A document from baseball’s pre-segregation history

1800s sporting life trade card frontOne of several extraordinary advertising trade cards in our February auction, this one is for the Sporting Life Publishing Co.  Listed in the ACC as H804-8, these are among the more colorful, beautiful, and desirable of all the 19th Century baseball trade card sets.  
 
Featuring colorful Victorian illustrations on the front, along with an ad for Sporting Life magazine, most cards from this series include advertising for Sporting Life on the reverse as well.  What makes this particular card interesting is that the reverse contains a schedule, for the Akron Base Ball club.  Based on the schedule, this club is likely the 1887 Akron Acorns of the Ohio State league, a team that included a number of future major leaguers including infielders Belden Hill and Frank Motz and pitchers Bill Irwin and John Fitzgerald.  
 
The best-known members of the Akron Acorns, however, were Charlie Morton and Weldy Walker.  Morton was an outfielder and league executive who was best known as the manager of the 1884 Toledo Blue Stockings, an team that included two African-American players: Moses “Fleetwood” Walker, and his brother, Weldy.  Prior to a scheduled exhibition game against the Chicago White Stockings in 1883, Cap Anson advised Morton that he would not play on the same field as the Walker brothers.  The ensuing controversy, which continued over the 1884 season, was largely credited for creating the “color barrier” in baseball that lasted until Jackie Robinson hoisted the world onto his shoulders in 1947.
 1800s sporting life trade card back
Weldy Walker, “Fleetwood”‘s brother, credited as being the second African-American to play major league baseball, played for that Toledo team, and as racial segregation began to take hold, Walker became one of the first players in the first all-African-American baseball league.  In 1886, the Ohio State league was an integrated league, featuring four African-American players including Negro League pioneer Sol White (who hit .370 in 1887).  However, as racial segregation began to take place in baseball, Walker learned that the Tri-State League planned to segregate, prompting Walker to pen an open letter to the league’s president, published in the March 14, 1888 issue of The Sporting Life.  The letter read, in part:
 
“The law is a disgrace to the present age…There should be some broader cause – such as lack of ability, behavior and intelligence – for barring a player, rather than his color.  It is for these reasons and because I think ability and intelligence should be recognized first and last – at all times and by everyone – I ask the question again, ‘Why was the law permitting colored me to sign repealed, etc.?'”
 
After his baseball career ended, Walker went on to be heavily involved in politics and business, along with his brother.  He remained politically active until late in life.
 
This trade card, in VG condition with corner wear and corner creases, is wonderfully colorful and vibrant on the front…and is a remarkable historical artifact on the reverse.  It is a trade card that features the schedule of the very team for which Walker played as baseball was segregating, one of the very players at the center of the controversy.  An incredible document of the season that began one of the darkest periods in American sports – the racial segregation of baseball, right where it happened, with the members of the Akron Acorns.

Say it ain’t so!

1909 E90-1 Jackson FrontThe E90-1 card of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson is one of the most valuable and highly desirable of all the caramel cards.  Jackson’s “rookie card,” the E90-1 is among his most valuable as well, and is always in high demand among collectors.  Despite having been infamously banned from baseball as a result of his involvement with the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, there are actually a host of Jackson cards available, as many different companies produced cards during Jackson’s career, and many featured different back variations, creating multiple versions of the same card.
 
But it is the E90-1 card, featuring Jackson with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s, that is his true first card, having been issued even earlier than the ultra-valuable T210-8 card that has attracted so much attention in the news as of late.  
 
In 1908 and 1909, Jackson shuttled back and forth between the A’s (where he managed 40 at bats in the two seasons), Greenville of the Carolina League and Savannah of the South Atlantic League.  In 1910, Jackson split time between the Cleveland Naps and New Orleans of the Southern Association (where he is pictured on his T210-8 card), but by 1911, Shoeless Joe had proven himself a solid major league hitter, batting .408 in his first full season.  From there his career trajectory went steadily upward before being derailed in 1920 by the aforementioned banning.  
 
