The numbers, records and accounts of games, seasons and even entire careers are skewed by numerous sources. Makeshift venues, second-rate equipment and less-than glamorous travel and boarding were realities. And as we grasp for truths regarding the Negro Leagues and their unheralded components, seldom, if ever, does it get more spectacular than the offered treasure: a published album page autographed by nine players from the 1944 season. Headlining the list is the ultra-rare penning of Josh Gibson, the equally fleeting signature of Jud Wilson and, with high probability, the earliest known Roy Campanella autograph in existence. Never has such a treasure surfaced and never have athletes endured as much hardship with so little reward. Discovered by our consignors in a Washington, D.C. row house among their father’s personal effects, this piece is equally sacred and scarce. It is without rival and ranks among the most amazing Negro League artifacts extant. It's with great pleasure that Huggins & Scott presents this exciting, fresh-to-the-hobby discovery and its never-before-seen constellation of Negro League legends.
At a single glance, the 5-7/8 x 9” page is enticing merely because of its vintage appearance defined by age-induced toning along the borders. And it only gets better. Extracted from a 1944 Who's Who in Baseball annual (the remainder is offered separately in this auction as Lot #442), the obverse is a reminder of an era during which autographs were sought and given out of love for the game and its participants. The printed legend atop the page reads: “THE AUTOGRAPHS OF YOUR FAVORITES” with subtext proclaiming “They Will Be Glad To Sign This Page For You.” And they were. Executed on individual lines in black-ink steel tip fountain pen, the scriptings feature an inspiring lineup of Negro League legends. With high probability, the autographs were collected at a game between the Homestead Grays and Baltimore Elite Giants, as an unidentified graphite pencil signature has a “Washington Grays” inscription (the Grays split their home games between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. at that time). From there, the page is signed by: Josh Gibson (d.1947, “8-9” strength); Jud Wilson (d.1963, “8-9” strength); Vic Harris (“9-10” strength); Robert Gaston (“8-9” strength); Ray Brown (d.1965, “8” strength); Roy Campanella (“8” strength); George Scales (“8-9” strength) and Ducky Kemp Penalaver (signed “Umpire Kemp”; "9" strength).
The Gibson signature is breathtaking in both its potency and rarity. Recent years have seen soaring auction prices for Gibson's signature alone, including over $80,000 in 2006 for an autographed photo postcard and just shy of $100,000 in 2009 for a 1941 contract. Gibson had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1943, declined surgery and endured headaches until his untimely passing in 1947. Despite his condition, “The Black Babe Ruth” posted an unfathomable .517 batting average in 1943. While accounts vary as to the lengths and number of Gibson’s home runs (the common assumption is that he hit nearly 800), testimony such as Bill Veeck’s comment that Gibson was “the greatest hitter he ever saw” tells us all we need to know.
This rarefied relic also displays the etchings of six additional Negro League figures, headlined by Jud Wilson (d.1963) who is perhaps the most elusive twentieth century Hall of Fame autograph of them all. (In fact, in that same aforementioned 2006 auction, Wilson's autographed photo postcard garnered $32,000.) Represented as well is Josh Gibson's battery mate, fellow Hall of Famer Ray Brown (d.1965), a dominating hurler whose talents were mentioned in the same breath as those of Paige and Feller. Rounding out the Grays are Vic Harris (d.1978) and Robert Gaston (d. 2000), while Campy is accompanied by Baltimore Elite Giants teammate George Scales (d.1976). And last but not least, there is umpire Ducky Kemp—a former player himself who was reputed to be one of just three salaried Negro League umps during the early 1940s.
With four Hall of Famers and one of only three salaried Negro League arbiters having decorated the page with bold signatures, this diamond heirloom is the subject of superlatives, trumping all other Negro League collectibles. Accompanying are full photo LOAs from James Spence Authentications and PSA/DNA.