Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Conlon Books
In 1839, around the time that Louis Daguerre announced that he had perfected the photographic process that would bear his name, the game of “base ball” was spreading up and down the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. By the turn of the 20th century, with the advent of the hand-held camera and the proliferation of newspapers and magazines featuring black-and-white photography, the sport was becoming the national pastime.

Born in 1868, Charles M. Conlon was a proofreader at the New York Telegram when he began shooting pictures as a hobby. He started to frequent baseball stadiums in the first decade of the 1900s at the prompting of an editor. Using a Graflex camera, he soon filled the pages of the Telegram, as well as prestigious baseball publications including the Sporting News and the Spalding Guide, with evocative, intimate portraits. By the time he snapped his last picture, in the early 1940s, Conlon had become one of baseball’s foremost documentarians.

Photography evolved radically and rapidly after Conlon’s death in 1945. Camera, film and lens technology advanced, and color pictures became ubiquitous in glossy publications such as Sports Illustrated. The glass plates of Conlon and baseball’s other pioneering lensmen (including Louis Van Oeyen, Carl Horner and George Grantham Bain) were relegated to newspaper morgues.

But Conlon’s work was rediscovered in 1990. The Sporting News, which had acquired the surviving glass negatives shot by Conlon, hired photo conservator Constance McCabe to print pictures from them. She told her brother Neal about them, and the Los Angeles-based baseball researcher found himself “blown away,” by both Conlon’s artistry and his anonymity.

In 1993, the brother-sister duo published Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon (Harry Abrams). The book was a revelation, a time machine to the era of wooden ballparks, day games and legal spitballs. Golden Age was the visual equivalent of Lawrence Ritter’s Glory of Their Times, the groundbreaking oral history of professional baseball’s early days.

Roger Angell, the New Yorker’s longtime staff writer, has called it “the best book of baseball photographs ever published.”

Nearly two decades later, Neal and Constance McCabe have teamed on a second volume. The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon’s Golden Age Baseball Photographs (Abrams). Published to mark the 125th anniversary of the Sporting News’ first issue, it is the rare sequel that may trump the original. The stars—Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Bob Feller—are well represented, but there’s plenty of space for the likes of Walt Cruise, George McQuinn and Paul Krichell. Their careers were forgettable, but their likenesses, as seen through Conlon’s lens, are not.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Conlon Baseball Cards Were Special

Andrew Godfrey, April 19, 2009

Charles Conlon baseball cards don’t have all the flashy borders and artwork of  the baseball cards today. The cards centered on the face of the players in most cards.
These were faces of players that had worked most of their life on farms and coal mines and many other trades.

Cards from the 1991 Charles Conlon baseball card set reproduced from his original photos.
The faces on these players say it all with most of them looking very serious including the Casey Stengel card.  I wish they would make cards like this today for the modern players.
Most cards today have action photos which don’t focus on the player’s face. As far as I know nobody has produced any baseball cards similar to the Conlon cards.

If you want to capture the feeling of what it was like to play baseball in the first half of the 20th century this book; Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon will take you back to this time period by letting you look at the players of the past who showed on their faces the lines of a hard scrabble life before and during their years of playing baseball.

These players weren’t playing for millions of dollars like the players of today. They played for the love of the game and to be able to put food on the table for their families.

Babe Ruth was the only player getting paid well during this era. The owners were getting rich while the players got by on what little pay they received from the owners who were hard to bargain with at contract time.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Still a few cards I'm looking for...

As with most trading card collections, there's always a few cards your still trying to get, or trying to determine if there's something out there you didn't know about.

I recently "repackaged" my cards and took the opportunity to make sure I had everything I thought I had. In the process, found that I need seven(7) cards to complete my collection.

Since I've been fortunate enough to have over 63,000 people view this Blog, I thought I would post those cards and maybe can hook up a purchase if they might be floating about.

Promo/Prototype Card
# 662
Lefty Gomez (with "PROTOTYPE" printed across the back)
There were only 10,000 of these cards printed in 1992 and they were distributed mostly to dealers. With 26 years under the bridge, how many still exist is a reasonable question. I would be willing to pay $50 for this card. Simply contact me at "BigCity@CityGate.Net".

with "PROTOTYPE" across the back
From the 1991 set, 1st or 2nd printing (see description)...

