tulane
Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov 17, 1937

Eighty years ago today on November 13, 1937, this Western Union telegram landed in Ann Arbor (a copy was later obtained by the Michigan Daily and plastered on the front page):

In the fall of 1937 things were a bit dicey for the football program.  Since the 1933 national championship, coach Harry Kipke’s crew had just a handful of wins on the the field.   And in November 1937 the university launched a well-publicized investigation of the program, suspecting that football players were being “subsidized.”  Kipke was sitting atop a flaming hot seat.

As the drama unfolded, eyes turned to Michigan freshman Tom Harmon.   Despite the struggles on the field (..but perhaps due to some of the questionable behavior off the field) Kipke landed the multi-sport high school superstar from Gary, IN.   In the fall of ‘37 he suited up for the freshman football team as was required back then.   Harmon’s athletic exploits in high school made him widely known in the sporting world and even as a freshman, having yet to take a snap on the varsity squad, a Chicago Tribune headline dubbed frosh Harmon a “star”.

Suddenly Harmon found himself involved in the off-field drama.  He was named in the investigation as one of the freshman football student-athletes who were allegedly illegally compensated, and soon word spread across the land that Harmon might entertain changing scenery.

Several schools were interested in Harmon’s services, most publicly Tulane.  A telegram sent by the then-southeastern Conference school was obtained and published by The Michigan Daily.  In the wired note, Tulane assistant coach Bill Bevan told Harmon, “Our offer still stands. [You] Can still enter this semester.”

trib Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov 17, 1937

When asked what exactly that “offer” was, Bevan explained it was, “an athletic scholarship,” which he added was, “perfectly legal in the Southeastern conference.”  Note that Michigan didn’t offer athletic scholarships at the time.   If Tulane sounds like a strange destination for a Midwestern kid, Harmon’s brother Gene played basketball for the Green Wave so there was a connection.

One of the potential destinations for Harmon was rumored to be Yale, but when word spread that the people in New Haven may have offered Harmon some sort of financial assistance, the school fired back hard.   They denied the claims & made it known that Harmon had applied to attend Yale in January 1937—at least kind of.    After requesting admission and financial aid, Yale sent the necessary forms.  In his only letter to the school he wrote that his credentials for admission to the Ivy League college were: “Four years of football, four years of basketball, two years of track.”

harmon-yale
No mention his of skills with the ladies.

Old 98 of course decided to stay in Ann Arbor.  Kipke was found guilty of subsidizing players (among other things) and was fired in December 1937.  Harmon wasn’t penalized in the aftermath and would thrive during his three varsity-eligible years under new coach Fritz Crisler.   His exploits peaked in 1940 when he dodged at least one drunk fan and later accepted the Heisman Trophy.

Related:
The Drunk and Old 98
Tommy’s the BMOC
Harmon and Old Number..Six?
Tom Harmon says ‘Vote Heston’
Harmon Jitterbugs with Joan & Jinx
Harmon Goes for the Gusto

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Ira Weintraub and I walked through a bunch of topics related to 1930s Michigan football early Thursday morning on WTKA 1050AM.  One thing we didn’t discuss was why Kipke’s Wolverines were named national champions back then (and consider so to this day).

Harry Kipke’s 1932 and 1933 teams were champions not by virtue of a poll of writers or coaches.   The two titles were determined by the most widely recognized method at the time: the Dickinson System, a formula devised by Illinois economics professor Frank Dickinson that ranked college teams at the end of each season.

Michigan_Rockne_Trophy The formula was pretty simple.  Each game outcome (win, loss or tie) earned a score based on the quality of the opponent. The total of points for a season was then divided by the number of games to arrive at a common rating metric.    They key for teams in these parts: Dickinson added a factor to adjust for games that involved teams from different parts of the country and it contained a very heavy “Middlewest” bias:

“differential points” would be factored in for an “intersectional game”, with ratings of 0.00 for East schools, higher points for “Middlewest” (+4.77) and Southwest (+1.36), negatives for the South (-2.59), the Big Six (2.60) and the Pacific Coast (-2.71).

