The story of Red Hoff

Lawrence PinbackOur current auction includes this very small (about an inch and a half across) pinback, featuring a photo of the 1912 Lawrence  “champions” team. But the image on the pinback is very, very small.  Small enough to make it difficult to see any facial features, much less recognize any players, but not small enough to keep us from wondering what we could learn about the team?

A quick search uncovered the information that the Lawrence Barristers of the New England League, a AA-class league that would reorganize in 1916 and become the Eastern League, won the championship in 1912.  But the image on the pinback is very, very small.  Small enough to make it difficult to see any facial features, much less recognize any players, but not small enough to keep us from wondering what we could learn about the team?  Who were the Lawrence Barristers?

1912 Lawrence Barristers (photo not included in auction)
1912 Lawrence Barristers (photo not included in auction)

We quickly discovered that the Barristers were managed by Louis Pieper to a 76-47 record and the league championship.  And then we found a larger-format version of the photo on the pinback, which enabled us to identify the actual players.  By doing so, we could determine that Swede Carlstrom, who played two games with the 1911 Red Sox, is in the back row, second from left.  Ray Keating, who went 31-51 with a 3.29 ERA in a 7-year career with the Yankees and Braves is in the back row, far left.  Alex Pearson, who had a 3-8 lifetime record with a 3.85 ERA in two seasons with St. Louis and Cleveland, is in the middle row, third from right.  And Red Hoff, who pitched 11 games for the Yankees and Browns between 1911 and 15, is in the front row, second from left.

In looking at Hoff’s career numbers, something interesting caught our eye: he lived to be 107.

Turns out that at the time of his death, Hoff was the longest-lived professional athlete, ever.  When he passed away in 1998, he was the last surviving player from the deadball era.  He lived longer than anyone else who ever played major league baseball.

He made his major league debut at Hilltop Park for the New York Highlanders toward the end of the 1911 season, and struck out Ty Cobb in his second big league game.  His career as a journeyman pitcher was brought to an end with the start of World War I.  In 1993 he dedicated a plaque in a garden at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, the site of Hilltop Park.  He died 87 years after his major league debut.

T207 Chester "Red" Hoff (not in this auction)
T207 Chester “Red” Hoff (not in this auction)

To our knowledge, there is just one card of Hoff – his T207 Brown Background (pictured here, but not featured in this auction).  Memorabilia related to Hoff is very scarce.  And yet he holds a record that every ballplayer would love – the record for the longest life.

This Lawrence Barristers pinback is exactly the kind of item we love here at LOTG – a fascinating piece that documents an obscure team, that with a little bit of research uncovers a fascinating story.

Postcards from the edge.

1910 PC796 Johnson FrontIf you’ve been around the hobby long enough, you’ll see different segments get “hot,” then cool off, only to heat up again at some point.  Steadily gaining interest for what seems like years, however, are postcards.

Postcard collectors have long understood how the oversized nature of the cards coupled with the beauty of sports photography provide for some of the most attractive cards in the hobby.  Unlike turn-of-the-century cards that were limited to the size of the packages into which they were inserted, postcards could be much more vivid, with detailed images that today allow us glimpses into the players’ era.

This PC796 postcard of Hall of Famer Walter Johnson, featured in our current auction, is a tremendous example, depicting the Big Train at the end of his classic windup, having thrown a ball to an unseen catcher.  In full detail is Johnson’s flannel uniform and cap, his glove, even his shoes.  Looking at the image, its no wonder that prices for this postcard routinely eclipse his more mainstream card issues, reaching into the $2,000 range even in lower grades.

Max Stein McGraw FrontMax Stein Postcards are another popular and scarce issue, produced between 1909 and 1915 and featuring 25 baseball images.  This card of Giants HOF manager John McGraw is beautiful for the grade, with a clean image and minimal surface wear.  While there is certainly corner wear consistent for the grade, this is a terrific example of a tough-to-find issue of one of the most popular managers ever to take the field.  There is certainly no shortage of mainstream cards of McGraw, but do any of them capture his intensity the way this one does?

A later-period postcard issue is the PC786 Orcajo Postcard issue.  Produced by the Orcajo photo studio of Ohio, this set featured at least 40 subjects from the Cincinnati Reds, plus (for whatever reason) Joe DiMaggio.  The postcards, which are extremely scarce today, can be found in four different varieties.  Due to the scarcity of this issue, new subjects are occasionally discovered, several as recently as mid 2011.

1939 Orcajo 1Featured in our current auction is a collection of 11 cards from the set, including 10 different subjects and two of the issue’s three Hall of Famers: Ernie Lombardi and Bill McKechine (pictured).  Up until this discovery, we had never encountered more than one Orcajo in a collection (though we’re sure they’re out there).  Finding one or two on eBay or at auction occasionally was a pleasant surprise, and Hall of Fame type card collectors aggressively chase the McKechnie and Lombardi cards, driving up prices.

