Category Archives: Fakes and Frauds

A Negative Original: Vintage Photo Fraud

Collectors are always learning and developing their expertise as they progress and grow their collection. Some areas of collecting have many pratfalls and entrapments that can draw us in and cause us to set aside certain obvious indicators when the item is something that is truly eye-catching. Vintage photograph collecting is an area of collecting that has been a long-standing pursuit, commencing well ahead of my militaria and military baseball interests, several decades ago. In addition, I have years of experience in the darkroom and digital studio directly pertinent to vintage photograph reproduction, editing, repairing and restoring that has served me very well in steering clear of the entrapments and obvious fakes and fraudulent photographs that dominate the hobby.

Before I delve too far into the subject of this article, I will insert a caveat – a rather significant one at that – I do not profess to be an expert in the realm of vintage photograph collecting. Though my collection of vintage prints (military baseball in particular) numbers in the hundreds, I am still learning. There are collectors that possess exceedingly greater knowledge that I tap into in hopes of preventing myself from being a victim of a seller’s ignorance or deception.

The tell-tale sign of a bad copy (that I overlooked) was that the image lacked the prototypical clarity and high contrast of nearly every sports photograph of this era.

Though I have been focusing my photograph interest in the realm of military baseball, one ballplayer who, a professional prior to World War II, traded his San Francisco Seals flannels for the olive drab wool uniform of the Army Air Forces along with the flannels of a few USAAF ball clubs. Ferris Fain, following his three-plus years of wartime service, returned to the Seals for the 1946 season before being signed by Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, commencing his major league (if not somewhat mercurial) career in 1947.  When I saw an image of Fain in his third All Star Game (1952) posed along with Al Rosen, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Yost and Mickey Mantle, I foolishly ignored certain aspects of the photograph along with my own gut instinct before I commenced my pursuit.

The photograph has everything; three prominent stars of the game including the greatest Yankees center fielder, snapped at the All Star pregame festivities and four men who served during World War II (Mantle being the exception). Though the image was taken well after the war, it still had great baseball militaria-appeal. However, the principal factor for pursuing the photograph was centered on the As first baseman, Fain.

The seller’s description (and his 100% rating over a few thousand transactions) was a good sign.

This is an 10×8 original photo from the negative of Ferris Fain, 1947-1955 with a .290 life time batting average. 2 time batting champ . Al Rosen, 1947-1956 .285 life time batting average. 5 years in a row 100 + Rbi’s. In 1953 he had 201 hits, 115 runs, league high 43 home runs and 145 Rbi’s. He also batted for a .336 average and was league MVP. Dom DiMaggio, 1940-1953 with a .298 life time batting average. 6 time 100 + runs. Brother of Vince and Joe DiMaggio. Eddie Yost, 1944-1962 with a .254 life time batting average. 5 times 100 + runs and 8 times 100 + walks. Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle, 1951-1968 with a .298 life time batting average. 536 home runs. 3 time MVP. Thank you for stopping by. At my Ebay Store I have autographed historical books, sports art work, cards, photos, photo negatives, autographed 16×20 photos, Hollywood and music stars, records and autographs. Buy 5 or more items and shipping is free.”

I doubt that when folks refer to Mickey Mantle’s “Tape Shots” that this isn’t what they have in mind. When the “orignal negative” creator was setting up the duplication of the clipping, they forgot to frame above the tape that used to be stuck to the paper.

Even in the listing’s field stating if something is new or original, this seller indicated that the photo was not a new print. As with so many other vintage images that I have purchased at online auction, all previous sellers were quite accurate with both this field and their description. In hindsight, I should have sought specificity, avoiding what I now see as ambiguity with the the way the photo was listed.

When the photo arrived and I saw it with my eyes, I knew that I had been taken. The image was not only a copy, it wasn’t even a copy of an original or 2nd generation print. This photo was a copy of an image that had been published in a newspaper or magazine. To boot, the source that was duplicated still had tape-residue (as seen on Mickey’s legs at the bottom right of the image) which was discernible in the auction listing and I overlooked it.

When examining the photo with my naked eye, I could see the poor contrast (not always a sign but a good starting point in factoring originality) as pro-photographers produced crisp, high contrast images without fail. I noticed an overall lack of crispness to the image. When I scanned it (at 1200 optical dpi), immediately discernible was the screen pattern (dots) that are part of the mass-production from printing plates (halftoning).

Zooming in on Fain, the screened appearance is very obvious and one can tell that the “original negative” was created from a newspaper or magazine clipping.

The half-toning dots are so readily apparent and to have the seller insist that the image was made from an original negative (he even refuted my half-toning assessment).