Despite not being an important part of the 1909 Athletics (he had just 17 at bats that season), he somehow managed to become a part of the 120-subject American Caramel set.  This is likely due to the proximity of the American Caramel Company (also based in Philadelphia) to the Athletics.  Their foresight is to our advantage, as collectors are now treated to this immensely popular card from a highly popular and in-demand caramel issue.
 
The card itself was once part of the Steve Soloway Collection, a PSA Hall of Fame member who assembled and then liquidated much of a spectacular collection several years ago.  Our consignor has held the card since, electing to share it with the hobby as part of Love of the Game’s second auction.  Despite being accurately graded, the majority of the card’s flaws are on the reverse; scrapes of paper loss at the top and bottom of the back consistent with scrapbook removal mar the card’s technical grade.  The card image, however, is solid, with general corner wear and mild surface wear (including an upper-right corner crease) being the primary issues.  Still, this is a spectacular card, one that rarely makes itself available in the hobby, and one that has been a key part of not one, but two spectacular collections.  Yours can be the next.

A host of E98s from the Rudy Strejc Collection

Cobb1910 E98 Wagner Front1910 E98 Lajoie FrontEarlier this year, the card set known today as E98s received a huge boost in popularity, due to the famed “Black Swamp Find.”  The cards, issued in 1910, were produced by an unknown manufacturer but are closely related to other candy issues of the era.  Comprised of 30 different cards, a “master” set consists of 120 cards because each card can be found with four different color backgrounds – red, orange, blue, and green.

The set is absolutely loaded, with 17 Hall of Famers and a significant number of the day’s stars.  Pound for pound, the E98 set may actually be the greatest prewar set in the hobby, and up until this year, it existed with very little notice beyond the more hardcore prewar collectors.

Then, the “Black Swamp Find” happened – a hoard of high-grade E98s, passed down (and nearly thrown away on multiple occasions) within an Ohio family and stored in a small box in an attic, finally brought to auction earlier this year.  The collection of E98s set the hobby buzzing, wondering what would happen to the values of E98s with these new, high-grade specimens suddenly available.  The first group sold for nearly $600,000 after being displayed in the PSA booth at the National in Baltimore.

It was the Black Swamp Find that unearthed the Rudy Strejc Collection.  Our consignor read about the find, and got to talking with his father about their late Uncle Rudy’s cards, also stored in the attic.  Upon examining the collection, our consignor found a host of interesting ephemera, including hundreds of baseball cards from the tobacco era.

1910 E98 Young Front

As we’ve noted, the cards were not “Black Swamp” level cards, in terms of condition.  However, the scope of the collection was much more varied, and included significant rarities: the aforementioned T206 Old Mill Josh Devore is the only known example of the card.  The collection included nearly 100 different T206s (mostly with Old Mill or EPDG backs), approximately 270 Obaks, a number of 1911 Zeenuts and 1910 D310 Pacific Coast Biscuits, and a few other scarce Pacific Coast League cards.

And, oddly enough, the collection also included a number of E98s.

The E98s, like the other cards in the Rudy Strejc Collection, are best described as “collector grade.”  Unlike many of the others, however, most of the E98s are untrimmed, damaged only by the attention paid to them by young Rudy – he clearly handled his cards.  Ultimately, though, the collection included nearly two-thirds of the set, including all the major Hall of Famers as well as some of the more scarce commons.  The E98s in the Rudy Strejc Collection are found in all four colors.

We’ve had each of the E98s graded (and pedigreed) by SGC.  We’ll be selling the majority of them individually, but have also broken some into interesting small group lots.  All are lower-grade, but prior to the Black Swamp Find it was very difficult to find E98s in high grade.  Like the rest of the Rudy Strejc Collection, this was not a group of cards that was safely stored away in an attic for 100 years – these cards belonged to a boy who was a collector, just ten years old when the cards were issued.

We’re proud to show you some of them right here.

If you’ve got any questions about specific E98s that might be included in the auction, please don’t hesitate to ask right here.

1910 E98 Matty Front1910 E98 Collins Front1910 E98 Mack front1910 E98 Chance Front

Why did we pedigree the Rudy Strejc Collection?

