Love of the Blog

Communication, Commercialism, and Commentary

Some words about fraud

The past several weeks have been difficult ones for our hobby, for sure.  Information has come to light which has long been the subject of speculation, but which the Federal Court has crystallized quickly and definitively this week.  Without describing the sordid details, you can read a news story about the incident here.  Part of the considerable fallout from this has been an (understandable) desire on the part of the collecting community to hear from auction houses.  After some thought, we’ve decided that the appropriate place for us to sound off is here, on our own blog.

The short answer: We do not shill our auctions, nor have we ever.  

We also do not alter cards.  We do not perform undisclosed restoration on memorabilia.  We do our best to accurately describe everything in our auction with educational and interesting copy, and if we discover an issue that materially impacts the value of a piece after the auction goes live, we publish an addendum and give each bidder an opportunity to cancel their bids if they choose.

Additionally, we do not have hidden reserves.  Occasionally, we offer an item that does have a reserve, and we identify such items clearly, and we publish the amount of the reserve one week before the auction closes.

The longer answer:

We do our absolute best to ensure that our bidders participate in an honest, ethical auction in which real people can bid and win at real prices, and in which consignors can enjoy consigning to an auction in which its bidders trust the process.

We have several safeguards in place to help our bidders feel more comfortable.

  1. Our auction software is configured so that we cannot see what your max bids are when you place them.  This is a deliberate safeguard that prevents us from ever knowing how many – if any – bid increments exist between the current bid and a max.  As we say in our rules, we don’t have a fancy name for this; we just call it “integrity.”
  2. Our auction software is configured so that we cannot see the passwords of our bidders.  This prevents us from logging into their accounts and viewing your private information.  Because of this, if you lose your password and call us, we have no way of telling you what it is – the only remedy is to send a “password reset” email.
  3. Our auction software does not permit consignors to bid on their own material.  We explicitly prohibit this in our consignor agreement, and if we feel a bid is made by a consignor under a different account, or by a consignor’s proxy, we reserve the right to cancel the bid.  There is no circumstance under which we permit a consignor to win their own item and pay us the buyer’s premium.
  4. While we can never tell why a person might be bidding on an item, or who might be friends with whom, we do look for signs of shilling between consignors and a proxy bidder.  On one occasion, we banned a bidder – and a consignor – for bidding activity that we felt was illegitimate.
  5. We do not bid in the auction.  There is no “house account.”  We understand why some auction houses feel it’s okay to bid in their own auction, but we feel that when we can see who we’re bidding against, when we know who the consignor is, and when we have a 20% advantage because we do not pay the buyer’s premium, it’s unethical for us to bid in the auction.
  6. We do not withdraw items from the auction if they do not appear to be selling well.  If an item that does not have a reserve is in our auction, and has a bid, it will sell.

Collecting sports cards and memorabilia is a fantastic hobby.  It’s the greatest hobby.  It’s the best way to see how tightly sports is woven into the fabric of American history, and each artifact is special.  Each tells a story, and each collector that preserves an artifact in his collection is saving a piece of history, and passing along stories that otherwise would be long forgotten.

When we read or hear accounts of fraud in the hobby, it disgusts us as much as it does you.  Shill bidding – even if you still win the shilled item for less money than you’re prepared to pay – is robbery.  We’re serious about this.  It’s a big part of the reason why this company was founded.  The hobby will tell us whether or not it’s possible for an auction house like ours to survive in the long-term without engaging in unethical behavior.  Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.  Our survival will depend not only on the confidence of bidders, but on the consignors who are willing to contribute material to an auction where the house will not engage in unethical practices to help inflate prices.  But one thing we can unequivocally promise our customers, our consignors, our families and our friends: you will never, ever see us deliberately engage in fraudulent behavior.

Period.

 

Some words about “Auction LOAs”

In each of our auctions, we’ve been fortunate enough to have offered a growing number of quality autographed items.  Each auction, the selection we offer has gotten larger, more varied, and certainly more interesting.

As a result, though, we’ve felt the need to clarify our position on “Auction LOAs.”

Autograph collectors have a variety of opinions about the rise in third-party authenticators in the hobby.  Our opinion is that with the large amount of fraud pervasive in the hobby, third-party authenticators have done a world of good.  Sure, they occasionally make mistakes.  Sure, they are providing opinions that are, from time to time, frustrating.  However, on balance, they have an immense amount of knowledge, enormous databases of exemplars from which to compare, and large networks of experts with whom to consult.  Most importantly, the two largest authenticators – James Spence Authentication and PSA/DNA – have simply seen an incredible number of autographs, and have a wealth of experience from which to draw.

