A few years ago we had the pleasure of handling the "Mr. Hockey Collection"—an all-encompassing Gordie Howe hoard that had been painstakingly assembled by Red Wing die-hard Dave Couser over the course of 4 decades. Now a second installment of the collection hits our auction block, headlined by this historic piece: The first Aeros jersey of Howe's WHA career.
Although Gordie does not appear to have used the garment in actual game play, it's verifiably photo-matched to have been the exact jersey worn by him for promotional photos with sons (and teammates) Mark and Marty immediately after their historic signing with the Aeros in the summer of 1973. The white dureen General Athletic sweater was originally donned in game action by former Philadelphia Flyer and long-time minor-league player Ed Hoekstra. As such, it already represents a high degree of rarity, significance and value in the WHA collecting community. But the fact that the Aeros replaced Hoekstra's identifiers with Howe's iconic name and number "9" for the legend's debut WHA photo shoot elevates the offering to a far higher stratosphere. What's more, it also features Mr. Hockey's vintage mid-1970s signature.
Couser recounts the fascinating back-story in his notarized LOA, which reads in part, "I bought it in 1975 from a well-known hockey dealer named Larry Pelliccioni who specialized in WHA material. The original source was Aeros marketing/promotions coordinator Herb Elk, a legend of the Houston sports community who had a close friendship with Howe and who specifically mentioned this very Howe jersey in a 1978 news article. During either the 1975/1976 or 1976/1977 WHA season, I attended a Houston Aeros vs. Indy Racers game in Indianapolis. I brought the jersey with me in hopes of getting it autographed, and as luck would have it, I happened to walk into the arena at the same time as Gordie and two teammates. We rode the elevator together and Gordie asked me how the jersey had come to me. When I said through Herb Elk, Gordie smiled, looked at it closely and acknowledged that it was indeed one he had worn." The aforementioned 1978 news article from Sports Collectors Digest is included, as is a vintage print from what appears to be the same photo shoot.
LOA (with Photo Match) from Spivack & Kraut. Auction LOA from JSA (for signature).