10th and at 2AM on October 11th)


By Peter J. Nash

September 16, 2013

A photo alleged to have been signed by Tarzan star-chimp "Cheetah" is being sold on eBay with a JSA LOA despite the fact the chimp signing was exposed as a fraud in a 2008 Washington Post investigative report.

Scroll to Bottom For Update on eBay’s Removal of JSA-Certed Lot:

Auction giant eBay is currently offering for sale an 8 x 10 photograph allegedly autographed by the famous chimpanzee “Cheetah” who starred with Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan movies of the 1930s and with Rex Harrison in Dr. Doolitle in the 1960s. The seller, “presspasscollectibles” indicates that the photo has been authenticated by James Spence Authentication and a JSA sticker is afixed to the lower right hand corner of the glossy photo signed in black sharpie by the famous primate.

The first question you may ask upon looking at the alleged “Cheetah” signature is: “How can Spence and JSA authenticate a scribble executed by a chimp and have the ability to distinguish that so-called handwriting from any other chimps?”

The photograph is accompanied by another letter of authenticity issued by an outfit called “Collectibles of the Stars” and is signed by the company, the chimp’s owner, Dan Westfall, and the chimp himself, “Jiggs” a.k.a. “Cheetah.” The LOA, dated March 10, 1997, notes that Cheetah “appeared in many of the original Tarzan films opposite Johnny Weissmuller.”

JSA certifies the authenticity of the chimp signature but, in reality, an extensive investigative report published in 2008 by the Washington Post illustrates that the “movie-career” of the alleged chimp owned by Westfall was a fraud and that the primate never starred in any of the Tarzan films with Weismuller.  This information has been widely disseminated since the report, “Lie of the Jungle:  The Truth About Cheetah the Chimpanzee” was published by writer R. D. Rosen.

It’s yet another striking example of how JSA authenticates items without examining the actual signatures and issues certificates of authenticity based solely upon the existence of other unverified letters of authenticity and a stories from customers.

The chimp alleged to have been the Cheetah of Tarzan fame autographs an 8x10 glossy in an alleged private signing.

In this case JSA could have easily discovered the Washington Post expose by simply Googling “Cheetah the Chimp.”  The fraudulent photograph is currently for sale on eBay for $399.  JSA, along with PSA/DNA, is the officially endorsed authenticator of the auction giant eBay and anyone looking to sell an autographed item on eBay is likely to enlist the services of Spence and his team of “so-called” experts.  The eBay seller tells customers:  ”JSA is one of the most highly respected authenticators in the business and is an eBay approved authenticator.  Be rest assured that by purchasing this item, you are getting the real deal.”

Despite the fact the photo was never signed by Cheetah the Chimp, the eBay seller assures customers: "Be rest assured that by purchasing this item, you are getting the real deal."

Author R. D. Rosen was considering writing a book about the famous chimp but in the course of his due diligence he uncovered overwhelming evidence illustrating that the chimp signing 8×10’s was not the original Cheetah and had never appeared in any Hollywood films.  The fraud dated back to the chimps first owner who, on the record, had stated a myriad of conflicting stories related to the chimps personal history which included a story that the chimp was smuggled out on a flight from Africa after filming ended in 1932.  Rosen, however, discovered that commercial flights weren’t available until 1939.

Rosen examined the Dr. Doolitle film and determined that the alleged Cheetah was not the same chimp in the film and even tracked down Hubert Wells, a retired animal trainer who knew the chimp’s original owner Tony Gentry and told him, “It’s not true, Tony got that chimp from Wally Ross. Wally was a premier chimp and elephant trainer. He was one of the managers of Pacific Ocean Park on the pier in Santa Monica. When Pacific Ocean Park closed [in 1967], he had a chimp he owned and trained, about 6 or 7, the turning point for a chimp. He said, ‘Here, Tony, do you want this chimp?’ Tony said, ‘I’ll take it,’ and he took it.”

This scribble was executed by a chimpanzee who was exposed as not being the chimp from the Tarzan movies. Despite that fact JSA authenticated the signature believing they can actually authenticate the handwriting of primates.

Based upon the trainer’s story, the chimp signing the pictures authenticated by JSA and being sold on eBay was born in 1960 or 1961, nearly three decades after the Tarzan pictures were made.  When asked by Rosen if he was positively sure about the chimp Wells said, “Absolutely, no doubt, not for one minute. Absolutely. I’d known Wally since ‘66, and used him on God knows how many pictures. And that chimp was never in any picture, much less a Johnny Weissmuller picture. The big lie is that he was never in the Tarzan movies, never in ‘Doctor Dolittle,’ never in any movie.”

When the autograph-signing “Cheetah-the-Chimp” died in 2011 several news outlets still reported that the chimp was the star of the Tarzan movies, but many amended their reports when notified about Rosen’s Washington Post report.  Rosen told the Associated Press, “I’m afraid any chimp who actually shared a soundstage with Weissmuller and O’Sullivan is long gone.”

Author R. D. Rosen did not respond to our inquiry for comment about JSA’s authentications of the “Cheetah” autographs being sold on eBay.

How could JSA ever differentiate between any of the alleged Cheetah signatures that accompany the LOA's issued by the chimp owner. The LOA (center) was offered with a Cheetah sig offered on eBay by seller "collectstars" for $29.99.

Considering the controversy over the authenticity of the chimpanzee, let alone the handwriting of the chimp, it is hard to believe that Spence and JSA can actually authenticate anything attributed to the Tarzan chimp named “Cheetah.”

The chimpanzee authentications also illustrate how JSA’s standing as an eBay-approved authenticator helps facilitate the creation of LOA’s which add false values to fraudulent items.  Ebay seller “collectstars” recently offered a similar Cheetah autograph with only an LOA signed by the chimp’s owner and the chimp for $29.99.  Seller “presspass” offers the same type of bogus chimp autograph with a JSA certification and a Buy-It-Now price of $399.

The lack of expertise and authentication malpractice exhibited by James Spence and JSA in this instance has created an illusion whereby an eBay seller tells customers they can rest assured they are getting the “real deal” when, in fact, they are a “But-It-Now” button away from being swindled.

UPDATE: Author R. D. Rosen, who first exposed the “Cheetah” scam in his 2008 Washington Post report issued this statement after the article was published this morning:

In 2007, after I was asked to write the biography of Dan Westfall’s then 76-year-old “Cheeta,” my months-long research proved beyond a doubt  that the chimp in question had been born in 1960 and obviously could not have appeared in any Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films. At best, the chimp’s connection to Tarzan might be that his first owner, animal trainer Tony Gentry, may have trained, much earlier in his career, one of the many chimps who shared the role of Cheeta in the Tarzan movies. As for a second “Cheetah,” who died in 2011 in a Florida primate sanctuary at what was said to be almost 80 years of age—an unheard of longevity for the species—I can only surmise that he too was an impostor. The heart-warming, charming fantasy that Tarzan’s sidekick is still alive has itself achieved a kind of immortality—and I wouldn’t be shocked if, 20 years from now, the tabloids are still reporting on some “original” Cheeta’s 102nd birthday. Primate autograph hounds beware.”

UPDATE (Wed. Sept. 18): Two days after publishing this article about eBay’s offering of the bogus JSA authenticated signed photo of a chimp who never starred in the Tarzan or Dr. Doolitle movies, the eBay listing is still live and additionally the same signed photograph is being offered by another big JSA customer “SportsMemorabilia.com.” for $504.49.

The same bogus chimp photo being offered on eBay is being sold for an even higher price at SportsMemorabilia.com.

If you have any information about other fraudulent items being offered on eBay let us know at:  tips@haulsofshame.com .

UPDATE (October 3):  eBAY’S FRAUD DIVISION REMOVES JSA-CERTED FAKE OF “CHEETAH THE CHIMP” IMPOSTER

It took a few weeks, but the autographed photo alleged to have been signed by “Cheetah the Chimp” of Tarzan and Dr. Doolittle movie fame has been removed from the eBay auction site.  As reported on September 16, the photo features a chimp who never starred in any movies and was the subject of a Washington Post investigative report by author R. D. Rosen who presented overwhelming evidence illustrating that the Chimp who was being pimped by his handlers as the real “Cheetah” was indeed a fraud.

The photograph was authenticated by James Spence Authentication (JSA) despite the fact that the fraud could have easily been documented via a few Google searches.  The Chimp fake joins a host of other notable removals of JSA items from the auction site including single-signed baseballs featuring signatures of Biz Mackey, Goose Goslin and Walter Johnson.

The JSA-authenticated fake of Cheetah The Chimp was removed by eBay's Fraud Division earlier today.

A source with knowledge of eBay’s Fraud Division confirmed that the Cheetah photo was removed because of its “authenticity issues.”  The photo was being offered by eBay seller “Press Pass Collectibles” of Scottsdale, Arizona.  Several calls to Press Pass for comment on its offering of the fake after it was exposed on Hauls of Shame were directed to the company’s owner who did not return calls.  When Press Pass representatives were asked for the name of the owner they stated, “It doesn’t matter who the owner is.”

A call to James Spence III of JSA for comment was not returned.  The JSA authentication of the fraudulent chimp photo is another embarrassing blunder by the authentication company eBay considers one of leaders in the industry.  In the past JSA has made serious authentication mistakes ranging from its certification of a misspelled $35,000 Ed Delahanty letter to the infamous Sal Bando video released by a FOX news crew.

While the Chimp controversy has provided laughs for many onlookers, Hauls of Shame has been contacted by several people who collected Cheetah material and were disappointed that their alleged Cheetah autographs and paintings were created by a chimp with zero Hollywood-movie pedigree.  Most of the Cheetah fakes ranged in price from $100 to $400.

Author R. D. Rosen, who exposed the fraud, recently told Hauls of Shame he’s working on a book chronicling his investigation of Cheetah with the working title:  Chump.


By Peter J. Nash

September 6, 2013

Convicted felon Robert Fraser (top left) is on the loose; Bruce Dorskind (top right) passes away; Bud Selig (bottom left) should buy NYPL docs; Barry Sloate (bottom right) a hobby hypocrite.

As Summer ends and the MLB playoff races heat up, Hauls of Shame brings you some belated CHIN-MUSIC:

-Whistle-Blowers who have worked for big hobby companies have contacted Haulsofshame.com with the intention of exposing alleged fraudulent business practices of some of the hobby’s biggest players. Stay tuned this Fall for our coverage that should be beneficial for collectors and interested law enforcement entities.

-Nuf-Ced McGreevy’s treasured photograph of a legendary Red Sox scene was recently recovered by officials at the Boston Public Library. The photo was stolen along with close to one hundred others back in the late 1970s and the library has done a tremendous job recovering McGreevy’s looted treasures all on their own. Stay tuned for in-depth coverage of the recovery this month.

-Robert Fraser, a convicted felon and disgraced real-estate agent who works for Terrie O’Connor Realty in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, has unleashed himself upon the hobby falsely posing as a long-time collector and spouting slander, false statements and assorted absurdities about yours truly. Not surprisingly, he has been embraced by fellow ex-felons like ex-drug dealer Leon Luckey and other Rob Lifson fan-boys like John McDaniel III and Brooklyn dealer Barry Sloate.  Pay no mind to his criminal conviction for insurance fraud and perjury and that in a civil action he was also found guilty of “committing four violations of the Fraud Act”  and for submitting “multiple false statements” as chronicled in the State of New Jersey v. Robert Fraser.  He’s totally believable, though, just ask him.  Fraser has received cease and desist letters from hobby veterans who he has harassed and even his close friend, Rob Lifson, who also referred him to his own lawyer, told John Rogers of the Rogers Archive via email: “Fraser is obsessed with Peter Nash.”

-Barry Sloate thinks Fraser’s slander and fabrications are”amazing.” This coming from Sloate who, in response to an inquiry in 2009 by Freddie McGuire related to the provenance of many dubious items he had sold in the past, stated: “As far as pieces I have sold in the past, I have sold dozens and dozens of rare items and I will admit I do not know the provenance of any of them. I hope all of them were good but like I said, I do not know their source.”  Sloate returned a call from Haulsofshame.com and declined to comment on his past statements and his ties to stolen materials.  Sloate, a known cat-lover, may also be interested that Fraser admitted to our source that while pet-sitting for a neighbor’s cat in Westwood, New Jersey, he became agitated with the cat and killed it, drowning it in a bathtub.  He’s a real gem.


Lew Lipset was told Bruce Dorskind (left) posted bail for Rob Lifson after his NYPL apprehension. Barry Sloate has owned and sold a myriad of relics stolen from the NYPL including the 1852 Eagle Ball Club By Laws (center) and "Challenge Letters" from the Knick BBC scrapbooks. Pictured (right) is the second page of a letter that is still pasted in the NYPL scrapbook. In his 2000 auction, Sloate sold the other half of the May 19, 1859 letter which was stolen with the aid of a sharp object.

-Bruce Dorskind, the controversial collector who had a knack for making as many enemies as friends in the hobby passed away in August after being ill for some time.  When we interviewed him last year for the book, The Madoff of Memorabilia, he revealed many interesting facts about the hobby back in the mid-1970s and told stories about collecting personalities like George Lyons and Barry Halper.  But when talk shifted to the issue of the Spalding Collection thefts at the NYPL, Dorskind’s memory wasn’t as sharp.  When asked, Dorskind said he had only recently learned via the news that his long-time friend and supplier Rob Lifson had been apprehended stealing items from the NYPL back in the late 1970s.   But when we interviewed hobby veteran Lew Lipset earlier this year, he told us he recalled George Lyons telling him it was Dorskind who actually posted bail for Lifson after he was apprehended at the 5th Avenue branch building (Dorskind lived close by on 57th. Street).  Unfortunately, we never got to follow up with Bruce and it looks like he may have taken that NYPL secret to the grave.  Our favorite lines from the Dorskind Group related to his friends Lifson & Mastro are:

-“….A few months later (in 1976) we attended our first Philadelphia show.  There we met two young dealers, Billy Mastro and his pal Bob Lifson.  We purchased the rarest cards they had…included Four Base Hits, 2 Kalamazoo Bat NY players and a Just So.”