Strength of your opponent was a huge factor in the Dickinson system.  A loss against a ‘first division’ team earned you 15 points, while a win against a ‘second division’ team earned you just 20.  In 1933 consider that Michigan actually earned more points for tying Minnesota than did Fritz Crisler’s Princeton for pummeling Amherst 45-0.  I mention the Tigers as they were the only unbeaten, untied team that year but only received sparse support for recognition as national champ as they finished a distant seventh according to the Dickinson.

The NCAA has collected all the other groups that did or have since devised a method to determine the champion.  They’ve since taken them down or moved these listings, but here’s how they break down 1933:

Michigan: Billingsley, Boand, Dickinson, Helms, Houlgate, Football Research, National Championship Foundation, Parke Davis*, Poling
Ohio St.: Dunkel
Princeton: Parke Davis*
Southern California: Williamson

Without getting into too far into these ridiculous arguments over who’s better, Ohio State and USC both had losses that season (the Buckeyes were shut-out by Michigan!). Princeton has a beef given they finished 9-0-0 but played what is perceived to be a much softer schedule.  Not a major surprise but the Tigers do claim ownership of the ’33 title per their horrible & shameful website covering the rich history of their football program:

Art Lane ’34 captains the Princeton eleven to an undefeated, untied season and the national championship. This is one of the best defensive teams in Princeton Football history allowing only eight points.

So yes, it was a mathematical formula created by an economics professor that gave Michigan the 1932 and 1933 national titles.  The Dickinson ratings were published until 1940 but in 1936 it was displaced as the accepted determinant of college football champion by the Associated Press writers poll.

Further demonstrating the silliness of these various methods of sorting out the college football season, check this out.  In 2004 the folks down at Southern Cal were digging around and noticed that they held the highest Dickinson rating in 1939 (again, a few years after the Dickinson system took a backseat to the AP Poll).   According to the NCAA no other body views the 8-0-2 Trojans as the champion and all (including the AP) give official the honor to undefeated Texas A&M.  “Whatever,” said USC and in 2004, a month before kick-off of the college football season, USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett made an announcement:

“It was brought to our attention by various individuals that we should be claiming the 1939 Trojans among our national champions in football,” said Garrett. “We took this matter seriously, did significant research and determined this to be true. That 1939 team was one of the greatest in our history.”

If you are curious, here are a few unclaimed national titles Michigan can go after–so someone email Dave Brandon and tell him to get crackin’:

1910: Billingsley
1925: Sagarin <—you could argue this was Yost’s best team
1964: Dunkel
1973: National Championship Foundation, Poling
1985: Matthews, Sagarin

 

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Nearly three years ago to the day I submitted a mgoblog guest post talking about the 100-year Michigan football anniversary event held in 1979.  Former player Willis Ward attended the celebration held at Chrysler errr, Crisler Arena.  I mentioned this:

Willis Ward:  The African-American end and U-M track star was Gerald Ford’s roommate for road games and a member of the ’32 and ’33 national championship squads.  This man’s story deserves a full documentary or movie, not a blurb on a blog post, and it’s safe to assume he gave some interesting remarks to the banquet crowd.

A hat tip to my boys at UGP/Moe’s and MGoShoe for simultaneously sending over this link.  Pete Bigelow at AnnArbor.com writes that a local group is putting together a 10 part series covering Michigan football.   It’ll debut with this:

The series will debut with an episode on the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech game, in which the Yellow Jackets threatened to pull out of the game if Michigan played Willis Ward, the school’s second black player.

Ward’s teammate, future President Gerald Ford, contemplated quitting the team in protest of Ward’s exclusion.

Here’s a trailer from the group producing the films, Stunt3 Multimedia:

When can we expect this to come out?  According to senior creative director Buddy Moorehouse:

..the first film in the series ("Black and Blue: The Story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward and the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech Game") will premiere in May or June in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids (in a couple theaters, not on TV).

If you don’t know the Ward/1934 Georgia Tech game story I suggest you start here

Related:
The Willis Ward Protests
Harry Kipke and the Fall of 1934

01. February 2011 · Comments Off on Big Ten Icon #5 – Why Tom Harmon Went to Michigan · Categories: Archive 2010 · Tags: , , , , ,

Monday the BTN revealed that Old 98 Tom Harmon will be the next athlete featured in their Icons series.  The Harmon segment will appear on Super Bowl Sunday at a special time: 2:30PM (it will re-air again at 9pm). 

