Golden Age Artifacts
PHOTOGRAPHER CHARLES M. CONLON’S NEGATIVES ARE PIECES OF HISTORY THAT DOCUMENT THE LEGENDS OF BASEBALL
For four decades, Charles M. Conlon documented the men of Major League Baseball – in retrospect, the “Golden Era” of the oldest-surviving professional sports league.
Today, many of Conlon’s images are instantly recognizable, having appeared in early Reach and Spalding guides, newspapers, advertisements and on baseball cards. His photo of Ty Cobb sliding into third base at Hilltop Park in 1910 is considered the first “action” sports photo.
“From 1904 to 1942, Conlon captured some of the giants of baseball’s golden years,” says Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions at Heritage. “Looking through his images, you see close-ups and portraits of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Christy Mathewson. It’s safe to say he was baseball’s biographer for much of the first half of the 20th century.”
After his death in 1945, Conlon’s negatives were held by The Sporting News, which owned the archive until 2010 when it was sold to a sports memorabilia dealer. In December 2015, an Arkansas judge approved the sale of the Conlon archive to help settle debts incurred by the dealer.
Nearly 7,500 original negatives from the Conlon Photographic Archive, sold as one lot, realized $1.79 million at an August 2016 Heritage auction.
Vintage photographs represent a growing category in sports collectibles, Ivy says, but Conlon’s images are more than photos. “These are original negatives, and in many ways, these images fall into the category of fine art … comparable to the greatest photographic images by the century’s greatest photographers.”
A selection of rarely seen images produced from Conlon’s negatives are presented here.