-“…..They (Gar Miller, Bob Richardson, Joe Michaelowitz, Buck Barker and Frank Nagy) all said there were only two people who get (super rare type cards) for you–if you are willing to pay, Rob Lifson and Bill Mastro…..With Rob, ‘Where there’s a bill (1,000+) there is a way.”

-Rob (Lifson) is the most knowledgeable dealer I ever worked with.  He knows cards, he knows value and most importantly he knows where the bodies are buried.”

-“Oh how sweet it was…..When it was a hobby.”

-REA and Rob Lifson are rumored to be the auction house that will ultimately sell-off the Dorskind Collection.  REA sold Dorskind’s “Panel of 4 Boston Garter Cards from 1912″ for $177,750 this past May.

Sources say Bud Selig has a chance to restore the NYPL's stolen Harry Wright letters offered for sale in MLB's 2009 All-Star Game auction. Included were letters from Jim Devlin (right) who was banished from baseball in 1877 for taking part in throwing games. Sources say Selig could purchase these docs from collectors much like he bought the Biogenesis docs (bottom left) in his quest to banish A-Rod (inset).

-MLB Commissioner Bud Selig could score some points in trying to restore the Harry Wright Papers to the New York Public Library.  Haulsofshame.com reader Alex R. from Miami suggests that the Commish buy the letter sent by pitcher Jim Devlin to Wright after he was banned for life from Baseball by National League President William Hulbert.  Devlin was pegged a cheater after his involvement in a scheme to throw games was uncovered by baseball officials and his pathetic letters to Wright asking for assistance were cited in works published by Dr. Harold Seymour and his wife Dorothy Mills as originating from the NYPL’s Wright Correspondence Collection.  Considering that Harry Wright originally donated his papers and archive to the National League and Organized Baseball in 1895 it would seen appropriate for MLB to step in and assist the NYPL after the FBI returned the stolen cache of letters to the original consignor who placed them in the 2009 MLB FanFest Auction held by Hunt Auctions.

-MLB’s budget for the Alex Rodriguez investigation and for buying the Biogenesis documents and testimony from Tony Bosch (or part of Bud Selig’s $20 million annual salary) could surely cover the costs for these historic Harry Wright documents and save some baseball history.  We hear the owner/consignor and the collector who has been buying the stolen documents are open to giving them all back for about $30,000.  You’d think Selig & Co. could afford that?

-Hauls of Shame would like to thank all of our readers for their continued support as our readership has passed 50,000 unique users and close to 150,000 page views per month.  Stay tuned for our soon-to-be-released “Worst 100″ authentications of PSA/DNA and JSA, you won’t want to miss it.



By Peter J. Nash
August 5, 2013

Ex-Hobby King Bill Mastro (left) could plead guilty or go to trial related to his trimming of the T-206 Wagner (Photo by S. Cummings). His former friend and partner, Rob Lifson, (right) has avoided prosecution despite having knowledge the card was trimmed when he purchased and sold the card.

Bill Mastro is scheduled to appear in a Chicago courthouse today for a status hearing that will likely result in either a trial date being set or a change of plea being entered if, in fact, he and his lawyer, Mike Monico, have finally cut a deal with the Feds that is agreeable to Judge Ronald A. Guzman.

Mastro was already scheduled to plead guilty to one count of fraud way back on April 9th when reports indicated that the former auction king would have to admit to altering and trimming the famous T-206 Honus Wagner card he purchased in a Long Island baseball card shop in 1985 with his old friend and former partner Rob Lifson who used to describe his partner Mastro and his cohorts as “thirty-five people who work for our company (MastroNet) and they’re all honest and they are all working to have a great auction and auction company.” (Click here for: Lifson audio from 2002).

But Judge Ronald A. Guzman rejected Mastro’s plea deal with prosecutors for a second time because he supposedly viewed the deal too soft on the former hobby honcho. The proposed plea agreement presented by prosecutors did not require Mastro to testify against his co-defendants and former MastroNet employees and Michael O’Keeffe of the New York Daily News said that hobbyists “complained that the proposed sentence was too light.” O’Keeffe quoted anonymous collectors asking, “Where is any sign of remorse?”

Mastro would only have done 30 months (or less) in a federal pen, but that deal was taken off the table again as Judge Guzman postponed Mastro’s last scheduled court date on May 31 to today in Chicago.

Another segment of the hobby, however, is asking a different question:  How did Mastro’s old partner-in-crime, REA auction head, Rob Lifson, avoid prosecution?  Some say Mastro could give up evidence on his old partner, Lifson, but sources say the auctioneer was a key government informant against Mastro in the FBI’s multi-year investigation into the former  ”King of Memorabilia.”  Lifson recently denied Haulsofshame.com’s reports claiming that a source fingered Lifson as an informant in the case when he told blogger Murray Chass, “I was a minority owner and employee of MastroNet from 2000 to 2002.  He (Hauls of Shame) knows nothing of me being a ‘government informant.’ Virtually all if not all of their crimes in the indictment occurred long after I left MastroNet so that speaks for itself.”

Lifson, however, skirts the most relevant “crime” charged in the Mastro indictment involving Mastro and his company promoting the trimmed-Wagner card as the most valuable and most pristine example in existence.  The claims the government made in the indictment focused on the 2000 sale of the Wagner card by Lifson and Robert Edward Auctions when he was an officer and owner of MastroNet.  Despite Lifson’s denials, one of Michael O’Keeffe’s sources has told Haulsofshame.com that O’Keeffe has acknowledged Lifson’s admission to him that he was, in fact, an informant in the Mastro case.  O’Keeffe’s source claims that Lifson lied to Chass.

Both Mastro and Lifson have come a long way since the days they shared hotel rooms, dealer tables and deals in the mid to late 1970’s and 1980’s as aggressive young dealers obsessed with old cardboard.  Back in the day, some say they stalked elderly collectors like prey inside their apartments and homes.  Sources say that both men know of all the skeletons that have piled up in each others closets since the time they both co-wrote a book in 1983 dedicated to sideshow and circus freaks called, Enter The Sideshow. By the year 2000, both men had already established successful auction businesses and decided to join forces to form what was known as MastroNet.com, a sports collectibles auction house behemoth that became the driving force behind the the growth of the unregulated baseball collectibles industry. But it turns out the defining moment in their careers actually occurred back on a cold night in 1985 during their visit to Robert Sevchuk’s little card shop in Hicksville, Long Island, when they encountered for the first time the slice of cardboard that would later become known as “The Card.”  Decades later, in 2005, Rob Lifson recounted his recollections of that night for New York Daily News reporter Michael O’Keeffe and that account was included in the book of the same name co-written by O’Keeffe and his News editor, Teri Thompson, and released by Harper-Collins in 2008.

Mastro and Lifson were once so close they co-authored this 1983 book, "Enter the Sideshow" dedicated to original photography featuring assorted sideshow and circus-freaks of the 19th century. Hobby celebs Mastro and Lifson autographed this 1981 program from the 1st National Sports Collectors Convention in 1980,

O’Keeffe says he first met Lifson in 2000 at a press confrence in Mickey Mantle’s restaurant on Central Park West when both Lifson and Mastro were promoting the upcoming sale of that same Honus Wagner card by Lifson’s company, Robert Edward Auctions, which had just become a subsidiary of MastroNet.com.  O’Keeffe said that Lifson predicted that the card could sell for over $1 million and that it was “the Mona Lisa of trading cards.”  O’Keeffe says he was “mesmerized as Mastro executives talked about a trading card in terms usually reserved for fine art.” O’Keeffe then asked Lifson about the provenance of the Wagner card and was told how the Chicago collector Mike Gidwitz, known for his stash of original Mad Magazine art, was selling the card and that it was purchased in 1996 at Christie’s for $641,500.  O’Keeffe then told Lifson, “You’ve only taken me back ten years.  Where was this card for the first seventy years of its life?”  O’Keeffe wrote in, The Card:  ”Lifson gave me a funny look.  He seemed uncomfortable.  Finally, he said he didn’t know.”  Lifson then told O’Keeffe to talk to Bill Mastro since he had “discovered” the card in 1985 and bought it for $25,000.

NYDN reporter Michael O'Keeffe first met Rob Lifson at a press confrence for the Gretzky-McNall Wagner in 2000. A few months later he was kicked out of Bill Mastro's MastroNet offices after he asked if the Wagner card had been restored or trimmed.

It didn’t take O’Keeffe too long to figure out that Lifson had not been truthful in his response as he later wrote, “Lifson failed to mention that he, too, was at the card shop when Mastro bought the Wagner, and that he even funded the transaction.” Lifson lied to O’Keeffe upon his first meeting and when O’Keeffe traveled months later to Chicago to interview Bill Mastro he was rebuked after he asked the auction honcho if there was any truth to rumors that “there was a deep dark secret behind the Gretzky T206 Wagner” and that the card had  been altered or restored. O’Keeffe wrote in The Card:  ”Mastro denied that the T206 Wagner has ever been restored and refused to discuss its provenance.  He cursed a blue streak, then he threw me out of his office.”

By 2003, Mastro felt the same way about Lifson as the two men had become enemies and went through a MastroNet divorce by which Lifson returned to owning Robert Edward Auctions as its sole proprietor and later became O’Keeffe’s primary source for his book, The Card. In order to write the book O’Keeffe needed one of the liars to cooperate with him as a source and the liar he cozied up to was Lifson.  Despite knowing that Lifson had just as much knowledge of the shenanigans related to the Wagner card as Mastro did, O’Keeffe wrote an entire chapter devoted to Lifson that portrayed him as “A White Knight” in the hobby.  O’Keeffe described Lifson glowingly as a crusader fighting fraud and battling card doctors and other scoundrels who would trim and alter cards to improve their condition.  To help sell his story, O’Keeffe painted Lifson as his “good guy” and pitted him against his villainous arch-rival, Bill Mastro.  O’Keeffe was able to take advantage of the hatred between the former friends and business partners who had once shared tables at the National and later partnered up to form the biggest sports auction enterprise in history.

Bill Mastro and Rob Lifson joined forces at the 1983 National Convention and placed this full page advertisement in The Trader Speaks. Both Lifson and Mastro tell their customers: "Our condition standards are second to none."

In the book, O’Keeffe carefully crafted passages that dealt with the original Mastro and Lifson discovery of the card in Hicksville in 1985 from Lifson’s perspective:

1. “Only Mastro and Lifson would be allowed in for a look at the treasure inside; and Lifson himself would barely get a glimpse, relegated to the front of the store while Mastro made the deal in the back.”

2. “The transaction took half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes, long enough for Lifson to grow bored with the cards in Sevchuk’s glass cases.  After Mastro let Lifson glimpse the card for just a few seconds, he continued his wheeling and dealing as soon as he and Lifson got back into the Honda.”

3. O’Keeffe also quoted the card’s original owner: ” Alan Ray, would say later that Mastro and Lifson “knew what they were going to do with that card,” but Lifson wouldn’t see the card again for years, not until it had been slabbed between two sheets of plastic and graded, labeled as the most valuable card in the world.”

What O’Keeffe appears to have been consciously establishing in these three passages, based solely upon the testimony of Lifson, was the assertion that Rob Lifson never got a good enough look at the card in its raw state before Bill Mastro later altered and trimmed it to improve the condition of its edges and corners.  Such a description of Lifson’s involvement would create cover for him and establish that Lifson could not have known for sure if the card was trimmed since he never got a good look at it on the day that he financed 100% of the deal to purchase the card. Based upon O’Keeffe’s reporting, Lifson could not be accused of having committed fraud himself  when he handled the same card in 1996 and 2000.

This point is relevant to a specific charge made in the original indictment against Mastro which deals specifically with representations made about the T-206 Wagner:

“It was further part of the scheme that in marketing materials distributed on behalf of Mastro Auctions, which were intended to portray Mastro Auctions to potential bidders and consignors as a premier seller of valuable items for which a strong market existed, defendant MASTRO represented that Mastro Auctions had sold the most expensive baseball card in the world, a Honus Wagner T-206 card. In making this representation, however, defendant MASTRO knowingly omitted the material fact that defendant MASTRO had altered the baseball card by cutting the sides of the card in a manner that, if disclosed, would have significantly reduced the value of the card.”

The charge in the indictment indicates that Mastro Auctions had “sold the most expensive baseball card in the world,” however it was actually Lifson’s Robert Edward Auctions, operating as a subsidiary of MastroNet, that had actually conducted the sale of the card when it was auctioned off to collector Brain Siegel for $1.25 million in 2000.  If O’Keeffe’s reporting was accurate and the current Mastro plea deal comes to fruition, are we to believe that when the card sold at REA in 2000 Bill Mastro knew the card was trimmed, but Rob Lifson didn’t?

The infamous Gretzky-McNall Wagner was purchased by Arizona DiamondBacks owner, Ken Kendrick, for $2.8 million and was on loan to the Hall of Fame from 2010 to 2011.

In the course of his reporting for The Card, O’Keeffe was told the card was trimmed by the person who actually graded the card for PSA in 1996, Bill Hughes.  Hughes allegedly admitted to O’Keeffe that he knew the card had been cut from a sheet when he graded it.  O’Keeffe quoted Hughes as saying, “The card is so outstanding, it would have been sacrilegious to call that card trimmed and completely devalue it.” In addition, Bill Heitmann, a long time hobby veteran and author of the T206 reference book, The Monster, also told O’Keeffe he had seen the card before and after it was graded by PSA and believed it had been trimmed to enhance its condition.

