Bradley Sweater – Early Sports Advertising

Cobb Endorsement BThe Bradley Knitting Company was a clothing manufacturer based in Delavan, Wisconsin, that manufacturerd a variety of knitted items including gloves, hosiery, swimsuits, and sweaters.  In the mid 1920s, the company manufactured sweaters for many major league baseball teams.  The company advertised their affiliation with the major league teams and offered the “Bradley Big League Sweater” to youngsters through a series of advertisements in Baseball magazine.

Each of the Baseball magazine ads contained an endorsement from a major league manager.  There were nine endorsements in total, including Clark Griffith, John McGraw, Bill Killefer, Art Fletcher, Miller Huggins, Dave Bancroft, Ty Cobb, PJ Moran, and George Sisler – quite a bit of star power.*

The endorsements were (as one would expect) actually written by Bradley, in the form of a quote, attributed to the team manager.  Each of the managers who endorsed the product was sent a letter with their “endorsement.”  They were simply asked to sign their name to the quote, and then their signature was reproduced, along with the quote, for the purposes of the print advertisement.

Cobb Endorsement A copyOur Winter auction will feature four lots that represent four of the nine manager endorsements – Ty Cobb, George Sisler, Bill Killefer and Art Fletcher.  Each of the endorsements has been signed directly by the player, whose signature diligently copied into the design of a print ad that featured that manager.  Each of the four endorsements has been authenticated by James Spence Authentication, however, in the case of these four lots, the autograph is almost besides the point – the value lies in the historical significance of the player endorsement itself.

Cobb Endorsement DThe first lot features the endorsement of Ty Cobb.  Cobb, as manager of the Detroit Tigers, signed his name to the quote “You golks are to be congratulated on your Big League Sweater – the fellows all agree it’s the biggest, warmest, softest – all around “best” sweater they ever put on.”  Cobb’s signature, as you can see from the image, was enhanced with some sort of white paint, ostensibly to reduce smudges and make the signature reproduce more cleanly.  The enhancement is reflected in the JSA LOA – however, what is important is the fact that the signature itself is faithfully reproduced in the print ad.  Also included in this lot is a copy of the June, 1924 issue of Baseball magazine with the Cobb ad on the back cover, a photo print of Cobb wearing a Bradley sweater, and a copy of a letter written to E.D. Soden of Baseball magazine, concerning the list of managerial endorsements.

George Sisler EndorsementHall of Famer and Manager George Sisler’s Bradley Sweater endorsement, dated December of 1923, clearly illustrates that the members of the St. Louis Browns would each receive a free Bradley Sweater in exchange for lining up and taking a photo for their ad.  Sisler signed his name to the endorsement “How do we like Bradley?  Fine with everybody – just about sweater perfection, I’ll tell the world.”

Despite being sweater perfection, Sisler felt the need to add a handwritten notation that his endorsement of the Bradley product pertained only to those sweaters used by the St. Louis Browns, and not as a personal endorsement of Bradley Sweaters in general.  An outstanding quality signature and letter, with handwritten notations, accompanied by a reproduction of the Browns’ Sisler ad.

Each of the four lots carries a full LOA from James Spence Authentication, a unique piece of baseball history and an outstanding chronicle of the business side of sports advertising, from its very earliest days.

*NOTE: After the publication of this entry, we were made aware of a TENTH endorsement – from Hall of Fame Manager Bill McKechnie.

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