Taking a bite out of New York’s Big Apple Comic-Con

By David Stone

Where can you see Batman, The Incredible Hulk, Captain Kirk, and baseball legend Yogi Berra all in one room? New York City’s Big Apple Comic-Con! I attended the show at Pier 94 on October 16-18, 2009 . The convention featured over 150 stars in attendance—an autograph lover’s dream come true—including Burt Ward (Batman), Lee Majors (Six Million Dollar Man), and The Suicide Girls. Over 77,000 comic book, sports and nostalgia fans attended the event. The celebrities were there to greet admirers, reminisce about past works, and most importantly…sign autographs!

The Big Apple Con has been going on since 1996, when it started in a church basement. Over the years the locations and guest rosters have progressed. Just last year the show was purchased by convention giant, Wizard World, and to guarantee its success it booked a large cross-section of celebrities for their first New York show, so there really is something to fit everyone’s taste.

The night before the convention I heard that at least 30,000 people were expected to attend, so to make sure I didn’t miss anything, I left extra early to get a good place in line. After a two-hour wait we were finally allowed into the registration building to get our wristbands. There was a mad rush once the doors opened!

I had hoped to interview some of the celebrities at the show, but unfortunately, the stars either didn’t want to do the interview or were too busy signing autographs. The most disappointing experience I had was from Christopher Knight (Peter Brady). Mr. Knight thought about my request for what seemed to be forever, and then informed me that if he wasn’t making money on this interview then he should be making money selling his photos (which were selling for $20—some of the cheapest at the convention!)

William Shatner

One of the highlights was an appearance by William Shatner (Captain Kirk). Imagine everyone’s disappointment when it was announced that the signing, originally scheduled to last all day, was only going to last for one hour. Naturally, many attendees, myself included, rushed to his spot at Lightspeed Fine Arts’ booth. And just like at sports signings, I couldn’t purchase Mr. Shatner’s autograph directly. I had to get a ticket, sold with the photo of my choice, including $75 for his autograph. There were a variety of photos to choose from, including Star Trek, T.J. Hooker and Boston Legal. Even a shot of him as the Priceline Negotiator! Shatner greeted me warmly, shaking my hand and thanking me for coming to the convention. Despite being rushed with his photo op and Q&A sessions later in the day, he took time with each fan.

Iconic Figures: From Batman to the Incredible Hulk

Another 60s TV icon at Big Apple Con was Batman himself, Adam West. There was a long line going from behind Mr. West’s booth and onto the convention floor itself. Mr. West is another celebrity I heard could be rude and denigrating to fans, but he was exactly the opposite: he joked with us, posed for photos, and of course,signed autographs galore! There were a variety of Batman photos available for $50, though I was a bit disappointed Mr. West didn’t have any Family Guy shots available. He’ll probably always be remembered as Batman anyway. So I got a photo taken with him and went on to my next group of stars.

Another highlight of the convention was Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, signing autographs for $25. For an extra fee you could snag handwritten lyrics signed by Mr. Dolenz or an autographed drumhead. I was the only one waiting for him when he arrived at his table, which was surprising. He invited me to look at photos, including a Monkees cast photo. Mr. Dolenz couldn’t have been nicer, even agreeing to an interview later in the day. Unfortunately, when I returned for the interview his agent didn’t allow it to happen. But I still left his table happy, with a beautifully inscribed 8×10.

Another television icon of yesteryear, Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), was selling his signed photos for $25. Despite it being slow at his booth, Mr. Ferrigno brushed off my interview request, barely speaking to me while signing the photo. His assistant even asked me to leave! To make up for that unpleasant experience, Ernie Hudson of Ghostbusters fame was more than gracious and kind to each and every fan that came by his table. Mr. Hudson had a large assortment of photos from his many films, selling for $25 each. I asked him what it was like to perform live for President Obama in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone on Broadway when the Obamas were in town. He told me it was the greatest thrill of his professional career and then proceeded to sign a photo inscribed with “Who Ya Gonna Call?” What a nice guy!

