George Sisler, the greatest player ever to don a St. Louis Browns uniform, was well on his way to admission into the exclusive 3,000-Hit Club when his career took an unexpected detour. Sisler had always been prone to sinus problems and in 1923 a severe infection affected his optic nerve. He suffered from blurred vision and sat out the entire season. His keen vision would never be the same. His batting average after that fateful season dropped and would never fully recover.
Nevertheless, Sisler is one of the true immortals of the game and one of only a handful of players in history to join the rarified air of the .400-plus club, batting .407 in 1920 and again in 1922, when he hit .420.
Sisler retired in 1930 with a lifetime batting average of .340. He collected more than 2,800 base hits in a 15-year career and was inducted into Hall of Fame in 1939.
Sisler’s status as one of the game’s true legends creates strong demand for his signature and fortunately for collectors the great Sisler was an accommodating signer throughout his entire life. Sisler signed in a rather unattractive hand. His signature is marked with abrupt vertical lines and lacks any type of measurable flow. Example 1 is a vintage signature that was penned in the early 1920s; it is removed from an autograph album.
As the years progressed, Sisler’s hand became more choppy resulting in a signature with poor eye appeal. Examples 2-4 are more modern signatures.
He can be found on album pages, photos, government postcards, letters, index cards, and Hall-of-Fame plaque postcards. Sisler is considered rare on single-signed baseballs. Several years ago the family released canceled bank checks into the market. These turn up every so often but should be considered scarce and highly collectible.
Due to his long association with the game, letters are in good supply. Content of letters tends to be mundane but some have good baseball content. Typed letters are a bit more common than handwritten letters but both can be added to any collection at a reasonable price.
Though he died in the early 1970s and was the last surviving member of the 1939 Hall of Fame ceremonies, Sisler is considered rare on single-signed baseballs. In 25 years of collecting, I have only seen five or six genuine examples. It goes without saying that most single-signed Sisler balls in the market are forged and have been wrongly certified as genuine by the major authentication companies.
Team-signed baseballs from Sisler’s playing days are very rare and limited to the Browns teams of the 1920s. As an added bonus, these balls generally contain signatures of early slugger Ken Williams (discussed below) and Ernie Nevers who pitched three years of big league ball before entering professional football and eventually finding his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
There is a common type of Sisler forgery in the market that has been floating around for years. The forgery is typically found on the sweet spot and almost always accomplished in fountain pen. Example 5 is a good illustration of this type of forgery and it is something to watch out for. Note the slight labored appearance of the strokes.
The great Sisler died at the age of 80 and his hand remained strong until the very end. A genuine Sisler signature will exhibit no shakiness of hand. If you happen to stumble upon a Sisler signature with a labored appearance it should be treated as a forgery and avoided.
Sisler material will always be popular with collectors and his signature is very affordable on non premium items. A signature will sell for $30-$50 with government postcards valued at $75-$100. A signed 8-by-10 photograph will sell for $250-$300. Typed letters signed will sell for $150 while handwritten letters will start at $400. Signed Hall-of-Fame plaque postcards generally run about $150 (for either black-and-white or gold). A single-signed ball will sell for $4,000-$5,000. A signed bank check is worth between $225-$250.
Just about the time the Black Sox Scandal surfaced, baseball was going through a monumental change. The strategy-rich Cobb era of ball was slowly fading into history, soon to be replaced by the home run and sluggers like Babe Ruth, Hack Wilson and Lou Gehrig.
One of the earliest sluggers was Kenny Williams. A teammate of Sisler, Williams hit 24 homers in 1921 and a year later led the American League with an amazing 39 round trippers. Today, Williams, with his lifetime batting average of .319, is often mentioned as a possible Hall of Famer.
Williams’ signature is very legible and plain, Signatures signed later in life slowed a bit due to age, but will exhibit no measurable shakiness of hand. His signature is illustrated in Examples 6 and 7.
Williams is a scarce signature and generally limited to index cards, government postcards, and other items that could be signed through the mail. Single-signed baseballs, letters, and 8-by-10 photographs are very rare.
A signature is worth $150-$200 with government postcards at $350-$400.
A signed book photo or exhibit card sells for $500 and a single-signed baseball will cost approximately $3,500. Williams should eventually make the Hall of Fame and his signature is worth adding to your collection.
A signature is worth $150-$200 with government postcards at $350-$400. A signed book photo or exhibit card sells for $500 and a single-signed baseball will cost approximately $3,500. Williams should eventually make the Hall of Fame and his signature is worth adding to your collection.
A question of provenance
Since I began writing articles I have received numerous questions from collectors across the country. One of the most frequently asked questions deals with the importance of provenance.
Should a signature’s provenance (or its origin) be considered when purchasing or authenticating a signature? The answer for the most part is clearly: No.
In general, provenance has no place in authenticating a signature. Signature authentication is based (or should be based) on the physical construction of handwriting and nothing more.
Far too many times provenance has been used as a crutch to authenticate something that is forged or ghost signed. Provenance, for the most part, is about as relevant to signature authentication as Cobb’s lifetime batting average.
There are just too many times where material once deemed genuine has turned out to be a product or forgery or secretarially created. The Babe Ruth Sinclair Oil Contest signed baseballs, the Christy Mathewson signed presentation books of Won in The Ninth, and the collection of Cobb “signed” letters from author Al Stump are prime examples. All of the above forgeries were, at one time, sold as genuine. All came with ironclad provenance that later proved faulty.
About the only time provenance has value is in the nebulous world of the extremely rare material. Take for example signatures of Tim Keefe or Rube Waddell. Now there are no known genuine examples of either of these Hall of Famer’s signatures. In fact, nobody really knows what their signatures look like. Now if a Keefe signature were to surface from the Keefe estate or his descendants then the provenance is most likely sound.
Outside of this rare exception, in my opinion, provenance is useless. A true handwriting expert can tell if a signature is real by the examination of the handwriting and the story behind the signature means nothing.