Leland's in New York is conducting a silent auction for the 1937 green jacket issued to Bobby Jones by Augusta National Golf Club.
Minimum bidding started at $35,000, but it's probably going to take a lot more green to win the coveted green jacket. The auction, which began Wednesday, closes at midnight.
On Leland's Web page, www.lelands.com, a description of Jones' jacket and a testimonial to its authenticity can be found, though there are those close to Jones who have come out to dispute the coat's validity. Jones died in 1971.
This is believed to be the first public auction of an item issued only to Augusta National members and winners of the Masters Tournament.
Lot No. 514, thought to be the first of many coats issued to Jones during his affiliation with the club he co-founded, is described as in "wonderful condition, with absolutely no damage of any kind," according to the Web site.
The size, 38 regular, is Jones' approximate fit.
The description: Two brass buttons on front, circular patch over heart. It reads "A.N.G.C." -- the club's original logo with an antiquated map of the United States. The initials "R.T.J." are stitched in yellow thread inside the right breast pocket. There's also a manufacturer's tag reading "Mr. Robert T. Jones, Jr., Date Feb/37, No. 6193."
As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, the highest bid had come in at $40,000, said Josh Evans, Leland's chairman.
"The major top golf people are bidding on this jacket," Mr. Evans said Wednesday afternoon. "Our jacket is the original from 1937. There's no disputing that."
But an attorney for Jones' estate and a Jones biographer question the jacket being sold and say they have no plans to bid on it. Sidney Matthew, an attorney in Tallahassee, Fla., claims the coat Leland's has is a prototype.
"They have no photo of Bobby Jones ever wearing that jacket, and I do," said Mr. Matthew, an attorney who wrote Life & Times of Bobby Jones, Portrait of a Gentleman. "To me, the jacket they have is nothing more than a `looky-here, you guys might want to try this' coat. Companies sent all kinds of prototypes to the club of different styles.
"Their evidence, their provenance, does not add up."
On Page 367 of Mr. Matthew's 1995 book, a photo of Jones wearing a green jacket with Augusta National's original "A.N.G.C." logo shows the coat with three front buttons. Leland's coat has two.
Mr. Evans said Mr. Matthew is talking of Jones' 1960 jacket, not the original from 1937.
"We've already had an offer of two (Masters) badges from Augusta National for it," Mr. Evans said. "Why would they be so interested if the jacket was not authentic? (Mr. Matthew) has never seen our jacket and he has no idea of what he's talking about."
Steve Salerno, a noted memorabilia collector in New Jersey, paid $1,500 in 1991 at a sports antiquity auction for this jacket. Mr. Salerno bought it from Anthony Akey of New Jersey, who was given the coat by his father, John Akey.
In a notarized letter testifying to the coat's authenticity that is on file at Leland's and will be given to the auction winner, Anthony Akey writes of his father receiving the coat as a gift from a writer at Golf Digest who promised to help advance John Akey's writing career.
Anthony Akey writes that the man who painted a portrait of Jones that hangs at Augusta National was given the jacket by Jones.
When told of the story, Marty Elgison, attorney for the Jones estate, questioned its validity.
"We don't know if the jacket is authentic or not," Mr. Elgison said. "And if it is authentic, it's the family's position that the jacket should belong to Augusta National."
Glenn Greenspan, communications director for Augusta National, said the club investigated Leland's jacket and came away with inconclusive findings. Mr. Greenspan would not comment on Augusta National's interest in bidding.
Several golf memorabilia appraisers estimated Jones' jacket, if authentic, could net anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million.
In the same auction as Jones' jacket is the 1936 Heisman Trophy awarded to Yale University's Larry Kelley and a baseball autographed by Pope John Paul II.
To participate in today's auction, you can call Leland's at (212) 254-2555; fax a bid to (212) 254-2389; or email a bid to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.
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