Freed by an Arkansas judge last winter, most of the massive collection of original baseball images taken decades ago by noted photographer Charles Conlon are on the auction block.
Consisting of 7,462 glass plate negatives, the collection once owned by The Sporting News had been the property of financially troubled sports memorabilia dealer and photo archivist John Rogers. In January, Judge Chris Piazza told a court-appointed receiver he could proceed with a sale of the collection. They’ve been consigned to Heritage Auctions, which is offering them as one lot.
The collection includes a cracked but still usable negative of Conlon’s most famous photo, one taken more than a century ago of Ty Cobb sliding hard into third base. Hundreds of baseball players, managers, coaches, umpires and front office types were photographed by Conlon who began shooting at ballparks in 1904. Conlon’s work appeared in numerous publications and on baseball cards. In the early 1990s, a series of baseball card sets were created, showcasing the photos and books of his work have also been published.
The images were obtained by The Sporting News not long after Conlon’s death in 1945 and remained there until Rogers purchased them with the intention of profiting from rights fees for use of photos processed from the negatives. He also had plans to re-start the baseball card project that ended in the 1990s.
Auction officials say the collection is housed in 85 small boxes that collectively fill about one hundred cubic feet of space. The Conlon archive is made up of three distinct formats, which reflect developments in photographic technology. Images taken by Conlon from 1904 to 1915, appear in 5×7″ glass plate standard. For most of the next two decades, the glass plates shrink to 4×5″ in size. Those taken by Conlon in his final years are 4×5″ acetates.
Here’s what Heritage says about potential buyers:
We expect two distinct interests to compete for ownership-baseball historians aware of the singular importance of this collection, and investors intent upon picking up where Rogers left off. Certainly membership in the former demographic does not restrict participation in the latter.
Maintenance of this enormously important collection should be considered a sacred responsibility to the preservation of baseball history, and we are confident that this Platinum Night auction will locate just such a person who understands his or her vital duty in curatorship.
The current high bid on the collection is $310, 700 with the buyer’s premium. The pre-sale estimate is $1 million or more. Online bidding is underway now with a live session planned for the last week of August.