Blog Archives

Photography Class: Vintage Photograph Collecting Tips

Regular readers of Chevrons and Diamonds might be accustomed to terminology that is employed when describing the photographs that are part of our collection – several of which have been published within our articles. It may seem straight-forward to casual collectors but the pursuit of old photos is not as easy as it may appear at the surface. I have been around photography for most of my life with countless hours behind the viewfinder, in the darkroom and in post-processing within the realm of digital imagery. I have experience with photo-duplication (I.e. taking a picture of a picture) in order to create a negative as well as the with the process of creating an inter-negative from a color transparency (color slide) – both practices have been relegated to the artistic end of the photographic practice rather than within the mainstream of photography.

With the correct exposure revealing the details of the uniforms and player-identities along with framing and perspective, it is obvious that Harry Danning and Charles “Red” Ruffing were captured by a professional photographer.

Experience behind the shutter, navigating around in the darkroom and photographic editing does provide me with a measure of knowledge in recognizing certain aspects and details with photographs but extensive time spent with inherited vintage family photographs (ferrotypes, carte de viste, cabinet cards, real photo postcards, contact prints, etc.) throughout my life provided me with an introduction to this sphere of the hobby and led to further research on the older photographic practices and processes that are long-since retired.

Despite my knowledge and experience in this arena, I am far from being a subject matter expert however am fully capable of protecting myself from both over-paying or being taken by unscrupulous or neophytic sellers.

The precipitation for this article stems from the constant dialog among my colleagues surrounding the need to be able to knowledgably navigate the waters of vintage sports (specifically, baseball) photography collecting. With terms bandied about such as “Type-1, Type-2, Press, News, Wire service, Telephoto, etc.” understanding these terms poses as much of a challenge as it is in determining what a prospective vintage photo might be. Education in this area, while not fool-proof, can certainly provide collectors with enough tools to perform enough due diligence to make the right pre-purchase decisions.

Navy players, left to right: Unknown, Al Brancato, Vern Olsen, Leo Visintainer, Bob Harris and Rankin Johnson were captured by famed Hawaiian photographer, Tai Sing Loo (image source: Mark Southerland Collection).

The trend for articles published on Chevrons and Diamonds is anything but brevity and due to the significant amount of material that will be covered, the decision has been made to approach the various aspects of this subject through a series of articles.

At the risk of the following being misinterpreted as an outline (the list is merely a guide for what will be discussed in future articles), such focus areas will included covering the differences between professional and amateur photographs:

  • Press/News
  • Public Relations/Public Affairs images
  • Wire service/Telephoto images
  • Half-toned images
  • Snapshots
    • Contact prints
    • Enlargements

When discussing professional photographers, we will spend some time touching upon some of the well-known shutter-snappers such as:

  • George Grantham Bain
  • Geroge Burke
  • George Brace
  • Tai Sing Loo

What should collectors look for in analyzing a print? We will discuss some of the basics that contribute to the value of vintage photographs such as:

  • Scarcity
  • Condition
  • Originality
  • Age
  • Subject of the image.

Terminology is one of the more difficult topics in this arena due to the subjectivity and the randomness with which they are applied by collectors, sellers, graders and auction houses. Without attempting to re-author the terms, we hope to provide some semblance of standardization and meaning to otherwise (seemingly) useless nomenclature.

As the saying was first written, “one picture is worth a thousand words” which for a collector, only means that they are worth even more. The measure of detail that is captured on film (the uniforms, hats, spikes, gloves, location and venue that are depicted within each image is nothing short of treasured.

Though this print compares in size with an amateur snapshot, the image was captured by a professional. “In a beef with the pitcher.” Shown here are Buster Mills, Sid Hudson, Howie Pollet and Chuck Stevens. Lt. “Buster” Mills, manager of the 58th Bombing Squadrons Wingmen, holds an implement not commonly seen on domestic baseball diamonds.

How does one determine the difference between a professional photograph and of one captured by an amateur?

