Saturday, July 8, 2023

1923-24 Tomás Gutiérrez (Cuban cigars) Baseball #5, Dave Brown

While my type collection might never include this hobby rarity, it deserves a profile on its own merits and for those of its subject, Dave Brown.

First excelling on independent teams in the 1910s, Brown's star burned brightest for Rube Foster's American Giants, winner of the first three Negro National League titles (1920-22). He might well reach the Hall of Fame, given sufficient time and career examination by their election committee.

Havana-based tobacco company Tomás Gutiérrez published this set of 1923-24 winter league players and each back explains that collectors of complete sets could redeem them for a display album. Hake's Auctions sold one SGC-graded collection of all 84 known numbers in 2014. That listing and this Flickr album provide good pictures of most cards.

The collector album shows players by team, two pages each, with Brown's photo taken against a studio backdrop, while others stood next to an outdoor stadium or building.

1923-24 Santa Clara team (detail from Christie's album auction)

Gutiérrez released this set at a high point for Cuban winter league ball, as explained in Brown's SABR profile by Frederick C. Bush.

"[Dave] Brown, [Oliver] Marcell, and [Bill] Holland were three of the numerous Negro League players who joined the Santa Clara squad for the 1923-24 Cuban winter season...finishing in first place with a 36-11 record. In fact, this Santa Clara squad came to be “[c]onsidered as the most dominant team ever in the history of Cuban baseball by amassing an 11½ game bulge over their nearest rival." Bill Holland led the team and league in wins with a 10-2 record, Rube Currie contributed an 8-2 mark, and Brown finished with a 7-3 ledger.

The 1923-24 Cuban season was such a popular success that fans clamored for more baseball, and a special season, named Gran Premio, was quickly arranged. Santa Clara finished with a 13-12 record that enabled it to edge out Almendares by a slim half-game margin. Brown (4-2) and Holland (4-3) tied for the team lead in wins in this second season."

A handful of graded examples exist for almost #1-85, with none at all known for #84. I've seen just one #5 Dave Brown card in person. Given that scarcity, my shot at this type card will rest on good "chance" fortune, good "money" fortune, or some of each!

Value: In today's market, you can expect to pay hundreds for individual cards and far higher for Hall of Famers, reflecting its quality player selection and good images for that era. Brown will cost me thousands, if that opportunity even presents itself.

Fakes / reprints: I know of no official reprints. Many Negro League collectors possess considerable knowledge about this era's sets and players, making it risky to attempt fakery in such a niche market. Perhaps some exist that are good enough to slip by everyone!