Love of the Blog

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An incredible discovery.

Group portrait of baseball players (left to right) Babe Ruth, Bob Shawkey, and Lou Gehrig of the American League's New York Yankees, sitting on a batting practice backstop on the field at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 1930.

Group portrait of baseball players (left to right) Babe Ruth, Bob Shawkey, and Lou Gehrig of the American League’s New York Yankees, sitting on a batting practice backstop on the field at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 1930.

Easily our favorite part of running a sports auction is the research component.  Digging into the history of an item, a player or a team, and discovering some obscure detail that can improve a story or increase our knowledge is rewarding, challenging, and most importantly, fun.

This time, we’ve found something that’s never been found before, and it has an enormous impact on the key lot in our current auction.

Several weeks ago, we let you know about the Lou Gehrig game-used bat that would be featured in our summer auction.  It is an extraordinary piece with an incredible backstory, and it’s made lots of news since we announced it, appearing in a variety of articles in newspapers, magazines, and also on television.

While we were designing our catalog, however, we actively searched for a photo of Gehrig, holding a Batrite bat.  On the other occasions when Gehrig Batrites have sold at auction, the listings included a photo of Gehrig, selecting a bat from a bat tray that contained some post-1930 Batrite models, but we’d never found a photo of the Iron Horse with a Batrite featuring the “bat wing” logo.

Two weeks ago we discovered one, taken for the Chicago Daily News, featuring Gehrig alongside Bob Shawkey and Babe Ruth.  The photo depicted Gehrig clearly holding a “bat wing” bat, so much so that it could have been an ad for Hanna Batrite.  We reached out to the Chicago History Museum, who owns the rights to the photo, and procured a license.

What they sent us was astonishing: a 1200 DPI scan from the glass plate negative that illustrated the detail on the bat in a way we hadn’t seen before: the grain patterns on the bat appeared to be a match for the bat in our auction!

Group portrait of baseball players (left to right) Babe Ruth, Bob Shawkey, and Lou Gehrig of the American League's New York Yankees, sitting on a batting practice backstop on the field at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 1930.

Group portrait of baseball players (left to right) Babe Ruth, Bob Shawkey, and Lou Gehrig of the American League’s New York Yankees, sitting on a batting practice backstop on the field at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 1930.

This week we returned the bat to John Taube of PSA/DNA, who conducted a thorough examination of the bat, and arrived at the same conclusion: we had a photo match, and are in possession of the exact bat being held by Gehrig in the photo!

PSA/DNA found nine different points of reference on the subject bat with the bat in the photo, where the grain alignment of the barrel and centerbrand matched perfectly.  Like fingerprints, grain patterns are unique.  This new discovery increased the grade of the bat from PSA/DNA GU 8.5 to PSA/DNA GU 9.

This is the first and currently only Lou Gehrig professional model bat that has ever been photo matched.  Among the rarest pro model bats in the hobby, this photo match enables us to put this very bat in Gehrig’s hands in Comiskey Park in 1930, clearly establishing Gehrig’s use with photographic proof.  No Lou Gehrig bat exists with such impeccable provenance.

This extraordinary discovery could not have been made without help from the fine folks at the Chicago History Museum, or John Taube of PSA/DNA.  We are thrilled to offer this incredible bat, now dated to 1930, perhaps Gehrig’s finest offensive season.  How many of Gehrig’s 220 hits in 1930 were pounded by this bat?

Visit us in Manhattan on Thursday

Foleys PosterCome celebrate the launch of our Summer auction at the great Foley’s NY Pub & Restaurant on Thursday, July 23, from noon til 4PM.

Foley’s is at 18 W. 33rd St., between 5th & Broadway, right across from the Empire State Building.  If you can make it down, we’ll be displaying material from our summer auction (which will be underway), offering free appraisals on pre-1960 sports memorabilia, and offering special deals on consigning to our fall auction.

Most importantly, though, come see Lou Gehrig’s bat!

Hope to see you there.

Extraordinary Babe Ruth Famous & Barr Rookie Card

M101 Ruth

We’re proud to feature a beautiful 1916 Famous & Barr Babe Ruth in our upcoming Summer auction.

