Collecting Cap Anson

By Howard Rosenberg

In 1995, at the very end of a Mastro telephone auction, a game-used bat came up for sale. The swatting stick had just been put on the market, after being acquired by Bill Mastro from the last surviving grandchild of early baseball star Adrian “Cap” Anson.

After Mastro recommended it to well-known collector Marshall Fogel, who was still on the telephone line, Fogel bought it for $6,000. Recently, Fogel said he was offered more than $200,000 for the bat in a combination of cash and trade value. In an interview with SCD, Mastro estimated the bat’s value at around $100,000 and, at a bare minimum, at least $50,000 to $60,000.

Fogel, a Denver lawyer, called the bat “an integral part of my bat collection: the oldest Hall-of-Fame bat that I’ve been able to acquire that I’ve been able to prove was game used and was owned by the player that’s in the Hall of Fame.” He does feel that the bat is worth about as much as he was recently offered.

Proof that 19th-century bats were game used is especially difficult, because so much time has elapsed. However, Fogel said this particular one, 60 ounces and 34 inches long “never left the (Anson) family from the time he had the bat to the time that Cap’s granddaughter Virginia Sherwood put it up for sale.”

From her mother, Sherwood had inherited a strong combination of originally signed letters and other original items special to Anson. She sold off the vast majority of what she had to Mastro in the 1990s. Taped to this particular bat were box scores from consecutive games in the 1880s when Anson hit five home runs over short fences in Chicago, which in right field were around 200 feet from home.

Mastro told SCD that while there is no proof that Cap used it, and that it was unclear which family member affixed the information card, it “looked like the card was on it forever.”

He said the main problem with early bats “is that they are lost for all time because they don’t have any markings that show they belonged to” a particular player. That means that on the authenticity scale, authenticators next place great stock in bats that come from family members or that were part of prestigious collections.

Oddly enough, at the time he acquired the bat, and despite its “gigantic” size, Mastro said he didn’t give much thought to it, as prices for bats were still relatively low. Only within the past decade have bat values gone through the roof.

There are at least two other reputed game-used bats from Anson, at least from his big-league career. The second bat was also acquired by Mastro from Sherwood, and it was sold for $20,700 by Robert Edward Auctions in 1995. That bat came with a brittle and darkened piece of paper attached to it that tells who was given the bat by Anson.

The third reputed bat weighs somewhat less than the first one, 48 ounces, and is around 36 inches long. Anson’s bats apparently got lighter starting around 1887, when pitching rules changed dramatically to allow, for the first time, for overhand deliveries. Before then, at the start of each at-bat, the batter told the pitcher whether he wanted to receive pitched balls entirely above the waist, or entirely below. The pitcher, who generally threw from no higher elevation than sidearm, had to oblige, and for each pitch that diverged from the batter’s request, the umpire called a ball on the pitcher.

The 48-ounce bat was ingeniously acquired by Dr. Richard Angrist, a New Jersey collector. To learn how he might acquire an Anson bat, he hired a memorabilia detective who tracked down the name of Sherwood’s son Darryl, who indeed had one. It was made by J. F. Hillerich & Son in the company’s first year, 1897 – and Anson’s last as a player. Of special interest to Angrist was that it has a very carefully scored handle, meaning it was filed to presumably give Anson a better grip. By the way, the bat does not contain any brand marking, but that was customary in that era.

Angrist, around the time he acquired the bat in 2005, had been on a 10-year quest to acquire game-used bats from all members of the 500-Home Run and 3,000-Hit clubs. Anson, a member of the 3,000-Hit club, is the only 19th-century player in either group, as well as in the 1,500-RBI club. Now, Angrist can boast to having a full run.

Of all the bats he has acquired in those categories, there are two players who have even fewer reputed game-used bats than Anson: Joe Jackson and Napoleon Lajoie, and Angrist has both.

In breadth, Fogel claims to have the largest and most complete Hall of Fame game-used bat collection. His next-oldest bats that may be game-used are also impossible to determine for sure; they include the likes of Fred Clarke, Roger Bresnahan, Joe Tinker and Frank Chance.

Although not in the same class as the Angrist and Fogel bats, there is an Anson-related one still in the possession of his descendants: great-grandson Darryl Sherwood has a silver-colored bat that Notre Dame presented Anson in 1898; Anson had attended the college’s high school-age boarding program in the late 1860s.

For buffs of early baseball memorabilia, Anson is one of the most treasured names, with memorabilia of his a relatively late addition to the buyer’s market.

However, for a company like Mastro, Anson is a drop in the bucket. After all, Mastro Auctions has bought and sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of sports memorabilia and now does around $45 million in sales per year. Mastro said he has bought 19th-century collections worth a lot more, and that a downside of the Anson collection is that there is not a lot of stuff from his playing career. Most of it was from later on, Mastro noted.

By far the largest accumulation of Anson memorabilia surfaced in the 1990s, soon after Virginia Sherwood, Anson’s last surviving grandchild, sold many of the family’s most-valuable memorabilia items to Mastro. They included dozens of letters Anson signed to family members while he was city clerk of Chicago from 1905-07.

Mastro said he bought Sherwood’s collection for around $80,000, and that the letters were the highlight of it. “For years, I’ve run small ads in all the big antique papers and I guess somehow she found me through one of those and called me up.”

