Most baseball fans know about “gold gloves,” that is, the awards given out each season to some of the best fielding players at each position. The last few years have seen a definite increase in the interest surround those awards as they have been even given their own television show on the MLB Network! But baseball memorabilia collectors are increasingly finding out that there is some “gold” to be found in collecting old baseball gloves whether or not a big leaguer ever slipped on that particular piece of leather or not.
Originally, baseball was played without gloves. The first recorded use of them in a game can be traced back to the mid-1870s. The nature of that old-time game saw those early gloves (almost like the gloves worn in winter weather today but without finger tips) originally designed to knock down the ball more than actually catch it. However, once the rate of broken fingers started to diminish, even some of the “traditionalists” who laughed at the guys who used gloves began to take notice. By the 1890s, almost all position players were using some form of fielding glove.
It is no surprise that the position benefitting most from the use of a glove was the catcher. In fact, a former major league catcher, Harry Decker, introduced the Decker Safety Catcher’s Mitt at the end of his brief career in 1890. The mitt consisted of a glove sewn to the back of what was essentially a small leather pillow. That was a basic and simple design, but that innovation led to other advances in glove technology.
Of course, as use of gloves became the norm, and the popularity of the sport grew across all age groups, it was only natural that player endorsements of the ball gloves followed. On the heels of those endorsements came the birth of the store-model glove, that is, a glove meant for the general populace and not made specifically for professional play. The leather of the glove was a natural canvass on which players names (and in some cases, likenesses) could be printed or embossed. As with most sports collectibles, the greater the player the greater the value of the object with his endorsement.
BUT, that is not always true! Although professional models always carry good value, and specialty models such as the Ted Williams branded gloves from Sears in the 1960s have broad appeal, even gloves with less heralded names can bring a nice return. Not too long ago on eBay, a store model glove such as might be found in a garage sale for a couple of bucks sold for about $100!! Why? The name on the glove was Si Johnson…the last pitcher who struck out Babe Ruth! When it comes to collecting vintage gloves it helps to know a bit of baseball history.
It also helps to know what to look for regarding collectibility. Those who specialize in vintage store models look for examples without writing on the glove. The embossed or burned-in name of the player should be legible. The condition of the leather, presence of any sewn on tags, completeness of glove “laces”…all contribute to the collectibility of the piece. It also matters whether a children’s model or one intended for adult use is in question.
This is just a very brief introduction to the topic, of course. But suffice it to say that there is gold in the gloves IF you know what to look for.