Card 143 - Herb Pennock
Card 145 - Babe Ruth '1916 Champs'
Card 184 - Moe Berg
Card 186 - Steve O'Neill
Card 189 - Marty McManus
Card 268 - Pie Traynor ATL

PS: Thanks to all of you who have found this Blog, and I hope the information here has been beneficial.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Today I want to add an article written by Steve Gietschier, and posted on the SABR's Baseball Cards Committee Blog. It provides some interesting "backroom" details of the Conlon collection while in the hands of the Sporting News.

Please note that the article was written prior to the sale of the collection to an anonymous buyer in August 2016, for $1.79 Million.


By Steve Gietschier

When I began work at The Sporting News in 1986, the negatives and photographs taken by Charles Martin Conlon — it would have been a misnomer at that point to call them a collection — were in complete disarray. The glass negatives, about five thousand, if I recall correctly, were stashed, row by row, in an old file cabinet that sat just outside a room guarded by a bank vault door. My predecessor as the keeper of TSN’s historical treasures was a Red Sox fan, and so the combination to the vault door was 4-0-6. Get it? But note that the old file cabinet was outside the bank vault door. That’s true. The room behind the door was so chock full of other stuff that the glass negatives were not given even this low level of protection. They were there for all, even visitors, to see and, in fact, to handle.

Conlon started taking photographs in 1904, and he used glass plates because there was no plastic film yet. His early images were recorded on 5×7 plates, but after a while, he switched to the 4×5 size. We can only imagine how difficult it was to transport his equipment—a large Graflex camera, a tripod, and a box full of glass plates, very heavy—from his home to the ballpark. It is no wonder that he frequented the Polo Grounds and later Yankee Stadium, but never the far away Ebbets Field.

Sometime in the 1920s he switched to plastic film, the earliest iterations of which were quite unstable. These negatives, another few thousand, were not kept with the glass plates in their special file cabinet. Instead they were interfiled with all the other TSN photographs, more than 600,000, in brown envelopes, arranged alphabetically by players’ last names and stored in file cabinets that were supposed to be fireproof. Sure.

But that’s not all. We also had hundreds of prints made by Conlon himself. They were easily identifiable because his handwriting on the back was so distinctive. And they were filed with all our other photos, too.

Truth be told, Conlon was, at the time, a hidden treasure, an undervalued resource. I had never heard of him, frankly. And the folks who ran TSN knew that his work was precious, but they did not care enough or know enough to protect their investment. Maybe that’s why they hired me.

Perhaps we should mention here that Conlon stopped taking pictures in 1942 and died in 1945 and that sometime during that interval he sold all the negatives he still had—countless others he had destroyed—to TSN. But there was no bill of sale that I could find and no paperwork documenting this transaction at all.

Somehow, TSN had convinced the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, to mount a Conlon exhibit in 1984. In addition, TSN had worked with a St. Louis financier to produce a rudimentary set of baseball cards, but that was it. But these projects used the glass negatives themselves to make prints, even though they were fragile, of course, and dirty besides. Thus, one of my first goals as TSN’s first—and last, as it turned out—professional archivist was to bring all the Conlon stuff together in one place, to make it a collection, and to inventory all that we had.

I ordered special acid-neutral envelopes and boxes and began the time-consuming process — two hours every work day — of identifying, dating, and re-housing every negative. That alone took months. I don’t remember how many. Sometime along the way I contacted Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, one of America’s foremost archival conservators, and asked for advice on how to care for this collection. She referred me to Connie McCabe, a conservator at the National Gallery of Art. Connie was co-owner of a photographic conservation business, Photo Preservation Services, Inc., and she suggested that TSN contract with it to do what had to be done. Connie’s recommendation was standard operating procedure for large photographic collections: clean the negatives, develop each one into what are called inter-positives, and from these, create a new set of reproduction duplicate negatives. This set could be used for whatever purpose TSN wanted. But more importantly, the original negs, both glass and plastic, would be safe and protected, no longer subject to the wear and tear of use or curiosity seekers.

