Lot # 20: c. 1917 "Hellfire Boys" Equipment Collection & Foot Locker w/Rare Ty Cobb Bats

Category: Featured Items

Starting Bid: $3,000.00

Bids: 9 (Bid History)

Time Left: Auction closed
Lot / Auction Closed

This lot is closed. Bidding is not allowed.

Item was in Auction "Summer, 2023 Premier Auction",
which ran from 8/2/2023 12:00 PM to
8/19/2023 9:00 PM

As the United States prepared to enter World War 1 at the beginning of 1917, the country became galvanized behind the American war effort.  Americans enlisted in the armed forces and registered for the draft, the military growing to more than 4 million.  At home, Americans began conserving, buying Liberty bonds, even turning their backyards into "victory gardens" to produce extra food.

Washington Senators' owner Clark Griffith demonstrated his patriotism through baseball, developing a plan to raise money to purchase enough athletic equipment to provide to every US military training camp overseas.  His idea was a great success, with teams collecting money for the war effort through Griffith's "Bat and Ball Fund," which ultimately supplied nearly $150,000 in athletic equipment to send to troops overseas.  The effort was joined by Hillerich & Bradsby, the Knights of Columbus, Spalding, and the YMCA, who provided 144,000 bats and 80,000 baseballs with the funds raised by Griffith.  The Knights of Columbus (known by troops as "Caseys" because of the "KC" patch on their sleeves) in 1918 sent Field Secretaries to France - led by Hall of Famer Johnny Evers - to dispense trunks of athletic equipment known as "war chests" and organize athletic events.

While much of that equipment was ostensibly destroyed in the years after the war, the occasional bat or baseball made its way back to the United States.  Such equipment - including many player-endorsed models - are well-received by the hobby, tremendous documents of the early days of the National Pastime and its role in building morale among American servicemen.  The equipment - often marked with a YMCA or KC brand or stamp - is highly sought-after, and infrequently seen.

Presented here is an astonishing new discovery, originating from an antique auction in France: a wooden footlocker, housing three catcher's masks, three chest protectors, and an amazing nine wooden bats of various sizes and weights.  All amazingly well-preserved, they were discovered by our consignor, who purchased the auction lot and had it shipped to the States last year.

The "War Chest" is a unique and interesting discovery in and of itself.  Measuring 41" x 17" x 16", it is constructed entirely of wood, a coat of vintage stain applied to the outside.  The antique hinges, clasps and handles are somewhat weakened with age, all exhibiting some level of oxidation and patina, and the side handles loose and delicate, slightly broken with age but still functional.  Some chipping of the wood exterior is evident, largely at the underside of the box. The lid of the footlocker is emblazoned with the words "THE HELL FIRE BOYS" in metal rivets.  The nickname "Hell Fire Boys" was given to the 30th Engineer Regiment (Gas and Flame) in a November, 1917 report in the Baltimore Evening Star.  In July of 1918 it was redesigned as the 1st Gas Regiment, and included Baseball Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and Branch Rickey.

The catching equipment is well-worn, the three adult-sized chest protectors exhibiting visible staining and tearing with two of them missing their straps and the straps of the third only attached on one side.  All three appear identical, the manufacturer unclear.  The masks have fared somewhat better, as follows:  1) Goldsmith model:  Well-used, but with all padding, straps and buckles intact.  Staining is evident throughout, as is oxidation on the metal cage.  The Goldsmith tag is clear and legible.  2) Unknown model: Well-used, with straps and buckles intact.  Light chipping and tearing to the piping and padding as well as some cracking to the leather buckles and oxidation on the metal cage.  3) Unknown model: Buckles intact but straps missing, visible chipping, cracking and tearing to the leather padding and oxidation on the metal cage.  

Beyond the footlocker, it is the nine bats that are the selling point here.  All well-preserved, with deep, visible stamping and a rich, auburn hue, the bats are of different sizes and weights.  Bats include 1) Hillerich & Bradsby Eddie Collins model: Beautiful YMCA stamping near the centerbrand, Collins' script signature clearly visible.  Bat measures 34" in length and 34 oz., with a thin knob.  Some light streaks and minor chips are visible, with no visible deadwood.  2) Hillerich & Bradsby Ty Cobb model: approximately 34" and 38.5 oz, a gorgeous bat with deep stamping and a visible YMCA logo at the centerbrand.  Rich, brown coloring with little visible deadwood, heavy signs of wear including cleat marks and what appears to be ball impressions on the back barrel.  3) Hillerich & Bradsby Ty Cobb "Major League Special" decal model: approximately 32 3/4" and 35 oz., well-worn with visible abrasions at the decal, though Cobb's name is still visible.  Deep stamping and clear YMCA logo, a very thin crack in the handle and many scuffs and cleat marks around the barrel.  Surface abrasions have scuffed away some of the stamping at the centerbrand.  4) Hillerich & Bradsby Frank Baker Decal Bat: approxmately 32" and 42 oz., retail model 40 FB.  Well-worn with significant scuffing having worn away most of the decal, the subject identifiable only by the model number.  Still, the bat is well-preserved, a rich, auburn color with some cleat marks visible around the barrel.  5) W.E. Mains "Oil Hardened" Bat: Gorgeous bat manufactured by W.E. Mains of Sand Creek, Maine.  Wide-handled, 32" bat weighs  35 1/2 oz., well-preserved and clean with some cleat marks and scuffs throughout and minor checking on the back barrel. 6) Spalding KC Indoor Bat: Gorgeous fungo-style bat measures 32 3/4" and weighs just 28 1/2 ounces.  Very thin barrel measures approximately 1.5" in diameter.  Some light scuffs, and a very faint Knights of Columbus stamp on the back barrel.  7) Spalding League Bat: Beautifully-preserved 31" bat weighing 42 1/2 ounces, "Spalding League" stamped into the centerbrand. Signs of light use including a few cleat marks. 8) Spalding KC M4 Bat: Approximately 33 1/2" in length with a deeply-embedded KC stamp on the back barrel, well-worn with cleat marks, a few chips and some areas of light checking. Approximately 33 ounces.  9) Spalding M8 Bat: 32" thin bat weighing 31 oz., clean with some light staining at the back barrel.

An outstanding and historically significant collection of well-preserved wartime relics. Please note that the size and weight of this item will result in significant shipping costs.

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