News & Events
Discover Mid-America August 2008
‘Guys love their gloves’
by Robert Reed
When it comes to sports memorabilia the trusty old baseball glove is almost always a good catch.
Some might still be in the box, but most have seen a season or two. Some might bear the name and endorsement of a baseball legend. And an elite few may have actually been used in a game by a major league player.
Somewhere in between may be the one worn by former President George H. Bush when he played on the Yale baseball team during the 1940s. News reports said he kept it, a George McQuinn “claw” first baseman’s mitt, in a desk drawer at the Oval Office.
All of the above fall under the general but colorful category of collectible baseball gloves.
But it’s the pre-World War II gloves that really attract the attention. “The split-finger gloves,” said Alexander Gardener with Past Time Sports, an e-commerce website based in Texas, “are of more value. Of extreme value are gloves from the 1910s to 1920s like a facsimile (autograph) of Honus Wagner.”
Wagner, nicknamed “The Flying Dutchman,” was the first of five initial inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He played from 1897 to 1917 and was considered by many as the “greatest shortstop ever.”
Most accounts credit 19th century professional pitcher Albert G. Spalding with introducing and later manufacturing one of the first standard baseball gloves. Certainly some variations of gloves were in use by professionals during the 1860s and 1870s, but Spalding was much more daring. In 1877, he wore a distinctive black glove, which was clearly visible to the fans. More timid players had worn flesh-colored gloves, which would appear far less notable to the crowds.
By the 1880s, the sparkling pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and later the Chicago White Sox was making and selling gloves for fellow players. Soon there were others. A. J. Reach, P. Goldsmith, and Rawlings Sporting Goods were all producing baseball gloves and other equipment by the end of that decade. By the 1890s, they were joined by still others including MacGregor and Draper-Maynard.
Draper-Maynard would, in fact, grow to become one of the major suppliers of gloves to major league baseball early in the 20th century. Their Lucky Dog brand was particularly popular with the professionals.
Wilson Sporting Goods Company was selling baseball gloves in the United States by 1915, but within a few years they had pioneered a grand idea. They would use player endorsements to sell baseball gloves to an adoring public, and their equally adoring children.
In the 1920s, the endorsement phase of selling baseball gloves to the public began in earnest. Initially players were reimbursed for such an endorsement with a few extra gloves. Later, in the decades of the 1930s and 1940s, the players were further rewarded with not only extra gloves but also other company products. By the 1950s, player endorsements got to be about money and took off from there.
The 1940s and ‘50s also saw the end of the split-finger glove. Fully webbed gloves became the norm.
Typically an endorsement meant the name of the player was associated with advertising the glove. More importantly the player’s name appeared directly on the glove. Usually it appeared in the form of a facsimile or likeness of his signature. Even though it was not really signed, it impressed youngsters. Even today collectors prefer such replica signatures to an alternative of block letters.
The packaging of such player-endorsed gloves could be elaborate. It could include a box with the player’s image or perhaps just his name and signature embolden on a bright tag. Anything remaining of the original sales materials makes the glove all that more collection.
It helps to have had an endorsement by a really great player. “The bigger the name, the higher the price,” according to Mark Larson author of The Complete Guide to Baseball Memorabilia, “given all other variants are the same.”
Larson adds, “the second most important consideration when determining the glove’s value is condition.”
Moreover the quality of player-endorsed baseball gloves varied.
“Some players’ endorsements may have been offered on limited versions or models,” according to Larson. “Still others, like Mantel or Musial, were available on many different models, running the gamut from cheap dime-store quality kids’ gloves to professional top-of-the-line, leather trimmed, deluxe models.”
In 1937, Sears, Roebuck and Company offered their Mel Ott model boasting “its reputation for quality has spread from Maine to California.” The $3.29 price was a stunning one for the economic hardships of the Great Depression. That same year Sears also offered the “Goose” Goslin model, the Rip Radcliff model, and the “new” Pie Traynor model, which sold for $1.95.
All Sears’ gloves sold at the time under the brand J.C. Higgins. That brand for sporting goods, including baseball gloves, continued to be operation until 1961 when it was replaced in the Ted Williams brand.
