The Sports Bookie -- Brooch the subject: A rare pin find

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It’s fair to say that Tim Newcomb can wax poetic about prewar baseball cards and memorabilia — and American literature, too.

Newcomb, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has an extensive collection of prewar sports cards. He also has written three books about poetry, most recently in 2012 when he authored “How Did Poetry Survive? The Making of Modern American Verse.”

He can recite chapter and verse (or, if you prefer, in iambic pentameter) the day he walked into a bookstore/memorabilia shop 10 years ago in Champaign, Ill., and found a unique collectible — a 1915 PM1 Ornate Frame Pin of Philadelphia Athletics third baseman John “Home Run” Baker.

“When I first saw it, I had no idea what it was,” Newcomb said. “I went home and checked ‘The Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards’ and Baker was not listed. So I went back and went through the dance of buying it. I asked the shop owner to name a price and I didn’t try to go for less.”

The cost to Newcomb for the Hall of Famer’s pin? Just $40.

Newcomb wrote to Bob Lemke, editor of “The Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards,” and got the card added to the checklist.

This is quite a pin. It is ornate, like a brooch. Some of the other stars in this set included Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, Nap Lajoie and Johnny Evers.

The Baker pin was a collecting highlight for Newcomb, 53, who began opening packs of cards as a 9-year-old.
“I had a cousin who gave me some of her cards,” he said. “By the time I was 14 I was doing the whole Topps and Bowman runs.”

He also collected some football cards, recalling that the worst trade he ever made was swapping the scarce 1972 Topps high numbers “for a couple of Graig Nettles Fleer error cards.”

Newcomb then decided to narrow his focus to prewar cards, a task that made him more selective.

“It’s easy to suck up your collecting budget with those cards,” he said.

Still, Newcomb finds something alluring about those tobacco cards of the early 1900s.

“It’s woven into the history of America,” he said. “I find it intensely interesting.

“I love the design of the cards, it reflects the style of the period. Visually, I love how they express history.”

Newcomb’s latest book about poetry (formally credited to John Timberman Newcomb) also pays tribute to early 20th century poets who focused on more modern subjects, rather than abstract approaches.

“Things like skyscraper poetry, or mass transit poetry,” he said. It was a modern approach to a branch of literature that seemed to become antiquated.

Speaking of antiques, did that bookstore/memorabilia shop owner realize what he sold Newcomb?

“Well, the next time I went in the shop, he said, ‘Oh, it’s you,’” Newcomb laughed.