CobbThe first time I saw a collection with a pedigree, it was 2006, when SGC marked all the Frank Nagy Collection cards.  Nagy was a legendary collector, a hobby legend with a collection that was massive in scope.  By adding the Nagy Collection pedigree, SGC ensured that collectors who chose to keep their cards in the holder would ensure that Nagy’s cards would be Nagy’s in perpetuity, and that a winner of any of Nagy’s cards would be able to boast ownership of cards once owned by a hobby pioneer.

Other collectors followed suit and had their collections pedigreed – the Steve Soloway collection was pedigreed by PSA.  Soloway is a member of the PSA Hall of Fame with another massive collection of top notch cards, and when pieces of the collection were sold off, collectors were happy to own a piece (we are featuring one of Soloway’s cards in our February auction).  More famously, the Lionel Carter collection gave collectors the opportunity to acquire 1930s gum cards that were kept in pristine condition, pulled right out of packs and painstakingly filed away in albums.  A Carter-pedigreed card did not just serve as a badge of ownership of a piece of a hobby pioneer’s collection, it also served as a badge of a true high-grade card, likely untouched and unblemished by modern card doctors.

Cards have also been pedigreed that were once owned by professional athletes.  We’ll have a few of those in our February auction as well – cards owned by Ted Williams, Lou Burdette, Robin Roberts, and more.  We’ve seen cards owned by Eddie Collins, Casey Stengel, Harmon Killebrew, and many others as well.  Owning a card once owned by a pro athlete is a way of drawing us closer to that player – a way of owning a piece of his childhood, or one of his memories.  Indeed, the opportunity to own a card once owned by a hobby pioneer, a major collector, or a pro athlete has caused an entire new hobby segment to spring up: collectors of pedigreed cards.

But why pedigree the Rudy Strejc Collection?

Rudy Strejc was not a hobby pioneer.  He did not devote his live to cataloging cards, filing them meticulously in binders, acquiring the most rare examples or building the most complete collection.  He didn’t keep his cards in mint condition – far from it, actually.  He didn’t complete any sets.  He wasn’t a young collector who eventually grew up to become a famous athlete, and he wasn’t a famous athlete who collected cards of himself.

Rudy Strejc was a boy who grew up in Portland, Oregon during the tobacco era.  Like many other kids, he collected cards as a kid, and continued to dabble in the hobby as he got older.  He traveled the country for his union job, and as an enlisted man, and he acquired cards wherever he went – Obaks on the West Coast, T206s in the East.  He handled his cards.  Surely, he kept them in his pockets.  As a kid, he likely punched spindle holes in them and tied them together with string (as many other kids did).

Jackie Front

Essentially, Rudy Strejc collected cards the way they were meant to be collected.  He collected because he loved them.  Sure, he loved baseball, but he also loved all sorts of paper ephemera.  His collection included cards of movie stars (a hoard of T85s are part of the collection), boxers, birds and ballplayers.  His collection included more than 270 T212 Obaks, but it also included (among other things) a near set of T77 Light House cards, a group of 1892 Duke Cigarettes Floral Beauties cards, and about 100 T206s, mostly with Old Mill backs.

Rudy Strejc was a collector.  A regular kid, a regular guy, who held onto his cards for his entire life.

I still have most of my childhood collection.  Most of my hobby friends do, too.  It was the passion and nostalgia for those childhood collections that drew many of us back to the hobby as adults.  It’s that passion – that Love of the Game – that got this company started in the first place.  Rudy Strejc represents all the things that are good about the hobby.  He represents the passion we’ve all had for it, the enthusiasm with which we collect, and our love of the hobby.

For those reasons, there’s not a better auction house to offer the Rudy Strejc Collection.

At the Love of the Game booth at the Philly Show earlier this month, we were visited by bunches of kids, walking the floor with their dads.  Occasionally, one would look at the cards in the Rudy Strejc Collection case we had on display.  I watched their eyes widen as they saw the names: Ty Cobb.  Cy Young.  Walter Johnson.  These kids weren’t looking at the grades on the holders, or the sharpness of the corners – they were looking at the names and the pictures on the cards.  And they’d listen as we told them the story of Rudy Strejc, a kid who collected cards in the early 1900s, who chased after cards of his favorite players – just like you do – and who loved them so much, he saved them for his entire life.