Photo Ops

Finally, the main three leads from The Dukes of Hazzard, Catherine Bach, Tom Wopat, and John Schneider, were all selling autographs for $25 apiece. I bought a photo from Mr. Schneider, who is also known for his more recent role on Smallville. Mr. Schneider seemed to be overwhelmed (in a positive way) by the legions of fans stopping by his table. But he handled it all with grace, talking to each fan, asking them their names, and even posing for (gasp!) FREE photo ops! Okay, this is what puzzles me: Why is it that celebrities not only charge for photo ops, but they charge more than for an autograph? As a collector I may be biased, but I will always believe that something written is worth more than a photo. A photo just proves you’ve met the star—there isn’t anything tangible from the star’s effort.

Other celebrities appearing at the show included Billy Dee Williams ($40 for a signed photo), Ric Flair ($50), Dwight Gooden ($30), and Nichelle Nichols ($30). All in all, it was a successful event for me—I only wish I could have been able to share the perspectives of the celebrities with Autograph readers. Hopefully next time around!

P.W. Costello: A Master Penman and the Golden Age of Theater

By Kimberly Cole

IMAGES COURTESY OF TOM COSTELLO UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED

Like the train tracks that threaded Pennsylvania in the late 1800s, two stories run parallel. One is the story of what has come to be known as the Golden Age of Theater in the United States (1880-1920) and one is the story of a Master Penman, Patrick William Costello. It is the story of how those tracks converged in Scranton, Penn. to produce a body of work: Costello’s magnificent drawings of the leading actors and actresses of that Golden Age, signed by the performers, capturing an era that is almost impossible to imagine in this day of paparazzi, Internet and global celebrity.


P.W. Costello

Patrick William Costello was born on March 11, 1866 in Scranton, Penn, the only child of Irish immigrants. His mother died when he was two, and his coal miner father fled the economic downturn and high unemployment in the United States to return to Birmingham, England in the early 1870s.

Coincidentally, Birmingham was the world center for the design and manufacture of steel pen nibs. Inserted into wooden holders and dipped in ink, these sharpened metal points of varying dimensions and shapes led to the development of new styles of penmanship. The mass production of the steel nib democratized writing, allowing the populace to learn the art of lettering and the skill of writing.

Costello’s father was able to find work in the Birmingham mines and the 5-year-old Costello was enrolled in school. While it wasn’t standard for the children in the grammar schools Costello attended to use steel nibs, their teachers certainly did. Something or someone sparked his interest and inspired a decision to practice lettering and drawing, for by the time he returned to Pennsylvania with his father in 1877, Costello had begun to develop skills that would lead to a career as a masterful penman, portrait artist and engrosser.

When the Costello’s returned to Scranton, the depression they had hoped to escape had worsened and young Costello left school to labor for two years as a “breaker boy” at the Bellevue Colliery. Boys as young as eight would sit on pine boards, perched above metal chutes, stopping the flow of coal with their feet in order to pick out foreign material. The boys were not allowed to wear gloves, and the sulphur-covered rock left their fingertips cracked and bleeding. Even as an eleven-year-old breaker boy, Patrick practiced after his job in the colliery, sketching on slabs of slate he found near the mines.

In his teens, Patrick escaped the mines and found work as a grocery clerk, a job that taught him people and business skills. After a nine year post as an appointed clerk for the City Engineer, he was elected to positions as Auditor of Lackawanna County and City Controller.

In his spare time, he continued to practice, refining the technique of stippling and cross-hatching in portraits and developing a style that began to earn him renown as an illustrator. In the mid-1880s, Costello opened his engrossing studio and began producing work that brought him to the attention of Charles Paxton Zaner, founder of the Zanerian College of Penmanship. In 1903, Zaner traveled to Scranton to meet with Costello. Zaner was amazed at the self-taught Costello’s skill, and a lifelong friendship began. Zaner encouraged Costello to leave politics and devote himself to his work as an engrosser. By 1910, Costello was at the top of his profession. Upon his death in 1935, an editorial in The Scrantonian Tribune wrote:

“Mr. Costello was possessed of the soul of the poet and the artist. Even in the nineties [1890s] when he was in politics, which are calculated to harden a man against the beauties of the world, he dreamed his dream – and out of that dream grew an art that made him famous throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania. [He] was a great artist, a lover of beautiful things – but better still, he was a lover of his fellow man, and hundreds of them, who treasure his work and who admire his character, will mourn his departure…”

The Golden Age of Theater

The 19th Century saw an explosion of theater throughout the United States. Laws forbidding the performance of plays in the 18th century were repealed, the railroads made touring feasible, regional theaters were built, and by the end of the 19th Century, theater was America’s mass entertainment.

