Joe DiMaggio Plaster Mold Used in the Creation of His Baseball Hall of Fame Bronze Plaque!

Sold For: $6,000

Auction Year: 2017 spring

Lot: 1972

Item Year: 1955

Category: Post-1900 Baseball Memorabilia

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Over the years, Robert Edward Auctions has had the privilege of handling a number of historically significant baseball artifacts, and we can unequivocally state that this unique piece is certainly at the forefront of that list. Offered here is the mold used to create Joe DiMaggio's Baseball Hall of Fame bronze plaque. What is most extraordinary about this piece is that it not only comes with impeccable provenance, but, as we will relate, a verifiable history. This piece was created by George Seaman, who was an employee of the Steinmeier Bronze Tablet Company of New York, which was the firm commissioned to create the Hall of Fame plaques at the time. It is accompanied by a one-page signed letter of provenance from his son, dated November 5, 2016, in which he details its history. In full:

To Whom This May Concern: My name is G. Calvin Seaman. I am 91 years old and a 52 year resident of River Vale, N. J. My father's name was George Seaman. He was a Bronze Artisan who worked for Steinmeier Bronze Tablet Co. of New York City, N. Y. I hereby certify as to the accuracy of the following facts pertaining to the Plaster Mold of former Yankees star JOE DIMAGGIO:

1) The plaster mold is the start of the process of making the final plaque that hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N. Y. From this mold the bronze is poured, shaped, polished and affixed to the frame.

2) My Father, George Seaman, was the artisan who produced the final plaque of Joe DiMaggio. The plaque now hangs in the Hall of Fame since 1955, the year Joe was voted into the Hall.

3) Steinmeier Bronze Tablet Co. produced all of the plaques of the inductees during the early years of the Hall of Fame.

4) This Joe DiMaggio mold was in my possession since my father died in 1972.

As one can clearly see when comparing this plaster mold to DiMaggio's actual bronze plaque, it is identical and even shows the indentation in the plaster where the small floral embellishment (which is on all Hall of Fame plaques) broke off in the lower left corner. (While the term "plaster" is correct here, it should be noted that the plaster is more akin to cement, both with regard to its density and weight. This is a substantial piece.) The plaster likeness (5 x 7 inches) is framed within a metal border bearing the beads and additional accents seen on the actual plaque. It is important to understand that ONLY ONE bronze Hall of Fame plaque is ever produced for each inductee. Duplicates are not obtainable, even by the inductees themselves. Instead, each inductee is presented with a photo of this plaque in a brown frame. Given that information, one would assume that the molds were immediately destroyed or turned over to the Baseball Hall of Fame, because if not, duplicates of the plaques could conceivably be produced. Incredibly, as we have learned, and unbeknownst to the Hall of Fame, up until 1984 the molds WERE NOT DESTROYED. The foundry retained them. We know this because our research led us to an article written by Bob Obojski in the August 1984 issue of the Baseball Hobby News in which he reports upon the discovery of thirty-nine plaster molds used to make the Hall of Fame plaques for many of the earliest inductees (a copy of the article is included in this lot).

As reported by Obojski, all thirty-nine molds were purchased by a collector at an antique shop in Long Island in 1982. The owner of the antique shop related at the time that he simply found them at a dump near his store (when he found them is not told). When the foundry that produced the molds (which is the company that Seaman's father worked at) closed in the 1960s, its machines, tools, and other materials were sold at auction. Apparently, the Hall of Fame molds were part of a lot that someone purchased, and, thinking the molds were of no value, he or she disposed of them at the dump, where the antique dealer found them. Two years later, in 1984, the collector who purchased the molds formed a partnership with the owners of Blue Chips Sport Card, a memorabilia shop located in Lake Grove, New York. They intended to sell the molds, but first contacted the foundry that was currently producing the Hall of Fame plaques to see if it were still in possession of any molds. As fate, would have it, the foundry still had thirty-six molds, which they stated were about to be thrown out. Blue Chip purchased those additional thirty-six molds, which gave them seventy-five total, and began to market them for sale.

When the executives at the Hall of Fame learned of the existence of the molds, and that all were to be sold publicly, they were understandably upset. Hall of Fame president Ed Stack was quoted at the time as stating "This is a terrible situation. I can't tell you how sick I am, it's a nightmare!" Neither Stack nor his predecessors at the Hall had any idea the molds existed. They just assumed all had been destroyed. Blue Chip did offer to sell the molds to the Hall of Fame, but its price, $25,900 for all 75, was considered outrageous by the Hall, who countered with an offer of $10,000. The Hall also hinted of a lawsuit if its offer were not accepted, claiming that it legally owned the molds. However, as Obojski notes, the Hall of Fame had no contracts stating that the molds must be returned to them and its claims of ownership were completely baseless. Eventually, the two parties came to an understanding and all the molds were purchased by the Hall for an undisclosed amount. A complete list of the 75 molds purchased by the Hall was included in the article and, of course, the DiMaggio mold was not included because, as we now know, the artist saved it himself. To the best of our knowledge, no other molds were ever discovered afterwards, leaving the offered DiMaggio mold the only one still in private hands. (It is not known what the Hall of Fame did with the molds they purchased.)

This is a unique piece to say the least and represents the closest one can come to obtaining an actual Hall of Fame bronze plaque. The fact that it is the mold for Joe DiMaggio, one of the most prominent Hall of Fame players in history, only adds to its special significance. The mold displays wear consistent with its use and remains in Excellent condition.
Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open).

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