A bank customer gave the Smalley family the memorabilia board. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
“Tigers Win World Series!” is a headline most fans (this one included) dream about seeing on the front page of a current newspaper. While the results of this season are still undetermined, Dennis Smalley recently brought in an item that had those magic words at the top and dated to 1935, one of the four years (1935, 1945, 1968 and 1984) that our beloved Boys of Summer won the coveted series.
“My wife worked at a bank, and one of her elderly customers gave this to her,” Smalley told appraiser Brian Thomczek at a recent Trash or Treasure day held at Judy Frankel Antiques, part of the Antiques Centre of Troy.
He filled the appraiser in on the rest of the story behind the unusual piece of Detroit Tigers memorabilia. “The story is that when she was little, she wrote to all of these players and put this together,” he told Thomczek about the piece’s original owner. “When my wife brought it home, I didn’t look at it very closely, but when I did I said, ‘Oh, my God.’ ”
That “oh, my God” moment prompted him to want to know more about the large, poster-size board made into a collage that contained tickets, letters and other ephemera from baseball’s heyday. Among the many items included are signatures from Hank Greenberg, Mickey Cochrane, Babe Ruth, Jo-Jo White and Charlie Gehringer.
Many of the items on the board relate to the Tigers and the game in the 1930s, which would make the collage about 80 years old, Thomczek told Smalley. He said the board has a sentimental appeal and a certain folk art element, which makes it especially charming, if a bit difficult to value.
“The big question with autographs and these kinds of items is always authenticity,” said Thomczek as he looked more closely at the piece. “I took a look at some of these online just now, and they look right, but I’m not an expert on sports memorabilia or autograghs. To be sure, we’d have to research each autograph separately, which would be a time-intensive and laborious job, but it could be done.”
He recommended that Smalley contact the online authenticator psacard.com, which specializes in this type of work. “They’d have to do each of these separately and then total them up for an accurate idea of the overall value,” he told Smalley. “If it’s real, the Babe Ruth signature alone is worth $200-$300, although other ones like Mickey Cochrane might bring only $35-$40 and lesser known Jo-Jo White about $10.”
The other issue, he said, is that many celebrities — sports and otherwise — did not always sign their own autographs, often relying on assistants or secretaries. “Frank Sinatra signed very few of his,” Thomczek told Smalley.
The better-known earlier players can be in high demand, he said. The one thing that could hold the piece back if it were to come to auction, however, would be the condition. At some point in its history, the collage was covered with a decoupage paste or shellac, probably in an effort to preserve it. Unfortunately, that often has exactly the opposite effect, causing an overall yellowing that increases through the years and can do permanent damage. That yellowing has made it difficult to read some of the items and papers on the collage. Whoever put it together also burned the edges
Nonetheless, Thomczek said it would probably have value at auction were Smalley to decide to part with it.
“Someone who collects Tigers items could possibly be interested, but generally old baseballs and jerseys bring the most from these early players,” he said.
The appraiser said it’s difficult to give Smalley a number but thinks the collage could go as high as $700-$800 with the names included, if, with further research, they prove to be authentic.
Smalley said he’d consider doing more background checking on the piece and will decide what, if anything, to do with it going forward. “I wonder if Mr. Ilitch would be interested,” he quipped. In the meantime, he keeps it in his basement. “It’s in my man cave sports bar downstairs,” he told Thomczek. “It gets a lot of attention from the people who come down there.”
About this object
Item: Baseball memorabilia board
Owner: Dennis Smalley
Appraised by: Brian Thomczek, independent appraiser
Estimated value: $700-$800 at auction
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