Continuing the discussion of items you might not know about Harmon.  In the last post I mentioned his high school athletic prowess at Horace Mann high in Gary, Indiana.  An interesting question is why he ended up at Michigan.  Three factors would suggest that Harmon might consider a different destination during his senior year of 1936-37:

  • Harmon had brothers who were athletes at relatively nearby Purdue & another who landed at Tulane.
  • Michigan football was in the middle of a horrible stretch, coming off the worst 3-year span in school history from 1934-1936.  (And still the worst three year stretch, thanks Brian for having my back.)   He was walking into a serious rough patch and head coach Harry Kipke was under fire
  • The powerhouse at the time was jug rival Minnesota, with Bernie Bierman’s Gophers rolling up a string of 3 straight national championships.  Nearby Notre Dame and coach Elmer Layden had some decent teams in the mid-1930s as well.

    One disclaimer: I’m not a Harmon biographer of course.  These thoughts draw upon what I’ve read over the years (which isn’t everything).

    First, the cynical view of why he ended up in Ann Arbor:  It was alleged that Harmon benefited from a little financial “help” from the Gary and Chicago U-M alumni groups and this nudged him to Ann Arbor.  This is something Harmon and the groups vehemently denied.   When an investigation of illegal alumni support of 5 freshman (including Harmon) kicked in during his first year on campus, word got out that Harmon might bolt to another school most publicly Tulane (where he could get a scholarship).  He stayed of course and thrived under new Coach Fritz Crisler.

The non-cynical view:  THIS IS MICHIGAN!  Despite the tough stretch U-M was a still a great football power with two national titles in the decade under Kipke.  On top of this and perhaps more importantly, Harmon’s high school coach Doug Kerr suited up for the Wolverines in the late 1920s and he seemed to be a strong influence.   When it was learned that Harmon was staying in A2 after Tulane-gate*, one of the reasons cited was his relationship with Kerr.  Harmon also had thoughts of becoming a broadcaster after college and Michigan offered an top notch education to help make that happen.  Remember, back then “going pro” wasn’t an automatic given the choice.

There are a few thoughts, you decide.  In the meantime, here’s Harmon the BMOC:

tommy_harmon_in_class

* Yes, I’m dropping a –gate on something three and a half decades before Watergate.

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20. September 2010 · Comments Off on eBay Watch: 1933 National Champions Charm · Categories: Archive 2009 · Tags: , , , , , , ,

A real doozy of an item showed up recently on eBay, described to be a pendant awarded to Michigan’s 1933 national championship team under coach Harry Kipke.  Very cool:

1933_michigan_national_championship_charm

It appears to be in outstanding condition, made of 14K gold, and assigned to a quarterback named "W.W. Renner".  This appears to be originally the property of a William Renner who was on that ’33 squad and who wore #63:

renner_1933

Renner is listed as "Art" on the 1933 team photo caption but as "William W." on the official roster and in his later years, including when he was captain of the 1935 squad.   I think the "Art" reference is an error as there was an Art Renner who played in the 1940s.  I’ll let the Bentley know so they can check it out.

I rarely use Wikipedia as a research source but the entry on Renner has some excellent detail, including this nugget about the Youngtown, OH native’s exploits against the Buckeyes during that 1933 championship year:

In the 1933 Michigan-Ohio State game, played before the largest crowd to see a Big Ten Conference football game to that date, Renner came into the game at the end of the first half and ran the ball for a game-winning touchdown. An Associated Press story described Renner’s impact in the scoring drive against Ohio State: "When he finally trotted out on the gridiron, the consternation of the Buckeyes was obvious to the 93,508 spectators. The defensive halfbacks backed away from the line, the center and fullback retreated and rubbed their hands, the linemen raised their heads." Renner led the Wolverines from midfield and, with the ball at the three-yard line, Renner "rolled around tackle for the touchdown that made it Michigan’s afternoon."

