Lelands Offers Extraordinary CDV Find Showing Baseball’s Beginnings

Lelands Offers Extraordinary CDV Find Showing Baseball’s Beginnings

Twenty-five years ago, an avid antique collector was making her rounds in the Southeast hunting for items that caught her fancy such as old books, pot-tery, and old photo albums. At an antique mall, there were rotating dealers from around the country, including one from the Midwest. He sold her an album filled with photos of baseball teams from 1871 and handsome young men in suits; a few were dressed in baseball uniforms.

The collector is not a sports fan and thought so little of her modest purchase that it sat in her kitchen cupboard collecting dust for two decades. Recently, it occurred to her that it might be worth her while to see if it is worth any-thing. So she contacted Leila Dunbar, a regular appraiser on “Antiques Road Show,” who referred her to Lelands auction house. “I was never more excit-ed,” says Tom D’Alonzo, a veteran Lelands acquisitions specialist. “This is once in a lifetime. Many of these are the only examples.”

Lelands bills this as the largest and most significant nineteenth century baseball carte de vistas (CDVs) collection ever presented at auction. Origi-nal baseball photos dating from the 1870s are extremely rare; many of the players represented are not only the first such examples Lelands has han-dled, in many years, but the only ones the 38-year-old auction house has ev-er seen. The auction closes November 18.

The original album contained team composite CDVs for seven of the nine founding members of the 1871 National Association, baseball’s first profes-sional league, plus images of many of the game’s earliest stars. Since nearly all the photos found in the album are ball clubs or ballplayers from the early 1870s, it most likely belonged to a former player or perhaps a National As-sociation team executive.

All the CDVs in the collection grade SGC Authentic because they have been slightly trimmed by the original owner so that they could fit properly within the predesigned album sleeves, a common practice at the time. But for most, the trim affects only the mount and the photos remain in outstand-ing condition overall. The backs bear the stamped credits of the day’s top studios and ornate advertising for everything from sporting goods to toys.

“It’s an incredible find, absolutely, but mostly because of its rarity rather than its monetary value,” says Richard Masson, co-author of The Photo-graphic Baseball Cards of Goodwin Co. (1886-1890), the must-read bible for 19th card collectors and any baseball fans. “These are among the earliest baseball collectibles and predate the owner-oriented National League.Aside from the Spalding collection, I know of no other collection with a concentra-tion of items like this.” (The A.G. Spalding collection consists of a massive number of materials related to baseball and other sports gathered by the ear-ly baseball player and sporting-goods tycoon A.G. Spalding which came to the Library in 1921 as a gift from his widow. Lelands also notes that the Chicago Historical Society owns some of the CDVs.)

The monetary value Masson mentions reflects the slip from the nineteenth century’s height. “Obviously, it was stronger than 20 years ago,”’D’Alonzo says. Jay Miller, Masson’s co-author, says the interest in cards has narrowed to Hall of Famers.

But as an Old Judge collector, I lose more often than not in auctions and pay relatively high when I rarely win. Nineteenth century still attracts a hard core following and this latest find features singular, early specimens. D’Alonzo told the consignor to expect hundreds of thousands of dollars for all her cards combined.

Here are some of the highlights:

1871 Boston BBC National Association Team CDV w/Harry & George Wright

This composite CDV features portrait images of each player in uniform, in-cluding Hall of Famers George Wright (one of the century’s best players), Harry Wright (a great manager and an innovator responsible for many of the game's now standard practices such as such as signals and the use of statis-tics), and A.G. Spalding. The Boston Red Stockings boasted the league’s most star-studded lineup in 1871. In addition to featuring four former mem-bers of the legendary 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the roster also includ-ed Ross Barnes, who batted .401 that year. Although they finished in second place that year, that nucleus of players helped lead the club to four straight pennants from 1872 to 1875.

1871 Forest City (Rockford) BBC National Association Team CDV w/Cap Anson

In its only season in the National Association, this team won just four of its 25 games and finished in last place. But its nineteen-year-old starting third baseman, Adrian Anson, stood out. Anson, who had not yet earned the nick-name “Cap" (he was called "Baby" Anson at the time), led the club in bat-ting with a .325 average. Considered by many historians to be the most im-portant player in nineteenth-century baseball history, Anson batted over .300 in twenty-four of his twenty-seven seasons and is generally considered to be the first player to amass 3,000 hits. As a manager, he won five pen-nants with the Chicago White Stockings, and is credited with a number of coaching innovations, including the hit-and-run play, platooning, and a pitching rotation.

Circa 1870s Albert Spalding CDV

Spalding is one of the most important figures in baseball history because of his contributions both on and off the field. Spalding entered the professional ranks in 1871, joining the Boston Red Stockings in the newly formed Na-tional Association. For the next five seasons he reigned supreme as the top pitcher in baseball, leading the league in wins each year, including a jaw-dropping 52 in 1874 and a career-high 54 in 1875. Not surprisingly, Boston was the league champion in four of those five seasons. In 1876, after the demise of the National Association, Spalding remained with Boston's entry in the National League, where he continued his mound dominance, winning a league-leading 47 games that season.

After Spalding's playing career ended in 1878 he became an important league owner (Chicago White Stockings) and formed the largest sporting goods company in the country: A. G. Spalding Bros. Publisher of the annual "Spalding's Guide," Spalding had his hand in almost every aspect of the game, both at the amateur and professional levels.

Circa 1870s Candy Cummings CDV

Hall of Fame pitcher Candy Cummings invented the curveball. Not only is it the only example Lelands have ever seen, but, to the best of their knowledge, it represents the only individual photographic image of Cum-mings ever taken (he is pictured in several team photos from the era). This is the image of Cummings used in every publication and on every website, and it also appears to be the same image used to create his Hall of Fame plaque.

Candy Cummings may not be a household name, but without his contribu-tions and those of the other baseball pioneers depicted on these CDVs our national pastime wouldn’t exist today.