July 13, 2015
Last year at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, an FBI agent took possession of an 1869 Red Stocking trade card owned by Net54 moderator Leon Luckey suspecting that the relic had been stolen from the New York Public Library’s famous Spalding Collection. Sources indicate that the agent wanted to examine the back of the card for evidence of an NYPL stamp and that after examining it, the card was returned to Luckey, the co-owner of Brockelman & Luckey Auctions.
During the convention, a collector inadvertently posted on YouTube a video which caught Luckey talking to his partner Brockelman about the card in question as the collector was filming the materials displayed in Luckey’s showcases. That same card which was returned to Luckey is now appearing in the current Heritage auction as part of the sale of his type-card collection. Heritage, however, has posted a high-resolution scan of the back of Luckey’s 1869 card and the image clearly reveals an NYPL stamp featuring one of the library’s sculpted marble lions which are named patience and fortitude and have stood guard at the entrance of the 5th Avenue branch since it opened in 1911. The evidence of the stamp on the back of the card is unimpeachable evidence that Luckey’s prized possession was stolen from A.G. Spalding’s collection which has been housed at the library since 1921. The library has suffered staggering multi-million dollar losses as a result of a 1970s heist that has been reported on in the New York Times and the New York Post.
Why the FBI returned the stolen relic to Luckey last year after examining it is unclear. What is clear, however, are the remnants of the red NYPL stamp that definitively document it as property of the City of New York. When we examined the scan of the back and viewed it as a negative image (similar to an x-ray) the word “Library” from the oval NYPL stamp was clearly visible along with the circle that follows the word.
Hauls of Shame also sent the Heritage back scan to a skilled SABR member who overlayed it on top of an NYPL stamp found on another card in the Spalding Collection. The result was an exact match for every visible point of emphasis on both the Peck & Snyder card and the oval NYPL stamp.
The remnants and the full stamp exhibit the exact same lettering, graphics and lion outline and definitively prove that Heritage is, yet again, selling property stolen from one of the nation’s most prestigious research libraries.
Luckey’s card is an 1869 trade card issued by the Peck & Snyder sporting goods company and depicts the members of the champion Cincinnati Red Stockings who went undefeated that season. The card is one of several examples that were stolen from the NYPL including another card which was confiscated by the FBI at the National Convention in 2012 when it was being sold by Legendary Auctions. The FBI examined the card under an ultraviolet light which revealed another blue rectangular stamp used by the library to document ownership of Spalding items. That card was offered for sale by auctioneer Doug Allen who has recently plead guilty to charges of wire fraud in an FBI probe into corruption in the memorabilia industry. The stolen card currently for sale at Heritage was also previously sold by Allen and his former partner Bill Mastro atMastroNet in 2000. Mastro has also plead guilty to wire fraud in the same case and Luckey’s stolen card can be traced back to Mastro’s former partner, Rob Lifson, who sold the stolen card in his own Robert Edward Auctions sale in 1997.
Lifson, of course, is notorious as the only individual to ever be apprehended while stealing similar 19th century photographs and cards from the NYPL’s Spalding Collection. When Lifson was caught stealing in 1979 TIME Magazine reported that he had $5,000 cash on his person and that the thief claimed to have made that cash selling cards in “just one day.” Many of the stolen NYPL relics ended up in the collection of Lifson’s top client Barry Halper and sources indicate that the current card for sale at Heritage was offered atChristie’s in 1996 and prior to that was part of the Halper Collection.
Luckey and Chris Ivy of Heritage Auction Galleries were hoping that the 1869 rarity would fetch a six-figure price considering the auction house calls the card the highest graded example in existence. But afterHauls of Shame alerted the NYPL and the FBI of the presence of the library stamp on the reverse their plans to cash in on the stolen treasure began to unravel. In fact, sources indicate that both Luckey and Ivy were aware that the card had the NYPL stamp and was stolen property as Ivy and Heritage noted in the lot description: “Fragments of some type of red stamp appear on the upper part of the verso. There is surface marring or erasure on the back in the same upper quadrant. This could be a library stamp, a collector stamp or the mark of some retailer.” There is no question that the stamp is a library stamp—an NYPL stamp featuring a lion. Heritage’s false claims that the ink remnants could be from a “collector” or “retail” stamp are wholly disingenuous and demonstrate what appears to be outright consumer fraud.
