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By Peter J. Nash

January 9, 2014

When a woman strolled onto the set of Antiques Roadshow with a long-lost archive linked to Boston’s baseball history, she never expected to hear PBS appraiser, Lee Dunbar, tell her she’d hit the jackpot.  But after viewing her treasure trove which consisted of a group of ten trimmed 1871 Mort Rogers photographic scorecards, a few CDV photographs of A. G. Spalding and the 1872 Boston Red Stockings and a document bearing salutations and signatures from the famous Wright brothers (Harry and George), Spalding and other pioneer players like Dave Birdsall, Cal McVey and Harry Schafer she was told by Dunbar that her collection was worth a million bucks.

The group of materials was originally housed in a period carte-de-visite photo album and all of the player photos featured on the covers of the scorecards were at one time trimmed down to fit inside the book.  The original score cards consisted of two pages, but these examples only retained the covers which were manufactured for sale by player Mort Rogers.  The photographic score cards are one of the true rarities in the hobby and this newly found cache could almost double the known population.  But just because they are extremely rare and historic does not mean they are worth a million dollars.  Case in point is another “set” of ten similarly trimmed Mort Rogers score cards featuring the same players that has been sold twice in the last twenty five years.  In August of 1992 Lelands sold the group of trimmed cards for about $26,000 and in 2000 the same group sold again in a REA/MastroNet auction for $45,202.

A group of (10) trimmed Mort Rogers score cards sold at Lelands in 1992 for $26,000 (left). The same group was resold at REA/MastroNet for $46,000 in July of 2000 (right) along with three other examples in a separate lot.

No other similar sets or groupings of the cards have ever surfaced but a handful of un-trimmed examples of full score cards featuring Harry Wright, Dave Birdsall and Cal McVey have sold at auctions ranging in price from $6,000 to $12,000 for the Wright.  Another example of a Harry Wright score card is currently housed in the collection of the Boston Athenaeum.

Un-trimmed Mort Rogers score card examples of Harry Wright, Dave Birdsall and Cal McVey sold for $12,000, $6,000 and $12,000 respectively.

It appears that another full scorecard featuring Harry Schafer was sold at auction in 2000 by Lew Lipset, but that example appears on the missing list of the New York Public Library’s famous A. G. Spalding Collection and is believed to have been part of the multi-million dollar heist at the library in the 1970s. The Spalding Collection features the greatest assortment of photographic materials related to Spalding and Wright’s early Boston teams and it is notable that it is devoid of examples of the Rogers score cards.  Several of A.G. Spalding’s personal scrapbooks, however, were also stolen in the late 1970s and some believe that many 19th century photo and score card rarities that have surfaced in the hobby were removed from those same missing volumes.

The NYPL's "Missing List" for the Spalding Collection includes a Mort Rogers score card of Harry Schafer. In 2000, Lew Lipset sold a Schafer score card (left) believed to be the missing example. The recent PBS show revealed the trimmed Schafer card featuring a different portrait.

As you can see, despite the extreme rarity of these full and partial photographic score cards, the historic prices realized at public auction in no way support the $1 million dollar appraisal given to the owner on Antiques Roadshow. At best, if both of the cards of the Wright’s and Spalding sold for $25,000 and each of the other cards sold for $5,000 (which is a high estimate for trimmed examples), the group would be worth about $110,000.

The PBS Spalding CDV (left) is comparable with a lesser condition CDV that Heritage sold for over $9,000 in 2009 (center left). The trimmed PBS 1872 Boston trade card is comparable with a similar card of the Phila. A's that sold for over $44,000 at auction in 2014.

Also in the Roadshow group are an untrimmed Warren CDV of Albert Spalding and a trimmed trade card featuring the 1872 Boston BBC. Heritage sold a similar Spalding CDV (in lesser condition) for $11,950 in 2009 and the only comparable sale similar to the 1872 trimmed Boston trade card was an example featuring the Phialdelphia A’s.  Legendary Auctions sold the untrimmed card graded “Authentic” by SGC as being unique (although others are known) and it fetched $44,813 in May of 2014.  It would be hard to make the case that the trimmed Boston card, created by George Wright and Charley Gould’s Sporting Goods company (Wright & Gould), could command a price higher than $44,000.