We began this process with a perilous journey from St. Louis to the Washington suburbs, the negatives, in their boxes, resting in the tailgate of a rented Ford Taurus station wagon. How else to get them to this destination? I remember distinctly praying to avoid a rear-end collision, an event that surely would have brought my career at TSN to a premature end. We made the trip safely, PPS did its work over quite some time, and we brought everything back to St. Louis safely again.

Truth be told, we had to convince Connie McCabe, not a baseball fan, that these negatives were worth her firm’s time. Only when she saw them did she agree that Conlon was not only a great baseball photographer but a great photographer, period. She, then, in communication with her brother Neal, said much the same thing, “You’ve got to see these photos.” He, a true fan, similarly demurred until he visited her in Washington and saw them for himself. Thus was born the sister-and-brother partnership that became the author team for Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994).

But how does an idea of a book become a book? It’s not easy. TSN had a book division at the time, run by a woman named Sandy Dupont. She listened to our idea for a book of Conlon’s photographs and nearly dismissed it totally. But she did suggest that we talk with folks at Harry N. Abrams, a publisher of art books and another Times Mirror company, as was TSN. The Abrams people were enthusiastic enough to agree to do the book, but they assigned an editor who also knew nothing about baseball.  And when the book was finally published and Abrams had a launch party in New York, they decided not to invite the authors. Instead, I was invited to speak for the book, and I did so, even appearing on the sports segment of a local television news program.

My memory tells me that Baseball’s Golden Age got a very positive review in the New York Times Book Review. Was Jonathan Yardley the reviewer? Maybe. At any rate, the book did well. It went into several printings and is, I believe, generally regarded as the best book of baseball photographs ever printed. I commend it to anyone and note, especially, Neal McCabe’s wonderful introduction, “The Base Ball Photographer.”

Somewhere along the way, maybe even before the book was published, two entrepreneurs in a baseball card business called Megacards contacted TSN. They had never produced complete sets of cards from scratch, but the Conlons had attracted them. They proposed — and TSN agreed — to issue one series of 330 cards a year for five years. These became the famous Conlon Collection sets. The first two sets sold well, but the third set ran up against the great strike of 1994-1995, and was cut from 330 cards to 110. And that was the end of that.

In the years after Megacards, various other business proposals came our way, but none of them did very well. We even arranged an exhibit of Conlon prints at a fancy downtown art gallery in Manhattan, but it generated few sales. Conlon remains, I think, an undervalued resource. A second book, The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon’s Golden Age Baseball Photographs (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2011), did considerably less well.

How to bring this story to a close? Times Mirror sold TSN to Paul Allen (yes, the co-founder of Microsoft), and Allen later sold the company to American City Business Journals, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina. The ACBJ hierarchy told us that TSN’s editorial offices would remain in St. Louis, but in 2008, they changed their mind. The company would move to North Carolina, and I was not invited to go along. We packed up everything, and off it went.

Subsequent to the move, TSN sold its entire photographic archives to a fellow named John Rogers in Arkansas. You may have heard of him. He is in significant legal trouble on numerous fronts. Where are the Conlons now? I’m not sure. Perhaps in Arkansas. Perhaps under the custody of federal court officials. What will become of them? Who knows?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

UPDATE: Conlon Baseball Photographic Archive Sells for $1.79+ Million at Heritage Auctions

The Charles Conlon Baseball Photographic Archive –considered the most important archive of its kind – sold for $1,792,500 at a public auction of sports collectibles on Aug. 27, 2016 at Heritage Auctions in Dallas. The trove of 7,462 original negatives, many only surviving on glass plates, holds iconic portraits of baseball’s greatest players, from Ty Cobb to Babe Ruth to Lou Gehrig to Joe DiMaggio.

“Conlon’s photography is as much fine art as that of Ansel Adams – iconic images that are uniquely American in style and subject,” said Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Collectibles at Heritage Auctions. “Although the winning bidder declined to be identified, they now own a very important collection of both American and baseball history.”