He later went onto Yale where he and former teammate Gerald Ford went on to coach the Bulldogs’ junior varsity squad.  Wikipedia posts this outstanding shot of Renner and Ford while at Yale (I was going to insert Mr. Burns in there with his Yale pennant but this pic is too cool):

renner_ford

Here’s the full auction of the 1933 championship charm.   Renner played on an amazing stretch in Michigan football history and here’s some previous entries about these wild times, from 1933-1935:
* 1933 and the Dickinson Formula
* Harry Kipke and the Fall of 1934
* Jesse Owns and Gerald Ford (1934)
* The Willis Ward Protests (1934)

[Ed. November 10, 2012 – The Wistert Brothers enter the Michigan Football Legends Program]

A truly unique item leads this edition of eBay Watch.  It’s auction of the U-M student identification card for the 1931-32 school year for the first of the legendary Wistert brothers: Francis Michael ‘Whitey’ Wistert:

whitey_wistert_id_card_1931
“Say Cheese!  Fine, just sit there Mr. Sweatervest.”

As the card indicates, Francis was a Chicago native and after graduating from high school worked in a factory building radios.  A decision to tag along with a classmate on a visit to Ann Arbor effectively kicked off the Michigan-Wistert tradition.   Several online references claim Whitey had no football background before coming to Michigan, but he is enshrined into his high school Hall of Fame for “Baseball and Football”.   Oh and yes, he could also play some baseball—he was named Big Ten MVP his senior season.

Whitey anchored the line for Harry Kipke’s back-to-back national championship squads in 1932-1933, and the 6-2, 210 pound stapping lad was named All-American in ‘33:

wistert_1933_team_photo

I’ve written on the Wistert Trio before but in a nutshell, each played football for Michigan of course, each played tackle, each wore 11, all three made it into the college football Hall of Fame and they are the reason you won’t ever see another U-M football player wear jersey number eleven.

The seller is asking $250 or best offer to the Wistert ID card.  Also included is an ID from 1938 when Wistert returned to assist Harry Kipke and his staff:

whitey_wistert_id_card

25. May 2010 · Comments Off on Winged Helmet T (As in Trouble) · Categories: Archive 2009 · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

clip_image002 New York Times  – December 24, 1909

Michigan is set to release their self-imposed sanctions in about 30 minutes.   File this under FWIW, but despite what some maintain it’s not the first time Michigan has been mixed up with serious off-the-field issues.   I’ve covered a couple of these incidents on these pages and beyond, but thought it’d be a good time to review.  

These events happened years back and of course times were different.  There was no governing structure like the NCAA in place when this stuff went down, and much of the enforcement was placed on the leagues and on the schools themselves. 

Joy Miller Scandal (1909)
[Ed. This originally appeared in
Brian Cook’s Hail to the Victors 1909]
In early December 1909 the Michigan Daily reported concerns over whether newly elected team captain James ‘Joy’ Miller was properly registered as a U-M and if he actually attended enough classes during the fall 1909 to be eligible for the football team. Miller responded to the charges claiming he had switched majors and was confused over the registration process. He actually attempted to enroll back in school on December 8, filling out a card and paying his $45 dues.

While an official decision had yet to come down on the incident, Chairman of the Board in Control of Outdoor Athletics Geo. W. Patterson had heard enough and started firing off letters of apology to Michigan’s 1909 opponents. The U-M Bentley Library holds a copy of the apology sent to Minnesota in its archives. The one page missive, dated December 22, 1909, explained the situation:

The facts of the case are that Mr. Miller returned to college late this fall, registered in the Engineering Department but neglected to enroll in his classes, although he did attend some of them.

The letter closed by offering the University’s “sincere regret for this unfortunate error”, but notably, no where did Patterson suggest the result of the game should be reversed or reconsidered.

On Christmas Eve 1909 the New York Times broke the news to the world with a headline that howled “FOOTBALL SCANDAL IN MICHIGAN TEAM”. In the article Patterson addressed the question of potential penalties declaring, “As the matter stands any of the teams Michigan defeated during the year now has the right of protest, and may ask that the game be declared ‘no game’ or its result reversed. We are expecting such action.” He added, “The whole university is sick about the business.”

In early January Miller’s colleagues in the School of Engineering recommended that he be kick out of school. After ignoring several requests to return to campus to face the charges, Miller was officially expelled on January 14, 1910.