My disappointment was substantial. The photograph was such a nice capture of the American League batting stars of the 1952 season and it truly would have been a great addition to my growing Ferris Fain collection but being so deceived took every bit of the shine off the photo. When I requested a refund, the seller wasn’t in any hurry to rectify the situation other than to offer a refund but the shipping was on my dime. I typically try to give people the benefit of doubt and I thought of the possibility that he didn’t know that the image was not what he had listed. However, when he responded, he insisted that HE printed the photo from the “original negative.” I knew then that he was in the photo duplication business and had no problem using deception with his listings and that his customers were happy with his work or completely unsuspecting.

Rather than ship the photo back and see it re-listed to defraud another photo collector, I am keeping it to serve as an example of how easily fooled anyone can be (even me). However, this seller could simply make more prints defeating my decision to keep this one off the market. I will continue to watch this seller and call him out if I see him continue to fraudulently list “original” photographs. For now, I am leaving him anonymous.

Is My WWII Baseball Real?

So many of my articles and much of my artifact-seeking has been focused upon uniforms and photographs yet, the principle object of the sport that I am keenly interested in, the ball itself, has all but eluded my pursuit since I entered into this endeavor nearly a decade ago. The first breakthrough in my searching for authentic baseballs came at the beginning of this year with my successful acquisition of the team-signed 36th Field Artillery baseball from 1956 and still my archive of artifacts would be well-suited if it included a few more leather-clad, stitched orbs.

This is a prime example of a game-used Professional Base Ball Fund ball, made by the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company (image source: Vintage Sports Shoppe).

Roughly nine-inches in circumference and weighing roughly five ounces, baseballs have been been consistent in their size for more than a century. Until 1974, the animal skin covering of most balls (including those used by both major leagues) consisted of horsehide when the change to cowhide was made. With the exception of wartime military issued (italics for emphasis as baseballs were not government-provided) balls used by service members in league play or pick-up games could vary widely in their origins. Though I have not been able to verify alternative sources, balls (along with other equipment such as gloves, bats, catchers’ gear and uniforms) used by service members were sourced through many different means. Aside from the Baseball Fund during both world wars, balls could be obtained directly from sporting goods stores, government procurement or sent to the players from family members on the homefront.

The Professional Baseball Fund ball is marked with Rawlings’ standard logo for the war years (image source: Vintage Sports Shoppe).

The balls that were provided during WWII via the Baseball Equipment Fund ( commencing with fund-raising via the 1942 season’s Major League All-Star Game held at New York’s Polo Grounds) were manufactured by the  Rawlings Sporting Goods Company and marked accordingly with the manufacturer’s standard stampings along with the unique and easily recognizable Baseball Fund stamps. Unsurprisingly with game usage, the stamps would be diminished as they were rubbed off from continued contact with glove-leather, bat-impact along with striking and skidding across various types of field surfaces. Locating a ball with the markings intact is not unheard of however I have only ever seen one listing of a ball that had been sold.

I am certain that many prospective collectors of military baseballs are seeking (but are unfortunately not available) irrefutable methods to authenticate and validate a ball that has been listed for sale as or is purported to be a service team or military-used piece. Due to the many sources that provided baseballs (including official Reach/Spalding-made American and National League balls) to military personnel, authentication can be a considerable challenge with a ball that lacks identifiable markings or that is without substantiated provenance from the service-member whopreviously owned the ball.

Staff members look over equipment for use by marines in the South Pacific. In the crate are dozens of baseballs, which under close inspection, one can see the markings on the balls. There is not a single ball has the “U.S.” stamp as seen within this crate of balls.

Throughout my years studying this subject and these artifacts along with collaboration with long-time experts in vintage baseballs (including major and minor leagues, collegiate, little leagues and balls sold through various sporting goods and department stores).  There are no doubts as to one particular method of ruling out balls that are being sold as genuine military-used item. No evidence exists (documented, photographic or veteran recollection) that substantiates any baseballs being stamped with bold “U.S.” or “Special Services” markings. Sadly, despite the best efforts of several experts, the fraudulent sales are rampant and thriving in spaces such as eBay. Since I published These eBay Pitch-men are Tossing Spitballs at Unsuspecting Collectors and the update, more than two-dozen new victims have purchased from the most-prominent online fraudster, “giscootterjoe” to the tune of more than $1,000.00. There are a handful of other folks who sell the faked U.S.-marked balls, capitalizing on giscotterjoe’s cottage industry but he is consistent in his listings, following the same, weekly pattern.

