Charles Conlon’s iconic photograph of Ty Cobb stealing third base to be auctioned

Art Daily
Published on
Interested bidders may participate in the auction online.
Interested bidders may participate in the auction online.

CHESTER, NJ.- Charles Conlon’s photograph of Ty Cobb sliding into third base is considered by many to be the most hallowed and coveted sports image. An original image of Conlon’s shot will be auctioned by Robert Edward Auctions. It is one of just two known original images. Bidding for the photo concludes December 6. Interested bidders may participate in the auction online.

In every field of collectible there is one piece, a singular item that rises in stature above all others and becomes iconic. In art, it is the Mona Lisa; in baseball cards, the T206 Honus Wagner Card; and in musical instruments, a Stradivarius violin. Baseball photography, too, has its own paragon of visual perfection, and it is not surprising that it comes to us from the gifted lens of the man many consider to be the greatest practitioner of his craft: Charles Conlon. On July 23, 1910, at Hilltop Park, home of the New York Highlanders, Conlon shot what is universally regarded as the most visceral sports photograph ever taken. The image captures the pure fury that was Ty Cobb as he slides into third base on an attempted steal and makes Highlanders third baseman Jimmy Austin pay for his impudence in attempting to make the tag. The determination on Cobb’s face, the dirt flying in all directions, and Austin’s futile attempt to catch the throw from the catcher while trying to avoid serious injury from the steel shards emanating from Cobb’s shoes combine to elicit an emotional response that is unmatched by any other baseball image.

While this photo has been reproduced countless times in both books and periodicals, and second-generation copies are plentiful in the hobby, an original, first-generation example was, for many years, unheard of. In 2015, the first confirmed example surfaced, exciting collectors, researchers, and photography enthusiasts alike. Eventually transacted privately for $250,000, that example instantly became the gold standard of baseball photography, sitting alone atop the record books as the single most expensive sports photograph ever sold.

The consignor of this photo acquired it at auction nearly three decades ago at a time when there was often no distinction made between an original or later-day print. After purchasing it, the photo was matted and framed together with a Ty Cobb check. Robert Edward Auctions disassembled the frame to encapsulate the Cobb check and offer the photograph separately. The auction house was immediately struck by the clarity and condition of the photograph, but because there have been so many second-generation prints made of this photo (Cobb himself kept them on hand to honor requests from fans), they remained cautiously optimistic that they had, perhaps, uncovered an incredible original example of this famed photograph. After thorough examination by PSA/DNA experts, it was confirmed to be only the second-known original example and the finest of the two images reviewed to date.

For nearly 40 years, beginning in 1904, Charles Conlon was the preeminent baseball photographer in the country and his home base of New York City, which supported both an American and National League team, afforded him the opportunity to photograph nearly every Major League player.

The photo (10 x 8 inches), which bears Conlon’s credit stamp (“Charles M. Conlon/Evening Telegram/New York”) on the reverse, displays a tiny chip in the lower left corner, moderate creasing in the upper right and lower left corners, and a few additional light creases. A few small areas of paper residue are evident on the reverse from its having once been mounted. The photograph remains in Very Good to Excellent condition overall. It is superior to the other confirmed original example, which bears more extensive chipping to the image along with a newspaper slug on the front bottom border.

Bidding began at $50,000.