Despite Patterson’s suggestion that Michigan’s opponents could claim the results of the season invalid or even reversed, no such measures were taken. Given that the apology letters (at least the Minnesota note) were dated prior to when the major newspapers ran the full story, it’s possible that Michigan’s quick and obsequious admission of the embarrassing issue was enough to pacify its football foes.  Author John Kryk in his wonderful book Natural Enemies, agrees writing, “Michigan officials were able to save face, to a large degree, by the swift, open and decisive manner in which they tackled these scandals.”

Cloud over Kipke (1937)
Thirty years after the Joy Miller mess, Michigan was dealing with far more serious allegations.  Despite a coaching stint that featured four straight conference titles and a pair of national championships (‘32-‘33), head coach Harry Kipke was in trouble.  Yes, his teams had major struggles on the field in the mid-1930s but there were darker clouds afoot and U-M decided to let him go.   The Board in Control of Athletics issued to Kipke the following five reasons for his dismissal, and they were published in the December 12, 1937 Chicago Tribune:

kipke_charges 

Here’s a brief look at a few of the spiciest of the charges:

  • Subsidizing players.  Yes, it appears as though Michigan promised the classic nice “jobs” to incoming freshman.  According to a university report players were basically guaranteed a wage at certain jobs whether they showed up or not.  The local employer was “instructed to bill another Ann Arbor firm for the time the freshman collected for not working” [Chicago Tribune, 11/11/37].  The whole thing unraveled when a bogus “employer” wasn’t reimbursed in a timely manner and complained. 
  • Those “Private Associates”.  This was aimed squarely at Kipke’s relationship with Mr. Harry Bennett, henchman/muscle/head of security at Ford.  (Henry Ford sent his problems to Bennett and they disappeared – Or were buried up north.)  The university brass found Bennett to be a distasteful character and made that clear here.
  • Summer Practice.  Not sure if Kipke employed quality control coaches, but it was alleged that most of the team held cushy summer jobs at Ford and whilst there, even worked on their football skills, from the Tribune 12/12/1937:

    Kipke allowed fifteen Michigan football players to practice three and four times a week throughout the last summer while employed at the Ford Motor company.  The players were said to have worked in the service department under Harry Bennett, Ford personnel director.  On practice afternoons, it was reported, they were driven in a truck from their posts about the plant to a remote place on Ford property along the Detroit river shore for practice.

    Shortly after the dismissal Michigan hired legendary coach and athletic director Fritz Crisler.

12. January 2010 · Comments Off on eBay Watch: Ox, Moose and Whitey (1949) · Categories: Archive 2009 · Tags: , , , ,

Next up on eBay Watch is a great photo of three icons in Michigan football lore: The Wistert Brothers, Albert (“Ox”), Francis (“Whitey”) and Alvin (“Moose”):

wisterts

The three brothers are seated as then head football coach Bennie Oosterbaan drops in for a visit.  

These men, including Oosterbaan, represent four of the seven men who’ve had their football numbers retired by U-M.  Each of the Wisterts wore #11 and Oosterbaan #47.  All these men are enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.  

Francis or “Whitey” started off the Wistert tradition, playing for Michigan from 1931-1933 on Harry Kipke’s championship teams.  Remarkably he had no background with football before coming to Michigan but worked his way onto the team and starred for the ‘33 national championship squad.

Albert or “Ox” arrived on campus several years later in 1940 and became an All-American in 1942.  He went onto a stellar NFL career for the Eagles where he was a frequent All-Pro selection.

Alvin or “Moose” had a bizarre path to Ann Arbor.  He’s actually four years younger than Ox, but arrived in Ann Arbor four years later.  From his biography on the College Football HOF site:

He was a high school dropout and spent six years with the Marine Corps during World War II before entering college. Because of his lack of high school credits, Wistert was required to pass a battery of skill tests, which he did with ease. Not wishing to live in the shadow of his two famous brothers, Alvin enrolled at Boston University and lettered as a 30-year-old freshman football player. He transferred to Michigan, played three years at tackle, was All-America in 1948 and 1949, and team captain in 1949. Michigan won the Big 10 championship all three years. He stood 6-3, weighed 223 pounds. At age 33 in 1949, he became the oldest player ever named All-America.

Want to own this piece of football history?  Bidding starts at $9.99 for the auction that concludes January 17.

