Anyone compiling a list of the most impactful people in the sports collecting hobby would have to include Jack Smalling. A collector of autographs since 1962, the Iowa resident not only amassed a jaw-dropping collection of baseball autographs, he actually wrote the book on where to find some of the players. Now, the best items in his massive storehouse of signatures are up for auction—all in one lot.
Heritage Auctions is offering a portion of Smalling’s collection–over 13,000 autographs—in its current auction. It includes ultra-rare signatures of players who made their professional debuts in the 1870s along with others from stars of the 20th century like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. There are some autographs that are so rare they represent fewer than ten known to exist in the hobby.
The entire collection is expected to sell for $200,000 or more. It currently carries a high bid of $65,000 with a week and a half left in the bidding.
Smalling obtained many of his items by tracking down players who were still alive at the time and their relatives, many of whom provided signatures on various documents, old letters, cancelled checks and photographs. In the 1970s, he began publishing and selling “The Baseball Autograph Collector’s Handbook” providing fans with current addresses for past and present players. The book is now in its 19th printing and has led to countless success stories for collectors attempting to secure autographs via US Mail.
Many, if not most, of Smalling’s greatest successes came from trails long since gone cold, but when Smalling first took up his hobby in 1962, quite a few Dead Ball Era legends still walked the Earth, and if not the players themselves, then their children or grandchildren, pleased in that pre-Internet age that somewhere, someone still remembered the man. They were all too happy to drop a cancelled check or a clipping from an old lease into the supplied self-addressed, stamped envelope in fulfillment of Smalling’s request. More than a half century later, Smalling’s collection of autographs numbers in the six figures. –From the auction description
More than 200 Hall of Famers are represented in the collection including a Cap Anson letter, cut signatures of Deacon White, Ned Hanlon, Mickey Welch and Cy Young (PSA/DNA 10), a letter from Hughie Jennings and an index card of Babe Ruth. Due to the huge volume, only Hall of Famers and autographs individually valued in excess of $100 have been authenticated by PSA/DNA. Heritage has included a spread sheet of the autographs in the listing.
Bidding is set to continue through May 17.