In 2007, Heitmann also talked about Hughes and the Wagner card on a collector forum stating, “When PSA was first starting up, they were practically doing handstands to get to grade the T206 Wagner that McNall and Gretzky had just bought. I happened to know the pedigree of the card and knew that it had been trimmed. The guy who was going to grade the card stopped by my home on the way to PSA headquarters to grade the card. He knew that the card had been trimmed, but told me PSA had to grade the card because the good publicity that would come from grading the card was all that was important and, besides the card was within the size limitations for T206.”

Heitman even revealed that he had talked to Wayne Gretzky’s partner in the card, Bruce McNall.  ”I actually talked once to Bruce McNall about this and he acknowledged that he knew the card had been trimmed. So PSA, the owners of the card and the grader of the card knew it was trimmed. But put some plastic over it and all was forgotten,” said Heitman. Mastro and Lifson rival Josh Evans, of Lelands, provided even more damning allegations related to the Wagner when he told O’Keeffe that Bill Mastro, himself, had told Evans he had trimmed the card shortly after he first sold it to west coast sporting goods magnate Jim Copeland in 1989.

Bill Mastro, of course, knew that he had trimmed the card; Bruce McNall, who purchased it for $250,000 knew it was trimmed; Bill Hughes knew it was trimmed and even Bill Heitman went on the record stating it was trimmed.  Josh Evans’ revelation that Mastro admitted trimming the Wagner was the cherry on top.  According to O’Keeffe’s reporting everyone but Rob Lifson had seen and (or) known the card was trimmed.  The guy who originally purchased and financed the card for $25,000 in 1987 had no idea it was trimmed?  Lifson was the same guy who said in his 1983 advertisement with his partner Bill Mastro: “Our condition standards are second to none.”

Bill Heitman also went on the record stating,  ”A company purporting to be a grader or authenticator is only as good as the people doing the work. By 1980, I could tell whether a pre-WWII card was authentic or trimmed just by examining it closely. Why? I had handled so many of the cards that it almost became a sixth sense. The grading services would do the hobby a real service if it hired people who really know the cards.”

Bill Mastro and Bill Heitman appear in Baseball Card News" in July of 1984 as "leading authorities" in the hobby.

Another detractor was Lifson’s long-time customer, Keith Olbermann, who  had for years also been of the opinion that the card had been altered.  When Mastro’s indictment was made public last August, Olbermann took to his MLB.com “Baseball Nerd” blog to recount events from 1991 when his friend Matt Federgreen of the Beverly Hills Baseball Card Store had been asked to examine the card for Bruce McNall and brought back pictures to Olbermann.  Olbermann remembers: “I took one look at the photos and said “It’s been trimmed.”  Matt laughed. “That’s what I told Bruce. He said thanks very much, he said he thought so too, he said he’d probably buy it any way, and he walked me to the door, and he paid me a very generous fee, and I left.”

Soonafter, Olbermann found some old pictures of another Wagner that had been offered on the circiut back in the 1980s.  He continued his story: “By the following Sunday I had found in my rabbit’s warren of card-related stuff, photos of a Wagner that had been offered for sale in the early ’80s by a fellow who owned a baseball card store on Long Island outside New York City. I had no doubt and neither did Matt. Between his photos and mine we were looking at before-and-after shots of the same card. Before and after somebody with the guts of a burglar and the skills of a circumcision specialist had trimmed the thing.

In the early 1980s Rob Lifson already considered himself a “card scholar” and along with Bill Mastro, was one of the most savvy dealers in regards to the grading of cards.  In fact, when Barry Halper purchased what he described as a “supermint” blank-backed T-206 Eddie Collins proof card he said that Lifson and Mastro had authenticated the card.  After getting the opinion of the two guys he called “knowledgeable authorities” Halper wrote in The Trader Speaks that “The Doubting Thomas’” of the hobby could rest assured that it was “not a card which was put together with glue or taken from another series.”  Ironically, that same T-206 Collins proof card is today part of  Olbermann’s private collection having acquired it after actor Charlie Sheen purchased it from Halper.

In April of 1977 Barry Halper announced in "The Trader Speaks" his "find" of a "supermint" and blank backed T-206 proof card of Eddie Collins he enlisted the services of Rob Lifson and Bill Mastro to authenticate it.

Like Olbermann, Lifson could spot a trimmed card from a mile away and of course Lifson was aware of Olbermann’s opinion of the card. Several sources indicate that Lifson did, in fact, see the card before it was trimmed and confirm that Lifson was well aware of the enhancement to its condition.  He was well aware of the trimming when he, himself, was the winning bidder of the card for $651,000 at Christie’s in 1996, and when he auctioned off the card at REA in 2000 for $1.25 million.

In addition to Olbermann and Lifson another MastroNet employee in 2000, Mike Guitterez, also knew the card was altered and had gone on the record in the Chicago Tribune as early as July of 1991 claiming it was trimmed.  Gutierrez said, “The card was definitely cut (altered) at some point. The card was said to be mint-the best possible grade. Looking at it, you see it`s not mint. It`s near-mint to mint. It has some wear, which to the naked eye is almost invisible. I don`t know when it was cut, or by whom, but it sure was. I have no doubt.”  Gutierrez made his comments while working as a consultant for Bruce McNall’s auction house Superior Galleries in Beverly Hills, Calif., which had displayed the card at the 1991 National Sports Collectors Convention.  In the same article, McNall even responded to Gutierrez’ claims and said, “That (the card was trimmed) is what people are saying. We’ve heard all that talk. We talked with people before we bought the card, and we’re both happy with it.  Any time you have something like this, people will say things. Sotheby’s stands behind the card. I have no intention of returning it or selling it.”

Back in 1991, McNall and his partner in the card, Wayne Gretzky, relied on the opinion of PSA founder and president David Hall who told the Tribune, “It`s in the mid-range of acceptable size.  We used five-, 10- and 20-power magnification to examine the card. Compared to other (Wagner) cards, it looks about the same. It isn`t mint like Sotheby’s offered, but it`s still probably the finest specimen known.”  Hall did not deny that the card was trimmed.

Others who claimed they knew the Mastro/Lifson Wagner was trimmed include Keith Olbermann (left, with one of his own Wagners); former Mastro employee Mike Gutierrez (center) and even Bruce McNall and Wayne Gretzky (right).

One of our sources, a veteran collector of high-end artifacts who was once a close associate of Lifson, revealed to this writer back in 2000 what he described as the true story behind the Wagner as he heard it directly told to him by Lifson.  Our source will remain anonymous and from here on in be known simply as “Hobby Deep-Throat,” the man who confirmed that Lifson had first hand knowledge the card had been trimmed to enhance its condition and value.

The same question has even been posed to Lifson on collector forums like Net54 where in 2009 he was asked and refused to answer this question posed by a collector with the handle “MikeU”:

Rob, When working at MastroNet, did yourself or anyone at MastroNet or anyone at PSA auction a PSA 8 T206 Wagner in 2000 that was knowingly hand cut or trimmed? We are worried about Doug taking a spoon to surface wrinkles. What about the biggest question in our entire hobby. Let the truth be known.”

Shortly after the night that Lifson and REA auctioned off the famous card in May of 2000, “Hobby Deep-Throat” revealed to this writer that Lifson did, in fact, know the Wagner card he was selling had been trimmed and that both he and Mastro had failed to disclose this to prospective bidders in the REA/MastroNet sale. Referring to a direct conversation he once had with Lifson, “Hobby Deep Throat” said, “He (Lifson) told me years ago that Mastro trimmed it.”  He added, “He told me that Mastro cut it off from a full sheet and there was a guy on Long Island that had the sheet.” Of course, this conversation occurred years before The Card was published.

Rob Lifson (left) outbid Bill Mastro (center) at Christie's and took home the Wagner card for $651,500. Lifson said he was only bidding for Mike Giudwitz, but "Hobby Deep-Throat" disputes that claim.

When Lifson was interviewed by Alexandra Peers of the Wall Street Journal for a September 21, 1996 article before the sale of the Wagner at Christie’s, the details of the original transaction were different.  Peers reported that Mastro and Lifson were approached and baited with information about the card at a Philadelphia card show and that both men “bit.”  Peers wrote, “Traveling to a baseball card shop in rural New York, the two men found their holy grail and more.”  Lifson told her, “It was a miracle, once in a lifetime.”  Peers added, “As the anonymous seller hovered in the background, the two dealers paid a total of $25,000 for the Honus Wagner card and other rarities.  Mastro, however, later became sole owner of the card and bragged that someday it would be the first $100,000 collectible.” With the card close to being auctioned on the block by Christie’s, Lifson told Peers that he had already left a bid “in excess of $300,000 with Christie’s but (wasn’t) optimistic.”  Lifson added, “I have less than 1-percent chance of getting it for that.”  Lifson knew that he would be bidding against his friend Bill Mastro for the card.  Mastro and Lifson were both aware that the card was trimmed and now the two men who discovered and purchased the card in its raw state were bidding against each other for the now transformed “Gretzky Wagner.”  When the Wall Street Journal asked Lifson for his opinion of the card he said, “It’s the Mona Lisa of the field.”

Click Here: For Short Audio Clip of Hobby Deep-Throat on Lifson’s knowledge of Mastro’s trimming the Wagner

(Stay tuned for the continuation of this series and entire audio of the shocking revelations made by “Hobby Deep-Throat” in Part 4 of our 10-part series on the Mastro Investigation.  Click here for: Part 1 and Part 2 )


By Peter J. Nash

July 28, 2013

After a 4-year FBI investigation into the thefts of the "Harry Wright Letters" NYPL President Tony Marx (inset) has given away the donated artifacts to be sold on eBay.

Scroll to bottom for Update:

Back in the 1950s, Dorothy Seymour Mills held Harry Wright’s letters in her own hands at the New York Public Library’s famous Spalding Baseball Collection. She was conducting research with her late husband, Dr. Harold Seymour, for his Cornell University dissertation and their groundbreaking book Baseball: The Early Years which are both considered the first scholarly works dealing with our National Pastime. The NYPL’s Harry Wright correspondence archive was a key component in the Seymour research because it was a comprehensive day by day record of the man considered the “Father of Professional Baseball” spanning from 1865 to 1894.

Mills and her husband took copious notes documenting each letter they cited in their work as originating from the pages of four giant scrapbooks of Wright’s letters which were housed in the library’s manuscripts division. A few of the most important documents the Seymour’s discovered in the treasure trove of missives were poignant letters to Wright from pitcher Jim Devlin who had been banished for “throwing games” in one of baseball’s first gambling scandals. The down-and-out Devlin was begging the magnate Wright for any type of work possible to help feed his struggling family.

In July of 2009, those very same letters from Devlin that Mills utilized at the library over sixty years ago appeared for sale in Major League Baseball’s All Star Fanfest Auction conducted by auctioneer David Hunt. The letters were offered by Hunt as a “Cache of Rare 19th Century Letters With Relation to Harry Wright.” Hunt told the New York Times that his consignor found the stash of letters in a “grandparents estate” while Harry Wright’s granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, asked Times reporter Jack Curry, “Why would someone have them if they weren’t related to him? Why would they be in their grandmother’s attic?”  The NYPL President and CEO at the time, David Ferrerio, told the Times the situation was very “disconcerting” and added, “We try our hardest to make sure we’re protecting the collection.”

Guzzi knew that her great-grandfather had bequeathed his entire baseball archive to the National League in 1895 and afterwards it became part of the collection of baseball pioneer Albert G. Spalding whose widow donated his entire archive to the NYPL in 1921. Dorothy Seymour Mills knew the letters in the auction were property of the New York Public Library and her citations and research notes housed at Cornell University’s rare and manuscript division proved it unequivocally.  At the time Mills identified lot 254 in the Hunt sale as the same Devlin letter she saw at the library and said, “This is proved on page 219 of the doctoral dissertation that I helped my late husband prepare for Cornell University.”  Seymour’s footnote identified the exact same letter being offered for sale and based upon her proofs, the Times headline read: Another Clue That Baseball Auction Has Stolen Items.

The Hunt Auctions catalog presented a Nov. 11, 1877 letter that was previously cited as NYPL property by Dorothy Seymour Mills and her late husband Dr. Harold Seymour in a Cornell dissertation and on research notes (bottom left) taken at the NYPL in the 1950s. The ownership proofs (top right) were presented to the FBI by Haulsofshame in 2009.

The Devlin letters for sure had been stolen from the library and all of the others were suspected to have originated from three of Wright’s correspondence scrapbooks which were documented as missing when the library took an inventory in 1983. Based upon Mills’ testimony, the New York Times reported that the evidence unearthed caused the auction house to pull the letters from the MLB auction and the NYPL enlisted the aid of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who officially commenced a probe into the alleged Spalding Collection thefts.  Mills recounted her experience aiding the FBI on NPR and later wrote an essay about her experience entitled, When Baseball Obsession Goes Too Far, The FBI Steps In.

Now, four years after the FBI opened its investigation into the missing Wright letters, Haulsofshame.com has learned that the Feds have returned the letters they collected in 2009 to the original consignor from the Hunt/MLB auction.  In addition, several of those questioned documents have just appeared for sale on eBay while another Wright letter, also believed to have been stolen from the NYPL scrapbooks, is appearing for sale at Huggins & Scott Auctions.  A collector and eBay seller we interviewed revealed that he had purchased twenty-five of the Wright letters from the original 2009 auction consignor and confirmed that the consignor informed him that the entire “cache of Wright letters” was returned to him by the FBI in late 2012. The consignor, who asked for anonymity, told Haulsofshame.com that the FBI agent he dealt with said he would not interfere if he tried to sell them.   He was told, “There will be collectors who will want to buy them.”

A letter sent by player Dan Casey to Harry Wright in 1889 appeared as the first "Wright Letters" lot in the 2009 Hunt/MLB catalog before it was turned over to the FBI in 2009 as a document suspected to have been stolen from the NYPL Wright scrapbooks. In July, the same letter was posted for sale on eBay in two parts, one of which being Harry Wright's notations written on the letter for his response. The seller ended the auction when contacted by Haulsofshame.com. The cabinet photo of Wright pictured has also been stolen from the NYPL and is currently listed on the NYPL's "Missing List."