  • Composition
    Learn how to recognize the manner in which professionals capture subjects and how they typically differ from that of a person taking a snapshot. Note where the subject is framed within the boundaries of the visible area; the back and foreground and where your eyes are drawn. A pro photog knows how to compose the image to emphasize what is being captured. Amateurs tend to place subjects dead center and miss the mark on infusing life into the subjects.
  • Capture
    This image characteristic dovetails with the composition however this addresses the perspective of the image. In terms of baseball photography, professional photogs have access to areas that present a common vantage point in their image captures. It is normal to see close-up photographs of players on the field, in the dugout or even the clubhouse. Spectators shoot from a distance and elevation (such as from the grandstand) that has an entirely different subject-orientation from that of the professional. With regards to military baseball, amateur photographers could and often do have the same level of access that is typical for a professional.
  • Exposure
    Pay attention to the lighting of an image and how the photographer uses the light to enhance the subject. Is the subject faint or washed out (over or underexposed)? Are all of the important details distinguishable? Understanding the camera differences, especially within the realm of sports photography, professionals were employing large bodied cameras (such as a Speed Graphic made by Graflex) with “fast” lens that afforded the photographer with the ability to adjust aperture and shutter speeds. Also, the resultant negative (from the exposed and developed film) was substantially larger (4” x 5” or even 5” x 7”) than what was used by the average person.
  • Dimensions
    A substantial portion of the Chevrons and Diamonds archive consists of personally or individually captured images that would be (and in many instances were) mounted on photo album pages. These photographs were typically printed using a contact-print method (the negative was laid directly in contact with the photo paper as it was exposed) producing an image that is the same size as the negative. These prints are most-commonly 2-¼” square, 2-½ x 3-½ or 3-½ x 4-¼ inches. Professional prints are enlargements made from the negative in dimensions of 5 x 7, 7 x 9 or 8 x 10-inches.

Certainly, there are more characteristics that one can employ to distinguish between these images with the most significant one being common sense. Stay tuned for the next segment in this series.

 

Now Pitching for Mickey Cochrane’s Bluejackets of Great Lakes…

Collecting original baseball militaria vintage photographs can be very rewarding, especially when the subjects in the images are of major leaguers (past or future). My collection has grown over the years to not only include ballplayers who reach the highest level of the game but also play their way into Cooperstown while having given away a portion of their career to the armed forces when their nation needed them at the most critical time in history.

In the early months of 1942, the mood of the people of the United States was a myriad of emotions ranging from outrage and anger, fear, great sorrow and loss and of unity. Suffering the tragic loss of thousands of armed forces personnel and a handful of citizens at Pearl Harbor and in the surrounding bases on the Island of Oahu and news of the battles raging on the Bataan Peninsula combined with the surrender of American military forces on Guam and Wake Island, Americans at home had every reason to be concerned about what was taking place and how it would impact the future of our nation. It seemed as though the world was falling under a dark cloud of evil both in the Pacific and across Europe as both German and Japanese militaries were laying waste to every nation they invaded and every military force that attempted to oppose them.

Historians have experience a measure of success in documenting and communicating about the impacts on the game of baseball within hours of the news of the Pearl Harbor attacks reaching the mainland of the United States. For most baseball fans, the knowledge of the quick responses by stars of the game such as Cleveland Indians’ ace pitcher, Bob Feller (enlisted into the U.S. Navy on December 8, 1941) and Hank Greenberg (who made his return to the Army on February 1, 1942, having been discharged two days before the Pearl Harbor attack). Besides these two stars of the game heading off to fight, most players from the major and minor leagues did not rush to join en masse, but rather waited to learn what was going to happen with baseball and the military draft. The two most significant stars of the game in the 1941 season, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams had no intentions of rushing into the fight as both reported to spring training for the 1942 season though each player would face criticism for avoiding service (Ted Williams was skewered for his III-A deferment status regardless of being his mother’s sole provider) and ultimately succumb to the vocal disappointment and enlist, joining the throng of young Americans entering the ranks in the waning months of 1942 and early 1943.

Major and minor league baseball experienced an outflow of personnel that reached a critical mass by the middle of the 1944 season that forced many lower level leagues to shutdown operations. Those players who could not serve in the armed forces moved to the higher level leagues to fill their vacated positions. Though the game helped to sustain many Americans by providing them with an escape from rationing, scrap drives and working in the war effort, the quality of play was nothing close to what was seen when the greats of the game was at its pinnacle in 1941 with DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and William’s .406 season.

On May 17, 1942, White Sox starter Johnny Rigney pitched his last game before departing for basic training a few miles north of Chicago at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. Facing the Washington Senators that day, the Oak Park, Illinois native tossed a three-hit, complete game (he surrendered a double to Bobby Estalella and a single each to Bob Repass and Mike Chartak), in the 4-3 win in front of 16,229 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. While the White Sox roster still was still full with most of their star players on that mid-May day, they were already 13-2 and 11.5 games out of contention. Rigney, one of the bright spots on the pitching staff since his arrival to the big league club in 1937. By the time of his induction, he had a 56-56 record with an era of 3.63 and was 3-3, having appeared in seven games in ’42.