European stars and plays were imported, but America soon began producing, and exporting, its own stars and companies. While Broadway was growing, spreading tendrils from the Bowery up the Great White Way, touring companies were making national circuits. To ensure profitability, a syndicate was formed under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln Erlanger, a booking magnate who dominated the southern states. Legitimate theater, offering plays ranging from Shakespeare to adaptations of popular novels, and vaudeville shows, featuring musical and comedy acts, crisscrossed the country.

Pennsylvania, home to several of the oldest theaters, became an important touring destination, and the tough audiences, comprised of poor coal miners and immigrants still struggling to learn English gave birth to Scranton’s reputation as an important try-out for Broadway plays: “If you can play Scranton, you can play anywhere.”

In the late 1890s, as Costello was building his reputation as an engrosser, he was also co-owner of Costello and Fleming’s Arbor Cafe, a popular restaurant located in the heart of Scranton’s theater district. The restaurant was lined with Costello’s portraits and sketches of local and national figures, and it soon became a popular gathering place for the stage stars performing the Pennsylvania circuit. Stars such as Al Jolson, Gorge M. Cohan, Lillie Langtry and Edwin Booth played the Scranton cicuit. Costello drew their portraits from photographs, engravings and portraits, adding signatures from the stars, and providing for us an incredible collection of the faces and autographs of this Golden Age.

Collecting Golden Age Autographs

This era, extending from the late 1800s to the 1920s, is a rich field for collectors—and not an impossible one financially. It also offers aesthetic bonuses—vintage photos, carte de visite, playbills, posters, playing cards and beautiful signatures.

Pricing for signatures ranges from $15 for stars such as Maude Adams or Viola Allen to the $200-300 range for George M. Cohan, Will Rogers or Lily Langtry. You can find autographed letters in the $35-$1,000 range with Will Rogers topping the prices due to superior content. Signed photos are harder to come by, but can be had for as little as $25 or as much as $500 for Langtry or Rogers.

Finding items to pair with signatures for display is easy. Hundreds of items are available on eBay with tobacco cards and postcards selling for $1-$5, programs and posters in the $25-$250 range and a beautiful assortment of carte de visite for around $50.

A Master Penman and The Golden Age of Theater

Costello created a Marriage Engrossing to celebrate his marriage to Mary Agnes Mahon and their nine children. The flowers, which symbolize the children, were sized and positioned according to the children’s birth order. The large flower along the right border, just below center, represented Anna, the oldest, and moving clockwise, additional flowers represented the other children. All flowers were connected to the vine except for the one that represented John, who died at the age of seven months in July 1900. Costello positioned this flower to the left of the red capital letter “P” in his own name, to keep him close. (6×10, courtesy John Beemer)


Stars of the
Golden Age of Theater

Lillie Langtry (1853-1929) was nicknamed “The Jersey Beauty,” a nod to her birthplace on the island of Jersey and to her renowned beauty. While still in England, she had a string of prominent lovers, including the future King of England, Edward VII. When Sir John Milais’ portrait of Langtry was exhibited at the Royal Academy, ropes had to be set up to control the crowds. Her close friend, Oscar Wilde, suggested a career on stage. Her London debut was followed with many tours in America, where critics savaged her and the public adored her. (8×11)

Maude Adams (1872-1953) was born in Utah, the daughter of an actress. She began her career at the age of nine months, carried onstage by her mother, but her greatest success came as the lead character in Peter Pan and helped her become the highest paid performer of her day. Known to be shy, Ethel Barrymore called Adams “the original ‘I want to be alone’ woman.” Quiet and dignified, Adams was known for her generosity—augmenting the salaries of fellow performers out of her own pocket and giving small gifts to stagehands. (7×9)

Katherine Cornell (1893-1974), known as the greatest American stage actress of the 20th century, was famous for her portrayal of Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the 1931 production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street. But her greatest impact may have been as a producer. With husband Guthrie McClintic, she was responsible for bringing many of the greatest Shakespearean actors of the 20th century to roles on Broadway. Cornell also appeared in one film, Stage Door Canteen, and in several television adaptations in the ’50s. (9×13)

