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1942 Vic Willis Handwritten Letter - Extreme Rarity! - with Remarkable Provenance
Starting Bid - $2,000, Sold For - $11,400
One page letter, dated January 21, 1942, signed by Hall of Fame pitcher Vic Willis. This is the only Vic Willis handwritten letter (to the best of our knowledge) and one of only four Vic Willis signature examples we have seen at auction during the past fifteen years! Its extreme rarity notwithstanding, this example also comes with the remarkable provenance of originating from the well-documented autograph collection of Stephen M. Silagi. In his brief letter, Willis responds to Mr. Silagi, a Washington, D.C., autograph collector, who had requested an autographed baseball. In full: "Dear Sir: Would be glad to autograph base-ball for you. As requested. Yours Truly. Vic Willis, Newark, Dela." Both the signature and text have been flawlessly scripted in black fountain pen and grade "10."
Silagi, was, at the time, the official court stenographer for Circuit Judge John Simpson, but his hobby was autographs and he had already amassed an impressive collection that included numerous examples from the fields of sports, politics, and entertainment. The scope of Silagi's collection is fully documented in an accompanying copy of an article published in the Sunday, September 16, 1945, edition of the Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper (Jackson, Michigan). In the article, it specifically notes that Silagi's collection includes over 150 autographed baseballs. Obviously the ball Willis sent to him three years earlier was included in that number. In addition to the newspaper article, the letter also comes with a portion of the original paper wrapping (5.5 x 8 inches: Vg) used by Willis to ship the ball to Silagi. The wrapping features not only Silagi's hand-printed home address (presumably in Vic Willis' hand) and canceled six-cent stamp, but Silagi's typewritten confirmation of the package that reads "From Vic Willis - Received on Tuesday January 27, 1942." Also included here is another of Silagi's internal inventory memorandums, recorded on "United States Senate" letterhead (4 x 5.5 inches, Ex-Mt), that bears the typewritten note "Wrote to Vic Willis on Thursday, January 22, 1942. Note of Thanks." Below that is an additional handwritten notation from Silagi that reads "Sent baseball to Willis on Friday January 23, 1942."
Vic Willis, whose pitching career spanned the years 1898 to 1910, died in 1947 at the age of seventy one, but was not elected to the Hall of Fame until 1995. That vast time span meant that few collectors, other than those with exceptional foresight, actively sought his signature. Silagi, obviously, was ahead of his time in not only requesting Willis' autograph, but on a ball no less, which is today considered the ideal among collectors. (Note: we have no idea the whereabouts or eventual disposition of Mr. Silagi's signed baseball collection.) Willis was one of the game's top pitchers during the early 1900s, winning twenty or more game in eight of his thirteen seasons. A member of the 1903 World Champion Boston Red Sox, Willis finished his career with 249 wins and 2.63 ERA. Today, he remains largely forgotten by most baseball fans, with the exception of advanced autograph collectors, for whom his signature is tantamount to a Holy Grail. The letter (7 x 10.75 inches) displays a single vertical and horizontal fold, and is otherwise in Excellent to Mint condition. Full LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $2,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $11,400
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