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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.

CONTEST: Name The Player

Wagner PC

Time for a contest.

In our upcoming auction, we’ll be featuring this absolutely spectacular postcard.  It depicts three players, horsing around on the baseball field during Spring Training, an image we feel truly illustrates the ideas behind “Love of the Game.”

The postcard came from Honus Wagner’s estate.  There are handwritten notes underneath the three players – underneath Wagner, it looks to read “Hans.”  Underneath Hall of Fame manager Fred Clarke, it reads “Clark.”

Underneath the guy in the middle, it appears to read “Alpean.”

Some have concluded that the guy in the middle is Dodgers infielder Whitey Alperman.  We struggle with that, because A) the player looks nothing like Whitey Alperman to us, and B) Whitey Alperman was with the Dodgers.  Though the player does have a “B” on his sleeve, and the Brooklyn Dodgers also trained in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where the Pirates trained, we think there’s a good chance he’s wearing a Pirates uniform (the Pirates had a “PBC” logo on their sleeves, for “Pittsburgh Baseball Club.”).

The player looks awfully familiar.  Can you name him?

If you can name him, and provide us with photographic proof, we will give you a TWO HUNDRED DOLLAR credit for spending in our Spring auction.  The rules?  Simple.  A) We have to agree with you.  B) You have to win something in the auction, and we’ll discount your price by $200.  C) You need to be a registered bidder in order to play.  Send your answers with photographic proof to info at loveofthegameauctions dot com. First correct answer wins.

Meanwhile, check out this awesome postcard.

Between 1901 and 1913, the Pittsburgh Pirates spent their spring training weeks in Hot Springs, Arkansas, preparing for each upcoming season.  The team trained and played its exhibition games at Whittington Park, springtime home to several other teams including the Brooklyn Dodgers.

This postcard, featuring Pittsburgh Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke, flanking an unknown third player, exemplifies all the excitement of spring training.  The happiness in their faces as they horse around for the cameras is a stark contrast the the majority of photos depicting the two Hall of Famers.  Perhaps that’s why this postcard was initially auctioned as part of Honus Wagner’s personal belongings when parts of his estate were sold several years ago.

The medicine ball in the background tipped us off that the photo was likely taken during spring training but it was our stadium expert Tom Daley who was able to quickly identify the ballpark as Whittington Park based on the grandstand behind home plate and the trees on the hill beyond the third base line. The postcard, which is postally unused and displays wonderfully, appears in EX condition save for handwriting on the bottom of the image, identifying the players.

Despite this handwriting, we are unable to identify the player in the center (we are fairly certain he is not Whitey Alperman, as some have speculated).  The uniform could be a Brooklyn or Pittsburgh uniform (the Pirates players had uniforms with a “PBC” logo on the left sleeve).  Regardless, the photo is easily our favorite item in this auction – a picture of three pro ballplayers (including one of the greatest ever), hamming it up for the camera, smiling in anticipation of the upcoming season, truly demonstrating their Love of the Game.

1935 National Chicle Nagurski

1935 Chicle Nagurski FrontThe 1935 National Chicle football set is undoubtedly one of the most popular and certainly one of the most important football sets ever manufactured.  The set contains some of the game’s bigest names, and includes the first card of virtually every key subject in the set.  The issue’s colorful art deco design was typical of the day’s contemporary art, and the popular design was repeated by National Chicle in their “Diamond Stars” baseball set of 1934-36 as well as their Sky Birds cards of 1933.

What makes the 1935 Chicle football set so important, however, is the inclusion of the card we present here: the first card of Hall of Famer Bronko Nagurski.

The 1935 National Chicle Bronko Naguski has been widely established as the most valuable and important football card in the hobby.  Clearly the key to this set, the card achieved this notoriety because it is the first card of the well-known Hall of Famer and famous pro wrestler, and also because it comes from the set’s ultra-scarce high number series.  There is no question that this is the most important and highly sought-after football card in existence.

Presented here is a clean, midgrade example of the card, boasting strong color and image clarity.  Slightly off-center from left to right, with pronounced corner wear, the card is accurately graded at this level, yet presents very strongly for the assessed condition.

A 1935 National Chicle Nagurski is an iconic card that transcends the football hobby altogether, taking its place among the most iconic cards in any sport.  One of the most difficult to obtain football cards, mid and high-grade Nagurskis do not frequently change hands; they are very scarce and desirable and the hobby’s best examples are locked up in elite collections.  Rarely does even a midgrade specimen make itself available to the hobby.  One of the most important sports cards this great hobby has to offer.

The Most Valuable Postwar Football Card

1952 Bowman Large Lansford FrontOne of football card collecting’s most desirable rarities, the 1952 Bowman Large Jim Lansford serves as both the player’s rookie card, a short print, and the last card in the set.  The 1952 set was rife with short-printed cards, a result of printing larger cards on standard-sized press sheets.  Coupled with the tale of large quantities of the Lansford card being destroyed during production, the resulting scarcity and legend have made this the hobby’s most valuable postwar football card.

Just six examples have been graded NM-MT 8 by PSA, with only two higher.  This specimen boasts crisp color and wide borders, centered just a hair off from top to bottom but otherwise pristine.  With three of the known 8s residing in the top three all-time registry sets, the likelihood of another example in this grade appearing at public auction in the near future is slim.  A cursory internet search will reveal very few examples of this card sold in any grade, PSA 7s reaching into the thousands and no “straight” PSA 8 example having sold in years.  A wonderful example of the hobby’s most valuable postwar football card.

The “Miracle Weaver!”

1912 T207 Weaver FrontIn the spring of 1965, a young Pennsylvania boy was playing outside with his friends in the suburbs of Philadelphia, aimlessly wandering about.  They came upon the parking lot of a diner which was, evidently, a frequent place where the boys played.  On this particular day, the boy noticed that a desk had been discarded in the dumpster behind the restaurant.  Curious, he opened the desk drawers – and found a small stack of tobacco cards which had been thrown away with the desk.

The boy – a non collector – took the cards home with him and tucked them away in a small box.

Fifty years later, now with young grandchildren, the boy called us at Love of the Game, and asked us to take a look at the cards.  The astonishing collection included about 30 tobacco-era baseball cards – all T205s and T207s, mostly with Cycle backs.  Included in the pile was this card of hobby favorite George “Buck” Weaver, with a blank “anonymous” reverse.  We submitted the card – which we knew boasted outstanding eye appeal – to SGC, who assigned it a grade of EX 60 – the highest grade of any T207 anonymous Weaver SGC has graded, and the second-highest of any of the Weaver back varieties.

1912 T207 Waver BackThis card is a miracle!  One of the most sought-after cards in the T207 set, with one of the issue’s most difficult backs, discarded into a dumpster 50 years ago, along with another group of cards, which at the time had very little value.  The cards were brought home by a young boy who had the presence of mind to tuck them away where they would not be damaged or destroyed (or forgotten) for 50 years, until they were rediscovered and consigned to auction, where it sits as the highest-graded SGC anonymous Weaver known.  That this card still exists is simply amazing.

Auction houses frequently get into the habit of naming their “finds” for publicity value: the “jumbo” this, the “Connecticut” that.  We decided that this card needed a similar name, but the “Dumpster Weaver” didn’t seem to fit the bill.  As such, we hereby christen this “The Miracle Weaver”: the card that survived being tossed into a dumpster, lived 50 years in the collection of a young man who grew, had children and then grandchildren, and was never damaged or destroyed in 50 years of storage.  A true beauty with a vivid, brown background and a clean, anonymous back.

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