When a baseball glove signed and dated by Walter Johnson brought $24,200 -- more than twice its presale estimate -- at the Richard Wolffers "Treasures of the Diamond" auction in San Francisco, it emphatically made the point that baseball cards aren't the only high rollers in the baseball collecting market anymore.
It was signed by Johnson on his last major-league glove and dated by him "9-22-27 vs. St. Louis," the date of his final game as a pitcher.
Nor is this by any means one of the earliest gloves. According to baseball tradition, the first player to wear one in a game was
Cincinnati Red Stockings catcher Douglass (Dug) Allison in 1869.
As pointed out in the highly informative "Glove Collector's Handbook," put out by the Glove Collector (14057 Rolling Hills Lane, Dallas, Texas 75240-3807), early catching problems "included bone bruises, split palms, torn fingernails, not to mention broken fingers and thumbs, the result not only of fast pitches but from hot foul tips as well. Early catching duty was an agonizing business."
At first, these gloves were ordinary work gloves, often padded with such material as grass, cotton or -- what a thought! -- strips of meat. Before long, glove manufacturers were adding such features as solid leather tips to protect the fingers.
By 1885, Al Spalding, in the catalog for his sporting goods store, was offering his Spalding Trade Mark Catcher's Glove of extra-heavy Indian tanned buck leather.