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T206 inclusion letter to Neal Ball

Written by Dennis Purdy (VCBC - July/August 1997)

Given the plethora of sports memorabilia auctions today, with their countless items of baseball collectibles offered, we rarely see offered items that document the connection between the hobby and the sport. One such rare glimpse is now possible with the discovery of a letter to be offered in the Robert Edward Auction on June 28, 1997.

The item offered is a 1909 letter from a newspaper writer, Bozeman Bulger, to Neal Ball, a shortstop with the New York Highlanders (they didn't become the Yankees until 1913). This letter, measuring approximately 7-1/2" by 8-1/2" on New York Americans official stationery, was dated January 29, 1909 and is actually an early style form letter.

The personalized salutation ["Dear Neil" (sic)] is in a purple type and the balance of the letter in a black type which makes obvious that this was one of a number of copies created at the same time by carbon copy. The letter reads:

Dear Neil:

I am getting up a scheme with the American Lithograph Company to get out a series of nicely colored pictures of "The star ball players of America" which will be put in cigarette boxes like they used to print the pictures of actors and actresses. I have all the photographs but, under a new law they have here, I will have to get your permission to use them. I am sending a slip which I want you to sign so I can go on and finish up the pictures. It would be a great favor to me if you would send this back as soon as you can. Several of the boys have already sent theirs,
With best wishes, I am.

Your friend,
(signed) Bozeman Bulger
Evening World

This letter is asking for Neal Ball's permission to be included in what today we call the T206 set. The discovery of this letter is of extraordinary significance to the T206 series as well as relating to the legend of the T206 Wagner.

This letter shows that the ballplayers appearing in the T206 series did, in fact, have to give their permission to appear in the set. Furthermore, this letter is consistent with an article which was published in the Oct. 24, 1912 issue of The Sporting News which provides an original source of documentation of the legend of the Honus Wagner card. The article reads in part: "Not long ago a firm of tobacco manufacturers wrote to a local newspaper man and asked him to secure a picture of Hans Wagner to be given away with cigarettes together with the written permission of the big Dutchman to use it. The writer was promised a liberal fee for his work..." The article goes on to relate the story that when the Pittsburgh sportswriter wrote to Honus Wagner, he soon received a response from Hans staling that he "did not care to have his picture in a package of cigarettes."

The Ball letter is the same type of letter which Wagner received regarding his inclusion in the set. Bozeman Bulger (the writer of the Neal Ball letter) was one of the most prominent New York sportswriters of the day. It is interesting to note that Ball and Wagner were sent letters by different sportswriters. Apparently the tobacco companies contracted with the most prominent sportswriters from each city to make arrangements and secure permission from the local players selected to appear in the set.

This letter, an incredible find of historical significance to the baseball card hobby, is described as in Excellent condition and will be sold with the original mailing envelope, which is postmarked Feb. 19, 1909.

This item has been re-sold for a bargain price $1,725 in the Barry Halper Auction on September 23-29, 1999.

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