The information contained in old sporting goods catalogs can be invaluable, not because of their covers which if picturing famous Major League players can propel the values into the thousands i.e. The D&M color catalogs that feature the likes of Ruth and Joe Jackson, but because of the valuable information contained within. Years ago, I gathered copies of every Spalding catalog from 1905 thru 1940 to put together the first ever fully recorded data of every Spalding pre war player model bat ever made and used these catalogs to form a chart showing the center brand changes and the players that endorsed these bats. We had to get a copy of every year, as there were several years in which a player only appeared in one catalog. For instance, Marty Callahan was only listed in the 1924 catalog, Dick Cox only appeared in 1927, Cobb only in 1908, Frank Crosetti in 1932, etc. etc. If we had used, lets say, the 1931 and 1933 catalogs figuring that the 1932 would have been the same as 1931 and 33, we would never had known that Crosetti had a bat in 1932. We also found that the Pro Finish center brand was only offered in 1924 and the circular A.G. Spalding & Bros. center brand was only issued in 1925. We determined that the now familiar Ball & Diamond logo was first introduced in 1926 and was last listed in 1934. Gold Medal was only listed from 1908 (the first year Spalding offered endorsed model bats) thru 1911, only four years total. This information, gathered from all of the catalogs, allowed us not only to pinpoint the years center brands changed, it allowed us to find the player models that were manufactured for a short period of time thus giving us a rarity factor as well.
Joe Phillips started indexing store model baseball gloves back when he and I did our first glove price guide back in 1992. He has refined it over the years into what is now the finest reference for store model gloves ever produced and he is constantly updating this information. As a result, I can go to Joe’s book, look up Rawlings and by comparing catalog entries, can determine what years a particular glove model was offered and where it falls on the quality/pricing structure. This is invaluable since the majority of supposed game worn gloves prior to the 1960’s were basically the same model gloves that you or I could have purchased in any hardware store at the time. Prior to the Second World War, the Bill Doak glove was the most popular fielders glove amongst major league baseball players. Since the only thing that may differentiate a game worn glove from a typical store model is the family letter or provenance, it is important to look up the glove in Joe’s reference to determine if the glove was made during the era in which the player was active and whether or not it was of the high quality normally seen in a major league professional model, then coupled with the documentation, we can determine the feasibility of the player actually being able to have worn that glove in major league play. In addition, in most cases , you cannot have a game worn glove of a player if the model was not yet produced during the era in which he played. That said, it is possible that a player could have received a glove prior to its introduction to the retail public but common sense would have to be exorcised and it would have to be close in years. The guide also helps us determine if a player used glove has any customizations to the retail model. This is all based on year of manufacture and model number and without Joe’s endless research, checking this data would be all but impossible.
The challenge there is that some of the older catalogs are extremely hard to come by. Not because of value but because most were thrown away the next year when the new offerings came out. As a result, even Joe’s guide has some serious laps in time and because new models were introduced and dropped every year, without a complete run of catalogs, there will be models that cannot be located until every single year of a particular manufacture is located. Besides the reference for gloves and bats that were available, these catalogs are used to date and authenticate other pieces of equipment as well such as catcher’s gear, leather football helmets, etc.
In 1995, I published the first price guide for vintage sports equipment thru SCD. Without the invaluable use of catalogs, I would not have been able to list all of the different models and types of football helmets, baseballs, catchers gear, nose guards, etc. etc. Some offerings were and are astoundingly rare based on these catalogs. For instance, the old doughnut top inflatable leather football helmet was only offered for a couple of years by Spalding and proved very unpopular and to date, only one example has ever surfaced and now rests in a private collection in Wisconsin. It was due to this short production run and lack of popularity making this style of helmet the most elusive and most valuable leather helmet ever produced. Even the widely sought and valuable Executioners helmet is far more common given is was produced by several makers and made into the 1930s (see our article on this style helmet in the MEARS archived articles).