He ended up visiting her and Florida and was “in and out in a day.” While he had a picture taken with Sherwood, Mastro says it was not because he gets a particular thrill in meeting family members of baseball stars. Mastro noted that for him it was a business deal, adding that he bought everything that she showed him. Still, he found her memorabilia “just unbelievable.”

The letters entered the market in the $2,000 range, said Kevin Keating, owner of Quality Autographs and Memorabilia of Virginia. “Resurfacing examples have sold for varied prices and commonly trade in the $5,000-$10,000 range today.” Before the letters entered the market in the 1990s, a telegraph written and signed by Anson had sold in 1991 for around $10,000. “This was an astronomical amount at the time for an autograph. Few baseball-related items of any kind had cracked the five-figure mark then, and fewer still the number of items for their autograph value.”

Keating suspects that the 1991 sale inspired Anson’s family to release letters and documents into the market shortly thereafter.
Mastro found the letters especially marketable because, despite being written to family members, Anson liked to sign his name “A. C. Anson.”

“It was great for me because that’s what people want to buy. People don’t want to buy a letter signed ‘Dad’ or ‘Pop.’ ”
At the time he bought the letters, finding Anson’s autograph was impossible, Mastro said. Thanks to his purchase, that is no longer the case.

Mastro says he is not a big autograph guy and that what he buys for his personal collection has to be eye-popping. He likes to display his collectables in his home and that as far as letters, “To me, it’s a very boring sort of collectable” and is not very interesting to frame and put on the wall.

This past December, something in the eyepopping category – a baseball signed by Anson with a signature grade of 5 and a ball grade of 1 – was sold by Mastro Auctions for $73,000. The ball came from a collection of single-signed, 19th-century balls.

Like the ball, which also contains the notation “Mgr. Chicago B.B.C.,” much of Anson’s surviving memorabilia has a tie-in to Chicago, the city where he played for 22 of his 27 professional seasons, which spanned 1871-97. Of his 22 Chicago years, 1876-97, he was captain-manager for the final 19. At first, the Chicago club was known as the White Stockings. Then, by the 1890s, it became more commonly known as the Colts, for all the young players on the team. A strong Chicago connection remains to most of the items from his post-career, 1898 to 1922, as he continued to live there except while touring extensively in vaudeville in the 1910s.

It is to his post-career that most one-of-a-kind Anson items relate. They include contracts and publicity materials from his vaudeville career. One such item was the original plate of a cartoon of Anson by future Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist John McCutcheon in the mid-1890s. The cartoon, which Anson used widely in his publicity, refers to Chicago’s 1886 championship.

The plate was among a number of items from granddaughter Sherwood that Chicago-area dealer-collector Dan Knoll acquired from Mastro shortly after Mastro acquired them. Mastro said he sold the overwhelming majority of items he acquired from Sherwood to Knoll, with the exceptions of many of Anson’s letters, a few pictures and a uniform.

Knoll said Mastro’s Anson memorabilia was so popular among established dealers, who wanted to buy the items for their personal collections, that “Bill may have even said that this stuff will not even make it to public sale.”

Knoll did eventually unload all of his Anson holdings, after deciding to focus his personal collecting on items related to the 20th-century Cubs’ championship teams from 1906-84. However, “I guess the older I get and the more mature of a hobbyist I get the greater the appreciation I have for Anson and of that time period of that ilk because look where the game is at today.” Of all the items of Anson he owned, the one he remembers the most was a city clerk-era letter to his daughter that started out in a very fatherly fashion, and ended in a more business-like way, with Anson apparently taking a break between writing the different parts of the letter.

The earliest known photographs of Anson are a picture of his 1867 Marshalltown junior team and one of him with his Rockford, Ill., team in 1871; the Rockford card sold for $20,000 in a Mastro auction in 2000. Back in the 1980s, an original of the 1867 picture was obtained in a Sports Collector Store telephone auction by noted baseball picture expert Mark Rucker, without knowing Anson was in it. He merely knew that it was from a team in Iowa and that it was said to be from the 1870s. Rucker first noticed that a different player in the photo bore a resemblance to one he had seen in a book.

Then his attention was drawn to a blonde youth in the far right of the photo. Rucker thought the youth had a “distinctive profile” and soon deduced that the player had “the same curly blonde hair I saw in an Adrian Anson photo when he was in Philly. The nose was right, the hair was right, and at 15 years old, the height was about right. I then printed out every Anson photo I could find, laid them all side by side, and then I knew I was right.” Had Rucker not won the auction, the image may have never been discovered. He sold the image soon after acquiring it, for $8,500.

Other group photos or collages in which Anson appears include his Philadelphia Athletics team that he played for from 1872-75; and his Chicago team. While Anson played 22 years for Chicago, surviving group photos or collages of the Chicago team are concentrated in the 1870s and 1880s. When the team sat for a group picture in Galveston, Texas, in 1895, it reportedly was the team’s first in seven years. “Anse doesn’t believe in pictures,” the Galveston Daily News said at the time. Right after that photo was taken, he did have proof sheets sent to Chicago newspapers and four dozen copies made that were 17-by-24 inches. Some were for advertising the team on the road.

