He’s chased after cool, old baseball stuff his entire life and part of the fun for southeastern Illinois dealer Craig Halbig of Halbig Vintage Sportscards is finding a collection that hasn’t been discovered by anyone else. A sports-oriented American picker of sorts, he’s traveled thousands of miles over the years, working those trips in between shifts at his regular job. Many times, the drive isn’t worth the gas money. The seller may think what they’re offering is worth a fortune when in reality it’s something you can buy just about anywhere.
That doesn’t discourage him, though.
“The one thing I have learned in my 25+ years of collecting is that you never know when a collection is going to come available,” Halbig told Sports Collectors Daily. “If you don’t make the effort or travel to take a look, you will never know. My motto has always been “you don’t know unless you go”.
Laid out in front of him was a small collection of 1916 BF2 Ferguson Bakery pennants, many of which looked like they hadn’t been handled for nearly a century. Gazing upon the black and white photos and the names was like stepping into a time machine. Ed Walsh. Buck Weaver. Honus Wagner.
They had come from an individual whose father had bought a house many years ago including all of the antiques and collectibles that remained inside.
The collection included ten total pennants. Eight, it appeared were virtually near mint. In any condition, they aren’t easy to find. Possibly distributed as a promotional item inside five-cent bags of bread, the triangular pennants measure about 2 7/8” across the top and are about 6” long at the tip. The photos are less than two inches in size. A complete set includes 97 pennants.
Finding Weaver, Walsh and Wagner would have been a big ‘W’ for Halbig even if they were the lone highlights of this collection but there was also an ultra-scarce Ferguson Bakery Premium Pennant featuring Grover Cleveland Alexander. The backs of the smaller pennants included tabs that could be saved and redeemed for a larger pennant, measuring about 9” x 24” with a 3” x 5” photo.
It’s believed families had to send in 50 bread labels to get a Premium pennant so unless you came from a big family that ate a lot of bread or were very persistent with friends and neighbors, you didn’t have much of a chance to send away for one of the jumbos. Just six different Premium Ferguson Pennants are known—Alexander, Ty Cobb, John McGraw, Miller Huggins, Bill Donovan and Jack Barry. As few as five Alexander pennants were known to have survived over the years with Halbig’s find of one increasing the population by a significant margin.
“Wow!” Halbig said upon realizing what he was seeing. “At first I was really excited about the Wagner but the Premium pennant, as I researched, was the real key to the collection.”
He was able to strike a deal with the seller, who he described as “a super nice guy who knew I was a collector. He was happy to part with them and was happy to get a good price.”
The value of the pennants is into the thousands with the Alexander piece likely to attract strong interest from the most advanced collectors.
"They are so obscure we've never actually had a set to offer," said Rob Lifson of vintage baseball specialist Robert Edward Auctions, which has offered groups of the unique issue over the years.
Considering their scarcity, one would think they’d be worth even more but as pennants rather than traditional cards, some pre-War collectors don’t pursue the Ferguson Bakery Pennants.
“I do think they are a little underrated,” Halbig stated. “They are a different item for collectors. A unique item though that certain collectors do enjoy. I plan to keep a few including Wagner and Weaver, and sell a few of the others. I am a big collector. I have a hard time parting with some items (see what he's listed on eBay here).
Either way, a long lost collection that was probably treasured 97 years ago is back among those who appreciate it. Halbig says its discovery is more proof that there are still pieces of baseball history waiting to be discovered.
“Yes, unique items are out there. Just within the past eight months, I have been fortunate to buy some really nice collections. You just have to network and get your name out there. I have bought from auctioneers, estate buyers, pawn shops and personal collectors. It’s always exciting to get the opportunity to buy a collection.”