SUBJECT: Imagery analysis of an early 20th century New Giants Home Jersey being attributed to Christy Mathewson.
As part of the review of this early 20th century New York Giants home jersey, I was provided full color plates of the same and was asked to offer an opinion that could be given and substantiated through imagery analysis or other means(having not been afforded the opportunity to see this jersey in person). In addition, although not tied directly to imagery analysis, I also evaluated the provenance and attribution to Christy Mathewson. It must be stated and understood that the color plates I used and evaluated were full color 1:1 scale. There were three specific aspects of this jersey I looked to consider and evaluate; construction, style, and color.
There are certain aspects of this jersey as function of construction that lend themselves to imagery analysis. They are the large, western style collar, the style of the button placket, and the detachable sleeves. The collar is a style found across the major leagues during this period and was not a subject of issue, debate or contention. While the initial opinion was that the jersey was from 1905 based on a pointed button line placket, this is not one that I am in agreement with. Enclosed you will find a picture of Christy Mathewson from 1904 (PLATE 1). The image can be found on page 16 of Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon. The photo is from 1904 as it is identified as the first professional photograph that Conlon took and was used to illustrate a book printed in 1905 called “How to Pitch” by John B. Foster. This same book features a picture of Jack Dunn (page 48) (PLATE 2). Both of these jerseys feature a pointed placket. In addition the jersey that Dunn is wearing is the style with detachable sleeves. Dunn’s last year with the NY Giants and as a player for any major league team was 1904, so the Dunn photo can not from later than that.
The issue of trying to date jersey simply by this one aspect alone is problematic for a couple of reasons. First is the availability and quality of suitable period images. To properly ascertain the placket style (flat vs. pointed), you need an image that is both clear enough and complete enough to show the area below the vertical stitching of the lowest button. The other thing that make this difficult to deal with the number uniforms likely issued to a player and the distinct possibility that jerseys were worn over the course of two seasons. Consider this contemporary report:
Answer to requests by the Base Ball Players Fraternity from Baseball Magazine, March 1914. The players were successful in having most of their requests granted. This meant more for the Commission than giving away in principle, for it means that much money will have to be spent to live tip to their part of the agreement. It may be seen how much it will cost the magnates when it is remembered that in such a small matter as that of uniforms the magnates agreed to furnish two uniforms a season to the ball players free of charge. As there are 20 to 25 players on a team, one can figure what it will cost them at $15 a suit. Forty suits is about the smallest number that any club can squeeze along with, which means $600. Every club has for its players a home suit and a road uniform. It was brought out that only the National League had failed to buy the uniforms for the players. This will mean a saving of at least $30 for each player in the National League a season.
This seems to strongly suggest that players got one road and one home uniform each season at this point in time. As such, it would not be unthinkable to see teams carry over jerseys. We know the Yankees did this much later in the 1920-30’s, a time when teams may have in fact been purchasing more than one uniform. From the March 15th 1930 Saturday Evening Edition of the Syracuse Herald states that “It cost the Detroit baseball club more than $6000 to uniform the Tigers for this seasons play” and that “the Tigers sartorial purchase included 120 complete uniforms and 35 coats. Each player will have two home and two road uniforms and their will be sufficient replacements in the stock room to care for any emergences that may arise.” The article goes on to say that “Players used to get by on two uniforms but the modern fan demands neatness of appearance as well as performance and untidy players quickly are called by umpires who always have the welfare of the laundry business at heart.