Al Jolson (1886-Oct. 23, 1950) was lauded as “the world’s greatest entertainer.” A singer, actor and comedian, his musical style influenced Bing Crosby, Judy Garland and Bob Dylan. Between 1911 and 1928, Jolson had nine sell-out shows in NewYork’s Winter Garden and more than 80 hit records. He’s best remembered today for his role in the first full-length talking picture show, The Jazz Singer, in 1927. Jolson enjoyed performing in blackface make-up, a theatrical convention of the 19th century and, while he was the first openly Jewish man to become an entertainment star in America, he helped break the color barrier on the American stage—fighting discrimination and, with his introduction of African-American music, paving the way for Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. (8×15, courtesy John Beemer)

William Penn Adair “Will” Rogers (1879-1935) was, in addition to being a Cherokee cowboy and social commentator, a vaudeville performer and an actor. He made 71 films and wrote a series of New York Timesarticles that were syndicated in over 500 newspapers, bring his social commentary and homespun wisdom to millions. His work in the Zeigfield Follies led to the first of his many film roles and, in the 1930s he was the top-paid actor in Hollywood. Rogers’ aphorisms are still quoted today, including his final epigram. Buried in the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma, Roger’s grave stone reads: I never met a man I didn’t like. (8×15, courtesy John Leahey)

Edwin Booth (1833-1893) was famous as an actor both before and after the infamy of brother John Wilkes Booth’s, assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Born into a theatrical family, Edwin Booth toured throughout America and Europe and founded Booth’s Theatre in New York. In an odd twist of fate, Edwin Booth is credited with having saved the life of Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln. In a New Jersey train station, young Lincoln had fallen into the space between the railway car and the platform when the train began to move. He was pulled to safety and recognized his savior as the famous actor Edwin Booth. Booth was forced from the stage by the infamy, and was, according to the friends who comforted him in his exile, comforted by the idea that he had saved Lincoln’s son from injury or death. He made his return in 1866 playing the lead in Hamlet, which became his signature role. (9×16)

Tyrone Power (1797-1841) was as famous in his day as his namesake great grandson was in the Hollywood of the 1950s. Born in Ireland, Power joined a troupe of traveling players when he was 14. He became a star in England’s Drury Lane before conquering America. In addition to acting, Power was a speculator, buying the land upon which Madison Square Garden rests today. Returning to England, he was lost at sea on the SS President, leaving behind descendants such as Sir William James Murray Tyrone Power, the Commissary General in Chief of the British Army, notable British director Sir Tyrone Guthrie, Tyrone Power, Sr., a silent film star, and Hollywood star Tyrone Power, Jr. (8×13)

Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928) was the leading Shakespearean actress in Britain, before she toured the States in Henry Irving’s company. Famous for her portrayal of Portia in The Merchant of Venice and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, she toured the U.S. and England for more than two decades. In 1903, she took over the management of the Imperial Theater in Britain, championing the plays of George Bernard Shaw and Henrik Ibsen. Terry’s descendants include her son, actor, designer, director Edward Gordon Craig and nephew Sir John Gielgud. (9×13)

Viola Emily Allen (1867-1948) was born to a theatrical family and first appeared on stage in the title role in Esmeralda at Madison Square Garden at the age of 14. Allen performed in both Shakespearean and modern plays, and starred in the 1915 silent film, The White Sister. She signed Costello’s portrait in person, perhaps one of the actors who celebrated Scranton success at Costello’s Arbor Cafe. (12×18, courtesy of Joyce Costello Deitrick)

George M. Cohan (1878-1942) did it all. A playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer and producer, he was known as “the man who owned Broadway.” He started his career as a child, writing the songs and skits he performed with his parents and sisters in vaudeville as “The Four Cohans.” Cohan wrote and starred in over three dozen Broadway shows and is considered the father of American musical comedy. His life and music were the subject of the 1942 film Yankee Doodle Dandy and the 1968 musical George M!. One of the founders of ASCAP, Cohan penned such popular songs as “Over There”, “Yankee Doodle Boy” and “Give My Regards to Broadway”. The Man Who Owned Broadway is still on Broadway today—his statue presides over Times Square. (6×16, courtesy of John Beemer)

Christopher Morales: The Forger’s Best Friend

This is one of the most important articles we’ve ever published. It’s critical reading for anyone who is buying, or has bought, autographs. Originally posted on March 22, 2010, we just added over 75 images, so we updated the published date.

Go to Autograph Magazine Live! to learn more about forgeries, safe collecting, and what to do if you think you’re a victim.

