Stop me if you’ve heard this one before… Four or five years ago I was bidding on these two uniform swatch books on eBay. I didn’t win, but I had a hunch that the winner might be a dealer, so I e-mailed him and asked if he was looking to sell them. “I’m a collector, not a dealer,” replied the guy, whose name was Mike Hersh. He explained that he worked in the design department for Ralph Lauren/Polo and used old sports catalogs for research, reference, and inspiration. Although he didn’t specify, I got the impression that he had quite a few of these catalogs — a lot more than I did.
Mike lived here in NYC, so I suggested that we get together for a little show-and-tell with our catalog collections. As I recall, he was a bit stand-offish, saying something like, “I’m a little busy right now — maybe later on.” He gave me his phone number, so I called him a month or two later. Got his voicemail, left a message, but never heard back from him. I figured it just wasn’t in the cards, but I kept his phone number on a Post-it stuck to my computer monitor for at least the next two years, maybe three (I even got a new computer during this period and actually transferred the Post-it from the old monitor to the new one), just to remind myself that there was a guy out there with a way better uniform catalog collection than mine.
When I wrote this entry about my uni catalogs in July of 2006, I included a little shout-out to Mike (see the third-to-last graf before the Ticker), hoping it might draw him out of the woodwork. Never heard from him, though. A few weeks after that, I regretfully discarded the Post-it with his phone number, which had morphed from motivational to just annoying.
Now fast-forward to last month — a full two years after that entry about my catalogs. Out of the blue I get a note from Mike Hersh, inviting me to come over and see his stash. Amazing! Had he been following Uni Watch all this time and finally decided it was worth his while?
Actually, no. In fact, Mike says he didn’t even know Uni Watch existed until a month or so ago (when we first corresponded several years back, I apparently told him I was obsessed with uniforms but didn’t mention that I wrote about them). So why’d he decide to get in touch? Turns out a friend of his was googling Mike’s name and stumbled across the little shout-out I had put in that 2006 entry. The friend told Mike, who realized the author of the entry was the same guy who’d been bugging him years earlier (i.e., me). He began reading some material on the site, liked it, and decided it was finally time for us to have a sit-down.
So I recently went over to Mike’s apartment, and lemme tell ya, it was worth the wait — he’s got some seriously amazing stuff. In addition to hundreds of uniform catalogs (we’ll get to those in a sec), he has some great vintage jerseys (I’ve gathered some of the nicest ones into a slideshow here), a super-cool price tag printer (inner view, front plate), a nifty little letterpress (note to Joe Hilseberg: Look what it’s called), tons of old block prints (see also here, here, and here), one of those totally boss Blatz displays (always wanted one of those myself), and a shitload of other stuff. Basically, if it’s related to sports and/or design, he collects it. He’s even got a bunch of Aussie rules football scarves (additional examples here, here, and here).
Some quick background on Mike: He’s 40 years old and grew up in Philly, where his parents were sports fans (“My father had all these old autographed leather chinstraps from the Eagles,” he says). They eventually got into the memorabilia biz, so Mike has spent plenty of time setting up tables and booths at collectibles shows, where he’s developed a good eye and a good feel for prices, appraisals, and so on. It’s also where he developed the collecting bug.
Mike studied design and illustration in school and has worked for a variety of clothing companies, including Polo, Abercrombie, and Hilfiger (at the moment he’s the director of men’s and women’s graphics for Polo’s rugby brand). All of those lines are fairly sporty, and Mike has specialized in coming up with graphics for T-shirts, hats, labels, hang tags, etc. — that’s where the old catalogs come in.
“If I want to design something, I’ll look at these old catalogs for inspiration,” he explains. “So if we want to do something based on, say, a 1930s football jersey, it’ll look authentic, instead of just mixing together various ‘retro’ elements from different eras. And if someone else at the company needs some visual reference, I’ll bring in one of my catalogs and charge them a usage fee.” (Man, I gotta get in on that racket.)
I don’t have the time or space to give the full scope of Mike’s knowledge and expertise, but trust me, this is all just a snapshot of the Mike Hersh Experience. His various collections offer a nearly inexhaustible supply of potential Uni Watch content (he’s like Ricko, only about 1200 miles closer to my house), but for now we’ll just stick to those catalogs, several of which he let me take home so I could scan and photograph them.
I’d love to give you a page-by-page breakdown of these gorgeous publications, but that would be too involved. Instead, I’ve chosen six catalogs and created a slideshow for each one. Here they are in chronological order: Wilson, 1939-40 (slideshow here, or you click on these thumbnails and then click on “All Sizes” to see super-sized versions); Lowe & Campbell, 1952-53 (slideshow, thumbnails); Southern, 1959 (slideshow, thumbnails); Wilson, 1960-61 (slideshow, thumbnails); Sand-Knit, 1972 (slideshow, thumbnails); and Champion, circa 1980 (slideshow, thumbnails). In addition, I scanned a bunch of pages from this old Rawlings fitting guide (slideshow, thumbnails), which isn’t really a catalog, but it’s certainly related. And how can you resist illustrations like this?