Further suggesting that Luckey had prior knowledge his card was stolen is evidence that shows the Net54moderator had displayed the back of his card with a high resolution scan until May 2010 when he intentionally changed the scan to a low resolution image that made it impossible to examine the remnants of the red stamp on the reverse. Luckey basically admits his knowledge that the card is stolen in the course of his 2014 conversation with his partner Scott Brockelman that was posted by collector Jerry Spillman onYouTube. In that conversation Luckey states that the FBI agent (who he referred to as a “Private detective, NYPL”) was “confident” that his card was stolen from the library. Luckey and his partner also allude to knowing who stole the card originally in this exchange:
“Luckey: He (the FBI Agent) is like, man, you don’t really have to worry about it, you didn’t steal it. (unintelligible)
Brockelman: Well, I know, but they obviously know who did. I have a pretty good idea. I’m sure they probably do.”
Luckey also references a conversation he had with New York defense attorney and collector Jeffrey Lichtman stating: “Lichtman says no way they (the FBI) could take it, he says it’s been way too long.” Luckey also claims that dealer Kevin Struss owned the card previously stating, “Well, Kevin Struss had it, he sold it to Montgomery in ‘97. Just talked to Kevin, he said he can’t remember exactly where he got it. He says he might, he probably has a record of where he got it (unintelligible), he didn’t know offhand. Kevin sold it to him…” Struss likely bought the card after it was sold by Rob Lifson in the 1997 REA auction.
Luckey also references the FBI seizure of the other 1869 Reds card from Legendary’s 2012 auction stating:
“Take a picture of the back and bring out, like they did at the last (unintelligible) a few years ago. Where I saw, they had a Peck and Snyder, from JC, it had a faint mark on the back, and they put it under some kind of instrument, and it brought it out perfectly. It said NYPL, I did not see that. So, some kind of infrared, so...”
The “JC” that Luckey refers to is J.C. Clarke who apparently was the consignor of the other stolen card to the Legendary sale. The card was pulled from the sale and then returned to Clarke and it is unclear if it was ever actually returned to the NYPL.
We sent the transcript of the conversation to one of the nation’s top card collectors who is also a Net54member and he responded to us stating, “The Brockelman paranoia in that transcript is startling. For such beacons in the hobby (Luckey and him) seem most concerned about keeping a stolen card. No mention of any loss by the NYPL.”
Angela Montefinise, the NYPL’s Director of Communications said she could not comment on the current FBI investigation into this particular card but a source familiar with the probe said the library is aggressively pursuing recovery of the six-figure Spalding treasure.
Hauls of Shame asked Chris Ivy of Heritage Auctions for comment on why he was selling another item stolen from the NYPL but the auction house’s sports director failed to respond to our inquiry. Heritage has a long history selling stolen goods from the NYPL including the 1879 player contract of Ezra Sutton signed byHarry Wright and Henry Chadwick’s 1894 NY Giant season pass.
Leon Luckey has recently come under fire from some members of his Net54 forum after he stated he “appreciated” a recent gift he accepted from Bill Mastro and that he would not be writing a “victim letter” to the Judge who will decide how long Mastro’s prison sentence will be. In years past Luckey has been a staunch supporter of both Bill Mastro and Doug Allen and has also been accused of bidding on his own items in Mastro auctions as a co-conspirator in Mastro’s shill-bidding schemes. New York defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman recently called out Luckey on his forum stating, “Hey, don’t blame me for holding up a mirror to your face and forcing you to eat your own words. You complain about fraud in the hobby and yet when push comes to shove you’ve defended Mastro and Allen for years. For years.”
Ironically, Luckey has his own criminal record as a confessed drug dealer and convicted felon who was caught distributing narcotics in 1986 as well as having 5-50 lbs of marijuana in his possession. He had also been arrested for distributing narcotics three years earlier. Luckey, however, has responded to his critics like Lichtman stating on Net54, ” I venture to guess I do more than 99.9% of the people in the hobby (you are right there too) to weed out fraud. I can’t stand it. Not sure if you have ever seen where I have said, ‘If you are doing something bad in the hobby I will be your worst friend,’ but I have said it many times. I have helped numerous authorities to work fraud cases in the hobby….Secret Service, Dept. Of Homeland Security, Postal Agents, Postal Inspectors, local authorities etc.”
