A collection of more than 7,400 glass plate negatives of baseball players originally taken by pioneering photographer Charles Conlon in the first part of the 20th century sold for nearly $1.8 million Saturday night.
The archive, once owned by The Sporting News, had been the property of financially troubled sports memorabilia dealer and photo archivist John Rogers. In January, an Arkansas judge told a court-appointed receiver he could proceed with a sale of the collection to help settle Rogers’ debts and a court-ordered liquidation of his assets..
Heritage Auctions sold the collection as one lot. The price included a 20% buyer’s premium.
“Conlon’s photography is as much fine art as that of Ansel Adams – iconic images that are uniquely American in style and subject,” said Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Collectibles at Heritage Auctions. “Although the winning bidder declined to be identified, they now own a very important collection of both American and baseball history.”
With access to players of both the National and nascent American Leagues, Conlon was able to capture on film just about every leading figure of the game during his 38-year career. His early glass plate portraiture gradually grew to include action shots, including the well-known “cloud of dust” image from 1910 of Ty Cobb sliding into third base which ranks as one of the most famous baseball images of all time.
The Conlon Archive became the property of The Sporting News not long after Conlon’s passing in 1945, and was purchased by Rogers from that source with the intent of monetizing the rights through the licensing of the images.
While the photo archive drew the highest single price, high-grade examples of some of the hobby’s most well-known sports cards generated unprecedented prices. Among them: 1969 Lew Alcindor ($501,900), 1968 Nolan Ryan ($612,359) and a 1963 Pete Rose ($717,000). In all, the auction realized $13.67 million. Eight of the top 10 prices realized were claimed by rare and high-grade trading cards including:
- 1963 Topps Pete Rose PSA 10 (1/1) $717,000
- 1916 M101-5 Babe Ruth PSA 7 $717,000
- 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan PSA 10 (1/1) $612,359
- 1969 Topps Lew Alcindor PSA 10 (1/1) $501,900
- 1952 Topps Willie Mays PSA 9 $382,400
- 1956 Topps Mickey Mantle PSA 10 $382,400
- 1954 Topps Hank Aaron PSA 9 $358,500
- 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax PSA 9 $215,100
A Jackie Robinson game bat from his 1947 rookie season sold for $478,000 trailing only Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series home run model among record tallies for post-war lumber. The ring issued to Herb Pennock for his World Championship service to the fabled 1927 New York Yankees found a new owner at $203,150, the highest price ever paid at auction for that elite vintage.
Maurice “Rocket” Richard took top honors for hockey memorabilia in Platinum Night action, bringing $89,625 for his 1947 NHL All-Star sweater, the highest price ever paid for a Richard gamer. And the cap worn by the iconic Babe Ruth in his final Major League game commanded $167,300, a record for a Boston Braves model.
Additional highlights from the auction included:
- 1909-11 E90-1 American Caramel Joe Jackson Rookie PSA EX 5.:Realized: $143,400
- 1913 Philadelphia Athletics World Championship Pocket Watch Presented to Eddie Collins.: Realized: $40,630.
- 1915 Cracker Jack Joe Jackson #103 PSA NM-MT 8.: Realized: $107,550
- 1916 Standard Biscuit D350 Babe Ruth Rookie PSA Good 2.: Realized: $131,450.
- 1925 Exhibits Lou Gehrig Rookie SGC 30 Good 2.: Realized: $35,850
- 1934 Tour of Japan Official Photograph Album.: Realized: $43,020
- 1934 Babe Ruth Tour of Japan Presentational Pennant.: Realized: $45,410
- 1959 Roberto “Momen” Clemente Game Used Bat, PSA/DNA GU 10.: Realized: $50,190.00
- 1971 Topps Roberto Clemente #630 PSA Gem Mint 10.: Realized: $71,700.00