The FBI was right, as the consignor posted a message on the collector forum Net54 which is owned, operated and moderated by a criminally convicted felon named Leon Rantz Luckey of Allen, Texas.  Luckey’s membership includes several collectors who are notorious for buying, selling and showing-off contraband artifacts from institutions and his biggest advertiser, Rob Lifson of Robert Edward Auctions, was actually apprehended stealing items from the Spalding Collection in 1979.  In reporting the incident TIME Magazine said the culprit was caught stealing a “cache of smiling infielders.”  In recent years Lifson has made several conflicting confessions.

The owner of the stolen Wright letters reached out to collectors on Luckey’s forum in late January asking what the value of a Jim Devlin letter to Harry Wright might be. The consignor also posted a link to Haulsofshame.com’s “10 Most Wanted National Baseball Treasures” list and pointed to another Devlin letter written to Wright which was also part of the NYPL collection but not part of the Hunt cache he inherited from a grandparent.  A collector responded to the consignor’s message in February and says that he purchased the documents for his personal collection.  ”He told me they were returned and his to do whatever he wanted to.  The FBI gave him their blessing so I bought them,” he said.  The buyer also confirmed that the two Devlin letters were in the consignor’s possession and that he had been “saving up to purchase one of the Devlin letters, too.”  The collector told Haulsofshame.com that he knew of the background of the letters and also says that he purchased them to preserve and keep them together should the NYPL ever pursue them on their own.

After the "Wright cache of letters" was returned to the Hunt Auctions consignor, he posted this message at the collector forum of ex-felon Leon Luckey (bottom left) looking to price his two Devlin letters for sale. In the post he references the Halper Devlin letter posted on the HOS "10 Most Wanted Missing National Baseball Treasures" list (right).

The Devlin letter featured on the Haulsofshame.com website’s “10 Most Wanted” list was sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 as part of the Barry Halper collection.  In the course of the four-year FBI investigation many of the Harry Wright letters were traced back to Halper, the New York Yankee partner who died in 2005.  One FBI agent said, “Most everything seems to lead back to Halper,” and for good reason, since it was Halper who once showed The Sporting News what was described as “his collection of written correspondence by Harry Wright.”  Viewing Halper’s collection at his residence in July of 1977, Bill Madden wrote a feature for his “The Sports Collector” column and highlighted a Devlin letter to Wright and another from slugger Ed Delahanty’s father sent to Wright in 1889.  Madden reported that Halper showed him the correspondence by “flipping the plastic-covered pages of yet another scrapbook.”

A few months later in 1977, Halper gave writer Peter Golenbock a call and said, “I just picked up something the other day you’d really get a kick out of.  It’s a letter written by James Devlin to Harry Wright.”  Golenbock described the letter as a “priceless treasure (historically), a link to one of the most sordid chapters in baseball history” and he published the entire letter dated November 25, 1877, in his “World of Baseball Autographs” column in The Trader Speaks.  It should be noted that the surviving Wright  Scrapbook No. 2 (which is still at the NYPL) includes two additional letters from Devlin to Wright dated February 24, 1878 and November 14, 1879.  In addition to Golenbock,  several sources have confirmed that Halper had a sizable archive of Wright letters in the late 1970s and he sold scores of them when he liquidated his collection at Sotheby’s in 1999.  Halper’s Devlin letter sold for $8,050.

Barry Halper's Devlin letter was featured in an October 1977 issue of "The Trader Speaks" in a column written by author Peter Golenbock. Halper's letter was not cited by the Seymours and was sold at Sotheby's in 1999.

In February of 2012, Haulsofshame.com published excerpts from an interview with a source who alleged Halper had admitted he was responsible for the NYPL heist.  The source disclosed that in the early 1980s Halper was questioned by a family member of the source as to what the origins were of some rare items Halper was offering.  The source said, “Barry bragged to (my relative) that a lot of his collection came from that (the New York Public Library).” The source added, “Barry said it was there for the taking and Barry was quite proud of it. (My relative) absolutely could not tolerate it.” We asked the source to confirm that the thefts were from the NYPL and the source stated, “Yes, the New York Public Library, he used to talk about how he did it.” When asked to delve further into details the source stated, “These were conversations he and (my relative) had, and obviously, (my relative) and I talked about it, but I can’t remember that Barry himself, but he also hired other people to do it and told them and how to go do this, so it was just something that once we knew, that was the end of the relationship (with Halper). It always amazes me because he was trading on he was always bigger than life, and people just let him get away with it and I just couldn’t believe it.”

Barry Halper sits in his den c.1984 with a stolen 1879 contract signed by Harry Wright hanging on his wall (outlined in red). It is Ezra Sutton's contract and was once part of the NYPL collection as evidenced by the 1953 letter from NYPL to Dr. Seymour about the same contract (bottom left). Halper had many other stolen NYPL items including an 1875 letter awarding Boston the pennant documented in the Seymour notes at Cornell (top left); photos of Wright (bottom right) and others with obscured NYPL ownership stamps like the CDV depicted here of Andrew Peck.

Many of Halper’s offerings at Sotheby’s have also been confirmed as stolen from the NYPL having been documented verbatim in the Seymour research notes at Cornell.  Most notable was a letter to Wright from Morgan Bulkeley awarding Boston the 1875 Pennant and another was an 1879 contract signed by Wright and player Ezra Sutton.  Both items were described in detail by the Seymour and Mills and the contract was even documented as being displayed in the NYPL’s main exhibition room in 1922.  In addition to documents, Halper also had many rare photographs that exhibited evidence of an NYPL ownership stamp, including several portraits of Harry Wright.

Based upon our source’s testimony, Halper likely coordinated the thefts before he purchased a 2% interest in the New York Yankees in 1979 and became one of George Steinbrenner’s limited partners.  With evidence suggesting that an MLB owner was involved in the theft and possession of letters donated to organized Baseball and the National League, one would think Bud Selig and MLB Security would conduct their own investigation to aid the NYPL and FBI.  Sources indicate, however, that Selig and MLB are reluctant to look into “one of their own” even though Halper also swindled and defrauded MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998 when he sold them several million dollars of counterfeit artifacts including what he alleged was “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s 1919 Black Sox jersey.

When the Hunt letters appeared in the 2009 MLB auction MLB spokesman Matt Bourne said Selig was, “eagerly awaiting further information on this matter,” and MLB President Bob DuPuy told the Times he commended Hunt Auctions for “deciding to withdraw merchandise that is not properly documented.”  Haulsofshame.com followed up and called MLB’s Matt Bourne to ask if Selig & Co. had conducted their own investigation into Halper, but Bourne was unavailable for comment.  Halper’s ownership interest in the Yankee franchise passed to his widow, Sharon Halper, who is currently listed as a Yankee limited partner.

Sources indicate that the FBI returned the letters to David Hunt and that the auctioneer passed the documents, many of which are still affixed to c. 1920’s scrapbook paper, to his consignor.  Of the forty-five documents returned, over 33% of the auction lots, including the Devlin letters, were proven to be NYPL property based upon the Seymour’s published works and the corresponding research notes at Cornell which quoted verbatim the content of many of the Hunt Auction letters.  Lot 253 in the Hunt auction has Devlin describing an auction of his home as he writes, “The sherriff is on the ground and it will be sold Tuesday.”  At Cornell, Dr. Harold Seymour’s original NYPL research note also states, “The sherriff is on the ground and it will be sold Tuesday” and identifies his source as a Nov. 2, 1877 letter located on pages “44 and 45″ of “Wright Corres. 1″ at the NYPL.  The FBI received a full report documenting these proofs in September of 2009 provided by this writer.  Sources indicate neither the FBI nor the NYPL have ever visited Cornell to examine the Seymour Papers on their own.

Dorothy Seymour Mills is depicted on SABR's prestigious "Seymour Medal" (far left). When Mills proved letters in the 2009 Hunt sale were NYPL property library CEO David Ferrerio was on his way out having been appointed National Archivist by President Obama (2nd left). Tony Marks (3rd from left) replaced Ferrerio and has been the NYPL CEO during the 4-yr FBI probe which kicked off with the David Hunt (far right) auction and the reporting of Jack Curry (2nd from right) of the Times (now a Yankee/YES broadcaster).

The woman who provided the original “smoking gun” evidence to the FBI and Jack Curry of the New York Times when the letters were originally pulled from the auction is disturbed by the FBI and NYPL actions.  Dorothy Seymour Mills, who has also been honored with her likeness on SABR’s “Harold and Dorothy Seymour Medal” for her “lifetime contributions to baseball’s historical scholarship” was in disbelief wondering, “How can the FBI give Hunt it’s blessing?”

There’s no question that many of the letters Mills singled out four years ago belonged to the library when David Ferrerio made his comments to The New York Times.  Mills added, “David Ferrerio could not have been trying “his hardest” to protect this valuable collection if he didn’t even know it had been sold.”

Mills also had strong words for Ferrerio’s successor, NYPL President and CEO, Tony Marx,  ”I believe the leadership of our famous New York Public Library needs to be fired. Scholars are going to be shortchanged even more when this administration starts moving important scholarly books off-site. I have long considered the great NYPL my second home and have a painting of the entrance, with the famous lions, on my office wall. I feel like turning it over so that I won’t have look at it and remember what’s happening to our valuable cultural asset.”

Mills also made a point to stress how important the NYPL collection was in shaping her career as a historian and author and noted recent comments in the MLB Insiders Club Magazine made by Jim Gates, Librarian of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.  Mills says Gates noted her “efforts as a researcher and writer for making baseball history an accepted field of study” and how due to her efforts there are now “dozens of graduate students of both genders laboring away at baseball-related dissertations.”

Mills told us it would not have been possible without cultural assets like the Spalding Collection.  ”I couldn’t have done it without the NYPL.  But I wonder if today I would even be able to start such a huge project depending largely upon original manuscript material. I doubt it,” she said.

The NYPL displayed its T206 Wagner for All-Star Game week (left) and had All-Star themed apple sculptures at the library entrance (center left). Harry Wright (inset) never envisioned his letter (center right) on ebay; Protesters say the NYPL is being "Looted" by trustees (right).

Marx and the NYPL have also come under fire from other historians and scholars in the wake of his $350 million renovation plans for the famous Fifth Avenue Branch which calls for relocating almost one million books from the NYPL stacks to a storage facility in New Jersey.  Two separate lawsuits were filed this month against the library, one of which alleges that the “destruction of the stacks” would “surely doom the NYPL’s mission to serve the public’s research and reference needs.”  Historian Mills agrees with the charges and adds, “They’re acting in the same way about changing the NYPL from a great research library, famous world-wide,  to a neighborhood lending library and gathering spot for coffee drinkers, because they got a big bunch of money to do it.”

Historians like Mills view the recent give-away of the valuable Harry Wright letters as a similar travesty of scholarship and a violation of the wishes of Harry Wright who bequeathed his baseball archive to the National League and Spalding in 1894 so it could serve as “a nucleus or beginning of a historical collection of memoranda and facts bearing upon our grand national game of baseball.”  Spalding’s widow, in fact, entertained several offers for the collection but chose the NYPL because it would be “most accessible to the greatest number of lovers of our national game.”

The library just capitalized on its baseball holdings last week by displaying a rare T206 Honus Wagner card from the Goulston Collection and, ironically, the entrance was adorned with MLB All Star Game-themed apple sculptures just four years after the Wright letters were offered for sale in MLB’s 2009 All-Star Game auction.  The give away of the documents that represented Harry Wright’s life’s work has come as a great surprise to his great-great granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, who was shaken by the news.  Guzzi said, “I find this whole thing so backwards and ridiculously wrong. I feel like I must be missing some valuable piece of information because otherwise, none of this makes any sense to me and really makes me heart sick. It was my understanding that it was obvious these items were among the missing stolen items from the NYPL Harry Wright collection. If that is the case, how does it make sense that they be returned to the seller/consignor to do with as they please?”

MLB Commish Bud Selig (left) has made no effort to recover Wright's letters; Baseball artifact thieves have even stolen the codicil to Harry Wright's will that instructed the donation of his personal archive to the National League in 1895 (center). This 1874 Warren cabinet photo of Wright is missing from the NYPL collection and documented as NYPL property in a book by Robert Smith (right).

Guzzi has viewed the evidence supplied by Dorothy Seymour Mills and Haulsofshame.com and like many baseball researchers  feels, “Until it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that these items are not stolen property, why would the FBI not hold onto them indefinitely? I wish I or my family had the money to purchase all of these items so that this nonsense would come to an end.”

The nonsense Guzzi describes is the shady baseball artifact trade that has even extended to the theft of her great-great grandfather’s last will and testament from a Philadelphia courthouse.  The codicil to that document bequeathing his letters and archive to the National League in 1895 was also sold by the auctioneer that offered the stolen letters in 2009, David Hunt.  Despite being notified that he also sold the stolen codicil to Wright’s will, Hunt has failed to recover and return the document he sold for over $10,000 in the late 1990s.  Hunt did not respond to requests for comment.

Guzzi is understandably disturbed.  She added, “This is my great-great grandfather’s legacy we are talking about and I feel utterly helpless. These documents are a major part of history and will be lost forever if something isn’t done immediately to return them to their rightful resting place at the NYPL.”

We also contacted a descendant of A. G. Spalding, who compiled the entire NYPL collection, and informed him about the FBI return of the Wright letters. Keith Spalding Robbins, the Godson of Spalding’s only son Keith Spalding said, “Such profiteering from stolen goods is a cancer that erodes the integrity and hurts the legitimacy of the sports memorabilia marketplace and must be eradicated.”  Robbins said he recalled his family discussing the Spalding thefts at the dinner table in the late 1970s and added, “The Spalding Collection is not just a collection of books images and letters, it is a record of achievement and baseball knowledge of small towns and numerous families.  The archives need to be restored and returned to the public for all to see, enjoy and learn from.”