Anson, with other star players of his day, can readily be found on tobacco cards. He did smoke cigars but never apparently smoked a cigarette. While he hardly drank, he appeared in a pretty ad for E.J. & Burke Ale with New York captain Buck Ewing in the late 1880s. In 1897, Charles Zuber of the Cincinnati Times-Star wrote, “There is only one case of (sic) record where ball players received a large remuneration for acting as models for an advertisement. Those players were Capt. Ewing and ‘Old Man’ Anson. It was before the Brotherhood War (of 1890, the year of the rebel Players’ League), when Ewing was in the very zenith of his glory. A certain ale manufacturing concern wanted a taking ad. (sic) for its goods and decided that a base ball picture was the best thing. So when the Chicagos came to New York this firm arranged for Ewing and Anson to sit in front of a tent on which the ad of the company was emblazoned. Barrels and cases of the product were placed in close proximity and Ewing and Anson, in their uniforms and each with a glass of ale poised graceful in his hands, were in the foreground. The ad made a big hit and Ewing and Anson received $300 (about $6,000 in 2007 dollars) and a case of ale each. It was quick and easy for them.”

By the way, during spring training of 1895, Ewing was at an inn in Mobile, Ala., that had the picture on a wall. “There was the time that I was pretty well stuck on myself,” said Ewing, looking at the advertisement. “That firm gave me $500 (about $10,000 today) for having that photograph taken.”

Uniforms of players from the 19th century are rarities, and one such item, a circa 1888 jersey of Anson’s, was sold for $36,800 in the 1999 Sotheby’s Barry Halper Collection auction. Sotheby’s called Halper’s jersey “arguably the best 19th-century jersey in the Halper Collection.” However, the authenticity of that jersey is still a matter of debate.

Mastro said he looked at the jersey and “never thought it was real.” He felt it just didn’t have the right age to it. He also said, “I am sure I have things in my collection that are no good,” and that sometimes the key to authenticating something is the number of critical eyes that examine it.

In a telephone interview, Richard Russek, president of Grey Flannel Auctions, which authenticated the uniforms in the Halper collection, stood by its authenticity.

The only other uniform of Anson’s allegedly from his big-league career is owned by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
A second Halper jersey related to Anson came from Anson’s granddaughter, who sold it to Mastro, who in turn sold it to Halper. The jersey is from his semipro career, which spanned 1907-09. “Anson’s” is across the chest in brown felt letters. It sold for around $4,900. Mastro said, however, that the jersey was too small to have been worn by Anson, who at the time tipped the scale at around 280 pounds.

There is no known documented Anson glove, said Dave Bushing, an authenticator at MEARS. Bushing added, “He would have used one of the new-fangled fingerless models or workman’s glove or maybe both, each of which bring thousands of dollars without any player documentation. If one could be identified to having been worn by Anson, it would be the most valuable glove ever sold.”

Anson appe als to collectors for various reasons, including his great name recognition and having played for so long in Chicago, on the oldest 19th-century franchise to be continuously in the same city at the big-league level. As the first player to reach 3,000 hits, he is one of the few players before 1900 who can be neatly inserted in discussions of modern-day players. Anson’s infamy as a racist during his playing career – including uttering the “N-word” in reference to an opposing black player moments before a game at Toledo in 1883 – has not diminished his value.

As is true of many of his baseball contemporaries, the largest volume of surviving items are baseball cards. In physical quality, the Anson one that has worn the best is in the 1887 Allen & Ginter set, because it was printed on heavy cardboard, said Kevin Struss, who is in charge of vintage cards at Mastro Auctions. Also, that set was made in a fairly large quantity. For anyone seeking to acquire a “very good” grade of Anson from his playing days, about the lowest price would be for a card from that set, which Struss said can be found for around $3,000. High-grade 19th-century cards are rare, and a PSA 9 grade of that card of Anson recently sold for $26,450.
Struss said Anson is absolutely the gold standard for 19th-century cards, and that Mike “King” Kelly is a distant second. For example, a nice Old Judge of Anson will go for $10,000, while a similar one of Kelly will fetch around $4,000. A nice Old Judge of most 19th-century Hall of Famers usually can be bought for around $1,000 to $2,000, Struss said.

The rarest Anson is an Old Judge card of him in his playing uniform. Struss is knows of just four examples, three of which are in private hands, with the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York now holding the fourth. “A nice one today could go for $200,000. It’s kind of like the Honus Wagner of 19th-century cards; it’s really popular,” he said.

He is not aware of any diehard collectors of Anson cards. Today, there are not as many single-player collectors as there used to be, Struss explained, and collectors today tend to focus on sets. Struss himself once owned some significant Anson cards, which he later sold.

Unique to Anson, but yet not too scarce, are bottles from his failed venture in ginger beer. “I am now making preparations to begin the manufacture of ginger pop,” Anson told a reporter after the 1891 season. “Yes, I will put Captain Anson’s ginger pop on the market next season. It will be invigorating, stimulating, but not intoxicating, as they say about circus lemonade.”

By the summer of 1892, his enterprise would be a failure, even though it had been previously sold in ballparks, including in Detroit in 1883.

In spite of its name, the beer was not alcoholic. In explaining Anson’s failure, the Chicago Tribune said his bottler had not known that yeast, when it sours, is combustible: “Those who bought it will not forget their experiences to their dying day. All one had to do was to hit the metal cork on the bottle against something. The beer would do the rest. An explosion would follow of no small proportions, and the entire section of the grand stand where the bottle was opened would receive a delightful shower bath of ginger beer.”
In 1999, Sotheby’s sold one of his ginger beer bottles, empty of course, for $920.

