The Hot Bid: Hake’s goes to bat for rare Negro League Baseball broadside

The uncirculated condition of this Negro National League broadside could be attributed to the Nashville Elite Giants moving to Columbus, Ohio, for the 1935 season. The team moved again the following year to Washington, D.C. Hake’s Auctions image

What you see: A 1935 Negro League baseball broadside, picturing six of the eight active teams of the time. Hake’s Auctions estimates it at $10,000 to $20,000.

The expert: Philip Garry III, Hake’s sports consultant.

How rare is Negro League Baseball (NLB) material in general? I suspect less of it was made, and less of it was saved. Is that correct? Exactly. Before Major League Baseball (MLB) became integrated in 1947, it was very unusual to find any surviving examples of NLB material, whether it was game-used pieces, cards, postcards, scorecards or broadsides. There was never a single NLB baseball card issued in the United States, as opposed to millions released for MLB up until 1947. 

Who was the audience for this cardboard broadside? It was not for sale. It was not produced for public collectibility. The audience was local townspeople, and it tried to draw them to a game. If you’re in inner-city Pittsburgh, walking down Main Street, and you pass a hardware store, it might have this in the window. Some were displayed outdoors, posted on trees. I guarantee this one was in a store, because it survived in such nice condition.

The lot notes call this “what we believe to be the finest surviving example of Negro League Baseball advertising ever produced.” Could you elaborate? What makes it so fine? Going back to 2014, I researched NLB collectibles in general for over a year. I looked for anything with picture images on it – scorecards, broadsides … I didn’t have a whole lot of luck with photographs being pictured for the most part, until 1940. Then the images start getting clearer. Complete images of players in 1935 is unprecedented.

The lot notes also say player images were rarely featured before 1935. Is that true of just NLB, or all forms of professional baseball in the U.S. then? The NLB. It didn’t have quite so much in the way of broadsides. Expense and cost probably played a part in it. In the NLB, money was always tight.

Six of the eight 1935 NLB teams are shown on this broadside. Is it possible to know why the Newark Dodgers and the Philly Stars are not pictured here? It seems odd that the Stars appear in name only, considering they were the defending champions. My guess is they [the leaders of the NLB] planned to do something similar for all teams in the league, but for some reason, production stopped too quickly. To raise the money to print, they probably went to each team and said “Look, we’re going to promote all the teams, and the cost is $100 per team,” and six said “OK” and paid it. The other two, maybe, didn’t have the money or didn’t think it was worthwhile. So they’re represented, but there are no pictures.

One of the teams pictured on the broadside: the Brooklyn Eagles. Hake’s Auctions image

And this having “Nashville Elite Giants” on the front implies this was probably meant for display somewhere in Nashville, Tennessee? Probably. Whether they made them for other teams, I don’t know.

What accounts for the way the pages of player photos are composed? My guess is they extracted the players’ images from the team photo. It’s possible that the Philly Stars and the Newark Dodgers didn’t have a team photo.

So, it looks great, but what else makes the broadside extraordinary? A total of 15 of the players are in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York, not counting the two teams who are not pictured. It has over 100 players [shown] on it. If any new [NLB] players get in the Hall of Fame, it will drive up the value further. The more superstars, the higher the value. Not only is the broadside worth a lot now, it has good investment potential for the future.

How many other copies of this broadside are known? My research shows three others have come up for auction. They are three different copies. You can see when they come up that the condition is different.

What’s the world auction record for this piece? The highest price I found was in 2010 at Heritage Auctions, which sold a copy for $6,572.50.

One of the teams featured on the broadside is the Homestead Grays, also known as the Washington Homestead Grays. Hake’s Auctions image

How did this particular copy manage to survive in such good condition? It was probably indoors instead of outdoors, and when the store owner was finished displaying it, he took it down and put it away, and it stayed in the building for who knows how long. Or, it went back to a team executive who took it back, and it stayed in a team archive for a while. Or, it went to a player. Executives’ and players’ estates are often the way this material comes to auction. That’s how a lot of it gets to the public.

Is there anything else out there among NLB collectibles that comes close to this broadside? There’s a 1924 Negro League World Series panoramic photo that shows 41 or 42 individual players and eight Hall of Famers. That’s the best I could find outside of this one.

This broadside pictures the 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords, which the lot notes say might be the “finest baseball club of all time, black or white.” Could you talk a bit more about that? What makes the 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords legendary? In early baseball, the pitcher and the catcher tend to be the most important from a fan viewpoint. The Crawfords put Satchel Paige on as a pitcher and Josh Gibson as a catcher. Paige was the best and Gibson was the best. Getting both made for a tremendously successful team. Then they had Oscar Charleston, who was one of the top two all-around NLB players ever. With Oscar, they had a dynasty. Add Cool Papa Bell and Judy Johnson, and you have five Hall of Famers on one team, all at the peak of their careers, except Charleston, who was on a slide.

Detail of the broadside picturing ‘Cool Papa’ Bell, Hall of Fame catcher for the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Hake’s Auctions image

What is the broadside like in person? It’s big. It’s 22 inches by 28 inches. A very imposing piece. The clarity is excellent, compared to team photos and other broadsides. The images are so good, you can identify all the people on there. The outer boundary edges and the corners are intact. There are no pieces missing, no chips. Toning [a brown discoloration] is minimal compared to other copies. It’s just a great item. If you’re going to have one piece, this is the one to have. It has so much going for it.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I was at the 2010 auction at Heritage and saw that one in person, but this is the first I’ve handled. I was always a big fan of this piece. Besides its appeal to the NLB collector base, a lot of people collect Baseball Hall of Fame material. This will strongly appeal to them because there’s 15 Hall of Famers on it. And a few NLB guys appear in virtually no other photographs. If you’re looking for those guys, this might be your only chance, ever, to fill the hole in your collection.

How to bid: The 1935 NLB broadside is item 519 in Auction #227at Hake’s Auctions. Bidding on this particular item ends on July 10, 2019.

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By SHEILA GIBSON STOODLEY

Sheila Gibson Stoodley is a journalist and the author of The Hot Bid, which features intriguing lots coming up at auction. Follow her on Twitter at @SGSwritereditor.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Images are courtesy of Hake’s