Back in January, we joined a wine club through August Hill Winery in Utica, IL, in order to celebrate the other notable anniversary in our lives together. Utica is a cute, little slice of small town America, located just down the road from Starved Rock State Park and it's "downtown" strip is chock full of places to get a drink. Being behind several months in our club selections, we decided to make a day of it by picking up our bi-monthly bottles and then celebrating our big day with a few wine tastings, a couple of bonus glasses, AND buying even more bottles of adult grape juice. By the end of the festivities, we were buzzed at 1:30 in the afternoon and had 10 new bottles of wine sitting in the backseat of our Kia. Despite all signs to the contrary, I assure you that we are not alcoholics.
However, we did more than just imbibe to celebrate our half-dozen milestone. Besides being full of wineries, wine-tasting rooms, and hole-in-the wall bars, Utica also has a charming secondhand shop called Clarks Run Antiques. My wife and I always make sure to stop by this outpost when we blow through town, just as we did on our way to the altar and when we revisited the site to celebrate our one-year. This trip would be no different.
Thankfully for our wallets, we decided to do the antiquing first because drunk-shopping rarely leads to good decisions. The place is your standard fare for antique shops - a bunch of independent vendors that rent space within the building and hawk their unwanted, vintage wares. Old train sets, stamp collections, records, books and magazines, and tchotchkes galore lined the shelves and display cabinets with nary a baseball card in sight. I've found some good cardboard in this shop before; so, initially, I was a bit disappointed.
Then, something in my still-sober mind clicked - the postcards!
You see, Clarks Run has a huge bin that is stuffed to the gills with souvenir and photographic postcards. Every time I venture inside, I take some time to flip through a few stacks of these collectible memos in the hopes that I might come across an oddball baseball card or two, maybe a TCMA oddball or something of the sort.
Back in January, during the same trip in which we signed up for the wine club at August Hill, I actually did come across a baseball-themed postcard in the Tupperware tub of missives. Sadly, after a casual glance, I put it right back in the stack and went about my merry way because... I guess cheapskate me didn't feel like spending a buck. Plus, on that particular trip, we did the wine tastings first and the shopping second, so.... like I said, bad decisions. Ever since that day, I've regretted that frugal decision.
The odds were against me ever finding it again in the large and since-shuffled box, seven months further down the road; not to mention the fact that someone could have purchased the thing. Nevertheless, I pulled up a chair and set about trying to locate the oddity from my fleeting memory. In an amazing stroke of luck, it didn't even take me ten minutes of flipping to reclaim my lost treasure:
It's a little worse for ware, but this slip of paper looks pretty damn good for being over 100 years old.
I think you fellow card-collectors can see why his particular piece of ephemera has fascinated me from the moment that I laid eyes on it. Is this an early bit of memorabilia featuring women's baseball? Where or what is this mysterious "Elmwood" club? What's the story on "Roth & Langley," printed in the bottom right corner? Why is this young lady perched on a fence? What the heck do those pencil markings actually say? There are so many intriguing questions associated with this piece.
On that latter inquiry, we may never know for sure. The send of this postcard had some rather sloppy handwriting:
From this chicken scratch, all that I can make out is that someone appears to have taken a trip somewhere and they "will go some where all day..." something, something, "...and baby." Is there anyone out there on the blogosphere who can make heads or tails of the full message inscribed on the back of my antique market find?
While the meat of the writing might be mostly illegible, luckily, I can clearly make out the rubber stamp slapped over the top by the postal service - "Chicago June 29, 7:30PM 1910 ILL" - as well as the intended recipient's name and address (Mrs. R H Van Matre at 221 Douglas Ave. Freeport, IL). Wow - this little bit of paper was sent by mail over 108 years ago! While I can't find any records of the mysterious Mrs. Van Matre via a cursory Google search, I can pull up that address on Maps and see where this lady baseballer was headin':
Sadly, it looks as though the Van Matre residence has since been demolished in favor of public parking. *Womp, womp*
I'm sure if I were to dive in head first into researching this project, combing local libraries and the public record with a fine toothed comb, I could dig up a little bit of information on the recipient and the plot of land on which they lived. However, I am much more interested in the postcard itself and the fence-hopping, young woman in uniform showcased on it's front:
So, what's the story here?
In searching for the name Roth & Langley, which appears to be the name of the company which printed this exhibit over a century ago, I've discovered that they were the mastermind's behind several postcard issues during the early half of the 20th century. Based in New York, it appears as though they printed up a full set of "risque" baseball postcards, circa 1910, which featured "pearl clutching" moments of women throwing themselves at baseball players or suiting up themselves and striking double entendre-ready poses. Seemingly designated as PC798-10, I found several closed auction listings for lots of these "lewd" photographs via a site called KevinSavageCards.com:
These screen captures from the 2015 listings appear to show additional, similar cards that sure look to be from the same set - it looks as though we found my long sought after oddball's siblings.
So, while I was hoping that I had found photographic evidence of perhaps an early women's baseball league, a local girls' collegiate or high school nine, or even a rag tag group of lady barnstormers, what I have here appears to be part of the long tradition of sexualizing women (however tame it may be to our eyes today) and sports for the expressed purpose of hawking merch. Merp.
While I am disappointed that my research indicates that my find is much less exciting to this feminist mind, it is still a captivating piece of Americana. Not to mention, it was a minor miracle that I was able to re-discover this specific slip of paper in a massive shopkeeper's bin after several months of shoppers likely flipped through later than I originally did. Plus, no matter what the context of the image, I was still able to add another super vintage baseball card to my collection for the low, low price of a single dollar bill. It's not everyday one gets the opportunity to do that! Thus, I still confidently consider this antiquing find a massive success.
After my wife I checked out, in order to celebrate my purchase, I made sure to down plenty of spirits at the winery and the tasting room down the street. Of course, we were already looking for any excuse to do that!
Anniversaries, antiquing, wine, more wine, and extremely old baseball cards.... God, I love Utica!