The Summer, 2008 edition of Old Cardboard contains what we believe to be the definitive word on the various M101-4 and M101-5 issues, in an article entitled “Making Sense of M101-5 and M101-4.”  Written by hobby scholars Tim Newcomb and Todd Schultz, the article makes sense of the various card issues produced in 1916 by Felix Mendelsohn, including the Famous & Barr issue.  The article discusses Meldelsohn’s visionary use of black and white action photography on baseball cards, a practice seldon seen in 1916 but which remains in practice today.  As collectors dig further into the complexities of the M101-4 and M101-5 issues, the beauty (and difficulty) of the various sets is helping to increase their popularity.

Of course a larger contributor to the issue’s growing popularity is the presence of what is often considered Babe Ruth’s rookie card.  The card is one of the hottest in the hobby at this time, with record breaking prices realized virtually every time an example becomes available.  Examples of the card are known with a variety of advertising backs, and most are considered rare.  The significance of this card cannot be overstated; it is one of the most important cards in the hobby, its rarity increased by the difficult Famous & Barr advertising back.  In fact, just six graded examples of this card are known to exist (one of which does not appear on any population reports, but according to another auction house, does exist).

1916 Famous Ruth BackThe card, which depicts Ruth as a young Red Sox pitcher, is graded POOR 10 by SGC though the aesthetic appeal of the card is far greater.  The primary flaws lie in two tiny, barely perceptible pinholes at the top and bottom of the card.  In addition, the card is marred by a thin crease that traverses the center of the card, as well as mild soiling and what appears to be glue residue on the reverse.  That glue residue, however, is likely what maintained the card is such presentable condition, as mounting cards in vintage scrapbooks was a practice that helped preserve their appearance for many years.  Such is the case with this card, which boasts a sharp, clean image and centering far superior to most examples of this card.

Few cards in the hobby are true “blue chip” cards.  A 1916 Famous & Barr Ruth rookie card, however, certainly qualifies, as few cards in the hobby are more desirable.  As we approach the 100th anniversary of the card’s production, we are pleased to offer this amazingly rare specimen, a centerpiece of even the most World Class collection.

Love of the Game Auctions Procures New-To-Hobby Gehrig Game-Used Bat

Historically Significant Piece to be Featured in Summer 2015 Auction

GREAT MEADOWS, N.J., May 6, 2015 – When picking a name that speaks to the term “baseball legend,” Lou Gehrig is a common choice. Similarly, when choosing a preferred store-behind-the-door self-defense weapon, a baseball bat frequently serves as a homeowner’s choice. But when a Gehrig game-used bat surfaces in the sports memorabilia hobby – particularly one that for decades did, indeed, sit just inside its owner’s front door for peace of mind – there is nothing ordinary about it.

Great Meadows-based Love of the Game Auctions (LOTG) today announced it has procured a game-used Gehrig bat that will be featured in its Summer 2015 auction. It is one of fewer than 20 known examples, according to PSA ProBatFacts. As such, this PSA/DNA-certified 1929-31 Hanna Batrite R2 measuring 35.5 inches and 37.5 ounces, graded GU 8.5, represents a rare, historically significant piece that already is garnering significant attention.

“This bat was given to the consignor decades ago by a family member of a former Yankee Stadium groundskeeper,” said LOTG’s Al Crisafulli, president of the internet-based sports auction house. “Though the consignor is a Yankee fan, the family is not a baseball family, and without knowledge of the bat’s value it was kept behind the front door for protection – for 30 years.”

Crisafulli added that the bat was nearly left behind during a move in the early 2000s, and a few years later was almost given to a neighborhood child who liked to play ball. “Really, it is amazing that this outstanding piece of memorabilia made it this far, and its history certainly adds color to the story. All that aside, it is gorgeous. It is important. And it is among the most exciting consignments with which an auction house can be entrusted.”

