It’s not surprising that Christy Mathewson was one of photographer Charles Conlon’s friends and favorite subjects. He was different from the majority of baseball players in the first part of the 20th century: college-educated, handsome and a willing subject. Several of Conlon’s most famous images feature Mathewson, a brilliant but sometimes hard luck pitcher whose life ended much earlier than it should have.
An original Conlon image, complete with a fascinating and poignant hand-written note on the back, is the RMY Auctions Photo of the Day. It’s one of only three or four known examples to have been offered publicly–but this one comes with a personal note from the famous baseball photographer and friend of Matty’s.
The 4 ½” x 7 ½” portrait pose dates to the 1912 season, one that ended with a New York Giants World Series loss to the Red Sox, despite Mathewson’s three complete games and an ERA below 1.00.
On the back is the stamp from Conlon’s studio and a note describing the photo in which he details Mathewson’s appearance and gives some insight into Conlon’s efforts to humanize the players through his lens.
“First appearance of crow’s feet under the eyes. Years on the pitching slab under the burning sun beginning to tell.”
Mathewson was 31 or 32 years old at the time and within two years would begin his late-career downward slide. He would be dead by 1925, a victim of tuberculosis aided by a weakened immune system from exposure to chemicals during his service in World War I.
The photo was once in a scrapbook and some residue is present on the back. There is also a tiny crease on the lower left but otherwise remains in good shape. It’s one of only a small number of examples to have been offered publicly making it one of the rarest of the known photos of Mathewson originating in Conlon’s studio.
It’s one of over 500 vintage photographs in the auction, which is set to close next weekend at RMYAuctions.com.