Mastro Auctions has also sold a few of them, and the founder has one in his personal collection. “Mine still has the little metal cork lid that goes on top too,” Mastro boasted. Otherwise, his current collection of Anson includes a high-grade Old Judge cabinet card, a copy of Anson’s 1900 book, and a few photos, including a postcard taken at the old Riverview Amusement Park in Chicago that hangs on a wall of his home.

The 1900 book, A Ball Player’s Career, is not too scarce, and sometimes can be found with Anson’s inscriptions. Brad Wackerlin, owner of the website www.capanson.com, acquired one such book in 2005. On an Internet auction, I came across a copy with the name of a descendant of Anson’s brother Sturgis, the only sibling of his who lived to adulthood. As part of the digitization of books no longer covered by copyright, the 1900 text is now searchable at the following Internet link: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/19652.
Also potentially not scarce are pins from his 1905 campaigns for city clerk of Chicago, and his failed 1907 run for sheriff of Cook County. However, a campaign poster of his from 1905 is rare; one acquired from Anson’s granddaughter was in the Halper Sotheby’s auction and sold for around $3,200.

Among ballplayers, walking sticks were hugely popular late in Anson’s career, and the Halper auction sold one for around $3,100. The cane features portraits of 11 players, including Anson, with the handle shaped like a baseball.

Anson can also be found on Chicago scorecards, especially in 1888 and 1889. In 1888, Chicago teammate Fred Pfeffer bought the rights to sell them on Chicago’s grounds and made their covers especially pretty. Anson is featured in an ad in them – for floating soap. Besides being known for touting a well-dressed team off the field, Anson liked to change his lineup at the last minute, thereby making them inaccurate. A collector somewhere could have a September 1888 scorecard with the following language that Pfeffer had printed on them; the prose was reported by a newspaper that month: “Anson has a way of changing the players just before the game when it is too late to make any changes in the score-card. We try to have them right, but are not proof against his dreams (of his thinking of new lineups while asleep).”

In another variation of the scorecard, in 1889, Pfeffer had these sentences printed: “Newspaper correspondents accompanying base ball teams in most cities are supposed to write in favor of the team they travel with. It is so with the scribes journeying with the Bostons and New Yorks, but just the opposite with the reporter who follows the Chicagos.” At the time, the Chicago Tribune reprinted the comment and defended itself as providing an “unbiased, uncolored account” of games. Also, “More good ball playing and fewer excuses for poor ball playing will probably result in reports more to Editor Pfeffer’s liking.”

An item featuring Anson that was widely recorded for posterity, but may not have made it to the modern era, was a print ad on behalf of the Chicago team, in 1892. During his Chicago career, he otherwise was rarely featured by himself on posters, and this one drew lots of notice. Their total cost was around $1,000, which would be about $20,000 in today’s dollars.

One day that May, Ren Mulford Jr. of the Cincinnati Times-Star reported that the Cincinnati club had just received three-panel posters of Anson containing the following phrase: “I’ll be here and the Colts will be with me.” A month after Mulford, the Baltimore American said the Baltimore club had just received posters from Chicago. “Anson’s bust looms up in great form, and underneath it says: ‘I will be here, and so will the Colts on June 4, 6 and 7.’ The advertisement is very attractive.” Days later, the Washington Post said there is a poster in town showing Anson with “his celebrated remark, ‘I’ll be here and the Colts will be with me.’ ” Near the end of the season, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, “Anson will be here to-morrow for the last time this season, and the Colts will, of course, be with him.”

Also yet to be discovered is a diary he supposedly kept, going back to the late 1860s when he attended Notre Dame’s program for high school students. In 1897, a writer who analyzed Anson’s ledgers at the school wrote, “Adrian kept a diary, which, by the way, if it could be unearthed, should prove interesting reading.” In a recollection in 1911, Anson wrote in a newspaper serial, “I had got the diary habit, and the books are still in my possession.” When I checked with grandd aughter Sherwood in 2001, she said she never heard of him having one.

As far as his signature, Anson at one time “was considered one of the scarce guys but not rare. I don’t know if he’s scarce today,” said Mike Gutierrez, consignment director of Heritage Auctions. Gutierrez noted the few dozen city clerk-era letters that genuinely have his signature. On the other hand, he pointed to the appearance, every so often, of cut signatures of Anson in pencil and said he suspects a lot of them are forged. “Until proven innocent, I think they’re all guilty,” he said. He also said that cuts of Anson signature are not taken from his letters, because ever since baseball memorabilia collecting became a business around 1980, collectors know that letters have more value than cuts, on the order of double the value or more. He said cuts were a popular style of collecting decades ago when people would write to the widows of famous people, but that it produced highly suspect results.

Gutierrez called Anson’s writing “Spencerian,” in the style of noted U.S. penmanship teacher Platt Rogers Spencer, who lived from 1800-64. In the second half of the 19th century, it was the style taught in schools, and the style is pronounced in the “up and down flows of the n’s and the way of looping c’s.” Not until the 1920s did baseball autograph styles change dramatically, when styles were chosen liberally by signers “according to how they feel about it rather than how they were taught,” Gutierrez said.

During Anson’s career, newspaper coverage of him was so extensive that includes some incidental mentions of memorabilia that is of general interest to collectors today. For example, in September 1885 at St. Louis, Chicago’s Ed Williamson and Pfeffer played a tabletop baseball game made by the Lawson Card Co. of Boston. The company was presumably paying them and others to compete for a league title. “Anson sat beside Williamson and smiled serenely at the manner in which his men laid out the St. Louis players (Jack Glasscock and Alex McKinnon)” in winning, 21-4. For each winning game, a player got a $20 gold piece, worth about $400 today. Each loser got a $5 one.

