Sports memorabilia appraisal fairs don’t always turn up terrific pieces of history. More often than not, it’s a box of baseball cards from the 1980s or 90s or a box of souvenir type items that would be better suited for a garage sale than a major auction catalog.
Heritage Auctions recently opened an office in Chicago and last month, an older man walked in, hoping to learn the value of some old autographs he’d inherited from his father, a sports fan and collector of autographs at a time when the only reason to collect signatures was for fun—not profit.
These weren’t just scraps of papers with obscure names from long ago. The group of 11 signed pieces were first day covers signed by the members of baseball’s 1939 Hall of Fame inaugural class. Among them: two Babe Ruths, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, George Sisler and Grover Alexander. Despite some toning on the 78-year-old stamped envelopes, they had been well-preserved.
The man’s father had attended the Coopertown induction ceremony in 1939 and got some of the envelopes autographed at the time. At least one was apparently signed at a later date as Lajoie dated his signature “2-1-41”.
The collective value of the covers is over $100,000 and they’ll be among the featured items in the Heritage August catalog auction. Here’s a look at some of them: