Comparison and authentication of a ’72 Aaron jerse

aaronmears2.jpgWith the approach of the 1972 season, the Atlanta Braves had to decide whether or not to make a financial commitment to their star slugger. The Braves realized Hank Aaron’s importance to the franchise and on Feb. 29, 1972, Aaron became the first baseball player to sign a $200,000 per-year salary. With the signing of the contract, baseball was beginning to recognize the value of this under-appreciated superstar.

Fast forward 35 years and collectors should ask themselves if now is the time to purchase Aaron game-worn jerseys in anticipation that the Aaron memorabilia market will appreciate.

When comparing Aaron game-worn jersey prices realized in the current market, you can see how Aaron memorabilia is currently selling for prices below his contemporaries. For the purpose of this article, we will use the 1972 Hank Aaron Braves Knit home jersey, which is currently available at www.mearsonline.com. Keep in mind the below prices were realized with collectors taking the following factors into consideration:

1. Value of a Flannel vs. Knit
2. The stage of career that the player wore the jersey
3. Availability in the market place
4. Style of jersey examined

Flannel vs. Knit
All of the below examples were flannel jerseys with the exception of the 1970 Clemente, which was a knit. The hobby has previously favored flannel offerings over their knit counterparts. Although this was one of the contributing factors of the prices realized, this prejudice could also work to the favor of a collector that identifies the fact that knit jerseys from this era are undervalued.

Stage of Career
The MEARS 1972 Aaron home knit jersey is from the fifth from final season of Aaron’s career. Jerseys representing the earlier stages of a player’s career are eagerly sought by collectors, but examples are quite rare with very few known in the hobby. The prices realized chart shows that in the case of the 1970 Roberto Clemente knit and the 1959 and 1960 Ted Williams home examples, which in spite of their late stage of career in comparison to the player still performed relatively well in terms of final price realized. Rookie-era jerseys of the comparable players would all likely realize sales prices of $100,000 on up.

Availability in the marketplace
Examination of the MEARS jersey census report verifies that we have examined the following:
Four Roberto Clemente jerseys dating from 1962-71
Five Ted Williams’s jerseys dating from 1948-60
Four Mickey Mantle jerseys dating from 1952-63
Five Hank Aaron jerseys dating from 1954-76

Below are the Aaron jerseys examined by MEARS, which are found in our current jersey trade index:
1954 Hank Aaron Braves road A9 Wilson MEARS #303173
1970 Hank Aaron Braves road A10 Spalding MEARS #259027
1973 Hank Aaron Braves road A10 Sand Knit MEARS #304051
1974 Hank Aaron Braves road A8 Wilson MEARS #303631
1976 Hank Aaron Brewers home A9 Sand Knit MEARS #303184

Regarding the availability of Aaron jerseys, one can see that flannel offerings are quite rare. The 1954 rookie road jersey sold privately for more than $150,000. Three of the other offerings were of the knit variety 1973, 1974 and 1976. Also, collectors are holding onto Aaron jerseys of any year and they are entering the market with less and less frequency. Counting this example, MEARS has examined six Aaron jerseys to date.

Other examples are in private collections that have not been examined by MEARS. Even with the uncounted examples, it would still be safe to estimate that the number of authentic and high-grade examples are quite minute.

MEARS subscribers can verify the above in terms of year, manufacture, home or road and final grade.

Prices Realized
The prices below illustrate current market pricing for game-worn jerseys of Aaron’s contemporaries. Players examined were Mantle, Clemente and Williams. This pricing illustrates that the players’ jerseys bring top dollar in the marketplace and sell for substantially more than the offered Aaron 1972 home knit.

l 1958 Clemente Pirates road jersey MEARS A9 $71,500 (Hunt Auctions, 2005 All-Star)
l 1966 Clemente Pirates home jersey MEARS A7 $68,750 (Hunt Auctions, August 2005)
l 1970 Clemente Pirates home jersey MEARS A9 $42,000 (Vintage Authentics, July 2005)
l 1955 Williams Red Sox road jersey * $40,701 (Lelands, Winter 2006)
l 1959 Williams Red Sox home jersey MEARS A8 $50,556 (Mastro, April 2006)
l 1960 Williams Red Sox home jersey MEARS A8.5 $51,519 (Mastro)
l 1954 Mantle Yankees home jersey MEARS A10 $119,5000 (Heritage, 2005)
l 1963 Mantle Yankees home jersey MEARS A10 $143,000 (Heritage, September 2004)

Note: * Not examined by MEARS

These are all very strong prices, and yet remember, none of those players are the all-time home run leader.

Regardless of how many home runs Barry Bonds amasses before retiring, Aaron will always be regarded as baseball’s pure home run king. His place as baseball royalty should ignite collecting interest and his game-worn jerseys should find the acceptance in the hobby they deserve.

