One of the most interesting and challenging (and currently under priced) of all sports related collectibles has to be pennants. Pennants have been around since the nineteenth century and have been used as souvenirs for everything from advertising products (Winchester, Iver Johnson, Buick, etc), political campaigns and inaugurals, as well as representing states, cities, tourist attractions such as Niagara Falls Lookout Mountain, events like the Indy 500, the Vanderbilt Cup, the Kentucky Derby, Yacht races, rodeos, etc. and schools. True, the vast majority of tourist pennants tend to bring little money or garner much collector interest but some of the early ones with incredible graphics or great images are gaining some collector steam. Anything relating to early Florida or Hawaii tourism has a pretty good following. Likewise, school pennants, unless very early with killer sports images like a running back wearing a rubber nose guard or an early style baseball player, have very little collector value either but the special ones sell well into the hundreds of dollar range. Any early automobile racing pennants, ESP. Pre 1930 examples, sell upwards of $1000 dollars and much more with some of the early Indy pennants bringing several thousand dollars. Likewise can be said for early Kentucky Derby pennants. The early advertising pennants as well as the political pennants always sell well and some of them easily top the $1000 mark and beyond but for the most part, the real money and vast collector interest, and the focus of this article, is on the American team sports related pennants, i.e. baseball, football , basketball and hockey. This will be the first of a series of articles with the focus on baseball this time out.
BASEBALL; The top of the heap money wise. The most valuable of these pennants are the pre 1930 examples, esp. those that are dated. The earliest examples may have sewn on letters and are often much larger than the standard full size pennant. (11×29) We have, for an example, an early Philadelphia Athletics pennant that is 33” long and has the sewn on letters as well as the figural baseball player. Highly sought after because of their beauty and rarity, they always sell in the four figure range (if in at least gd-vg condition) and some examples are rapidly approaching the five figure mark. Some of the pennants feature players such as the Johnny Evers and Frank Chance pennants while others feature team owners or managers like Charles Comisky and Connie Mack or early team pennants with incredible graphics of pitchers, batters and runners. Watch for anything relating to the short lived Federal League (1913-15) as the only known examples that have surfaced are a Johnny Evers Chicago Wales and a Baltimore Terrapins pennant ( 1 each) There have also been a couple of smaller opening day Federal League pennants that we refer to as the ¾ size examples (9×25) but even these are very rare with only a handful to have ever surfaced. Dated pennants such as the 1910 Cubs, Athletics, or 1919 Reds are prime examples of the highest pennant echelon and are documented known examples. Remember too that while condition always plays an important part in the pennant’s value, ( condition regarding pin holes, moth holes, tears, tassels, tips, fading and cracking ) passing on a vg-ex pennant from this period that may display a few flaws may be a costly error in that most of the pennants from this era exist as one or two of a kind examples and as such, you will probably never have another opportunity to purchase this pennant again at any price in any condition. There was once a set of circa 1922-23 World Series pennants of the Yankees (with Ruth’s head) and the Giants that featured all of the starting players head shots running the length of the pennant. They were auctioned at a Wolfer’s auction back in the late 1980’s / early 1990’s and I have never seen them offered again. Today, the Yankees pennant in even decent condition would probably set a worlds record for a pennant, most likely well into the five figure range and the Giants version would probably not be far behind. At this past years National Sports convention, the Evers Whales pennant, in vg condition, sold in excess of $6000 and while not cheap, it is probably the only known example and a good buy at that price for the Federal League collector that will probably never have a chance at this pennant again.
Pennants became fairly standardized size wise after the 1930’s. The standard full size pennant is approximately 11×29” and the so called 3/4 size pennant measures approximately 9×25. Of course, there will be exceptions but they are just that, exceptions. In addition, there are a myriad of mini pennants, some of which came in boxes of candy, others, like the small BF2 picture pennant were cigarette premiums but for the purpose of this article, we are discussing the full size and ¾ size pennants. In the post 1930 market thru the war years (1941-45), the pennants with the most value are the World Series and dated pennants, especially those with the players names embossed on them. Some of the known examples include the 1932, 34, 35, 36, 37, 39, 40, 44 and 1945 World Series pennants. All Star pennants of this era are also extremely rare and I can only imagine what a 1933 or 34 All Star pennant might bring if one ever surfaces. I have never seen a dated team scrolled 1941 Brooklyn dated pennant either but this piece would easily sell in the $3-4000 range if and when one surfaces.
Specialty baseball pennants such as the player portrait examples of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams (the two most commonly encountered, also found in different variations), Satchel Paige, Larry Doby, Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson always fetch top dollar and some, like the Paige, Reese and Jackie pennants are really tough to find, esp. in high condition and would be a prize in any collection. Negro league pennants are another specialty genre that inspires collectors. A few years back there was a large find of ¾ size Negro league pennants of the Philadelphia Stars (the most common), Homestead Grays, New York Black Yankees, Newark Eagles, Baltimore Elite Giants and the New York Cuban Stars and for a time, they often sold for less than a couple of hundred dollars with most examples that I have seen having been in top nr-mt condition but they too have been increasing in value to the point that some of the scarcer examples have been hitting the $500 mark, Even more rare are the known full size examples of teams like the Monarchs and the Negro League All Star pennants that have been selling close to the $1000 point and yet I still think they are vastly under-priced.
