Bradley Sweater – Early Sports Advertising

Cobb Endorsement BThe Bradley Knitting Company was a clothing manufacturer based in Delavan, Wisconsin, that manufacturerd a variety of knitted items including gloves, hosiery, swimsuits, and sweaters.  In the mid 1920s, the company manufactured sweaters for many major league baseball teams.  The company advertised their affiliation with the major league teams and offered the “Bradley Big League Sweater” to youngsters through a series of advertisements in Baseball magazine.

Each of the Baseball magazine ads contained an endorsement from a major league manager.  There were nine endorsements in total, including Clark Griffith, John McGraw, Bill Killefer, Art Fletcher, Miller Huggins, Dave Bancroft, Ty Cobb, PJ Moran, and George Sisler – quite a bit of star power.*

The endorsements were (as one would expect) actually written by Bradley, in the form of a quote, attributed to the team manager.  Each of the managers who endorsed the product was sent a letter with their “endorsement.”  They were simply asked to sign their name to the quote, and then their signature was reproduced, along with the quote, for the purposes of the print advertisement.

Cobb Endorsement A copyOur Winter auction will feature four lots that represent four of the nine manager endorsements – Ty Cobb, George Sisler, Bill Killefer and Art Fletcher.  Each of the endorsements has been signed directly by the player, whose signature diligently copied into the design of a print ad that featured that manager.  Each of the four endorsements has been authenticated by James Spence Authentication, however, in the case of these four lots, the autograph is almost besides the point – the value lies in the historical significance of the player endorsement itself.

Cobb Endorsement DThe first lot features the endorsement of Ty Cobb.  Cobb, as manager of the Detroit Tigers, signed his name to the quote “You golks are to be congratulated on your Big League Sweater – the fellows all agree it’s the biggest, warmest, softest – all around “best” sweater they ever put on.”  Cobb’s signature, as you can see from the image, was enhanced with some sort of white paint, ostensibly to reduce smudges and make the signature reproduce more cleanly.  The enhancement is reflected in the JSA LOA – however, what is important is the fact that the signature itself is faithfully reproduced in the print ad.  Also included in this lot is a copy of the June, 1924 issue of Baseball magazine with the Cobb ad on the back cover, a photo print of Cobb wearing a Bradley sweater, and a copy of a letter written to E.D. Soden of Baseball magazine, concerning the list of managerial endorsements.

George Sisler EndorsementHall of Famer and Manager George Sisler’s Bradley Sweater endorsement, dated December of 1923, clearly illustrates that the members of the St. Louis Browns would each receive a free Bradley Sweater in exchange for lining up and taking a photo for their ad.  Sisler signed his name to the endorsement “How do we like Bradley?  Fine with everybody – just about sweater perfection, I’ll tell the world.”

Despite being sweater perfection, Sisler felt the need to add a handwritten notation that his endorsement of the Bradley product pertained only to those sweaters used by the St. Louis Browns, and not as a personal endorsement of Bradley Sweaters in general.  An outstanding quality signature and letter, with handwritten notations, accompanied by a reproduction of the Browns’ Sisler ad.

Each of the four lots carries a full LOA from James Spence Authentication, a unique piece of baseball history and an outstanding chronicle of the business side of sports advertising, from its very earliest days.

*NOTE: After the publication of this entry, we were made aware of a TENTH endorsement – from Hall of Fame Manager Bill McKechnie.

A great hobby mystery

North Carolina GuyWhen our consignor approached us with the material that makes up this incredibly interesting lot, we felt we were absolutely up for the challenge.  The consignment consisted of a number of items, all initially purchased from an estate whose name has been lost to history, and included a large black and white photograph of a member of what we believe to be the Winston-Salem Twins of the North Carolina State League.  Also included was a side-written 1910-15 era Louisville Slugger bat, a well-worn pair of flannel baseball pants, a pair of heavy, red stirrup socks, and a pair of baseball spikes.  We had the player’s picture, his bat, his pants, his socks and his shoes – but not his name.

The only hint is side-written on the bat: in grease pencil, appears the first name “Glenn” and a last name that appears to begin with the letter “S.”  By heavily manipulating the bat image, there are a number of possible letters we can make out, but we cannot hazard a guess as to what it might be.

Winston Salem Player PhotoThe photo, framed to approximately 18 1/2″ x 23″, is large, and in its original, vintage frame, from McElfish Artistic Framing of Frostburg, MD.  While we could easily remove the backing from the frame to examine the back of the photo, doing so would likely ruin the frame and would certainly destroy the brittle backing, and so we are not likely to do it.

Winston Salem Bat BackThe bat is in very good condition, a gorgeous, early Louisville Slugger that has a crack on the reverse handle that has been repaired by a number of nails (quite long ago, as the nails are blended nicely into the bat’s patina), and there is quite a bit of grain separation, on both the front and back barrel.  The flannel pants are Spalding pants, soiled with age but in excellent condition, as are the socks.  The spikes are well worn but still intact, with some rust on the spikes themselves; our ball player had very small feet.  The photo is lovely, in what appears to be its original frame.  An outstanding collection, and an awesome mystery that we are still trying to solve!

