A frequent request/question from readers/collectors runs along these lines:
“Please devote more articles to telling how you go about doing your work”.
While the pieces I provide on individual items are intended to address this issue/question, this week I will offer some specific examples on both the physical and intellectual processes involved in researching an item. The vehicle we will use is an undated photograph of Hall of Famer Ernie Banks. I picked this example for a number of reasons:
1. To highlight the value of imagery analysis as opposed to “photo matching.”
2. To share rare picture of a seldom seen “cork handle” bat.
3. To offer a framework for how to focus your efforts.
Using the Banks photo, the question we will look to answer is what year is the image most likely to be from. I say most likely because many of the things we will look at are subject to slight variations in years based on production, item retention or gaps in the data set (player order records) we will utilize.
STEP 1: Establish a General Range of Years. This is an essential first step since it will save you time and will allow you to focus your efforts on the references you consult or the searches you make. We know Banks’ career as a player with the Cubs spanned the period of 1953-1971. We know that the style of uniform can be narrowed down to the period of 1962-1971 because Banks is wearing a home flannel jersey with the “Cubbie Bear” patch on the sleeve. This combination of factors gives us the 1962-1971 time frame to work with.
STEP 2: Establish Years You Can Exclude Within the General Range. This is known as exclusionary analysis; the goal being to continue to narrow the range of possible years by what you don’t see. In this case we will analyze both the uniform and the bat and look for reasons to exclude certain years or periods of time within the general range. In this case, the bat is without any branding below the center brand. The missing information seems to exclude the bat from being one manufactured between 1961-1964. The absence of either the Illinois Sesquicentennial Patch (1968) or the MLB 100th Anniversary Patch (1969) appears to exclude those years from the range of possibilities. In doing this exclusionary analysis, we have taken a general ten year time frame and reduced it by 50% or down to five years to focus our attention on; 1965-1967 and 1970-1971. This is still a fairly broad range, but at least we know where to focus our attention.
STEP 3: Look for Year Specific Details. This is accomplished by going back over the image and looking for aspects or features that have not been explored in any pervious detail. In working in this manner, you are likely to notice things that may not have been apparent in the initial work. In this case, we notice the peculiar manner in which the handle of the bat Banks is holding as been prepared. What Banks is holding is a cork gripped handle. As you look at this area, you will notice that the contour of the handle area does not show any signs that the material has been rapped (tape) and that the upper portion (thin dark band) appears to be different by way of color and texture.
Changes in texture can often be discerned by the manner in which the surface in question reflects light. Since we can see that the bat is an H&B product, we know what we are looking at is not the rubber POWERSAFE GRIP introduced by Adirondack in 1968. In looking at Banks’ personal player order records, you will find that on 2-13-70 an order of the model S2 is annotated with the words CORK GRIP in parentheses.
With what we have seen and now know, we have been able to take a ten year range and narrow that down to very possibly a one year time frame based a combination of imagery analysis, exclusionary information, and a focus on likely year specific details. Does this make this photograph as being from 1970 with a 100% degree of absolute certainty? It does not because there is always the chance that:
1. Banks is holding another player’s bat from another year.
2. Banks could have ordered CORK GRIPPED bats in other years, but not recorded.
However, if pressed for a single year estimate on when I thought this photograph was from, I would still feel comfortable stating 1970 based on what the totality of the information suggests and the process/methods utilized in order to reach this opinion.
I would offer that this example constitutes both a physical and intellectual template you may want to consider applying to your own work or to be used to evaluate the work of others on items you are considering adding to your collection.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions and comments on this article, please feel to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com