Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Charles M. Conlon:
Baseball's master photographer

| Anthony Tarantino

You’ve seen the photo before:

Detroit’s Ty Cobb is sliding hard into third base while New York’s Jimmy Austin straddles him trying to stay away from Cobb’s sharp spikes. Dirt flies into a cloud. The umpire in the background is ready to make the call.

It may be the most famous baseball photograph ever taken.

It was taken by baseball’s most famous photographer: Charles M. Conlon.

Conlon began his days as a photographer by accident.

While working as a proofreader for the New York Telegram, Conlon was known to take a few snaphots. One day, sportswriter/editor John B. Foster asked him if he would take a few photos for Spalding’s Guide, also edited by Foster.

Conlon obliged and the master got his start.

Conlon photographed the greats of the game from 1904 to 1942.

His subjects included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, John McGraw and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.

Heck, Conlon probably captured the image of most every Major Leaguer of his day. He was also a photographer for The Sporting News.

Today, original Conlon photographs can be found for sale on Internet site’s like eBay with regularity. But they’re not cheap. Most original prints start in the low $100s and can easily fetch into the $1,000s.

But how do you know it’s original?

First, assess the quality. Conlon shot his subjects with larger format cameras so the quality is visible.

Second, look for the stamp. Conlon’s mark was usually (but not always) on the photograph’s reverse.

Third, notice the handwriting. Conlon’s scribbles/editing marks were very unique.

Fourth, the signature. He would usually sign his last name in a hastily-drawn circle.

And finally, in 1996 Christie’s auctioned hundreds of Conlon’s photos as part of an archive from Baseball Magazine. These examples will feature the auction house’s hologram.

Not all of these attributes need to be present to know you have the real thing. A signature or stamp will usually do the trick.

So while hunting for that next special piece of memorabilia, know that an original Conlon photographs can be had for the price of a good box seat at you favorite ballpark – minus the $10 beer and $6 hot dog.

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