 

It’s a heartbreaking story I’ve heard more times than I can count. It goes something like this:

Someone contacts me who bought signed memorabilia from a legitimate looking business—usually rock albums or guitars, but sometimes sports, Hollywood or historical autographs. Sometime later they needed money, but the seller they bought them from won’t make an offer. They try to sell or consign to other dealers or auctions and are shocked to find that no one wants their autographs. Those willing to explain say that they consider them forgeries.

“I don’t understand,” the collector says. “They came with authentication by Christopher Morales—he’s a court-approved forensic document examiner and there’s no one more respected than he is!”

The truth is that Christopher Morales is the most notorious autograph authenticator in America. I don’t know of one instance where a reputable dealer, auction or authenticator has seen an autograph authenticated by him that they thought was genuine.

The saddest thing for consumers, and the reputable autograph industry, is that most galleries and dealers who use Morales—or virtually any of the forensic examiners who “authenticate” memorabilia—prey on those new to autographs. They’re found in tourist meccas like Las Vegas, Florida, California and Hawaii. They supply unwitting charities with memorabilia for auctions. They’re often the first ads you see on Google. They’re the ones that have a regular supply of your favorite bands, stars and athletes—even signed guitars and albums where few, if any, are known. And once their victims learn the truth, they’re usually done with autographs for good.

I know of only one auction house where you can consign Morales-authenticated autographs: Coach’s Corner, who’s reputation is similarly dubious. They have up to 100 or more of his in every auction, and most sell for only 1% to 10% of market value. In their auction closing March 26, 2010, there was a Morales-authenticated 11×14 photo  supposedly signed by JFK currently at $39. They sold the same piece January 1, 2010 for $189. If it were real, it could easily bring $4,000 or more.

But even Coach’s Corner doesn’t think much of Morales. An April 18, 2008 New York Daily News article, Beatles Authenticator at Heart of Memorabilia Suit, quotes Coach’s Corner’s Lee Trythall’s opinion of him: “There are authenticators whose work seems better. There are guys who are more qualified.” The article is a must-read if you own or are considering buying Morales-authenticated autographs.

Here is a photo album of every Christopher Morales authenticated item with an image in a Coach’s Corner auction that closed in January 2010. You can see larger images with comments from collectors, experts and dealers on Autograph Magazine Live! Just click each image:

Find more photos like this on Autograph Magazine Live!

The reason so many inexperienced buyers don’t question letters of authentication by Morales is that he’s promoted as a “court-approved forensic document examiner” who uses “scientific methods” to authenticate autographs, and has “credentials.” That sounds official and reassuring, doesn’t it? Call a few other forensic examiners, though, and you’ll find that it takes hours, days or weeks to do an evaluation, and most charge $200 an hour or more.

What does Morales charge? Reportedly $75 to collectors and less to dealers—per item. And with his items in Coach’s Corner often selling for under $200, he must charge a lot less sometimes. How can he make a living at that and do a real forensic examination? For that matter, how can he do the thousands of authentications he does a year if they’re true forensic examinations?

I’m sure there are times he charges more, like the time he authenticated a guitar for Rock Star Gallery purportedly signed by the Beatles. After all, he flew with it to Scottsdale, Ariz. for an auction they were holding in 2006, according to this article in News-Antique.com. And when he got there he was going to authenticate all the other autographs in the auction—a charity auction benefiting Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

I wonder if the buyer of that Beatles guitar has found out that the only recognized authentic one has been in the hands of the same collector since the 1990s? [Editor’s Note: We recently were informed that the genuine Beatles guitar was reportedly destroyed in a mudslide in Malibu, Calif., in 2004.]

Here’s the guitar Morales authenticated for Rock Star Gallery. Ask anyone who knows Beatles autographs what they think of it.

Morales authenticated forged Beatles guitar offered at a charity auction by Rock Star Gallery

Another claim by those who use Morales is that unlike him, rock authenticators such like Roger Epperson and Beatles expert Frank Caiazzo—two of the most respected authenticators in music—have a conflict of interest because they also deal in autographs. That doesn’t seem to be an issue with the many respected dealers and auction houses who have depended on them for years. Why would they use them if they couldn’t be trusted?

And what about Morales—is he really independent?