While it’s often our inclination to break up larger collections of cards into individual lots to give collectors the ability to acquire an example for their collection (as we did with the D310 Pacific Coast Biscuits from the Rudy Strejc Collection), in this case we have elected to do the opposite: keep the group together as one lot, to give a collector an opportunity to get a head start on an extremely difficult hobby challenge: the completion of an Orcajo Postcard set.  This group gives a collector an opportunity to assemble 25% of the set in one swoop.

On the scale of hobby newsworthiness, an Orcajo Postcard find certainly isn’t akin to locating a hoard of mint E98s in an attic or a group of T210 Jacksons in a private collection.  However, stumbling across eleven Orcajo Postcards in a collector’s binder excites us just the same.

Indians Composite HorizAnother example of what makes postcards so interesting is their versatility.  This postcard, issued in 1905 to commemorate the Cleveland Indians, part of an 18-card postcard set featuring portrait photographs of individual members of the team.  In addition to those postcards, the manufacturer made available this composite photo, featuring 20 members of the team – the 18 players included in the set plus two addition (leading to our speculation that perhaps there are more, undiscovered cards in the set).

Several images on the postcards are identical to the portrait illustrations in the T206 set (including Joss and Lajoie) and the Colgans Chips set (including Flick).  Postcards from this set are particularly rare today – just ten examples from the set have been graded, including only five examples of this postcard.  It’s a very rare postcard, and it features one of the greatest players of all-time in Nap Lajoie.

Panoramic PC 1Another interesting component of photo postcards is the content of the background.  Here is a panoramic real photo postcard, marked 1912 and referring to Valporaiso University.  The school, located in the Northwest corner of Indiana, in the city of Valporaiso, was (in 1912) a small town, with around 7,000 residents.  Pictured in this postcard is a scene from what appears to be a parade with a marching band and members of a baseball team.  In the background, townsfolk gather to watch; we can see a sign in front of a candy store advertising new postcards for just one cent.

Greenberg PCPostcards also make for excellent ways to display autographs.  This postcard, featuring Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg, features a beautiful photo of Hammering Hank, fielding his position, with a vivid, purple signature underneath.  While certainly not a playing days postcard (it was produced after 1950), it is an excellent piece nonetheless.

 

 

 

Indians Lot B

Our auction features a small group of signed postcards featuring Hall of Famers from the Cleveland Indians, including this classic image of Lou Boudreau, and this RPPC of Larry Doby from roughly 1950.  The Doby is our favorite, since it features a photo of Doby in the pose that graced his early Bowman cards.  The illustrative Bowmans, however, don’t capture the intensity of Doby’s facial expression, though, as he stands in at the plate, awaiting a pitch, every muscle suspended and waiting to unleash another long drive.

Berra PC

And in contrast with Doby’s intensity is the happy-go-lucky, personable expression of Yogi Berra, posed for the camera, specifically to produce a postcard to be used by Berry for satisfying autograph requests.  The JD McCarthy postcards of the 1950s were produced for just that purpose – for players to buy from the company, to respond to such requests.  The example in our auction was postmarked 1956 from New York, and mailed to Highland Park, IL.  The authentic signature was obviously added by Berra some time later (the black signature at the bottom is a facsimile).

 

It’s a kid’s game.

COmposition Book Front I coach two youth baseball teams.  Aside from being a father and a husband it’s the most important thing that I do; teaching kids how to play baseball, how to be good sports, and about baseball history is one small way I can make a lasting impression on them and also help shape their values as they grow up.

It often gets me thinking, though, about how incongruous running a memorabilia auction house is with the idea that baseball is, in fact, a kid’s game.  When we set up at shows, we’re sure to have a box of modern cards so we can give free packs to kids, but our display case is filled with thousand-dollar prewar items, rarities to appeal to the adult collectors that populate today’s hobby.

The conversations I have with those adults, though, almost never deal with the value of the pieces that we’re handling (or on which they’re bidding).  The discussions – which are my favorite part of being in this business – almost always deal with history, and with memories.  One gentleman I look forward to talking with at every Philly Show told me the story about how the Bond Bread truck driver gave him a stack of cards back in 1947, that he kept for his entire life.  Just yesterday, another gentleman laughed as he told me the story of how he sat at his kitchen table in 1953 or 54 with a pair of scissors, snipping the coupons off the bottom of a thousand Red Man tobacco cards (cards he still has today).

