Dave Hill spent a lifetime collecting autographs. His family is going to realize a signature moment when they are sold this weekend in SCP Auctions’ Fall Premier sale.
The Dave Hill Autograph Collection, consisting of 16 lots and 8,732 autographs — including 186 Hall of Famers — is part of the SCP Auctions sale that ends Saturday night.
Hill was many things during his life — a pitching star in high school, college and the minor leagues; a second lieutenant during the Korean War; family man; and a finance officer for the Central Intelligence Agency for nearly two decades. A man of meticulous habits, Hill kept detailed records of his purchases and even kept the check stubs for big ticket items.
“He had notebooks of pictures of players with their statistics on the back,” said Hill’s youngest daughter, Nancy Lane.
The items for sale in the SCP Auctions sale include a lot that contains nine signatures (on index cards and cut signatures) from the inaugural Hall of Fame class in 1939; another lot includes signatures of Frank ‘Home Run” Baker, Rogers Hornsby, Mel Ott, Al Simmons, Branch Rickey and Chuck Klein. A third lot contains index card signatures of Dizzy Dean, Lefty Grove, Carl Hubbell, Dazzy Vance, Satchel Paige and Ed Walsh.
Other tough-to-find autographs include Harry Agganis, Moe Berg, Sam Leever, Lou Criger and Stan Coveleski.
Hill’s collection is a timeline of baseball’s best players throughout the 20th century.
A native of St. Louis, Hill was born April 29, 1929, and began collecting autographs as a youth. His passion grew through the years.
“It just developed into a hobby,” Lane said. “He probably started collecting them in his teens. He might have gotten some of the autographs at Sportsman’s Park.
“He was always sitting at his desk, going through boxes. The autographs were always in cigar boxes since my dad smoked cigars.”
Hill tracked down players’ autographs by attending games, going to events where a player was in attendance, writing letters or buying signatures from other collectors.
Hill’s wife, Jewell, neatly typed up — in alphabetical order — the names of every player whose signature was in her husband’s collection, along with the year of the player’s birth and the year of his major-league debut.
Jewell, who died in August at age 88, was no stranger to sports, either, as she edited the sports page at Southwest High School in St. Louis and considered Cardinals star Stan Musial as her favorite major-leaguer.
However, Jewell Roberts’ favorite player was a 5-foot-10, 170-pound right-handed pitcher out of St. Louis named David William Hill Jr. The two met in high school, where Jewell was class valedictorian and Hill starred on the diamond for the Steers.
Jewell was a big baseball fan, too.
“My mother said she and my grandmother would go to Ladies Night at the Cardinals games, or they’d go to a doubleheader for a nickel,” Lane said. “They got to see Jackie Robinson and many other stars.”
Hill’s favorite team, curiously, was the St. Louis Browns.
“He liked to back the underdog, or maybe just the lesser-known team,” Lane said.
Hill became well-known in high school. In 1947 he pitched a six-hitter for his sixth win in seven decisions, helping Southwest beat Soldan and clinch St. Louis’ Public High League championship for the first time in four seasons.
Hill, along with Jewell, attended George Washington University in St. Louis. The pitcher then turned pro, signing with the Mattoon Indians of the Class D Mississippi-Ohio League. He proved to be a durable hurler, going 9-6 in 1949. He pitched in both games of a doubleheader on Aug. 8 and also tossed a one-hitter a month later in the playoffs against Centralia.
Hill won his first seven decisions in 1950 and finished with a 20-10 record. He was sold to the Chicago White Sox’s Class C Northern League affiliate in Superior, but never threw a pitch there as the Korean War beckoned.
Dave and Jewell were married in December 1950 before he shipped out. After Hill earned his lieutenant stripes out of basic training, he spent the duration of the war working as a finance officer in Denver. Jewell, meanwhile, wrote for Time/Life.
After returning to St. Louis to start a family — the couple had a son, David III, and daughters Diane and Nancy — Hill began his career as a finance officer for the CIA. The job took him and his family around the world, and they lived in such far-flung places — and some quite volatile ones — as Lebanon, Thailand, Austria and West Germany.
His boss at the CIA in 1976-77 was George H.W. Bush, who would be elected the 41st president of the United States in 1988. Bush died Nov. 30 at the age of 94, and Lane remembers her parents meeting the then-CIA director and his wife, Barbara, in Bonn, West Germany. Barbara Bush even hosted a luncheon for the wives of CIA employees, so Jewell got to spend time with the future first lady.
Surely, given Hill’s love for autographs, he should have one of the former president. Or does he?
“You know, I don’t know if he does,” Lane said. “I still have a storage unit full of autographs, everything is in boxes. There could be one in there. There could be autographs of presidents and other dignitaries.
“Every time I open a box, I find something new. Something that always brings back some memories.”
An avid tennis fan, Lane was delighted to find autographs of Rod Laver, along with brochures from tennis tournaments that were signed.
Lane, who like her father became a finance officer, said Hill, who died on July 17, 1995, in San Diego, was wheeling and dealing before the advent of eBay.
“He was not a computer person,” Lane said. “He built his contacts through the years.
“He seemed to love trading with other collectors.”
A big chunk of Hill’s autograph collection will be in different hands soon, and Lane admits to a tinge of sadness.
“It is bittersweet,” she said. “But the nice thing about it was how SCP talked about the branding, and especially my mother’s role. That to me was very important.”
So is the legacy of Dave Hill.
“He’ll live on through these autographs, and so will his passion,” Lane said.