 

Elsewhere:  While this isn’t a jersey that belonged to the Wisterts, they probably played with the gent who once wore this authentic Wolverine uniform dating to somewhere in the 1930s or 1940s that was just put up for auction:

29_michigan_jersey

The seller’s asking a cool $5,000 for it so good luck explaining to the old lady!

Regular readers of this site know one of my favorite decades of Michigan football is the 1930s, having covered different seasons and events in eBay Watch and in the Little Brown Jug Lore series from those years.

If I had to pick one year as my favorite during the stretch it’s definitely 1934 which is ironic, as it’s arguably the worst season in Michigan football history.   I argued this point here and here, but in a nutshell consider that Harry Kipke’s team, coming off back-to-back national championships, finished 1-7, was shut out in five of the eight games, and scored a mere 21 points.  Fugly.

Despite the futility on the gridiron, the season is packed of historical treasures of major significance both on and off the field.  The next edition of eBay Watch features the auction of a program from the Ohio State-Michigan held on November 17, 1934, exactly 75 years ago today in Columbus:

cover 

The program features several photos of players, including a collage of the Michigan team including team MVP Gerald Ford:

wardford

The top of the photo features Willis Ward, the African American end who was at the center of a fierce controversy that played out before the Georgia Tech game a few weeks earlier that season.  For those not familiar, The Jackets made it known well before the game that they wouldn’t take the field in Ann Arbor if Ward played, spawning intense protests on campus in Ann Arbor. 

Eventually Michigan caved, sitting Ward after a deal was struck with Tech that required the Jackets to sit a player as well.  (It’s not lost on me that the 1934 OSU program features two white dudes shaking hands.)  The 9-2 game was the Wolverines’ lone win of the miserable season but came with a historical price.   These incidents resonated with would-be President Ford, a friend of Ward’s, who wrote a 1999 New York Times Op-Ed piece defending Michigan’s affirmative action policies:

“Do we really want to risk turning back the clock to an ear when the Willis Wards were isolated and penalized for the color of their skin, their economic standing or national ancestry?”

President George W. Bush also mentioned the Ward incident in Ford’s eulogy

The 1934 Program also features a photo of one of the most famous athletes in the world, a burgeoning freshman track star at Ohio State named Jesse Owens:owens

Owens of course knows a little something about race and discrimination.  He’ll forever be remembered for kicking Hitler squarely in the bucknuts at the Berlin Olympics a couple years later.  While certainly on a smaller stage, Owens did some serious damage in Ann Arbor on Ferry Field in 1935 and the Bentley Library details his exploits:

Ferry Field has been the site of many great individual performances in Big Ten track championships, none more remarkable than Jesse Owens’ efforts in 1935. Within a period of two hours, the Ohio State sophomore set world records in the 220 yard dash – :20.2, the broad jump – 26 ft. 8 1/4 in., the 220 yard low hurdles – :22.6 and tied the world record in the 100 yard dash – :09.4 seconds. A plaque at the southeast corner of Ferry Field commemorates Owens’ incomparable performance.

That’s rubbing it in, man.

The year 1934 also marked the start of a Buckeye tradition that lingers today like a foul odor: the issuing of gold pants charms to players.   Their timing was impeccable.  The Sweatervest’s website explains the deal:

Schmidt founded the "Pants Club", which still exists today as reward for a win over the Wolverines. Since 1934, each player and coach receives a miniature pair of gold pants for each victory over Michigan. The charms contain the recipient’s initials as well as the year and score of "The Game".

Not only can you pick up a copy of this historic program, you can even own your own pair of Buckeye gold pants, which some OSU alum decided to hock on eBay right now:

osu gold pants

This prize commemorate OSU’s 2007 and the seller even gives the initials of the original owner (D.H.) which are placed on each pair.   That’d narrow things down to ‘07 senior De’Angelo Haslam, freshman Dan Herron or yikes, assistant coach Darrell Hazell.   Didn’t mean that much, obviously.

The auction of the 1934 OSU-Michigan program ends November 19 and the auction of the gold pants closes November 20th.

Related:
* Follow eBayWatch on Twitter  A new tool.  I’ll blast about quick links to notable auctions.
* Harry Kipke and the Fall of 1934
* The Willis Ward Protests