DALLAS — Almost 7,500 original Charles Conlon negatives chronicling baseball from 1904 to 1942, including the famed “Cloud of Dust” classic showing Ty Cobb sliding into third base, sold Saturday for $1,792,500 in the first of a two-day auction by Heritage Auctions. Normally, the sales figure alone would carry the news. But this sale was part of a court-ordered liquidation of assets to help collector John Rogers of North Little Rock, Ark., to settle debts.
Many of the Conlon images were used in the 1933 Goudey set and filled the 1993 book “Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles Conlon.” The collection filled boxes that filled 100 cubic feet of space.
“With audio and video recordings of the pre-war game extremely limited in population, The Charles Conlon Photograph Archive is, quite simply, the most important and comprehensive record of early 20th Century baseball that exists, the DNA that gave birth to our collective vision of that time,” auction officials stated. “Maintenance of this enormously important collection should be considered a sacred responsibility to the preservation of baseball history.”
When Rogers acquired the collection from The Sporting News, his intent was to market the rights of images through licensing.
Tight portraits of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson and so many famous action images are among the most iconic photos in the collection. There’s Babe Ruth swinging in full torque and Joe Jackson in full toss.
Conlon captured batting and pitching grips of the game’s greatest hands. That’s about as close as it gets the game. And Conlon delivered every time. “An afternoon with the archive is a true immersion, a veritable time machine,” Heritage said.
In addition to the Sporting News collection, Rogers acquired photograph collections from dozens of newspaper archives, including the Chicago Sun-Times, The Denver Post, the Boston Herald and The Detroit News, allowing him to amass to be more than 80 million images. The Arkansas entrepreneur has been sued by some media groups who said they had no written agreements for their archives. The material was simply hauled away as part of legal acquisitions. Other suits have ranged from the sale of reproductions and bogus memorabilia to bank fraud. All told, the default judgment has reached at least $15 million. Other suits have reportedly taken the total of judgments against Rogers to $50 million.