I am often asked what my opinions are as they pertain to store model bats given that so much attention is paid to game used or game model bats and because of their (store model bats) relatively low value, most big auction houses, if they offer them at all, will either group them together or sell on their less expensive internet low end auctions. Now before I go any further, let’s remove minty decal bats from this equation. These player model decal bats, if in stellar condition, sell for as much or more than many game bats of the era often selling into the five figure range but remember, this is for top condition examples only. Once they fall off below the 80% level of decal remains, and this has to include most of the head and player name, their values often fall to a level that is below their branded counterparts.
Therefore, what I am discussing here is the retail store model bats with a players name either branded in (burned) or heat pressed into the bat. These come with facsimile signatures or in block letters often with a word like type or model following them i.e. Gehrig Type or Gehrig Model/Style (of, used, etc.) and were offered by just about any company that could turn a lathe such as H&B, Adirondack, Zinn Beck, Hanna Batrite, Spalding, Reach, Victor Wright & Ditson, Wilson, Rawlings, Kren’s, Mascot, Pontiac, D&M etc. In addition, many of the larger mfgs. produced bats for private label companies such as H&B making bats for J.C. Higgins. Then there are many private label hardware and sporting goods stores that had local makers or big firms turning player model bats for them as well such as the Honus Wagner Sporting Goods, Johnny Evers Sporting Goods, Ty Cobb Jarvis model, Simmons Hardware, etc.
With dozens and dozens of companies making player model bats, so aside from the high priced decal bats, what should a budding collector look for and why? It is my opinion , that with the high prices of game used bats today, that someone on a budget can put together an incredible vintage store model Hall of Fame collection for a mere fraction of a game used like collection. For a display or sports room, it would be stunning and while not as difficult in most cases to find as their game model counterparts, many are very scarce and will take years and years to complete. For this exercise, let’s look at the Hall of Fame members. There are lots of non Hall of Fame store model bats for the team collector but that is another story.
Most of the earliest Hall of Fame store model bats were made by either H&B, Spalding or Reach. I am not aware of any store model nineteenth century player model bats so we will also limit this discussion to 20th century players. I would try and limit my collection to either burned in signature models (H&B or Spalding as they had most of the signature contracts after 1905) or the block letter pro style bats like the Spalding Pro Finish model , the Kren’s , the Lajoie model Wright & Ditson and Hanna bats. These makers provided most of the pre war Hall of Famers and as such, you should be able to complete a killer collection of just about every pre war Hall of Fame member but there are a few caveats. First, don’t try and find the pitchers or Negro league players, they are virtually impossible. Second, I have never seen an example of a store bat from the following players (players who started their career after 1900) Stan Coveleski, Harry Hooper, Rabbit Maranville, Joe Sewell, Zack Wheat, Luke Appling or Joe Tinker. I looked over the Hall of Fame list and taking out the pre 1900 players, coaches, pitchers and negro leaguers, I have seen at least one example of a burned in script or block letter bat of almost every other member. My advice, try and buy condition but don’t be afraid to buy a rare model as if and when another comes along, you can always upgrade or you may opt for some restoration as well. Try and stay away from the cheaper non signature endorsed H&B and hardware store models such as the H&B #9, 14, etc, these are block letter cheap models and if they exist, a signature model was also made. Try and buy bats that are close in length to those used by the actual player which for a guy like Miller Huggins, Spalding made his signature model store bat to his specs at 32” while you can find a nice Ruth H&B 125 or 40 model at 35-36”. Also, try and stay away from the war era H&B foil model bats unless gem mint because as they flake, they don’t look good (unless NOS, mint), will not hold any value and they were never used by any H&B users before the war and will stand out as store model bats. The key to this type of collection as to get as close to a game model bat as possible. Expect to pay anywhere from $100 up to $1000 plus for a really nice burned in 35-36” Ruth or Gehrig model 125. Try and buy bats that were made during the era in which a player actually played i.e., don’t buy a post war Ruth or Gehrig model but rather a nice 1920-30’s model. Most of the Spalding signature models were made during the time the endorsee played but H&B kept bats of Ruth and Gehrig in their line up long after they retired or died.
Post war collecting is an entirely different animal. Most players from this era are easy to find but there are some challenges. Again, the same adage of length and model apply, opt for models made during their playing days and try and stay away from block letter bats and foil bats unless it is an Adirondack as most of their bats were only offered with a foil print but their 1950’s white letter bats are some of the handsomest bats ever made and in nice condition, would be a prize in any collection. Remember, H&B made Jackie Robinson and Mantle bats into the 1980’s so on these post war Hall of Famers, do yourself a big favor and only buy a high condition player era model and unlike game used bats, most collectors of store model bats want them in as close to pristine condition as possible as a mint unused store model is a condition rarity and unlike a game bat, will bring a much higher rate of return if in as close to mint condition as possible.
Probably the toughest and rarest of post war store model Hall of Fame bats (not counting pitchers) would have to be Roy Campanella as I have only seen one bat and it was a Kren’s signature model. As for filling in a Hall of Fame collection, keep your eyes peeled for the pro stock or index bats, these are game models offered to the teams for use by any of the players and are often priced in the same range as a store model bat. These would include the S, D, C and E model Adirondack bats and game model H&B bats that do not fit into the shipping records as to model or dimensions. You can pick up some nice index Mays, Mantle, Clemente, Kiner, Doerr, Mathews, Aaron, and Berra models which are very affordable prices and they look just like gamers because, in essence, they are. I tend to stay away from the pro model bats with college names under the player name even though they are pro models as they will ruin your display as they do not look like a game bat from the face view. It is a personal thing but I would rather have a good looking store model than a pro model college bat because of the stamp on the barrel that might say UCLA, etc.
Again, it is your collection and your budget so collect what you like but these tips might help you get started and will help yield a better return if and when you go to sell. And with the high prices on game bats, I think that top examples of store model bats given that some are extremely rare will increase in value in the years to come.