We also know that the NY Giants wore jerseys with a flat button placket after 1905 based on the image provided of a 1906 NY Giants home jersey that is part of the collection of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. What the image of this 1906 jersey supports is that Spalding is a likely supplier of NY Giants uniforms from the period as well. (PLATE 11) Pre-1904 images, in which the placket style can be ascertained, do tend to at least confirm that flat plackets can be found on some uniforms. (PLATE 5)
This jersey offered for evaluation features detachable sleeves. Images provided support this can be found in NY Giants jerseys from this period, but it is not a factor that makes the one offered for evaluation a Christy Mathewson jersey since he can found both with and without this style. This same thing can be found with team mates as well with respect to period images and other uniform examples that have entered the hobby. (PLATES 1,2,5,8,10)
A final aspect of construction is worth noting at this point. This jersey is without any sort of manufactured player identification. Since it pre-dates the use of numerals on jerseys by a couple of decades, this would have then been accomplished by stitching the players name into the uniform a matter of construction. Other means, somewhat related to manufacturing would have been to write the players name on a laundry tag/strip in the collar of the uniform. This jersey lacks one, but remnant stitching below the Spalding manufacturer’s label indicates a possible one time presence. There is a hand written annotation to the left of the Spalding label of “(3)”.
Mathewson came to the Giants in 1900. It may assumed that this jersey predates 1905 based on style and the color of the lettering that was once on the jersey was not red or brown (color transfer remaining on the jersey) as indicated by Okkonen’s Guide for years 1902-1905. Determining color differences between brown and black/navy blue is very difficult. I contacted Mr. Okkonen to find if he had contemporary accounts supporting this color change and he did.
The New York Evening Telegram of Apr 18, 1902:
“Everybody pretty well liked the New Yorks yesterday afternoon. They looked nice and clean in their new white knickerbockers and shirtwaists. The uniform is by far the prettiest that any New York club has worn. Brown sets off the flannel to perfection. It isn’t so somber as black and it isn’t gaudy enough to give any one heart failure who looks at it.”
Mr. Okkonen also went on the offer that “verifying uniform colors in this era is never very precise and even this kind of “proof” is often shaky. But this is what I based my artwork on. And even though my drawings for pre-1902 suggest a Navy blue lettering it was very possibly black, as hinted at in the above article. In fact I am not even certain that the “brown” didn’t revert to black again in 1903, contrary to my illustrations.”
What this tells me is that color should not be seen as definitive limiting or exacting measure of year dating, especially given the fact that jersey may well have been worn in more than one year. The only color period images we have are those contemporary artist’s renderings that appear on baseball cards. These seem to show a combination of black/navy blue and brown for this style of NEW YORK lettering.
For the purposes of this evaluation, style refers to the manner of style or lettering used to depict the team’s name or location. In this case we have two styles; one featuring the city name NEW YORK and the other a style with the large letters N and Y. Mr. Okkonen’s book shows that they NY style began in 1904 and was replaced the NEW YORK style by 1905. A photograph from Baseball by Ken Burns depicting the 1905 NY Giants as showing the presence of both styles. The style of caps in this picture also show one with stripes extending around the circumference. This is consistent with his renderings from the 1904-1905 seasons. (PLATE 7)
PROVENANCE & ATTRIBUTION:
Although the provenance seems compelling, every effort should be made to address its possible attribution to Christy Mathewson. Other period Giants uniforms in the hobby suggests that player names might be found in jerseys:
1903 Jack Dunn: Hunts Feb 2000, Lot # 889. This uniform also has a pointed button line placket, has a “(3)” hand written in the collar and the lettering is blue, not brown or redish brown. “Dunn” is sewn in red on white felt. Interesting enough, according the Hunt’s Auction description, “ This uniform was obtained from a Factoryville, PA family who were related by marriage to Christy Mathewson. Mathewson would bring various uniforms and equipment to children during the off season including the offered uniform …the same situation as the provenance that came with this jersey.
1905 John McGraw: Halper lot # 363 “McGraw” stitched in back left tail.
The supporting letter of provenance for this offered jersey comes from a woman related by marriage to Christy Mathewson and that Mathewson “used to return to Factoryville in the off season and bring to the children his old uniforms and equipment. Christy gave to my husband this New York Giants uniform on one of his first return trips. My husband kept this uniform as well as other equipment in our attic, where it has been for the past 90 years.”