New Jersey's premier Product, Food, & Catalog Photography Studio serving Bergen, Passaic, and Morris counties in NJ and Rockland, Bronx & Orange counties NY.Henry Louis Gehrig (1903-1941), a New York Yankees great, is recognized as one of the game’s most dominant hitters. Also known as The Iron Horse due to his then-record 2,130 consecutive games played, he held the franchise record for the most hits – 2,721 – until Derek Jeter tied it in 2009 (at which point the LOTG consignor considered sending the bat to Jeter as a congratulatory gift in the hopes of scoring some free Yankees tickets). His game-used bats rank among the hobby’s five most desirable for collectors, according to PSA, sharing that distinction with Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson.

According to Crisafulli, early word of the consignment has been met with strong enthusiasm. “Beyond its significant value, this is the kind of item that makes baseball fans of all ages feel like kids again,” he said. “Everyone wants to hold this bat – which once belonged to a true American sports legend.”

LOTG’s summer auction will open in late July and run through early August. Crisafulli added that the Gehrig bat will share the spotlight with a growing – and impressive – lineup of featured items including a beautiful 1909-11 T206 near set, a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle graded PSA EX 5, a beautiful selection of higher-grade N173 Old Judge Hall of Famer cabinet cards, and much, much more. For more information, visit www.loveofthegameauctions.com.

Thorpe’s first medal (cont’d)

Our astute friend and fellow hobbyist Tom Daley made a great catch last week when it comes to the issue of the medal Jim Thorpe is wearing in our Real Photo Postcard.

After much enlargement and enhancement, we felt fairly confident that on Thorpe’s chest, we saw this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a pedal from the Penn Relays, the longest-running amateur track and field competition in the United States (established in 1896).  Jim Thorpe won a gold medal for the high jump (actually, he tied, and won the medal on a coin flip), his first significant athletic award.  Since the postcards in question were both mailed less than two months after Thorpe’s victory, we speculated that perhaps the future great athlete was proudly wearing his Penn Relays medal, and the photographic evidence seemed to back that up.

Except it doesn’t.

A small excerpt from the Penn Relays’ “about the relays” page (which you can read in full here; it’s very interesting), is as follows:

“The design for the Penn Relays plaque and medal was executed by Dr. R. Tait MacKenzie in time for the 1925 meet.  It shows Benjamin Franklin, founder of the University, seated in a chair modeled from his library chair, holding a laurel sprig in his left hand.  He greets four runners, shaking the hand of the first, while the last holds a baton.  Posing for the medal were former Penn athletes Larry Brown, Louis Madeira, George Orton and Ted Meredith.  At the bottom of the relief is a lightning bolt, symbolic of Franklin’s explorations in the nature of electricity.”

While we initially thought “Well, the date could be an error,” it isn’t.  Enlarged images of the medal show, underneath the chair in which Franklin is sitting, is the date 1925.  Given the date is actually part of the sculpture, it’s reasonable to assume that this design is not what we’re seeing on Thorpe’s chest, and that our eyes are merely playing tricks on us.

It really does look like it, though.

This is not to say that the medal on Thorpe’s chest is definitively not his Penn Relays medal – we’re still researching what the earlier medals looked like.  We’ve found one blue ribbon, ostensibly from 1908, but we’re not convinced that there weren’t different awards for different competitions.  We’ve contacted the Penn Relays and are hoping that they can provide us with something definitive, but if any of our readers here happen to have information that can help us solve this mystery, we’re all ears!

Could this be Jim Thorpe’s first medal?

Thrope RPPC FrontA few days ago we posted about a pair of real photo postcards featuring Jim Thorpe and his friends at the Carlisle Indian School, circa 1908.  In researching the postcard we had identified the sender of the postcards as Joe Charley, who wrote notes to his sisters on each of the two postcards – one to his sister Fannie, and one to Bessie, each of whom had been former students of the school.  The postcards were mailed on June 4, 1908.  Charley, as we noted, eventually became Chief Joe Charley of the Yakama tribe.

We were very excited to identify Charley in the photo, and to trace Charley and his sisters from their time at the Carlisle school til their later lives.

What we also noticed, however, was that Jim Thorpe was wearing some sort of medal pinned to his tie.