As for the catalogs that first led me to cross paths with Mike — the ones he outbid me on years ago — they’re nice but not particularly amazing. Good thing I didn’t win that auction — if I had, Mike and I would probably never have met.
Raffle Reminder: Today’s the last day to enter the raffle for 1996 Atlanta Olympics banner. For details, look here.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Spent last weekend in and around Binghamton. Amidst all the spiedies, shuffle-bowl, diners with great signs, amazing bars with friendly dogs, time-warped department stores, ice cream stands, state border markers (that’s the Pennsylvania side; here’s the New York side), and town line markers, I was very happy to find an entire wall of old baseball photos from the region. The Binghamton-Endicott-Johnson City area used to be home to the Triple Cities Triplets, a Yankees farm team, so many of the pics were of players who eventually made it to the Bronx, like Clete Boyer. There were also older shots from the pre-Triplets days, and this one, from the days when Johnson City was known as Lestershire. (All pics by Collateral Gammage, who saved the day when my camera went on the fritz.) … Tony DeLaTorre — whose name presents endless NOB possibilities, no? — notes that Orioles rookie Lou Montanez’s NOB is rather straight (“and no, it’s not because his arms are raised,” he adds). … Yesterday I asked if anyone knew more about this sleeve patch, which prompted a near-immediate response from Todd Radom: “The patch celebrates Detroit’s 250 anniversary. It’s the same one that the Tigers wore in 1951.” … Speaking of Todd, there’s a good interview with him here. … Tons of Nike art files available for download here, and Nike’s autumn catalogs can be accessed here (with thanks to Joe Hilseberg, who also pointed me toward the latest dispatch from the Color Mafia). … Here’s a 1980 Inside Sports article about the Durham Bulls’ uniforms (with thanks to Mike Pinkowski). … More uni-numbered Red Sox stirrups here and here (with thanks to Gabe Butler). … This photo from Houston’s Fan Day was posted in yesterday’s comments. Note that Johnson (second row from the back, far right) has a different nameplate typeface than everyone else. … As many of you know, the California Seals debuted in 1967 with a “C”-based logo and then became the Oakland Seals in December of that year, switching to an “O”-based logo. All of that is explained here. What’s not explained, however, and what I’ve never seen before, is the road jersey shown here (taken from this eBay listing), with the big “Seals” lettering. “I’m guessing that picture was taken before the season started,” says Teebz. “As far as I can tell, that road jersey was never actually worn in an NHL game. If it was, I’ve never seen a picture of it.” Must have been a prototype. … Insta-photoshopping in response to breaking news is fine, but not if you’re putting a defunct cap design on a traded player (good catch by Michael Miller). … Next year’s All-Star Game logo has already been turned into a patch. No stupid “TM” or “®” marks, either (with thanks to Jonathan Chin). … Oh man, this is soooooo gorgeous. … This one isn’t quite as nice but is still interesting. … Jeffrey Moulden notes that Brady Quinn has been practicing in a Schutt helmet, instead of his usual Riddell Revolution. … New helmet for Carson Palmer, too (compare to his old model). … I’d give anything for one of these (circa-1910 photo courtesy of Antonio Bradley). … Eric Longenhagen is a sophomore at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, an intern with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, and an avid Uni Watch reader. He checks in with the following story: “Phillies reliever Rudy Seanez was scheduled to make a rehab appearance for us on Monday. He needed a size 7-1/4 home hat, but the merch. dept. was out of it. We called all over the Lehigh Valley, looking for a sporting goods store that had the right hat in the right size. No dice. So we tried to give him a flex-fit hat that looks exactly like the home hat — almost (the New Era logo is white instead of red, and the MiLB logo is all blue instead of red/blue). Seanez noticed these differences and refused to wear the hat. I have been openly nerdy when it comes to uniform-related topics, so I was told to ‘fix it.’ I took the flex-fit hat and Sharpied the white New Era flag red — simple enough. The problem was the blue embroidery on the MiLB logo. I eventually ook a small tack from an office bulletin board and used it to spread red tempera paint over the blue area. As far as I know, Mr. Seanez had no clue I had doctored his hat, and he pitched a perfect 8th inning.” … Best example ever of a two-part insignia creating the illusion of a typo (with thanks to Mike Petriello). … SI has five different covers for its college football preview issue, all viewable here. As Brent Hardman points out, all five covers feature teams sponsored by the same sportswear maker. Coincidence? … Mike Kemezis notes that Chinese Taipei’s batting helmets appear to have a raised logo patch (additional views here and here), similar to what the Cubs wear. … The Braves unveiled their Skip Caray memorial patch yesterday. It didn’t get to make its on-field debut, however, because the Braves/Cubs game was rained out. … Tom Farley sent along some absolutely incredible color football photos from the 1930s. This one is from the Marquette/Wisconsin game on 10/1/32 and shows that monochromatic uniforms go back further than we think. Can anyone tell me more about what the ref is holding? The next one shows a Packers/Cardinals game from either 1935 or ’36. And here’s the most astonishing one of the bunch: a Milwaukee high school team, circa mid-1930s. Great stuff.