Published: October 6, 2020
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Hake’s Auctions
YORK, PENN. – The ultimate prize from the late Dr Paul Munchinsky’s trove of baseball buttons knocked it out of the park at Hake’s September 23-24 pop culture memorabilia auction, which totaled $2.1 million. The oversize 6-inch button depicting the 1916 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox set a new world auction record for a baseball pinback -or any pinback ever – when it finished at $62,980. It is the only 1916 World Series Championship button known to exist, with graphics depicting and identifying the manager and 24 teammates from the winning Red Sox team. Those players include three future Hall of Famers, including then-21-year-old pitching and batting phenom Babe Ruth.
The button’s crisp, visually dense display is also adorned with art images of baseball equipment and banners that say “World’s Champions 1916” and “Boston Red Sox American League.” The central advertising message on the pinback raises intriguing questions about the button’s origin and intended use. Within a black-outlined circle in capital letters, it says “Drink Alpen Brau – Detroit’s Champion Beer.”
Paul Muchinsky spent years scrupulously researching why the Red Sox would appear on a button endorsing a Detroit brewery, but the mystery was never solved. Hake’s president Alex Winter said he thinks the button’s size suggests it may have been a sample made to illustrate a presentation to the brewery. “It’s the largest baseball button that had ever been made up to its time,” said Winter. “It might have been produced in that size to maximize the detail, which is important because of the images of the players and manager.”
Any Red Sox Championship button made around the time of World War I is exceedingly rare, but the 1916 World Series button – the only one known from that year – is unquestionably the last word in baseball pinbacks. “Most serious collectors of baseball buttons would know of this button because it’s pictured on the back cover of Dr Muchinsky’s 2004 reference book Baseball Pinback Buttons,” said Winter. “It was considered such a valuable asset, it was actually placed in a trust and not to be sold until 2037.” Recently Dr Muchinsky’s family updated that decision. “The first part [of the sale] was incredible, many records were set,” said Winter.
Hake’s fielded several other baseball rarities in part one of its sale. These included one of the few known 1952 Mickey Mantle Fan Club real-photo buttons. Estimated $5/10,000, it over-achieved that expectation to finish at $23,250. A 1915 “Ty Cobb Right Field” button with advertising on verso for Schmelzer’s Sporting Goods of Kansas City, Mo., pulled in $17,276. “Schmelzer’s sponsored a ten-button set that year to be issued locally. It’s very rare for even one to appear at auction. We had examples of eight of the buttons in this auction, including Ty Cobb, ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson and Christy Mathewson,” Winter said. Also harvested among the Schmelzer buttons was the 1915 “Joe Jackson/Center Field” button that was bid to $14,160.
In 2010, Hake’s began offering items from the Richard Merkin collection and over the next several years sold some of the rarest and most sought-after Cuban baseball cards ever offered at public auction. Among those were cards from a Nacionales set. This sale offered a 50-page album from 1923-24 of 40 Cuban professional league players, each page containing 20 cards for 1,000 cards in total. The set earned $20,650.
Fetching $11,422 was the only known surviving example depicting the Negro League’s East squad from the 1936 East-West All-Star Showcase conducted at Comiskey Park in Chicago, won by the East club with a final score of 10-2. Measuring 11 by 14 inches, the original glossy photograph was most likely a player presentation photo.
An astounding total of seven future National Baseball Hall of Fame players were pictured: Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Oscar Charleston, Judy Johnson, Willie Foster and Biz Mackey.
A unique button ascended as the top highlight of the auction’s political memorabilia category. Recently discovered and new to the hobby, the Cox/Roosevelt 1920 Democratic campaign “Eagle & Rays” 7/8-inch jugate button commanded $35,695. The firm’s catalog described it as its category’s equivalent to a Honus Wagner T206 tobacco baseball card or Action Comics #1. Of the six varieties of Cox/Roosevelt buttons produced, four are unique or have populations of fewer than three known examples.
A political and baseball “crossover,” a Willkie tagging Roosevelt “Out at Third” button went out at $10,290. The top 1940 Willkie button and among the most highly sought designs of any presidential campaign, the button had a cartoon of Wendell Willkie tagging out FDR as he slides into third base with the umpire shouting “F.D.R. Y’r ‘Out’ At Third.”
