Sunday, November 13, 2016

Stamp of Approval

I come from a long line of collectors.  My uncle hoarded model trains and railroading memorabilia, my grandfather collected (and constructed) model cars, my father has Hot Wheels lined up on his work desk, my sister has an impressive stash of vintage dolls and my mother has more salt and pepper shakers than she does seasonings.

In short, it's in my blood and no one is surprised that I seek out baseball cards like a private eye.

While my mother currently has S&P shakers displayed proudly on shelves around my parents' house, that wasn't the only thing she collected.  When I was around nine or ten years old, she passed her homemade album of stamps down to me, a collection she started and abandoned back in the mid-70's. There was nothing of exceptional value, but as a kid, I remember being impressed with all of the different variations of those things we use to mail letters with there were.

However, they didn't draw me in fully (after all, there were no baseball players on them) and I never pursued stamp collecting any further.  That is, until a few days ago, when I purchased my first stamp without the intention of affixing it to a white or manila envelope:

...and, of course, it featured a baseball player - I'm so gosh darn predictable.

What we have here is a photo stamp from 1935 featuring the photography of Chicago lens-master George Burke.  Mr. Burke is something of a legend in the field of sports photojournalism, with his career of documenting the games of baseball and football spanning from the 1920's to the early 50's.  He originally started out in the field as the Cubs team photographer and branched out from there to become an heir to the throne of Charles Conlon.

This is actually the second time the work of Burke has shown up here on Wrigley Roster Jenga.  For a more detailed account of George and his work, check out this post about an autographed Guy Bush photo card (gifted by Tony L.) from earlier this summer.

Burke's reputation may loom large, but these stamps are quite the opposite.

In regards to his line of stamps, they are the size of your standard postage stamp and were marketed by Mr. Burke to players for use in responding to fan-mail.  The stamps are not self-adhesive and I have no idea if they actually held any value in regards to sending mail of if they were for pure decoration and intended for use in conjunction with actual stamps.  I'm leaning towards the latter, but I can't find any concrete information on that aspect.

Unfortunately for George, the stamps never really caught on with the players and were only produced for that one year (1935).  You win some, you lose some, right?

Nevertheless, the super-vintage oddballs definitely caught my interest.  This one in particular because Roy Henshaw, the man depicted, doesn't have much of a cardboard presence.  In fact, there are only three options for Mr. Henshaw that I am aware of - the Burke stamp, a Cubs team-issued photopack single and (from another set with perforated edges) a Target Dodgers piece:

I pulled the trigger on the Henshaw stamp because A) it's an 81-year old, pseudo baseball-card and was available for just five bucks on Ebay and B) because I didn't think I had Mr. Henshaw yet represented in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  Well, silly me forgot that a generous trade from just a few months ago with Stealing Home netted me the Target single that you see above; oopsy daisy.  No matter though, the Burke stamp will still make for an exceptional "Cubgrade."

The man only has three cards and now I have two of them; I guess I'm a Roy Henshaw super-collector now.

Anyway, we've covered the background of the stamp and it's photographer/producer; perhaps we should dedicate a little time to the man who's beaming mug graces the artifact.

 Among the four teams for which Henshaw pitched were the Cubs and Tigers

Roy Henshaw's story is that of a local boy who made good.  Born in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago in July of 1911, Roy was a diminutive fellow (5'8") who was naturally drawn to the sport of baseball because he could make use of his speed and agility on the diamond.  Eventually, he ended up on the pitcher's mound as a lefty hurler, despite being naturally right-handed, because his father saw the value of being a southpaw in America's pastime.  He also had a unique, under-handed throwing motion.

Henshaw's arm eventually earned him a scholarship to the University of Chicago, where he starred on the mound for the Maroons.  This caught the attention of his hometown Chicago Cubs, who signed him late in 1932 and he surprised everyone when he made the team the following spring, allowing him to make the jump from the Big Ten straight to the Majors.

However, he didn't earn a regular role until 1935, when he emerged as a key swing-man for the Pennant-winning club.  All told, he went 13-5 with a 3.28 ERA across 31 games (18 starts).  That said, like the rest of the Cubs staff, he was lit up by the Tigers in the World Series (3 ER in 3.2 IP).

 The other two players involved in that 1937 swap.

After one more season of admirable work with the Cubs, Roy found himself traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers when Mr. Wrigley decided an upgrade was required at shortstop.  Along with the incumbent Woody English, Henshaw was swapped for Lonnie Frey.

Sadly, it was all downhill from there for the former wunderkind, bouncing around from the bullpens of the Dodgers, Cardinals and Tigers with ERA's hovering between four and five.  He lasted through the 1944 season, when he decided to hang up his cleats for good after bottoming out with a mark over eight.

Post-baseball, Henshaw made his way back to Chicago and gained employment as a salesman for Hankins Container near Midway Airport.  He died at the age of 81 on June 8, 1993, at Memorial Hospital in LaGrange, IL, and was buried at the Mount Hope Cemetery in Chicago - a Second City-boy to the very end.

Image courtesy of the Hyatt Regency Chicago

There you have it, we learned all about George Burke, his work and the unheralded, local hero Roy Henshaw... all because of a single stamp I found a good deal for on Ebay.  Stamps may typically be used for the exchanging of goods; but, this time, they were used for the noble cause of exchanging of information.

I don't think I'll be rebooting my mother's stamp collection any time soon, but I'm definitely happy to be adding this photo stamp to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection.  It was produced by a Chicagoan, featuring a Chicagoan player and a Chicago team - it couldn't get any more Windy City unless you had Bill Murray randomly show up in the background.

In summation, this piece of super-vintage memorabilia certainly earns my "stamp" of approval!


  1. I've grabbed a few of the Burke stamps for the collection.. Definitely a great oddball

  2. They could not be used for mailing, only official stamps can do that. I am a stamp collector as well. I also build models and collect hot wheels, cool family you come from!