For those collectors attempting to obtain signatures of 19th-century players, the venture can be as difficult as trying to locate some obscure pharaoh’s lost tomb. And while most signatures from that era are lost forever, a scarce few exist and can add great value to any collection.
One such name is Hall of Famer, Adrian “Cap” Anson. Anson is the charter member of the 3,000 Hit Club, and is a rare signature in any form. However, due to his tenure as clerk for the city of Chicago, first elected in 1905 as a Democrat, a limited supply of signed documents and letters is available in the market.
If Anson did not hold this position his signature would be nearly non-existent, in the same class as Bid McPhee, George Davis and Happy Jack Chesbro. Though a limited number of government-related documents do exist, a good percentage of them are secretarially signed and not signed by Anson. Based on the few dozen I have examined, I estimate that 75 percent of these documents are ghost signed.
I have identified two types of secretarial signatures, see examples 1 and 2. For years these have been accepted as genuine by some authenticators. I have seen many certified as genuine by the authentication companies but veteran collectors will advise you to avoid these examples. A genuine Anson signature can be seen in example 3 this signature is removed from a letter and it is a fine illustration.
As to other mediums, it is doubtful that a genuinely signed picture, ball, or baseball card exists.
Every once in a while a multi-signed baseball will surface in an auction. They are advertised as signed around 1915 or so and typically contain various signatures with Anson among the group. The balls are signed “A.C. Anson” in large letters. I have examined one in person and have viewed three others via photograph. Every Anson ball I have inspected did not look right. I have yet to find a genuine signed Anson ball and I doubt one exists.
In addition, I have seen many items signed as “Cap” Anson but I have yet to see a real one. It’s doubtful that Anson ever signed an autograph with his nickname.
About the only other medium I have seen Anson’s signature on are banquet menus from the early 1900s, these usually contain multiple signatures and the two I have examined were both signed in pencil.
One final thought: there are a good deal of Anson signatures in the market that evidence shakiness of the hand as if signed by a very old man. The ones I have personally examined all had telltale signs of forgery. I have come to the conclusion that a genuine Anson should exhibit no unsteadiness of hand and ones that do should be considered suspect and avoided.
Anson material is valued as follows: a signature (removed from a document or letter) will sell for $1,500-$1,750. A typed letter signed should run about $2,500-$2,750. A handwritten letter is a rarity and one of the most desirable items in the field of vintage baseball signatures. A nice full-page example will run about $6,000.
Frank “Noodles” Hahn
I receive a tremendous number of requests to illustrate exemplar signatures of the rare pre-1920 names. Illustrations are hard to find and highly desired by collectors. Frank Hahn is one such name. Hahn pitched his first game for the Redlegs in the summer of 1899. He compiled 130 wins against only 94 loses. A four-time 20-game winner, Hahn is a high-demand signature. Though he died in 1960, his signature is considered very scarce to rare and generally limited to index cards and government postcards. Other mediums are very rare. I have never seen a genuine 8-by-10 photograph or baseball. Signed letters are typically penned on government postcards.
Hahn signed in a plain and legible hand. His signature is easy to read and pleasing to the eye. Example 4 is a good illustration of his autograph. Hahn is a target of forgers and I have seen many in the market over the past few years so caution is warranted.
Hahn’s signature can be purchased for $100-$150; government postcards are much more valued and will start at $400. Since Hahn is ineligible for induction into the Hall of Fame, his signature will never reach ridiculous prices but he is still a wonderful link between 19th-century ball and the Cobb era, which should add depth to any vintage signature collection.
As a lifelong student of old-time baseball signatures, I have watched this hobby transform from a patchwork of diehard collectors exchanging autographs of little value into a complex business where rare signatures are transacted like listed commodities. Examining and identifying new forgeries is always a challenge especially when the target signature was produced by a highly skilled forger. It’s almost like a game of chess where one side constantly tries to out maneuver the other and sometimes I think the bad guys are winning. In any event, a few new forgeries have recently hit the market.
Christy Mathewson is always a treasured and rare name. In recent months I have noticed forged notes allegedly written by Matty during his days as an officer in the poison gas division. Mathewson served in World War I, along with Cobb, in the art of chemical warfare. An accidental run-in with mustard gas led to Matty’s early death in 1925.
In any event, Mathewson-signed material from his military days is extremely rare and generally limited to signed official Army documents. Recently, I have run across a couple of Mathewson signatures signed something to the effect of “Property of Capt. Christy Mathewson” and “Capt. Christy Mathewson C.W.S.” (Short for Chemical Warfare Service). These signatures appear to be on old book paper. The two I have examined were clearly forged. If you come upon a Mathewson war-related signature proceed with extreme caution as chances are very good it’s a product of a skilled forger.
Ty Cobb is among the most treasured names in history. In recent months I have noticed a vast increase in forged Cobb check cuts. Many Cobb forgeries signed in green ink have hit the market. Usually signed “Tyrus R. Cobb,” these forgeries are applied to green check paper. It’s obvious that some forger has obtained old checks and applied the Cobb forgeries, with many being found on eBay. The best way to spot these forgeries is by the labored appearance of the signature. The ink lines are thicker and evidence a slight shakiness of hand. Be on the lookout, as these forgeries are fairly well executed.