Before his tenure as city clerk from 1905-07, minimal prose in Anson’s pen can be found. The meatiest prose about him, in any original pen, can be found in mostly in one place: the 1870s and 1880s Chicago baseball club files at the Chicago Historical Society. The heart of the correspondence was written to successive Chicago club presidents William Hulbert and Albert Spalding, who are both Hall of Famers. A descendant of the club’s late 19th-century groundskeeper, Charles Kuhn, donated the files a few decades ago.
One 20th-century public collection with Anson’s signature is in the Archives of the Cook County Circuit Court, relating to litigation over his bankruptcy around 1910.

There are some Anson signatures that aren’t his own, and mostly relating to letters stamped in his official capacity during his tenure as city clerk. Several years ago, Halper gave this writer two bank items with his signature from the late 1890s, which most likely is in the handwriting of Mrs. Anson.

Although it probably never reached the collectors’ market and has not been preserved, Anson did perhaps write under a pseudonym at least once – in 1897, after he came under fire in Chicago newspapers for his handling of his players during a lousy season. One day that summer, the Chicago Tribune ran a letter in Anson’s defense from Charles Allen, who claimed to be “a true friend of Captain Anson.”

In a rebuttal to the Charles Allen letter, someone named Charley Horse argued that judging by its phraseology, it may have come from Anson. For example, Charles Allen wrote that “it may be of interest to (Charley Horse) to be told that Captain Anson has the absolute confidence of the controlling members of the company (the Chicago club) and he is given carte blanche to run the club as he sees fit. During the present disastrous season they have stuck closer to him than ever, and ‘in defeat they are not divided.’ ”

Another gem from Charles Allen was, “At the present time the man who never knows defeat until the last man is out (Anson) is suffering with a severe case of charley horse and spends from three to five hours each day rubbing his leg. He can’t sleep but three or four hours at night, yet he plods along, practicing diligently and conscientiously, endeavoring to lead his Colts on to victory and a higher place in the percentage column.”

The most extensive original photographic collection of Anson belongs to the Chicago Historical Society: negatives from the Chicago Daily News that contain about 20 images of him mainly from the first decade of the 20th century. The pictures mainly relate to his political and semipro baseball careers. One possible historical last is a picture of Anson at a golf tournament in the summer of 1921, less than a year before his death.

In card collecting, a common tale of woe is about the mother who cleaned out her son’s closet without him knowing and threw them out, thinking they were not worth anything. A possible corrolary is that in memorabilia collecting, a family member will sometimes sell off some prized items, and then another family member will scoop them up when they come on the open market. In 2002, a photo of Anson and two of his daughters with President Warren Harding showed up on eBay, having been sold off by Anson’s granddaughter, and Jeff Smith, a grandson of granddaughter Sherwood, acquired it for a few hundred dollars.

The author of this article, Howard W. Rosenberg, has written a series of four books related to Anson published from 2003 to 2006. Rosenberg, who lives in Arlington, Va., methodically examined aspects of Anson’s life and decided to liberally digress to subjects and baseball personalities whom he had ties into.

One of the books in the series, Cap Anson 2, is the definitive bio of longtime teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Mike “King” Kelly, and fills huge gaps in the 1996 Kelly bio Slide, Kelly, Slide by Marty Appel.
Rosenberg concedes that Appel’s acclaimed book is a lot more readable, but adds that Cap Anson 2 is the definitive Kelly bio, text-wise and graphically. Cap Anson 2, which has the subtitle of The Theatrical and Kingly Mike Kelly: U.S. Team Sport’s First Media Sensation and Baseball’s Original Casey at the Bat, doubles as the definitive take on baseball’s ties to the theater through 1900; Anson and Kelly both performed in it.

The other major book in the series is Cap Anson 4, the definitive bio of Anson. Rosenberg defends its subtitle, Bigger Than Babe Ruth: Captain Anson of Chicago, by arguing that contemporaneously, Anson received far more interesting print media coverage than Ruth during their playing and post-careers. Anson is also the baseball figure (prior to the career of Jackie Robinson) who gets the most blame for the drawing of the sport’s color line. Cap Anson 4 addresses the case against Anson in a 22-page appendix.

Rosenberg’s other books are Cap Anson 1: When Captaining a Team Meant Something: Leadership in Baseball’s Early Years and Cap Anson 3: Muggsy John McGraw and the Tricksters: Baseball’s Fun Age of Rule Bending. The first is a topical survey of aspects of early baseball that relate to the role of the then-powerful captain and the less powerful bench manager, with lots of colorful stories about player behavior. The third methodically examines reporting on tricky and dirty play through 1900, with the main emphasis on the 1890s Orioles. In Cap Anson 3, Anson’s Chicago teams and Kelly’s career-long trickery are also thoroughly presented.

The last three books each contain more than 100 graphics, and the author claims that the 180 in Cap Anson 4 is likely the most for the definitive biography of a Hall of Famer. Since the books were printed only as hardcovers, the graphics are of the hig hest quality; unlike softcovers, hardcover ones are printed as “ink on paper.” For further information in general on Anson, check out the Web site http://www.capanson.com and, for Rosenberg’s books, http://www.capanson.com/cap_anson_books.html.