I find that the possibility as to how this person may have been in a position to obtain this offered jersey as stated is both reasonable and verifiable. However, the open question for me remains what makes this jersey one worn by Christy Mathewson? Since it appears that Mathewson may have also brought home uniforms of other players (Jack Dunn), then that shirt has to be considered. The Dunn jersey features both a name sewn in the tail and the same style “(3)” hand written in the collar. The 1905 McGraw jersey also features a name identification sewn into the garment. In contacting the current owner of the Dunn jersey, it was determined that it originated from the same source as this one. What this indicates is that Mathewson brought home jerseys that may or may not have always been his own.
The size of the jersey, which appears to be in 46-48 range does not exclude it from being a jersey worn by Christy Mathewson. The question then becomes could a jersey of this size have been worn other NY Giants players from the period of 1903-1905. Since I do not have period yearbooks from this time, I have relied on Baseball Reference.com as my sourcing since this provides both rosters and player sizes. What I looked for were those players listed by height (within two inches) and weight (within ten pounds) of those dimensions offered for Christy Mathewson. All players larger than Mathewson by weight are also listed . In some cases, players surveyed lacked complete data, as some only listed a height or weight. None of those players are listed below:
Christy Mathewson: 6’ 2”, 195 lbs.
Dan McGann: 6’, 190 lbs.
Sam Mertes: 6’, 225 lbs
Frank Bowerman: 6’ 2”, 190lbs
Jack Cronin: 6’, 200 lbs
Roscoe Miller: 6’, 2”, 190 lbs
Doc Marshall: 6’, 185 lbs
Dan Brothers: 6’ 2”, 207 lbs
Hook Wiltse: 6’, 185 lbs
Claude Elliot: 6’, 190 lbs
Offa Neal: 6’, 185 lbs
This gives us a possible sample of ten (10) other players. If we change the screening metric to within one (1) inch and five (pounds) and players weighing more than Mathewson (shirt size is determined by the chest measurement and not length), then we are still left with four (4) other players.
OPINION: Based on review of period images and the listed exchange with noted author and baseball historian Mark Okkonen, I would date this uniform as one being most likely from the years 1903-1905. I do not believe it to be from 1900-1901 since it lacks both a neck closure, has difference in font style and placement, and does not feature a flat placket. (PLATES 3-4) 1902 is also not seen as a likely year based on the placket style and the fact that we have contemporary accounts confirming the use of the color brown. 1903 becomes the earliest based on lettering style and the fact that color remains an open issue at this point. The other thing to consider is the significance of the “(3)” written in both this offered jersey and the Jack Dunn shirt. I do not feel this relates to a “set 3” based on what I have previously discussed. I do not believe this marking to be the letter “M”. (PLATE 12) We know this does not relate to a player uniform number. It could refer to the year of issue as in 1903.
The presence of a pointed placket in 1904 images, also leaves open the possibility that those jerseys could be a 1903 carry over for the same reasons. We do know that this style of jersey, color issue aside can be found in both 1904-and 1905. We also have images of Mathewson purported to be from 1906 (PLATE 8) in this style of jersey, but without detachable sleeves and a flat placket. The presence or lack of detachable sleeves is clearly team and period appropriate, but has no real bearing on being able to include or exclude any years in this time frame. I have found no reason to question the source of this item and the claim that it was gifted from Christy Mathewson, along possibly with other uniforms.
As such, provenance aside, the only real differences between the Dunn and the offered jersey appears to be the presence of the name DUNN sewn to the front tail. The fact that this offered jersey lacks a manufactured player identification or name written in a laundry tag (although very likely once present) does not support or facilitate a definitive attribution in my opinion.
The survey of period teammates by size indicates that while this shirt appears to be appropriate for Christy Mathewson, it can not however, be seen as an attribute that would have been unique to him.
As such it is my opinion that this offered jersey appears to be most likely one obtained by and worn by the National League New Giants between 1903 and 1905, and that while the attribution to Christy Mathewson is very real possibility, I am not been able to substantiate or refute any definitive claim as such at this time.
MEARS Auth, LLC
Enclosures: PLATES 1-12