A one owner collection of historic baseball memorabilia generated millions of dollars in auction sales Thursday afternoon.
Christie’s and Hunt Auctions conducted the auction at Christie’s Rockefeller Galleries in New York with bidders also participating online and by phone. The auction opened on September 24 but the top end items saw the heaviest action during the final seconds. Curated over a 25-year period, the collection featured iconic players, teams, and moments in the history of Major League Baseball with specific focus on items of scarcity. The 246-lot auction generated $9,390,125.
The top selling item was the only known autographed photo of Joe Jackson known to exist. The black and white image of Jackson in his playing days with Cleveland more than a century ago was first sold in 2015 for $179,250. Now encapsulated with a Mint 9 autograph grade from PSA, the photo rocketed to over $1.4 million on Thursday—a record price for any sports photograph. It had been expected to bring less than one-third of that amount.
The 8″x 10″ photo, said to date from 1911, originated in the personal collection of early Cleveland Plain Dealer photographer Frank W. Smith. According to Heritage Auctions, which originally sold the photo in 2015, the original consignor’s husband purchased it, along with dozens of other baseball photos, from acquaintances of the Smith family for $15,000 in 2010.
“The ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson autographed photograph realized an exceptional, yet deserved, record price. The combination of unique scarcity, high condition grade, and unimpeachable primary source provenance all contributed to interest from bidders in the US and overseas,” stated David Hunt, President of Hunt Auctions.. “The results for the Jackson signed photo and other highlight items within the Extra Innings Collection illustrate a continued recognition of the historic sports memorabilia category as a leading investment.”
Also crossing the seven-figure mark on Thursday was a game-used Babe Ruth bat, one dating to his New York Yankees career in the late 1920s. The bat included eight “home run notches” believed to have been carved into the wood by Ruth himself. The bat sold for $1,050,000.
“Last season I started a stunt which gave the boys quite a laugh for a long time. I started “notching” my bats for home runs, like the old gunmen used to notch their guns when they killed a man,” Ruth recalled at the time. “Every time I would hit a home run I would cut a notch in the bat handle of the club I had used.”
Another bat from a pre-World War II era star—this one a Honus Wagner game model dating to the 1910s—got the heavy action started Thursday morning when it sold for $437,500.
A collection of items from the life and career of Joe DiMaggio were also featured including a personal, handwritten letter to wife Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s. The photo sold for $525,000, more than five times the pre-sale estimate.
A group of rare early Hall of Fame postcards autographed by the players, combined to sell for more than $300,000 including one of Ruth that went for $150,000.
A 1920s Ruth barnstorming cap netted $350,000, a signed Christy Mathewson 1911 photo went for $137,500 and Pete Rose’s own copy of the five-page document that banned him from baseball for life in 1989, signed by Rose and commissioner Bart Giamatti, sold for $150,000.
Among the trading cards sold Thursday was a signed copy of Lou Gehrig’s 1925 Exhibit rookie postcard which netted $687,500, an SGC 9 1933 Goudey Gehrig ($175,000), a 1928 Ruth signed Exhibit ($175,000O), and a 1910 E90-1 Jackson rookie graded SGC 5 ($212,500).