He probably didn’t use the word since it wasn’t part of the lexicon 109 years ago, but young Fred Beasley of Calhoun City, MS certainly thought those oversized pictures of baseball players were cool. He tucked away the cardboard images his father may have procured after their use in clothing store window. Years passed and the 4 x 8 ¼” cards were forgotten.
That is until his grandson Rick came across them in an old scrapbook. Later this month, the collection of 1914 Boston Garter cards will sell at auction for a price little Fred could have never imagined.
The jaw-dropping discovery of a complete set of 12 just prior to this summer’s National Sports Collectors Convention created quite a buzz in the pre-War collecting community. Rick Beasley had consigned them to Heritage Auctions and after being authenticated and graded, they’re the centerpiece of the company’s Fall Sports Card Catalog Auction.
For decades the cards were wrapped in an old plastic bag, resting humbly in a closet, and then a garage.
“I just didn’t think there was much to it,” Rick Beasley says. He laughs. “I mean, there was a 50-50 chance I could have thrown it away. But it wasn’t meant to be that way. And I am sure glad it wasn’t.”
So, too, is the rest of the collecting hobby: This marks the first time the full dozen has been available at auction in almost three decades. They’ll be offered both as a full set and individually. If the total winning bids of the 12 individual lots is greater than the high bid on the complete set, the cards will be sold to each individual winner—and vice versa.
Bidding on the complete set shot past the half-million-dollar mark almost immediately upon opening at the beginning of September. The “Shoeless” Joe Jackson card alone is already approaching $200,000 – nearly four times what his card realized 13 years ago.
“It’s truly one of the rarest sets ever made,” says Heritage Auctions Executive Vice President Derek Grady. “They were giant cards, unlike anything ever seen before, and they advertised garters. These have never seen the light of day for more than 100 years – literally. The coolness factor is off the charts.”
The garter they promoted was the creation of the George Frost Company of Boston, which began manufacturing the sock supporter in 1879, shortly after it was patented. The company’s ads insisted that the garter was “recognized as an essential of dress by men of every country in the civilized world” and that its Velvet Grip “pays daily dividends in ‘peace of mind.’”
When elastic came to the sock world the need for garters would eventually fade away.
In the 1910s, though, Boston Garter was thriving, and Frost began using baseball players to advertise his garters. In 1912, the company made 16 cards featuring color paintings of players wearing the sock supporters – and showing more than a little leg – among them Christy Mathewson, Hughie Jennings, Walter Johnson and Tris Speaker. The mail-order offerings must not have been a hit with customers: PSA has just one card in its population report, while SGC has only 10.
Frost tried again two years later with two varieties of cards: 12 cards printed in stunning color and another 10 offered in black and white. Different players appeared in each set, with the color cards getting most of the game’s superstars, among them: Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Frank “Home Run” Baker, Walter Johnson, Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Larry Doyle.
The oversized cards were made solely as store displays. Retailers were encouraged to write to the Frost Company “if you haven’t the twelve pictures which should be used for window display.” And the backs of both sets reiterated: “These pictures are FREE to retailers only.” It’s likely most of those cards were eventually thrown out, like any impermanent advertisement: PSA has but two of the color cards in its population count, while SCG counts only 43 in its pop report.
Beasley’s discovery wasn’t just fortuitous. It was historic.
“You always dream about something like this,” Beasley says. “It just hardly ever happens.”
Rick’s grandfather Fred kept the cards in a giant cash ledger from the insurance office owned by his father, Charles Beasley, who in 1915 served the first of his two terms as Calhoun City mayor. Young Fred turned the ledger into a baseball scrapbook.
On the front, he pasted a newspaper cutout of a ballplayer that has worn off over time. He filled the bulging book with newspaper and magazine clippings, Cracker Jack and T206 cards, a 1913 Fatima Team card featuring the Boston Americans, and other colorful advertisements and promotions.
An entire page is filled with a Technicolor portrait of Christy Mathewson from a Tuxedo Tobacco advertising display – which is nearly as rare as the Boston Garters that were also kept safe inside the scrapbook. Rick figures his great-grandfather procured the cards for little Fred.
Fred stashed the scrapbook in a closet and forgot all about it. Rick figures he retrieved it in the late 1940s, after Charles’ death. Eventually, it became part of the family’s collective stuff – one item among many kept in bags and boxes passed from grandfather to father to son to garage, where it’s either stored forever or tossed eventually.
One afternoon not long ago, Rick says he peeked in the bag again before hauling it to the trash. That’s when he realized his grandfather’s scrapbook was among the detritus. Rick thumbed through it, saw the Boston Garter cards, and turned to eBay to see if they were worth something. He found a few listings for around $30 each, which he thought was a score for stuff he’d almost thrown away. Then he realized those were replicas.
“I thought, well, if someone’s willing to pay $30 for a replica, what about the real thing?”
Rick says he started calling card shops around Mississippi and Louisiana for guidance, but no one had heard of the Boston Garters. Most shop owners, he says, “blew me off.” At which point, Rick sent Heritage some photos and requested an appraisal. Within half an hour, Grady was on the phone wanting to visit Rick to see his cards.
“When they do surface, it’s just one card found or kept somewhere, never a complete set,” Grady says. “But here it was, a beautiful, radiant, complete set.”
Grady told Rick what he had – and what they might be worth. And even though bidders are already tussling over the cards, with weeks to go before the auction closed, Rick still doesn’t believe it. One man’s almost-trash is indeed the hobby’s latest treasure.
“I am not sure I can tell you what I think about it yet,” Rick says. “I was just shocked. I don’t know any other way to describe it.”