After completion of Navy basic training, Johnny Rigney (no relation to fellow ballplayer and Navy man, Bill Rigney) was recruited by the manager of the Great Lakes Bluejackets, Mickey Cochrane to pitch for the service team that he managed for 1942.  Cochrane, a former American League star catcher for Philadelphia and Detroit, following his enlistment into the Navy and assignment to Great Lakes as an athletics director took on the management of the baseball team and quickly began reaching out to draft-eligible major leaguers to encourage them to join up and to get them assigned to fill roster spots on the Bluejackets squad. Rigney followed several big leaguers to the Navy and joined Cochrane’s team which already consisted of Sam Harshaney (St. Louis Browns), Benny McCoy (Detroit Tigers/Philadelphia Athletics), Russell Meers (Chicago Cubs), Donald Padgett (St. Louis Cardinals), Frank Pytlak (Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox), James Reninger (Philadelphia Athletics), Joe Grace (St. Louis Browns), Chet Hajduk (Chicago White Sox) and Johnny Lucadello (St. Louis Browns).

This type-1 photograph has a printed caption affixed to the back that reads: “July 3, 1942 – Johnny Rigney, who until his induction into the Navy a short time ago, was a leading White Sox hurler, got a watch from his former teammates when he appeared at Comiskey Park last night with the Great Lakes naval training station team against Chanute Field. He may hurl against All-Stars at Cleveland Tuesday. Left to right are Dario Lodigiani, Mule Haas, Ted Lyons, Rigney, Thornton Lee and Orval Grove.”

Billed by many baseball historians as the greatest team of WWII, the Great Lakes squads were dominant among all of the service teams. The 1942 squad was considered the weakest among the war years squads, finishing the year with a 52-10-1 record (a whopping .800 winning percentage) which included a 17-game winning streak and not suffering any losses to opposing military teams. Where the ’42 Bluejackets struggled was in exhibition games (fundraising events for Navy Relief and other service member needs) against major league clubs posting a 4-6 record in the 10 games they played that year. Former White Sox hurler was considered the ace of Cochrane’s staff and taking the mound against the most difficult and formidable opponents. Coach Cochrane would also tag Rigney for service in a fund-raising game played between the 1942 American League All-Stars and the Service All-Stars at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium on July 7, 1942 (the American League squad defeated the service team, 5-0 after Bob Feller’s abysmal pitching performance, surrendering three runs before being relieved by Rigney in the 2nd Inning).

One of the type-1 press photographs in my collection depicts Johnny Rigney visiting his former White Sox teammates at Comiskey Park on July 3, 1942. The image is a high-contrast photograph that is in fantastic condition. One of the more interesting aspects of this print, aside from some minimal surface damage due to the seven decades of aging and decay, is the presence of editing marks made directly onto the surface. Most discernible on the print are the handmade enhancements to Rigney’s uniform in order to distinguish his dress blues from the surrounding features. Other edits on the image surround the upper left portion behind the three players’ heads, extending to the center around Rigney’s dixie cup hat. It is very likely that the wall behind the players was covered with distracting elements taking the focus away from what was happening with the personalities within the main framed area.

A large percentage of the vintage images in my baseball militaria photograph archive depict game action or show players on the field in various manners. However this photo captures an interlude away from the field of play between Rigney and fellow White Sox personalities. Besides Rigney, two of the White Sox players shown in the image would soon be serving: third baseman Dario Lodigiani would enlist into the U.S. Army Air Forces and would eventually be assigned the 7th AAF team in Hawaii along with his fellow San Francisco Bay Area and Pacific Coast League (PCL) alumnus Joe DiMaggio and Ferris Fain; Ted Lyons, the (then) 20 year veteran that had pitched himself into eligibility for Cooperstown enshrinement, joined the U.S. Marine Corps at the youthful age of 42.

The two other White Sox shown in the vintage photo are Rigney’s fellow pitchers Orval Grove and “Lefty” Lee, neither of whom would serve in the armed forces and George “Mule” Haas, the 12-year veteran outfielder (with the Pirates, Athletics and White Sox from 1925-38) who was part of manager Jimmy Dykes‘ coaching staff from 1940 to ’46.

