Lot # 1487: Circa 1904 and 1910 Honus Wagner Handwritten Personal Notebooks with Six Interior Signature Examples and a Hastily Composed Will - PSA/DNA

Starting Bid: $5,000.00

Bids: 1 (Bid History)

Time Left: Auction closed
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This lot is closed. Bidding is not allowed.

Item was in Auction "REA Fall 2017",
which ran from 10/6/2017 2:00 PM to
10/29/2017 12:00 PM

These small leather-bound appointment books, dating from 1904 and 1910, were once the property of Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner. They are filled with numerous written notations, all in Wagner's hand, including six Honus Wagner signature examples. One book also features a scouting report on a catching prospect. The most intriguing aspect; however, pertains to two cryptic entries in the 1910 book, which, if interpreted correctly, appear to indicate that Wagner felt his life was in jeopardy. Whether the threat was real or imagined, it resulted in Wagner hastily composing a will that was later crossed out. 

The earlier book, for the year 1904, features sixteen pages with handwritten notations. Many of the notations are lists of names, some of which have numbers opposite them that most likely represent dollar amounts, while others refer to addresses and dates. Most of the listings of names accompanied by dollar amounts represent the division of earnings from the semi-pro basketball teams he ran during the winters in which several of his Pirates teammates participated. Two of the name lists, both scripted in blue-colored pencil, bear his own name, "H. Wagner," (one grades "9," the other "8."). The second book, for the year 1910, features 65 pages of handwritten entries. Wagner has claimed ownership of the book on the title page, where he has written "Please Return to Hans Wagner Pittsburg B.B. Club" (in pencil; grading "9"). As noted earlier, this is the more significant of the two books, both for the inclusion of the aforementioned scouting report and the will. The scouting report, which encompasses three full pages, is scripted in blue-colored pencil and reads in full: Gentleman I would like to recommend to you a young catcher who i [sic] am sure will prove a star for you as he is an all around athlete and his is an easy player to get along with. habits are the best. I am sure if you give him a trail [sic] he will deliver the goods for you. his address is Baker. Playing basketball for the Crafton team of the West Penn League. Yours truly, J. Honus Wagner. Both the text and signature grade "9." (This was probably a draft of a telegram he sent, or planned to send.) Another "J. H. Wagner" signature, also written in blue pencil (grading "8") appears at the rear of the book, under a page titled "Memoranda." Next to his signature, in black fountain pen, is the notation "Pd." 

The two most sensational entries in the book suggest that Wagner was in fear of his life at the hands of an unnamed gang. Even though the entries are pages apart, both appear to be related because of content and the fact that they were later crossed out in a similar manner. Each can be interpreted as rudimentary wills in that Wagner clearly instructs the reader that certain property and money be left to specific people and/or purposes. Because the entries have been gone over in pencil, they are not entirely legible, but the second one, which is two pages, beginning on on the July 24th page, is the easier of the two to decipher. It reads "If they get me Leave my auto and house #221 R. R. Ave. to Bessie B. Smith M_  _ _ _ Clan at Crafton, Pa. All my property to pap as long as he lives. My cash M _ _B _ _ to be used in getting square with this gang of _ _ _ols on Pas _ J. H. Wagner." (Bessie Smith was Wagner's girlfriend, whom he later married, and "pap" refers to Wagner's father.) The first entry, which starts on the February 20th page, begins with two completely blacked out pages (no writing is legible); however, the next two crossed out pages offer a few lines of legible text at the end, which are similar in wording to the other crossed-out entry: "the rest of my money to be used in getting even with this gang and Bring them all to Justice. J. H. Wagner." 

Many years ago, these notebooks were made available to author Arthur Hittner and are cited in his authoritative biography Honus Wagner The Life of Baseball's "Flying Dutchman" (McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina, 1996). Wagner’s poor play, both in the field and at the plate, during the first two months of the 1910 season were a major concern for the Pirates, and Hittner devotes an entire chapter to the possible causes. One such cause, never before discussed, may have been revealed within the pages of these notebooks. Concerning the two crossed-out entries, Hittner writes 

Speculation as to the nature of the events giving rise to the notebook entries inevitably begins with the gambling element so pervasive in baseball circles at the time. . . . The notion that game-fixing was accomplished only through financial inducements, however, is inaccurate. Physical intimidation was another weapon in the arsenal of the criminal gambling fraternity. . . . while virtually inconceivable that he [Wagner] would become voluntary involved with gamblers, Wagner was a logical target for anyone brazen enough to use physical intimidation to affect the outcome of Pirate ballgames. Though inconclusive, the notebook entries are intriguing. They reveal a man who feared for his life, yet maintained the presence of mind to look after his survivors. Wagner's apprehension was palpable but controlled. He made the entries with the expectation that the notebook would be found on his body in the event of his death. Although much of the text has been obscured (perhaps by Wagner, when the threat had dissipated), the absence of a detailed explanation in the decipherable portions suggest that others were aware of his jeopardy. Although the circumstances surrounding the mysterious entries will probably never be known, it is not too much to assume that they played a significant role in his precipitous decline during the first ten weeks of the 1910 championship season.

The remaining entries in the 1910 book are varied, but are composed mainly of names and addresses, including those of a fair number of women, the significance of which is pure speculation. Also included are listings of his favorite fishing spots in the vicinity of the National League cities he regularly visited. It should be noted that in both books there are a few additional "Wagner" signatures, albeit just his last name. Most of the listings read "A. Wagner," which almost certainly denote Honus' older brother, Al. The 1904 book (2.75 x 5.25 inches) displays moderate wear, including detachment of the covers, but the interior pages remain clean and bright. In Very Good condition. The 1910 book displays heavy wear, including abrasions to the covers, detachment of the covers, and detachment of a few interior pages. In Good condition overall. Total: 2 books. Full LOA from PSA/DNA. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open).


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