Those kids, and their dads, were all captivated.

Rudy Strejc wasn’t a pioneer, a massive collector, or a pro athlete.  Rudy Strejc represents the rest of us.  And to us, there’s no better reason to put Rudy Strejc’s name on some of his cards.  We hope you agree, and we hope you’re able to add a few of his cards to your collection.

Another T206 rarity

T206 DemiittAfter just one auction, Love of the Game has been fortunate enough to begin developing a reputation of being a place for T206 collectors to find some special material. Our auction last fall featured a number of difficult back varieties, some lovely higher-grade Hall of Famers, and individual lots containing beautiful cards.

Our second auction will continue with that trend.  In addition to featuring the one-of-a-kind Josh Devore highlighted in our last entry, we’re also proud to include a collector-grade example of one of the T206 issue’s more significant rarities: the Ray Demmitt St. Louis variation.

Demmitt was a journeyman outfielder who compiled a seven-year career with five different teams.  A member of the Yankees, Demmitt was traded during the winter of 1909 to the St. Louis Browns, for pitcher Lou Criger.

When producing the baseball cards for the 1910 season, most of the ATC factory issues continued to depict Demmitt as a member of the Yankees.  Of all the factory issues, only the Polar Bear issue made the change to depict Demmitt with his proper team.  This created a significant variation within the set.  The Demmitt/St. Louis variation is considered to be one of the key rarities within the hobby’s most widely collected prewar issue.

Adding to the challenge, of course, is the fact that Polar Bear cards were not well-protected from the tobacco in the packs.  Being scrap tobacco as opposed to cigarettes, the loose tobacco in the packages made contact with the cards inside, resulting in significant staining and other condition issues.  Indeed, PSA has listed 130 copies of the Demmitt/St. Louis variation on their population reports, and 37 of them have attained a grade of POOR/FAIR 1.

We’re pleased to present such a collector grade Demmitt in our February auction.  This Demmitt boasts minimal staining and very strong eye appeal for the grade, the primary flaw being two creases that traverse the top half of the card.  Smaller creases and wrinkles mar the top left, but the card’s subject remains clear, and the color very striking and bold.

Despite the condition, the card’s rarity keeps prices high as demand continuously outweighs supply.  Even the lowest-grade T206 Demmitt/St. Louis cards routinely approach $1,000.  However, given that one of the few surviving copies graded EXCELLENT or better recently sold for nearly $13,000, the more commonly found low-grade examples are a better option for a more budget-conscious collector still looking to complete the set.

We’re thrilled to feature this great card in our February auction.

A new discovery from the Rudy Strejc Collection

OM DevoreWe may have mentioned that Rudy Strejc was likely a smoker of Old Mill cigarettes.  We draw this conclusion based on the amount of cards in his collection that had Old Mill backs.  The collection contained 100 or so T206s, most of which had Old Mill backs.  This yielded a pretty cool assortment of cards, including a generous proportion of Hall of Famers (two Cobbs, a Matty, a Johnson, and a bunch of others).

While the Old Mill reverse isn’t necessarily scarce, it was refreshing to see such a large grouping of cards with that back, as opposed to the ubiquitous Sweet Caporal and Piedmont backs we’re so accustomed to seeing.  Of 37 possible back combinations, the website T206Resource.com ranks the Old Mill back approximately #27.

What’s also cool about T206Resource.com, however, is that it serves as a clearing house for possible front/back combinations.  When our consignor first discovered the collection, he used T206Resource.com to come to a pretty cool conclusion:

The Josh Devore card in his collection had never before been seen with an Old Mill back.

Devore was a decent ballplayer.  Through his seven-year career (mostly with the New York Giants), Devore hit .277 with a .361 OBP, mostly as a reserve outfielder (though he hit leadoff for the 1911 and 12 Giants).  He was known as an expert baserunner, and after his major league career ended, he went back to the minors, where he stayed until retiring at the end of the 1924 season.

