In the first act of Becket, the titular character invites King Henry II to use a fork for the first time. Becket explains that forks are a ‘new invention’ designed to prevent the dirtying of hands, but a defiant Henry points out that the fork becomes dirty. Foreshadowing the debates to come, Becket then reasons that the forks can be washed. To this, Henry, perhaps best played by Peter O’Toole, quips, “So are your fingers. I don’t see the point.” So began a millennia of utensil use in Western civilization – or so the author would have you believe.
Some eight centuries later, Novelty Cutlery of Canton, Ohio would be in the business of manufacturing utensils. During that same time a postcard craze gripped the nation and it seemed as if every manufacturer attempted to print one kind or another as advertising. Many of those postcards have been forgotten to history, but the ones produced by Novelty Cutlery from roughly 1908 to 1910 became iconic, because they featured images of the most popular baseball players of the era. Among the legends featured in the issue were first class Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, and Walter Johnson.
Because postcards were often mailed, and handled more frequently than trading cards, it is often difficult to find them in conditions above what the third party graders have labeled ‘excellent’. That is what made the find recently sold by Conestoga Auctions so unusual, as almost all the specimens among the examples sold were among the highest ever graded by PSA. This resulted in the strong hammer price of over $90,000 when including the auction’s 18% buyer’s premium.
Among the auction highlights were two examples of Honus Wagner, which some consider the key card to the set. A PSA 6 example sold for $18,880, while a PSA 5.5 closed at $12,890. In other impressive sales a PSA 6.5 Christy Mathewson went for $14,160, a Ty Cobb/Wagner for $11,210, and Walter Johnson – on what some collectors identify as his rookie issue – brought a strong $9,440.
“I didn’t have to look at population reports to know I was looking at exceptional examples and when exceptional examples become available, they will attract the discriminating collector and bring exceptional prices – and these did. It’s like the old saying, you have to buy me when you see ‘em cause you may not see me ever again,” explained Keith O’Leary, an active collector of the set who attended the auction and personally inspected the postcards. Following the auction, O’Leary reviewed PSA’s population reports and discovered that nearly all of the cards were either the sole highest graded, or tied for the highest grade ever received in the set. In fact, the lowest any of the postcards in the sale ranked was tied for second.
For collectors interested in obtaining a Novelty Postcard of their own several examples – including Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie – are are currently available on eBay.