The highest-graded 1941 Lou Gehrig Memorial ticket

Gehrig Ticket AThe passing of Lou Gehrig was a national tragedy, his illness was devastating news to a nation that was growing up at the same time as our National Pastime.  Recovering from a Great Depression and embracing the entertainment provided by the game, fans embraced its superstars as national heroes.  The “Iron Horse” was synonymous with dependability, his impossible streak of 2,130 consecutive games played a symbol of hard work, dedication, and the “stick-to-it-iveness” that became a core American value.  Early in the 1939 season, that ironclad ideal took a serious blow when Gehrig removed himself from the starting lineup, and Gehrig’s struggle with the disease that would eventually bear his name was well-documented.  Even today, Gehrig remains one of the most recognized names in American sports, and his streak and subsequent struggle with what is commonly thought of as ALS is well-known among contemporary sports fans.

Gehrig passed on June 2 of 1941, at the young age of 37.  The following month, on July 4 (the second anniversary of Gehrig’s famed “Luckiest Man” speech), the Yankees planned to dedicate a monument to be placed in the Yankee Stadium centerfield, honoring Gehrig, to be placed adjacent to the monument honoring Miller Huggins.  The schedule for that date included a doubleheader between the Yankees and the Philadelphia Athletics, and between games, the new monument would be dedicated.  The weather, famously, did not cooperate, and the doubleheader – as well as the dedication ceremony – were forced to be rescheduled for July 6.

Perhaps due to the fact that the game was rescheduled and tickets needed to accompany fans to the stadium twice, a ticket that would even in 1941 have been considered a collectors item is scarce and difficult to find in high grade.  Even stubs from the game are difficult to find and typically command hundreds of dollars.  Full tickets, however, are in a different stratosphere – as of this writing, PSA has graded just eight examples without the Void Stamp with only one – this example – graded with a higher numerical grade than EX 5 (a second example has been graded NM 7 with a qualifier that reduces the value of the grade by two points).  The most recent sale

Graded NM-MT 8 by PSA, this example is absolutely stunning; a full ticket that is virtually perfect in every way.  Featuring blue edges (the tickets can be found with different colored edges, depending on the section of the Stadium) and a beautiful, clean bust of the Yankee captain, the words “Lou Gehrig Memorial” are emblazoned across the ticket, signifiying the special event.  Slight touches to the corners, resulting in the tiniest chipping of the blue color in one area, are the only visible wear on this ticket.  One can only speculate as to how such a specimen could have survived not only the original date but the rescheduled game in such perfect condition.

This is an extraordinarily desirable ticket, among the most valuable of all tickets from the era.  The next highest-graded example, a PSA EX 5, sold for $17,000 at auction in 2011, with lower-graded examples fetching prices that support that price level.  This example, clearly the most attractive graded example in existence (SGC has not graded any full tickets from the event), should be the most valuable, the single, shining example of the date Yankee Stadium’s fabled Monument Park was born.

Another Gehrig Bat – Coming in January!

Gehrig Bat - Long View We’re thrilled to bring you another Lou Gehrig game-used bat in our January auction, another beautiful Hanna Batrite, another new hobby discovery.

Our Summer sale of a 1930 Lou Gehrig Hanna Batrite bat produced a veritable avalanche of bats adorned with Gehrig’s name; store-models, post-career bats, even bats without any identifying markings whatsoever were all brought to our attention as potential Gehrig gamers for auction.  While we approach each potential consignment with enthusiasm, it was only natural that we approached an October phone call about a possible Gehrig Batrite bat with a bit of cynicism.  The caller, not a baseball fan but an antiques buff, had purchased his bat several decades ago at an antique shop.  The price: $20.

Gehrig Bat - Barrel BrandWe met the bat’s owner later that day in a coffee shop, ironically enough in the same town where we met the consignor of the Gehrig bat we offered in our last auction.  When he handed us the bat, it only took a few seconds for us to determine that the bat was the real thing – another Hanna Batrite model produced for the Iron Horse himself.

We know, at this stage, that the Hanna Manufacturing Company of Athens, GA produced baseball bats for professional use.  Of all the players we speculate may have used the company’s Batrite models, none are more definite than Lou Gehrig, who was called upon to testify in court during a lawsuit between Hillerich & Bradsby and Hanna.  As a result, Gehrig’s use of Hanna Batrite bats is well-documented, more so than with any other major leaguer.  In fact, in addition to Gehrig’s testimony, records available online from the National Archives clearly illustrate the correspondence between Gehrig and Robert Hanna of Hanna Manufacturing.  The correspondence, along with Gehrig’s testimony, clearly demonstrate that Gehrig used Hanna bats for a two-year period.  By reviewing Gehrig’s Hillerich & Bradsby Professional Bat Ordering Records (PBOR), we can identify that two-year period as being between 1929 and 1931.

