Some people don’t have the patience to scour eBay for hours, let alone days and years in search of an item they desperately want to add to their collection.
Patience could be the middle name of Jonathan Algard.
He spent nearly two decades to successfully track down an autograph of Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, whose name became famous in 1989 when Kevin Costner’s movie “Field of Dreams” hit the big screen.
Algard’s hunt started in 2000 and it lasted until an unassuming package was sent to his Coplay, Pa. house in 2017.
“I don’t think most people like doing the legwork anymore,” Algard said.
Because of his 17-year journey to find the Graham signature, Algard was selected to be inducted into the newly-established SCD Collectors Hall of Fame under the category of Persistent Pursuer.
SCD first told Algard’s astonishing story in Aug. 2020 (The Hunt for Archibald “Moonlight” Graham’s Autograph, Aug. 14 issue).
SEARCHING HIGH AND LOW
Graham’s role in “Field of Dreams” was loosely based on real life. Graham had a solid minor league career before finally making it to the majors as a 28-year-old. He appeared in one game, in the bottom of the ninth inning for the New York Giants on June 29, 1905. Graham played right field and didn’t have a ball hit to him. He returned to the minors soon after and never got called up to the big leagues again.
Graham earned his medical degree from the University of Maryland in 1905. After his baseball career ended, “Doc” — as he would be known — moved to the small northern Minnesota mining town of Chisholm. Graham practiced medicine in the town — which had a population of 9,000 in 1920 — for 50 years. He was the Chisholm schools’ doctor during that time. He retired in 1959 and passed away in 1965 at the age of 88.
The allure from the film and the unique, short baseball career of Graham really attracted Algard. As an autograph collector, he loves the rare, hard-to-find pieces.
“There wasn’t any,” Algard said. “I’d never saw one.”
Algard, who is now 51, didn’t think it would be too hard to track down a signature of the obscure but all-of-a-sudden famous figure. Graham played seven seasons of professional baseball and followed that up by serving his community by being a doctor for a half a century.
Finding Graham’s autograph proved to be quite the challenge.
“He had to have signed his name on something that’s still around,” Algard said. “That’s why I started going after it then. I knew it was attainable, it was just finding it.”
Back in 2000, eBay wasn’t nearly the tool it is today, but Algard did as much research as possible online.
“I first took the postcard theory, because anybody that collects stuff, you know that teams issued postcards,” Algard said. “I have seen postcards he was on on the Scranton Miners. So, I started taking that route.”
That came up empty. Algard focused on Graham’s medical career. Having lived in the same small town of Chisholm for the last 56 years of his life, Algard figured something would pop up.
Algard’s oldest son, William — who now plays baseball collegiately at Albright College — would often talk to his high school nurse about baseball when he was in school.
Since Graham was a former baseball player, Algard thought baseball also could have come up in his conversations with students, who might have then been interested in an autograph.
That led Algard to scope out Chisholm High School yearbooks from about the 1920s to 1960s. He was willing to spend between about $10-$20 per yearbook on a whim that Graham would have signed one of the pages.
Algard purchased about 20 yearbooks from different years. Thumbing through the pages, there were plenty of photos of Graham helping out students. In about May 2017, Algard logged onto eBay and bought a 1943 Chisholm yearbook for $15, plus $4 shipping.
When the mail arrived, the envelope sat on Algard’s dining room table for about a week before he opened it.
“I knew the chance of it being inside was there, but probably not,” Algard said.
Algard ripped open the package. He flipped through the yearbook and stopped on one page, staring for a couple seconds.
“My son, I remember distinctly, was in our dining room and I turned the page and all I hear is, ‘No way,’” Algard said. “You see the ‘AW Graham, MD’ inside of it. It’s a near flawless signature. There’s a line from a teacher that signed above him that somewhat does come down into one of the letters of his name. But it was obviously a flat signature — he was sitting and he signed it.
“Not only am I happy that I have one and I found one, but to me, in my opinion, it’s also the nicest one.”