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A Judgment Call:
Leland's Princeton Stocking Cap
December 21, 2015
Only one photo of Lot #866 is provided by Lelands in the print and online versions of the Winter 2015 catalog. The photo was taken of the cap as it laid flat, making it difficult to determine its shape when worn or to compare it to other football skull cap examples. Over the past 10 years I have only seen 3 photos of caps purported to be football skull caps. Lot #866 is of similar shape as one of the three previously discovered caps, one owned by John Gennantonio, co-author of "Antique Sports Uniforms & Equipment." The ball on top of Lot #866 is flatter than the other examples, which are all more round in shape. While not ruling out the possibility, the single photo of Lot #866 provides insufficient information to determine whether or not it is an authentic football skull cap. The other three skull cap examples all appear to be constructed of a worsted wool, which is consistent with period catalog descriptions. The Lelands' cap, on the otherhand, utilizes a much finer wool and tighter weave.
4. Can you post additional pictures of the cap? Perhaps a close-up of the weaving, the ball, and the interior?
Between 1879 and 1881, the Princeton football team wore skull caps similar in shape to Lot #866. The caps shown in the team photos of this period have large bands of color, presumed to be orange and black, starting with a wide dark band at the base of the cap. This pattern does not match Lot #866.
5. Did you have a textile or clothing expert look at it to opine on whether or not the construction and materials are circa 1870's?
6. Would you be willing to provide the names of the sports equipment aficionados that determined that the cap is authentic? I'd like their perspective on the characteristics that lead them to believe it is circa 1870's Princeton football. It's an impossibly rare find if it is indeed.
Between 1882 and 1888, the Princeton football team wore stocking-style caps that are a different style than Lot #866.
After 1888, Princeton football players are no longer shown wearing caps in team photos. Based upon the historical team photos, Lot #866 is of a shape similar to the caps worn by Princeton between 1879 and 1881, but is inconsistent with the weave pattern on the caps worn during this time period.
Without provenance, photo documentation, or a style match with any period catalog or known skull cap example, I wondered if the materials or the construction techniques used in Lot #866 could date it to the 1870's. I sent a link from Lelands' auction page to a clothing expert with Maryland's curation facility/ archaeology conservation lab for an opinion and received the following response:
Enlargement of cap ball, Leland's 1870's Princeton stocking cap
Enlargement of stitching, Leland's 1870's Princeton stocking cap
Lelands' 1870's Princeton stocking cap
Stocking cap photo by Carlton Hendricks,
John Gennantonio collection
Stocking cap photo by Carlton Hendricks, John Gennantonio collection
Stocking cap 2012 National Sports Collectors Convention,
"Knitting has been around for so long, I have no idea how anyone could tell from pictures how to date that. I'd have to feel the yarn and look at the construction to make an educated guess, and even then it would still be a guess."
Dating a knitted article of clothing is more challenging than I had thought. Based on inspection of the photo alone, the cap could date to the early nineteenth century or the late twentieth century. Lelands' description of Lot #866 mentions early football equipment aficionados having physically inspected the cap and verifying its authenticity. Perhaps one of these inspectors has experience in dating vintage knit goods and could help provide a verification of the cap's age.
Lelands' description for Lot #866 states that it was inspected by early football equipment aficionados, but doesn't provide the names and qualifications of these individuals. With the certainty in which Lelands is willing to state that Lot #866 is an 1870's football stocking cap, I hope to receive a response to my inquiry providing the characteristics of this cap that led their experts to that conclusion.
If Lelands' 1870's Princeton football stocking cap had any provenance, I'd already have butterflies in my stomach in anticipation of their January 8th auction. I'd love for Lot #866 to be an authentic nineteenth century football skull cap, but there simply isn't enough provenance or evidence in the listing for anyone to come to that conclusion. To the contrary, I can find no image of a Princeton football player wearing a similar cap in any of the university's archived photos, and don't see any characteristics that would definitively identify this cap as either circa 1870's or a football skull cap. For those reasons, I take issue with Lelands' description of Lot #866 and find it misleading and speculative at best. Auction house descriptions and sales records serve as one of the few sources of information for vintage sporting goods collectors, who oftentimes rely on this information before making substantial investments in their collections. Of greater concern, the next time someone finds an old wool cap in a secondhand store, they can turn to Lelands auction records as proof that their find is a nineteenth century football skull cap.
Update - January 10, 2016
After a total of 5 bids, the "1870's Princeton Football Skull Cap" sold for $2,928.20 ($3,499.20 including buyers premium) on January 8, 2016. Lelands' did not respond to my emails requesting more infomation about Lot #866. However, a letter of authenticity from Corey Leiby of Antique Athlete dated December 31, 2015 was added to the lot description before the end of the auction. Corey was hired by Lelands to provide his professional evaluation of the skull cap and states that the item "is an 1870-1880's vintage football stocking cap." The LOA goes on to state:
I sent my original questions to Corey and asked if he would be willing to share his thoughts on the features that lead to his authentication of the cap and will post them here if and when he responds. Until he does, I am still firmly of the opinion that there is not sufficient provenance or evidence that item #866 is a nineteenth century football stocking cap.
While the colors and striping suggest a good likelihood that this was used by the Princeton football team, it is my opinion that there is not solid provenance, photographic or otherwise, to definitively regard the cap as being from Princeton. Nonetheless, an exceedingly rare example and an excellent representation of the elusive football stocking cap.
Update - February 8, 2016
On January 28, 2016, I received an email from fellow collector and friend, Bob Tibi. After careful consideration of the available information, Bob decided to bid on the cap and was ultimately the winning bidder. After inspecting the cap firsthand, Bob is convinced that it is an authentic 1870's football skull cap. For a verbatim transcript of Bob's analysis of the cap, click the link to the right.