Taking My Hacks

Two Tales of the Faulty Provenance

Joe Orlando

In the past, we have covered the topic of provenance and its affect on various types of sports memorabilia. We have also discussed how, on occasion, people attempt to mask questionable material with a fabricated story. Their intent is to distract you from the merit of the item, which an elaborate story can do from time to time.

Recently, a fellow hobbyist brought an interesting story to my attention. Someone had offered him a game-used glove of a Hall of Fame baseball player. This hobbyist was asking my opinion about its value and its quality. After reviewing the markings on the glove, or lack thereof, there appeared to be some question about the authenticity so it was sent to one of the best experts in the field.

We will get to his findings in a bit.

Along with the images of the glove, this hobbyist sent over an excerpt from a letter of provenance that accompanied the glove. The letter appeared to come from a legitimate source as it was provided by a former minor league manager. This gentleman claimed that he personally obtained the glove from the major league ballplayer during the 1970's while employed by the organization. He would go on to provide great detail about its use and how professional gloves were handled by the team.

Now to the expert analysis. The wonderful thing about professional gloves is, like professional bats, you can clearly distinguish between professional models and non-professional models based on the markings. Not only was this glove a store model glove never made for professional use, it was not manufactured until 1980! Needless to say, the hobbyist rejected the offer and returned the glove.

Around the same period of time, we were also contacted about authenticating a historic home run ball from the 1960's. Here, the gentleman who submitted the ball was also the man who allegedly caught it as a youngster. This man included copies of articles, pictures and a letter from the player who hit the homerun on team stationary dating back to the period! He even sent the ball to the player to have it signed years later. There was no doubt that this man did actually catch the historic home run ball as a kid but did he submit that same ball?

This man was adamant that this was the same baseball that he caught back in the day. He seemed honest and passionate about his case. There was very little reason to doubt him or the ball until we performed an analysis on the baseball labeling. While the ball was severely worn, our experts could still read the labeling with the help of a special machine. After deciphering the labeling and perusing our professional baseball labeling chart, it was clear there was a problem.

The home run was struck in the mid-1960's, yet, this particular ball was not made until the early-1970's. Unlike the first situation, it was difficult to call the owner with the bad news. It was clear, after talking with him and analyzing the whole story, that he simply misplaced the original baseball or had it stolen at some point. He did actually catch the ball and no one can take away that experience from him but this ball just wasn't it.

Sometimes, experts have to be the bearer of bad news but it is part of the job. Here are two cases where it would be very easy to get caught up in the story and lose focus on the actual merit of the collectibles. Remember that provenance can add tremendous value to an item or enhance a story but it can never be a substitute for expert authentication.

Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando
Editor In Chief