Play Ball!: The Unlikely Tradition of Baseball Ephemera at Swann

With the arrival of baseball’s Opening Day, spring is truly here. Swann does not handle baseball memorabilia in the traditional sense, leaving the encapsulated gem-mint rookie cards and game-worn jerseys to other auction houses.

And yet… Swann is very much interested in American art and culture and history, and working in those areas, baseball can hardly be avoided. Nor would we want to. Almost every department at Swann has handled baseball-themed work to some extent, and the baseball culture here is rich. The expected Yankees and Mets fans are thick on the ground, but befitting our cosmopolitan workplace, we are also home to enthusiasts of the Red Sox, Cubs, Braves, Royals, and Astros, as well as several minor league teams. Soon, boisterous baseball conversations will fill the hallways, to the consternation of the baseball-hating minority. And who could forget Swann’s undefeated softball team from the 2004 Auction House League? Sure, it was only one game, but it remains legendary.

Swann Softball League

Here are a few favorite lots which have rounded the bases at Swann.

Edward Gorey, Ball Strike Count, 1983.

This enigmatic Edward Gorey watercolor was sold in the December 2019 Illustration Art sale. It had been commissioned by Sports Illustrated, not Gorey’s usual beat.

Negro Heroes: True Stories Told in Full Color

Negro Heroes: True Stories Told in Full Color, issue 2, New York, 1948. Sold in our March 2021 sale Printed & Manuscript African Americana for $531.

This early Black comic book features a cover story on Rookie of the Year Jackie Robinson, in addition to other stories on Booker T. Washington, Toussaint Louverture, and more. It sold in our March 25, 2021 sale of Printed & Manuscript African Americana sale for $531.

Eadweard Muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge, from Animal Locomotion, collotype, 1887. Sold in our February 2019 sale of Photographs: Art & Visual Culture for $5,000.

Leave it to our always edgy Photographs department to handle a naked baseball photograph, from Edward Muybridge’s famed Animal Locomotion series.

Yale Baseball

In September 2010, Swann’s Americana department sold a diary which included the first known description of baseball at Yale: “Walking up with Redfield I proposed that we should get up a base ball club in our class. He entered into it finely and went right off and got the bats & ball made and this afternoon we had a glorious game on the green near the Methodist Church. Came in almost worn out, very lame,” November 14, 1844.

Related Reading: Old Diaries Tell the Stories of Overlooked Americans
Manuscript Diaries Tell Tales of a Growing America

1980s Ephemera from Spike’s Leather Bar Softball Team

Complete softball uniform from The Spike, renowned New York leather bar, circa early 1980s. Sold in our August 2020 LGBTQ+ Art, Material Culture & History sale for $500.

Well, we have sold ONE game-worn jersey, from the softball team of a New York leather bar, in our LGBTQ+ auction in the summer of 2020.

Vintage Baseball Posters

Designer Unknown, 2 Strikes 3 Balls / He Knocks the Last Ball Over the Fence, 1925. Sold in our August 2013 sale of Vintage Posters for $3,360.

One gets the sense that neither the artist nor copywriter for this Mather Work Incentive Poster had a deep familiarity with baseball, but yet they stayed to knock the last ball over the fence.

1970s Illustration Art for Black Sports Magazine

A substantial portion of Swann’s staff got involved in identifying the obscure second baseman who was upended by Lou Brock in an Illustration Art piece from this past summer.

Related Reading: An Interview with Dick McDonough — Collector & Connoisseur of Golf Illustrations

Winfred Rembert, Dolls Head Baseball, circa 1990

Winfred Rembert, Dolls Head Baseball, dyes on tooled and carved leather, circa 1990. To be offered in our April 22 sale of African American Art. Estimate $10,000 to $15,000.

And finally, coming up on April 22 in our African American Art sale is the haunting Dolls Head Baseball by Winfred Rembert.

Do you have baseball ephemera, illustrations, or related artwork we should take a look at?

Learn about how to consign to an auction, and send us a note about your item.