Rosenberg owns just a few original items of Anson, but says he enjoyed reading about him so much in original sources in libraries. Plus, thanks to avid collectors and dealers, he was able to acquire copies of most of whatever else survives, especially pictures and letters.

PART II

This is the second and final part of a unique look at Cap Anson and his collectibles.

The earliest known photographs of Cap Anson are a picture of his 1867 Marshalltown junior team and one of him with his Rockford, Ill., team in 1871; the Rockford card sold for $20,000 in a Mastro auction in 2000. Back in the 1980s, an original of the 1867 picture was obtained in a Sports Collector Store telephone auction by noted baseball picture expert Mark Rucker, without knowing Anson was in it. He merely knew that it was from a team in Iowa and that it was said to be from the 1870s. Rucker first noticed that a different player in the photo bore a resemblance to one he had seen in a book.

Then his attention was drawn to a blonde youth in the far right of the photo. Rucker thought the youth had a “distinctive profile” and soon deduced that the player had “the same curly blonde hair I saw in an Adrian Anson photo when he was in Philly. The nose was right, the hair was right, and at 15 years old, the height was about right. I then printed out every Anson photo I could find, laid them all side by side, and then I knew I was right.” Had Rucker not won the auction, the image may have never been discovered. He sold the image soon after acquiring it, for $8,500.

Other group photos or collages in which Anson appears include his Philadelphia Athletics team that he played for from 1872-75; and his Chicago team. While Anson played 22 years for Chicago, surviving group photos or collages of the Chicago team are concentrated in the 1870s and 1880s. When the team sat for a group picture in Galveston, Texas, in 1895, it reportedly was the team’s first in seven years. “Anse doesn’t believe in pictures,” the Galveston Daily News said at the time. Right after that photo was taken, he did have proof sheets sent to Chicago newspapers and four dozen copies made that were 17-by-24 inches. Some were for advertising the team on the road.

Anson, with other star players of his day, can readily be found on tobacco cards. He did smoke cigars but never apparently smoked a cigarette. While he hardly drank, he appeared in a pretty ad for E.J. & Burke Ale with New York captain Buck Ewing in the late 1880s. In 1897, Charles Zuber of the Cincinnati Times-Star wrote, “There is only one case of (sic) record where ball players received a large remuneration for acting as models for an advertisement. Those players were Capt. Ewing and ‘Old Man’ Anson. It was before the Brotherhood War (of 1890, the year of the rebel Players’ League), when Ewing was in the very zenith of his glory. A certain ale manufacturing concern wanted a taking ad. (sic) for its goods and decided that a base ball picture was the best thing. So when the Chicagos came to New York this firm arranged for Ewing and Anson to sit in front of a tent on which the ad of the company was emblazoned. Barrels and cases of the product were placed in close proximity and Ewing and Anson, in their uniforms and each with a glass of ale poised graceful in his hands, were in the foreground. The ad made a big hit and Ewing and Anson received $300 (about $6,000 in 2007 dollars) and a case of ale each. It was quick and easy for them.”

By the way, during spring training of 1895, Ewing was at an inn in Mobile, Ala., that had the picture on a wall. “There was the time that I was pretty well stuck on myself,” said Ewing, looking at the advertisement. “That firm gave me $500 (about $10,000 today) for having that photograph taken.”

Uniforms of players from the 19th century are rarities, and one such item, a circa 1888 jersey of Anson’s, was sold for $36,800 in the 1999 Sotheby’s Barry Halper Collection auction. Sotheby’s called Halper’s jersey “arguably the best 19th-century jersey in the Halper Collection.” However, the authenticity of that jersey is still a matter of debate.

Mastro said he looked at the jersey and “never thought it was real.” He felt it just didn’t have the right age to it. He also said, “I am sure I have things in my collection that are no good,” and that sometimes the key to authenticating something is the number of critical eyes that examine it.

In a telephone interview, Richard Russek, president of Grey Flannel Auctions, which authenticated the uniforms in the Halper collection, stood by its authenticity.

The only other uniform of Anson’s allegedly from his big-league career is owned by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
A second Halper jersey related to Anson came from Anson’s granddaughter, who sold it to Mastro, who in turn sold it to Halper. The jersey is from his semipro career, which spanned 1907-09. “Anson’s” is across the chest in brown felt letters. It sold for around $4,900. Mastro said, however, that the jersey was too small to have been worn by Anson, who at the time tipped the scale at around 280 pounds.

There is no known documented Anson glove, said Dave Bushing, an authenticator at MEARS. Bushing added, “He would have used one of the new-fangled fingerless models or workman’s glove or maybe both, each of which bring thousands of dollars without any player documentation. If one could be identified to having been worn by Anson, it would be the most valuable glove ever sold.”

Anson appeals to collectors for various reasons, including his great name recognition and having played for so long in Chicago, on the oldest 19th-century franchise to be continuously in the same city at the big-league level. As the first player to reach 3,000 hits, he is one of the few players before 1900 who can be neatly inserted in discussions of modern-day players. Anson’s infamy as a racist during his playing career – including uttering the “N-word” in reference to an opposing black player moments before a game at Toledo in 1883 – has not diminished his value.

