Edit ModuleShow Tags

A Born Sleuth

Bill Panagopulos knows a fake when he sees one, whether it’s a very good forged signature or a reputedly authentic artifact.



(page 3 of 4)

Word of Honor

Every piece of merchandise Panagopulos sells comes with a guarantee: If an item sold by Alexander Autographs proves to be inauthentic in
the buyer’s lifetime, Panagopulos will refund the money. It’s a guarantee not made by many, including auction houses Christie’s or Sotheby’s. “I’m confident in what I do,” Panagopulos says.

This approach can backfire: “I purchased a letter by Clyde Barrow [of Bonnie and Clyde fame]. It was in all respects perfect. It was a forgery that had been made by his nephew, a good forgery. I even had the lead graphite tested. It wasn’t consistent, but it could have deteriorated. Long story short,
I had to eat about $5,000. Next time I will be more careful.”
 

Panagopulos hasn’t been burned often, though. He has gotten quite familiar with many of the famous people whose signatures he collects. Abraham Lincoln, for example, had a distinct style of writing his name, including a slight elevation in the last two letters of the last name which Panagopulos refers to as “the Lincoln lift.”

With John F. Kennedy, Panagopulos can not only identify which signatures are real but also if they were signed by one of his personal secretaries, which one. “Now here are some secretarials,” he says, pulling out a trade guide. “This one, Secretary No. 1, fools a lot of people. I’m very good at Kennedy,” he adds, “and I’m very good at Hitler.”

Hitler?

He pulls out a portrait of the man, framed and signed, eyes glaring like braziers. “Concentrated evil,” Panagopulos says. “That’s a $30,000 piece.”
 

How does one explain selling memorabilia associated with such a man? Panagopulos shrugs. “You can’t ignore what he did,” he says after a pause. “But he is as much a part of history as are Mao and Stalin. Some dealers when they get his material or any Third Reich material, routinely burn it. I tell them they are out of their minds. When they burn it, there goes another vital record of the war and the Holocaust.”

He rejects the notion he trafficks in evil this way. “Whether it’s good or bad, it’s still history,” he says. “And history isn’t all Cinderella and glass slippers. There’s a lot of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, too, or just grim.”
 

Panagopulos pauses for a moment, then lets out a deep chuckle. “That’s good, put that in your article,” he says.

A scheduled hour in Panagopulos’s company can run much longer, in the same way one might click on Wikipedia.com and subsequently wile away an afternoon. Thoroughly engaged in what he’s doing, he speaks with an arsenal of unself-conscious inflections and gestures. Also, he loves to talk.
“He’s a very jovial person,” says Paul Gibson, a Tennessee-based collector of high-end Civil War items. “But if you want to see him get serious, lay a Robert E. Lee or an Albert Sidney Johnston on his desk. It’ll flip like a light switch.”

Gibson is one of many in the memorabilia business who readily speaks on Panagopulos’s behalf. James Lowe is the man whose Manhattan store supplied him with that Sherman. While Lowe can’t place the year, he still remembers the look in Panagopulos’s eyes.
“I saw that passion in him right away,” Lowe says. “His catalogs are full of good material in every category he covers, whether it’s presidents, authors or sports and rock ’n’ roll. And the professionalism. Many other auction houses don’t spend the time describing a letter from the Civil War to the extent he does. He really gives you a sense of history.”

Take James Buchanan. Our fifteenth president, best known as the guy who left Lincoln to pick up the pieces of a house divided, was not America’s finest. Biographers call him the “bachelor president,” the one about whom many speculate as to why he stayed a bachelor.

A possible answer can be found in the Alexander Autographs spring 2008 catalog. In it is a letter in which a contemporary recalls how Buchanan was devastated after a woman to whom he was betrothed committed suicide after breaking their engagement. It’s “third-party material” in the Panagopulos vernacular, priced at a modest $700 to $900, but of the kind that makes footnote reading so captivating.

“People claim he was gay, but he wasn’t,” Panagopulos states. “His girlfriend died, and he never got over it.”

The catalog also lists artifacts that reference landmark characters immortalized in popular cinema. A photograph signed by Oskar Schindler to two Jews he saved from the death camps will trigger memories with anyone who saw Schindler’s List, while Steve McQueen fans may be interested in letters written at Stalag Luft III by one of the inmates who engineered the “Great Escape.”

A letter by a Southern soldier to his lady back home notes his shocked indignation at having to fight a recent engagement against “Negroes armed with guns.” His line took no prisoners, the solder relates with satisfaction.

“I spent fifteen minutes of research, discovered it was the 54th Massachusetts, the regiment in the movie Glory, in their very first engagement of the war,” Panagopulos says. “July 16, 1863, James Island. I gave a guy $1,500 and can sell it for $3,000. All because I spent fifteen minutes researching it. It went through three hands before it got to me, and no one took the time to read it.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module

 

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Greenwich Agenda

  • Native American Heritage Month

    2014.11.23
     @ Bruce Museum of Arts and Science

    November is Native American Heritage Month, and the Bruce Museum will celebrate with a special Family Day dedicated to Native American traditions...

