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Famous T206 Doyle card is pronounced a phony

Written by T.S. O'Connell (SCD - Feb 25, 2000)

When one of the most elusive hobby rarities apparently turned up at last year's SportsFest in Philadelphia, Alan Rosen figured he has stumbled upon yet another "find" in a career that has turned up some of the most spectacular hoards in the hobby.

Six months later, Rosen, arguable the most famous card dealer in the country, is suing a grading service because the card in question has subsequently been deemed by many to be a fake. Rosen insists that he purchased the card from a walk-in customer at the Philadelphia show on the basis of an on-site certification of it being authentic by Sports-card Guaranty Corp.

With the authenticity of the card now in question, Rosen is suing Sportscard Guaranty Corp. to recover more than $23,000, which represents, roughly, the amount that Rosen refunded the collector who purchased the card from him in his December 1999 auction. Adding yet another twist to the story, the winning bidder on the now-allegedly ersatz Doyle was one of the more famous collectors on the continent, Fox television sports anchor Keith Olbermann, who traces his roots to the earliest days of the hobby and is widely regarded as a vintage card expert in his own right.

"I went to SGC and they looked at it and agreed it was no good," said Rosen. SGC officials agreed to reimburse Rosen for the $8,000 and the cost of the advertising that he had done to promote the auction, but Rosen wanted the amount that he had been forced to refund to Olbermann and related costs. The civil action filed on Jan. 31 in Superior Court of New Jersey in Bergen County lists $23,177, plus court costs.

The card in question, the T206 Joe Doyle "Nat'l" hands above head, is thought to be much rare than some of its more famous counterparts from the same classic set, Honus Wagner, Eddie Plank and Sherry Magie. Hobby insiders debate how many examples of the "Big Three" are around, with three or four dozen T206 Wagners thought to be known, for example, but most experts agree that fewer than half dozen of Doyles with the "Nat'l" designation are known.

That degree of scarcity made it all the more remarkable that two of the cards would be in the spotlight at last year's Philadelphia SportsFest. Rosen paid a reported $8,000 for the Doyle card he bought at the show, and fellow dealer Levi Bleam was also trumpeting his recent acquisition of a Doyle, though his had been acquired for an undisclosed price shortly before the show opened.

Ironically, Rosen, who had been a vocal opponent of independent grading services for many years, has actually worked for Sportscard Guaranty for just over a year, serving as consultant. Rosen and SGC parted ways only two months before the Doyle card was auctioned.

Rosen is quick to point out that the only reason he purchased the card was because it had been given the OK by SGC's most visible grading expert, Joe Merkel, who left SGC in October of last year. "I purchased the card on SGC's authority," said Rosen. "When the guy came to my table and offered the card, I immediately found Joe Merkel, who said without a doubt that it was authentic."

At that point Rosen paid the man for the card, which had considerable wear and damage, much of it around the important area of the "Nat'l" designation. SGC graded the card a "10", essentially the lowest grade on the scale and roughly equivlent to PSA1.

The fact that a card in such rough shape could command $8,000 to the unidentified man who brough in the card is a good barometer of just how rare it is. Rosen said the man, in his 30s, brought the Doyle to the show amoung a large grouping of T206s and clearly was aware of the significance of the card.

The Doyle card wound up being one of the marquee items in Rosen's Dec. 6 auction, ultimately purchased by Olbermann with a winning bid of more than $21,000. When the noted broadcaster received the card several days later, he almost immediately identified it as having been altered, and promptly showed it to a friend and fellow collector to confirm his suspiscious.

"I've been collecting for 33 years now and been 'in' the hobby since 1971, and I think I know what I'm talking about," said Olbermann, who was writing for hobby publications, including Sports Collectors Digest, even as a teenager. "But even if I had just started collecting, I could've seen this one with one pupil tied behing my back.

"When I was an eight-year-old collecting 1967 Topps and a guy would get traded, I'd cut the name of his new team from another card and scotch tape it onto his card. The job done on this one was only slightly more sophisticated," continued Olbermann.

"You could see the ridge at the top of the glued-on "Nat'l" with the naked eye. Later, under a magnifying device provided by a friend, you could see that the bottom border of the card jutted downwards under the "Nat'l" glue-on. In short, you or I could glue together a more convincing version in no more than two or three tried."

After getting a second opinion confirming his view from a hobby friend, Olbermann showed the card to what could best be described as a relatively disinterested, thoroughly impartial neophye - the driver who brings him to work every day. He said, "Is this word 'Nat' - apostrophe L glued on or something?"

Rosen wasted no time in settling accounts with Olbermann, whom he described as a good customer. "I hope there are no hard feelings over the card," Rosen added. The dealer known as "Mr. Mint" sent Olbermann a certified check to reimburse him, then turned his attention to SGC.

SGC officials are adamant that they have done all that they can in satisfying their guarantee. "We offered to reimburse him for the card and the advertising expenses. What we offered was above and beyound our guarantee." said SGC President Steve Eichenbaum. "We're not in the business of allowing people to profit from these things.

"We own up to our mistakes," continued Eichenbaum, who added that when Rosen brought the card back to SGC following Olbermann's return of it, the SGC graders conceded that there was some question about the authenticity of the card. "If there is a question, we feel that we did the right thing.

"It appears (Rosen) is interested in profiting from the situation. I think that's wrong," said Eichenbaum. He also noted that he could not respond specifically to the allegations in the suit because he had yet to see the actual papers as of Feb. 2.

Assuming that the card is ultimately deemed to be a fake (SGC oficials said they would destroy the card had Rosen accepted their offer and returned the card to them_, that leaves perhaps five known specimens. Larry Fritsch, probably the most famous and prolific collector in the country, reportedly has two copies of the Doyle card, both thought to be about excellent. Another is thought to be owned by Charles Conlon in Michigan, and a fourth by an unnamed East Coast collector. Add in Bleam's which was deemed authentic by PSA at SportsFest, but didn't receive a grade because PSA officials felt it had been trimmed, and that makes five.

With that kind of rarity, it's no wonder that big bucks and bruised feelings are involved. Larry Fritsch figures that either of his Doyles would probably command something close to $100,000 at auction, but he has no such plans at the moment. Nor does Bleam, who is content to hold his card for awhile longer.


Gallery - T206 Joe Doyle (N.Y. Nat'l)
Periodicals - T206 Joe Doyle (N.Y. Nat'l)

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