We also know that Gehrig specifically requested that the weights of his bats be clearly marked on each bat.  This is a specific request that Gehrig made, of both Hillerich & Bradsby and of Hanna Manufacturing.  According to his testimony, Gehrig requested bats of varying weights, fluctuating between 36 and 40 ounces.  From his correspondence with Hanna, we can see that Gehrig typically ordered heavier bats during spring training and earlier in the season, gradually using lighter bats as the season progressed and the rigors of baseball’s arduous schedule wore him down.  Gehrig, in reference to his use of Hanna bats, stated “Two or three Batrite and Spalding bats were sent to me on trial, and I finally placed my orders with the Hanna Manufacturing Company.  I used the Batrite bats I obtained from Hanna Manufacturing Company a good majority of both years I used those bats.”

Gehrig Bat - KnobAs has been noted by John Taube of PSA/DNA, Hanna Manufacturing did not mark bat weights on their retail bats.  Retail bats were either left blank, marked with the bat length, or after 1930, marked with Hanna’s patent stamp.  Any Hanna Batrite bat marked with the weight in the knob is surely a professional bat.

This particular bat, weighing in at exactly 38 oz., is clearly marked as such in the bat knob.

What we find interesting about this bat is that, when compared with the correspondence between Gehrig and Hanna, we can see that in March of 1930, Gehrig appeared to refer specifically to these bats.  In one letter, Gehrig thanks Mr. Atwell of Hanna Manufacturing for the shipment of bats, but states that the bats seem very heavy.  He then orders eight new bats, in various weights, and again specifically asks that they be labeled with the weight.

On March 14 of 1930, Robert Hanna responds to Gehrig and states that the bats which were shipped to Gehrig all weighed between 38 and 39 ounces, and that those bats were meant for spring training and early season use.  Gehrig responded by telegram, ordering new bats with specific weights, each lighter than this 38-oz bat.  It is that March 17 telegram that we feel represented the order for the Hanna bat we sold in our Summer, 2015 auction.

Gehrig Bat - CenterbrandIf that bat was the result of Gehrig’s March 17, 1930 order, we believe this bat to be one of the original bats shipped to Gehrig by the Hanna Manufacturing Company in late 1929/early 1930.  The Hanna logo on the centerbrand would support this hypothesis, as the logo dates the bat to 1929.

The bat itself has received a thorough review by John Taube of PSA/DNA.  The weight is clearly stamped into the knob, and the bat itself has been treated with the identical finish to the Hanna bat we sold previously – something specifically requested by Gehrig in his correspondence.  The “TA” and “11 5” model identifiers are consistent with Gehrig’s model number, and the bat itself was prepared to the exact dimensions of Gehrig’s Louisville Slugger bats.  All this, along with the cleat impressions, slight ball marks and stitch impressions noted by PSA on the barrel, have resulted in a grade of PSA/DNA GU 7.

It should be noted that when we received the bat, it was wrapped in heavy tape from the knob to a spot several inches above the centerbrand, down the barrel – in other words, 2/3 of the bat was completely covered in tape.  Though we are typically not inclined to perform restoration work, the tape needed to be removed in order for us to see the bat’s model number – and while the removal of the tape revealed the correct model number for a Gehrig bat, it also revealed a handle crack, and left a coating of black tape residue.  As such, there has been professional restoration work performed on the bat, to remove the tape, as well as to repair the handle crack and a small crack in the knob.

The bat has an interesting marking at the end of the knob – the letter “B”, stamped in a large, block letter.  It is unknown what this represents, but according to the LOA, “The fact that the ‘B’ is branded may be a factory notation pertaining to the type of wood or finish.  We’re inclined to believe it does not pertain to a player’s initial especially with the knob only stamped with the weight and no other identifier.”  The quality of the stamp – clearly not an amateur marking – would support the supposition that it was likely done at the factory.

This is a beautiful bat.  The finish is a rich, reddish brown, and the wood is a very high-quality ash.  The bat is solid and clean, with very clearly identifiable cleat marks throughout.  Lou Gehrig game-used bats are exceedingly rare, and newly-discovered models are impossibly so.  Estimates are that there are fewer than 20 Gehrig bats known – approximately one Gehrig bat in existence for each Ruth bat.  Though our recent sale of a Lou Gehrig game-used bat has resulted in several such bats being sold at auction in the time since, it is important to understand that Gehrig bats are extraordinarily rare, and clean, attractive examples such as this even more so.  Thoroughly examined and vetted by John Taube of PSA/DNA, this is a brand-new hobby discovery, another beautiful bat with an extraordinary backstory, the classic “antique shop find” that yielded an impossibly rare treasure.