In our research, we learned that Thorpe won a gold medal in the Penn Relays for the high jump, and speculated that since the Penn Relays were in the Spring and the postcards were mailed on June 4, maybe that medal was Thorpe’s gold medal.

Now, just a couple of weeks later, we’re reasonably convinced that it is.

According to Jim Thorpe: A Biography by William A. Cook, Thorpe went out for the track team at the Carlisle Indian School in 1908.  The coach was “Pop” Warner (who also coached the football team).  That Spring, Warner challenged Thorpe, telling him that if he could clear 5 feet, 10 1/2 inches in the high jump, that he would bring Thorpe with him to the Penn Relays.  Thorpe jumped 5 feet, 11 inches.

Sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, the Penn Relays are the oldest amateur track and field competition in the country, dating back to 1895.  On April 25, 1908, Thorpe competed in the high jump, and to our knowledge it was his first significant amateur match.  His 6 foot, 1 inch jump was good enough to tie him for first, and a coin flip awarded him the gold – to our knowledge, his first track and field award.

Thorpe would continue to dominate during the rest of the track season, trying for (but not qualifying) the Olympic games. That summer, Thorpe joined the Carlisle baseball team.  The timing of these postcards’ mailing – June 4, 1908 – coincides with Thorpe’s rise to national prominence, just six weeks or so after his Penn Relays victory.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom what we can gather, the Penn Relays have always awarded a similar medal.  Here’s one from the late 1920s that we found online.

The image of the medal in the photo is very small.   The ribbon on Thorpe’s medal appears identical to that which we’ve seen on virtually every vintage Penn Relays medal we’ve found online.  The dimensions of the medal itself relative to the ribbon also seem very similar.  But what about the medal itself?  In the postcards, it’s awfully small to see any of the detail.

We scanned the postcards at 1200 DPI and enlarged them, and in each image the medal appeared quite blurry.  But we then cropped the best of the two images of the medal itself and enhanced the detail of the image, and the result was quite interesting.  While it’s impossible to see detail, the shadows and raised areas on the medal are consistent with the design of the Penn Relays medal.

By changing the perspective of an actual Penn Relays medal and overlaying it on top of the Thorpe medal, then animating the two, you can see what we mean.

Thorpe

While we cannot enhance the image further, prohibiting us from being 100% positive, we are reasonably convinced that Thorpe is wearing his Penn Relays medal in both photographs.  We have been unsuccessful in finding other images of Thorpe wearing this medal, the first significant athletic award of his legendary career.  All that being said, it is entirely possible that these two postcards are among the only images  depicting one of the greatest of American athletes, wearing the first of his many athletic awards.

We have a winner!

It took us a couple of weeks to begin to entertain the idea that perhaps the “guy in the middle” of this postcard was, perhaps, not a pro ballplayer.

First, we thought he might be a minor leaguer, or someone given a tryout with the Pirates or something of that nature.  He seemed a little old for that, but we’d found photos of every person who played a game for the Pirates between 1906 and 1910, and this gentleman was simply not among them.  We had a host of great guesses, from Butts Wagner to Lew Ritter with many others, but none seemed plausible.

Trying to identify a random person in a photo is difficult.  There are lots of people out there, and many have one or two facial characteristics in common.  Sometimes you’ll see two guys with the same nose, or the same cleft chin, or the same hairstyle, and you’ll be convinced that they must be the same guy.  Once you’ve done all the homework, and chased down every lead, you want it to be your guy.

That being said, it was Net54 member Todd, who wrote this on the board:

let me throw out the wildest theory yet.  There was an alderman/magistrate (low level judge) named Louis Alpern from Pittsburgh’s 3rd ward in 1909, and there is a person by that name said by Ancestry.com to have been residing in the area in both 1920 and 1940 who was born around 1880, putting him in his late 20’s – early 30’s in 1909.  It looks like he may have been the subject of corruption charges later on, and it’s possible he considered himself quite the big shot.  Could the photo be of a Pittsburgh politico who wanted his fantasy pic with the local boys of summer?”