Lastly, the document signed by some of the members of the 1871 team and addressed to the woman who owned the Boston boarding house where the players resided, is a remarkable artifact but it is not as valuable as Roadshow claims.  Appraiser Lee Dunbar told the owner, “To have this letter with Harry Wright and Spalding on it is tremendous, to have anything with their signature is phenomenal.”  Spalding and Wright’s signatures are scarce and most Wright signatures on the market were stolen from the NYPLs Spalding Collection, but there are comparable signed documents that have been sold that dwarf the importance of the letter penned to the boarding house proprietor.  Lee Dunbar’s former employer, Sotheby’s, handled one of these documents during the 1999 Barry Halper sale—the actual letter awarding Harry Wright the championship pennant of 1875 which was signed by Wright and National Association president (and HOFer) Morgan Bulkeley. The document was originally in one of the three Harry Wright scrapbooks stolen from the NYPL in the 1970s and was documented and cited in research notes taken by historians Dr. Harold Seymour and Dorothy Mills who held the same document in their hands at the NYPL in the 1950s. The Seymour original notes are now part of the Seymour Collection at Cornell University. The stolen 1875 document sold for $14,950 at Sotheby’s and despite its overwhelming NYPL provenance, the letter has not been recovered by the FBI or NYPL. The Roadshow document is nowhere near as significant.

An 1875 letter awarding Harry Wright's Boston club the 1875 Pennant sold at Sotheby's in 1999. A letter written by Spalding to Wright during the World Tour of 1874 was sold at REA in 2007. Both letters were stolen from the NYPL and the 1875 letter is documented in the original research notes (center) of Dr. Harold Seymour and his wife Dorothy (inset). The notes show the letter was in Volume 1 of Wright's incoming letters on "p.21."

As for signatures of Albert Spalding one of the most historic documents ever offered was a 4-page letter he penned to Harry Wright from England when he and the Boston team were on their World Tour of 1874. That letter was also stolen from the NYPL’s Wright scrapbooks and was sold by REA and Rob Lifson in 2007 for $28,875.

Roadshow appraiser Lee Dunbar (far right) appraised the Boston collection at $1 million but the value of the artifacts, including signatures of Harry Wright and A.G. Spalding (left), falls far short of that benchmark.

The bottom line is this—–Antiques Roadshow and Dunbar have no supporting evidence to substantiate their $1 million appraisal of the collection featured on the recent broadcast.  Media outlets ranging from major newspapers to TMZ have published stories disseminating the inaccurate and unsubstantiated appraisal and each of them took the PBS press releases as gospel.  Only Keith Olbermann corrected the record by naming Roadshow and Dunbar as his “World’s Worst Person in Sports” on ESPNs Wednesday night telecast. Olbermann also correctly noted that no Mort Rogers scorecard had ever sold for over $15,000, a point that was seconded by MLBs official historian John Thorn on Twitter.

Just do the math: the trimmed Rogers score cards, at best, could realize $100,000-125,000; the Spalding CDV $15,000; the 1872 Boston trade card $25,000; the Red Stocking signed document $25,000-35,000. All in all, a far cry from a million dollars (even if the number is inflated for insurance purposes). Josh Evans, of Lelands Auctions, had a different take on Dunbar’s appraisal which he defended.  Said Evans, “Lee Dunbar is one smart cookie. By putting a million dollar value on the collection she made baseball memorabilia a hot story that carried all the way overseas to London where I just read a great article in the Daily Mail.”

Antiques Roadshow’s recent track record regarding major baseball artifacts has been severely marred since its 2012 appraisal of a bogus 1960 Willie Mays uniform that ended up being sold to the Pawn Stars and re-sold at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills. The uniform was a salesman’s sample that was never issued to Mays.  Roadshow appraiser Mike Gutierrez from Heritage Auctions authenticated and appraised the uniform at $25,000-$35,000.  It was fraudulently sold as Mays’ actual uniform at Julien’s for only $12,000 and was featured on the cover of the auction house’s catalog.

The Jackson scrapbooks feature rare photos and documents that shed light on the turbulent life and times of one of baseball's greatest players. One gem is a 1917 note to Jackson from a gambler looking for some inside "dope" on the White Sox (right).

In stark contrast to the value of the PBS Boston find is the remarkable lot of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s personal scrapbooks that are currently being sold by Lelands and have a current bid just under $10,000.  The scrapbooks are described by Lelands founder Josh Evans as the “Dead Sea Scrolls” of baseball memorabilia and the appearance of the long-lost volumes literally dwarfs the PBS find in terms of historic import.  The three thick scrapbook volumes were compiled by Jackson and his wife Katie and span from his earliest days in the game to the time of his death.