One of the common themes that pervades our Spring auction is various merchandisers’ using baseball to appeal to children – as with the above composition notebook, which prominently uses a baseball theme.  We often see examples of various items, clearly made for kids, with a baseball theme.

Brownie 2Canadian author and illustrator Palmer Cox created the “Brownies” characters in the late 19th Century, a series of books and comic strips aimed at children.  The Brownies characters got themselves involved in a variety of mischief, and soon became a sensation among kids.  The Brownies name became one of the earliest examples of cartoon/comic character merchandising, with the characters emblazoned on all manner of toys, ads, and other products.

This Brownie-style paper mache item is a candy container or container topper, depicting a ballplayer in uniform, holding a bat.  This example, measuring more than 7″ tall, is easily the finest we have encountered in terms of condition, with little to no wear anywhere, and all its pieces intact.  While the piece does not appear to open in any way, it closely resembles other baseball-themed “Brownies” candy containers from the same era that open into two components, allowing candy to be stored inside.

The notebook pictured above is certainly not the only way 19th Century manufacturers tied baseball in with their products in an effort to generate more sales.  Our auction features two spectacular pencil boxes, both crafted from some type of hardwood, with a lithographic transfer depicting a baseball scene on the top of the lid.  This one is incredibly well-preserved, with some general wear throughout but well-crafted enough to have endured more than a century without coming apart or becoming otherwise damaged.  The lid still opens and closes, and the piece in general appears strong and durable.  We’re offering two similar boxes in this auction, this one the better-preserved of the two.

Pencil Box 1A

 

Hanky This cloth handkerchief or bandanna likely dates to the early 20th Century, featuring a scene of children playing baseball (with a few spectators watching).  With a border of crossed bats and baseballs, the piece is interesting and rare, another example illustrating our early fascination with the national pastime.  Though, as a coach, I’d be in the dugout telling the first baseman and left fielder to uncross their arms and get in a ready position.

Even folk art carried a baseball theme, with a variety of homemade pieces designed to appeal to kids and their obsession with baseball.  One of the more charming pieces in this auction is this folksy bear “Cub,” wearing a cap and holding a bat, likely intended to be a decorative pillowcase or pillow topper for a young Cubs fan.  An example of how baseball seeped into all aspects of children’s lives during the ascent of the game’s popularity in the early 1900s, the piece is in apparent VG/EX condition, with the stitching still in good shape and the cloth and embroidery, while mildly stained in places, still intact.

Cub Tapestry

This propensity of manufacturers to use baseball to appeal to young fans did not end in the early 20th Century, of course.  A more recent example featured in the auction is this plastic pen, likely dating to the 1960s.  Tying together a baseball theme with a boardwalk/amusement park theme, the “Boardwalk Baseball” pen depicts baseball-related imagery in the foreground with roller coasters and boardwalk attractions in the background.

A novelty pen, the opposite side of the pen features three baseball figures inside the clear, plastic portion of the pen.  The figures are surrounded by water, so that when the pen is tilted upward, the baserunner “runs” from home to first.  When tilted backwards, he goes back to the plate.

Pen 1

Of course the time-honored method of baseball-related merchandising is, of course, baseball cards.  We’ve got plenty of those in the auction, but wanted to point out this particular child-friendly example, dating to 1969 – this Baseball Stars Photostamps complete set, with National League album.  Issued by Major League Baseball, these thin, photographic stamps were sold in sheet form, with a total of 18 12-photo sheets completing a set.  The photos were to be pasted into an album (one for each league), with paste applied to the top of the photo only, so viewers could flip the “stamp” up and read the biographical information printed in the album for each player.  Particularly scarce today, the photos are often found cut or pasted into the albums, increasing the collectibility and value of the complete sheets and unused albums.  We’re proud to offer a complete set of stamp sheets, along with one unused National League album.

This weekend, my young son is getting together with his friends to conduct his fantasy baseball draft – eight or ten young baseball fans, analyzing current stats to determine which players they’d like on their “team” for the season.  It’s a great activity that helps keep kids engaged in the game, much like studying the stats on the backs of cards did when I was a kid.  Today’s kids use the internet to obtain their information (and to communicate with each other), so a lot of the ephemera and folk art has fallen by the wayside.  Items like the ones above are long-forgotten pieces of history, and we’re proud to present them in our auction as a reminder that even though our collectibles are valuable pieces of museum-quality material, the game they honor is, at its root, a kid’s game.

 

Rare backs? We’ve got ’em.