Well, Todd, allow us to introduce you to Louis “Squire” Alpern.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 2.20.47 AM

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 2.21.56 AMAlpern was born on September 25, 1875, taking an early interest in politics, eventually running for alderman – and winning – in 1905.  In 1909 he was appointed police magistrate as well.  He married Lillie Cohen, and passed away of influenza and pneumonia on January 22, 1937.

Once you’ve got the guy and you’ve got his picture, it’s pretty easy to fill in the blanks.  We can now date the postcard photo to March of 1911, probably to March 13 exactly.

The March 12 issue of the Pittsburgh Post contains an article entitled “Rear Division Of Buccaneers Off For Camp.” It goes on to describe a party of nine people, headed by Pirates owner Barney Dreyfus, who were heading to Hot Springs, Arkansas for spring training.  Buried in the article is this paragraph:

“The baseball party consisted of nine persons, but only four of these were players.  They were Thomas W. Leach, John B. Miller, William B. McKechine and Rivington Bisland.  The others who accompanied President Dreyfus were John P. Harris, who is now one of the stockholders in the club; Police Magistrate Louis Alpern, William J. Murray, former manager of the Philadelphia Nationals, and now the chief scout for the Pirates, and Michael J. Feeney, a local baseball enthusiast.”

So we can place Alpern with a group of Pirates heading to Hot Springs on March 11 or 12 of 1911.

Even better, the March 14 edition of the Pittsburgh Gazette contains this tidbit:

“In the morning the 14-pound medicine ball figured prominently in the stunts on the athletic field.  The players kept it going in a circle, which embraced also Vice President John P. Harris and Squire Louis Alpern, for whom Trainer Ed Laforce dug up uniforms.  Harris evidently came out here to take off weight, and he succeeded on the first day to the extent of six pounds.  He thoroughly enjoyed the sport, and the players had a lot of fun at his expense.”

Wagner PCIf you look off in the distance behind Wagner, to his left, you can see the 14-pound medicine ball in question, sitting on the ground near a small group of players.  In the foreground, manager Fred Clarke (HOF) and shortstop Honus Wagner (HOF), flanking Third Ward Alderman and police magistrate Louis Alpern, wearing a catcher’s mitt and the uniform provided him by trainer Ed Laforce, the players also having fun at his expense.

The supporting documentation makes this postcard, on our opinion, one of the coolest pieces we’ve ever sold.  We offer our thanks to our friends over at Net54 for giving us a venue for a collective brainstorming session, and we offer our thanks to Todd for finding Louis Alpern’s name and offering his wild theory.

And of course, we’re happy to award Todd a $200 credit to use in the auction!

The_Gazette_Times_Tue__Mar_14__1911_ Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 2.09.47 AM

It’s Not Crazy, It’s Sports

A few months ago, acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris interviewed Al from LOTG about the weirder side of collecting. A small part of the interview was featured in Most Valuable Whatever, one in a series of six documentary shorts directed by Morris under the umbrella of “It’s Not Crazy, It’s Sports.”

The series has been airing on ESPN, and just made its debut on the internet today.

You can watch it here, learn about Ty Cobb’s dentures, the Butt Fumble Jersey, Maple Leaf Gardens’ clubhouse toilet, and Luis Gonzalez’ bubblegum.

Click here to watch the film online.

Contest Update

Guy in the middleWe have gotten a lot of feedback on who the “guy in the middle” of our Wagner/Clarke postcard is – some from way out in left field, some seem reasonable.  Unfortunately at this point, we’re not confident in any of the guesses thus far.

A few people suggested that the person we’re looking for might be Lew Ritter.  Ritter was a catcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers between 1902 and 1908, who pulled together a .219 lifetime batting average in mostly part-time play.

Of the many suggestions we’re received, there are commonalities between the facial features of Ritter and the gentleman in the center of the postcard photo.  Some pictures of Ritter:

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 10.56.01 AM

 

The problem, of course, is the uniform.