Responding to our inquiries about the Wright letters, the NYPL’s Director of Communications, Angela Montefinise, said, “The New York Public Library is fully committed to retrieving all items stolen from its Spalding collection in the 1970s. While we are being patient with Federal investigators – who have an extremely difficult job definitively proving that items came from the Library – we are also actively pursuing other options to try to ensure that our materials are returned. For example, we have reached out to at least one auction house directly to request that an item be removed from sale, as we believe it originated in the Spalding collection.”

In response to the outcry over the FBI’s return of the letters Montefinise added, “As for the letters being (returned) by Hunt’s, we have to defer to the FBI on this matter, as it is conducting the investigation. What we can say is that The New York Public Library has made it extremely clear to all involved that it wants all of its materials returned and made accessible to the public, where they belong. The Library never conceded that these items were not ours, and certainly never instructed the auction house to sell the materials. That is completely untrue.”

Sources indicate that the library has contacted Huggins & Scott Auctions and identified the Harry Wright letter they are currently offering as NYPL property.  The company has not yet responded to that inquiry and auction rep Josh Wulkan has not responded to ours.

How do the FBI and NYPL explain returning the Devlin letter dated Nov. 2, 1877 from the 2009 Hunt MLB sale (left) in which Devlin writes, "The sheriff is on the ground and it will be sold on Tuesday" (outlined in red, left). Dr. Harold Seymour's handwritten research note at Cornell Univ. quotes from the exact same letter and cites the exact same passage verbatim regarding the "sherriff" from the exact same date and from the "Wright Corres(pondence Scrapbook) 1. p.p. 44 and 45" (all oultlined in red). (Courtesy Cornell Univ. Rare and Manuscript Division).

Special Agent Jim Margolin from the FBI’s New York City press office declined comment on the return of the Wright documents but added, “The investigation into the Spalding Collection thefts is still open and active.”  But the FBI failed to answer how the US Attorney apparently failed to make a case to keep the letters despite the fact that eight of the twenty-five Hunt lots were verified as NYPL property through the Seymour citations, research notes and the eyewitness testimony of Dorothy Seymour Mills.  The remaining lots which were not cited included letters pasted to jagged pages ripped out of scrapbooks and bearing the same dates as the missing Wright scrapbooks.

Having been informed of the responses provided by the library and the FBI, Dorothy Seymour Mills responded, “I thought the FBI was more efficient than that. I’ve lost confidence in them. The FBI should have demanded the return of Library property.”  As for the NYPL response she said,  ”The Library should have asserted its rights over that material instead of leaving it all to the FBI. At the very least the Library officials should have given a press conference saying it wanted its possessions back and (said) why the FBI couldn’t get it for them. The Library should have pointed out how strong the evidence was. This is really disappointing.”

A source familiar with the FBI probe says that there have also been other significant items recovered by the FBI, some said to have been taken via civil forfeiture, and others that were seized and since returned to other owners.  An item said to have been recovered was at least one of the missing Harry Wright scrapbooks which was described as mangled with most of its pages and contents removed.  Both the NYPL and FBI declined to comment on any additional recoveries.

Keith Spalding Robbins, the man whose family originally made the generous gift of the Spalding Collection to the library in 1921 left us with this, “I would suggest that some of the descendants of the 19th century baseball (pioneers) stand on the steps of the NYPL and hold a press conference demanding to know what has happened and that a crime has occurred.”  Robbins also noted that City officials bear responsibility saying,  ”It’s most infuriating and disappointing that the priceless material of the Spalding Collection at the NYPL was stolen by a bunch of wanna-be wise guys from New Jersey, and the only thing of meaning for the current crop of Mayoral candidates is figuring how to keep their pants on rather than protecting treasured material that belongs to Public Library and the citizens of New York.”

(More coverage of the NYPL Spalding Collection thefts can be found in the Sunday edition of the New York Post)

UPDATE (July 31, 2013):  Another Stolen Harry Wright Document Is Sold At Premier Auctions In Arizona For $2,244; Auction House Now Linked To Two Pages Ripped From Wright’s Account Ledger Books In NYPLs Spalding Collection-

On the heels of the New York Post and Haulsofshame.com reports revealing the FBI’s return of stolen Harry Wright letters to the 2009 Hunt/MLB All-Star Game auction consignor, Premier Auctions of Arizona has offered and sold yet another document that clearly originated from Harry Wright’s personal archive that was donated to the National League in 1895.

The document signed by Harry Wright that is being offered by Premier Auctions (right) fits the description of items stolen from NYPLs Spalding Collection and the "Harry Wright Note and Account Books Collection. This page would have originated from volume 16 or 18 as indicated on the NYPL inventory document (above, left).

The document appears to have been ripped from either Wright’s original account book ledger or one of Wright’s incoming correspondence scrapbooks which were donated to the NYPL in 1921 by A. G. Spalding’s widow.  The document offered by Premier is dated from 1892 and originated either from volume 16 or 18 in the Wright “Note and Account Books 1860-1893″ at the New York Public Library.  The auction house describes the document as:

Approximately 6” x 7 ¾” sheet from a ledger written and signed in black fountain pen while Wright was manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1892, Nm/Mt signature. The sheet was for a road trip to Baltimore that season and “Statement of Baltimore trip Aug. 12/92” is handwritten by Wright on the reverse. The sheet has three intersecting folds and an irregularly trimmed top edge but is in otherwise remarkable condition given its age. Fantastic example from the posthumously inducted Hall of Famer. JSA Auction LOA.

This is the second document believed to have been stolen from the NYPL’s collection that Premier has offered for sale, the last of which was reported by Haulsofshame.com earlier this year.  We interviewed author Daryl Brock about the document:

Daryl Brock, author of If I Never Get Back, a celebrated novel that incorporates Harry Wright as a character, utilized the NYPL collection in his research and recalls viewing the first volume of Wright’s “Note and Account Books” which covered the years 1860 through 1871. We showed Brock the stolen page offered by Premier and afterwards he recalled the volume he examined.  ”Pages were missing and I have no way of knowing if the one in question now was one of them. The small penciled page sure looks like the same format though,” said Brock.

A page dated from 1863 in the NYPL's Wright Account Books archive (left) shows that the page fragment offered by Premier Auctions originated from the same type of ledger notebooks found in the Spalding Collection.

Premier never responded to our inquiries about the first offering earlier this year and they failed to respond to our inquiry yesterday.  We asked if the two documents were consigned by the same consignor and whether the auction house had any provenance information on the document dated from 1892.  Premier list its principals as Jasmani Francis, an appraiser from PBS’ Antiques Roadshow, Walter Cerini and Matthew Palmero who is listed as a former employee of Mike Gutierrez the current consignment director at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas.

NYPL spokesperson Angela Montefinise did not respond to our inquiry about the document being offered by Premier.  Montefinise told the New York Post last weekend, “The NYPL has made it extremely clear that it wants all of its materials returned and made accessible to the public.”  Several baseball historians we spoke with agreed that his document originated from the Wright collection with one calling the current offering a “pathetic joke.”

In our last report historian Dorothy Seymour Mills called for the firing of NYPL President Tony Marx for his failures in recovering the stolen material for the library.

The Huggins & Scott Wright letter (center) shares similar characteristics with another Wright letter stolen from NYPL (left). Huggins & Scott's Josh Wulkan (right) refuses to comment on the letter's provenance.

Premier sold the Wright document earlier this evening for $2,244, considerably less than what a legitimate document signed by Wright in ink would command.  One collector told us he stayed away from the Premier lot because he believed it was stolen from the NYPL.

Wright’s great-great granddaughter, Pam Guzzi, was disturbed that another document was sold.  She said, “At what point are people going to realize what a travesty it is that these documents of such significant historical value continue to find their way into the hands of greedy collectors/sellers? These materials should be kept together for all to see and we need to demand they be returned to their rightful home at the NYPL. Why is this latest Harry Wright letter allowed to be up for bidding at Premier Auctions of Arizona? I implore the Auction house to do the right thing and remove it from the block, pending further investigation.”

Legitimate documents signed by Wright are very scarce and are worth anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000.  There are only a handful of legitimate letters written by Wright in private hands.  A Wright letter stolen from the NYPL Harry Wright scrapbooks is also being offered by Huggins & Scott in their current auction.

Josh Wulkan of Huggins & Scott has still not responded to inquiries about the provenance of that auction lot.


By Peter J. Nash

July 25, 2013

Jack Smalling, author of the "Baseball Autograph Collectors Handbook " (inset), says HOF historian Lee Allen (inset) gifted him two rare letters addressed to August Herrmann. One is signed by newly minted HOFer Hank O'Day and worth upwards of $20,000.

When Baseball Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen secured August Herrmann’s entire archive of correspondence from Cincinnati Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr., it was a feather in his cap and a huge addition to the developing baseball library he headed.

Allen, a former employee of Crosley’s Reds, was in Cooperstown in 1960 when the archive of over 45,000 documents arrived via several delivery trucks and The Sporting News quoted Allen as saying, “This is the most valuable accumulation of baseball lore ever assembled in one place.”

After the collection arrived Allen reached out to his friend Dr. Harold Seymour to tell him about some of the treasures he’d found buried in the files.  Allen wrote, “The Garry Herrmann papers have arrived….The most interesting thing I have found so far is a letter from Hank O’Day to the NL office written the night after the Merkle play, explaining exactly what happened.”

Over the years, similar letters from the Hall archives which were sent by O’Day and others to the league and Herrmann have mysteriously found their way into auctions and the personal collections of autograph collectors obsessed with obtaining the genuine signatures of as many Baseball Hall of Famers as possible. To date, enough evidence has been compiled and presented by Haulsofshame.com to illustrate that the National Baseball Library’s Herrmann Papers archive was the victim of a large scale heist of historic documents in the 1980s at a time when the collection was disorganized and had not yet been microfilmed.  Thus, any document addressed to Herrmann appearing for sale is considered a possible stolen item from the Hall’s collection and several have been pulled from sales conducted by Heritage and Robert Edward Auctions while others have been auctioned off by Clean Sweep and Huggins & Scott despite warnings.

Adding to the controversy is the fact that the Baseball Hall of Fame itself has failed to claim title or pursue recovery of any of the rare and valuable documents allegedly claiming they cannot determine if they were stolen.  That being said, the Hall has also failed to pursue recovery of other stolen photographs which were visually documented as Hall property in photo shoots conducted at the museum in the 1980s.  Incident reports alleging the thefts and documenting the sales of stolen property can be found at the Cooperstown Police Department.

Back in February two more documents addressed to August Herrmann appeared for sale in what hobby veteran Lew Lipset called his “final auction.”  One was a letter from Hall of Famer Miller Huggins regarding his playing for Herrmann’s Reds and the other was a 1921 letter signed by the entire Reds team supporting the team’s hiring of a trainer named George Hoskins. The second document became more notable when the Reds’ manager, ex-umpire Hank O’Day, was elected to the Hall of Fame for induction this summer in Cooperstown. The Huggins letter is estimated to be worth between $5-10,000 and the letter signed by O’Day at least $20,000 considering the scarcity of the newly minted Hall of Famer’s signature.

Both letters were removed from Lipset’s auction when this writer pointed out the issues to the auctioneer but remarkably Lipset said his consignor had some interesting information to offer about the provenance of the two extremely valuable letters. The consignor, veteran autograph collector and dealer, Jack Smalling, told him that both letters were given to him as a gift by Hall of Fame historian Lee Allen for research work he’d assisted with.  Lipset also said that Smalling told him they were the only two letters given to him by the Hall historian who passed away in 1969.  Back when they were given to him the letters had little monetary value, perhaps a few hundred dollars at best.

Jack Smalling claims that HOF historian, Lee Allen, gave him these two letters addressed to August Herrmann as a gift for work he'd done for the Hall. One letter is signed by Hank O'Day and the 1921 Reds (left) and the other is signed by HOFer Miller J. Huggins in 1903 (right).

Back in March Lipset sent out an email to customers stating, “The two letters have been withdrawn because of erroneous information given to us. The letters are owned by Jack Smalling (of the long time best selling Baseball Address Book). They were given to Jack in the 1960’s by Lee Allen, an officer at the Hall of Fame as a thank you for research done by Jack for the Hall. The Huggins letter has Kevin Keating’s COA, the 1912 letter did not, as I didn’t realize the significance of the Hank O’Day signature at the time. The letters were confused with Herman papers taken in a HOF theft about 15 years ago. These were obviously not included. The disposition of these letters will be decided after the auction.”

Most recently Lipset sent out another email indicating the letters will be appearing for sale in the “Heritage auction concluding Thursday August 1st in Chicago at the National in Chicago.”  Lipset added,  ”These letters were pulled from my auction because some questions were raised, not on their authenticity, but how they were obtained. There is no doubt in my mind they were obtained legitimately.”

But how could Lipset know for sure?  In our last report it was revealed that around 1990 Lipset sold several rare documents signed by the 19th century New York Giants that appear to have been stolen from the National Baseball Library and he had no recollection where he acquired them.  How could he determine whether these Herrmann letters were legitimately transferred without having answers from Lee Allen?  One thing that is for sure, however, is that the two letters given to Smalling originated from the Herrmann Papers archive in Cooperstown and the Heritage Auction lot description makes no mention whatsoever of the provenance of the letters and the story told by Smalling.  Chris Ivy of Heritage did not respond to our inquiry for comment.