The 1960s also saw a major change in the production of such gloves. The majority was not made in the United States anymore. It happened almost overnight. In the late 1950s only three percent of the baseball gloves were made in Japan. By 1964 more than half of the entire production of gloves used in America’s favorite pastime was supplied by Japanese makers.
“The dramatic increase of inexpensive, imported gloves on the market let to the demise of many smaller American glove manufacturers,” notes James Mace in the 1990 volume Collectible Baseball Gloves. “Unable to price their gloves competitively, due to more expensive labor, most were bought up by larger firms or quietly went out of business.”
Sears advertised their much-heralded Ted Williams fielder’s glove in 1971 as one that “feels like a seasoned veteran.” Their catalog boasted, “Ted hit a hard one at Sears and Sears made the play.” The Ted Williams “born fielder” sold that year for $10.75. That glove and nearly every baseball glove offered by Sears that season was made in Japan. The lone exception was the Junior Rookie glove, which was made in Mexico.
Then there are baseball gloves actually owned by a player.
A circle of serious collectors might be concerned with a range of player-used types from Hank Aaron’s MacGregor Special 715 fielder’s glove to Cy Young’s Hutch fielder’s glove.
The list of classic gloves goes on and on. There was Bobby Richardson’s glove made by Denkert, Tom Sever’s durable Rawlings glove, Del Crandall catcher’s mitt from Franklin and Bob Feller’s J.C. Higgins fielder’s glove.
Auction houses like Leland’s might also be offering Ryne Sandberg’s Rawlings Pro SP-T, Frank Thomas’ black Reebok or Rocky Colavito’s personal model Spalding 1142. Such authentic items often rival the price of gold.
“From the fingerless palm-protectors of a hundred years ago to the 14-inch masterpieces of today,” concludes Mace; “nothing has had more influence on the game of baseball than a player’s glove.”
Like many collectibles, baseball gloves have an emotional connection, an intangible that drives the market somewhat.
“Guys love their own gloves — gloves are a very personal item,” says Joe Phillips from Dallas, TX.
Phillips writes a monthly newsletter called The Glove Collector and maintains a website by the same name. Phillips is considered a top glove expert, frequently contributing to Sports Collectors Digest, Beckett Elite and has published a series of Vintage Baseball Glove Pocket price guides, the Autograph Player Baseball Glove Finder and last year released the 2007 Vintage Baseball Glove Catalog Source Book.
Phillips said he got into collecting gloves by “noticing guys collecting gloves.” At first, Phillips was drawn to replicas.
“I dropped out of that and that led me to originals.” He’s no longer drawn to replicas, Phillips says.
Though antique-style gloves or replicas are part of the collecting, Phillips says it’s not “that big of the market.” The high values, according to Phillips, are in gloves from the 1880s and earlier.
But it’s not limited to that era. Gloves made by Rawlings in the 1980s, particularly American-made “Heart of the Hide” gloves, are increasing in value, the same for the Wilson A2000 series of USA-made gloves.
“They’ve increased in value, bringing in from $100 to $300,” Phillips says.
Still the appeal for collectors remains the split-finger.
“It’s the aesthetic appeal,” says Jeff Olson of Antique Mystique in North Platte, NE. “I rarely sell post-1950s.” Interestingly, Olson says a lot of the split-finger gloves are sold because of decorating appeal.
“It’s not a lot different than other collectible markets,” adds Olson.
Rarity and condition are important factors. With gloves, a “player model” or “professional model, where a player lend their name to advertising, meant a higher quality.” And certain names continue to draw collectors.
“Any glove with Babe Ruth on it is highly collectible,” says Olson.
Phillips says the collectible market for baseball gloves is holding steady. “Guys in the hobby tend to stay in the hobby,” he says.
“The thrust of the hobby has been the player’s name. The bigger the player — the player recognition — the higher the value.”
Olson, who got in collecting after coaching his sons’ baseball teams, says, “I collect not as an item to sell but because it’s related to childhood — guys that played during that particular era (as kids).”
And with vintage baseball gloves, the “kid” can return — at least for a short time.
Past Time Sports, 888-296-5159, www.pasttimesports.biz
Joe Phillips, 972-699-1808, www.glovecollector.com
Antique Mystique, 308-532-3404, www.antiquemystique.com