Here’s what’s misleading about the photo in the postcard: the only identifying markings visible on the uniform is on the player’s left sleeve.  It looks like the left side of the letter “B.”  Given that Honus Wagner is wearing what is quite obviously a Pirates uniform, and it’s impossible to tell what jersey Clarke is wearing because it’s underneath his Pirates sweater, the logical conclusion is that the player in the center is with a different team.  It doesn’t take much research to know that Brooklyn and Boston both trained in Hot Springs during the early 1900s – there are plenty of photos documenting that fact.  So if you can find a physical resemblance, it must be that player, no?

Here’s the thing: the player in the center is not wearing a Brooklyn uniform.  He’s also not wearing a Boston uniform.  It appears that what he’s wearing is a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform.

The outstanding “Dressed to the Nines” online exhibit from the Baseball Hall of Fame illustrates each team’s home and away uniforms for each season.  It only takes a quick look to realize that neither Brooklyn nor Boston’s uniforms had anything embroidered on the left sleeve.

The Pirates, however, did.

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 9.11.50 AMIn the postcard image, Wagner is clearly wearing a uniform consistent with the Pirates’ 1907 uniforms.  Borrowing an image from “Dressed to the Nines,” you can see that clearly.  It appears as if perhaps he’s wearing the team’s road grays, right up to the cap (light cap with dark bill).

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 9.12.08 AMIn 1908, however, Pittsburgh modified their home and away uniform jerseys and caps (the pants and socks look identical).  They removed the “P” patch from the pocket – in fact, they removed the pocket altogether – and, on the upper left sleeve, added the “PBC” patch, for “Pittsburgh Baseball Club.”  They wore similar uniforms in 1909.

You can see what that patch looks like in this team picture.  Not all the players’ jerseys are visible, but if you look closely at the upper sleeves of those wearing jerseys, those “PBC” patches look an awful lot like a plain “B” when the player is facing the camera directly.  You can see it on Wagner himself.

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 9.26.27 AM

 


 

 

So why is Wagner wearing a 1907 uniform and the guy in the middle wearing a 1908 uniform?  No idea.

However, we are beginning to take the side of a Net54 poster who suggested that perhaps the player was not a major leaguer at all.

The contest, of course, is still on.

 

c. 1908 Jim Thorpe Postcard pair

Before beginning today’s blog entry, a quick update on the “Name That Player” contest: Keep the guesses coming (but please, try and include photographic proof).  We’ve gotten a lot of suggestions, but thus far just one or two that we think might be possibilities.  And perhaps one guess of our own, that hasn’t been suggested yet.

Now, on to the next featured piece.

Thrope RPPC FrontIn 1907, a young Jim Thorpe tried out for the football team at the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, PA.  Thorpe had enrolled at the school in 1904 but was too small to play on the varsity team.  In 1907, Thorpe tried out for the team whose coach, Glenn “Pop” Warner, was impressed with Thorpe’s running ability and the rest was history, as Thorpe graduated and became an Olympic athlete and professional multi-sport superstar.  

Already a star athlete at the school, these two photographs were taken of the young Thorpe and some of his friends at the Carlisle Indian School in 1908.  One of them, Joe Charley (eventually Chief Joe Charley of the Yakama Indian tribe), mailed these two postcards to his sisters Fannie and Bessie, each former students of the Carlisle Indian School, on June 4, 1908.  

The photos depict four well-dressed young men, posing smartly for the camera (it is our belief based on future photos of Joe Charley available online in full Native American regalia, that Charley is the smallest of thre four men, with the dark necktie).  The unmistakeable Thorpe wears a pinstripe suit and straw hat.  Most interesting about the photos is that, under magnification, Thorpe has some sort of medal pinned to his tie, and a ribbon of some sort on his jacket pocket.  Could these be some early athletic awards?  Perhaps.  In the spring of 1908 Thorpe won a gold medal in the Penn Relays for a 6’1″ high jump, and won several other track and field awards during that spring.

The images in both postcards are sharp with beautiful contrast, with some edge and corner wear to both.  One of the two postcards exhibits some surface indentation along the edges consistent with once having been framed, and obviously, both have been postally used.  Additionally, both have remnants on the reverse of having once been mounted in some sort of album.  Still, these are two spectacular images of a young Jim Thorpe, likely both unique, at the very start of what would become a legendary athetic career.

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