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Sporting Life Cabinets set records at auction

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A remarkable group of 1902 Sporting Life Cabinet cards found in an Upstate New York attic brought record prices for several of the major Hall of Famers in a Binghamton, N.Y., auction by the Connelly Gallery.

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As part of its June 4 collectibles auction, the Binghamton-based auction company included 24 individual lots of the tough Sporting Life Cabinets, grossing more than $92,000, including the 15 percent buyer’s premium.

 The consignment came as a result of a grandson of the consignor who lived in Binghamton. He spoke to Bob Connelly, the president of Connelly Gallery, and asked if he would contact his grandmother in Rochester, N.Y., for an appraisal of some antiques in her attic. On his visit to the Rochester home, he was shown some old items and among them was a flat-top trunk. It was filled with papers and photographs, none dating later than 1908. Also in the trunk was an envelope that contained 24 Sporting Life Cabinet baseball cards.

Connelly said he could have purchased them directly but advised the lady it would be in her best interest if he placed them in his auction. All of these cards, Burdick’s ACC designation W600, were in close to mint state condition, with very minor faults/stains and still in their original glassine envelopes as issued.

All of the cards were from the earliest offerings of the Sporting Life Publication Co. of Philadelphia, Pa., in the fall of 1902 and early 1903. The auction took place at The Showplace in the Binghamton Plaza. There were about a dozen bidders in attendance and six active telephone lines for phone-in bidders. The auction was also live on eBay.

The first of the 24 Cabinets auctioned was John McGraw, bid to $4,370 (including the 15 percent buyer’s premium); the next was Cy Young that ended at a $8,050 bid. They were followed by Nap LaJoie at $4,255, and a Christy Mathewson that was bid to $13,800.

At this point, the auctioneer announced the $1 sign that hung over the refrigerator for the price of cans of Coke be removed: the cans of coke are now free! The audience laughed.
All of the Hall of Fame player cards received heavy bidding from both the floor and eBay bidders. One single eBay bidder won five and another won two of the HOFer cards. One phone-in bidder won eight cards. These three bidders won 15 of the 24 cards in the auction. Of the 24 cards, floor bidders won 17 and the remaining eight went to Internet bidders.
The list below of prices realized includes the 15 percent buyer’s premium:

Christy Mathewson $13,800 
Honus Wagner 13,225
Denton Cy Young 8,050
Rube Wadell 6,670
Ed Delehanty 6,440
John J McGraw 4,370
Jack Chesbro 4,370
Nap LaJoie 4,255 
Hughie Jennings 3,450
Clark Griffith 3,220 
Fred Clarke 3,220 
Willie Keeler 2,875
Bobby Wallace 2,200
Jimmy Collins 2,185
Herman Long 1,840
Joe Kelly 1,725 
George VanHaltren 1,610 
John Buck Freeman 1,495
Michael Donlin 1,495
Charles Stahl 1,380
P.J. Donovan 1,365
William Dahlen 1,150
Charles Farrell 1,150
William Bernhardt 1,005

(The story was compiled by noted 19th-century and early 20th-century card expert Jerry Spillman.)

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