When I was first informed by Lipset that these two documents were being offered in his auction I notified him about the Herrmann Papers provenance issues which I assumed he was already aware of.  Lipset said he consulted with a friend who was an attorney who suggested he contact the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I also consulted with a prominent baseball historian for his advice and it was suggested that since Lee Allen worked for the Reds before he came to the Hall of Fame it could have been possible that he took possession of these two letters before the entire archive was donated to the Hall by Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr. in 1960.  I asked Lipset to confirm with Smalling if he was given the documents at the National Baseball Library or at Allen’s Cooperstown home?  Lipset said Smalling responded that the letters were sent to him by mail.

Lee Allen (top right) served as the HOF's historian until his death in 1969 and was responsible for the NBL acquiring the August Herrmann papers archive from Reds owner Powell Crosley Jr. in 1960. The collection was described in TSN in 1960 (left) and was the backbone of the NBL when Ford Frick dedicated the new library building in 1968 (bottom right).

Based upon that information I thought it was still plausible that these two letters could be the only “Herrmann Letters” in private hands which were not wrongfully removed from the Hall of Fame. I even mentioned the O’Day letter to a collector who then asked me to pass along an offer to Smalling via Lipset if the letters were found to be legitimate.

Looking further into the situation, I emailed historian Dorothy Seymour Mills, who was the first researcher to have access to the Herrmann Papers for her book Baseball: The Golden Years.  Mills had also been a good friend of Lee Allen and knew him personally and had actually been a guest in Allen’s Cooperstown home with her late husband Dr. Harold Seymour.  I asked Mills for her take on Smalling’s story and whether she thought that Allen could have legitimately given away Herrmann documents for the work that Smalling had done at the Hall.  Mills had never been given any letters for assistance that she and her husband had furnished for Allen.  Mills responded to my inquiry saying, “When we were researching the Herrmann Correspondence in the same room with Lee while he wrote one of his books, we found that Lee had “put aside” in his desk drawer certain documents he had found that he thought would be most helpful to him in his work.  He showed us those documents.”  In regard to Allen gifting the Herrmann letters to Smalling Mills noted that Allen was a “kind and gregarious” man and added, “I would not be surprised to learn that he had made a gift of some Herrmann Correspondence documents to a friend that he felt he owed something to.  I think he had a strong ownership feeling about the correspondence and may not have considered such an act wrong, although of course it would have been.”

Dorothy Seymour Mills says Lee Allen put special documents from the Herrmann Papers archive in a file in his library office. One such document was a 1908 affidavit signed by Fred Merkle (left) with his testimony about the infamous "Merkle Incident" of 1908. The affidavit was from the protested game files and remains at the Hall while other affidavits that should still be part of the collection, like a 1908 affidavit signed by Joe Tinker (right), were sold by Barry Halper at Sotheby's in 1999.

Mills’ response cast additional doubt as to whether the two documents could ever be determined as being legitimately gifted by Allen to Smalling and I advised the potential buyer and Lipset of the new information.  Lipset responded that he had contacted the Hall of Fame and said, “I was told that a very small part of the Herrmann items were stolen and that the donation was voluminous and that basded on what I said regarding Lee Allen, he didn”t think there was a problem selling them.”  Lipset did not identify the Hall employee he spoke with.  Lipset added, “I have an email from the Hall of Fame apologizing for not getting back to me and I am still waiting for a response as to whether there is a problem selling them.  If there is, they will be pulled and returned to Jack Smalling.  Otherwise, they will be auctioned as intended.”

Lew Lipset (left) was set to auction the consignments of Jack Smalling (center left) which featured a document signed by newly elected HOFer Hank O'Day (center right). The letters were pulled from Lipset's sale and ended up with Chris Ivy (right) at Heritage Auction Galleries.

The letters were pulled from the Lipset auction but have now resurfaced as a consignment from Smalling to Heritage Auctions’ 2013 National Convention Platinum Night Auction.  Despite the questions as to whether Allen legitimately gifted the O’Day and Huggins documents to Jack Smalling, they will likely not be scrutinized by officials at the Baseball Hall of Fame who have historically ignored any evidence of thefts from the Herrmann collection and have failed to pursue recovery of property owned by New York State under the Museum’s charter.  It is ironic that the Smalling documents have landed at Heritage, an auction house that has already pulled numerous documents from prior sales because of suspicions they were stolen from Cooperstown and also employs Mike Gutierrez as a consignment director despite the fact that he was the prime suspect in a 1980s investigation into stolen documents and photographs from the Hall of Fame.  An eyewitness who accompanied Gutierrez on a trip to the National Baseball Library in the late 1980s told the hobby newsletter, The Sweet Spot, that he saw Gutierrez stealing documents from the Herrmann Papers collection.  A source tells Haulsofshame.com they have knowledge of Gutierrez directly selling another similar letter from Huggins to Herrmann in a private transaction with a collector.

If the appearance of letters addressed to Herrmann in auctions were not enough of a mystery the new claims made by Smalling of being gifted rare documents by Lee Allen make the Herrmann Papers saga even more confusing.  Smalling is the only hobbyist known to ever make such a claim and would have been given the documents by Allen prior to his sudden death on May 20, 1969.  Sources indicate that Smalling provided Allen with desperately needed information regarding the addresses and whereabouts of retired ball players that bolstered Allen’s own research which Marty Appel has described as “30 years collecting the largest baseball demographic file in the country.”

Jack Smalling's status as a hobby pioneer comes primarily for his work compiling lists of former MLB player addresses which collectors used for autograph requests. Smalling placed the top ad in the December, 1970, issue of The Trader Speaks along with "Data Sheet #23 (551-575)" which featured the address of 1919 Black Sox player Charles "Swede" Risberg. He placed the bottom ad in TTS in 1978 hoping to buy and sell autographs.

Smalling is regarded as a trailblazer in the hobby who tracked down and documented the current addresses of former players for autograph hounds and shared his information in columns he wrote for early hobby publications like The Trader Speaks.  But Smalling also operated as an autograph collector and dealer and over the decades has amassed a considerable collection of baseball rarities.  Lipset says that when Deacon White was elected for induction earlier this year, the Hall reached out to Smalling for an exemplar of White’s autograph.  Lipset said Smalling had a White autograph in his possession but Hall officials didn’t realize that they already had a letter written by White which is part of the Herrmann Papers.

From his home in Ames, Iowa, Smalling declined to be interviewed today in regard to his selling his “gifts” from Allen at Heritage, but several dealers and hobbyists have expressed their feeling that Smalling is undoubtedly telling the truth about Allen giving him the valuable letters addressed to Herrmann.  While every other Herrmann letter appearing for sale at auction has had absolutely no reference to its origin or provenance, it is refreshing to see these two with an actual history dating back to the 1960s, in the same decade Lee Allen secured the Herrmann archive for the Hall.

We spoke with one autograph collector who was active in the 1960s and he confirmed that several other very young collectors had helped Allen obtain addresses and information just like Smalling had and that Allen, instead of paying them, gave them new addresses and autographs for their collections.  The collector made it clear that he had never heard that a Herrmann letter or other historic documents were ever given in exchange for work.

Lee Allen discovered this 1908 letter written by Hank O'Day regarding the infamous "Merkle Incident. Unlike the 1921 letter to August Herrmann in the current Heritage Auction, Allen chose to retain this historic letter in the NBL archive." (Herrmann Papers, National Baseball Library)

We may never know the actual circumstances under which Lee Allen “gifted” Jack Smalling letters from Herrmann’s archive in exchange for work he had done for the Hall.  As someone who knew him personally, Dorothy Seymour Mills felt Allen displayed a sense of ownership over the Herrmann archive and that feeling is echoed in a 1963 letter he wrote to Hall of Fame President Paul Kerr to informally apply for the Hall’s Director position.  In the letter Allen made the case that his “wide acquaintance in the world of baseball,” his “personal honesty,” and his dedication in building the library collections, including “obtaining the Herrmann papers,” qualified him for the Director position.

But although Allen said he “would rather be Director of the Hall of Fame than President of the United States” his desire to hold that position would never be fulfilled.  As Hall historian he had experienced what he described as a “spiritual rebirth” after “years of wandering” and said that in Cooperstown he had “Found a home where I want to spend the rest of my days.”  He was devoted to the Hall and the inductees who had achieved excellence in the game and although he felt he  ”did not have the God-given ability to join their ranks” he was “determined to excel also, as their interpreter.”  Allen ended his plea to Kerr with a prophetic pledge to the Hall as he wrote, “My only remaining ambition then would be to serve you until I was ready for the coroner’s table that awaits us all.”

Whether Lee Allen gave away the Herrmann letters legitimately or not, one thing is clear.  He gave his life to the Hall.


By Peter J. Nash

July 10, 2013

A copy of a letter tucked away in a HOF file shows that Red Foley sent the Hall of Fame some of the rarest and most valuable baseball player signatures as a donation in 1970.

“Red” Foley was a fixture at the New York Daily News for decades and was the official scorer for the Mets and Yankees for even longer.  A baby-faced, cigar chomping, teetotaler, Foley wrote a column called “Ask Red” that led to his own baseball column at the newspaper and later in life he even had New York City’s best baseball bar (Foley’s) named after him by its owner Shaun Clancy in 2003.

When Foley passed away at the age of seventy-nine in 2008, his colleagues including Bill Gallo and Phil Pepe spoke highly of the man who was remembered as a straight shooter who preferred to call a sacrifice a “sac-fly” in his baseball reporting.

Today, the bar that bears his name features an impressive collection of over two thousand autographed baseballs and photographs from baseball legends ranging from Duke Snider to Derek Jeter and nearly everyone in between. When Red Foley passed Clancy was lucky enough to save a few autographs Red had collected for himself, two Hall of Fame plaque postcards autographed by Casey Stengel and Zach Wheat which are now on display at the bar along with inscribed photos from inductees to Foley’s own “Irish-American Baseball Hall of Fame,” which has honored the likes of John J. McGraw, “King” Kelly and even Yankee GM Brian Cashman.  Says Clancy, “Its a shame, but I think most of Red’s souvenirs and autographs were thrown away when his apartment was cleaned out after his death.  We’re lucky to have saved these few signed Hall of Fame plaques he collected.”

Little did Red know that Clancy and Foley’s Bar on West 33rd St. near the Empire State Building wouldn’t be his only link to baseball treasures and the autographs of Baseball Hall of Famers. Little did Red know he’d one day help crack a long standing cold-case related to a heist at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, all because a copy of a letter written to him was saved by one of his old pals. Little did he know he’d help start the ball rolling for the recovery of the signatures of some the greatest Irishmen ever to play the game for the New York Giants: “Smilin” Mickey Welch, Roger Connor, “Orator” Jim O’Rourke and “Buck” Ewing.

Tucked away for decades in a thick Hall of Fame library file on the subject of baseball autographs was a copy of a letter written to Red Foley in February of 1970 from his friend Ken Smith, the Director of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Before he was top-dog at the Hall, Smith was a beat baseball writer for the New York Mirror and was an old friend of Red Foley and virtually every other baseball scribe in New York City. His letter to Foley was a thank you of sorts for helping the Hall secure what Smith described as an important trove of early relics related to the 19th century game.

This excerpt from a 1970 letter between HOF Director Ken Smith and Red Foley documents the Hall's receipt of the rare signed pay receipts of HOFers Buck Ewing, James O'Rourke, Roger Connor, Mickey Welch and Jessie Burkett.(National Baseball Library, Cooperstown, NY)

The relics Smith spoke of were autographed New York Giant payroll receipts, signed by Hall of Famers Ewing, Connor, O’Rourke and Welch, (as well as by German Hall of Famers Amos Rusie and Jessie Burkett), and were a significant pick-up for the Hall as financial instruments that gave insight into what a star player’s paycheck looked like in the late nineteenth-century.

Financial documents collected by the Hall have been a great resource to scholars and researchers going as far back as Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills’ work studying the NBL’s August Herrmann papers in the early 1960’s and today with University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse Professor Michael Haupert’s ground-breaking research on the economic history of Major League Baseball and player salaries.  In regard to the Giant pay receipts Haupert told us, “Primary sources are the gold standard for serious research.  Documents such as those housed in libraries and museums are the only way we can get reliable information about how institutions operated.  My own research, which is centered on the financial history of the sports industry, relies heavily on primary material I have accessed in the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.”

Back in 1970, there wasn’t an established market for financial documents or rare baseball autographs, but even back then collectors of Hall of Fame signatures knew that the Giant receipts were rare as rare could be. As a donation to the Hall, however, their value was not too significant at a time when a rare T206 Honus Wagner tobacco card was known to sell for under a thousand bucks.  Smith made it clear to Foley that the generosity of the donor, a friend of Foley’s cousin, identified only as “Mrs. McSherry,” was greatly appreciated as he expressed specifically in his letter,  ”The museum does not purchase display and library material.”  Smith wrote to Foley, “I certainly appreciate yours and your cousin’s kindness in remembering the Hall of Fame as a place where these signatures would be welcome.”  Smith appears to have recognized the importance of the documents and their availability for future researchers like Haupert.

Considering Smith’s enthusiasm and the documentation of Red Foley’s assistance in securing the delivery of such a rare cache of signed receipts to Cooperstown, it was an item that appeared in an autograph collector newsletter in 1990 that was the first sign of possible foul-play related to the rare receipts .  In the article, collector Dick Patman chronicled sales from an unnamed auction of what appear to be the very documents that Foley sent to Ken Smith back in 1970.  Patman described the documents as “scarce, high-quality material(s)” that were then commanding “record prices.”

Based upon the existence of the copy of the letter in the Hall of Fame files and our first inquiry at the National Baseball Library, these documents have been determined missing from the archives at the National Baseball Library.  When asked if the accession records could be reviewed to confirm what name the 1970 donation appeared under, Hall spokesman Brad Horn denied access to the records and would not reveal if the Hall was in possession of other similar receipts as the 1970 letter to Foley indicated that there may have been some additional “coupons” that Mrs. McSherry was in possession of.

This article by Dick Patman published in an autograph collector newsletter (left) identified several signed 19th century NY Giants payroll receipts that were also identified as donations to the HOF by Director Ken Smith (right) in a 1970 letter to Red Foley.

