I saw on a thread on one of the collecting forums where somebody alluded to Barry Halper and offered a view that the famed collector’s credibility had taken a hit in recent months with all of the online meanderings about the provenance of some of the items in the 1999 auction.
Gone now all of five years, it’s more than a little annoying to see one of the genuine hobby icons getting pummeled in online forums in a situation where he can’t defend himself. Such is our system that the dead wind up being largely defenseless and without much recourse even when a lifetime’s work – or hobby – comes under attack.
So let’s be as clear as we can about all these rumblings about the authenticity of some of the pieces in that historic 1999 auction at Sotheby’s. Even before the first lot was hammered down that September in New York City, hobby insiders knew that there were likely going to be pieces that weren’t precisely as described. You can’t put tens of thousands of items into a once-in-lifetime mega-auction over the course of a single week and not expect that there would be issues and often disagreement.
What seems to get lost in our tawdry, decade-later review of Halper material is the realization and understanding that at the time of the sale, the very finest dealers and auctioneers in the country provided the very best authentication that they could with the information and technology that was available at the time.
That’s another big part of what frosts my grommet about this frenzy of Halper bashing: It’s not just his good name and reputation that are getting smeared, it’s the good name and reputations of a whole battalion of people who worked on that epic auction.
There was no greater baseball scholar than Halper and his love of baseball history was at least the equal of his affection for the stuff that so eloquently represented and recounted it. The obvious inference from the online assaults is that notion that details of a piece might have been fudged or overlooked in order to either: a) attach greater historical significance and provenance to something otherwise undeserving; or b) enhance the monetary gain from the sale.
I submit that from what we know of Barry Halper and the aforementioned battalion of experts who labored on behalf of that auction, we have no right 11 years later – or any other time, for that matter – to impugn their integrity based on new evidence that comes to light.
If, in fact, the provenance is faulty for some of the items, it should be perfectly legitimate to revise the prevailing assessment of an historical artifact without trashing the person who owned it at one time or another or the experts who in good faith examined it way back when.
The vitriol that has been directed toward the hobby pioneer can be far better understood with the realization that the people and organizations engineering it have an agenda or their own that is far more intricate than simply correcting the public record about a piece of memorabilia.
There’s a couple of important things we need to remember in all this: Barry Halper’s reputation as perhaps the most important collector in hobby history ought to be far more resilient than to be capriciously sullied five years after his passing. And the “revelations” that seem to be oozing out of the cyber-marshland ought to be assessed for what they are: an orchestrated attempt to discredit an important hobby figure for reasons that fall far short of championing the public good.
I don’t like hidden agendas. Not even from me. Barry Halper was my friend, but I’d like to think I’d be grousing about this latest bit of nasty business even if we had merely been acquaintances.
We ought to pay as much respect to the memories and reputations of those was have passed just as we would to our own.