Friday, November 13, 2015

Beware of Wally the Spook

Wally the Spook, often mistaken as The Shadow.
Wally the Spook, sometimes referred to simply as "The Spook," or "Sneaky Pete," was an official logo of the Army Security Agency personnel in Korea during the fifties and sixties. The logo, a cloaked figure holding a small dagger in hand, was featured on Army patches, lighters and pins. Now a collectible item, fully documented on numerous websites including www.asalives.org, continues to be mass produced and sold for as little as $8.00 a pair. 

During the 1990s, this same crime-fighter pin was mistaken as "The Shadow," a fictional crime fighter best remembered in comic books, pulp magazines, dime novels and radio programs. The story floating about is that the pin was produced and distributed to members of the production crew of The Shadow radio program, either during the Orson Welles run or the first year of Bill Johnstone (circa 1937 to 1940). I know of at least one collector who purchased such a pin over a decade ago, under the auspice of what he was told. He bought the back story believing it was legit. It was not until a decade later that he discovered the pin was in no way resembling the image of The Shadow... nor did it have anything to do with the radio program. Regrettably, in need of extra cash, he sold the pin to an auction house, who in turn agreed the item was in fact a rare radio premium.

This past week a friend of mine in New York City phoned and asked me if I knew anything about The Shadow pin presently being offered on Hake's Auctions. (This particular auction can be found here: http://www.hakes.com/item.asp?Auction=216&ItemNo=147049) He placed the minimum bid of $200 and was hoping for the best. My friend explained that he read my book on The Shadow from cover to cover and could not recall any mention of a Shadow pin. I confessed this was new to me and quickly sent an e-mail to another friend to see if they knew anything about the mysterious auction item. Lo and behold, they told me about their purchase experience and sale to an auction house (as described above). 

The real Shadow from the pulp magazines.
"This pin is just another fiasco I've had to deal with The Shadow," he explained to me. "I'm not blaming you, but am glad that you brought this to my attention. I'm just thoroughly disgusted. I bought that pin and then resold it in earnest that is was the real thing. But now, it's a moot point for me. However, [as researchers] it is our job to alert others of possible deception."

Hake's was offering a Wally the Spook pin with an item description providing the legend and lore of an old-time radio premium. In defense of the auction house, the staff tries their best to be as accurate and honest as possible when describing the items for sale through their website. No one is an authority on every facet of pop culture and sometimes the auction house has to go by the information provided to them by the consigner. As for my friend in New York who placed the bid of $200, he wasn't happy when I reported back with the news that the item had nothing to do with The Shadow. In fact, I suggested he visit google and type "Wally the Spook" and he would find all the evidence he needed. Regrettably, he was unable to find any option on the computer screen for canceling a bid on the website but a phone call to Hake's prompted the operator -- without any hesitation -- to cancel the bid for him.

Not The Shadow.
Sadly, that same friend in New York City had spent more than $300 for a figurine described on a past auction as The Shadow and this too, was not accurate. Worthpoint.com offers the serious collector an opportunity to know the facts, as evident here: http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/1950s-shadow-character-based-asa-504819028  But this is only one case where the old adage applies: "Buyer beware." Do your research before bidding and buying on an item. 

The words "prototype," "file copy" and "concept art" are terms that should trigger high skepticism. Silly tales of cast gifts are embraced without any logic -- just imagine how expensive it would have been to design and produce a figural enameled pin for something like 20 people.The problem is in the willingness of collectors to embrace the most egregious tales of provenance and authenticity. Most auction houses are ignorant of radio history and with good reason. The internet is swamped with loads of these stories, "assumptions" based on a review of the item, and very few published reference guides to consult. This forces the auction house to accept what information is provided to them from the consignors. Auction houses would be out of business if they built a reputation for mis-representing collectible merchandise, time and time again. As my friend in New York likes to joke, when questioning why an auction house misrepresents an item description, "They like to sell stuff." This is a catch phrase used to describe two particular auction houses that have, from time to time, avoided making the necessary corrections or revisions to an item description once the corrected info is provided. An auction house is not at fault when they apply their best efforts to be accurate in the item description -- their honesty and integrity is verified based on the adjustment they make following a notification that the information is inaccurate. Failure to make such changes gives cause for the serious collector to seek out other auction houses for rare collectibles. 

Remember that when you buy an item off the internet, you are buying blind. Make sure to use a credit card or Paypal to make your purchase so if you are forced to return the item, you get your money back. The worst an auction house can do is kick you off their site and all things considered -- that is the last thing they want to do. But also remember it is the same as buying an item at a flea market -- many terms as "all sales final." For on-line auction houses, including eBay, be sure to review their terms and conditions.

Heritage Auctions, among their Terms and Conditions, indicates clearly that employees of the auction house can place bids on an item they are selling to force the final selling price to go higher. A number of collectors avoid this website -- regardless of the items they offer for sale -- because of this stipulation. See clause 21 here in their Terms and Conditions:
 www.ha.com/c/ref/terms-and-conditions.zx?view...


Recent eBay item for radio's The Big Show.

Funny closing story: Two months ago I noticed an item on eBay advertised as "TALLULAH BANKHEAD 1950 SIGNED CONTRACT AUTOGRAPH 'BATMAN' BLACK WIDOW." I took a close look at the photo image and it was clearly signed in 1950 by Charles Barry, a veepee at NBC. I suspected it was a contract for Bankhead's radio career on The Big Show, which ran from 1950 to 1952. Batman ran on ABC and her appearance was not until the mid-sixties. I e-mailed the seller asking for verification and he assured me she was Black Widow on Batman. (He didn't answer my question but instead was being vague and trying to tell me what he thought I wanted to hear.) I sent a second question, asking point blank if it was for The Big Show or for something else Batman related. Again, his response was generic: "The autograph is authentic and original." I leaned my head back for a moment, closed my eyes, and then sent him the following response. "Okay, bud, Charles Barry was NBC, not ABC. Batman began in 1966, not 1950. If the signed document is complete, with all 14 pages, and is indeed for The Big Show stated clearly in the contract, I will not hassle over the $149 asking price and I will buy it. But I don't give a hill of beans about Batman and have no interest in buying anything related to Batman." This time he confessed he had all 14 pages and yes, it was for The Big Show. I bought the contract and paid his price. (For anyone wanting to know how they can read all 14 pages of the contract, every page has since been scanned digital and will be reprinted, all 14 pages, in the back of my soon-to-be-published book about The Big Show.) Moral to the story? The seller could not sell the contract when misrepresenting the item but he did make a fantastic sale when he was honest.

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