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1916 Chicago Americans Giants Panoramic Photo Including Rube Foster, "Pop" Lloyd, and Pete Hill
Starting Bid - $5,000, Sold For - $38,513
This incredible panoramic photograph captures Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants posing together on field during a barnstorming trip to Vancouver, Canada, in 1916. The significance of this rare photo lies in the fact that some of the game's greatest stars, for which few images exist, are on this historic team. Rube Foster (elected to the Hall of Fame in 1981), who was the owner of the Chicago American Giants, is prominently pictured in the center, nattily attired in a three-piece suit and sporting a fedora. He is flanked on either side by twelve members of his club, including shortstop John "Pop" Lloyd (third from the right; considered by many to be the greatest all-around player who ever lived, Negro League or otherwise, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977), outfielder Preston "Pete" Hill (first from the left; one of the greatest outfielders of his day, elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006), first baseman Leroy Grant (fourth from the left), outfielder Jude Gans (fifth from the left), catcher Bruce Petway (sixth from the left; one of the top catchers in Negro League history), third baseman Bill Francis (sixth from the right; ranked among the top third basemen in the League during the early 1900s), pitcher Bill Gatewood (fifth from the left), and first baseman/catcher Pete Booker (first from the right).
While this piece is extraordinary in all regards, its discovery is equally amazing. Collectors may remember this photo from our 2008, 2009, and 2010 auctions. A total of six examples were discovered by a relative in the archives of the original photographer. This piece and the three previously offered photos are all different examples, representing four of the six original photos. The first example of this print (which sold as Lot 1336 in Robert Edward Auctions 2008 sale for $35,250) was discovered in 2007 among a small collection of panorama photos, which were mostly of local amateur teams and teams in the Northwest League taken from 1910 to 1918. The family had no idea of the significance of the Chicago Americans photo so they brought it into a Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) meeting held in Vancouver, where they learned of both its rarity and value. In the fall of 2008, lightning struck not once, but five more times as a thorough inventory and examination of all the unsorted photos in storage in the family archive resulted in the discovery of five additional examples. (The family's archive of other photographs - covering all subjects - that had not yet been sorted had been in storage for over ninety years.) The first of those newfound photos was offered by Robert Edward Auctions in our May 2009 auction (Lot 1181; sold for $22,325), while another example appeared as Lot 1458 in our May 2010 auction, where it sold for $35,250. At the time of the last sale in 2010, a family spokesperson stated that the three remaining photos would be kept indefinitely by other members of the family. As is always the case when dealing with valuable family keepsakes, one cannot predict if or when a family member actually chooses to sell. The time for one family member has come in 2012 and thus this panoramic photo is presented here.
Few museum-quality display photographs of this significance related to the Negro Leagues exist, let alone turn up in such an unexpected manner. This is one of the great prizes of all Negro League photography, and is one of the few original photographic print images that all would agree is truly a museum-quality treasure.
The Chicago American Giants, founded by Rube Foster in 1910, are one of black baseball's most celebrated teams. From 1910 through 1922 the club reigned as one of the top Negro League clubs in the country, winning every recorded western championship between those years, with the exception of the year 1916. Foster, who is often referred to as the father of the Negro Leagues, wore many hats during his career, including that of pitcher (in 1903 he compiled a record of 54-1), manager, and team executive (he founded the Negro National League in 1920). The Chicago American Giants often barnstormed along the West Coast during the winter months. In the early spring the team usually traveled north, stopping in Portland and Seattle before heading into Canada to play a series of games against the Victoria Bees and Vancouver Beavers. Research indicates that the Giants made annual stops in Vancouver from 1913 through 1916; however, additional research by SABR member Tom Hawthorn dates this photo to precisely 1916.
Technically, with regard to composition, this image rivals the finest baseball photographs of any era and displays extraordinary clarity and contrast. The exceptional quality of this photo is not surprising given its provenance. Our consignor inherited this photo from her grandfather, who, in turn, had received it from his father-in-law, Stuart Thompson. Thompson was a very successful commercial photographer in Vancouver during the early 1900s and sold images to a number of area newspapers. In 1954 the Vancouver Sun purchased more than 5,000 of his photographs and negatives before donating them to the city archives in 1963.
The photograph displays a small corner chip in the lower right, a tiny corner chip in the upper right, a few small creases in the upper right corner, and a few tiny tears and crease along the edges. Despite the border flaws, all of which can easily be matted out, the central image area displays as Near Mint. Any and all Negro League photos dating from the early 1900s are exceedingly rare, especially those picturing prominent clubs and/or players. This is a paragon of early baseball photography and one of the most striking team panoramas we have ever offered. Dimensions: 16.25 x 6.5 inches. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $38,513
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