This incredible panoramic photograph captures Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants posing together on field during a barnstorming trip to Vancouver, Canada, in 1916. The significance of this rare photo lies in the fact that some of the game's greatest stars, for which few images exist, are on this historic team. Rube Foster (elected to the Hall of Fame in 1981), who was the owner of the Chicago American Giants, is prominently pictured in the center, nattily attired in a three-piece suit and sporting a fedora. He is flanked on either side by twelve members of his club, including shortstop John "Pop" Lloyd (third from the right; considered by many to be the greatest all-around player who ever lived, Negro League or otherwise, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977), outfielder Preston "Pete" Hill (first from the left; one of the greatest outfielders of his day, elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006), first baseman Leroy Grant (fourth from the left), outfielder Jude Gans (fifth from the left), catcher Bruce Petway (sixth from the left; one of the top catchers in Negro League history), third baseman Bill Francis (sixth from the right; ranked among the top third basemen in the League during the early 1900s), pitcher Bill Gatewood (fifth from the left), and first baseman/catcher Pete Booker (first from the right).
While this piece is extraordinary in all regards, its discovery is equally amazing. Collectors may remember this photo from both our April 2008 and 2009 auction. Incredibly, this piece and the two previously offered photos, are all different examples from the same consignor. Our consignor discovered the original example of this print (which sold as Lot 1336 in Robert Edward Auctions 2008 sale for $35,250) in 2007 among a small collection of panorama photos, which were mostly of local amateur teams and teams in the Northwest League taken from 1910 to 1918. She had no idea of the significance of the Chicago Americans photo until she brought it into a Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) meeting held in Vancouver, where she learned of both its rarity and value. In the fall of 2008, lightning struck not once, but five more times as she miraculously discovered five additional examples among the family's archive of other photographs that had not yet been sorted and that had been in storage for over ninety years. One of those newfound photos was again offered by Robert Edward Auctions in our May 2009 auction (Lot 1181; sold for $22,325). According to the family spokesperson (a written communication from the family stating this accompanies), the offered photo will be the last of the six photos released for sale and the three remaining photos will remain in the family. Few museum-quality display photographs of this significance related to the Negro Leagues exist, let alone turn up in such an unexpected manner. This is one of the great prizes of all Negro League photography, and is one of the few original photographic print images that all would agree is truly a museum-quality treasure.
The Chicago American Giants, founded by Rube Foster in 1910, are one of black baseball's most celebrated teams. From 1910 through 1922 the club reigned as one of the top Negro League clubs in the country, winning every recorded western championship between those years, with the exception of the year 1916. Foster, who is often referred to as the father of the Negro Leagues, wore many hats during his career, including that of pitcher (in 1903 he compiled a record of 54-1), manager, and team executive (he founded the Negro National League in 1920). The Chicago American Giants often barnstormed along the West Coast during the winter months. In the early spring the team usually traveled north, stopping in Portland and Seattle before heading into Canada to play a series of games against the Victoria Bees and Vancouver Beavers. Research indicates that the Giants made annual stops in Vancouver from 1913 through 1916; however, additional research by SABR member Tom Hawthorn places the date of this photo as precisely 1916.
Technically, with regard to composition, this image rivals the finest baseball photographs of any era and displays extraordinary clarity and contrast. The exceptional quality of this photo is not surprising given its provenance. Our consignor inherited this photo from her grandfather, who, in turn, had received it from his father-in-law, Stuart Thompson. Thompson was a very successful commercial photographer in Vancouver during the early 1900s and sold images to a number of area newspapers. In 1954 the Vancouver Sun
purchased more than 5,000 of his photographs and negatives before donating them to the city archives in 1963. The photograph displays a small corner chip in the lower right (approximately .25 x 1 inches), a very tiny chip in the upper left corner, and a few small edge tears. Despite the border flaws, all of which can easily be matted out, the central image area displays as Near Mint. Any and all Negro League photos dating from the early 1900s are exceedingly rare, especially those picturing prominent clubs and/or players. This is a paragon of early baseball photography and one of the most striking team panoramas we have ever offered. Dimensions: 16.5 x 6.5 inches. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $35,250
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