‘To experience a collection like this hands-on is very exciting,’ comments Baseball specialist Simeon Lipman while exploring highlights of Christie’s 19 October sale, The Golden Age of Baseball: Selections from the National Pastimes Museum. The collection of rare memorabilia includes spine-tingling items dating as far back as 1860.
Rare pieces on offer include an uncut sheet of baseball cards dating from 1938 — a delight for Lipman, who admits he was a ‘big collector’ of baseball cards as a child. ‘These would have come in packs of bubblegum, collected by kids,’ he explains. ‘It’s very rare to find a sheet from this period.’
For Lipman, however, some of the most interesting pieces in this ‘encyclopedic’ collection reference the ‘amazing players’ in America’s Negro Leagues — the teams of black players active before Jackie Robinson broke ‘the color barrier’ in Major League Baseball in 1947.
‘There’s very little out there to document these greats of the game,’ Lipman explains. Highlights include a ‘wonderful collection’ of Josh Gibson memorabilia — the star who died at the age of just 35. ‘Though he never got to play in the big leagues, many consider him one of the best players of all time,’ adds the specialist.
Additional pieces include baseball bats once wielded by some of the game’s greats — the likes of George Sisler and Jimmie Foxx. Other items celebrate the sport’s biggest fans: one photograph shows Fidel Castro in a throwing stance (‘apparently he was a great pitcher’), which is offered in the online sale.
‘Baseball is one of those great games that have history, but are still being played today,’ concludes Lipman. ‘There’s a very direct link between what’s happening now and what happened 150 years ago; you can really see that with this material.’