T206 McMullen backT206 McMullin FrontAmong the most popular (and fastest-growing) items in our auctions have been the rare-backed tobacco cards.  Our Spring auction should prove to be no exception, as we’ll be featuring an outstanding selection of difficult backs, not only in the T206 set but also in the T207 Brown Background issue as well.  Beginning with this lovely T206 George Mullin with the ultra-rare Uzit Cigarettes back.  Graded VG 40 by SGC, there are no higher-grade examples among the six specimens that have been graded.  It is the boldness of the reverse that makes this card so special, however, as the Uzit ad, often faded or washed-out, is bold and deep blue, an extremely strong image.  Considered the 6th most rare of all the T206 backs, behind only the incredibly rare Cobb, Old Mill Brown, Lenox, Broadleaf 460 and Drum backs, a Uzit back is an outstanding addition to any collection of rarities.

T206 Clymer FrontT206 Clymer backEqually stunning is this Carolina Brights Bill Clymer.  Graded VG+ 3.5 by PSA, the card is simply gorgeous, with bold, vivid color and no surface blemishes.  The oversized borders make the top-to-bottom centering issue much less pronounced, and the reverse is clean and sharp.  Carolina Brights have been ultra-hot lately, and this example should be no exception.

1911 T206 Joss front1911 T206 Chase Throwing FrontWe’ve also got a host of tough Cycle 460 cards in our next two auctions, with a half dozen represented in the Spring sale.  These Addie Joss and Hal Chase examples, both extraordinarily rare, low population cards, will be featured.

Hindu, American Beauty 460, and more common difficult backs are also represented in large quantities.

1912 T207 Miller BackIt’s not just T206, however – we’ve also got a host of tough-backed T207 cards in this auction, starting with one of the toughest cards in the set: Ward Miller.  Our Miller has the Broadleaf back, and we’ve also got a number of other Broadleafs to join the Miller in this auction.

 

 

 

 

1912 T207 Phelan Back1912 T207 Blackburne backWe don’t stop there, however – the T207 set is extraordinarily complex, with three different “series” of cards and very specific back possibilities with each (similar to T206).  We’ll be featuring a Red Cycle back in our auction, along with one of the very difficult Anonymous backs.

Get ready: the auction goes live next week!

Turkey Red Cabinets

During our Winter auction, we made reference several times to a large collection of Turkey Red cabinets that we had received on consignment.  We placed 25 of the cabinets in the Winter sale, and promised we’d be back with the remainder of the collection for our Spring auction.

Since our Spring auction is set to go live next week, we thought it would be nice to share some of the beautiful cards that will be included in the auction.

T3 Dooin FrontIn our early stages as a company, we seem to be on the receiving end of quite a few “original owner” collections, as well as a number of collections that were assembled outside the hobby mainstream.  These Turkey Reds are among them, amassed years ago by a dedicated collector who cared deeply about quality, obtaining the most attractive examples he could find.

These cards are amazing to see, mostly because the color is so rich on many of them, and the cards have retained so much of their original gloss.  We didn’t even really know how much gloss was present on the surface of a T3 until we saw this collection – since the oversized cards were often exposed to outside elements due to their large size, the gloss on many T3s have worn off over the years.  Such is not the case with many of these cards.

We reviewed the entire collection and submitted many of the cards for grading, to both PSA and SGC.  None of them had been submitted for grading before, so all are “fresh” to the hobby.  Many of the cards are the highest-graded examples in existent, and many others are right near the top of grading company population reports.  The highest-graded of the bunch, this Red Dooin, is one of just 39 Turkey Red cabinets to receive a grade of NM or better from either grading company.  It’s truly a spectacular card.

The set’s popular horizontal cards are well-represented, too, with several higher-grade examples:

T3 Jordan Herzog Horiz

T3 Out At Third Horiz

T3 Napping Horiz

 

Many of the Hall of Famers are also spectacular.  We featured the Christy Mathewson, Tris Speaker and Addie Joss in our Winter sale, and have quite a few more that we’ll be offering in the Spring sale.  While there is, sadly, no Cobb in the collection, there are plenty of others:

T3 LajoieT3 Young FrontT3 Wallace FrontT3 Johnson FrontT3 Walsh Front

 

T9 JeffriesThere were also quite a few T9 Turkey Red boxing cabinets in the collection.  While not as attractive as many of the T3s, grade-wise, there are many beautiful cards in the group.

Not all the T3s are high-grade beauties.  Some have lower technical grades, due to small flaws like surface abrasions, corner wear, wrinkles, and even the occasional pinhole.  A couple are even in the “beater” category, with larger holes, corner clips, and in a few cases, paper loss.  We kept many of these cards ungraded, since we know that they appeal to collectors who are simply hoping to amass a Turkey Red set with strong image quality, willing to accept border damage as a trade-off.

Either way, it is rare that a collection of this quality finds its way into the hobby – a fresh collection, only recently graded and offered as individual lots in our auction.

The sale opens next week!