Robert Edward Auctions officials recently announced a very significant new baseball card discovery: a card of legendary Hall of Famer Josh Gibson dating from spring training of his rookie season in the Negro Leagues in 1931.
"It has long been thought that no card of Josh Gibson existed dating from his playing days," said REA President Rob Lifson. "Very few card issues featuring Negro Leaguers were produced in the 1930s and 1940s, and of these few, most were not issued in the United States. One exception is the 1931 Harrison Studios real photo postcard set featuring members of the Homestead Greys. Only a few examples are known to exist from this set which was produced in Hot Springs, Ark., during spring training in 1931."
Lifson added that until this discovery, no example of Josh Gibson's card in the 1931 Harrison Studios set has ever been documented or reported. The card is also autographed by Josh Gibson twice - once on the front, and a second time on the reverse (personalized to fellow Negro League catcher Joe Lewis).
"Josh Gibson's signature is extremely rare in any form, making this not only an extraordinary card discovery, but an extremely significant autograph discovery as well," said Lifson. "This may be the only authentic Josh Gibson autograph on a photograph of Gibson alone known to exist."
The photograph is all the more extraordinary in that it features Gibson as an eighteen-year-old in his rookie season. Gibson actually joined the Homestead Grays in the middle of the 1930 season, and he left the Grays to join the Pittsburg Crawfords early in 1932, when Crawfords owner (and numbers racketeer) Gus Greenlee raided the Grays' roster, signing both Gibson and Oscar Charleston.
Lifson pointed out that the sequence, combined with the photographer's credit ("Harrison, Hot Springs, Arkansas" in white lettering in the lower right, as others in the series) also dates the postcard to spring training of 1931, as it could not be from spring training of 1930 (Gibson did not join the Grays until the middle of the season) and Gibson was already with the Pittsburg Crawfords during spring training of 1932.
This signed postcard has never before been seen in the organized collecting world, but Lifson explained that he has known about it for many years. "In 1995, REA handled a significant collection of Negro League materials, including photographs from the collection of Louis Santop, one of the greats of the Negro Leagues. When we auctioned this collection, included were several autographed postcards (two with salutations, one personalized to "Lewis"), including two signed Homestead Grays postcards from the 1931 Harrison Studios Hot Springs Arkansas set."
According to Lifson, those two postcards were included in the June 1995 REA auction. "When these signed postcards (along with several other significant photographic pieces) were consigned, there was one postcard that the consignor chose to keep. That postcard was the signed Josh Gibson."
Barely more than a decade later, Lifson will auction the rarity in the company's initial 2006 sale. "The 'Joe Lewis' in the salutation is almost certainly Joseph Herman (Sleepy) Lewis, who was a star catcher in the Negro Leagues from 1919 to 1936 with many teams, including the Baltimore Black Sox, Washington Potamics, Hilldale, and the Lincoln Giants," Lifson continued.
"It is interesting to note that Santop, Gibson, and Lewis were all-star catchers, and this fact no doubt relates to why this why this signed postcard happened to come into the possession and be saved by Santop."
The card, encapsulated and with signatures authenticated by PSA/DNA, comes with LOAs from Steve Grad, Mike Gutierrez and Zach Rullo of PSA/DNA and James Spence/JSA.
The card will be included in Robert Edward Auctions' spring sale, with a pre-auction estimate of $10,000-$20,000 and a reserve of $5,000.
For further information call (908) 226-9900, or visit www.RobertEdwardAuctions.com.