As is true of many of his baseball contemporaries, the largest volume of surviving items are baseball cards. In physical quality, the Anson one that has worn the best is in the 1887 Allen & Ginter set, because it was printed on heavy cardboard, said Kevin Struss, who is in charge of vintage cards at Mastro Auctions. Also, that set was made in a fairly large quantity. For anyone seeking to acquire a “very good” grade of Anson from his playing days, about the lowest price would be for a card from that set, which Struss said can be found for around $3,000. High-grade 19th-century cards are rare, and a PSA 9 grade of that card of Anson recently sold for $26,450.
Struss said Anson is absolutely the gold standard for 19th-century cards, and that Mike “King” Kelly is a distant second. For example, a nice Old Judge of Anson will go for $10,000, while a similar one of Kelly will fetch around $4,000. A nice Old Judge of most 19th-century Hall of Famers usually can be bought for around $1,000 to $2,000, Struss said.

The rarest Anson is an Old Judge card of him in his playing uniform. Struss is knows of just four examples, three of which are in private hands, with the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York now holding the fourth. “A nice one today could go for $200,000. It’s kind of like the Honus Wagner of 19th-century cards; it’s really popular,” he said.

He is not aware of any diehard collectors of Anson cards. Today, there are not as many single-player collectors as there used to be, Struss explained, and collectors today tend to focus on sets. Struss himself once owned some significant Anson cards, which he later sold.

Unique to Anson, but y et not too scarce, are bottles from his failed venture in ginger beer. “I am now making preparations to begin the manufacture of ginger pop,” Anson told a reporter after the 1891 season. “Yes, I will put Captain Anson’s ginger pop on the market next season. It will be invigorating, stimulating, but not intoxicating, as they say about circus lemonade.”

By the summer of 1892, his enterprise would be a failure, even though it had been previously sold in ballparks, including in Detroit in 1883.

In spite of its name, the beer was not alcoholic. In explaining Anson’s failure, the Chicago Tribune said his bottler had not known that yeast, when it sours, is combustible: “Those who bought it will not forget their experiences to their dying day. All one had to do was to hit the metal cork on the bottle against something. The beer would do the rest. An explosion would follow of no small proportions, and the entire section of the grand stand where the bottle was opened would receive a delightful shower bath of ginger beer.”

In 1999, Sotheby’s sold one of his ginger beer bottles, empty of course, for $920.

Mastro Auctions has also sold a few of them, and the founder has one in his personal collection. “Mine still has the little metal cork lid that goes on top too,” Mastro boasted. Otherwise, his current collection of Anson includes a high-grade Old Judge cabinet card, a copy of Anson’s 1900 book, and a few photos, including a postcard taken at the old Riverview Amusement Park in Chicago that hangs on a wall of his home.

The 1900 book, A Ball Player’s Career, is not too scarce, and sometimes can be found with Anson’s inscriptions. Brad Wackerlin, owner of the website www.capanson.com, acquired one such book in 2005. On an Internet auction, I came across a copy with the name of a descendant of Anson’s brother Sturgis, the only sibling of his who lived to adulthood. As part of the digitization of books no longer covered by copyright, the 1900 text is now searchable at the following Internet link: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/19652.
Also potentially not scarce are pins from his 1905 campaigns for city clerk of Chicago, and his failed 1907 run for sheriff of Cook County. However, a campaign poster of his from 1905 is rare; one acquired from Anson’s granddaughter was in the Halper Sotheby’s auction and sold for around $3,200.

Among ballplayers, walking sticks were hugely popular late in Anson’s career, and the Halper auction sold one for around $3,100. The cane features portraits of 11 players, including Anson, with the handle shaped like a baseball.

Anson can also be found on Chicago scorecards, especially in 1888 and 1889. In 1888, Chicago teammate Fred Pfeffer bought the rights to sell them on Chicago’s grounds and made their covers especially pretty. Anson is featured in an ad in them – for floating soap. Besides being known for touting a well-dressed team off the field, Anson liked to change his lineup at the last minute, thereby making them inaccurate. A collector somewhere could have a September 1888 scorecard with the following language that Pfeffer had printed on them; the prose was reported by a newspaper that month: “Anson has a way of changing the players just before the game when it is too late to make any changes in the score-card. We try to have them right, but are not proof against his dreams (of his thinking of new lineups while asleep).”

In another variation of the scorecard, in 1889, Pfeffer had these sentences printed: “Newspaper correspondents accompanying base ball teams in most cities are supposed to write in favor of the team they travel with. It is so with the scribes journeying with the Bostons and New Yorks, but just the opposite with the reporter who follows the Chicagos.” At the time, the Chicago Tribune reprinted the comment and defended itself as providing an “unbiased, uncolored account” of games. Also, “More good ball playing and fewer excuses for poor ball playing will probably result in reports more to Editor Pfeffer’s liking.”

An item featuring Anson that was widely recorded for posterity, but may not have made it to the modern era, was a print ad on behalf of the Chicago team, in 1892. During his Chicago career, he otherwise was rarely featured by himself on posters, and this one drew lots of notice. Their total cost was around $1,000, which would be about $20,000 in today’s dollars.

One day that May, Ren Mulford Jr. of the Cincinnati Times-Star reported that the Cincinnati club had just received three-panel posters of Anson containing the following phrase: “I’ll be here and the Colts will be with me.” A month after Mulford, the Baltimore American said the Baltimore club had just received posters from Chicago. “Anson’s bust looms up in great form, and underneath it says: ‘I will be here, and so will the Colts on June 4, 6 and 7.’ The advertisement is very attractive.” Days later, the Washington Post said there is a poster in town showing Anson with “his celebrated remark, ‘I’ll be here and the Colts will be with me.’ ” Near the end of the season, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, “Anson will be here to-morrow for the last time this season, and the Colts will, of course, be with him.”

