The signs in Jeff Martin’s office at his law firm in the Washington, D.C., area turned heads for years. He displayed one of the finest collections of baseball advertising, and now some of them are on the auction block.
Martin is offering 32 valuable pieces from his “Capital Vintage Baseball Advertising Collection” in SCP Auctions’ current catalog, some of them dating back to the deadball era.
There is trolley car advertising for Patterson’s Tuxedo Tobacco that featured Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson and John McGraw.
There are cigarette advertising panels featuring Stan Musial, Paul Waner, Lloyd Waner, Lefty Grove, Harry Heilmann and Tony Lazzeri; cigarette die-cut displays featuring Mickey Cochrane and Jim Bottomley; and a Jell-O promotion with Mickey Mantle.
The displays, particularly the trolley advertisements — they are framed and matted — are “museum quality” and are already drawing interest in the auction, which ends June 4. Each frame has UV protected glass.
“I decided that I just don’t have room for all the pieces I own,” said Martin, 69, an environmental litigation attorney for Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP. “There is more than I can actually enjoy.”
In an ideal world, Martin said he would love for the pieces to be on display at a museum. Since that is not happening, an auction is the next best thing.
Martin began collecting the display more than 30 years ago. He had come to the Beltway area shortly after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1978. Born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, Martin graduated from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.
“I was a Twins fan and I fell in love with the artwork, and the joy you experience from seeing life as it was at the turn of the (20th) century,” Martin said.
However, Martin was picky when choosing the advertising displays, only buying items that were in high grade.
“I made a point of that, since I am a perfectionist at heart. I tried only to buy only the most colorful, the best ones on the market,” Martin said. “Part of the enjoyment was getting something that didn’t need improvement
“Even people who weren’t baseball fans were attracted to the images.”
Martin’s favorite piece is what SCP is touting as “the Mona Lisa of baseball advertising signs.” It is a Tuxedo Tobacco box printing proof advertising display of Christy Mathewson.
“It was in my office facing me because it was my favorite to look at,” Martin said. “It’s over 100 years old, but it looks like it was made yesterday.
“The coloring is just vivid and it just leaps out at you.”
Tuxedo Tobacco, famous for its curved green tin and costing only a dime, also had a big presence in newspaper advertising, although not always featuring baseball players.
A 1912 ad in The Boston Globe noted that the tobacco “Makes your old pipe purr with pleasure” and called the product “The Pipe Smoke for Gentlemen.”
“I don’t take pride in the product,” Martin said, adding that no one in his family smoked. “But I loved the artwork.”
Another favorite of Martin’s heading to auction is a 1953 Ty Cobb autographed calendar. A color photo of Cobb encouraging a young baseball player sliding also sports a green ink inscription signed by the Georgia Peach to “Dr. Rankin” on Feb. 9, 1953.
“Rankin” is Dr. Fred W. Rankin, who was a brigadier general and chief surgical consultant with the U.S. Army during World War II and later was president of the American Medical Association and the American College of Surgeons. The native of Lexington, Kentucky, also was a board member of the Ty Cobb Educational Foundation in 1953-1954.
“It’s unusual to see that calendar without advertising,” Martin said.
Martin said he got Hall of Famer Stan Musial to sign a 1947 Chesterfield Cigarette advertising display during a memorabilia show in Baltimore. He counted Musial and Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew as favorite players.
Martin said he was friends with Killebrew and has several of his trophies and game-used memorabilia.
The late Frank Ceresi, who was curator at The National Pastime Museum when it launched in 2013, borrowed one of Martin’s advertising displays — in particular, a 1927 Spalding store model featuring Washington Senators player-manager Stanley “Bucky” Harris — and had a copy made that measured 10 feet wide and 4 feet high. Ceresi had the giant-sized reproduction displayed at Nationals Park when it opened in 2008. What is interesting about the display is that Harris’ first name is misspelled as “Stanlay.”
One piece Martin said was “under the radar” is the Tuxedo Tobacco store display of two of the 1914 “Miracle Braves” heroes, pitcher Dick Rudolph and catcher Hank Gowdy. It came from the collection of the late Barry Halper, the famous memorabilia collector, Martin said.
“It was one of Frank’s favorite pieces,” Martin said. “It was over my left shoulder in my office.”
Martin said he was surprised he was able to assemble such a vast collection, calling them “grossly undervalued.”
“These pieces are so rare and artistically appealing that I’m stunned that they bring in less than some of today’s baseball cards,” Martin said.
One piece that is selling well is a Tuxedo Tobacco trolley car advertisement featuring a young Walter Johnson. With about 10 days left in the auction, it already has passed the $16,000 mark in bidding.
Still, Martin will feel some remorse when the items are sold. So far, 23 of the items have at least one bid.
“I’m really going to miss them,” Martin said. “But you can’t take them with you.”