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.
Canadian 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.
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.
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.
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.