One of the great things about our hobby is that “finds” big and small can come just about anywhere and anytime. Bill Phippen found that out first hand with his first major purchase of baseball cards since returning to the hobby after a 20-year hiatus.
Phippen was offered a large collection which he agreed to purchase because of the larger variety of modern cards in the grouping, most of which were in really nice shape. The gentleman from whom he purchased the cards was selling them to fund his switch to Beatles collectibles and did not want to deal with baseball cards anymore. A group of about 120 pre-World War I cards were included in the purchase, only about 20 of which portrayed baseball players. One, though, made it all worthwhile.
From his home in Santa Clarita, CA, Bill started researching the cards he purchased and discovered a couple of them were part of the legendary N172 Old Judge set issued in the 19th century. Taking a good, long look at such cards is important because even veteran collectors, auction houses and other miss gems that are sometimes in plain sight. Last year, a T 206 Old Mill Brown Back, which some collectors believe is worth more than five figures was purchased for all of $51 in an eBay auction. I recently purchased an 1948 ‘gray front’ Arnie Risen variation for about 10 percent of book value of the regular version. The only reason I even looked at the Risen card was he was a fellow Columbia grad and imagine my surprise when the package came and I saw that I had a version which recently in graded form for double the listed book price. So yes, there are often hidden “hits” available in collections.
In the course of his research, Phippen realized the photo on the Old Judge card, which was that of Hall of Famer Deacon White did not match the name (“McGreachery, Mgr”) on the card. White, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013, is famous for saying late in his career: “But I will say this. No man is going to sell my carcass unless I get half.” That was one of the first instances of verbiage used which presaged the whole baseball union movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Deacon also believed the world was flat.
So why was Deacon White pictured on the card above someone else’s name? Did the tobacco company not recognize a man who was, at the time, one of the game’s best known figures? Not likely. There are eight other White poses in the N172 set.
It’s quite possible that it was a low key joke playing upon White’s strong religious beliefs and his advancing age.
White, you see, played for Detroit in 1887, not Indianapolis and there was no player or manager named “McGreachery” in professional baseball at that time. It’s quite possible that the folks at Goodwin, the maker of Old Judge Tobacco, created the card on purpose, according to the pre-War card fans at Net54.
Members say the roots of words comprising the name “McGreachery,” in Old English and Latin, translate to “Sweet Son of God” and “Fall from Grace.” White’s religious beliefs earned him the ‘Deacon’ nickname and despite a brilliant career, filled with championships, by 1888, he was on the downside of his career. Collectors on the message board suggested the name “McGreachery” is a double-entendre and perhaps the card was created as sort of a ‘suggestion’ that he step aside as a player and become a manager. It might also be possible, that White was in on the joke.
Since only two have been discovered (the first was in the 1980's), it seems the card was never distributed on a large scale, giving more credence to the 'joke' theory. It wouldn’t be the first Old Judge card to feature some subtle creativity.
Art Whitney is pictured with a dog, perhaps to illustrate the much-traveled player needed to learn a little something about loyalty. On another card featuring Thomas Poorman of Milwaukee, the text has a space between “Poor” and “Man” (thus reading “Poor Man”) with a photo that sort of shows him in a ‘begging’ position.
It’s not a stretch to say after printing so many cards, the folks at Goodwin wouldn’t have been up for a little hijinks but we’ll never know for sure.
Whatever the case, the card is scarce and Phippen then reached out to a leading Old Judge expert , who confirmed Bill had hit a collecting jackpot.
Phippen opted to consign the card to Robert Edward Auctions, which specializes in rare vintage cards. A full page will be devoted to it in the company’s upcoming Spring auction because of the scarcity and the great story behind the find. The reserve will be set at $10,000.
Phippen says he has a special Beatles gift in mind for the person from whom he purchased the collection and he is truly going to enjoy the April ride in seeing how the bidding plays out.