As many of you already know, my original foray into this business was not that of game used equipment but rather vintage, non determined use, just plain vintage/antique equipment such as gloves, hats, bats, masks, catcher’s gear, leather football helmets, nose guards, et all. It was the history of the game, the evolution of the gear, the simply artistry of design, and the relative scarcity of early items, some of which are priced well into the five figure range. Sure, many of the items I’ve handled in the past twenty years probably did see some use in the professional circuit given the top of the quality of some pieces but their history or lineage is long lost to the ages and would be impossible to identify in most cases so the value of the piece lies strictly on the item, it’s condition and rarity with no added value associated with a professional player.
I published a book on collecting vintage sports equipment with Krause back in 1995. It was the first book of it’s type but the pictures were far from professional in most cases as we used pictures submitted by collectors long before the days of digital camera’s and discs. The pricing section is so outdated as to be, for the most part, useless and the true rarity of items wasn’t realized until the advent of EBay. It was the first time that most of the collector lingo was actually used to label items as well as a decent stab at pricing but it lacked polish. Great photographs, further delineation of categories and current pricing, in short, what is needed is a coffee table price guide for today’s collector.
Fast forward twelve plus years and collectors are about to get their wish. There is a brand new book created especially for vintage equipment collectors. It is published by one of the finest houses putting out books on collecting, Schiffer Publishing. The new coffee table style book is written and compiled by Dan Hauser, Ed Turner and my long time friend, John Gennantonio whom I’ve known since I first got into this business and he was still a dental student. The book is entitled “Antique Sports Uniforms and Equipment, 1840-1940, Baseball, Football and Basketball.
It is due out right now and you can order the book from Schiffer via the internet www.schifferbooks.com or call them at 610-593-1777. As I write this, I have not yet gotten my copy of the actual book but I do have an advance flyer with full color pictures and I have discussed the book with both John and Ed. Given the quality of the flyer and their (the writers) enthusiasm and the reputation of Schiffer, it is the most anticipated book since Steven Wong’s Smithsonian Baseball, to date, the finest book on vintage baseball. What excites me even more is that this is the first coffee table style book ever done on sports equipment and in particular, the first of its type to deal with the huge area of antique football gear. I know some of you Hockey die hards will lament the fact that this sport is not included but there does not seem to be the interest or prices realized for this sport so I fully understand why they did not include it in their new book. Even Basketball has a rather limited appeal and far fewer vintage items than that of baseball or football but there are some great pictures of early basketball uniforms and I am anxious to peruse this category given the scarcity and I am sure it will be the most in-depth study so far of this genre.
In the baseball category, the book will cover early gloves from the most valuable fingerless models and workman style glove up through the more common models of the late 1930’s. Catchers gear will include masks from the most valuable Thayer style mask, an example of which I have only owned one during my entire career through the early bird cage models including the large bead weld masks, the throat protector models, the earliest cast aluminum models up to the late pre war models. I don’t know if they will cover the early endorsed models such as Bill Dickey, Hank Gowdy or Gabby Hartnett as they are dealing with style changes rather than player endorsed equipment. Other catchers gear will include shin guards from the earliest reeded models and chest protectors such as the inflatable and quilted models.
Also included are early belts such as the fireman style, early hats and uniforms such as the bib fronts, western and cadet styles. There will also be a section on the earliest style bats such as ring bats. I hope they include some of the many known 1860-70’s presentation bats.
The Football section includes the many styles of leather helmets. This area is the most highly sought of all football gear and the myriad of styles and makers create a category that would provide collecting enjoyment for a lifetime. Early jerseys such as the friction fronts, union suits, and vests are covered along with cleats, pants, and padding. Another popular collecting category deals with the various styles and makes of early hard rubber nose guards. There seems to be no end in sight as it pertains to collecting football gear and the prices on prime examples just keep going up and up as new collectors vie against seasoned veterans for early and top condition examples.
Basketball, while trailing a very distant third in both availability and demand still offers some great items. Early laced basketballs, bloomer style uniforms, early high top shoes, and even early eye and face protection are just a few of the items that are available.
It is readily apparent that the field of collecting vintage equipment keeps growing with ever ready buyers specializing in various fields. High condition and scarce examples are eagerly snapped up for figures unheard of just a decade ago and more and more collectors specializing in just this field alone with no regard to major league usage. Check out the Smithsonian baseball book to see some world class collections of vintage baseball equipment let alone football and basketball and if you are a historian as well as a collector with an eye towards rarity, condition and design and you will find yourself hooked. It is a collecting category that offers so many different styles and makers as to be endless so you will never find yourself “finished” so to speak. And if you are not currently a collector of such items, this new book will make you a believer and will most assuredly drive up already strong prices even higher with no end in sight as to value or availability.
Whether you are a veteran collector or just thinking about diving into this fertile area, this new book is a must have. Once you see all that is available, it will be next to impossible to not be influenced. Collecting vintage equipment, like in any other collectible category, boils down to rarity and condition. Most new collectors tend to buy everything they see only to have to upgrade later and they usually find themselves with loads of average items to dispose of. My advise is to read and re read this book, focus on what interests you and get to really know the merchandise and then, to only buy the best and rarest of all items. If you find yourself buying every little piece that comes on the market, you might find yourself short when a truly great piece turns up. Armed with this book and access to the internet as well as the major auction houses, you should be able to acquire a notable collection in a few short years but be forewarned, their will be pieces such as a Thayer mask or a set of fingerless gloves that my not present themselves for years if ever so don’t be discouraged as it is the hunt that makes this hobby so enjoyable. If you could go to K-Mart and buy everything in a single day, it would no longer be worth the time and research.
Until next time. David Bushing