It was one of the most hotly contested items in the famous Barry Halper baseball collection auction. Now, though, the claim that a glove purported to be the last one ever used by Lou Gehrig is being called into question.
A report by Dave Gob of MEARS, the Milwaukee-based authenticator, indicates that it wasn’t possible for the glove sold in the auction to be the same one used by Gehrig the last time he donned Yankee pinstripes.
Both the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Halper collection laid claim to owning Gehrig’s final first baseman’s mitt.
The report says the glove touted as Gehrig’s last was lot #2141 in the Halper auction, which was conducted by Sotheby’s in New York in 1999. Actually, it was lot #2421 but there’s no doubt about the final selling price. It was $387,500 with buyer’s premium and according to numerous reports, the buyer was actress/director Penny Marshall. She was building her large collection when the auction took place in September of 1999. It’s the most ever paid for a glove and it became one of the top five highest selling pieces of sports memorabilia during the 20th century.
You can read about the evidence Grob cites here.
Several items in the voluminous Halper auction have been scrutinized over the past couple of years for not being what they were originally purported to be. While that’s unfortunate (especially for those who spent big money on them), it’s not surprising, really considering the size and scope of the auction.
It also shouldn’t overshadow the collection, which at its whole, was a staggering accumulation of amazing pieces of history.
Cataloging the items in the Halper auction was done 22 years ago. Even then it was obvious that limited true research was being done on some items offered for sale and at auction throughout the industry.
Information wasn’t quite as accessible. Many people were still using dial-up internet for crying out loud…if they owned a computer. There were few checks and balances and even fewer collectors who knew how or where to corroborate stories that may have come along in connection with the items we saw for sale or auction. A major collector like Halper–an almost godlike figure in the hobby back then–was never questioned.
If there were others with more knowledge or strong suspicions, they weren’t stepping forward publicly to dispute some of the auction descriptions–in the Sotheby’s/Halper sale or anywhere else.
There’s no excuse for sloppy research…but that’s true for both the seller and the buyer.
I’m more concerned about what’s taking place today with those tools more readily available. There are hundreds of items sold each year with sketchy information. Sometimes the certificate of authenticity is an “auction house letter” with no real indication of research or evidence to back claims of veracity in auction or sale descriptions. While that may mean the auction house did its own research, we’re not always a party to the process. Others are simply described as “game used” with no other accompanying provenance yet they still sell.
I’m even more shocked at the number of bidders who are still so trusting they don’t bother to ask questions, do their own research of demand more accountability. They’ve apparently got more money than I do.
Some companies use authenticators whose work is maligned by serious collectors who can spot inconsistencies with just a few minutes of online photo-matching and research.
One long-time auction company continues to pump out items so blatantly fake they have become an industry-wide joke. And people still buy their junk because they either 1) don’t know any different, 2) they don’t do any research or 3) they found a sucker who will buy them for an even higher price.
No one’s perfect. Mistakes happen. And there are a lot of great items being sold at auction that really are the real deal. Even though there is almost always a suspension of disbelief required with autographs you didn’t witness or jerseys you didn’t see come off the player’s back, it’s possible to buy these pieces and feel good about it.
But there are still holes in the system and that’s where the focus needs to be.
The resignation of Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel dominated the headlines Monday. The once spotless reputation he enjoyed has advanced like a tumor over the last few months.
The final straw, apparently, was a Sports Illustrated investigation that reveals at least 28 players traded or sold memorabilia going back to 2002. A story based on that investigation, was published online Monday.
Apparently it wasn’t just championship rings and awards being swapped by a few players last season in exchange for tattoos.
The SI report indicates players took autographed items they got with autographs of Tressel and teammates, as well as game used gear and either sold or traded them. The bigger the item or the more signatures it had, the more value they were given. They are said to have received not just tattoos, but marijuana as well.
Tressel, the report claims, violated NCAA rules three times by refusing to report or acknowledge the violations.
The eight-year pattern of violations finally became too big of a hole for the popular coach to climb out of and Ohio State football can now officially be described as “a mess”.
From a collector’s standpoint, we’re left with this thought.
Who says trading is a lost art?