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Lot # 15 (of 1525)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1880 Detroit National League Membership Application Signed By William Hulbert

Starting Bid - $5,000.00, Sold For - $16,240.00

Presented is the most important document in existence relating to baseball and the City of Detroit: the official 1880 application for membership into the National League that brought Detroit its first Major League team. The four-page document, originating directly from the estate of National League secretary Nicholas E. Young, is also of great significance to signature collectors as it is approved and signed by National League President William Hulbert. Hulbert died in 1882 and is one of the rarest of all Hall of Famer signatures, with only approximately ten examples known to exist. The four-page application for the City of Detroit's first ever professional baseball franchise is written on "City of Detroit Mayor's Office" stationery. It was originally accompanied by a franchise fee of ten dollars. Dated "Nov 17th, 1880," this application was personally submitted by William G. Thompson, then mayor of Detroit (1880-1883). Thompson would serve as Detroit's first team president, from 1881 to 1884. Thompson has signed the document three times. The final page of the document is signed by baseball pioneers William Hulbert, A. H. Soden, and J.F. Evans. All have approved the application by signing their names under the word "Favorably," thus giving birth to Detroit's first professional team.

In the spring of 1881, the Detroit team made its debut under manager Frank Bancroft. In their first season, he led the Detroit "Wolverines" to a 41-43 fourth place finish out of eight teams. The Detroit franchise would last only eight seasons. Three future Hall of Famers, Sam Thompson, Dan Brouthers, and Ned Hanlon, played for the franchise. Detroit had its best showing in 1887 when it finished in first place as Champions of the National League for its only time with a 79-45 record. In its final season in 1888, the team posted a fifth place finish with a 68-63 record. Detroit would not have another Major League team until the Tigers came into existence as a charter American League team in 1901.

The cover letter to the application, dated "Nov 14th, 1880" reads as follows: "Mr. N. E. Young,Sec'y Nat' League of Prof BB Clubs, Dear Sir, I herewith enclose you our application to join the League Alliance, and the fee of $10.00. Will you plan to certify our contract, return the same to me, and ____ the same, as we are liable to have some trouble with Providence over a player by the name of Bradley. Very truly yours, W.G. Thompson." Page two of the application reads: "1. The name of our association is the Detroit Base Ball Club. 2. It is regularly organized and officialed, as follows. W. G. Thompson President, George R. Watson Treasurer, Eugene T. Barnum Secretary, Board of Directors, W.G.Thompson , James McMillan, Alfred E. Branch, George Hurdin, John B. Maloney, Noel C. O'Brien, Henry L. Atterbury." League secretary Nicholas Young has made notation in pencil on the verso of this page, "Detroit application." Pages three and four read as follows: "3. It is organized under a general law of this State; special charters are forbidden by the Courts_______, and every company as association must be organized under the general law. 4. The Capital Stock of the Club is $10,000, of which it is proposed to issue but $5000 at present, all of which has been ______ . 5. The legal liability of stock holders is a company organized under the general law, cease when the account originally subscribed is paid, except for labor, claims for which can be collected from any stock holder who is solvent." On the fourth page, beneath the word "Favorably," the application is signed by "A. H. Soden," " W. A. Hulbert," and "J. F. Evans." All writing and and all signatures are flawless ("10").

Soden was an early executive and team owner who succeeded Hulbert as the third N.L. President in 1882 when Hulbert died that year in office. Hulbert had succeeded Morgan Bulkeley in 1877 to become the National League's second president. Hulbert was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1995 and remains the earliest deceased member of the Hall. J. F. (John Ford) Evans, like Soden, was also an early executive and team owner. When this document was signed, Evans was the president of the Cleveland franchise.

While the value of the autographs of the four who have signed this document, particularly that of Hulbert, are of great consequence, the historical significance of this document as the application for membership of the Detroit franchise cannot be overstated, and, in our opinion, overwhelms the substantial collective value of its signers (as is the case with other historical documents like the Declaration of Independence, for example). This document is absolutely unique and is comparatively the Magna Carta of Detroit City Major League baseball. This is the single most important document that could possibly exist relating to Detroit and the birth of professional baseball there. Excellent to Mint condition. Reserve $5,000. Estimate $10,000/$15,000. SOLD FOR $16,240.00


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