March 28, 2011
Extraordinary original large-format photograph capturing thirteen members of the Philadelphia Giants posing together in a formal studio setting, including future Hall of Famer John Henry "Pop" Lloyd. Each player is pictured in uniform and has been identified in vintage black ink upon his respective image (last name only with the exception of Ray Wilson). According to the printed identifications, the players pictured here are Spottswood Poles, Fisher (first name unknown), Jack Emery (spelled "Emory" on the photo), Charles "Bugs" Hayman, John "Pop" Lloyd, Dan McClellan, Frank Duncan, Bruce Petway, team owner H. Walter Schlichter, Ray Wilson. Patton (first name unknown), Billy Francis, and W. "Nux" James. Although no year is listed, the combination of players identified here conclusively dates the photo to 1909. The Philadelphia Giants were co-founded by legendary Negro-League pioneer Sol White and Philadelphia sportswriter H. Walter Schlichter in 1902 and for the next decade they were considered one of the top professional Negro-League clubs in the country. After winning the championship in 1909, White and Schlichter had a falling out and White left the club to form his own team. Following White's departure, a number of top players followed, including Lloyd, and the team quickly declined in stature, finally disbanding in 1916.
This is one of the finest and most significant early Negro League photos we have seen, let alone handled. As most collectors are aware, Negro League images from this time period are almost nonexistent. To have a photo of this size and quality, featuring such a prominent team and players, is nothing short of a miracle. This is also one of the earliest known photos of "Pop" Lloyd, who is widely considered the best black player of the dead-ball era. Lloyd began his professional career in 1906 with the Cuban X Giants and the following year joined the Philadelphia Giants. Often hitting at or near the .400 mark, his career spanned 26 seasons. As player-manager for the Hilldale team in 1923, the first season of the Eastern Colored League, Lloyd hit .418 and led the team to the pennant. Lloyd was often referred to as the "Black Wagner" because of his rare ability to combine speed and power. When asked about this, Honus Wagner was quoted as replying "I am honored to have John Lloyd called the Black Wagner. It's a privilege to have been compared to him."
In addition to Lloyd, the 1909 Philadelphia Giants boasted a number of notable stars, including Bruce Petway, considered one of the greatest catchers of his era, outfielder Spottswood Poles, whose speed was said to rival that of Cool Papa Bell (we believe this the earliest known image of Poles), pitcher Dan McClellan, who recorded the first perfect game in black baseball history in 1903, Billy Francis, considered the best third baseman of his day, first baseman Ray Wilson, captain of the team, and outfielder Frank Duncan, one of the best leadoff hitters and all-around players of the era (1909 marked Duncan's first season of professional baseball). The 1909 Philadelphia Giants were a baseball powerhouse in 1909, but, as noted earlier, the team's dynasty was about to come to a close. After Sol White parted ways with Schlichter following the 1909 season, Lloyd, Petway, and Duncan quickly followed and signed with Rube Foster's Leland Giants in 1910. Unable to replace players of that stature, the team soon faded into mediocrity. Thankfully, this spectacular photo has survived to document the club's last championship season in franchise history.
The photo (13 x 10.25 inches), which offers exceptional clarity and contrast, has benefitted from professional restoration and conservation with regard to a few small interior tears, edge tears, and chips in both the upper left and right corner. All of the work was well done, and it does not appear that he aforementioned repairs touch upon any of the player images. A tiny chip affects the lower left corner. Excellent to Mint in its overall appearance.