The best of the best among those who had graced the diamond during the first 45 years or so of professional baseball were given the game’s highest honor on June 12, 1939 when they became the first members of the new Baseball Hall of Fame.
Among the gifts baseball’s first classes of immortals were given that day was a Gruen Curvex wristwatch. It was a timepiece given to only the greatest baseball players of all time.
Babe Ruth got one. Walter Johnson, too. Ty Cobb was late to the party, but showed up to take a bow and chat with his old rival.
Honus Wagner was still coaching and would continue to wear a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform for several more years. The watch he was given on a day that saluted his greatness was eventually passed down to his nephew, Bill Gallagher. In the early 1970s, an aging Gallagher gratefully presented it to a young baseball fan who had helped him around the house.
Now, one of The Flying Dutchman’s most important awards is about to go on the market for the first time. It’s been consigned to Heritage Auctions’ Winter Platinum catalog, where it’s expected to sell for a six figure price.
Each of the 11 living players attending the ceremony at Cooperstown, NY received a watch, but it’s been nearly 10 years since one of them has sold at auction. In 2013, Walter Johnson’s watch sold for nearly $57,000 while George Sisler’s netted a little under $45,000. They’d undoubtedly bring significantly more today.
Made by Gruen, a Cincinnati-based watchmaker, the timepiece is stamped “14K Gold Filled” on the back and carries the all-important inscription: “Presented to Honus Wagner, Member of The Hall of Fame, Baseball Centennial, 1839-1939.”
The watch still ticks but would require some work to keep accurate time. The original crystal is clear and uncracked. The original band was lost years ago and has been replaced by a brown calfskin model and gold buckle.
Founded in 1894, the Gruen Watch Company had been a fixture in Cincinnati and the Curvex model was among its newest and most stylish creations when the Hall opened its doors. The company has been out of business for years but the building at 401 E. McMillan Street remains.
Bidding for the watch and other items in the auction will open February 4.