HALL OF FAMER’S PERSONAL EFFECTS, INCLUDING NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN BABY PHOTO, HELD FOR DECADES BY FRIENDS OF FAMILY
By David Seideman
Imagine that it’s show-and-tell day in your fourth-grade class outside of New Haven, Conn. You want to impress your teacher, who is an avid Yankees fan. Well, one day, a lucky girl brought her grandpa Bob, and his shared objects left her classmates and teacher speechless.
Bob, who worked for IBM for 30 years, showed the class some special heirlooms that once belonged to the family of Lou Gehrig, one of baseball’s greatest players. Among the sacred relics were signed checks, baseballs signed by him and Babe Ruth, and his game-worn cap from the mid-1930s. Bob let the students take turns wearing the cap.
This Gehrig collection, estimated to be worth at least $400,000, will come up for sale at Heritage Auctions’ Sports Platinum Auction scheduled for Feb. 23 and 24, 2019. It’s one of the most valuable Gehrig collections to surface in more than a decade. But what makes it really extraordinary is its impeccable provenance, the personal nature of the items, and the consignor’s passion.
The story starts sometime in the early 1930s. Gehrig, the Yankees first baseman, was in the prime of his magnificent career. “[He] scored over 100 runs and drove in over 100 runs for 13 straight seasons,” notes the National Baseball Hall of Fame. “He led the American League in runs four times, home runs three times, runs-batted in five times, on-base percentage five times, and batting average once.”
FRIENDS WITH A LEGEND
The “Iron Horse” is best known for playing in 2,130 consecutive games for the Yankees, a superhuman streak, long thought to have been unsurpassable until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it in 1995, and for his inspiring “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech, baseball’s Gettysburg Address. He delivered it to a packed Yankee Stadium in 1939, two years before his untimely demise at 37 from the rare disease now named after him.
In Westchester County, just north of New York City, the mother of Bob’s wife, Jill, became close friends with Gehrig’s mother, Christina, immortalized in the classic 1942 Gary Cooper film The Pride of the Yankees. After the death of Gehrig’s father in 1946, Christina moved to northeast Connecticut with the family of Jill’s mom. There’s even a Little League field named after Lou Gehrig in Milford, Conn.
After Christina’s death in 1954, she bequeathed the memorabilia, via her will, to Jill’s mom.
Jill’s mom kept the collection in a safe along with her jewelry until she passed away in 1998. The full safe moved to Jill and Bob’s house and its contents were divided between Bob and Jill’s brother. “The first thing I asked for was the cap,” Bob says. “I also asked for one or two of the signed baseballs.”
When Bob decided it was time to sell, he contacted Rob Rosen, vice president of sports collectibles at Heritage Auctions. Rosen, a Yankees specialist, flew from Heritage’s Dallas office to meet Bob and his son in Heritage’s Manhattan office. Like any collector, Rosen was astonished. “Everyone,” Rosen says, “wants to see this kind of stuff.”
The highlight is Gehrig’s game-used cap, which has a conservative pre-sale estimate of at least $200,000. “Caps have always been popular,” Rosen says. “It’s something he went to war with, performing his job. Gehrig jerseys now go well into the seven figures and bats well into six figures.” A cap is, thus, a far more affordable game-used item. The tag inside says “Mr” next to Gehrig, a less common attribute that helps Heritage’s experts pinpoint the date when he wore it.
For his part, Bob, 76, has known his collection has been valuable since Jill’s brother sold his half in 2002. He will put the proceeds of his sale into trust funds for his son and daughter and his two grandchildren. “Neither of the kids are baseball fans,” he says. “They don’t have the sentimental attachment to the stuff that I do.”
Over the past 20 years, Bob has shared his love of the collection and of Gehrig with other fans. Besides his granddaughter’s class, he has brought much of his treasure trove to a baseball historical society called Silver Sluggers in Derby, CT, Rotary Clubs, and JC Clubs. As a Father’s Day gift, a 50-year-old man took his 76-year-old dad and a friend to Bob’s house. They spent three joyful hours in his kitchen. Every time Bob shared his gems, he let anyone have his or her picture taken wearing the cap.
A self-described “mini-historian” of Gehrig, Bob is a walking and talking encyclopedia of his all-time favorite player … after Mickey Mantle. “Gehrig’s statistics are so superior to today’s baseball,” he says. “If he didn’t beat Ruth, he was right behind him. What would he have done with five more years? The streak wouldn’t have ended. He was handsome and strong. He adored his parents. He adored children.”
As for Gehrig’s beloved cap, Bob never had a picture taken of himself wearing it because it wasn’t big enough to fit him. “A lot of people have smaller heads,” he says. “It would have sat on top of me like a beanie. I would have looked foolish.”
DAVID SEIDEMAN covers sports collectibles as a senior contributor to Forbes, and his work on the industry has also appeared in Time and Sports Illustrated.
ORIGINAL 19TH CENTURY BEER POSTER EXPECTED TO COMMAND SIX FIGURES
Recruiting professional athletes to pitch beverages is nothing new. Back in 1889, Guinness Brewery selected two superstars of the era, Cap Anson of the Chicago White Stockings and Buck Ewing of the New York Giants, to endorse its E&J Burke “Finest Pale Ale” and “Extra Foreign Stout.”
In the poster, Anson and Ewing are seen enjoying a cold one as a game takes place in the background.
“This has been called the most important baseball advertising poster of the 19th century,” says Heritage’s Director of Sports Auctions Chris Ivy. “It’s recognized as one the great masterpieces of American advertising posters.”
An original example is being offered at Heritage Auctions’ Sports Platinum Auction scheduled for Feb. 23 and 24, 2019. A similar poster sold at auction in 2008 for $188,000. “This particular poster was gifted to the family of our consignor in the early 1900s,” Ivy says. “It was hanging inconspicuously on the wall of their upstate New York home for decades.”
This story appears in the Winter 2018-2019 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition