Oct. 24—Baseball Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson didn't smoke or throw smoke.
One of the greatest pitchers ever, the Factoryville native thrived on a pitch known as "a fadeaway," technically a screwball, rather than a dominating fastball. He avoided tobacco, but now and then a brief association with tobacco still reminds the world of his fame.
The state Treasurer's Office offers the latest proof. The office will auction off a rare early tobacco company-issued baseball card of Mathewson in its latest sale of unclaimed property.
The card will be auctioned as part of a lot of 25 tobacco company cards from the early 20th century. The online-only sale officially begins Thursday at 9 a.m., but early registered bidders already had the lot price up to $2,600 as of Tuesday afternoon.
"He was always the good upstanding Christian boy," said Terry Wise, the former athletic director at Keystone College, who evolved into a Mathewson historian. "I remember hearing a story about there being a little controversy that they want him to do a tobacco card. He didn't really want to do it. Because he didn't smoke (or) drink."
In all, buyers can bid on 4,253 items from the treasury's vault in the auction over two days, but for local baseball fans the Mathewson card stands as a highlight.
Mathewson grew up in Factoryville and graduated high school from Keystone Academy, the college's forerunner. In 17 seasons, he played all of his 636 regular-season games with the New York Giants, then only a baseball team. He remains tied for third-most victories by a pitcher with 373, finished with an earned-run average of 2.13 for his career and was part of the first class of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936 along with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and Honus Wagner.
"For a little town like Factoryville, that trains just barely passed through, it was a pretty big deal to have somebody that famous, come out of the little town and out of the academy," Wise said.
T206 tobacco cards such as the Mathewson were issued by various brands of the American Tobacco Co. between 1909 and 1911. They are mostly famous because of one T206, one of Honus Wagner, the Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop. A Wagner T-206 sold in 2022 for $7.25 million. It's so rare because only 50 to 200 cards were ever made, either because Wagner wanted more money to allow the use of his image or he didn't want kids buying tobacco, according to online histories.
Mathewson and other tobacco cards are far less rare because the tobacco company printed thousands. On eBay on Tuesday, prices for a Mathewson 1909-1911 Piedmont T-206 like the one up for auction ranged from $700 for one in relatively poor shape to $55,499 in excellent to mint condition. The treasury lot includes tobacco cards of other Baseball Hall of Famers — Cobb, Johnson, Frank "Home Run" Baker, Roger Bresnahan, Eddie Collins, John Clarkson and Rube Marquard.
State Treasurer Stacy Garrity said Treasury mostly gets unclaimed family jewelry, rare coins and some collectibles, but rarely valuable trading cards.
"Sometimes, more modern baseball cards, but not the older ones," she said. "It's rare that Treasury receives baseball cards this old. The tobacco cards are true collectibles. It's especially cool that this auction includes a Christy Mathewson card, given his strong connection to Northeast Pennsylvania and the fact that he was one of the first five players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame."
The office maintains a website where people can find if they have unclaimed property coming. It's at patreasury.gov/unclaimed-property.
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