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Baseball memorabilia is auction gold

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Nearly a century since being banned from baseball after being implicated in the Black Sox scandal, “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, who died in 1951, continues to captivate fans of America’s pastime. That’s why anything associated with the legendary slugger attracts top dollar in the sports memorabilia market.

One of Jackson’s bats fetched $583,500 Thursday at a Christie’s auction despite having what the auction house described as a “substantial” crack. And a signed 1921 bill of sale transferring the ownership of a Chicago pool room and cigar store from Jackson, who was said to be illiterate, to teammate “Lefty” Claude Williams changed hands for $81,250. In Jackson’s day, the deal was for the lofty price of a $1 and the assumption of debts. 

Meanwhile, a 1908 team picture of the Greenville Spinners (see below) that included the legendary slugger fetched $32,500.

Original photograph of the 1908 Greenville Spinners featuring 20-year old outfielder Joe Jackson, who would go on to make his Major League debut later that season with the Philadelphia Athletics. Christie's

The two-day sale of items from the National Pastime Museum, a privately held organization that operates online, earned more than $7.1 million and underscored the continued strong interest that collectors have in high-end memorabilia connected to the game’s greats. 

Negro League collectibles have also gained value in recent years because of their scarcity and increased fan interest, according to Simeon Lipman, a pop culture specialist at Christie’s who regularly appears on PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow.”

“The iconic players seem to drive the market -- the Lou Gehrigs, the Babe Ruths. Obviously, Shoeless Joe Jackson,” said Lipman. “We had an amazing result with a Hank Aaron photograph selling for $26,000.”

A Wilson Official League American Association (Hickey) baseball single signed by Hall of Famer Babe Ruth. Christie's

A bat used by Negro League star Josh Gibson, considered by baseball fans to be one of the game’s greatest hitters, sold for $319,500, a contract he signed fetched $100,000, and a picture of him netted $10,625. A 1928 picture of the Pittsburgh Crawfords featuring Gibson, a Hall of Famer, netted $17,500.

A 1909 team photograph of the 1909 Philadelphia Giants, winner of the Negro League Eastern Championship, sold for $10,000. A bat used by Jackie Robinson, who began his career in the Negro Leagues and later became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era, sold for $295,500, while a baseball he autographed brought in $35,000.

Game used bats connected to Yankees legends Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle fetched $415,500 and $106,250, respectively. The baseball caught for the last out of the 1909 World Series sold for $21,500, and a ball autographed by Yankee great Babe Ruth changed hands for $35,000.

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