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From their lesser-known "Darktown" series, printers Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives issued these two hand-colored baseball prints, illustrated by New York artist Thomas Werth, in 1882. The first such specimens we have ever offered, they are incredibly desirable and extremely rare depictions of 19th Century African-Americans playing baseball 75 years before the color barrier was broken in the sport. They were likely influenced, in part, by the Darktown Battery mechanical bank, which was patented seven years earlier. This lot is rarer still in that one almost never finds such a pair, specifically titled: "A Foul Ball" and "A Base Hit." Currier and ives were the preeminent commercial lithographers of the period, but are remembered most for their depictions of American life, and most particularly winter scenes that would grace mantles and Christmas stockings. Their subjects ran the gamut from Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War to floral designs and railroad buildings. Over their 75 years of operation, the firm produced over 7,500 lithographs and billed itself as "Publishers of Cheap and Popular Prints" for ordinary Americans. Ironically, their "Game of Baseball" print today sells for six figures. The 17.5x13" prints are signed by Werth. There has been some minor repair of some chips, and a couple of tears but otherwise, the condition is EX. Darktown Series prints such as these reinforce the negative stereotypes about African-Americans of the period, reducing them to buffoonish cartoon characters.
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