The photo itself is a large, non-standard size (8.25 x 7 -inches), silver-gelatin print that is borderless. It is possible that the newspaper photo editor (who prepped the image for publication) trimmed the borders off as part of the editing process. One element of this image that adds to the interest is that the White Sox players are wearing their (home) white uniforms with red and blue trim marking the first season in which “White Sox” appeared in script lettering across the chest and the only use of such a design until 1987.

Photos of professional ballplayers in their armed forces uniforms (whether their flannels or military) are getting increasingly difficult to find but I keep scouring my sources to further build my archive.

Stars, Stripes and Diamonds: Photographs of America’s Pastime in Uniform

Baseball game between Frederick Army Air Field and Pampa Army Air Field, 7 July, 1945.

Baseball game between Frederick Army Air Field and Pampa Army Air Field, 7 July, 1945.

When the confetti drops on the victors of the Super Bowl it is a signal that, rather than just the curtain falling on the football season, pitchers and catchers have less than two weeks to pack their bags.

Though much of the nation, at least the Northern states, may be crippled by the biting wind and traffic-snarling snow, indications of the impending spring are apparent, regardless of the vision of a certain Pennsylvania woodchuck…er…land-beaver…I mean…whistlepig (you might refer to him as “Phil” of Punxsutawney, PA). For many fans of America’s pastime, the day after Valentine’s day is the the first day of spring as the holiday marks the impending reporting of pitchers and catchers to spring training in both Florida and Arizona.

For militaria collectors who are interested in the game of baseball, there are no beginnings or endings to the season. No spring training, cuts, mid-season call-ups, playoffs or championships are components of collecting military baseball. Fortunately trades and wins (and sadly, losses) come occur between the lines, on the field of play.

Many collectors who play the game of baseball collecting spend their time focusing on artifacts pertaining to specific players-turned soldier (or sailor). Some seek scorecards or programs from the notable service team championship games while still others pursue artifacts from the games – worn or used by the players themselves. But in some cases, it is less important (for collectors) to seek items documenting or connected to star athletes, as the game itself is central to their pursuit.

GI Baseball team in the South Pacific. More than likely, these men are either USMC or Navy personnel. The reverse of this image has hand-inscribed list of names of the players pictured.

This GI Baseball team  was photographed on Guadalcanal in early 1943. More than likely, these men are either USMC or Navy personnel. The reverse of this image has hand-inscribed list of names of the players pictured.

Photographs of ordinary baseball teams fielded by individual military units, to some, may seem a bit mundane and boring. However, these images are quite riveting as they reveal the pageantry of the game. From action shots of games being played to group photos of the team dressed in their uniforms, moments in both baseball and military history are captured, forever bound together.

A USS Rueben James (DD-245) batter at the plate and a catcher read to receive. The field is lined with sailors in their service dress blue uniforms. The inscription on the image reverse sates that the game was played in Pola, Italy (94 km SW of Venice) in 1921. — at Pola, Italy.

A USS Rueben James (DD-245) batter at the plate and a catcher read to receive. The field is lined with sailors in their service dress blue uniforms. The inscription on the image reverse sates that the game was played in Pola, Italy (94 km SW of Venice) in 1921. — at Pola, Italy.

One of the most compelling photographs for me is one that reveals historical information in the surrounding area or background. I seek out context – what was happening on the base or aboard the ship when the film was exposed?

My motivation for this particular interest was sparked when I inherited a photo album from my grandmother that contained a collection of snapshots of her sailor-brother who played for his ship’s ballclub in the 1930s. Present among the images of my grand-uncle aboard ship and in his navy attire were two team shots featuring him (and the rest of the club) dressed in a simple baseball uniform (not the standard flannel of the era) with the ship’s name emblazoned across the chest.

The USS Maine's baseball team from 1898 was photographed just days before the ship was destroyed by an overpowering explosion that left 266 of her 375 men, and invariably many of these ballplayers, dead.

The USS Maine’s baseball team from 1898 was photographed just days before the ship was destroyed by an overpowering explosion that left 266 of her 350 men, and invariably many of these ballplayers, dead.

Some of the earliest images dating to the late nineteenth century are (obviously) the most difficult to find due to their rarity. But rarity doesn’t solely fuel the collectors’ interest. One image of the USS Maine’s ball club, taken in the late 1890s (prior to the ship’s fateful end) shows that the game was integrated, like the professional game was, prior to the enacting of the oppressive Jim Crow laws.

In the game of baseball, hope springs eternal as February runs into March and opening day looms on the horizon. But why wait until the first pitch to step up to the plate?

 

%d bloggers like this: