'Shoeless' Joe postcard from 1907 surging in value

Not a card and not a Type 1 photo, Jackson postcard still shows popularity of vintage baseball photography

Cover Image for 'Shoeless' Joe postcard from 1907 surging in value
The 1907 postcard represents the earliest known image of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, standing second from left in back row. (Credit: Heritage Auctions)
  • One of the earliest-known images of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson can be found on a postcard, where he is photographed alongside his Victor Mills Industrial team in 1907.

The sole example graded by SGC (or any other authenticator for that matter) sold for $21,510 at Heritage Auctions in February 2016.

This price pales in comparison to the sums garnered for later productions of Jackson's "true rookie card," a distinction which has long fueled contentious debate among collectors over the necessary qualifications for a piece of paper to constitute a baseball card.

It wouldn't be until the release of the 1909-11 American Caramel E90-1 set that Jackson would appear on a more traditional card, one which is most commonly considered his "true rookie." One of the two PSA 8 examples in the PSA census (none higher) sold in August 2016 for $667,189 at SCP Auctions.

The Victor Mills postcard, which shows an 18-year-old Jackson standing second-from left, captures the future star playing for a "mill" team in Greer, S.C.

Despite lacking the coveted rookie card label, it would appear appetite has risen dramatically in recent years (and even months) for the postcard, as evidenced by the laundry list of declined offers presented to the 2016 buyer.

Offers to date:

  • $84,000 on April 28, 2024
  • $80,000 on April 17, 2024
  • $75,000 on March 15, 2024
  • $75,000 on March 15, 2024
  • $68,500 on March 15, 2024
  • $65,000 on Feb. 21, 2024
  • $60,000 on Dec. 1, 2022
  • $41,895 on Dec. 25, 2021
  • $39,900 on Dec. 12, 2021
  • $38,000 on Dec. 10, 2021
  • $36,000 on Feb. 2, 2019
  • $34,000 on June 25, 2018
  • $31,000 on June 24, 2018
  • $28,000 on June 24, 2018

To see a rare piece like this surge in value over this span (2016-24) isn't that noteworthy. However, considering the recency and seemingly increasingly urgent nature of these offers, I see this as a direct reflection of the rising popularity of Type 1 photos and vintage baseball photography writ large.

While this piece is not a Type 1 photo, it checks some of the boxes — mainly, that it was produced contemporaneously. Jackson's most well-known image, a photo taken by celebrated baseball photographer Charles Conlon and considered among the most significant photos from the era, sold for $105,888 in March 2021 at Mile High Auctions. It had previously set a record high when the same photo sold for $66,000 two years prior.

With demand for high-end vintage photography rising, as well as the intense scarcity of Type 1 examples featuring Jackson, could these rejected offers for his earliest image be evidence of a broadening trend? It definitely shows collectors' willingness to step outside the Type 1 system and seek out their own treasures on the margins, in this case pursuing an item that is stuck in the uncanny valley between photo and card?

Will Stern is a reporter and editor for cllct.