It must have been quite a party for little Cooperstown, NY. Seventy-five years ago this summer, the upstate village honored the first inductees into the brand new Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and invited all of the new living members to come. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson and others did show up, dressed in their best suits. At the little post office across the street from the Hall, workers were busy hand cancelling stamps placed on special envelopes created to mark the occasion.
In Cleveland, a few months later, members of a local stamp club happily added the covers to their collection but then went one step further. They mailed them to the new Hall of Famers and asked them to sign the front. True to the era, the players dutifully added their autographs and returned them. Now, one of those envelopes, bearing 11 signatures, is up for auction at Mile High Card Company—but that’s not all. The consignor’s father, a stamp collector and baseball fan, even saved the letters he sent requesting those autographs.
“What we have is the envelope itself signed by the 11 Hall of Famers along with the onion skin typing paper letters that were sent to several of the players including Cobb, Johnson and Eddie Collins as well as the envelopes they sent back to him with the request,” said Mile High Card Company President Brian Drent.
The letters are dated September and October of 1939, with typewritten return envelopes from Johnson and Collins. The consignor has also included a copy of his father's birth certificate to verify that the envelopes are indeed sent to the correct party at the listed address.
The current high bid is over $22,000.
Amazingly, the consignment came from a person who lived in Drent’s own Denver area neighborhood but whom he had never seen or met until receiving a phone call about the autographs.
Sending the cover to each player, one-by-one, seems like it would have been a risky venture. A break in the chain with one player failing to respond or the letter being lost in the mail, would mean a valuable piece of baseball history would have been lost forever. Safe to say, it was a different time.
“Today we’d never think of doing something like that,” Drent told Sports Collectors Daily. “This is an incredible item. The last one, I think, sold for $57,000 about four years ago but keep in mind in 1939 autographs weren’t worth what they are today. It doesn’t seem as much of a leap of faith as it would be today to pass the envelope, by mail, from player to player and hope it would be returned and quite honestly, they were stamp collectors first, not autograph collectors so maybe the value to them was simply in the completeness of the item.”
A second envelope with autographs obtained by another member of the stamp club exists but those are the only known surviving examples of the Cleveland club’s project.
The auction closes Thursday night at MileHighCardCo.com.