His stature in the game remains almost mythical as if his career was something created by a novelist or Hollywood scriptwriter. But Shoeless Joe Jackson was quite real… and quite human as two items recently consigned to auction reveal.
An ultra-rare Jackson signed document, one of the few and perhaps the finest of its kind to survive the decades, offers a glimpse of a newly wedded professional ballplayer buying a home just before World War I. An exceedingly rare Jackson Old Mill tobacco card presents an even younger man, still a decade from baseball banishment, full of promise. Both items have emerged from long hibernation in private collections and are among the featured items in Robert Edward Auctions’ upcoming spring catalog auction.
The signed Jackson document, dated in the spring of 1916, looks like a check but is actually a voucher that records a mortgage payment made directly on Jackson’s behalf by the Chicago White Sox. The signature is scripted in black fountain pen at the base of the front, a painstakingly simple, yet bold autograph. Despite legends to the contrary, Jackson could sign his name—but only with great effort and by copying his wife’s script.
“The popular legend that Joe Jackson could not sign is a myth,” said Robert Edward Auctions president Robert Lifson, “It is true he was illiterate, but with great effort he could sign his name. He tried his best not to call attention to the fact he couldn’t read or write, so Jackson hardly ever signed anything. When he did, it was only because he had to.”
Even signing a contract or a receipt for receiving payment was very rare for him, hence the incredible rarity of Jackson signatures today.
“Authentic Joe Jackson signatures are virtually nonexistent,” said Lifson. “A real Joe Jackson signature in the world of autographs is a lot like the T206 Honus Wagner in the world of baseball cards. Only rarer. Examples just don’t show up. It’s one of the ultimate collecting icons. Joe Jackson is the most valuable of all baseball signatures. And just like T206 Wagners, there are lots of reproductions, but very few authentic examples.”
The Jackson signed document is one of approximately five such vouchers that were purchased more than 20 years ago directly from Jackson’s sister, Gertrude. In 1993, one of them sold at public auction, at that time for $27,500.
“We remember one other example selling publicly at either Christies or Sotheby’s around the same time for a similar amount,” recalls Lifson, “But none have been seen since. We assume there are a couple more out there somewhere, but so far we can account for three. This one was purchased privately in the 1990s directly from the original find. The buyer was told it was the last one. He bought it right away and it has not seen the light of day since.”
In 1916, after being traded to Chicago from Cleveland, Jackson had just purchased a home in Savannah, Georgia, and this document relates to the purchase. The voucher, which is both preprinted and filled in by hand, is dated “Savannah, GA., Mch 6, 1916” and reads “On Apr 17 – 1916 Pay to the Order of Savannah Realty Investment Co., Sixty-Five 00/100 Dollars. Value received and charge the same to account of Joe Jackson; Harry Grabiner Secy Chicago White Sox, Chicago, Illinois.”
Such a transaction allowed the White Sox to deduct the amount from Jackson’s salary and make the house payment directly to the bank on his behalf. An endorsement stamp of the Savannah Realty Investment Co., appears on the reverse, below which is the signature of the company’s vice-president. Bank stamps appear on the front and reverse.
“This document represents one of the finest Joe Jackson signed items in existence, both with regard to the condition of the signature and, most important, its impeccable provenance,” Lifson said. “To have a Jackson signature that is guaranteed authentic, one of just a handful in existence on a legal document, one involving his bank and the Chicago White Sox, and originating directly from the Jackson family – it doesn’t get any better than this for a Jackson signature.”
The reserve is $25,000 and the estimate is open. “There’s no right answer for value on this, but at least everyone is in the same boat.” notes the REA’s Lifson. “All we can say is we expect this to go considerably higher.” The last Joe Jackson signature on a document to be sold in modern times was actually just a cut portion of a document. Presented at auction by REA in 2007, that Jackson signature example, which was once part of the legendary Barry Halper Collection, sold for $44,.062.
The 1910 Old Mill Jackson card can also be placed on the short list of most desired early baseball memorabilia. Fewer than ten are known to have survived to this day. Only a few examples have ever come to auction. Previous examples have sold for six figures. Now, a never-before-seen 1910 Old Mill Joe Jackson card has made its way to the open market. Robert Edward Auctions will offer a VG+ example (PSA 3.5) in its upcoming event. The card has a reserve of $25,000 and carries a pre-sale estimate of $50,000+.
Part of the T210 series, the card shows Jackson as a member of the New Orleans franchise of the Southern League. Red borders have made Old Mill tobacco cards susceptible to wear and few examples exist in high grade. The Jackson card offered by REA is one of the best ever to reach the auction block. Last year, the company sold a PSA 2 example for $111,625.
The T210 Jackson card was locked away for decades in the collection of one of the hobby’s great pioneer collectors who passed away in 2009 and his family has consigned it to REA. It has long been known to exist but has never before been seen publicly or at auction.
The T210 card is part of Jackson’s fascinating early history. He actually made his baseball card debut on the 1909 E90-1 caramel set, despite playing in only a small number of games at the big league level. The youngster wound up being sent to New Orleans during the 1910 season, where he was featured in the exhaustive 640-card set of minor league players issued with Old Mill tobacco brand products. By the end of the year, he was back in the majors, having been traded by Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s to Cleveland.
After a decade-long career, Jackson’s major league tenure ended when he was banned for life over the Black Sox scandal of 1919.
The minor league card marks the only time Jackson appeared on a tobacco card and it’s far more rare than the E90-1 rookie card, perhaps seven to nine times harder to find than the celebrated T206 Wagner.
“The T210 Old Mill Joe Jackson is one of those cards that anyone who really looks at the history of cards, and understands what has been issued for all players, will appreciate as one of the most fascinating and noteworthy baseball cards ever issued,” Lifson said.
It is the highlight of an extraordinary complete T210 Old Mill set that was assembled over a period of many years, and is being offered by series in this auction, with the exception of Jackson and Casey Stengel, which are offered separately.
Jackson’s inclusion in the “Old Mill” set is somehow appropriate. As a youth, he worked in a mill near his Greenville, South Carolina home and his talent was revealed as a teenager when he took the field for the mill’s baseball team and outperformed older players. It’s also when he acquired the “Shoeless Joe” nickname.