Rare advertising trade card featuring a team photo of the circa 1897 Page Fence Giants, including Charlie Grant. This is the only known nineteenth-century trade card to feature a Negro League club and we have seen probably fewer than eight examples of this card at auction in the past 20 years. Its rarity notwithstanding, the fact that it features the top Negro League club of the day, and includes Charlie Grant, one of the greatest Negro League star of the era, only adds to its significance. The photo captures ten uniformed players and the club's manager posing together in a formal studio setting. Each team member is identified in print along the base. The Page Fence Giants were so named because the Page Woven Wire Fence Company of Adrian, Michigan, sponsored the team. Not surprisingly , the offered trade card, printed on heavy stock paper, was issued by the Page Woven Wire Fence Company. The reverse features the company name, as well as an illustrated section of wire fence below the words "Play Ball! Play Ball!."
The Page Fence Giants of Adrian, Michigan, were one of the most prominent black baseball teams before the turn of the century. In 1897, led by the legendary Charlie Grant, the Page Fence Giants won an incredible 82 games in a row. Based on a comparison of the players featured and the lineups recorded in reference books, we believe this card dates to exactly 1897, though it is possible it was issue either a year earlier or later. As a historical sidenote, Charlie Grant came very close to being the first black player of the 20th century to play in the Major Leagues. John McGraw attempted to break the color barrier by signing the straight-haired and light complexioned Charlie Grant to a Baltimore Orioles contract (Grant's physical characteristics are easily seen on this card, in which he is pictured in the front row, second from right). Grant was renamed "Charlie Tokohama" and was presented to the world as a Cherokee Indian. White Sox president Charles Comiskey discovered the deception. Grant was exposed and banned from organized ball. Grant's banishment; however, is credited with playing a major role in the birth of a new generation of independent black teams, which soon flourished in the early twentieth century. The card (5.5 x 4.5 inches) displays tears along the right border resulting in small amounts of paper loss. Also evident are a number of moderate-to-heavy creases and a tiny chip in the upper left corner. The year "1896" is written in pencil along the top border. A few pencil and ink notations appear on the reverse. In Fair condition overall. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open).