(I am hoping the collector will not stay anonymous forever.)

Spanning 1904 through 1942, Conlon’s photographs were syndicated in newspapers worldwide and used on the very first tobacco and baseball cards. With access to players of both the National and nascent American Leagues, Conlon was able to capture on film just about every leading figure of the game during his 38-year career. His early glass plate portraiture gradually grew to include action shots, including the well-known “cloud of dust” image from 1910 of Ty Cobb sliding into third base which ranks as one of the most famous baseball images of all time.

The Conlon Archive became the property of The Sporting News not long after Conlon’s passing in 1945, and was purchased by leading collector John Rogers from that source with the intent of monetizing the rights through the licensing of the images. The collection was auctioned as part of a court settlement to help settle Rogers’ debts and a court-ordered liquidation of his assets.

(Can't tell you how glad I am that the collection is finally out of John Rogers' influence.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Judge Takes No Action in Civil Contempt Case Against John Rogers

Comment by BigCity: It appears the collection (7,500 of 8,300 glass slides) will be auctioned to a new owner this coming summer. Let's hope it is to someone who might consider restarting the baseball card collection.PS: Anyone got an extra $2 Million?

by George Waldon  on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016 12:05 pm  

John Rogers, in a booking photo from Dec. 3. (Pulaski County Detention Center)

Civil contempt proceedings against John Rogers were put on hold this morning in Pulaski County Circuit Court. But the judge did give the green light to the sale of the famed Charles Conlon Collection of glass-plate negatives of professional baseball players.

Judge Chris Piazza decided to take no action on a civil contempt motion against the fallen sports memorabilia and photo archive dealer until a criminal case against Rogers for burglary and theft of property had run its course.

The contempt motion and criminal case are tied to a late-night weekend visit Rogers made to his former North Little Rock office in August during which he allegedly stole three hard drives.
North Little Rock police recovered two of the three 5-terabyte hard drives from his vehicle when Rogers was arrested in a traffic stop on Dec. 3. The 42-year-old businessman is out on bond pending trial.

An alleged serial fraudster, Rogers also is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation that became public after federal agents raided his business and home on Jan. 28, 2014.

The hard drives that he allegedly stole from his former Sports Cards Plus office at 115 E. 24th St. contained more than one million scanned photographs with metadata. The value of the digital images on the hard drives was estimated at $364,167.

Michael McAfee, the court-appointed receiver for the former business assets of Rogers, made the contempt motion against him because of his alleged illegal entry of the property and alleged theft of receivership assets.

Andrew King, attorney for the receiver, said his client would withdraw the civil contempt motion if Rogers would return the third hard drive.

Blake Hendrix, criminal defense attorney for Rogers, successfully argued that if his client were to do that it would violate his Fifth Amendment rights.

"I'm not saying John has the hard drive," Hendrix told the court. "If John had the hard drive, the act of producing it is incriminating."

Piazza was content to let the contempt motion lie for now, pending the outcome of the criminal case.
"But I can tell you, there will be consequences," Piazza said.

The hearing marked the second time Rogers has attended a court proceeding relating to his business troubles. He did not speak during the hearing.

Judge OKs Conlon Auction

Also Wednesday, Piazza approved the future auction of the Conlon Collection, which Rogers once owned.

The order allows sales efforts to proceed for an estimated 7,500 glass-plate negatives produced by photographer Charles Conlon (1868-1945).

McAfee indicated it will likely be summer before an auction is held.

The Conlon Collection that Rogers acquired in June 2010 numbered about 8,300 pieces. McAfee said he wasn't sure what happened to reduce the count to about 7,500 before he came aboard and inventoried assets.

"Some of the Conlon plates seem to have evaporated," McAfee testified.

Ownership of the collection is in dispute, with competing claims totaling more than 100 percent. But the only opposition to the sale was made by five people associated with Legendary Auctions of Lansing, Illinois: Doug Allen, Mark Theotikos, Bill Fulton, Amy Allen and Dale Huizena.

