With most catalog auctions ending in the wee small hours of the morning when the final, weary-eyed bidder collapses upon their keyboard, there is a certain charm that exists only in the live auction setting. Few sports memorabilia auction houses continue to mount live auctions, but for more than a decade Pennsylvania-based Hunt Auctions has developed a proven model that has led to relationships with the NFL and MLB and memorabilia consignments from legendary athletes and their estates. For 11 years the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory has played host to one of Hunt’s premier auctions, and the 2011 sale, held on Saturday, would feature several items of significance.
Items connected to the 1927 New York Yankees always command a premium. The team featured two of the game’s most important figures in the form of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, as well as Hall of Famers Tony Lazzeri, Earle Combs, Waite Hoyt, and Miller Huggins. Team signed balls appear periodically, but the signed photograph auctioned this past Saturday in Louisville is one of the most significant items related to the team ever to come to market. Taken in Spring Training, the photograph was signed by all 43 players and coaches pictured as well as the unpictured team president Ed Barrow and owner Jacob Ruppert. The bidding for the photograph was intense, with multiple phone bidders battling with one another until the hammer fell at an incredible $230,000 ($264,000 with the 15% buyer’s premium).
In conjunction with the auction each year Hunt hosts an appraisal fair at the museum where individuals can have their memorabilia appraised in a scene reminiscent of Antiques Roadshow. This year a Louisville native brought in a Louisville Slugger bat from 1911-’16 featuring decals of some of the era’s greatest stars: Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Home Run Baker, Eddie Collins, Harry Davis, and Nap Lajoie. The bat had previously been appraised more than two decades ago for $5,000, and remained in the possession of the consignor’s family for nearly a century. While decal bats are seen frequently, this unique bat, featuring six decals, is unlike anything those present at the auction ever recall seeing. The decal’s late addition to the auction brought about unprecedented buzz, quickly escalated in price through online bidding, and closed at $49,5000 ($56,925 with the buyer’s premium). Some collectors have speculated that this may have been the highest price paid for a store model bat.
Other noteworthy items in the auction included a signed Babe Ruth ball originally presented to a Navy fitness instructor during World War II that has remained in pristine condition over the past seven decades. Hunt Auctions described the ball as one of the finest Ruth signatures they have ever seen, which explains the final price of $80,500. A Warren Spahn 1949 Boston Braves road jersey sold for $29,900. The first significant ring offered publicly from the 2008 Phillies World Series team – belonging to Ramon Henderson – sold for $24,2000 as another late addition.
Items of lesser value, but nevertheless worth mentioning, included a Roberto Clemente bat dating from the late 1960s that guests were invited to hold and take photographs with at a reception the evening before the auction. The bat sold for $6,325. Perhaps the most poignant items in the auction were the orders sending Christy Mathewson back to the United States following his toxic exposure to poison gas, which was signed by him as ‘Christopher Mathewson, Captain C.W.S. (chemical warfare school)’ that sold for $7,475. Lastly, owning to their longstanding connection to Philadelphia, the auction included a 1910 Athletics championship pin that sold for $10,350.
Hunt’s next featured live auction will take place during Super Bowl week in Phoenix.