The scrapbooks surfaced last summer after Lelands issued a million dollar reward for the original Black Sox scandal confessions of “Shoeless” Joe and his “Eight Men Out” teammates.  Well known for advertising rewards in the past for Bobby Thompson’s long-lost home run ball , Josh Evans told us, “The consignor saw the reward we ran regarding the Chicago Black Sox confessions.  They knew they weren’t going to get a million dollars, but it should be a great deal of money for the three scrapbooks.  These could be the most (important) scrapbooks ever discovered.” When asked what separates these volumes from other great hobby finds of his career Evans responded, “He (Jackson) transcends  the game as a subject of books, movies, television and of all media.  He is a piece of the fabric of American folklore along with Jackie  Robinson and Babe Ruth, as the tragic figure of the bunch.  He is baseball’s American tragedy whose role will be debated long after we are gone.  And these scrapbooks are a window into his soul.”

Mike Nola, the nation’s foremost Jackson researcher who operates BlackBetsy.com, says he knew of the Jackson scrapbooks for many years and that they were passed on from Katie Jackson to her husband’s sister, Gertrude.  Said Nola, “Gertrude used to pull these out for anyone wanting to see them, but then reporters started stealing pages from the scrapbook and she stopped letting anyone see them.  Some great stuff in there. (I) wish I had the money to buy it, but this one will go off the charts.”

Joe Jackson's scrapbooks ended up with his sister Gertrude (left). The Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, SC, (center) is hoping to get access to the information in the scrapbooks. Josh Evans of Lelands uncovered the scrapbooks by offering a reward for the Black Sox confessions. (Photo of Gertrude Jackson courtesy of BlackBetsy.com)

As to whether the scrapbooks look like they were cherry picked at one time Evans told us, “The scrapbooks are unpicked.  There are very few missing pieces, as there are only a few small missing spaces.  We checked the spines and could see no missing pages.  But this is best spelled out by what is there.”

Sources indicate that the scrapbooks passed from Jackson’s sister to a woman named Frances Suddeth and it is believed that her heirs are the consignors to the Lelands sale. Nola and other researchers would love to get full access to the information housed in the volumes and Nola even went so far to offer to pay Lelands for their time and effort if they could scan every page so that he could secure the information for the “Shoeless” Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, South Carolina, which is housed in the structure that was Jackson’s actual residence.

Arlene Marcley, the curator of the Jackson Museum, thinks the scrapbooks are breathtaking.  Marclay can only hope a well-heeled donor might buy the scrapbooks and donate them to the non-profit institution that she helped establish and told Hauls of Shame, “Absolutely incredible. I just hope a museum gets them so they papers can be archived properly.  I have a feeling they are in bad shape.”  Scrapbooks from the Dead-Ball era are usually in need of significant conservation and the Jackson volumes would most likely need some archival attention.  Marcley and others can only hope that the volumes don’t vanish into a collector’s vault or are purchased by a dealer who could disassemble the contents of each volume for resale purposes.

Evans and Lelands say they’d love for the museum to get access to the information in the scrapbooks and added, “We have every intention of facilitating that as long as the buyer is agreeable.” Evans even told Mike Nola that he’d cover the costs to scan the materials.

Jackson holds a trophy he won as "Best Slugger" (left) on "Murnane Day" in 1917. The Lelands lot included the original presentation card for another trophy he won during that same All-Star benefit game (bottom right) played at Fenway Park. (Correction: Jackson is actually holding the trophy won for longest throw at Fenway in 1917).

The volumes are chock full of documents and news clippings that chronicle the life and career of baseball’s most tragic figure. One remarkable artifact found in a scrapbook is the presentational card that once accompanied the trophy presented to Jackson for winning the “Longest Throw” contest held in conjunction with the 1917 benefit All-Star game played at Fenway Park to raise funds for the family of writer Tim Murnane.  Photographs of Jackson holding his trophies in his residence have surfaced in recent years and it is believed the accompanying trophy is still in the possession of a Jackson relative along with Jackson’s 1917 World Series medal which he had made into a ring while he was still living.

The scrapbooks also feature important documents linked to gambling and issues related to the Black Sox scandal of 1919.  Josh Evans told us, “My favorite piece is undoubtedly the unsigned typed letter written from a mysterious fan asking him for inside gambling information.”  Evans added, “Dope is the old fashion term denoting illegal insider info.  What a great precursor to the Black Sox scandal and the only communique that exists where Jackson is solicited.  The most interesting thing is the fact that the family kept it.”