In his 1990 column, Patman reported the auction sale of the receipt signed by James O’Rourke for $4,500 in 1990 and the sale of the Ewing and Connor receipts at an earlier auction for $3,300 and $3,600.  The “Smilin” Mickey Welch receipt appeared in a Richard Wolfers auction along with another O’Rourke item that appears to have been stolen from the Hall of Fame, a 1916 letter written to Reds owner August Herrmann by the “Orator”.  The letter sold at Wolfers shows O’Rourke asking Herrmann for tickets to the 1916 World Series at Fenway Park and the corresponding letter, still in the Hall of Fame archive, was dated five days later and sent to Herrmann to thank him for sending those very same tickets he had requested.

The rare Giant pay receipts appeared in elaborate color auction catalogs produced by Richard Wolfers Auctions in San Francisco, California.  The Welch and O’Rourke receipts (and O’Rourke letter) appeared for sale in the much-hyped “Treasures of the Game” live auctions hosted by Wolfers founder and successful Democratic fundraiser Duane Garrett.  Garrett, a close friend of Al Gore and President Clinton was the fundraising guru of California politicians Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein and established his sports auction house after success in the stamp coin and fine-art fields.  However, claims of the auction house selling bogus goods and accusations of shill bidding cast a wide shadow over Garrett’s enterprise and in 1996, the political guru and Bay-Area radio talk-show host allegedly committed suicide by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The stolen NY Giant payroll receipts that have sold at auction (Top to bottom): Buck Ewing; James O'Rourke; Mickey Welch; Jesse Burkett.

Over the decades these rare documents have vanished into the top collections in the country with barely a hint that they were treasures removed from the Cooperstown archives.  Perhaps the rarest of them all is the receipt signed by Buck Ewing.  The Ewing document was encapsulated and authenticated by PSA/DNA and sold for $35,513 at a Mastro auction in 2007 .  Industry experts estimate that the Ewing, Connor and Welch receipts are worth between $35,000 to $50,000 each.  The signatures on these documents are some of the only known surviving examples of the autographs of the rarest of Hall of Famers.  They are the ultimate prizes for collectors.  To put it into perspective, Hunt Auctions once sold a letter written by Buck Ewing for $40,000 and a ledger featuring a signed page with the signatures of Connor, Ewing, O’Rourke and Welch for close to $100,000 in 2004.

(Left) Sept. 22, 1916 James O'Rourke letter to August Herrmann asking for 1916 World Series Tickets. (Right) Sept. 27, 1916 James O'Rourke letter to August Herrmann thanking him for sending him requested tickets to the 1916 World Series. The Sept. 22nd letter was sold by Wolfers Auctions and the Sept. 27th letter still resides in the HOFs Herrmann Papers Collection.

An on-going investigation into the Hall of Fame thefts by Haulsofshame.com has traced the secreted documents back to the original auctioneer who offered them in 1989 and 1990, hobby veteran Lew Lipset and his Four Base Hits and Old Judge auctions. Dick Patman was referring specifically to Lipset’s sales of the Ewing, Connor, O’Rourke and Welch documents when his 1990 article was published.

Lew Lipset confirmed for Haulsofshame.com that he did, in fact, sell the rare Giant documents and also revealed that the winning bidder on a few of the lots was auctioneer Duane Garrett from Wolfers Auctions, which explains how some of the autographs made their way into the San Francisco auctioneer’s sales.  Lipset confirmed that the Buck Ewing document was the first he offered and sold for $3,625 in September of 1989.  Duane Garrett purchased the O’Rourke and Welch receipts for $4,500 and $4,400 respectively early in 1990 and Lipset did not have any information on the sale of the Connor autograph in his November 1990 sale.  When the Giant pay receipts were offered for sale it was noted that the ends of the documents were trimmed or clipped.  When he sold the Buck Ewing autograph Lipset noted the document was “Partially cut at right, not affecting signature.”  It is likely that the documents were cut to remove the National Baseball Library accession information which would have indicated the year of donation and the sequence of the item’s donation during that time period.

Responding to our inquiry about the documents Lipset said, “I remember when I got ‘em.  It was one of those too good to be true things.  I didn’t give a thought to the fact that they could be stolen.”  We asked Lipset where he acquired the documents that were stolen from the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown and he responded, “I have no recollection where I got these but I remember I was suspicious not because of the origin but if they were real and I brought them to Mike Gutierrez, who told me they were good.  It is also my recollection that they were in my collection for a few years before I sold them, so I would have purchased them a few years before the auctions.”  We asked Lipset if he had any records that might show the identity of the seller and he answered, “I have no check records from that far back, so I have no idea.”

The stolen NY Giant pay receipts signed by Buck Ewing, James O'Rourke and Roger Connor appeared in the above catalogs of Long Island auctioneer Lew Lipset in 1989 and 1990.

Lipset’s mention of taking the stolen documents to Mike Gutierrez is notable for it was Gutierrez who was the prime suspect in the 1980s Hall of Fame heist and it was also Gutierrez who was working as a consignment agent for Wolfers Auctions at the time the stolen receipts and Herrmann letters were offered in the “Treasures of the Game” auction.  Gutierrez is currently the consignment director for Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, and an on-air appraiser for PBS’ Antiques Roadshow.

Lipset and Gutierrez have a long history of partnering on memorabilia deals and the purchases of collections over the years.  Gutierrez even served as the point-man for Lipset’s autograph survey published in the late 1980s in his hobby newsletter, The Old Judge.  In one of the surveys Lipset even went as far to mention that Gutierrez had made several trips to the Hall of Fame to seek out exemplars for the survey and autograph price guide Lipset published.

When we asked Lipset about his links to Gutierrez he even mentioned taking a trip to the National Baseball Library with Gutierrez in the late 1980s.  Lipset said, “The one time I went to the Hall with Mike, we weren’t there very long.  We were in Tom Heitz’ office discussing Mike’s idea and I don’t believe anywhere else.  I don’t think Mike was off by himself, but then I don’t really remember.”  The “idea” Lipset mentioned was a proposal Gutierrez was making to Hall officials to give him access to Hall of Famer families and relatives so he could purchase their memorabilia and, in turn, donate portions of the purchases to the Hall since the museum is not permitted to purchase artifacts.

Lew Lipset (left) sold the stolen NY Giant pay receipts after he visited the HOF with Mike Gutierrez (center, shown appraising an item for PBS) who later sold Josh Evans of Lelands (right) a Babe Ruth signed photo with a HOF accession number on its reverse. Gutierrez was the FBIs prime suspect in the HOF thefts but was never prosecuted.

Lipset says it is his recollection that nothing ever transpired with that proposal and couldn’t recall much more.  However, auctioneer Josh Evans, of Lelands, also says he had knowledge of Gutierrez’ proposal and said it died in the water after Gutierrez sold him a signed Babe Ruth photograph that had white-out placed over its Hall of Fame accession number on its reverse.  Evans reported the incident to Hall officials and an FBI investigation commenced with Gutierrez as the main suspect in thefts that were believed to far exceed just the Ruth photograph.  Sources close to Hall officials at the time say that the investigation was thwarted due to concerns of bad publicity that could hinder future donations to the museum.  In 1983, the Hall had experienced a slew of bad publicity related to another theft scandal reported in The Sporting News and the New York Post when Joe Reichler, from Commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s office, sold off a cache of World Series programs and other publications that had been loaned to Kuhn by the Hall.

Just last year a CDV photograph of the 1870 Philadelphia Athletics that was verified as stolen from the National Baseball Library was sold at Legendary Auctions in Chicago as Hall of Fame officials did nothing to either claim title to or challenge the sale of the donated artifact.  Despite the fact that Haulsofshame.com illustrated how the 1870 CDV was photographed by the Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) in 1983 while it was still part of the collection, the card sold for about $1,600 (about $8,000 less than a legitimate one Legendary sold in 2010).

Interestingly enough, SABR photographed other photos as Hall of Fame property in 1983 that have also ended up being sold in auctions conducted by Lew Lipset.  Lipset sold an 1886 and 1894 cabinet photos of the NY Giants team and a Horner portrait of John J. McGraw that appear on contact sheets and in a SABR publication produced as a result of the shoot at the Hall in ‘83. (Next to the 1886 photo on the contact sheet is a photo that was not stolen depicting a team from Ottawa, Canada, recently profiled by Hall curator Tom Shieber on his blog).

When we asked Lipset back in December where he acquired the 1886 Giant team cabinet photo he said, “I know I had the 1886 in my collection for years before I put it in the auction. Its the same one as in the SABR publication. I have no record or recollection where I got it from.”  After Lipset sold the photo in his own sale, Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, auctioned the same cabinet card for over $10,000.

Contact sheets from a photo shoot by SABR at the Hall in 1983 have served as "smoking guns" to further expose the HOF heist. NYDN writers Bill Madden and Michael O'Keeffe reported on the thefts in 2000 at the same time Madden hailed Barry Halper's sale of fraudulent artifacts to the HOF. In the thirteen years since their special report, neither Madden or O'Keeffe have ever followed up on the story.

Haulsofshame.com filed police reports recently with the Cooperstown Police reporting the thefts of the 1870 Philadelphia Athletics CDV as well as the 1886 Giants cabinet card and a 1915 letter sent by the Boston Red Sox and Babe Ruth to August Herrmann and the National Commission requesting their World Series money.  Officials at the Hall of Fame have tried their best to bury their heads in the sand hoping this scandal would somehow vanish just like all of the relics and documents that were victimized in the 1980s heist at the Hall.  Most recently the Hall has even denied Haulsofshame.com access to viewing museum accession records to verify the names of donors of the confirmed stolen artifacts, including the payroll receipts sent by Red Foley.

Coincidentally, Red Foley’s old paper and employer, The New York Daily News, was actually the first news outlet to report on the Hall of Fame thefts in 2000 when writers Bill Madden and Michael O’Keeffe published, “Cooperstown Haul of Fame:  Thieves Steal Millions in Baseball Treasures”, and confirmed that current Heritage Auctions consignment rep, Mike Gutierrez, was the prime suspect in the 1980’s thefts.  But since Bill Madden was honored with the Hall’s J. G. Taylor Spink Award in 2010 and received accolades from the Hall hailing him as a “watchdog on the burgeoning sports memorabilia industry” and pointed to his “1994 exclusive for the Daily News exposing corrupt and fraudulent practices prompted an FBI investigation that resulted in shutting down two prominent auction houses,” Madden has never reported further on the new and voluminous evidence that has surfaced confirming the magnitude of the 1980s heist.

Madden also gave a pass to his close friend and memorabilia fraudster Barry Halper who defrauded the Hall and MLB by selling them several million dollars in bogus artifacts including the alleged jersey, “Black Betsy” bat, glove and pocket watch of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson.  Madden wrote glowing reports in his column about the Halper purchase and the bogus Jackson materials. But since the time Madden was awarded the Spink honor and was also appointed to the BBWAA’s Hall of Fame Historical Overview Committee, the museum’s “Barry Halper Gallery” has vanished from the museum and its floor plans.

Barry Halper stands in the now defunct "Barry Halper Gallery" at the Baseball Hall of Fame above the fake Shoeless Joe Jackson jersey he sold MLB for millions. Halper's good friend, Bill Madden, wrote glowing reviews in the Daily News of the HOF acquisition of the fake Jackson jersey and others. Madden was presented with the J. G. Taylor Spink award at the HOF Inductions in 2010 (top right). In 2013 Madden (center) was inducted into Foley's Irish-American Baseball Hall Of Fame.

If Madden or his newspaper opened up old wounds and reported further on the thefts it would likely upset Hall Chairman, Jane Forbes Clark, who, despite smoking guns firing repeatedly at the Hall with new confirmations of thefts, continues to oversee a large-scale cover-up of the brewing scandal.  None of them, however, ever anticipated Madden’s old Daily News colleague “Red” Foley firing another shot from the grave confirming the thefts of the most valuable baseball autographs in the world.

Red’s timing couldn’t be better as Madden was just recently inducted into Foley’s “Irish Baseball Hall of Fame.”  Considering Madden’s failure to follow up on his original report about the Hall of Fame heist, former Hall of Fame employee and researcher Gabe Schechter takes Madden’s issues with the Hall a step further.   Says Schechter, “That’s the only Hall of Fame Madden belongs to, despite the common misconception that as a winner of the Spink Award he was inducted into the Hall. He was not. He’s part of a museum exhibit showing the winners of the Frick and Spink Awards. Madden helped perpetuate this myth by declaring, in a 2010 promotional tape for the Daily News, ‘when I was elected last December. . .’ thus elevating the misconception into either self-delusion and deliberate deception.”

Meanwhile, the Baseball Hall of Fame continues to ignore the overwhelming evidence of theft and deception and Bill Madden prefers to devote his columns to the A-Rod Biogenesis documents that were offered in what he calls the “seedy world of baseball memorabilia.”  Of those controversial documents one of Madden’s unnamed sources, a memorabilia dealer, told him, “This stuff should go in the Hall of Fame.”

Neither the Hall nor Madden seem too interested in what’s got out.

SABR member and author Michael Haupert has a contrary viewpoint.  He adds, “When these documents disappear or fall into private hands, whether by design or skulduggery, it removes them from the public domain, thus robbing scholars of the opportunity to conduct valuable research.  The loss of primary material leaves a hole in the story that is often impossible to fill.”


By Peter J. Nash

July 5, 2013

A bogus P. T. Barnum autograph on ebay comes with a PSA/DNA LOA. Looks like Joe Orlando has some "suckers" getting cheated.

Earlier this week, I stumbled across a PSA/DNA slabbed signature of 19th century entrepreneur P. T. Barnum and wondered if PSA had ever authenticated a bogus Barnum autograph. I’m currently putting together an article dedicated to the “100 Worst PSA and JSA Authentications of All-Time” so, I thought the “Sucker born every minute” quote would work well if a PSA or JSA blunder on Barnum had been documented.