In October 2009, Autograph magazine discovered that Florida autograph gallery American Royal Arts was using photos of music artists doctored to appear they were signing the guitars ARA was selling. It was so shocking the story was covered on ABC News 20/20 and Inside Edition.

Here are the altered and original photos:

Find more photos like this on Autograph Magazine Live!

ARA owner Jerry Gladstone claimed he had no idea the photos were fake; that they were provided by Gallery of Dreams, the supplier of the signed guitars. But he assured everyone that even though the photos were fake the guitars were genuine, because he had them authenticated by an independent court approved forensic examiner.

Christopher Morales was that “independent” authenticator. He’s been ARA’s favored authenticator for years. But not only is Morales also Gallery of Dreams’ authenticator, he was listed as a company executive on their Executive Profiles page until the scandal broke.

http://autographmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/GoDreams-profile-w-morales.jpg

Is that what you’d call independent?

A number of the musicians who supposedly signed the guitars said their autographs were forgeries. But we’ve never seen any memorabilia from Gallery of Dreams we thought was genuine, so that wasn’t a surprise. Sadly, Gallery of Dreams is one of the biggest suppliers of signed memorabilia to charity auctions—over $40,000,000 worth according to their claims.

I’m sorry to tell you all this if you own autographs authenticated by Christopher Morales. But the sooner you find out if your memorabilia is bad, and unfortunately, I suspect you will, the sooner you can take action against the parties involved.

Since the seller may say that dealers who don’t use Morales are biased against him, consider doing this: Send images of your items to auction houses and dealers, saying your interested in selling. Don’t tell them where you bought them or that they’re authenticated by Morales. Don’t send images of COAs or paperwork. Just tell them you’re interested in selling and ask how much they’ll pay or what they think it will bring in their auction. Hear what they have to say.

You’re welcome to let me know at steve.cyrkin@autographmagazine.com.

If you find out I’m right, I’ll try to help.

Classic Rock Autographs Holding Strong

By ROGER EPPERSON
March 5, 2010

Eric Clapton autograph

People ask me all the time what autographs would be good investments. That is really hard to say as I”m not a fortune teller but I do see what is going on in the market day to day.

What really seems to be holding value are classic rock bands and guitarists. All of us at one time wish we could be Jimmy Page or Eric Clapton just for a day, and I thinks that”s why these autographs have become so collectible. Also, the reluctance of these stars to sign anymore creates less supply with more demand, thus bringing in higher dollars for such items.

Any thoughts on who you might think will be the next “classic rock” autograph?

Literary Forger Forrest Smith Sentenced

The painful cost of forgery—to its victims as well as its perpetrators—became evident again last week when a Pennsylvania judge sentenced forger Forrest Smith to 33 months in prison and ordered him to pay $120,000 to the people he ripped off in his scam.

Smith, 48, of Reading, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, had been free on bail. But after sentencing, guards took him immediately into custody.

For about six years, from 2002 to late 2008, Smith had run a forgery business on eBay, buying unsigned first editions of books by Truman Capote, Michael Crichton, Anne Rice, and other big-name authors. Then he stamped their signatures into the books as if the authors themselves had signed them, and sold these fake-signed firsts for nifty sums on the Internet auction site.

Authorities estimate that he ripped off hundreds of eBay customers for up to $300,000 until a federal investigation, conducted by United States Postal Inspector Al Herzog, brought him down. Smith pled guilty to wire and mail fraud last year.

Michael Hinkelman of the Philadelphia Daily News reports that U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg expressed “grave concern” over Smith’s mental and emotional state at the sentencing. Smith has evidently tried to commit suicide twice in the past year.

“Show me mercy not because I deserve it, but because I don’t,” he told the judge, “but because my family will not survive.”

Both his daughter and wife testified on his behalf in court. One of the reasons that Smith engaged in the scam was to provide financial support for his family, particularly to pay for his children’s college education.

One unsolved mystery about the case is: Who tipped off the authorities about Smith in the first place? An undisclosed bookseller in eastern Pennsylvania spotted the unusual book-buying activity on those two eBay accounts, and provided the tip that jump-started Herzog’s investigation.

To read the full story on the case, read my article “The Curious Case of the Literary Forger,” in the December 2009 Autograph.

Kevin Nelson is the author of Operation Bullpen: The Inside Story of the Biggest Forgery Scam in American History. Contact him at www.operationbullpen.com.