There’s an 83-year age difference between Babe Ruth and Darth Vader’s sneaky right-hand man Boba Fett, who made his public debut in 1978. In terms of the market, however, they nearly tied as top lot in Hake’s two-session sale. On September 24, part two, an encapsulated Boba Fett L-slot rocket-firing prototype of the action figure from Kenner’s 1979 Star Wars toy line, AFA-graded 80+ NM and originating from an ex-Kenner employee, rose to $62,239.
There were nearly 200 Star Wars lots offered in Hake’s sale, and within the fast-rising collector category foreign and exotic productions are beginning to flex their prowess. In this sale, two such action figures made their auction debuts. The first, a Glasslite “Star Wars: Droids – VLIX” 4½-inch action figure, AFA-graded 40 G (archival case), was encapsulated on a Brazilian blister card and copyrighted “1988 Lucasfilm Ltd.” From a Brazilian consignor, it left the gallery at $19,470. An SB Products unlicensed action figure “Blue Stars Uzay,” an all-blue 3¾-inch Turkish version of the iconic Star Wars character Hoth Snowtrooper, came in at $17,534. The figure was encapsulated on a blister card, AFA-graded 60 Q-VG (archival case) and was accompanied by a notarized certificate of authenticity.
Few carded examples are known of the 12 Back-A blister card containing 3¾-inch-tall action figure of Luke Skywalker from Kenner’s popular 1978 Star Wars toy line. It realized $32,250.
Another Star Wars lot launched by bidders into the sale’s stratosphere was one of two known Jawa 12 Back-C AFA 85 NM+ with vinyl cape, bringing $17,535. It was among the last of the first 12 figures to be released by Kenner in vinyl cape version. Later there was a decision to switch to a cloth cape to add perceived value to the figure.
The franchise’s Han Solo was represented by what was described as the earliest pre-production Han Solo action figure known to exist. AFA graded and encapsulated, the 3¾-inch-tall action figure, achieving $15,705, exhibited more pronounced and sharper details than later production examples.
And, of course, there was Darth Vader, in this case a Darth Vader case. The figural “Collector’s Case” was produced as a prototype in 1982 for Kenner’s 1983 Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi toy line. Finishing at $12,980, the prototype case was molded in dull gold plastic, eventually being switched to the more familiar metallic gold version. This case was never produced in this color for the sales market.
Part two of the auction comprised a total of 1,500 comic books, including nearly 300 CGC-certified issues and two titles that are among the most sought-after books of any title and any era: DC’s Superman #1 and Batman #1. Issued in summer 1939, Superman #1 is CGC-graded 6.0 Fine. Batman #1, which came out in spring 1940, is CGC-graded 6.0 fine and introduces both the Joker and the Cat (Catwoman). Both comics were formerly in the Dan Makara collection and came to auction with individual estimates of $35/50,000. Superman prevailed at $42,992, while the superhero of Gotham pulled in $33,639.
Marvel Comics fans zeroed in on Tales Of Suspense #39 from March 1963. CGC-graded 8.0 VF, it contains the origin story and first appearance of Iron Man and found a new home at $26,609.
The origin and first appearance of Toro, the Human Torch’s sidekick was documented in Timely’s Human Torch #2, fall 1940. The key Golden Age comic featuring an Alex Schomburg cover and stories and art by Carl Burgos, Bill Everett and Joe Simon, Paul Reinman and Al Gabriele sold for $17,523.
One of the most important issues in the history of DC Comics, currently tied for the #15 spot on Overstreet’s list of Top 100 Golden Age Comics is the December 1941-January DC All Star Comics. It chronicled the first appearance and origin of Wonder Woman (Princess Diana) and the first appearance of Steve Trevor. It earned $13,110.
After the sale, Alex Winter observed, “Star Wars vintage toys of all types continue to climb in value. It is simple supply and demand, and the demand is very strong. Especially true for the very rare and high grade. I see no signs of Star Wars slowing down anytime soon.
“Same goes for original comic book art. No matter how much comes to auction, it does not seem to be enough. We have done very well with this material over the last few years and are always seeking art consignments.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For more information, www.hakes.com or 866-404-9800.
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