An incredible find.

Several weeks ago, we were referred to a family in Texas that was interested in selling what was described to us as a “run of sets.”  After a few phone conversations, the family agreed to consign the collection in its entirety to Love of the Game.

During the last conversation, when we discussed how I would be retrieving the collection, I simply replied “I’ll just drive down with my SUV and pick everything up.”  My statement was met with a strange silence.

Last week, I made the journey to the deep south in a whirlwind trip that landed me in Texas late Saturday afternoon.  After a brief meeting with what turned out to be an absolutely lovely family, I was brought into the card room to receive the shock of my life.
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This is a cellphone photo of one corner of a room that contained what is, without doubt, the largest card collection I’ve ever seen.  “Run of sets” doesn’t quite describe this collection, and “I’ll just drive down with my SUV and pick everything up” was, in light of the collection’s size, a laughable statement.

The collection was assembled over a lifetime, by a gentleman who lived and breathed baseball, sharing it with his daughters and also with his community.  Decades of dedication to the hobby were evident in literally hundreds of binders and photo albums, each containing complete or near sets ranging from the collector’s childhood through his unfortunate passing in 2007.  During nearly sixty years of devotion to the hobby, the collector built sets from virtually every mainstream manufacturer, as well as dozens of regional and minor issues, minor league sets, and even “off brand” issues by companies like TCMA and SSPC.

It was almost overwhelming.  Around every corner was another surprise, inside each binder was another set.  In roughly eight hours that we spent rooting through and cataloguing the collection, we discovered a host of rarities, beautifully-stored vintage sets, and diligently assembled modern ones.

From 1951 through the mid 1970s, the collector (whose name we will disclose in due time) painstakingly assembled complete sets, paying closer attention to condition with each passing year, and carefully mounting the cards in numerical order in photo albums, using “photo corners” to help display the collection while still protecting the cards.  We took some photos of the earlier cards to help describe what these cards look like in their albums.

1952 Bowman 1951 Bowman A1953 Bowman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arriving back in the home office in New Jersey, we were struck by how similar this collection was to the famed Lionel Carter collection that was sold at auction in 2007.  While the Carter collection contained a large number of prewar sets, this collection, for the post part, began in the 1950s – yet the display methods were very similar.  We were naturally bursting at the seams, dying to see the condition of the cards underneath those photo corners, and we decided to begin with one of our favorite sets – 1959 Topps.

Back at home in the kitchen, I have a broken steak knife.  The very top quarter inch of the knife has chipped off, leaving a flat top but a sharp edge.  For some ridiculous reason, I have not thrown this knife away – and it turns out that it’s the perfect tool to separate the photo corners from the album.  By sliding the flat top of the knife underneath each of the top two photo corners, we’re able to separate them from the paper without worrying about damaging the card.  Then, the card simply slides out of the bottom two corners, without the necessity of bending or twisting the cards to remove them.

What we discovered was absolutely thrilling:

1959 MantleThe cards were clearly maintained in relatively pristine condition when they were initially collected, with the consignor paying attention to centering during a time when Topps was notorious for poor quality control.  Looking through a pile of duplicate 1959s, we can see that the collector put off-center cards to the side when possible, choosing the cleanest and best-centered examples for display in his album.  It is our impression that the collector probably assembled the sets, and then mounted them in the albums once complete – the cards are ever-so-slightly handled, with a few exhibiting very minor edge wear and tiny corner touches.  While some were undoubtedly touched simply by inserting them into the photo corners, the collector was undoubtedly careful when handling them – many of the cards have retained not only their original color and gloss, but also their crisp, “new” texture.  Some even still have gum residue on the surface!

We are thrilled beyond words to be able to offer the vintage components of this collection in our upcoming auctions.  In the coming weeks, we will continue to share the journey of removing these cards, the surprises we encounter, and of course, the results of those cards we submit for grading.  And of course we are eternally grateful to the family for allowing us a window into the life of an extraordinary collector, and for choosing Love of the Game as the auction house to introduce this incredible collection to the hobby.

Buckle up; it’s going to be a fun ride.

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!

Visit us in Manhattan on Thursday

Foleys PosterCome celebrate the launch of our Summer auction at the great Foley’s NY Pub & Restaurant on Thursday, July 23, from noon til 4PM.

Foley’s is at 18 W. 33rd St., between 5th & Broadway, right across from the Empire State Building.  If you can make it down, we’ll be displaying material from our summer auction (which will be underway), offering free appraisals on pre-1960 sports memorabilia, and offering special deals on consigning to our fall auction.

Most importantly, though, come see Lou Gehrig’s bat!

Hope to see you there.

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.

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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

LOTG ANNOUNCES NEW “SET BUILDER’S AUCTION,” SET TO DEBUT NEXT WEEK

GREAT MEADOWS, N.J., July 18, 2014 – Love of the Game Auctions, an internet-based sports auction house catering to the passionate collector of cards and memorabilia, announced the launch of its “Set Builder’s Auction,” an internet-only auction featuring single cards, smaller lots, and collector-grade treasures.

The new auction will complement Love of the Game’s Premiere auctions, which feature a carefully-curated selection of quality sports artifacts, but will cater more towards hobbyists looking for more affordable examples of vintage cards and rarities. The auction will primarily feature cards, with the occasional autograph or memorabilia offering.

“The Set Builder’s Auction will truly have something for everybody,” explained Auction Director Al Crisafulli. “Because of the nature of our Premiere auctions, we are often limited in terms of the value of the material we can offer. Due to the time commitment and expense involved with preparing and marketing a Love of the Game Auction, we often have to turn away lower-dollar consignments. That is disappointing to me, because its important to me that LOTG caters to the most passionate collectors in the hobby. The Set Builder’s Auction gives us an avenue to feature lower-valued cards, delivered with the same quality and care that collectors have come to expect from Love of the Game.”

The Set Builder’s Auction will have a simplified structure that will permit some additional advantages to collectors as well. “A typical LOTG Auction features detailed descriptions and history on each individual lot,” Crisafulli said. “For the Set Builder’s Auction, however, we’ll be focusing simply on the card itself – written descriptions will be very brief, or nonexistent.”

This reduces the time required to prepare the auction, which reduces the company’s cost as well. “We’re able to pass that cost reduction through to our buyers, in the form of a reduced buyer’s premium. For the Set Builder’s Auction, the buyer’s premium will be just 15%, and for those choosing to pay by cash, check or money order, an additional discount will be offered, bringing the total buyer’s premium to just 12%.

“Shipping charges will also be reduced,” added Crisafulli. “Rather than ship via Priority Mail, winning items will typically be shipped by First Class Mail, which cuts shipping costs in half. We really want everyone to be able to participate in this auction.”

The company plans three such auctions each year, with special, flat consignment rates and extra discounts for consignors who contribute material to both the Set Builder’s and Premiere Auctions.

The first Set Builder’s Auction is slated to go live before the end of July, with a preview opening the week of July 21. The sale, which will be a small, introductory offering, will close Saturday, August 16.

Love of the Game will be displaying material from its inaugural Set Builder’s Auction, as well as from its upcoming Premiere Auction, at the National Sports Collector’s Convention in Cleveland. The company will also be accepting consignments for future auctions from its location at Booth #2024.

To register for the auction and review the selection online, visit http://www.loveofthegameauctions.com. For more information, or to consign your valuable material, contact Love of the Game at info@loveofthegameauctions.com or (973) 452-9147.