One scrapbook contains a two-page lawsuit Jackson filed against Charles Comiskey in 1924. The document included questions asked of Jackson regarding his taking money to throw games in the 1919 World Series.

In addition, one volume features a two-page lawsuit and an actual page from  court pleadings detailing questions and answers concerning “Shoeless” Joe’s involvement in the fixing of games. The document originates from the 1924 lawsuit Jackson filed against White Sox owner Charles Comiskey for back salary and the lot description says the document reveals “10 questions asked of (Jackson) regarding the infamous 1919 World Series.” Lelands also says that questions five through 10  ”touch on whether he threw the series or took money to that aim, all of which he answered “no.”

Jacob Pomrenke, the chairman of SABRs Black Sox Scandal Research Committee thinks the scrapbooks are “A priceless resource with information on Jackson’s personal life that can’t be found anywhere else.” As a resource for SABR members Pomrenke also said, “What interests me most about the sample images in the Lelands auction listing are the advertisements and broadsides on Jackson’s “outlaw” career in the 1920s and ’30s. Jackson’s post-banishment baseball career hasn’t been well documented, and there are large gaps in the record on exactly when and where he played.”

The Jackson scrapbooks feature several rare vintage broadsides advertising Jackson's participation in barnstorming games after he was banished from the game.

MLBs official historian, John Thorn, was also impressed when he viewed images from the scrapbooks on the Lelands website and told us, “(The scrapbooks) are a treasure trove and the post-1920 barnstorming broadsides are amazing.”

Evans thinks there are many other significant “hidden gems” in the scrapbooks that have yet been unearthed.   “Our time was limited and we did very little if any research as to the specifics of the pieces herein as such as who wrote these letters, what their relationship to Jackson (was),” said Evans. There is still more to learn from many items like “The broadsides (and) what the importance was of each individual game and (the) results and  how each document played a part in his life.”   According to Lelands, “The content is fairly evenly covered throughout his life from his pre major league days, earliest days in the game with the As, then Philadelphia, Cleveland and finally Chicago, to his play outside the league when he was banned and the trials and tribulations of that, to his later years at home.  The key here is that almost all of it has never been seen and there is great mystery here that the scrapbooks unlock.”

When we asked Evans what he estimates the actual monetary value of the scrapbooks is he said, “These scrapbooks are worth a fortune.  These are as important as any of the million or multi-million dollar pieces sold in the last few years.”  When pressed on an actual number Evans was quick to respond and mused, “They are certainly worth low six figures.”

Pomrenke and other SABR members are hoping that the scrapbooks make their way back to Jackson’s hometown and Arlene Marcley. ” My hope is that the scrapbooks find a permanent home with the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, the same town where those books have spent most of their time over the last century, first with Joe’s wife, Katie, and then his sister, Gertrude,” said Pomrenke.  ”If the scrapbooks do end up in a private collection, I hope the new owner will at least allow some access to Black Sox historians and researchers who are interested in learning more about Jackson’s life.”

Safe to say, there are more than a few researchers who consider the scrapbooks priceless and they can only hope to be lucky enough to get access to the information held within each brittle and dusty volume. Pomrenke summed up the thoughts of most SABR members we spoke with saying, “If the scrapbooks do end up in a private collection, I hope the new owner will at least allow some access to Black Sox historians and researchers who are interested in learning more about Jackson’s life.”


18 Comments

  1. From Mike Nola of BlackBetsy.com, some new information on the trophy Jackson is holding in the photograph:
    The trophy Joe is holding is for the Longest Throw (396 feet, 8 and a half inches). We were told this was for being the World Greatest Slugger, but upon looking at the high res image of the trophy we have it says:

    “Won by Joe Jackson of the White Sox, Worlds Greatest Slugger for throwing a baseball further than any of the stars (then it’s hard to tell what the next line says…..but I believe it says “Tim Murnane Exhibition Game”. Next line says “something I can’t make out All Stars and Boston”…..maybe says “Between All Stars and Boston”….or maybe “Game Between All Stars and Boston”. I believe the next line has the measurement of the throw. We have corrected the VHOF version of this photo.”

    Comment by admin — January 9, 2015 @ 9:43 am

  2. Also from Mike Nola a few more clarifications:

    “Also the image about the two pages from the lawsuit in 1924. This is actually the questions asked of the jury (basically the jury verdict or the questions used to arrive at the verdict).”

