Extremely Rare CSG-certified Jose Mendez Card Featured in New Hake’s Auction

Posted on 2/22/2022

A splendid offering from the Richard Merkin Collection shines light on the all-but-forgotten Cuban baseball star.

Cuba has long produced some of baseball’s biggest stars. Many had to leave their homes under dangerous circumstances to play baseball in the United States. One of the first Cuban players to shine in America was the “Black Diamond” — Jose Mendez.

Certified Sports Guaranty® (CSG®) is honored to have certified this c.1922 Romeo and Julieta Cigars Jose Mendez card pedigreed to the Richard Merkin Collection, which received a CSG 2.5. The card features a silver gelatin photo of Mendez on the front and stats on the back. Currently, it is the only known example of this card in existence.

Now offered in a Hake’s Auctions sale, ending March 15-16, the card represents a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for collectors to acquire a remarkable piece of baseball history. A pre-auction estimate, provided by Hake’s, values the card at $20,000 to $35,000.

Click images to enlarge.

Jose Mendez was born in Cuba during the mid to late 1880s. Much of his career was played in Cuba before joining the Kansas City Monarchs in 1920. Details of his life outside of baseball are scarce, and the ace pitcher died in relative obscurity in Havana in 1928. Mendez was posthumously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

“This Jose Mendez card was an absolute joy to grade,” said Andy Broome, CSG Senior Grading Finalizer. “Rare vintage cards like this will never stop amazing me, as they show the history and depth of our hobby.”

The 1922 Romeo and Julieta cigar set was originally known as the result of a few surviving boxing cards. The baseball cards and boxing cards look similar but feature different backs. It was not known that the baseball and boxing cards were part of one multi-sport set until the discovery of a 1922 Romeo and Julieta sports card album set the record straight. Unfortunately, very few cards have survived from this set.

As part of the same auction, Hake’s is also offering four other cards from this rare set, also pedigreed to the Richard Merkin Collection:

  • a c.1922 Romeo and Julieta Cigars Heliodoro Hidalgo graded CSG 3, with an estimate of $2,000 to $5,000
  • a c.1922 Romeo and Julieta Cigars F. Espineira graded CSG 2, with an estimate of $700 to $2,000
  • a c.1922 Romeo and Julieta Cigars R. Ramos graded CSG 3, with an estimate of $700 to $2,000
  • a c.1922 Romeo and Julieta Cigars M. Santamaria graded CSG 2, with an estimate of $700 to $2,000

Richard Merkin was a well-known artist and illustrator for The New Yorker, Harper’s and The New York Times, who also taught at the Rhode Island School of Design. Merkin assembled a huge collection of baseball cards spanning the 1800s through the 1950s, including Cuban baseball, Latin American Leagues and Negro Leagues. He passed away in 2009, and only recently has his collection been offered to the public.

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