Our primary partners for the authentication of autographed material are JSA and PSA/DNA.  We are comfortable with their expertise, and are thrilled to work with them on the authentication of the autographed items that we sell.

Occasionally, however, we receive autographed items that have been authenticated with an Auction LOA.  These LOAs have been utilized by Auction Houses as a sort of limited LOA, featuring the opinion of a third-party authenticator but not an actual LOA.  The auction houses, perhaps to save money, enlist the authenticator to review a large volume of material in a short period of time, issuing these auction LOAs as a Seal of Approval but not a final verdict on authenticity.  Upon the auction close, the winning bidder receives the item along with the Auction LOA, which is described as a “preliminary review” of the item in question.  The winning bidder is then required to resubmit the item for a “full” LOA, for an additional fee.  It is explicitly stated in the auction LOA that it is entirely possible that upon full review, the item in question could be rejected as inauthentic.

Typically, the LOA incorporates the auction house’s catalog description of the item into the LOA.  They do this for the purposes of properly identifying the item (since no photos are included in the auction LOA), but the result is misleading.

Recently, we received a consignment consisting of a Babe Ruth autographed check.  The check came with an auction LOA, and the auction house described the signature as being a “10”.  Unfortunately, the consignor was under the impression when purchasing the check that he was getting a Babe Ruth check with the signature graded 10 by the authenticator.  Unfortunately, there was no way this signature would have graded a 10, or anywhere close.  When the consignor received the item, he continued to think he had a Ruth signature graded 10, because the auction house’s hyperbolic description was written into the LOA.

When we received the check, we immediately realized that the LOA was simply an auction LOA, and the signature was by no means a 10.  After breaking the bad news to the consignor, we submitted the check to JSA and received a full LOA.  Sadly, however, we returned it to the consignor, who would surely have taken a loss on his purchase since he thought he was buying a “10” when he won it.

We do not feel the Auction LOAs are unethical.  They are what they are.  We do, however, feel that some auction house descriptions are misleading – sometimes intentionally so – and when these descriptions find their way into an LOA, they can artificially inflate the value of a signed item, and even provide bidders with a false sense of security.

As such, Love of the Game has elected not to offer items with Auction LOAs for sale in our auction.  While we will take them on consignment, we will submit them to a third-party authenticator for full LOAs or Basic Certs (depending on value).  This is, of course, more costly, but in the end, we feel that it provides our customers with a level of confidence and comfort that the Auction LOA does not provide.  Furthermore, we feel that when our customers purchase signed, authenticated items from us, they should not have to pay additional money to obtain a “full” LOA.  They’ve already purchased the item!

Going forward, any authenticated item sold by Love of the Game will have a full LOA or a basic certification, with the exception of those signed items that are authenticated and encapsulated by PSA, SGC, or JSA (those items, of course, do not require certs since they are encapsulated).

On a similar note, we are occasionally asked why we sometimes sell signed items that are not authenticated.  There are two reasons why this may happen: 1) The item was submitted too close to our auction deadline, and time did not permit us to obtain the authentication.  2) The item is simply not valuable enough to justify the investment.  In both of those cases, please know that we do not sell non-authenticated, signed items unless we are certain of their authenticity, and we guarantee that such items will pass muster with JSA or PSA/DNA.  In the event that they do not, we are happy to issue a full refund on your purchase.

We hope that this clarifies our position regarding autograph authentication.

A pre-rookie bat from “The Kid.”

Carter Barrel BrandOur Winter auction features this beautiful Gary Carter signature model K55, dating to the 1973 labeling period, prior to “The Kid” breaking into the big leagues.  Carter’s time in the minors featured a rather meteoric rise, rocketing through Rookie and A ball in 1972, a full season of AA ball in Quebec in 1973, a full season at AAA in Memphis in 1974 before breaking in with Montreal in 1975.

Carter KnobIt was during Carter’s time with the 1973 Quebec Carnavals that he first used this bat, as evidenced by his number 48 being written on the bat’s knob (along with Carter’s initials) and with the number 4 eventually obscured as Carter assumed his number 8.  The bat exhibits signs of excellent use, with a slight crack in the centerbrand, clearly visible ball marks on the left and bat barrel, as well as blue and red bat rack streaks.  At some point the crack in the centerbrand was secured with tape, but the tape has been removed.  Most notable of all the use characteristics is the application of pine tar on the upper and lower handle with a “gap” inbetween, a characteristic noted on other Carter bats.  The bat has also been signed by carter to the left of his signature brand.