    “In your images of the broadside…..the one on the left is from 1925 with Joe and his Waycross team. The other two are from 1922 when Joe went up north and played ball for Ed Phelan in the New York Semi-Professional league. I believe Lelands has one of those listed as having occurred in 1927….they also have one from his games in Westwood, NJ and that was also in 1922…..that one says that Joe will be playing against a Negro League team…..but the newspaper accounts only say he played against a white team that day…..and I have not been able to confirm that he did indeed play against that Negro League team that day.”

    Comment by admin — January 9, 2015 @ 9:47 am

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    Pingback by HOS Breaking News: Antiques Roadshow Trove Not Worth $1 mil; Lelands’ Shoeless Joe Scrapbooks Are Priceless | Droppin' Tha Knowledge — January 9, 2015 @ 10:10 am

  4. I bid at auction house sales and they generally will put in pictures of most if not all of the materials in a scrapbook in order for the bidders to evaluate how much they want to bid. I have never bid on a Lelands auction. I guess they are different. Great story though …

    Comment by Dennis Pluchinsky — January 9, 2015 @ 11:05 am

  5. Serves that punk Mark Wahlberg right for stealing my name. I ought to punch him in the eye. He’ll feel the vibrations.

    Comment by Markie Mark — January 9, 2015 @ 11:05 am

  6. To Dennis Pluchinsky et al: As to your comment there are no extra photos of the major pieces in the scrapbooks there are 25 or so extra photos right there on the item page. You may not be lookng in the correct place. If you have further trouble please email me directly at jevans@optonline.net.

    Comment by Josh Evans — January 9, 2015 @ 2:29 pm

  7. Those scrapbooks are incredible. I really hope that they can be made accesible for all researchers. One of 2015s best finds so far.

    Comment by Chris A — January 9, 2015 @ 4:10 pm

  8. I wonder how Barry Halper didn’t get the scrapbooks for a case of Jameson and $500.

    Comment by Weezer — January 10, 2015 @ 1:59 am

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    Pingback by Antiques Roadshow appraises baseball card collection at 1Million - Blowout Cards Forums — January 10, 2015 @ 9:07 am

  10. I saw Olbermann say on his show ripping Roadshow that there are “2dozen different” Mort Rogers score cards known and 100 in total. Is that true?

    Comment by Paul — January 10, 2015 @ 12:40 pm

  11. Including this new Roadshow find of trimmed score cards I could only verify approximately 30 Mort Rogers examples including other Philadelphia and Cleveland players. Unless there is some big stash somewhere that has not been made public, I’d say he’s way off. The HOF says they only have 2 in their collection (one being Levi Meyerle).
    In Lipset’s 1983 Encyclopedia of 19th century cards he didn’t even identify them as “Mort Rogers Scorecards”.

    Comment by admin — January 10, 2015 @ 2:44 pm

  12. The other score card in the HOF collection has a portrait of Davy Force.

    Comment by admin — January 10, 2015 @ 7:34 pm

  13. Those Jackson scrabooks are at 15,000. Now that would be a real steal.

    But I’m thinking there’s no way they stay there :(

    Comment by Matt — January 12, 2015 @ 9:10 pm

  14. I thought the PBS “expert” stated she would have the vintage Boston items insured for a million bucks, not worth a million bucks.

    And I agree the Joe Jackson scrapbooks are historically significant and of great value. Nice move by Mr. Evans to handle the cost of scanning the pages “if the buyer allows.”

    But, the next owner does not own these yet, and while the items are in Leland’s possession couldn’t they professionally scan each item before the lot is sold?

    Comment by Samuel — January 13, 2015 @ 4:20 pm

  15. I know appraisals for insurance purposes can be higher, but I’m not sure an appraisal 4 to 5 x higher than the actual value is the standard.
    Roadshow said this: “Did you catch our $1 million appraisal last night? See more from the owner of the record-breaking baseball archive”

    I didn’t realize there is such a thing as “record-breaking” inflated insurance appraisals.

    Comment by admin — January 13, 2015 @ 11:14 pm

  16. Lelands has scanned the entire contents of all of the Jackson scrapbooks and they are posted on their website with the lot description.

    Comment by admin — January 17, 2015 @ 1:15 am

  17. Hope the “Shoeless Joe” Jackson scrapbook(s) don’t end up at the Hall of Fame. We’ll never see those again!

    Comment by Jay Gauthreaux — January 24, 2015 @ 9:25 am

  18. Thanks very nice blog!

    Comment by Brayden — February 4, 2015 @ 4:15 pm

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