Circa 1943 Negro League Autograph Book Featuring the Rare Signatures of Josh Gibson and Ray Brown (Twice)!

Sold For: $32,313

Auction Year: 2010 spring

Lot: 1008

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Fascinating addendum note to this lot courtesy of Gary C. (Thanks Gary!): "In Lot 1008, the unknown player on the page with Josh Gibson is actually shortstop Willie D'Allessandro. He played for the semi-pro Brooklyn Bushwicks in 1943 and was eventually signed by the Red Sox in August of that year. The Bushwicks often played the Grays at their Dexter Park so there is a good chance the page was signed at a Bushwicks' game. I have a record of the 2 teams playing on June 6th where the Grays snapped Bushwicks 14 game streak by taking both games of a double header. D'Allessandro played in those games." This small spiral notebook is one of the most significant autograph books we have ever offered due to the fact that it includes two of the rarest of all Hall of Fame signatures: Josh Gibson and Ray Brown. Its provenance may be equally impressive. According to our consignor, this book was purchased by him directly from famous baseball author Donald Honig and the signatures in this album were personally collected by Honig in the mid 1940s. Honig's name is scripted on the first page. There is also a brief written passage in the back of the book that may represent an early draft for a baseball essay or story. Honig was twelve years old at the time this album was first signed. A total of 104 signatures are scripted in the book, with another eleven displayed on three loose scraps of paper and/or cardboard. The majority of the signatures are those of Major League players, but approximately twenty percent belong to Negro League performers. The signatures, all but one of which are in pencil, appear scattered throughout the forty-eight page notebook, but the Negro League signatures are concentrated by team. While the Gibson and Brown signatures are the most significant in the book, many other important Negro League players are represented here. The book is divided by sections, according to year: 1943, 1944, 1945. The Josh Gibson and first Ray Brown signature, written in pencil, appear together with that of Homestead Grays teammate Ollie West and someone by the name of Willie Dalassandro (no record of a player by that name in either the Negro League or Major League records). The Gibson signature grades "9/10," while that of Brown, which is scripted on the line above Gibson's, and which slightly overlaps the "J" in "Josh," grades "8/9." The page displaying the Gibson and Brown signatures is in the section dated "1943." It should be noted that West only played with the Homestead Grays in 1943, thereby corroborating the ascribed year. The only other two Homestead Grays players represented here, with their signatures displayed on separate pages, are star center fielder Jerry Benjamin and pitcher Edsall "Big" Walker. It is on the page with Walker's signature that the second Ray Brown signature (grading "9") appears, along with that of Philadelphia Stars pitcher Barney Brown, one of the best pitchers in the Negro League at the time.

Ray Brown was one of the top pitchers in Negro League history and Josh Gibson is regarded by many as one of the greatest hitters of all time. Together, they formed one of the top batteries in baseball at the time. Playing with the Homestead Grays at the height of its baseball dynasty, the pair helped lead the club to six Negro National League pennants during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Even though they were two of the top stars of the era, their signatures are among the rarest of all Hall of Fame players. The extreme rarity of Gibson's signature today is related both to the fact that he played in the Negro Leagues (in general, due to a variety of factors, items signed by Negro Leaguers dating from their playing days are very rare) and his extremely early death. Gibson suffered a fatal stroke in 1947 at the age of thirty-five. Brown's signature is rare for a different reason. Brown passed away in 1968 at the age of sixty, but he wasn't elected to the Hall of Fame until thirty-eight years later, in 2006, when he joined sixteen other Negro League players/executives chosen by a special panel. The rarity of these two signatures, especially that of Josh Gibson, cannot be overstated. This is just the third Josh Gibson signature, and the third and fourth Ray Brown signatures we have ever handled. Few examples are known of each and they are missing from many of even the most advanced Hall of Fame and Negro League autograph collections. Other notable Negro League signatures featured in the album are those of Homer Curry (player/manager of the Philadelphia Stars), James "Shifty" West (Philadelphia Stars), Henry Spearman (Philadelphia Stars), Harry Williams (St. Louis Stars), Dan Wilson (St. Louis Stars), Robert "R. T." Walker (St. Louis Stars), Chester Gray (St. Louis Stars), Charles "Lefty" Boone (St. Louis Stars), Marlin Carter (St. Louis Stars), and Frank McAllister (last name only, St. Louis Stars). Among the Major League signatures include here, many more than once, are those of Hank Greenberg, Phil Rizzuto, Stan Musial (on one of the loose sheets), Charlie Keller, Roger Cramer, Bots Nekola, Tuck Stainback, Bill Zuber, Al Cuccinello, Sam Mele, and Hank Borowy. The signatures range from "7" to "10," averaging "9." The soft-cover notebook (4 x 5.75 inches) displays heavily worn covers and moderate handling wear along the interior pages. In Very Good to Excellent condition overall. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $32,313

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