Style
The offered jersey is unique in the sense that it is a one-year-only style. The year 1972 found the Braves switching from flannel to knit, and Sand Knit was the supplier. With the introduction of the knit style, the 1972 Braves Home jerseys were offered with a unique two-button-down collar. No other teams wore a jersey such as this, therefore making this specimen unique in terms of style.

The following season found the 1973 Braves switching to jerseys supplied by Wilson with crew neck collars. Additional examination found the material to be consistent with other Sand Knit material examined by MEARS. Inspection of the two buttons found them to be original as issued by the manufacturer.

Tagging and Manufacturer
The next step of the authentication of this jersey was the inspection of the Sand Knit manufacture tag. Comparing it to the MEARS database, the tag was identified as being used by Sand Knit from 1969-76, which was the acceptable range for this examined jersey. Also, the style of the printing on the tag was consistent with the Sand Knit examples from this time frame, which were found in the MEARS database.

After it was established that the style of the Sand Knit tag was correct, we examined the tagging for proper placement/arrangement. Using the following as exemplars:

1972 Sand Knit Atlanta Braves Home No. 47
We were able to establish that the tag arrangement was proper for this jersey. A No. 47 common Braves home jersey served as a basis of comparison. Examination found that the proper tagging for this 1972 home jersey was:

1. Designed & Tailored Exclusively for the Atlanta Braves tag
2. Sand Knit size tag with wash instructions tag
3. Strip tag with 72, #, set 1 or 2

All three tags were applied vertically in order of 1-3. The tagging arrangement of the 1972 Aaron jersey compared favorably to the 1972 No. 47 Braves home jersey. Although the final tag (strip tag) was missing on the Aaron, the outline was clearly evident and was found. Therefore the design and arrangement of the two examined jerseys were near identical and served to verify that the jersey was indeed properly tagged.

Size
Next, the staff of MEARS had to determine:
1. Was size 40 correct for Aaron during this time frame?
2. Was the jersey an actual size 40, meaning did the actual jersey match the labeled tag size?

To determine if this size was correct to be issued for Aaron, we examined the size chart compiled by Dave Grob. This allowed us to conduct trend analysis on Aaron jerseys that have entered the market. Available for comparison was:

Braves, Wilson, 1969, H, 40, Aaron, RE301
Braves, Wilson, 1969, H, 40, Aaron, RW1193
Braves, Wilson, 1970, H, 40, Aaron, RW992
Braves, Wilson, 1971, H, 42, Aaron, G1100
Braves, Wilson, 1971, H, 40, Aaron, RW293
Braves, Wilson, 1971, H, 40, Aaron, RW1191
Braves, Sand Knit, 1972, H, 44, Aaron, Halp 1
Braves, Sand Knit, 1973, H, 42, Aaron, G501
Braves, Sand Knit, 1973, R, 42, Aaron, RW1191

Examination of the size chart determined that size 40 was acceptable and was within the range of other Aaron jersey’s which have entered the hobby. Measurement of the actual chest, 20 inches across, also verified that the jersey matched the tagged size.

The numbering, font and patches were also correct and matched the examined exemplars.

Wear
The wear on this jersey was deemed heavy. The heavy wear manifested itself in the form of heavy internal and external puckering of the numerals. The stitching showed stress from repeated wear and washing. The front of the jersey showed discoloration in the area of where the jersey was tucked into the pants; all signs of heavy game wear. The fabric’s fibers were compacted and stressed when viewed under a magnified light source.

Heavy measurable game wear is rarely found on superstar-caliber jerseys. Finally, the missing tag in the collar is most likely attributed to the heavy wear. Although a cause for the one-point deduction in the final grade, this lack of tag adds to the desirability of this jersey as is desirable sign of heavy wear.

Summary
– Per Dave Bushing:
“In 1972, Aaron hit 34 more home runs to pass Willie Mays that season and was also elected to the All-Star Game. Early Aaron knits, especially a rare one-year style, are harder to find than earlier flannels and represent an extreme challenge for the collector who seeks out the very best. This is it with tons of game wear, perfect condition and from an exciting season, this jersey would be the pride of any collection. It grades a solid A9 and is one of the nicest, all-original Aaron Braves knits in existence.”

Also, judging from the apparent full-season use, it is logical to speculate that Aaron may have hit one or more home runs while wearing this jersey. It is almost a certainty.

1972 Game Facts
Milestone games played at home while possibly wearing this jersey
May 31, 1972 – Aaron hits home run No. 648 that tied him with Willie Mays for second place on the career home run list.
Sept. 2, 1972 Aaron homers (No. 666 and No. 667) when he broke Stan Musial’s major league record for total bases (6,134).

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