Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Who was Jane Searles and why was Ty Cobb paying her $8 a month? UPDATED W/ANSWERS!

I've mentioned a time or two that one of my retirement projects has been helping my former boss with the disposal of a 40+-year collection of bank checks, stocks, bonds and related fiscal paper.

We recently uncovered a handful of checks that were signed by famous baseball players -- three of them by Ty Cobb. 

Many collectors believe that checks are an excellent way to insure that an autograph is authentic. After all, in most circumstances, signing another person's name to a check is considered criminal forgery. While a name penned on a check is not an absolute guarantee of authenticity, it can usually be relied upon as genuine.

The earliest of the three checks is dated May 3, 1930, and drawn on Cobb's account at the Georgia Railroad Bank of Augusta, Ga.

The check was payable to "Jane Searles" in the amount of $8. 

In researching the check, I discovered that this example is not unique; several other Cobb checks on the Georgia Railroad Bank payable to Jane Searles for $8 have been sold within the hobby in recent years. They appear to have been issued at one-month intervals.

Which raises the question . . . who was Jane Searles and why was Ty Cobb paying her $8 a month in 1930?

The example of the Cobb-Searles check that my boss has appears to have been purchased circa 1981 from The Franklin Autograph Society of Hatfield, Pa. He has a gold foil-sealed certificate of authenticity to that effect. His records don't indicate what he paid for the check. 

The FAS was founded in 1975 and appears to have authenticated and sold to collectors all manner of documents bearing famous signatures. Whether they had the expertise to truly authenticate those autographs is anybody's guess.

I wouldn't be surprised if the several Cobb-Searles checks in circulation in the baseball memorabilia hobby all came from FAS. It is not uncommon for large numbers of a famous person's check to be sold to one buyer and then parceled out to collectors. 

Obviously, if Jane Searles' connection to Ty Cobb was readily discernible via a Google-search, I'd have done so and presented the findings here. Perhaps details can be found in one of the Cobb biographies.

Eight dollars in 1930 money is equal to about $105 today. Whether these checks payment for housekeeping, dog-walking or some other type of regular personal services is a matter for speculation. 

The collectible check itself is typical of the early decades of the 20th Century. The body measures about 8-1/4" x 3-1/8". At the left end, where there is a large vignette of the Augusta bank's august stone headquarters, a check stub has been pasted, also made out in Cobb's hand with the date, amount and payee. If you look closely, you may be able to see at center an underprint image of a steam train, with "Georgia Railroad" and the date 1833.

The endorsement(s) on back would be useful in solving this riddle -- if they were decipherable.

Searles has endorsed the check, as "Janie Searles," at top. Beneath that is a company name, perhaps "Henderson Gas Co."? The signature of Rose S. Baron appears below that. Towards the bottom is a purple rubber-stamped receipt of the Savings Teller, The National Exchange Bank, Augusta. 

As you can see, the check has suffered some damage at the bottom-right, gnawed on by silverfish, mice or similar varmints. 

Still, because  it bears an unmistakably genuine autograph of Ty Cobb, it should be worth the average price of about $800 that Ty Cobb checks have been bringing in today's market. The check will be offered in a forthcoming CollectAuctions.com sale later this year.

Reader Mark Aubrey has provided the answer to this puzzle. He writes, 

"I looked at ancestry.com and found a Janie Searles, age 22, living in Augusta, Georgia in the 1930 Census.

She is one of at least two daughters to Robert Searles, a widowed barber.

Janie's occupation is listed as a cook in a private home.

She is single and listed as "Negro" in the 'color or race' column and can read and write.

She and her parents were born in South Carolina."

Mark reports that 1940 Census showed she was still a cook in a private home. "I noticed in the 1940 Census that Janie was making $240.  I assume that is per month, although I haven't checked it out.  She was also working 58 hours per week.  If she was Cobb's cook, either he did a lot of entertaining, was real hungry or she was a slow cook."

Ed McDonald is a Florida card collector and dealer who shares a lot of my interests in the hobby and baseball. He was able to shed additional light on this Ty Cobb check.

He wrote: 

"I have a little info on the Cobb checks.     I was at the baseball card show in Atlanta when those checks were "discovered".    I believe it was the spring of 1976 (give or take 1 year).     It was several years before the first National in LA in 1980.

"It was already dark on a Saturday evening, not long before the show closed.    This very old tall thin gentleman, wearing overalls and a ball cap, wandered into the show with the entire checkbook.    3 checks per page, all glued back onto their stubs ... hundreds of pages of checks.    The chec ks were separate, but the stubs were still uncut and still in the 3-ring check binder.     He wanted $75 per sheet of 3 checks, cash only.     I bought 3 pages (9 checks) ... I still have some.    In fact, I was the first person to look at the checks (and to hear the story).     My table was out in the hall, just outside the show room.

"The old guy related that he was a distant relative of Cobb's and had inherited, from Cobb, an old rusted 30's-40's car, with no keys, and having not run for many years (supposedly Cobb' s but even he was not sure).   Cobb died in 1961 so I assume this took place in the year or two afterwards, when the estate was settled.

"The car sat for quite a few years in a barn that the old guy had.    In the early 1970's, he decided to try to sell the car.   When a locksmith came, they got the trunk open and there were the checkbook, a bat and a pair of cleats.    He didn't want to sell the latter two items but saw the card show advertised, and there he was, with the checkbook in tow.

"That was his story to me."

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