Another specialty area of pennants deals with minor league teams and of all the organized minor leagues, none commands as much attention as does the old Pacific Coast League. Any of the pre 1960 PCL pennants are rare and I have never even seen a pre war example offered for sale. Of the post war versions, I have seen examples of the Hollywood Stars, San Francisco Seals, California Angels, Portland Beavers and the San Diego Padres but they were all post war and I have never seen more than one example of each team. One can only imagine what a pre war high condition Seals, Oaks, Missions or Beavers Pennants might bring. There are literally dozens of other minor league teams such as the Minn. Millers, Buffalo Bisons or Newark Bears which usually sell well when and if they turn up but the PCL is king of the minor leagues with prices usually surpassing any of their similar era major league counterparts.
One thing that you will notice when you start to collect pennants is that there seems to be theme pennants in which an entire series was issued, such as in 1946 where the artwork is the same for almost every team with only the team name and color scheme having any variations. The “safe on base” theme was a common example of a 1940’s pennant and this image is found for just about every major league team.. Another common theme is the batter (usually number 2 or 3) with a catcher at the ready and again found for just about every team. Then there is the so called 1930-40’s stadium series with a picture of the ballpark to the left like Ebbets Field or Yankee stadium. Another popular series dating to the 1930-40’s is the stadium scene with a game in progress where you can see the batter and catcher along with the pitcher and several runners and the 3rd baseman with the ballpark wall in the background with full flying flags. This series is the basis for many of the ¾ size Negro league, Yankees and Dodgers pennants, many of the later with National or American League Champions imprinted on them as well. One of my favorite series of pennants dates to the 1950’s in which an extra large character is leaping out of the stadium into space such as the leaping Bum catching a ball for Brooklyn or the character Pirate or Indian head mascot reaching out for the Pirates or Braves. I don’t think they did one like this for every team in the National League but these three do exist and they all have similar graphics.
Moving on to the post war years, one team outsells them all and that is the Brooklyn Dodgers that often features their beloved Bum character. At one time, I had over 35 different Brooklyn pennants and the ones from the 1940-50’s featuring this character were the most magnificent. The 1955 scroll dated Championship pennant with the clown/bum head is the king of the 1950’s pennants along with the post war Yankee pennant with the real wooden bat that extends beyond the pennant and extremely rare and valuable. Both of these pennants would sell for upwards of $1500 if on the market in top condition. Any dual World Series pennant (both teams listed) with the Dodgers and the Yankees are key pieces and the 1955 example with the fringe and “v” cut tip are extremely rare and pricey. Other highlight post war pennants include defunct teams such as the St. Louis Browns, Philadelphia Athletics, New York Giants and Washington Senators, which are highly sought but most good clean examples from these teams can still be had for less than a couple hundred dollars, some selling for less than a hundred which represents a real bargain on today’s market. There are so many variations of both official (sold in the park) and bootleg ( outside private vendors selling outside the mainstream and usually with less intricate artwork to the point of being rather crude in some cases which also makes them some of the rarest of the rare) pennants, especially for teams such as the Milwaukee Braves, Cubs, White Sox and Red Sox to the point that even long time collectors still see unknown varieties from time to time and no collection is ever truly complete because nobody really knows what complete is.
Another trend beginning in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s was the picture pennant. These are usually color team photographs that are taped from behind a cut out in the pennant. These are hard to find in minty condition (esp. the white pennants) to the fragile nature of the team picture. The most desirable version is the 1961 Yankees which usually sells in the $250-300 range. It is my feeling that these picture pennants are a real bargain if in top condition. Other picture pennants often sell for less than $100 and are just as fragile and again, a good buy for the future. Another interesting group of pennants are the ¾ size individual picture pennant series put out by the Minnesota Twins during the 1960’s featuring Harmon Killebrew and other members of the team. A tough regional issue and a sure fire investment given the rarity and condition problems. I have never seen a complete set of these player pennants (I would love to know how many different players are represented and if there are any variations. If you have some info on this tough issue, please contact us with info and we will add to this article) and they present a real challenge and are vastly under priced with commons selling for less than $100 ( a decent Bobby Alison just sold on Ebay for less than $40) with stars seldom topping the $200 range. The Cubs put out a similar regional product circa 1969 that featured three players on one picture pennant entitled “Cubs Power” with Banks, Williams and Santo as well as one that featured 12 players in little squares and again, a good buy as most were white pennants with taped pictures and are easily damaged or soiled yet seldom sell for more than the $100-150 range.
The MLB logo began appearing on pennants around 1969 and the material used by that time is the stiff almost fiberglass type and while there are some sleepers in this modern area such as the 1970’s World Series and All Star pennants, it will be awhile before collector interest and value increases due mainly to a large existing supply.
Pennants offer the collector a great opportunity in both the potential for monetary increase along with enough variations to keep you hunting for years to come at prices that generally will not break the bank. If you have any photographs of rare or early pennants you would like to share, feel free to do so and we will try and post some of the best ones. Next time, we will delve into the world of football pennants, until then, happy hunting.