All of this has resulted in a grade of GU 8 by John Taube of PSA/DNA.  This is a wonderful bat, well-preserved but with outstanding signs of use from one of the most beloved players of his era, leader of the World Champion 1986 Mets, and deserving Hall of Famer.  Full LOA from PSA/DNA.

Carter Longview

Rare and Desirable Schmelzer’s Pins Ty Cobb – Newly Graded!

1910 Schmelzers Cobb FrontThe Schmelzer’s Sporting Goods pinback button set is incredibly rare, with only a few dozen examples known of any player, and just five Ty Cobb examples known to exist.  The 1 1/4″ diameter pinback issue is among the most rare of all baseball pinback sets, the first baseball celluloid pinback issue to feature lithographic artwork juxtaposed with an actual player photo.  Produced by the Whitehead & Hoag company (manufacturer of most of the era’s pinbacks) and issued by Schmelzer’s Sporting Goods of Kansas City, MO, these pinbacks are unbelievably rare, and extremely desirable among the hobby’s most advanced collectors.

Much has been stated in the past with respect to the rarity of the Schmelzer’s pinback issue in relation to any baseball card issue of the same era.  The pins are so rare that until this past Spring, just eight different subjects were known to exist – and then two more were found (Johnny Evers and George Stallings).  Today, only one complete set is known to exist, with only one known example of the Evers and Stallings.  With just ten subjects known (one for each position plus a manager), the “team” includes four Hall of Famers (Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Rabbit Maranville, and Evers) plus Joe Jackson – quite a powerful punch.

Presented here is one of just five known examples of the issue’s unquestionable key: that of Ty Cobb.  Graded NM 7 by PSA, this example is the only Cobb on PSA’s population report.  It is likely the finest example of the Cobb pinback in existence.  The image quality is nearly perfect, with virtually no signs of age or wear to speak of.  A slight patina on the pin itself, with some very mild discoloration along the edges of the reverse are the only visible signs of wear, this is truly a spectacular example.

The finest known example of the key subject from the hobby’s most rare pinback issue.  An absolutely extraordinary rarity.

1916 Mino Cigarettes Tris Speaker

T216 Mino Speaker FrontThe second of the T216 Mino cards featured in this auction, the Tris Speaker card earned its way into our “Featured Items” section simply due to the head-turning responses it received at three Northeast shows where we displayed the card.  The card turned heads in unexpected ways, with just two collectors ever having seen one before.  Indeed, according to VCP, just one example has sold at public auction in the last three years, an SGC 40 that eclipsed $3,500 in 2012.

 

 

T216 Mino Speaker BackGraded GOOD 30 by SGC, this example was graded some time ago, certainly prior to SGC’s establishment of half grades at the lower levels.  With wide borders and even corner wear, the well-centered card does exhibit some minor creasing, but nothing that breaks the color of the card to any great degree, and certainly nothing to detract from the card’s excellent eye appeal.  An uncommon pose for a Speaker card, this is truly an interesting one, an extremely tough card from a seldom seen Louisiana tobacco issue.

Amazing High-Grade ’34 Goudey Gehrig

1934 Gehrig FrontThe phrase “Yellow Gehrig” is one any prewar collector will recognize; it clearly refers to the iconic 1934 Goudey card featuring the bold portrait of a smiling Yankee captain, set against a bright yellow background.  The Gehrig-endorsed 1934 Goudey issue helped cement the first baseman as the game’s biggest star in the wake of a fading Babe Ruth; his wholesome image and impossible consecutive games streak endeared him to baseball fans not only in New York but nationwide.

The 1934 Goudey issue remains one of the more popular of the gum card era, and without a Ruth, it is the issue’s two Gehrig cards that are the set’s undisputed keys.  The bright yellow background is susceptible to showing stains and scuffs, accentuating every flaw even in higher-grade examples.  Such high grade examples are rare, however, with just three specimens attaining a grade of MINT 9 by PSA, with two graded MINT 96 by SGC and one GEM 98.

