I thought I would take some time and keystrokes to share the Walter Johnson Jersey letter with you for a couple of reasons. First it is just a tremendous piece. Secondly, I would like to share some thoughts on this piece to highlight some aspects of the evaluation process.
I have always stated that provenance, no matter how good, can’t make something into something it is not. For this statement to have any merit, the bidder is entitled to some assessment of the “story offered” with respect to how it compares to the claim being made. I don’t know about you, but I hate the idea of seeing language in a letter that states“ we have been told by the consigner that this item comes with impeccable provenance.” In all cases the provenance has to be both reasonable and verifiable. To evaluate whether you are the person doing the evaluation or a potential bidder, shouldn’t you be provided this information? In the case of this jersey, we where and I have addressed this.
Another point that is worth mentioning is the value of the letter. I am not referring to what it does for re-sale or insurance purposes, but rather what points does it assist the evaluator in communicating to his audience. A letter should be more than just a check list and a pretty cover letter when the person paying for a $750 service (in this case about .003% of the value of the item). They should be provided actual references that where used in comparison as well as any tools or visuals. In this case I developed what I think is a nice visual POWER POINT reference that details information used to support timeline identification.
Furthermore, when claims are being made that jersey or item is what is because we have “seen pictures of this in the past” or “seen pictures of items like this,” then why not include those as well. Most often, the only pictures provided are the ones in the catalog. In the case of this jersey, I included a wonderful shot from a vintage Baseball Book that showed many of things I discussed. To take this step further, why not provide the bidder with a list of references that you used. In my line of work we are tasked to protect the “sources and methods” of gathering intelligence, but last time I checked the sports memorabilia is not governed by a security classification guide or the rules of National Disclosure.
The final point I would like to highlight is that efforts like this must be a group or team effort with each party leveraging what they do best. I am trained to do imagery analysis (notice I did not say “photo matching…yes I know I hit this hard last week). As such this is what I did.
Imagery Analysis: 1919-1922 Walter Johnson Washington Nationals Road Jersey
I was not able to physically inspect this jersey but have performed imagery analysis on it having been provided full color copies of this jersey as well as being provided various photographs from the personal collection of Ms. Linda S. Erickson. Ms. Erickson is the granddaughter of Eric George Erickson who played for Washington and was a teammate of Walter Johnson from 1919-1922.
It is important to state up front that the full color copies of the jersey I was provided are just that. They are not photographs of the items, rather actual reproductions done on a color copy machine. This is critical in that the size and scale of these is not open to interpretation.
The provenance accompanying this piece is in the form of a notarized letter and various photographs of George Erickson and Walter Johnson. There is no doubt as to Ms. Erickson’s claim that her grandfather would have been in a position to obtain the jersey as stated. Additionally, because both Erickson and Johnson where both similar in size:
Eric George Erickson 6 feet 2 inches 190 pounds
Walter Johnson 6 feet 1 inches 200 pounds
It is also possible that Erickson could have been issued an older jersey previously worn jersey from Johnson for his use and wear. This opens up a second possibility for how Erickson could have come into possession of the jersey. The other being that it could have been “gifted to him” by his teammate Walter Johnson. In either event, I would consider the provenance for this jersey both reasonable and verifiable. Where this is the case, it in no way would diminish the significance of the jersey or its attribution to Walter Johnson.
The Walter Johnson Road Jersey features a Spalding manufactures label that can be found in Spalding professional grade uniforms from the period of around 1915 to 1928. The jersey style is from 1918 to 1923 according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, “Dressed to the Nines” jersey database. When you combine these two factors with the shared playing dates of both Erickson and Johnson, the jersey is most likely to be from the period of 1919-1922. This is important to note as it the jersey is both the correct style and manufacturer for the shared period, thus further supporting the claims in the provenance.
Visual Aspects of Distinction:
1. Jersey construction with separate shoulder panel sewn over front and back. Pinstripes run perpendicular to body pinstripes in this area made apparent by the presence of set-in versus Raglan sleeves. This characteristic is supported by the two photographs provided of Erickson wearing a Washington road jersey from this period. This is an important distinction in that this manner of construction, while common for Washington road jerseys from this period, is not shared by all other teams who wore similar pinstripe jerseys manufactured by Spalding with set-in sleeves. The print references used to conduct this comparative analysis include:
a. Baseball: A Celebration by James Buckley Jr. and Jim Gigliotti
b. Baseball: An Illustrated History of America’s Game by Donald Honig
c. Baseball: An Illustrated History by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns
d. Greats of the Game: The Players, Games, and Managers That Made Baseball History by Ray Robinson and Christopher Jennison.
e. Nationals On Parade: 70 Years of the Washington Nationals Photos by Mark Stang and Phil Wood.
f. The Story of Baseball: A Completely Illustrated and Exciting History of America’s National Game by John M. Rosenburg. (photo enclosed from page page 59 showing this for Walter Johnson).
2. Size and placement of the sleeve “W” as it relates to the general size of spacing between the pinstripes. The width of the “W” on the left and right sleeve patch as measured from the bottom left edges of the bottom base of the sleeve is 25mm. The width of the area between the pin stripes on the jersey measured from the same left to left edge is 26 mm. Both approximate about 1 inch. This is consistent proportionally with what I found in looking at images from Washington uniforms for this period both in terms of the “W” and the pinstripes.
4. Lack of player size and year annotation. This jersey is without any sort of player size tagging/stitched annotation or year identification. This is consistent with other period uniforms manufactured by Spalding that I have in my data base (Listed Below)
5. Style of player identification stitching. The single straight stitch appliqué of “JOHNSON” is also consistent with other period uniforms manufactured by Spalding in my data base. (Listed Below). This is different than the chain stitch embroidery that begins to appear later in the 1920s with some regularity.
Spalding Period Jerseys Used For Manufacturers Comparison
Team Year Home/Road Player Reference
Giants 1919 Road Zimmerman M1101
Cardinals 1919 Road Rickey Halp 2
Yankees 1916-21 Home Peckinpau M1100
Athletics 1921-22 Home M801
Tigers 1921-22 Home Manion M404
The Johnson jersey compares favorably with these examples in terms of general manner of appliqué of player identification and lack of size indication/tagging and year identification. For the Giants, Yankees, Cardinals and Tigers; the pinstripe width and spacing is also consistent. Button style and composition are also consistent.
Given what I have seen in the jersey as compared to what I should expect to see in a Walter Johnson Washington National’s Road jersey from this period, I have no reason to believe that the jersey offered by Sotheby’s/SCP Auctions is not as stated or offered in accordance with the provenance by the Erickson family. Based on the totality of the circumstances, I would place this Walter Johnson jersey to the 1919-1922 time frame.
My opinion is based on those things that can be seen and evaluated based on photographic evidence, know exemplars, and actual to scale full color/full size images of the jersey being offered by Sotheby’s/SCP Auction. I offer no opinion on the degree of use or wear as I have not physically inspected the actual jersey. This should not be construed in any manner to support or refute the findings of the other members of the MEARS staff. This is only offered to ensure that any potential bidder understands what my findings are and what as served as the basis for this opinion.
DAVID W. GROB