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1874 William Hulbert Signed Chicago Base Ball Association Stock Certificate
Starting Bid - $5,000, Sold For - $14,400
Presented here is one of the most extraordinary nineteenth-century baseball items we have ever handled: an 1874 Chicago Base Ball Association stock certificate signed by William Hulbert. As most autograph collectors know, the signature of William Hulbert is one of the rarest of all Hall of Fame members. This is only the fourth example we have ever offered and we cannot recall having seen more than three others at auction in the past twenty years. The fact that it is on an extremely early Chicago Base Ball Association stock certificate only adds to its significance. The Chicago Base Ball Club was a charter member of both the National Association (1871; baseball's first professional league) and the National League (1876), and remains the oldest continuous franchise in baseball today (as the Chicago Cubs). This is the second-oldest Chicago Base Ball Association stock certificate we have ever seen and the earliest example we have handled. The certificate, which is numbered "56" and dated September 30, 1874, records the sale of one share of capital stock, at a price of $10,000, to E. H. Montgomery. It has been signed in black fountain pen by "W. A. Hulbert" (grading "9") as secretary and by "Geo. W. Gage" ("9") as president. (Hulbert assumed the duties of club secretary in 1874; he became president in 1875.)
William Hulbert was a Chicago businessman and owner of the Chicago White Stockings of the National Association. In 1876 he, along with few of the other more responsible National Association team owners, founded the National League. Although Hulbert was the driving force behind the League, he declined the position of president during the first year in an effort to deflect any criticism of bias or prejudice from the other clubs. The following season the owners elected him president of the National League and he held that position until his death in 1882. During his tenure, Hulbert helped "clean up" the game by introducing a regular schedule, banning alcoholic beverages from games, limiting rowdyism among players, and, most important, working to eliminate gambling on games. In 1877 he banned four Louisville players for life when he uncovered evidence that the players had deliberately fixed games. Despite his six-year tenure as League president, very few William Hulbert signed items have survived the ages and his signature today remains one of the rarest belonging to any member of the Hall of Fame. Although everyone knew Hulbert deserved to be in the Hall of Fame, when he was finally elected, in 1995, advanced collectors were unable to find examples of his signature to purchase since almost none existed. The few that did trade hands in most cases sold for prices exceeding $10,000. Hulbert instantly became the "Button Gwinnett" of Baseball Hall of Fame signatures. (Declaration of Independence signer Button Gwinnett has always been regarded as the key rarity of that long-popular field of signature collecting. This is where the expression "Button, Button, who's got the Button?" comes from.) Almost all of the few Hulbert signatures known are on documents that originated years ago directly from the estate of National League secretary and former president Nicholas Young. The offered piece is one of the extraordinary exceptions and, given that it is on a Chicago Base Ball Association stock certificate,one of the most desirable examples imaginable.
Extremely interesting provenance note: When the longtime collector that has had this piece for countless years told us about it, we immediately recognized it just from the description! We had seen and even handled it decades earlier. This piece was originally in a framed display with two other items: one was an 1883 Chicago White Stockings payment voucher issued to and signed by Cap Anson. The other was a similar 1883 Chicago White Stockings payment voucher issued to and signed by Al Spalding. Each was mounted in exactly the same manner as the stock certificate. The display of three signed items was offered for sale or trade in the 1970s in a hobby publication (we believe it was The Trader Speaks) by Bill Loughman, a very well known old-time Chicago-area collector (who we happen to remember was a pilot). Bill Loughman had bought the display from a gentleman by the name of E. A. Parichy, who was a very prominent early Chicago-area collector who in the 1930s opened one of the first baseball museums in America. (E. A. Parichy, who was in the roofing business and a promoter of woman's professional softball, was also responsible for producing the colorful set of "Centennial of Baseball Stamps" featuring Hall of Famers issued in 1939.) We only know all this because REA's Robert Lifson actually saw the ad and called Bill Loughman and made a deal for the framed display. He traded it to Barry Halper and then lost track of the display. Barry Halper must have traded it away in one of his many dealings. Somewhere along the line, the three items, each of which was a very significant item in its own right, were separated. In May 2012, REA auctioned the Anson payment voucher (which appeared as Lot 772 and which sold for $9,000). Somewhere out there is an 1883 payment voucher signed by Spalding!
The certificate (8.5 x 5.25 inches), which is complete with its original green corporate seal firmly affixed in the lower right corner, displays two horizontal and two vertical folds, and appears to have been slightly trimmed along the left and right borders. A few minor tears are evident throughout. The certificate has been affixed (by means of an adhesive on the reverse) to a slightly larger, gold-colored cardboard mount. Technically in Fair to Good condition overall, but the mounting process has ameliorated many of the flaws and the certificate is closer to Excellent in its overall appearance. Full LOA from James Spence/JSA (for the Hulbert signature only; the signature of president George Gage has been deemed "inconclusive" because JSA has no exemplars with which to compare it). Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $14,400
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