Also yet to be discovered is a diary he supposedly kept, going back to the late 1860s when he attended Notre Dame’s program for high school students. In 1897, a writer who analyzed Anson’s ledgers at the school wrote, “Adrian kept a diary, which, by the way, if it could be unearthed, should prove interesting reading.” In a recollection in 1911, Anson wrote in a newspaper serial, “I had got the diary habit, and the books are still in my possession.” When I checked with granddaughter Sherwood in 2001, she said she never heard of him having one.

As far as his signature, Anson at one time “was considered one of the scarce guys but not rare. I don’t know if he’s scarce today,” said Mike Gutierrez, consignment director of Heritage Auctions. Gutierrez noted the few dozen city clerk-era letters that genuinely have his signature. On the other hand, he pointed to the appearance, every so often, of cut signatures of Anson in pencil and said he suspects a lot of them are forged. “Until proven innocent, I think they’re all guilty,” he said. He also said that cuts of Anson signature are not taken from his letters, because ever since baseball memorabilia collecting became a business around 1980, collectors know that letters have more value than cuts, on the order of double the value or more. He said cuts were a popular style of collecting decades ago when people would write to the widows of famous people, but that it produced highly suspect results.

Gutierrez called Anson’s writing “Spencerian,” in the style of noted U.S. penmanship teacher Platt Rogers Spencer, who lived from 1800-64. In the second half of the 19th century, it was the style taught in schools, and the style is pronounced in the “up and down flows of the n’s and the way of looping c’s.” Not until the 1920s did baseball autograph styles change dramatically, when styles were chosen liberally by signers “according to how they feel about it rather than how they were taught,” Gutierrez said.

During Anson’s career, newspaper coverage of him was so extensive that includes some incidental mentions of memorabilia that is of general interest to collectors today. For example, in September 1885 at St. Louis, Chicago’s Ed Williamson and Pfeffer played a tabletop baseball game made by the Lawson Card Co. of Boston. The company was presumably paying them and others to compete for a league title. “Anson sat beside Williamson and smiled serenely at the manner in which his men laid out the St. Louis players (Jack Glasscock and Alex McKinnon)” in winning, 21-4. For each winning game, a player got a $20 gold piece, worth about $400 today. Each loser got a $5 one.

Before his tenure as city clerk from 1905-07, minimal prose in Anson’s pen can be found. The meatiest prose about him, in any origin al pen, can be found in mostly in one place: the 1870s and 1880s Chicago baseball club files at the Chicago Historical Society. The heart of the correspondence was written to successive Chicago club presidents William Hulbert and Albert Spalding, who are both Hall of Famers. A descendant of the club’s late 19th-century groundskeeper, Charles Kuhn, donated the files a few decades ago.
One 20th-century public collection with Anson’s signature is in the Archives of the Cook County Circuit Court, relating to litigation over his bankruptcy around 1910.

There are some Anson signatures that aren’t his own, and mostly relating to letters stamped in his official capacity during his tenure as city clerk. Several years ago, Halper gave this writer two bank items with his signature from the late 1890s, which most likely is in the handwriting of Mrs. Anson.

Although it probably never reached the collectors’ market and has not been preserved, Anson did perhaps write under a pseudonym at least once – in 1897, after he came under fire in Chicago newspapers for his handling of his players during a lousy season. One day that summer, the Chicago Tribune ran a letter in Anson’s defense from Charles Allen, who claimed to be “a true friend of Captain Anson.”

In a rebuttal to the Charles Allen letter, someone named Charley Horse argued that judging by its phraseology, it may have come from Anson. For example, Charles Allen wrote that “it may be of interest to (Charley Horse) to be told that Captain Anson has the absolute confidence of the controlling members of the company (the Chicago club) and he is given carte blanche to run the club as he sees fit. During the present disastrous season they have stuck closer to him than ever, and ‘in defeat they are not divided.’ ”

Another gem from Charles Allen was, “At the present time the man who never knows defeat until the last man is out (Anson) is suffering with a severe case of charley horse and spends from three to five hours each day rubbing his leg. He can’t sleep but three or four hours at night, yet he plods along, practicing diligently and conscientiously, endeavoring to lead his Colts on to victory and a higher place in the percentage column.”

The most extensive original photographic collection of Anson belongs to the Chicago Historical Society: negatives from the Chicago Daily News that contain about 20 images of him mainly from the first decade of the 20th century. The pictures mainly relate to his political and semipro baseball careers. One possible historical last is a picture of Anson at a golf tournament in the summer of 1921, less than a year before his death.

In card collecting, a common tale of woe is about the mother who cleaned out her son’s closet without him knowing and threw them out, thinking they were not worth anything. A possible corrolary is that in memorabilia collecting, a family member will sometimes sell off some prized items, and then another family member will scoop them up when they come on the open market. In 2002, a photo of Anson and two of his daughters with President Warren Harding showed up on eBay, having been sold off by Anson’s granddaughter, and Jeff Smith, a grandson of granddaughter Sherwood, acquired it for a few hundred dollars.

Editor’s Note: This story originally ran in the 04-13-07 and 04-20-07 issues of Sports Collectors Digest, a sister publication of Tuff Stuff magazine. To see what else SCD has to offer go to www.sportscollectorsdigest.com

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