All it took was one email inquiry to Travis Roste of AutographPlanet.com and I was sent a link to a current Barnum cabinet photo being offered on eBay and some in-depth analysis of Barnum signatures authored by expert Steven Koschal.  For $2,500, an eBay customer can take home a bogus autographed cabinet photo of Barnum with a PSA/DNA letter of authenticity signed by Joe Orlando, the man who coined the PSA motto, “Never get cheated.”

Although it has been documented that Barnum did not actually coin the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute,”  the gem attributed to him could easily be updated to say: “There’s an eBay or PSA/DNA customer born every minute.”  As Koschal has illustrated definitively in his signature studies, the eBay cabinet photo being offered with the PSA/DNA LOA is nothing more than a pre-printed facsimile signature of Barnum embedded in the actual albumen photograph.  Its a classic Barnum humbug or as baseball historian John Thorn might put it, a “jape” or a “Barnum-esque prank.”  It’s a phony and one things for sure:  Someone surely did get cheated compliments of Joe Orlando and eBay’s officially endorsed authenticator, PSA/DNA.

PSA partner eBay is currently offering this bogus signature of P. T. Barnum for $2,500 with a 2005 LOA signed by Joe Orlando, President of PSA/DNA

The cabinet photograph currently being offered on eBay by “JustCollect” is one of many similar facsimile signature specimens which were created by a New York photographic studio operated by Charles Eisenmann.  According to Steven Koschal, who has written several articles on the subject in international autograph publications, there are several poses of Barnum which feature different versions of his facsimile autograph with dates from 1885  and 1886.  The autographs and the dates are identical depending on which version you are presented with and fluctuations exist only in the resolution or quality of the albumen photos created by the photographic studio.

The current eBay offering (left) matches other examples sold at eBay in June (center) and Cowans Auctions (right).

It appears that several auction houses have figured this out without using the services of a third-party authentication company like PSA.  Wes Cowan, of Cowan’s Auctions offered an 1886 example and described it clearly as a facsimile signature.  Even R&R Auctions, which is owned by PSA authenticator Bob Eaton, got it right when they offered another example identified as being a pre-printed signature in the photo.  That Barnum facsimile signature sold for $160.

A similar cabinet photo in the collection of the Oshkosh Public Museum (bottom left) has the identical facsimile signature (bottom top) of Barnum as the eBay offering (bottom right and top). The "P" in both versions (highlighted in the red circles) exhibits the exact same skip of the pen found on the original prototype signature used by the photographer.

Eaton’s own facsimile signature, however, also appears on the 2005 PSA/DNA LOA certifying as authentic the Barnum signature currently being offered on eBay.  Eaton’s signature appears along with the signatures of Steve Grad, Mike Gutierrez, Roger Epperson, Zach Rullo and John Reznikoff, PSA’s authenticator for historical material.

Without the aid of the TPA’s, other sellers and auctioneers have sold the same facsimile signatures as the real deal for the past few decades including several sold recently by Heritage Auctions and others sold by EAC Gallery, Signature House, Goldberg Auctions, EAH Auctions and Donald Steinitz Autographs.   The Barnum cabinet currently being sold on eBay was also previously sold by Lelands as an authentic signature even before it had a PSA LOA.

Joe Orlando's PSA/DNA LOA notes examination of pen pressure and other characteristics of an "authentic signature."

What is most amazing about the current PSA-LOA’d Barnum photo on eBay is the fact that the information documenting that the Barnum signature is bogus is so readily accessible and well known among collectors and dealers.  One veteran autograph dealer we spoke with said, “Most of this stuff was common knowledge thirty years ago.  If someone over there would have taken the time to read a book about autographs once in a while they would have known this stuff already.”

Back in 2003 Cowan’s Auctions described a Barnum cabinet correctly as a pre-printed facsimile and, eight years later, the exact same cabinet photograph was offered for sale in a Heritage auction having transformed into an “authentic signature” of Barnum which sold for over $1,500.  (Cowan estimated the value between $100 and $150)

In 2003 Cowans Auctions correctly offered this Barnum cabinet dated in 1885 as a pre-printed facsimile.

In 2011, the exact same Barnum cabinet previously sold at Cowans as a facsimile was sold by Heritage Auction Galleries as an authentic Barnum signature.

The Cowan’s to Heritage transformation illustrates how sellers, auctioneers and authenticators fail to examine the items they are presented with and how buyers knowingly attempt to pass off non-genuine items as real with the aid of the TPA’s.

Over the past few decades PSA claims to have authenticated millions of autographed items and with each stunning blunder similar to the “eBay Barnum facsimile” the company continues to lose credibility with thousands of prior authentications coming into question.

One hundred of the worst authentications rendered by PSA and JSA will be on public display soon.  Stay tuned.  P. T. Barnum will surely make the cut.


By Peter J. Nash

June 28, 2013

PSA/DNA includes a bogus signature of Cap Anson on its "Autograph Facts" page. The cabinet card shown is also stolen from the NYPL's Spalding Collection.

Last winter a monumental PSA/DNA error was exposed after the authentication company included a bogus signature of Hall of Famer Smilin’ Mickey Welch as an exemplar on its online “Autograph Facts” section intended to aid and educate collectors.

In addition, it was also determined that the signature displayed wasn’t just bogus (it was a period identification not a signature) it was also written on an 1888 Stevens cabinet photo that was stolen from the New York Public Library’s famous Spalding Collection.

The Welch card had a handwritten numeral “9″ written on its reverse and the remnants of a defaced NYPL ownership stamp. The “9″ (written by researcher Charles W. Mears) signified the card was once housed in “Box 9″ of the library’s photo archive before it was stolen in the 1970s along with several other Stevens cabinet photographs. After the Haulsofshame.com report was published, PSA/DNA removed the Welch signature and cabinet card from the Welch “Autograph Facts” page.

In our report we illustrated all of the NYPL Stevens cabinet photographs including the missing Welch example and four cards that had been recovered by the NYPL of Buck Ewing, Roger Connor, Mike Tiernan and Danny Richardson.  Another missing Stevens cabinet of Cap Anson was illustrated and when displayed together all of the examples revealed that none of the cards were signed by the players, rather the cards featured fancy script period identifications of the subjects on the backs of the Stevens cabinets.

This illustration was included in our report from early 2013 showing that a Mickey Welch cabinet card was stolen from the NYPL and that it was not signed by Welch. The handwritten names on the cards are identifications, not signatures.

Despite having illustrated that all of these signatures are non-genuine, a review of the current PSA “Autograph Facts” page for Adrian “Cap” Anson reveals that PSA/DNA has also included the handwritten identification of Anson on the stolen cabinet card as an authentic exemplar of Anson’s signature.

The Cap Anson cabinet photo illustrated by PSA on its "Autograph Facts" page has the same handwritten "9" written on its reverse along with a script identification of Anson, not a signature. The larger space circled in red shows evidence of the removal of the NYPL ownership stamp which can be seen more clearly on the PSA website (inset).

The handwritten identification was clearly placed on the Anson card by the same person who placed the identifications on the Welch, Connor and Ewing cards.  It is definitively non-genuine, and stolen property to boot.

Vaudeville theatre contracts alleged to have been signed by Cap Anson appear on PSA's "Autograph Facts" page and have been sold at auction with PSA LOA's.

The PSA problems on Anson, however, do not end with the identification on the stolen Stevens cabinet photo.  PSA also includes a signature exemplar found on a vaudeville theatre contract which is also a non-genuine example.  The contract bears a secretarial signature signed by someone other than Cap Anson and has long been considered non-genuine by a majority of dealers and collectors until PSA/DNA began issuing LOA’s for the questioned documents.

In the early 1990’s, Bill Mastro purchased a large cache of documents from Anson’s granddaughter including genuine personal correspondence written by Anson to family members as well as many secretarial examples executed on documents related to Anson’s work as a Chicago City Clerk.  Also purchased in the group were the secretarial signed vaudeville contracts which Mastro sold in his auctions as authentic as early as 1997 in a Mastro & Steinbach sale.

Most of the Anson documents (authentic and secretarial) were purchased from Anson's granddaughter by Bill Mastro. Mastro sent the letter (above) to this writer in the early 1990's revealing his purchase and the discussion of the "various styles" of his signature.

Some of the Anson secretarial signatures exhibit similarities to authentic examples, but they are easily identified by experts and dealers familiar with Anson’s very distinctive handwriting.  Author Ron Keurajian examines Anson’s signature in his book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs: A Reference Guide, and notes that “Anson signed many letters and documents as city clerk.  The majority are secretarialy signed.”  Keurajian also comments on the theater contracts saying, “The contracts are signed “Captain Anson and Daughters.”  I have seen two of them.  Both were signed by someone other than Anson.”

On the left appear known authentic signatures of Anson ranging from (top to bottom) 1871 Rockford BBC contract (Illinois Hist. Society); 1883 (Chicago BBC Pay receipt), 1894 (Halper Hotel ledger), 1897 (ALS), 1906 Chicago clerk (ALS); 1906 (Herrmann Papers, NBL); and 1906 signature on card. To the right illustrated are known non-genuine and secretarial examples of Cap Anson's signature including (top to bottom:1889 Membership to Marlybone Cricket Club; NYPL Stevens cabinet photo; (2) c 1906 Chicago city court documents; (3) 1918 theater contract signatures; City Court document cut-2004 Topps card.

To illustrate Keurajian’s point it is useful to examine known genuine Anson signatures side-by-side with known secretarial examples.  One noteworthy characteristic that appears to be found in almost all Anson signatures, regardless of the era in which it was signed, is the way Anson never closed his “o” at the end of his last name.  The slant ans spacing between letters is also very consistent throughout his lifetime.

Upon close review, it is our opinion and the opinion of several experts we consulted with that the alleged signature on the stolen NYPL cabinet photograph and the alleged signatures on the 1918 theater contracts were not executed by Cap Anson.  The prevalence of flawed authentications of Anson secretarial signatures is best illustrated by a 2004 Topps cut signature card featuring a non-genuine Anson cut from one of the Chicago City Clerk documents purchased by Bill Mastro.  The non-genuine signature sold for close to $5,000 on eBay in 2004.

An authentic cut signature of Anson was used for an Upper Deck trading card (left). A non-genuine Anson secretarial signature was used for a 2004 Topps Tribute-Cut Signature Edition trading card. The bogus signature cut from a Chicago court document sold for $4,504 on eBay in 2004.

Considering our prior report about the alleged Mickey Welch signature on another stolen Stevens cabinet and PSA’s removal of that item from its “Autograph Facts” page, we can only surmise that Joe Orlando and Steve Grad actually believe the signature is an authentic Anson.  Other PSA authenticators like Mike Gutierrez have even written letters of authenticity stating as much in the past.  In 2005, Gutierrez certified the signature as authentic for his own MGA authentication company.

For the Anson signature on the NYPL’s Stevens cabinet to be authentic, the identifications and inscriptions on all of the other Stevens cabinets at NYPL would have to have been executed by Anson as well, for every single one is written in the same hand.  A comparison of each of those examples of handwriting illustrates this assertion definitively.  None of the cabinet photos bear the signatures of the players depicted.

The alleged Cap Anson autograph authenticated by PSA was written by the same person who inscribed all of the NYPL Stevens cabinets as evidenced by the distinctive "C" found on the reverse of each cabinet photo. The evidence strongly suggests the person who inscribed the cards was not Cap Anson.

The key to identifying the hand that executed each inscription is found in the distinctive capital “C” which is found in the alleged Anson signature and every other Stevens cabinet from the NYPL Spalding Collection.  While PSA/DNA or Mike Gutierrez may argue that the writing on the back of the Anson cabinet is his actual signature, that opinion  would have a better chance of being embraced if the other Stevens examples did not exist.  It is likely PSA would argue that there are points of similarity in the Anson inscription and some authentic exemplars, but when examined in the totality of the multiple inscriptions it is clear that the handwriting bears no resemblance to the actual hand of Anson which can be examined thoroughly in surviving letters and correspondence.

PSA’s authentication of the Anson secretarial signature and its continued support of its flawed opinion suggests that the authentication company continues to present counterfeit items as legitimate because prior sales were based upon a PSA opinion.  Admissions of errors by the authentication company would likely result in a chain reaction of unhappy buyers and sellers requesting refunds and other relief via litigation.  Sources indicate that PSA continues to support problematic opinions to protect its bottom line and its relationship with big clients like eBay and PSA advertisers who operate the major auction houses.

Back in 2011, a report was published on this site alerting collectors that the Anson cabinet photo was stolen and asking anyone with information about the current whereabouts of the card to contact us.  The article,Wanted By The FBI: Cap Anson, also reported that the signature on the card was not an authentic Anson and included an image of Mike Gutierrez’ LOA from 2004.  Reports that the stolen Anson cabinet is still in private hands illustrates how ineffective the FBI’s four-year investigation into the NYPL thefts has been.

Albert G. Spalding’s Stevens cabinet card featuring his pal Cap Anson is the quintessential hobby “hot-potato” and its journey through the hobby will be chronicled further in this writer’s upcoming book which will shed additional light on how this baseball treasure has passed through the hands of Spalding, the NYPL, Rob Lifson, Barry Halper, George Lyons, Lew Lipset, Walter Handelman, Mike Gutierrez, Dave Kohler of SCP Auctions and two others who returned the card to sellers when they found out the card was stolen. Those two parties were told the cabinet card was to be returned to the NYPL.  Only the person currently in possession of the card knows if additional names can be added to this “Who’s Who” list of hobby notables.

We asked NYPL President Tony Marx and Director of Media Relations Angela Montefinise if the stolen Anson cabinet has been returned to the library by the FBI or any other party.  Late yesterday, Montefinise responded, “I am working on it right now.”


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