Circa 1911 Joe Jackson Signed Ball

Sold For: $3,600

Auction Year: 2017 spring

Lot: 1490

Item Year: 1911

Category: Autographed Baseballs/Flats/Photos

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This ball, which features the badly faded signatures of Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, and Cy Young, originally appeared as Lot 974 in REA's May 2010 auction, where it sold for $5,875. At the time of its initial offering JSA declined to authenticate the ball because the signatures had faded so significantly it could not responsibly offer an opinion one way or another. However, REA still chose to offer the ball because we believed, and still do, that any Joe Jackson signature, even one so badly faded that it is now beyond the limits of formal authentication, still holds some value for collectors. However, since the time of that initial sale, the ink on this ball has been subjected to a forensic analysis by Erich J. Speckin (forensic chemist and forensic document analyst) of Speckin Forensic Laboratories. (REA did not commission the testing; it was done by a subsequent owner of the ball.) In Speckin's accompanying two-page letter of analysis (which can be seen in its entirety on our website), he concluded that the Joe Jackson signature was "signed using a fountain pen (possibly a dual nib) which is consistent with the writing instruments available during the 1911 time frame." Most important, after testing the ink used for all four signatures, he also determined that "The microscopic, color-fastness, and extraction properties of the ink are all consistent with the properties found in a class of ink commonly available from before and through 1911 and not typically used after 1953."

While this new information does not "authenticate" the signatures, per se, it does provide additional, objective, information that was not available at the time of the original sale. As we stated in 2010, this is, admittedly, a ball that requires a slight leap of faith with regard to authenticity (as perhaps do all signatures), but given the obvious merits of the ball and the extreme rarity of Jackson’s signature, it is probably a “leap” that many collectors will be willing to make, especially since it will sell at a significant discount compared to that of a higher quality and properly authenticated example (if it can be found). Given the new information, collectors can now reevaluate just how large that "leap" is today.

The red-and-blue stitched baseball (no manufacturer’s name visible), dating from circa 1911, originally featured a multitude of signatures; however, all have long since faded beyond legibility with the exception of four: Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, and Cy Young. Unfortunately, even those four are extremely faint (grading “1” by modern grading standards), with portions of each signature no longer visible. While all of the black fountain-pen signatures present here are highly prized by collectors, it is the signature of Joe Jackson that is the most significant. Jackson's signature is legendary for its great rarity, especially on baseball-related items. Jackson was a functional illiterate and although he was capable of signing his name if necessary, he normally avoided doing so if possible. (The difficulty he had in signing his name was a source of embarrassment for him throughout much of his early life.) That is why his signature today, when it can be found, is usually seen on legal or official documents that he had no choice but to sign. This ball represents a rare exception and is one of the few examples in the hobby today bearing his signature. Jackson’s signature, which has been executed in black fountain pen, is the only one still visible on one side panel, although only badly faded fragments remain. The opposite side panel displays signature fragments of Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford. The remaining signature fragment visible on the ball is that of Cy Young on an adjacent side panel. If we assume that these ballplayers all signed this ball at the same time, then it was probably obtained in 1911, as that year corresponds both to Joe Jackson's first full season in the Majors and Cy Young's last. (Even though he was just a rookie in 1911 Jackson's signature would have been in high demand that season: he finished the year with a .408 average.) The ball displays moderate-to-heavy toning and soiling, with a few small areas of abrasion and slight discoloration. In Good condition overall.

Please Note: this ball was examined by both JSA and Beckett, but both companies declined to provide an LOA because the signatures had faded so significantly that neither firm could responsibly offer an opinion one way or another. Reserve $2,500. Estimate (open).

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