It’s not often that a sizeable group of Sporting Life Cabinet cards comes to market all at once, but there’s a big group of the popular and elusive early 20th century issue at Heritage Auctions.
Fifty-two of the beautiful portrait cards, known as W600s, are part of the company’s Spring Sports Catalog Auction. The group includes some of the most desirable cards from the set, which were issued between 1902 and 1911. Some of them are the only graded examples of that particular card.
More than 650 different players are featured in the set; the exact number is unknown because players were offered for sale individually or as part of a redemption program.
The cards were produced and sold by Sporting Life, a weekly newspaper published in Philadelphia from 1883 to 1917 and again from 1922 to 1924. They were marketed as “Cabinet Phototypes of Well-known Baseball Players.” For three two-cent stamps and a coupon, a fan could request one of the many photographs offered by the newspaper.
The unnumbered cards feature images mounted on a thick cardboard frame and measure 5 inches by 7½ inches. Players are shown either in uniform or in street clothes, and the card backs are blank.
The portraits were taken by Carl Horner, a Boston-based photographer who specialized in portraits and produced the most famous photo on a baseball card — the T206 card of Honus Wagner; Horner’s actual photo was taken in 1905, four years before Wagner’s image appeared on the T206s. Many of his photographs appeared in the Boston Post during the early 1900s. The Swedish-born Horner had a studio at 48 Winter Street in Boston and photographed many subjects, including baseball players, during his long career.
He was “a young and talented artist,” an 1888 ad in the Boston Post noted about Horner, and his cabinet portraits of baseball players are testimony to that.
The group at Heritage is loaded with marquee names and Hall of Famers. Tops on the list is an Eddie Plank card graded PSA 6.5. It is one of only two cards graded by PSA of Plank wearing street clothes — and the highest graded card (the other one is a PSA 5). Bidding has already gone well beyond the pre-sale estimate.
Also notable is a Christy Mathewson that is graded PSA 3. It is a Type 3 version of the card and is already at five figures. What is notable about this card is that the last name of “Big Six” is misspelled as “Matthewson.” There was a street clothes version that also had the last name misspelled and a corrected version of the uniform card.
A young Rube Waddell from 1902 is another key card in the auction. This is a Type 1 street clothes version and shows the young pitcher looking dapper in his suit and bowtie. It earned a PSA 7.5 grade and is the highest graded card among the two that were submitted to PSA. The other was a PSA 5. There are only eight PSA graded cards of Waddell in a Philadelphia uniform, spread across four versions.
Other Hall of Famers up for grabs in the auction include Cy Young, John McGraw, Napoleon Lajoie, Fred Clarke, Jack Chesbro, Willie Keeler and Clark Griffith.
The auction for the W600 cards will close on May 12.