Authentication of these baseballs doesn’t require decades of research and comparative analysis to get a sense (even through photographs) of its authenticity. If one played baseball, recalling the damage that is inflicted upon a ball from being batted, bouncing off certain field surfaces (who can forget the scarring balls receive from sandlot gravel or even pavement?), then applying those memories to supposed game-used balls should provide prospective buyers with a strong authentication starting point. Soiling, field stains and bat-marks are random on genuine baseballs. With careful examination, one should be able to see remnants of the manufacturer’s stamps, despite the game use.

As with my recent acquisition, autographed baseballs will require additional scrutinizing. The signatures of soldiers, sailors or airmen are nearly impossible to verify as comparative examples typically do not exist. Researching the names against unit rosters (from the National Archives, unit or base museums or even unit historical publications such as ship cruise-books) which could take time. Common sense tells me that highly unlikely for a fraudster to create a specific unit baseball (such as the  “Rammers”  ball team of the 36th Field Artillery from 1956) with signatures.

Further examination of the signatures to determine if the age of the ink fits the purported date of the ball (60 years of oxidation, ultraviolet deterioration will fade the ink) requires very little expertise and with my ball, the aging appears appropriate. By 1956 the Professional Baseball Fund was eleven years in the past leaving armed forces teams to source their baseballs through normal channels. Though the 36th team-signed ball is a Wilson Official League ball, the model number indicates that it was made for use in little leagues but the stamps verify that it was made in the early-to-mid 1950s. Judging by the stains on all of the panels, the ball doesn’t appear to have been game-used. At most the ball might have made impact contact with gloves but I suspect that the soiling is due to handling.

In last week’s post, I indicated that I landed my second military baseball (a military-team signed 1943 Spalding, Ford C. Fricke National League ball) which is the subject of a forth-coming article. With two balls added to my collection in the last few months, I am only inspired to continue my quest to land at least one of the Baseball Fund-marked balls from the second World War.

 

 

 

*UPDATE: These eBay Pitch-men are Tossing Spitballs at Unsuspecting Collectors

Since I published my article, These eBay Pitch-men are Tossing Spitballs at Unsuspecting Collectors a few weeks ago, the eBay seller, giscootterjoe who has an endless supply of the baseballs in question, has listed two more auctions with one closing with a final bid price of $422.00 by the unsuspecting “winner,” of 17 total bidders. The current in-play auction has nine bidders and the price has exceeded $60.

Pay particular attention to the timing of the sales. Go back as far as eBay’s history will allow in order to discern the full extent of the fraudulent baseballs (eBay screenshot)

While fraudulent listings are allegedly taken seriously by eBay, they are incapable of authenticating a seller’s assertions. It is incumbent upon bidders to be educated and to challenge the veracity of sellers’ claims and to not take them at face-value solely because they present a good story. Over the course of the past twelve months, this seller has nearly 40 transactions in which he/she is selling the same faked baseball, presenting it with the auction title, “ORIGINAL WW2 US ARMY SPECIAL SERVICES BASEBALL MUST SEE L@@K !!!” There is not one shred of supporting evidence to validate the seller’s claims:

“Up for bids here today we have a nice original US Army special services baseball. This auction is for one (1) baseball, the gloves are shown for reference only. These balls where found in a cloth army bucket that was 1944 dated along with the gloves shown. One glove is dated 1945 and stamped US Army, and the other glove is stamped “special services US Army”. The special services where greatly different in WW2 than the special forces of today, back then they where in charge of recreation, and other “special items” for the troops. You will receive the ball pictured alone in the pics. All in all a nice little unique item and a must have for all military collectors!!! Don’t forget to check our other auctions for more great military items from giscootterjoe as we gladly combine shipping!!!

Items to be sold as is so see pics and feel free to e-mail with any questions, Buyer to pay shipping and handling, Bid High, Bid Now !!!”

Pay attention to the language this seller uses. He makes not a single reference to the validity of the baseballs, “These balls where found in a cloth army bucket that was 1944 dated along with the gloves shown.” His statement is that because they are shown (in an accompanying photograph) in an olive drab bag that, according to the seller, has a 1944-date, somewhere on the bag. Again, the seller shows no such evidence. What the seller is doing is displaying a glove that bears some stampings that indicates it is a valid WWII Special Services, US Army issue. Conveniently, the glove is not for sale.

In the near 40 transactions, in the past year alone, the seller has generated more than $2,700 in sales. Sadly, this seller has been in the business of misleading buyers for at least five years (since I first noticed him). One area that I’d like to explore a bit more is with the other bidders in these transactions. Another collector has suggested that there is the potential of shill bidders at play with giscootterjoe’s auctions and I will begin diving into some of the bidding history to see if anything stands out.

I sincerely hope that potential bidders find these posts and use them to gain some insights and to save their money. I have no skin in the eBay game. As these buyers are seeking, I too would love to find authentic baseballs to round out my collection.

Buyers beware.

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