Vintage pre-war flannel pants are interesting in their own right, and in my opinion, undervalued. Part of this may be do to the fact that the opinions offered on them is often cursory and with no real value added. When the quality of the work is poor, there is more in the pipeline and that pipeline gets clogged with garbage. With no filters and objective ways to separate the good from the bad, the entire market for pants suffers. Yes I realize pants don’t display as well as jerseys, but when you consider the significant price differential and the notion that pants have probably survived in lesser numbers than the jerseys from that period, they are perhaps more rare and valuable in some respects.
Recently I had occasion to look at vintage flannel home pants of Yankee Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig and Miller Huggins. These were consigned to REA for their 2010 auction. Each was identified to the player/manager by the name sewn into the rear of the beltline, and that was where the commonality ended. This article is about offering some insights on what to look for and why it is critical to see and understand this before considering purchasing such items. Pants, especially the older ones, often lack size and or year tags. There are ways to address these issues, but fist let’s start with the player attribution itself.
For items of this vintage, you often see a faded red thread used for various purposes of identification, such as the player’s name. The thread typically fades to some shade less striking than the original red color due to use, wear, soiling and laundering. No great secret there. But this occurs because the red thread has been exposed to an environment beyond the flannel fabric barrier that permits this to happen. What then happens to the thread behind the flannel wall? The thread is protected from the use, wear, soiling and laundering and does not discolor in the same manner or shades.
When a stitched players name in pants (or jerseys for that matter as well) is contrived, the person doing this work will use a color thread that is intended to look like it was once red, but now faded. The problem is the thread should actually be found in two shades, one shade above the flannel barrier line and one below. Sort of tough to find a thread to use that will do that. Secondly, to accomplish adding a players name after the fact, this requires that the belt line stitching be opened up to facilitate this fabrication. For the forger looking not to get caught…you have to reassemble the pants in the same manner they were constructed in. Once again, not an easy thing to do if the person who is going to be looking at them has some sense of an attention to detail and the resources to properly inspect them.
All of this brings us to the comparison between the Gehrig pants and those of Miller Huggins. PLATES I-III show the problems with Gehrig pants. Those being:
-The thread for the L GEHRIG had not actually faded and this could be seen when compared to the thread used to sew the “37”.
– The pants were not reassembled properly.
The interior color of the L GEHRIG thread was easy to see because of small hole just above and to the left of the name. I simply rolled the fabric until the thread was visible through the small hole. Had the hole not been there, I still would have seen this under the digital microscope. The Gehrig pants were a good candidate for this type of make over in that they were extremely well worn. As such, one might expect open seam holes and detached fabric. The problem for the forger came when they misaligned the fabrics for resewing. In this case we have seam holes with no fabric to cover them and fabric with seam holes, but no holes in the fabric under them.
Enough of the bad, and these were bad…How about some good pants. The Miller Huggins pants were a pleasure to look at. The sewing of the name was not an issue as you can see, in PLATE IV, but how about dating them when no manufacturers label or year identification is available? Huggins managed the New York Yankees from 1918 to 1929 and during this time frame the Yankees wore pinstriped pants at home. Not much to go on right? Wrong, we have some basis for to begin a search and known characteristic to work with. For now, let’s stay with the stitching of the player identification.
The manner of supplemental player identification is the same by construction as that found recently in a 1919-1920 Muddy Ruel New York Yankees home jersey. Other examples of Yankee Spalding products dating to the 1923-1924 time frame and there after appear to have this supplemental player identification done in a chain stitch, as opposed to straight stitch embroidery. As such I would place these pants more to the period of c1918-1922. This means the other physical and observable characteristics should be identifiable in images from this earlier period. These characteristics include the pinstripe material itself as well as how the belt loops are constructed and affixed to the pants as function of both location and spacing. These variations can be seen in the images of Miller Huggins in PLATE V. If you focus your attention on the area with the red circles, this will become obvious.
Of course I have saved the best for last with PLATE VI. This image of Miller Huggins is from April of 1921, the same earlier period suggested by the correct manner of name embroidery. Also, by actually counting the pinstripes in a defined area (you’d be surprised how many people including major auction houses and those they employ don’t do this), we can ascertain something about scale, or this case relative size of the garment. This is accomplished by using both the pinstripes and the location and spacing of the loops themselves. Thus, even without a size tag, these pants appear to have constructed in a manner that is proportionally correct for Miller Huggins. But wait…it gets even better.
Notice the count of the pinstripes and where each loop is sewn as a function of both spacing and placement. Also notice that loop A is without any pinstripe both in the offered pants and in the photo. Notice how loop B both in fact have a pinstripe as well as how and where it is sewn. Notice how loop C both also have a pinstripe as well as how and were it is sewn. Armed with this information, now go back through any of the references at your disposal with respect to period Yankee images and see for yourself how defining and critical knowing and looking for things like this can be. Can’t say I’ve read of anyone else doing research and imagery analysis on belt loops, but as you can see it’s well worth looking into.
My advice from all of this when looking at pants or anything else for that matter:
– Develop a methodology and metrics for what to look for and how to do it.
– Resource your research efforts with references and technology.
– Buy the stuff that satisfies your methodology and metrics.
– Don’t buy the stuff that doesn’t.
It’s really that simple…
As always, enjoy what you collect and collect what you enjoy.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com.