Not everyone has a collection that’s worthy of a book, but over the past 21 years, John Graham of Irving, Texas has been putting together a remarkable collection of store-model gloves that help tell the story of baseball.
The 260 page, full color book displays beautiful store model gloves and other memorabilia from the 19th century through the 1940s.
The Texas collector shared some thoughts on the often overlooked hobby that’s a passion for a growing number of collectors.
What made you decide on gloves for a collecting focus and when did you start?
JG: My passion for gloves began in 1989. I had been collecting baseball cards until about 1985 but became a little disenchanted with the number of issues and manufacturers of cards. I shifted my focus to the vintage baseball memorabilia such as equipment and baseballs (single-signed and team autographed). “We started going to flea markets and shows all over the U.S. and began noticing the old-style gloves. It did not take long for me to really get hooked on the pre-war split finger type of glove from the 1920’s to 1940’s.
How many gloves are in your personal collection?
JG: Right now I have over 1200 gloves in the collection. We also have over 200 gloves with their original boxes. We keep track of them on the computer by endorsed/non-endorsed, Hall-of-Fame, pre-war or post-war, with Box or Autographed.
It is very hard for me to pick out particular favorites but here are my top six:
1. Set of two fingerless gloves from the 1890’s
2. Ken-Wel Lou Gehrig zipper-back glove from the 1930’s
3. Stahl and Dean “speed” model Ty Cobb glove with the original picture box from about 1920.
5. Babe Ruth white D&M G41 Model from the 1920’s.
6. Eddie Collins White Reach Model glove from the 1920’s.
Another very unusual specialty glove is the “Hole in the Pocket” or “Hole in the Glove” baseball mitt. We have only seen a few of these examples and it is said that some of the players (mostly outfielders) in the 1910 era customized their gloves in this manner in order to increase their “feel” of the baseball.
Any stories of great finds you’ve made?
JG: In the book, several stories are mentioned including the following:
In the early 1990’s my son and I would meet up at the huge Brimfield Flea Market near Boston. One time I was out of town in NYC and Chris traveled from Dallas a couple of days early to start the glove hunt. After the first night he called me and nonchalantly told me he had made a couple of finds: (1) under a table next to a mud puddle he had found several gloves that cost $45 total including a Ty Cobb, Tony Lazzeri and G C Alexander and (2) in a pile of gloves at $1 each he found a Babe Ruth catchers mitt. WOW! This was the first Cobb any of us had heard of and it was in excellent condition.
Several years later I was in a trade that resulted in swapping the Cobb for a fantastic 1930’s Reach mint glove w/ box and cash. Later on, in Jan 2007 I was able to purchase from another glover a 1920’s Ty Cobb picture box (same model as Cobb previously owned). With extreme luck on our side, in 2008 I was able to re-acquire the original Cobb glove. Needless to say, parting with this historic and rare pair would require dynamite!
Another story that proved to me that you never know when you will be surprised by an interesting “find” happened when we were living in Tokyo a few years ago. We spent our weekends visiting flea markets and antique stores in Tokyo and outlying areas. I was always on the lookout for baseball-related memorabilia, but never really expected to find anything worthwhile. One time when were visiting a small flea market, we saw a stack of three gloves on a table. Surprisingly, one of the gloves turned out to be a nice Spalding Babe Ruth glove from the 1930’s. After negotiating the price, as you are always supposed to do, we brought that Babe Ruth home to Texas where it belongs!
How do you store/display them?
JG: I like to display most of my gloves and the Glove Book shows quite a few pictures of how they are displayed. I have gloves in stacks, on custom made stands and hanging from the ceiling. Since the boxes are so fragile, I like to have custom-made Lucite boxes made for a lot of the individual boxes to provide protection.
What’s the typical premium and which box might be the most interesting/valuable?
JG: The boxes can be extremely expensive and in some cases, the box can be more expensive than the glove. Condition is important but also the age of the box, whether the box has the player’s picture or attractive graphics, and even the manufacturer, a gloves from certain manufacturers are more popular or in demand than from others.
What are considered the more rare/valuable and/or earliest store model gloves?
JG: The most rare and valuable gloves can be discussed in two categories. First, early non-endorsed turn-of-the century (from the 1880’s through 1920’s) including the fingerless-style from the 1880’s, webless (c 1900) and early crescent gloves with full-web or webless. Beginning in about 1920, the endorsed models of Lou Gehrig (particularly the Ken-Wel zipper back), Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth (particularly D&M G41) and Christy Mathewson gloves would be considered the most rare or most in demand and therefore the most expensive.
Do you know which player was the first to endorse a glove (as an active player)? Was he paid?
JG: I am not entirely sure who first endorsed a glove. In the very early gloves (1910’s), the players may have endorsed glove models without their name stamped on the glove. Joe Phillips of The Glove Collector has said that some Spalding Gloves weren’t stamped but rather were tagged and that a player with the last name of Jones was the first “tag” endorsement in the very early 1900’s. In the early 1920’s, gloves were widely endorsed and with the player’s name stamped on the glove.
JG: The turn-of-the-century era gloves are extremely popular and in demand. Also, there are several gloves with unusual designs that are rare and have a great deal of interest. Some of the early models, unusual and novelty/specialty gloves are as follows: fingerless, webless, crescent (webless and full web), pita pocket, duck web, fielder’s base mitt, tornado palm, ambidextrous, King patent, Decker patent and pre-war 3 finger gloves. All of these glove types are very much in demand.
What made you decide to keep the book’s info limited to gloves before 1950?
JG: I have quite a few gloves and glove boxes from the post-war era (1950’s and subsequent). Many of the post-war gloves are with great picture boxes of guys like Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial and Willie Mays, just to name a few. But because I have recently concentrated more on the very early gloves and the limitations concerning the size and cost of the book we decided to keep this book to the pre-war gloves.
While this book focuses on the older gloves, my passion for collecting extends to bats, trophies, balls and specialty items. Some of my favorite things include antique figural trophies including a set of five large figural Spalding trophies from the 1920’s and store model bats from the pre-war era including Spalding decal bats, college bats and Louisville Sluggers. I also have a number of advertising pieces featuring old baseball players that are great decorative pieces.
To see more of John Graham’s gloves and order the book, visit his website.