Posts Tagged ‘Mitchell Pierce’

Let the Buyer Beware

September 12, 2010

Caveat emptor or let the buyer beware has never been more appropriate advice for ebay buyers than with regard to three items that are  up for sale now for large prices. Apparently Mitchell Pierce, Seneca, of New York State, accumulated a collection of artifacts during his life that are now being sold after his death. Three items that readers of my blog may be interested in are photos identified as being of Carlisle Indian School football players circa 1910. My research has found nothing to suggest that Mitchell Pierce ever played on Carlisle’s varsity squad. It has shown that he departed Carlisle several months before the start of the 1910 season.

The first of the three photos of interest is probably what it is advertised as being:

The outfits worn by these individuals or small groups of players appear to be Carlisle uniforms based on the stripes on the forearms and socks. Also, the backgrounds look similar to those on photos known to be genuine. A couple of them may have been shot on Carlisle’s home field. I have made no attempt to identify the players in the photos and don’t know what Mitchell Pierce looked like. My guess is that these photos are of Carlisle students, but not necessarily those who played on the varsity squad.

The second and third photos aren’t immediately identifiable as being of Carlisle students or having been taken at Carlisle. The backgrounds in the photos are not similar to those I have previously seen in Carlisle photos and the uniforms are also very different from those in the first set of photos. I checked with an expert on such matters, Richard Tritt, photocurator at Cumberland County Historical Society. Richard was not able to identify any of the individuals and the backgrounds were not familiar to him either. There is no photo of Mitchell Pierce in the CCHS collection, so Richard was not able to identify him in the photos. If Richard can’t tell if these photos were made at Carlisle, few people could because he has seen hundreds if not thousands of photos to compare these with.

While the uniforms in these photos are clearly not those of the Carlisle varsity, the possibility exists that they are of shop or organization teams. Major Mercer once told a reporter that he had to outfit 14 different football teams at Carlisle. His approach was to buy the varsity new uniforms every year and to hand their old ones down to his other teams. Unfortunately, few photos have been found of shop teams and none of teams for the band or literary societies. Follows is a photo of the Shoemakers’ team. A photo of the Blacksmiths also exists. The Blacksmiths have large Bs sewn on their jerseys and two lettermen as coaches. Varsity socks are visible on one of the Shoemakers and a letterman holds their ball.

Another possibility is that these team photos were taken at an on-reservation Indian school. I haven’t seen Pierce’s student file, so don’t know if he attended another school before coming to Carlisle. He may have because it was not uncommon for Carlisle students to have begun their education elsewhere. These photos may have been taken at that school.

Regardless of the origin of these highly priced photos, let the buyer beware.

Shop Team Photos

May 19, 2010

A couple of days ago, I got an email from a local collector of Carlisle Indian School artifacts enquiring about the legitimacy of a photo currently offered for sale on ebay. I looked at the item and noticed that the seller claims it is either a 1903 or, more likely in his estimation, a 1913 photo of the Shoemakers football team from Carlisle Indian School. I had never seen a photo of a shop team before but was well aware that such teams existed. Large shops had their own teams while smaller shops would have joint teams. Debating societies had teams. The band even had a team! When he was superintendent, Major Mercer claimed to have 14 teams to outfit. Each year the varsity would get new uniforms. Their old ones would be passed down to another team. Besides the varsity, the second team played a schedule of games as did the junior varsity. Selling athletic equipment to Carlisle was a lucrative business.

The seller said that he bought the photo from an enrolled member of the White Earth reservation in Minnesota. On the rear of the photo is written “Joe Libby Dec. 19, 1903.” Joe Libby was from the White Earth reservation and didn’t make the varsity until a few years later. I would say that this photo is real.


The very next day, I came across a collection of items that appear to have come from Mitchell Pierce’s estate. One of the items was a photograph of the Blacksmiths team. I think this photo is also real. Note the two lettermen on either end of the back row. They were probably experienced players who were coaching the Blacksmiths, most probably because that was their trade.


Both the Shoemakers photo and the collection that includes the Blacksmiths photo are still up for sale as of this writing, but the Shoemakers won’t be up much longer.