Update: The 1903 World Series program sold for $228,780.
What you see: The front and back cover of a 12-page 1903 World Series program, printed for and sold during the championship games held in Pittsburgh. Huggins and Scott estimates it at $150,000 to $250,000.
The expert: Bill Huggins of Huggins and Scott.
Why do so few of these inaugural World Series programs survive? They were actually sold only at Pittsburgh games. Boston won the series, five games to three. [It was a best of nine.] I think only four of those games were played in Pittsburgh. Twenty to 30 copies of the Boston version of the program have surfaced over the years. Only three have surfaced for the Pittsburgh games. One is in Cooperstown, and one is in a private collection. This one here was purchased by the consigner in the 1970s and has been in a safe deposit box ever since.
Why should there be fewer surviving Pittsburgh programs than Boston programs? Was the Pittsburgh park smaller, or the program less interesting than the Boston one? Being that it was the first World Series, I’m not sure they were expecting a huge turnout. They didn’t know if if would even catch on.
To stay on that point about the Pittsburgh program maybe being less interesting–the cover does not show any players… It’s mostly ads. As you open it up, there are lots and lots of ads, 90 percent advertising.
Maybe that explains why so few of these programs survive? People didn’t buy the Pittsburgh program because it was so full of ads? Possibly. In and among a page of ads is a picture of [Pittsburgh Pirate] Honus Wagner, who was the star of the series. [The images of the players] are only silhouettes, two by two inch black and white head shots, in a bunch of ads. They had the player’s last name underneath. The players are in business suits with ties. They’re not even in uniform.
What condition is the program in? I see pieces of tape on the cover… It must have been coming apart a little, because it has three pieces of tape on it. I don’t know if that was done in 1903, but it was done a very, very long time ago. And it’s got some wear on the corners, and things like that. When I get an old publication, I pick it up and smell it. It smells like old paper. That’s a telltale sign it’s not a reproduction. The pages are very. very thin compared to today’s programs. But there are no pages missing, no tears, no rips, no excessive writing.
Have you personally seen the other two known copies? I have not, but I can only imagine, barring the tape, I couldn’t find one nicer than this.
Do we know who the program’s first owner was–the person who made the notations on the cover and the scorecard inside? And do we know any of its subsequent owners, aside from the consigner? We don’t. However, the style of the scoring is very much of the period. Today, scorecards are much more elaborate.
And those handmade notations–that’s how we know it’s a World Series program from Game 7, yes? Yes. The World Series is the only time the American League met the National League in 1903. They didn’t play each other during the year.
The printers used three colors on this program: blue, red, and black. Does that mean the people who commissioned the program splashed out on it? Actually, this is a bit more primitive. Some scorecards produced in the late 1800s were more elaborate. They might have four or five or more colors on some of them.
The words “World Series” don’t appear anywhere on the front or back cover of this program. Do they appear anywhere inside it? No. Actually, it looks very similar to programs that the Pittsburgh ball club put out for regular games, if not identical. The defining part is the center page scorecard. I’d imagine the center page is a thing that could be a separate insert on its own, changed on a day to day basis. [FWIW, the cover of the counterpart Boston program doesn’t say “World Series”, but it does say “World’s Championship Games.” To learn more about how the contest got its modern name, follow this link and scroll down to the section called The Origin of the Name ‘the World Series’,]
What else marks this as ephemera from 1903? Are there ads in the program that would never appear in a World Series program today? There are whiskey ads, and one for cigars, three for five cents. Another says ‘Drink Crystal Water and live for 200 years.’
The Federal Trade Commission would not be cool with an ad like that today. No. There’s an ad for OK beer. Another cigar ad–almost everybody smoked. There’s literally page after page of advertising.
Why will this piece stick in your memory? Knowing what it is and knowing the significance of it, it’s very cool. In our industry, rookie cards are very, very hot. This is sort of the rookie card of World Series programs. The rarity of it is key, the firstness of it is key, and only three have surfaced. But there could be some in attics, basements, or drawers that haven’t come out.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Huggins and Scott.
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