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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Honus Wagner 1907 Batting Medal sold for $17,250. Photo courtesy of Bonhams & Butterfield
Think of him as the Van Gogh of baseball cards. Without any dog-ears or creases, his earnest face pictured on the front of a baseball card fetched $451,000 back in 1991 at auction.

It was the top selling card in baseball history. Just the name Honus Wagner at a sports memorabilia auction brings out the heavy-hitting collectors.

Wagner led the National League in batting average eight times, in RBI’S four times, in doubles eight times, and in stolen bases five times. He never hit under .300 until he was 40, and played every position on the field except catcher.

Wagner played ball for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1900 until his farewell game, Sept. 17, 1917, and came back to coach the team in 1933, retiring in 1952.

He served as the patriarch of Pittsburgh baseball back when Pittsburgh was spelled without the “h” and the bottom line wasn’t hard cash.

“Shucks, I liked baseball so much, I would have played for nothing,” he said.

In 1907, Honus Wagner received the champion batting medal of the National League. The medal represented a unique period in baseball history and sold on Aug. 14, 1995, at the sports memorabilia auction held at Butterfield & Butterfield in California. The singular medal sold for $17,250.

More than $369,000 of sports memorabilia featuring property from the collection of Bruce McNall was represented in the sale. A former owner of the Los Angeles Kings, McNall has been a serious collector for the last decade. His holdings are notable for the size of the card sets and prime condition of each of the pieces.

Media crews crowded the preview and auction mainly in response to the passing of baseball Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle the morning prior to the sale. A Mantle 1952 “rookie” card (Topps 311) sold for $24,150, to a Southern California sports memorabilia dealer, while a reproduction jersey by Mantle brought $977.50. A Mantle autographed baseball realized $488.75.

Pittsburgh Pirate items included a Roberto Clemente show bat, $143.74. A 1952 (Topps 369) Dick Groat “rookie” card, $201.25. An autographed print of Roberto Clemente signed in ballpoint pen, $230. A Pirates “salesman sample” jersey by Wilson with the number 21, $460.

The sale’s highest lot was a T206 White Border baseball card set, $60,250. Key cards in the set included Ty Cobb.

Q. I have a 1904 cabinet model Victrola (Victor Talking Machine) Camden, N.J. How much is it worth including the old 78 records? Phillip Choff, McKees Rocks, Pa.

A. When Thomas Edison first recorded and played back his voice in 1877 reciting “Mary had a little lamb” he said he was “never so taken aback in my life.” According to one source his assistant turned pale and began to pray. The next year Edison was issued the first patent.

The Victor disc-playing phonograph was produced in the early-1900s. The machine is relatively common. You see the table top models with the external horn as well as cabinet models with the sound horn inside the cabinet.

The cabinet models attract fewer collectors and so are usually less valuable than the external-horn type. One of the appeals of these old beauties is the simplicity of their technology. Without any electricity, tubes, cords or transistors they were able to record and reproduce sounds.

The older the better rule applies. Models made just before and after the turn-of-the-century seem to be the most desirable. Easy to spot, they have the visible sound horn. Today the stereo speaker replaces what used to be the old sound horn.

About 1906, manufacturers started putting the horn inside the cabinet. Your machine in good condition is worth about $300-400. There are some 78-records that command money, but most you see usually fetch about $1 a piece.

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