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1934 Pittsburgh Crawfords Team Photo with Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, and Satchel Paige (Photo By James VanDerZee)
Starting Bid - $1,000, Sold For - $15,405
On October 6, 1934, one of the most star-studded teams in baseball history took the time to pose for noted photographer James VanDerZee at Yankee Stadium. The result was this remarkable photo, which, probably to most people's surprise, does not picture the New York Yankees, but instead the visiting Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro National League. Among the seventeen players pictured here, standing shoulder to shoulder in front of the grandstand, are five of the first six Negro League players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame: Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, "Cool Papa" Bell, Judy Johnson, and Oscar Charleston. The remaining players, all of whom are identified in print below their respective images, are Jimmy Crutchfield, Bertrum Hunter, Rosey Davis, Leroy Morney, Chester Williams, Bill Perkins, "Spoony" Palm, William Bell, Harry Kincannon, Leroy Matlock, Ted Page, and "Popeye" Harris. Lettered in red (most of which has now faded white) below the players' images is the notation: "Yankees Stadium, Oct. 6th 1934/NY/Crawford = 3/Stars = 1/Attendance = 25,000." The photographer's credit, "Vanderzee NYC/1934" appears in the lower left corner. It should be noted that the players pictured here formed the nucleus of what is generally regarded as the greatest Negro League team in history: the 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords. Actually, the only difference between the 1934 and 1935 Crawfords was the fact that the 1935 club won the Negro National League pennant. At that time, the Negro National League was divided into two halves, with the winners of each half meeting for the championship. By a strange quirk, the 1934 Crawfords, despite having the best overall record in the league, failed to win either half of the season. In many ways, this is one of the finest Negro League photos extant, given the team, the players featured here, and another defining element of this piece that has yet to be emphasized: the status of the photographer.
While this is a significant photo with regard to content, the fact that it is an image by iconic photographer James VanDerZee (June 29, 1886- May 15, 1983) is, all by itself, of enormous significance. James VanDerZee was one of the few prominent African-American photographers working in New York City during the 1920s and 1930s. Operating out of his Harlem studio, VanDerZee tirelessly and artistically chronicled the everyday life and habits of the black community in a way that no other photographer did. Today, his works are revered as a cultural mirror of black life in New York, and his body of work is recognized as the most important and comprehensive documentation of the period. One of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance, he gained widespread critical acclaim in 1969 when his works were featured in the exhibition Harlem On My Mind at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The offered piece is the only original baseball photograph taken by VanDerZee that we have seen. VanDerZee photos of other "common" subjects routinely sell in the thousands of dollars at such auction houses as Christie's and Sotheby’s. (In fact, as we go to press, we have just found an article in the February 2012 edition of The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles featuring the headline "Van Der Zee photo, $52,500, Christie's" reports "An untitled 1932 gelatin silver print photograph of West 127th Street in Harlem, New York, by James Van Der Zee sold for $52,500 at a Photographs Auction held December 19 by Christie's in New York. It was a new world auction record for the photographer..." A copy of the article is posted online). Included with the photo is a book featuring a retrospective of VanDerZee's work titled VanDerZee, Photographer 1886-1983, published on the occasion of an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (Harry N. Abrahms, Inc., 1998).
This photo also has a unique provenance that is not readily apparent. In addition to the noted lettering on the piece, there was originally a large, black-ink inscription that read "To Santop, From Denis" The inscription also included the word "From" crossed out in ink. Because the inscription was large and covered some of the other lettering, our consignor had it professionally removed for aesthetic reasons (the pen impression is still visible upon close inspection). While we cannot state with certainty, it is a virtual certainty that the "Santop" to whom this photo was originally presented was Negro League Hall of Fame catcher Louis Santop. Louis Santop definitely had a collection of rare baseball photos that decades ago were sold to collectors (including a few that were sold by REA in 1995). This photo almost certainly came from the Santop collection. The photo (8 x 10 inches) displays slightly wavy borders, and a scuff mark that originally affected the face of Rosey Davis has been professionally restored. In Excellent condition overall, offering outstanding clarity and contrast. Mounted and framed to total dimensions of 18 x 16 inches. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $15,405
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