June 12, 1939 was a momentous day for baseball. The Baseball Hall of Fame would open for the first time amid all the pomp and pageantry you would expect on such a highly anticipated occasion. As of that date, including the 1939 class, only 26 men in the 100 year history of the game had been elected for enshrinement. In 1939, 11 of those so honored attended the inaugural induction ceremony. This remarkable commemoration of the event features an original 1939 First Day Cover signed by each of the following eleven inaugural inductees; Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Napoleon Lajoie, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Connie Mack, Eddie Collins, George Sisler, Honus Wagner, and Grover Cleveland Alexander. Additional signatures include Kenesaw Mountain Landis and the local Cooperstown postmaster.
This cover was sent to each of these individuals by an ambitious autograph collector by the name of Paul Wunder of New Orleans, Louisiana on behalf of his daughter Doris to whom the cover is addressed. Mr. Wunder wrote to each of these living players just after their inauguration, asking for their autograph on his daughter's collection of first-day Baseball Centennial first day covers. The piece was dutifully signed and returned each time, usually with an item of correspondence recording the gracious compliance of these then-living legends. Remarkably, all of the original correspondence was preserved in accompaniment with this first day cover, documenting the substantial amount of time and effort put forth by Mr. Wunder.
In seven of Mr. Wunder's letters, they were sent back with handwritten notes (Alexander and Speaker are secretarial) and full signatures from Ruth, Collins, Lajoie, Alexander, Johnson, Young and Sisler. Ruth did not send a note, but wrote out his correct address. Collins wrote, "I am very glad to oblige." Lajoie's includes a handwritten return address. Kenesaw Landis (who was not in the Hall of Fame yet but was the commissioner of baseball at that time), Cobb and Mack all wrote separate letters, Cobb and Speaker (envelope addressed in Speaker's hand) on personalized stationery (Cobb's fully handwritten), Landis and Mack typewritten and hand signed on baseball stationery. There is also a signed envelope by Honus Wagner, but no letter or note. There are 14 letters in total and they are in excellent condition overall with some discoloration to the paper from age and minor wear to the edges.
Nearly every signature on the first day cover is flawlessly rendered and beautifully preserved. Considering the mount of handling and travel this piece endured, its present state is extraordinary. The overall aesthetic appeal is superb, with signatures assessed as MINT 9 by PSA/DNA. While the cover alone is a mini-masterpiece, and the supporting correspondence group is a treasure trove unto itself, the combination elevates this mini-archive into rarified air in the field of sports autographs. This stunning collection not only commemorates a landmark event in baseball history and the Hall’s inaugural class, it is also a window to a bygone era where sports heroes were not so far removed from their admiring fans.
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