Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Did Anybody Watch American Greed featuring Bill Mastro (and Doug Allen)?

Image courtesy of eBay. A Mastro Auctions catalog. Yes, I actually have this one.

I'll be honest. As soon as I saw that there would be a one-hour documentary regarding Bill Mastro on CNBC, I was intrigued and wanted to watch it when it first came out. Unfortunately, we had other tv-viewing plans as Escaping Polygamy (guilty pleasure show...don't judge me) was on at the same time. So I caught the repeat of the show that came on after midnight. Needless to say, it was a good episode, even if it did bring a light onto the shady side of the Hobby.

American Greed is a show that features stories (one hour episodes) profiling people that were caught up in their own personal issues getting as much money as they can, mostly through acts that are considered criminal, and were caught and punished for said crimes (or in some cases, allowed their families to suffer the consequences after taking themselves to the afterlife).

The episode did also dwell into the biggest controversy involving Mastro, The Card. The T206 Honus Wagner that he acquired and then trimmed, had graded, and sold, acquired, and sold again, with each new final price reaching astronomical values. The card today is in a private collection. And if you read the book, The Card, you know exactly what happened.

In any event. Mastro, and his COO Doug Allen, were sent to prison for committing acts of auction fraud (shill bidding, misrepresenting product, not disclosing information regarding authenticity on items that came back as fraudulent). Mastro is now out of jail, while Allen will be out some time in the coming months. I'm pretty sure neither will be allowed to take part in the collectibles industry ever again. There are a lot of info on the interwebs regarding the case, and you have time, look up Mastro Auctions on your favorite search engine.

Now let me tell you, thanks to a former co-worker and card shows I attended at the big convention center, I have a number of Mastro Auctions catalogs in my possession. Short of the fraud and taken at face value, these catalogs were produced very well. With full bleed images and well written descriptions for each item in the book, for me, these catalogs were as good as any reference book I've acquired over the years. If you've ever read any of these, you have to appreciate the work that was put into the making of these catalogs. After working for an office supplies company in their visual content department, I have a good understanding on the processes that goes into making one of these books.

I actually have the catalog that features the Elvis hair. The auction description, with pictures of the King and the container holding the locks of hair, took up at least more than two pages of the book. It made me wonder, how someone would have come across this in the first place, and of all the auction companies to give it to, why Mastro? Of course, the episode went on to show that not only was the hair faked, but that the money was "refunded" and the hair separated and put into subsequent auctions (and I think I have one of those catalogs as well).

What wasn't reported on the show was that after Mastro shut down his auction company, Allen started his own called Legendary Auctions. The catalogs that were published for Legendary were of the same quality as the ones created by Mastro Auctions. This makes sense as Allen looks to have retained many of Mastro's employees (and most likely...depending on who you ask...many of Mastro's assets and inventory). I have a couple of those catalogs too.

Yes, what Mastro, Allen, and others, did was horribly, horribly wrong, and has put a cloud over the Hobby that will not dissipate any time soon. Nor am I condoning or trying to justify what they did (what they did was wrong, and personally I feel that they should have been given harsher punishment). But the catalogs remain as a part of the history of the Hobby. And I'm happy to have them in my collection.

What did you think of the show (if you watched it)? If you have any of these auction catalogs, what do you think of them? Let me know in the comments.


JayBee Anama


John Bateman said...

Shill Bidding lead to inflated prices on the 1952 Topps Mantle. I heard a group of collectors in New York in the early 1980s were selling the Mantles among them self to increase the valve of the card.

Collector A would sell to Collector B for $100, B would sell to C for $200, C would sell to D for $300, D would sell Back to A for $400. A had a bunch of Mantle's in his possession. Word gets out the and now Collector A has a whole bunch of $400 cards.

Hackenbush said...

I chanced upon the the show last night toward the end so I DVR'd the repeat. I don't own any of the Mastro cataogs but I do have the two volume Sotheby's Barry Halper auction catalog from 1999. Very drool-worthy.

ernest said...

Of all the auction catalogs I've gotten over the years the only one I've kept is the Barry Halper catalog. You're right Hackenbush, there's some incredible stuff there.

Fuji said...

Haven't seen the show... but I'll try to find it online. It frustrates me that grown men like Mastro & Allen can live with themselves knowing that they conned numerous collectors who worked hard for their money. Lol. Maybe I won't watch this show. I'm back in the classroom again. I doubt my student want me to bring in any outside stress or frustration.