While there are most certainly Devore player collectors, he wasn’t Honus Wagner. It’s not Devore’s popularity that make this card special, it’s the card’s scarcity.  With the millions and millions of T206s that have circulated through the hobby, this is currently the only T206 Josh Devore with an Old Mill back.

Like many of the cards in the Rudy Strejc Collection, we had this one authenticated by SGC.  As with most of the T206 cards, a well-meaning relative kindly trimmed the card’s top and bottom borders so that they could be fit into a plastic sheet, thereby avoiding damage.  As such, the card received an “AUTHENTIC” designation.  However, a collector won’t be interested in this card because of its condition.

A collector would be interested in this card because as of now, it’s the only one.

Welcome to the Hall of Fame, Mr. O’Day

O'DayOn Tuesday it was announced that the Pre-Integration Committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame had elected Hank O’Day, with Hank receiving 15 votes from the 16-member commission.  O’Day, the only man in history to play, umpire, and manage in the National League, was an umpire in the first World Series in 1903, along with nine more Series during his 35-year career.  It was Hank O’Day who made what is probably still the most famous “out” call in history – the one where Hall of Famer Johnny Evers produced the baseball and stepped on second base, forcing out Fred Merkle in that infamous 1908 game.

O’Day, who passed away in 1935, was also a serviceable pitcher in his younger years, compiling a 73-110 record over a 7 year career lasting from 1884 to 1890.  It was in in 1889 that O’Day pitched for the champion New York Giants team that featured greats such as Buck Ewing, Jim O’Rourke, John Montgomery Ward, Roger Connor, Tim Keefe, and Mickey Welch – one of the most famous 19th Century baseball teams.

It was also in 1889 that O’Day posed for this cabinet photo at the Hartley Studio on Madison Street in Chicago.  The Harley studio, the “largest and finest equipped photographic gallery in the world,” according to the advertisements on the backs of some of their cabinets (but not this one), was one of Chicago’s most prolific, producing many photos for families and individuals in the late 1800s.

The 1889 Giants played a four-game series in Chicago against Cap Anson’s White Stockings from June 24-27, a three-game series from August 5-7, then finally one last three-game set from September 26-28.  O’Day began the 1889 season with the Washington Nationals, and was sold to New York on July 26 – so it is likely that this picture was taken in August or September of 1889 while the Giants were in town to play the White Stockings.

After the 1889 season, O’Day’s career blossomed as he moved with his Giants teammates to Monte Ward’s player’s league – however, more than 300 innings pitched took a toll on O’Day’s arm, and after one season in the minors, he became an umpire, working his first game in 1895. With two seasons interspersed into his long umpiring career (1912 with the Reds and 1914 with the Cubs), O’Day retired after the 1927 season.

If you’re a Hall of Fame collector and you want a Hank O’Day piece from his ballplaying days, acquiring a card will be pricy, but still you have a few options.  There are, of course, five different poses of O’Day in the massive N172 Old Judge set.  The N172s are his easiest to track down, and while we expect their values may take off in the immediate aftermath of O’Day’s selection to the Hall, they should come down to a reasonable level in short order.  For a more scarce (and expensive) alternative, there is an N173 Old Judge cabinet (one sold at public auction for $9,300 back in 2007).  Two poses of O’Day exist in the N175 Gypsy Queen set, and there is an O’Day in the 1888 M117 Sporting Times cabinet set.  Last Spring, an 1892 team cabinet of the Columbus baseball club, which featured O’Day among his teammates, sold at public auction.

The truly discriminating collector, however, may be interested in a more esoteric and possibly unique piece.  This lovely Hartley Studios cabinet may be just what the doctor ordered.  Evaluated and graded Authentic by SGC, the cabinet boasts a striking and clear profile image of the new Hall of Famer in his Giants uniform.  The mount is intact but clipped at all four corners and likely trimmed slightly on all four sides, based on the irregular-looking cut of the edges.  The reverse of the cabinet is clear with no writing, the ornate Hartley Portraits logo emblazoned across the entire surface.

This striking and possibly one-of-a-kind cabinet will be featured in our February, 2013 auction.  Come take a firsthand look at the Philly Show in Valley Forge, PA, this weekend.