Another valuable resource found in old catalogs allows us to find out which players endorsed certain companies and explains there affiliation as well as the probability of any particular player having used or worn a piece of equipment from that company. Take for example the few surviving Babe Ruth Spalding game used bats. Even though he was under contract with H&B beginning in 1918, his affiliation with Reach and Spalding dates almost as far back and his endorsement of Spalding gloves is well documented. In addition, two game model Babe Ruth signature model bats have surfaced as well as a couple of early block letter models which would have been appropriate since he had a signature contract with H&B but somehow, during the 1920’s, he obtained some signature model Spalding bats, probably due to his contract with that company for other equipment. You will also find Ruth gracing the cover of a 1920 Draper Maynard catalog endorsing his signature model gloves for that company as well. Ty Cobb went from Spalding to Stahl & Dean as early as 1914, maybe earlier but we have yet to find a Stahl & Dean catalog dating from the 1908-13 era.
In addition to the catalogs put out by the individual companies, another great source of information comes from the sporting goods dealer catalogs and some of the large mail order houses such as Montgomery Wards (MW brand) and Sears (J.C. Higgins). These offering showcase products from multiple manufacturers and give a broad view of what was available at the time. Through these retailer source guides, we have been able to determine, that to date, no signature model 125 H&B bats were available to the public prior to 1919, at least not to date. All of the player-endorsed models from any retailer catalogs prior to this time are all of the 40 models. This information adds fuel to the fire that pre 1920 H&B 125 model bats with inch marks on the knob may in fact be pro models ( see are recent article on H&B game used bats with inch marks now archived ) . By finding the only known Hanna Batrite catalog dating to 1930 and the complete list of player models, we were able to determine which model number corresponded to certain players which helped differentiate a Jackson block letter bat as having been attributed to Joe Jackson per the model number and not another Jackson such as Travis Jackson. Without this catalog, it would have been impossible to determine which Jackson this bat was patterned after. The same with all of the Waner bats since there are two Waners and the model number stamped on the barrel made identification of which Waner simple and foolproof (you can find the entire model number listing for Hanna Bats for 1930 on our site as well).
Each and every catalog yields some small bit of information that can be used to make intelligent purchases and decisions and can help collectors avoid mistakes in dating and pricing. The recent acquisition of a Horace Partridge company catalog from 1890 features dozens of diagrams of early baseball equipment such as the Arthur Irwin mitts and gloves, the official baseball for 1890 major league play, the Decker’s improved Catcher’s mitt, Gray’s inflatable chest protector, Spalding patented fingerless baseball gloves, catchers masks (no shin guards as they were not yet in use) as well as early hats, belts and uniforms. The 1908 Spalding spring summer catalog features all of the major leagues baseballs in use along with the first ever offered player model bats, the mushroom bat, and the fact that none of the gloves were offered with any player endorsement for that season. The 1929 Wilson catalog touts Rogers Hornsby as their biggest endorsee and used of Wilson products along with Ray Schalk, Bill Terry, Gabby Hartnett, Phil Todt, and Alex Gaston. The 1919-20 Goldsmith catalog features early flat top helmets, nose guards and sundry football equipment and shows that at that date, Goldsmith did have any football endorsements as this pre dates the NFL. After 1924, companies like Wilson started to use the names of stars such as Bronko Nagurski and Red Grange to help sell their wares. The Reach Wright and Ditson fall catalog for 1931-32 features the rare all leather nose guard as well as early basketball and hockey equipment.
I could go on and on with each and every catalog presently in the MEARS research library but the point is well made, the information is invaluable, both as a research tool in identifying game used equipment as well as being able to properly date and identify various styles and changes.
And lest you think that it is just the earlier catalogs in which we have a year lapse, think again. We are in need of all of the post 1970 Wilson catalogs, half of the post 1970 Rawlings catalogs and many of the retailer catalogs of which hundreds if not thousands of local retailers existed. In an effort to boost our record of catalogs, I am making the following offer. For every four full color complete sets of copies of any sporting goods catalogs sent to us at MEARS, we will send you a complete set of our pocket price and identity guides which includes the store model bat guide, the glove guide and the Spalding guide. For every ten complete catalogs sent (copies), we will send you a nr-mt – mt circa 1970 Boston Bruins picture pennant featuring Bobby Orr or a copy of the Mastronet guide to game used baseball bats, your choice. It does not matter if we already have copies of any particular catalog, we will send your rewards regardless. And if you have any collection of old sporting goods catalogs that you wish to sell, the MEARS research library would be happy to look at your listing and buy the ones that we do not have or the complete collection. So go to your closets and see what you have especially if you have old Hanna Batrite, Zinn Beck, or Adirondack catalogs. You will be doing us a great service and in return, you will be doing the hobby a solid as well, until next time, David Bushing