Thrift Shop Find: Baseball’s Golden Age

I’ve just finished reading Baseball’s Golden Age: the Photographs of Charles M. Conlon, Baseball's Golden Ageand I enjoyed it very much. I’ve known about Charles Conlon for a while – ever since 1991, when Topps put out its Conlon Collection series of cards – and I’ve seen this book in the bookstores. However, I was lucky enough to come across my copy a couple of weeks ago in a thrift shop, in great condition, for 99 cents! Thanks to the kind person who gave this beauty up!

Charles Conlon was born in 1868, and was a proofreader at the Evening Telegram in New York City, but he was also an amateur photographer. John Foster, who worked with Henry Chadwick on the annual Spalding Guide, knew Conlon, learned of his hobby, and in 1904 invited him to take pictures of ball players for the annual Guide. “It will be a good pick up for you, ” Foster said, “and it will be something for a day off.”

It turned out to be a little more than that.

Conlon took pictures of ball players from 1904 to 1942, an amazing and massive collection of thousands of glass-plate photos, and Baseball’s Golden Age presents a nice selection of these, both the well-known stars of the Golden Age, and also a number of players you’ve never heard of. Many of these pictures will be familiar to baseball history buffs. Conlon took classic and well-known shots of Cobb, Mathewson, Ruth, Gehrig, and Wagner. Some of these were also used as the basis for the old Goudey baseball cards of the ’30s, such as these two shots of the Waner brothers.

waners - conlon and cards

Occasionally in the book they’ll have large pictures of the same player on facing page, with 10 or 20 years between the two shot. One of my favorites in this regard were these two shots of Charlie Gehringer.

Charlie Gheringer - Conlon - 1925-34 sm

The text in the book includes an introduction to Conlon’s story and his work, and then paragraph-length captions to the pictures. The pictures are beautifully printed, with many full-page shots. This is the sort of thing I’ll go back to again and again, as I love photography almost as much as I love baseball.

One thing I did learn from this book — Conlon destroyed thousands of his glass-plate negatives in the early ’30s.

…my plates were running me out of the house, so I destroyed hundreds of them. Perhaps it was a mistake, but where would I have kept them?

The Sporting News has the photographer’s 8000 remaining negatives. Most of the original prints remained in the files of the New York World-Telegram till it ceased publication in 1967, after which they were acquired by the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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