  • The Enchanted Forest

    2014.11.21
     @ Hyatt Regency Greenwich

    Junior League of Greenwich presents 2014 Enchanted Forest! Holiday Boutiques Gingerbeard Workshops Santa's Breakfast...

  • Junior League of Greenwich The Enchanted Forest

    2014.11.21
     @ Junior League of Greenwich

    The Junior League of Greenwich (JLG) will host its annual holiday fundraiser, The Enchanted Forest on Friday, November 21 through Sunday, November...

  • Parties at the JCC Center

    2014.09.02
     @ Stamford JCC

    A place to celebrate birthdays and special occasions. Be a guest at your own party! The JCC offers a wonderful space for you and your guests to...

  • Holiday Craft Sale

    2014.11.22
     @ First Congregational Church of Greenwich

    Annual Holiday Craft Sale in Old Greenwich, Nov. 22 and 23 The Annual Holiday Craft Sale at First Congregational Church of Greenwich is a great...

  • Flinn Gallery Art Opening

    2014.10.30
     @ Flinn Gallery 2nd floor

    "IN FOCUS" OPENING RECEPTION -  Thursday October 30, 2014 6-8pm. "IN FOCUS"features seven artists' visions in...

  • Antarctica: Photographs by Diane Tuft

    2014.10.28
     @ Bruce Museum

    October 28, 2014 - February 1, 2015 Selections from Gondwana, Images of an Ancient Land Bruce Museum, 1 Museum Drive, Greenwich, CT...

  • Exhibition: Northern Baroque Splendor

    2014.09.20
     @ Bruce Museum

    Northern Baroque Splendor. The HOHENBUCHAU COLLECTION from: LIECHTENSTEIN. The Princely Collections, Vienna September 20, 2014 - April 12, 2015...

  • "Paper & Stone" an exhibition by Ellen Gordon & Sary Backer at the Loft Artists Gallery

    2014.11.01
     @ Loft Artists Gallery

    Paper and Stone” An exhibition by Sary Backer & Ellen Gordon November 1 - November 30th Artists’ reception: November 8th from 4 – 6 PM...

  • Exhibition: Native American Pottery from the Bruce Museum Collection

    2014.11.22
     @ Bruce Museum

      Generously underwritten by Gabelli Funds and The Charles M. and Deborah G. Royce Exhibition Fund Over the years, the Bruce Museum has...

  • The Best of 2014: Cecile Chong, David, Ruth Hiller, David Licata, Loanne Mattera, Jill Parisi, Kristen Thiele

    2014.11.08
     @ Kenise Barnes Fine Art

    GALLERY I Dates: November 8 – December 22, 2014     Opening Reception: November 8, 6:30 – 8:00 PM Public Invited THE BEST OF 2014:  Cecile...

  • Family Gallery Tours

    2014.10.26
     @ Bruce Museum

    Designed for children ages 6-10 and their families, these tours will provide an interactive, discussion-based tour of the museum’s current...

  • 6th Annual Greenwich Reindeer Festival & Santa’s Workshop

    2014.11.28

    Santa and his LIVE reindeer - Dancer, Dasher, Prancer and Blitzen, are coming back to town for the 6th Annual Greenwich Reindeer Festival &...

  • IMAGINE CANDY- SWEET TASTINGS!!!

    2014.10.24
     @ Imagine Candy

    Imagine Candy located in Scarsdale Village- Winner of 2014 Best West of Westchester by Westchester Magazine- holds a Belgian Chocolate and Candy...

  • Christmas Tree and Wreath Sale for Charity

    2014.11.29
     @ First Congregational Church of Greenwich

    O, Christmas Tree; O Christmas Tree Buy your tree and help those in need this Christmas! It’s time for the annual Christmas Tree and...

  • Tuesday Toddler Tours

    2014.11.04
     @ Bruce Museum

    Children ages 3-5 and their adult caregivers are encouraged to come explore the Museum’s collections and exhibitions through picture books...

  • Greenwich Gives

    2014.12.02
     @ Greenwich Avenue

    Looking for a fun way to complete your holiday shopping and give back to your community?    On December 2, 2014, local non-profits...

  • Holiday WOW At Your Front Door!

    2014.12.02
     @ Garden Education Center of Greenwich

    Beautify your entrance way with luscious holiday evergreens, berries, pinecones and more, sure to last throughout the dreary winter...

  • Exercise as Treatment for Chronic Pain

    2014.12.02
     @ Noble Conference Room Greenwich Hospital

    Presented by Greenwich Hospital and Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists Exercise as Treatment for Chronic Pain Tuesday, 12/2/14 at...

  • Israeli Film Series | Bethlehem

    2014.12.02
     @ Stamford JCC

    Join us throughout the year for award-winning films direct from Israel that will show you Israel through the lens of a movie camera. Following each...


Show More...
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular Articles

  1. Greenwich Hospital Venezia Gala
    Greenwich Country Club
  2. BCA Annual Luncheon + Fashion Show
    Hyatt Regency Greenwich
  3. Greenwich Happy Hours
    6 places to go in Greenwich for Happy Hour
  4. Greenwich Restaurant Week Opening Night Kick-off Party
    Miller Motorcars
  5. AmeriCares Airlift Benefit
    Westchester County Airport