Despite the overwhelming visual evidence showing that the card was stolen from the NYPL and his own words captured on the video at the National, Luckey responded today to criticism from forum member John McDaniel who told him, “There’s the whole Peck & Snyder card mess that’s traveling the hobby rumor circles of you potentially having a card connected to Mastro that may have been stolen from the NYPL.”
Luckey responded stating, “The Peck and Snyder card has been examined and no mark is discernible. Just like it says in the description. “There is surface marring or erasure on the back in the same upper quadrant. This could be a library stamp, a collector stamp or the mark of some retailer.” It has been examined and whatever was erased can’t be made out with any known equipment today. It has been tested. I only know where I got it and have an invoice for it. If you know more please let us know. I know the provenance of it for the last 25 yrs and that is all.”
Apparently selling stolen property donated to institutions doesn’t phase Luckey and with his 1869 card still for sale on the Heritage website it appears he isn’t willing to help the FBI (who he claims to have on his speed dial) recover this particular stolen treasure.
Here is the full transcript of the Luckey-Brockelman conversation referenced in the article:
Transcript: Leon Luckey and Scott Brockelman at National Convention in 2014 from video posted on YouTube by collector Jerry Spillman
Luckey: Brian said ‘I will bring you a picture.’
Brockelman: Huh? for What?
Luckey: Peck and Snyder.
Brockelman: What do you mean?
Luckey: Picture of the back. (lowered voice) (unintelligible) NYPL. Oh you didn’t hear?
Brockelman: Well I knew, I mean, what’s, I didn’t know he’s, what, we are bringing this guy around, what, inspecting everybody’s cards now?
Luckey: I don’t know, if I want to say to him, I can say no. So he looked at it. Thinks it. (lowered voice) Private detective, NYPL.
Brockelman: Well, when, it was first. If he thinks that he certainly has the equipment.
Luckey: He says he’s confident.
Brockelman: Why wouldn’t he have (unintelligible) the picture with him forever.
Luckey: Well he’s going to do it now.
Brockelman: And I was thinking…
Luckey: Take a picture of the back and bring out, like they did at the last (unintelligible) a few years ago. Where I saw, they had a Peck and Snyder, from JC, it had a faint mark on the back, and they put it under some kind of instrument, and it brought it out perfectly. It said NYPL, I did not see that. So, some kind of infrared, so…
Brockelman: But, why wouldn’t you have already had that with you, obviously they knew they were coming here to do that.
Luckey: He had no idea, no, they weren’t coming here to do that. He just said ‘Can I see it?’
Brockelman: No, no, they were coming here to do that. Unintelligible…
Luckey: Maybe, maybe.
Brockelman: So they just took it away from you?
Luckey: Well I gave it to (unintelligible) to look at under a…
Brockelman: Well they sure as hell not going to give it back to you. I would, they would need to have a form from the library that says uh, that we are…..
Luckey: Well, no, no. I think I will get it back for now, I just don’t know the long term prognosis.
Luckey: Lichtman says no way they could take it, he says it’s been way too long.
Brockelman: I don’t know.
Luckey: I don’t know. 10k is what I have into it. I don’t know, it’s a little unsettling the whole thing.
Brockelman: No, I don’t think they just happen to come over here and say ‘look at that’.
Luckey: Maybe not.
Brockelman: I think they already have…
Luckey: Although he didn’t bring his stuff. He’s borrowing somebody else’s so I don’t know.
Customer: Do you have any cabinet cards.
Woman: Cabinets, (unintelligible)
Luckey: He’s like, man, you don’t really have to worry about it, you didn’t steal it. (unintelligible)
Man’s voice: You taking pictures, huh?
Brockelman: Well, I know, but they obviously know who did. I have a pretty good idea. I’m sure they probably do.
Luckey: Well, Kevin Struss had it, he sold it to Montgomery in ‘97. Just talked to Kevin, he said he can’t remember exactly where he got it. He says he might, he probably has a record of where he got it (unintelligible), he didn’t know offhand. Kevin sold it to him (unintelligible)
Brockelman: I’m….I just can’t believe that they just happen to come up to your table. (Unintelligible)
Luckey: Well, they just found one, one or two years ago, last year…..
Voice: Hey Frank, what’s going on.
Frank: How are we doing?
Frank: Leon, how are you?
UPDATE (July 14th 4:50 PM): Heritage has withdrawn the stolen Peck & Snyder card from its current sale.