Referred to collectively as the Allen parties, they claim outright ownership of about 185 Conlon negatives, which largely consisted of images of Hall of Fame players. These glass plates were held in Illinois until a court-order led to their return late last year.

Steve Niswanger, attorney for the Allen parties, said his clients' plates represented the most valuable part of the collection and they would be financially harmed if the plates were included in the auction.
The Allen parties represent a combined 65 percent ownership claim, while the 185 plates they had represented about 2.4 percent of the collection.

Piazza said the particulars of who is entitled to receive what portion from the Conlon Collection sale can be addressed in the future. Until then, money from the auction will be put in the court registry.
"We need to have some closure and try to salvage something for the people who have a claim on the collection," Piazza said.

McAfee testified that he was advised the sale of the entire collection as a whole would bring more money than if plates were sold piecemeal.

What is the value of the collection?

"I don't know," he told the court.

Rogers once placed an $18 million value on it, which seems to be tied to projections from marketing prints from the collection.

Sources believe the collection should fetch something north of $2 million, twice what Rogers paid for the Conlon Collection and other assets owned by The Sporting News more than five years ago.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Latest News about the Conlon Glass Negatives

This  was all I could capture online about the future of the Conlon glass plates without paying $20 to see the rest of the article from the Arkansas Business Newsletter. It does, however, suggest that the Receiver is working hard to get the set back together...

Rogers Archive Receiver to Gather Final Pieces of Conlon Collection

Wed, Oct 21, 2015

An agreement has been reached to reunite the famed Conlon Collection of major league baseball images from the early 20th Century.

Michael McAfee, court-appointed receiver for the insolvent sports memorabilia and photo archives business of John and Angelica Rogers, will retrieve 185 pieces from Illinois.

These glass plate negatives, considered to be among the most valuable of the collection, are held by Doug Allen and others connected with Legendary Auctions of Lansing, Illinois.


If anyone has access to the Arkansas Archive and could forward me the article, it would be greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

John Rogers
Used Car Salesman

For those of you that either collect the various versions of Charles Conlon's baseball photography - usually through baseball cards published by the Sporting News, Marketcom, World Wide Sports, or Megacards - you are well aware that in 2010, John Roger's purchased 8,354 original glass negatives of Conlon's work from 1904 to 1939.

Much was hoped when this happened, including the possibility that Rogers might continue the baseball card collection that was stopped abruptly in 1994 during the baseball strike. Rogers even claimed, in 2012, that he was considering restarting the collection.

Instead, Rogers company produced high priced "Museum Quality" prints from the Conlon negatives to an audience willing to pay the exorbitant prices.

In the meantime, Rogers began buying up newspaper photo collections for huge sums of money, under the promise to organize and digitize these collections for easy access. It is estimated he purchased up to 200 million historical newspaper photos.

Well, long story short, Mr. Rogers' actual intentions seemed to be what in the reality business we call "flipping". Many of the collections, and/or parts of the collections, were resold to other buyers for profit. It didn't take long before questions rose as to what was being purchased; originals, rights, or fakes.

In a very short time, many lawsuits were brought against Rogers, and the FBI ultimately took control of most of his photo collections.

Getting back to the portion of the story I'm interested in, that means the Conlon collection (or whatever part Rogers actually owns at this point if any) is no longer in possession of a single owner that could, at some point, do something productive with these photos.

It is likely these photos will remain under FBI control for years - if not decades - before anyone will have the chance to consider doing anything with them.

It's tempting, and too easy, to blame the Sporting News for selling such an important collection to Rogers in the first place - but the Sporting News is not the criminal here - John Rogers is - and because of his greed, our generation will likely not see the vast majority of Conlon's work made into the baseball cards we've loved to collect.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Blog Has Been Revised !!

As of today, April 28th 2015, all descriptions and checklists have been updated. Over the next few weeks, I might "tweak" a few things but for all practical purposes, what is now the final product.

I updated this Blog to insure there a source of accurate information on the Conlon card set all in one place. My adventure in collecting these wonderful cards was riddled with a lot of work to both learn and organize the 2,848 cards in question.

I hope your adventure is thus a little easier...