Long gone are the days of walking through a show and seeing a pile of flannels on a dealer table…Even further in the past is a price tag of $200 that at one time I thought was far too lofty to pay for one. While flannels can still be found, they are a bit more pricey and even more so when claiming to be 100 % original. I collect styles and have just over 50 in my own collection. My preference is for common players or coaches jerseys as they are both more affordable and less likely to have been the victim of contrived use or wear. I have several that have either been restored or show signs of vintage/period alterations or changes. Since it would seem that I have all the makings of a decent article hanging on the walls of my baseball room, I thought I could take this opportunity to share some examples and insights with you.
To begin with, let’s be clear about the difference between a restoration verses vintage/period alterations or changes.
Restoration is that which has been re-applied to a jersey at a later date in an attempt to return the jersey to its original visual appearance. In some cases the work has been done using authentic period lettering, numbering, patches, buttons or zippers that may have come from other period uniforms. In most cases the work is done with materials manufactured more recently.
Vintage/period alterations or changes are those things done to a uniform within the period it was actually worn to accommodate continued or repeated use. Most often they involve a number change or the addition of a patch.
Clearly there is nothing wrong with a shirt in either category just as long as the person buying the uniform knows what has been done to the jersey and when the work was performed.
Spotting Team Number Changes: There are many examples of jerseys that can be found with team number changes. Like numbers are easy to spot, even if the change was a vintage one because the of the way player identification was done on the jersey. These typically have some annotation such as the 1960 Kansas City Athletics home jersey featuring a strip tag of “Set 1-60-35”. In this case the #35 was replaced with the #50. The number #50 that is currently on the jersey shows the same relative wear and fade as the other wool blend felt lettering. The general seam wear is also the same, but the stitch pattern is different. While this was an obvious change, I mention seam wear and stitch pattern as things to look for in other instances as well.
In the case of shirts that are without any sort of player identification such as this 1951 Pittsburgh Pirates home jersey, look for things that stand out like the difference in the fade of the numbering versus the lettering of PIRATES on the front. While using a light table, I could not find evidence of another number other than “19” having been applied to the jersey so I believe that the number “19” was restored at a latter date and is not period.
Another example of this type of comparison can be found in this wonderful 1951 St. Louis Browns road flannel although the circumstances are just the opposite in that the #17 is original to the jersey and the BROWNS has been restored to the front of the jersey.
In addition to differences in fabric color, be sure to pay attention to fabric condition as well. In the case of this 1971 Chicago White Sox road jersey, notice the gathering of the fabric on the front versus that of the numbers.
One of my favorite jerseys in terms of “style” or visual appeal has to be the Cleveland Indians 1970 road jersey. This is an extremely tough “one year style” and finding one of these in 100% original condition is next to impossible. The one in my collection has been restored and work was done with exceptional care, almost to the point that it is indiscernible. With pieces like this that are difficult to find in original condition, I look for signs that something has been removed as opposed to something having simply been restored. In cases like this, often more care was put into restoring the jersey then to stripping it down. When lettering and numbering are removed, tears or cuts in the fabric frequently occur. When this happens, the fabric must be repaired or reinforced the restoration. In the case of this jersey, this had to be performed on the rear numerals. What excludes this from being a vintage number change is the fact that the lettering and numerals, as well as the stitching and overall seam wear are much newer then that of the overall wear to the jersey.
Other things to look for with respect to restorations have to do with uniform patches. This has become a bit complicated in recent years with the number of high quality replicas that can be found on the market. Things to look for with respect to spotting restorations, focus on looking for signs of previous stitch outlines as well as gathering under the patch itself. In the case of this 1960 Cleveland Indians home jersey, the Chief Wahoo patch on the left shoulder has been restored. While the patch currently on the jersey is a correct vintage patch, there are clear signs that the original patch was removed at some point in time and one currently on the shirt has be reapplied at a later date. Given the fact that there is gathering under this patch and that the seam wear shows signs of aging, I would suspect that the patch was reapplied some time ago.
The final example I would like to offer for this article is a 1966 New York Mets road jersey that has had a vintage team number change. The jersey lacks any sort of year identification. The jersey features a chain stitched collar annotation of “54-42” for player number and jersey size. While number 54 was issued in 1962, 1963, and 1964, the METS “Skyline” patch is the only patch that has been applied to this jersey. The current number “46” shows almost the exact same amount of wear and fading as the NEW YORK across the front. “46” is not listed as an issued number for the time the Mets wore flannels. The Wilson manufactures label places the jersey in the 1958-1966 time frame. The Mets team history as a ball club excludes the 1958-1961 seasons. This all leads me to believe that this is a 1966 road jersey of Whitey Herzog with a vintage team number change to facilitate wear possibly later during spring training.
I hope that with these examples you have gained a better understanding of what to look for with respect to restorations and changes in flannels. While this list of details and things to look for is not all encompassing, it should to some degree restore your faith in collecting flannels by enabling you to “see for yourself” and understand “what right should look like.” Both are primary goals of MEARS.