As you know, I periodically partner with Grey Flannel Auctions in a program called What’s It Worth?, where we invite Uni Watch readers to submit their potentially valuable sports collectibles for free appraisals.
One person who responded to our most recent call for submissions was longtime reader Bill Kellick, who sent in photos of something very, very special. He didn’t want to put it up for auction (you’ll understand why once you see what it is), but he agreed to write about it for Uni Watch. I’ll hand the mic to him now.
My Father’s MLB Autograph Collection
By Bill Kellick
My father, who was born in 1923, grew up as a baseball fan, spurred on by his baseball-loving grandfather and uncle. From 1935 through 1938, he acquired each yearly edition of the baseball bible of the day, the hardcover Who’s Who in the Major Leagues, by Harold (Speed) Johnson . Who’s Who was an annual treasure trove of baseball information, complete with biographies and statistics for every player, coach, and team official. The bios themselves were little works of art, like this one for Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett:
The bios sometimes included the players’ mailing addresses — unthinkable in today’s world — so my father wrote letters to numerous ballplayers. Many of them wrote back, usually with a nice, cordial letter. My father would then cut out the player’s signature and paste it in his copy of Who’s Who, often next to the player’s bio and usually accompanied by the date of the autograph. Here are some examples:
My father also put the autographs in other places throughout the Who’s Who volumes, sometimes creating a scrapbook effect, as seen in these next several pages:
My father also kept many of the original letters and the envelopes they came in, which show an array of hotel envelopes and stationery:
My father passed away in 2002. From the late 1980s until his passing, we would bond over baseball by playing Strat-O-Matic, with him managing teams like the 1927 Yankees or 1934 Cardinals against my modern-day clubs. This was how I learned a lot more about the players of the past and his recollections of them. This led me to become more interested in his autograph books, which I inherited upon his passing.
Although I have no intention of selling the books, it was interesting to have them appraised. Here’s what Michael Russek of Grey Flannel Auctions had to say about them:
WOW! Very impressive collection of baseball autographs here. My favorite part is that it was your father’s and the work that he put into it.
George Wright, Cy Young, Walter Johnson, and Chief Bender are the most collectible in the autograph market and much of the value lies in their signatures.
How they were obtained is great but some are inscribed to your father and others look like they may have some condition issues with how they were applied/secured to the pages. That said, if all are authenticated, a conservative pre-sale auction estimate would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $4,000 to $8,000.
Paul here. Is that an amazing family heirloom or what? Such an incredible thing to have!
Although not related to Who’s Who or autographs, Bill’s father also kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings that included some great baseball cartoons from the day:
I loved looking at all this old ephemera, and I’m sure you folks did as well. Please join me in thanking Bill for sharing these treasures with us.
That was AWESOME reading this. Just incredible.
Thanks Bill! What a wonderful piece of history
Holy cow that’s awesome. Glad Bill was able to share that with us!
Amazing collection Bill! Thanks to you and Paul for sharing it with UW readers!
What a wonderful collection! Thanks, Bill and Paul, for sharing it with us!
Natural to ask about its value, but the realities of the collectibles market (as reflected in the appraiser’s comments) take some of the joy out of the experience. Autographs personalized for Dad that were pasted to the page are part of the charm of Bill’s collection.
Oh, for sure — sentimental value beats monetary value! But since the appraisal process was how this came to my attention in the first place, I thought it made sense to include that info. Apologies if it was a bit of a buzzkill.
No apologies needed, Paul. No buzzkill. Understand that it was part of the story. Enjoyed the piece.
I love the elegant penmanship of all the signers! (Says one with not-so-elegant penmanship!) Reminds me of the story about former Twin Michael Cuddyer being taken to task by none other than Harmon Killebrew about his autographs. Harmon (who had a beautiful signature) inspired Michael to make his autograph Harmon-approved.
Wow. That’s an absolute museum piece! One thing I can’t help but notice is that the players of those days actually wrote each letter of their names, many of them beautifully so. I miss that. I miss seeing an autograph and knowing who signed it.
Spot on. We are losing this art more with each generation. -C.
Not to be too stalkerish, but I looked up Gabby Hartnett’s address on Google Maps just to see what kind of house a 1930’s major leaguer lived in. Very modest by today’s standards obviously. I wonder of the current occupants realize that a big league ball player lived there. Pretty cool article.
What an incredible collection of autographs! So wonderful to see!
Script writing – a lost art
On the Eppa Rixey stationary, Terrace Park is a suburb of Cincinnati.
The autograph book is amazing.
It should be kept in the family ofcourse, but should an inheritor in the far away future decide to get rid of these baseball treasures, then this collection should be donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame. As it is a reminder of the importance of baseball to Americans during that era. Wonderful to read this article.
That’s an amazing scrapbook! And to get George Wright’s autograph (supposedly the last living member of the first all-professional team) just a year before he died!
I’m surprised at how many players used hotel stationery. Were they signing for fans during idle moments on road trips?
I myself have one autograph, obtained like Bill’s, that I’m going to hold on to forever. Back in the 1990s, Chester “Red” Hoff became famous as the oldest living baseball player, in his early 100s. I wanted to write to him, and as I was thinking about it, I broke my wrist playing baseball.
Thinking that I’d regret it forever if he died before I could get in touch, I wrote to him anyway, using my other hand, and somehow drew a picture of him striking Ty Cobb out in one of his early games; supposedly his happiest memory from the major leagues. I also included a self-addressed stamped envelope.
After I sent it, the postal rates went up, so I gave up on hearing from him, but he wrote back to me and it was delivered somehow! He sent my drawing back, signed with his name and “1911”. I was so happy to hear from him!