There is no two ways about it: this is a monster card.  Graded MINT 9 OC by PSA, the qualifier refers only to the top-to-bottom centering issue that falls outside the range for a straight MINT grade.  The centering issue is relatively unobtrusive as far as eye appeal is concerned, however, the addition of the qualifier brings the sale price of the card down below the unquestionable six-figure range this card would fetch in a straight 9 holder.  Regardless, however, the card is as beautiful a “Yellow Gehrig” as you are likely to find, with brilliant yellow coloring and blazing corners.  The slight blemish near Gehrig’s left cheek that is visible in our high-resolution scan is strictly on the holder and not the card; it is a small blemish in the plastic that qwe were unable to remove.

With a total graded population of more than 1,000 examples, the number to achieve a MINT grade or better is just six.  One of the most beautiful “Yellow Gehrig” cards in existence, a pure mint copy with a slight centering flaw that reduces the card’s technical assessment but certainly not its aesthetic appeal.

There’s cool…and then there’s COOL.

As Hat AThere are some collectibles that are fascinating and interesting, and there are others that are just too cool to properly describe, and this qualifies as one of them.

Winning five consecutive AL West championships, the Oakland A’s of the early 1970s were one of the game’s most electrifying and dominant teams.  Their colorful nature was encouraged by owner Charles Finley, who adopted vivid green and gold uniforms, offered his players $300 bonuses to grow mustaches, nicknamed his star pitchers “Catfish” and “Blue Moon,” and introduced the flourescent orange baseball, which was tested in night games.

Legend has it that in the early 1970s, Finley had cowboy hats custom made for his players.  This particular hat was made for the coolest of all the A’s players – pitcher Vida Blue.

Blue won the Cy Young and the MVP in 1971, posting a 24-8 record with a 1.82 earned run average.  One of the greatest pitchers of his era, Blue was also one of the coolest, and is still active in promoting baseball to inner-city children.  Which is cool.

As Hat BThe hat is a quality suede hat, featuring the A’s logo patch on the front, and a gold band with black and gold feathers.  The brim is rimmed with gold.  The liner of the hat is satin, the leather sweatband stamped with the Bandera Premier logo, and the telltale stamping “Made Especially For VIDA BLUE” stamped in gold leaf along the right of the sweatband.

We have not seen anything else like this.  What could be cooler – perhaps Tito Fuentes’ sunglasses?  Dock Ellis’ curlers?  Joe Pepitone’s hair dryer?  We’re not sure, but for now, this custom-made cowboy hat, gifted by one of the era’s most colorful owners to one of its most colorful players, is the epitome of 1970s baseball cool.

Roy Campanella 1952 All-Star Game-Used Bat

Roy Campanella and Eddie Mathews pose for a photo before the 1952 All-Star game.

Roy Campanella and Eddie Mathews pose for a photo before the 1952 All-Star game.

Near the peak of their strength as a team, the 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers sent seven players to the All-Star game at Shibe Park in Philadelphia: Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Preacher Roe and Duke Snider.  The game was halted early due to rain, called after just five innings, with the National League defeating the American League, 3-2,thanks to a fourth inning 2-run home run by Hank Sauer.

Coming off his MVP season of 1951, Campanella was named to his fourth consecutive All-Star team (he would ultimately appear in eight). The Dodgers catcher would play all five innings of the game, with two at bats.  In his first, in the top of the second, he popped out to Al Rosen at third base.  In his second, he drew a 4th inning walk, moved to third on an Enos Slaughter double, and was stranded there to end the inning.  For the purposes of this auction lot, however, those two at bats – and one batted ball – are important.

While players were (and, technically, still are, though they’re paid for by the teams) responsible for ordering their own bats, Hillerich & Bradsby rewarded participants in each year’s All-Star Game and World Series with a gift: two brand-new bats, prepared to the player’s specifications, and branded with the year and occasion.  Those bats are, obviously, much more scarce than their typical bats, with just two manufactured for each player, they are much less likely to have survived.

Campanella Bat - Long ViewIn our Winter, 2016 auction, we are pleased to feature Roy Campanella’s G80 model Louisville Slugger, emblazoned with the 1952 All Star Game designation.  The bat is visually stunning, absolutely beautiful in eye appeal and quality.  While the bat is exceptionally clean, particularly given its age, it does exhibit signs of light use, with some ball marks on the left barrel and a very light coat of pine tar on the handle.  The bat also exhibits some minor streaks consistent with being removed from a bat rack.  Considering the circumstances surrounding the manufacture of this bat, coupled with Campanella’s lack of action in the game (just a foulout and a walk), John Taube of PSA/DNA, after thorough examination, has graded this bat a GU 9.

