Extraordinary find: silver service presented to Christy Mathewson in 1917 with direct descent through family to be auctioned May 3rd in Austin
AUSTIN, Texas – In 1936, the National Baseball Hall of Fame welcomed its first class of inductees – each member an immortal in his own right: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, and the pitching ace who played 17 seasons with the New York Giants: Christy Mathewson. Memorabilia associated with any of the “First Five” is in great demand, but Mathewson items are especially rare. It has been estimated that fewer than 100 signed photos and even fewer single-signed baseballs attributable to Mathewson are known to exist, in part because he only lived to age 45. As for mementos personally owned by the legendary right-hander, they can be found on the same shelf as hens’ teeth. Hence the excitement over a discovery with direct descent through the Mathewson family that is headed to auction on May 3rd in Austin, Texas.
Austin Auction Gallery will be offering to the highest bidder a sterling silver tea and coffee service whose tray is inscribed: “Presented To Christy Matthewson By His New York Friends, May 12th, 1917.” (Note: In what was a common error at the time, the engraver misspelled Mathewson’s surname in the inscription.)
After his 17-year tenure with the New York Giants, Mathewson was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, where he was a player, then manager. On May 12, 1917, the date engraved on the silver tray, Mathewson’s Reds played his former teammates at the Polo Grounds in New York City. On that occasion, a group of Mathewson’s friends and fans presented him with the silver service as a token of their esteem.
The day after the presentation, in the May 13, 1917 edition of The New York Sun newspaper, a sports reporter wrote about “Chris Mathewson Day” at the ballpark: “Many admirers of Big Six had chipped in and bought [Mathewson] a box of silver to decorate his sideboard. Dudley Field Malone, Collector of the Port and partriot, was the orator. Dudley said many things about Matty. He termed him the world’s greatest athlete, a man loved and revered by thousands of New Yorkers, a man who had set an ideal to the youth of America, which makes him so anxious to pummel Germans in the interest of democracy. Such was the drift of Mr. Malone’s utterances, and Matty blushed…”
The reporter’s comments referred to a previous announcement stating that Mathewson planned to enlist in the wartime military, which he did the following year. He served in France as a captain in the newly formed Chemical Service, alongside Ty Cobb. In a chemical training exercise that went wrong, Mathewson was accidentally gassed. His lungs severely compromised, the hero athlete returned home, where he subsequently caught tuberculosis. His health steadily declined, and in 1925, Mathewson died at his lakefront residence in upstate New York.
The superb Reed and Barton silver service presented to Mathewson on May 13, 1917 remained in the Mathewson/Frary family for nearly 97 years. It was recently discovered within a collection of silver in the estate of the former Lola Marguerite “Peggy” Mathewson (1920-2014), widow of Christy Mathewson Jr. Mrs. Mathewson later married renowned American painter and art educator Michael Frary (1918-2005). After Mrs. Frary passed away in January, Austin Auction Gallery was called in to assess the estate’s contents.
“In particular, there was a tremendous amount of fine art to evaluate, since Michael Frary was an astute collector throughout his lifetime,” said Ross Featherston, president and principal auctioneer at Austin Auction Gallery. “But when we saw the silver service, we realized we had something of great historical importance to the sports world.”
As it turned out, the silver service was a rare survivor of a tragedy that took the life of Christy Mathewson’s son.
“Christy Mathewson Jr died on Aug. 17, 1950, when a hot water heater exploded in his home in San Antonio, Texas. The fire destroyed nearly everything in the home, but miraculously the silver service was spared,” said Featherston.
The service remained in Peggy Mathewson Frary’s possession until her death earlier this year.
“Apparently there had been discreet attempts over the years to purchase the set, but Mrs. Frary did not want to part with it,” said Featherston.
The set weighs in at 188.24 troy ounces and is modestly estimated at $12,000-$18,000, based on its silver content. But in terms of historical significance and its inextricable connection to one of baseball’s original legends, it may well be priceless.
To contact Austin Auction Gallery, call 512-258-5479 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit AAG online at www.austinauction.com.
View the fully illustrated catalog and sign up to bid absentee or live via the Internet at www.LiveAuctioneers.com.
Christy Mathewson Box Score:
In addition to being a charter inductee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Christy Mathewson was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. His win-loss record was 373-188 with an ERA of 2.13 and 2,507 career strikeouts.