Campanella Bat - Barrel BrandThis is an outstanding bat, a beautiful example and just one of two such bats manufactured for Campanella.  With specifications that match Campanella’s 1952 ordering records exactly, and a length and weight that match the bats ordered by Campanella in 1952, the authenticity of this bat is unquestionable.

Campanella Bat - KnobRoy Campanella bats are very difficult to find.  Campanella remains one of the most popular players in baseball history, his tragic story still a source of sadness for New York and Los Angeles sports fans.  Campanella’s smiling face and proud determination in the face of his 1957 accident have made him an American hero.  One of the most rare of all Campanella collectibles, a game-used bat from one of his All-Star appearances.

A REALLY rare Honus Wagner

T216 Mino Wagner Front

The T216 People’s Tobacco issues are the last of the Louisiana-based tobacco sets.  Issued during the lengthy period between 1911 and 1916, the cards advertise either Kotton, Mino, or Virginia Extra brands, with Mino and Virginia Extra being the more scarce varieties.  The cards are extraordinarily scarce today, with higher-grade commons reaching into the four-figure range on a regular basis, and Hall of Famers fetching considerably more.

Along with Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson, the Honus Wagner serves as the issue’s anchor, the most valuable and desirable card of the issue.  While population reports for this issue are unreliable as they do not accurately reflect either the different variations of the set’s cards or the three different backs, it is our belief that there are fewer than a half dozen graded Mino Wagners in existence – and while we understand and appreciate that so many long-time prewar collectors eschew grading in general, we feel that the population reports remain an excellent guideline when determining scarcity.

A quick scan of VCP reveals just four sales of this particular variation and does not include this example; the most recent sale of this variety was in a Barry Sloate auction in 2008 – a PSA 3 example that exceeded $9,000.  Seven years later, we are proud to offer this example in our upcoming Winter catalog auction.

T216 Mino Wagner BackGraded GOOD 30 by SGC, the card actually boasts incredible eye appeal – wonderful centering and large, wide borders that exhibit the majority of the wear at the very edges and corners.  The rare Mino Cigarettes back is virtually unblemished, with some very minor flaking at the “O” in “Mino” and some very minor edge wear.  Quite a fantastic example indeed, a card that has historically made itself available at public auction only once every few years.  One of the rarest and most desirable of all Wagner’s cards, from a highly collectible New Orleans issue.

Pathe’ Freres Babe Ruth Collection

Pathe FreresPathe’ Records was an international record label and phonograph manufacturer based in France.  Originally in the business of manufacturing phonograph cylinders, the company began making traditional “disc” records in the early 1900s, and while a major company in France, was largely unsuccessful in making a dent in the United States market.  In 1920, the company began marketing a new line of “needle-cut” records for the American market, which were designed to play on standard phonographs.  To help them break into that market, they turned to the “Home Run Monarch, idol of the baseball public, known by sight to millions who have seen him swing his famous black bat against the horsehide for the ’round trip.”  

Pathe Freres RecordThe record was marketed as a recording of Babe Ruth, telling a story, and sold for a dollar, primarily through the mail.  One “photographic print of his autographed photograph” was given away with the purchase of each record.  The record itself, which can be heard here, does not actually contain the voice of the Great Bambino, despite the fact that it was marketed as such – an interesting exercise in deceptive advertising for the time, as was the “photographic print of his autographed photograph.”

The photo, taken late in the 1920 season (Ruth’s uniform contains the black armband which memorializes Ray Chapman, killed on the field that August) is one of the most rare of all the 1920s Ruth items.  Pathe’ Freres was not a particularly successful company in the American market, their needle-cut records fizzling out in the US by 1920.  As such, the promotion was largely unsuccessful despite the massive popularity of Ruth, even as early as 1920.  The photo and record are considered very scarce today.

1921 Pathe Freres Ruth FrontOur Winter auction will feature a copy of the “Home Run Story” record, the accompanying “autographed photograph,” and a framed print ad from the Saturday Evening Post promoting both.  The record is in VG to VG+ condition using record grading standards (we’re vinyl fans here at LOTG, though this record actually predates vinyl).  The 78RPM platter will play on conventional turntables that offer that speed, and while the record does exhibit considerable surface noise, it does play audibly.  The sleeve is in FAIR condition, intact with separation at the seams and very brittle, flaking paper (we did not attempt to photograph the record in the sleeve for concern with excessive handling of the brittle paper).

The card has been graded VG/EX 50 by SGC, an outstanding example with strong clarity and very little noticeable wear.  The framed print ad displays well, completing the collection – one of the more interesting and rare Ruth-related items from the dawn of his career.

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