Circa 1887 "Detroit" Baseball Bat Attributed to Deacon White
Starting Bid - $2,500.00 , Sold For - $10,575.00
Offered here is an extraordinary nineteenth-century baseball bat attributed to one of the game's top players: Deacon White. Graded A9.5 by MEARS. With reference to the history of all professional model bats, this example is of extraordinary importance on several counts. This is the earliest known Major League bat that is factory stamped. In fact, this is the only known nineteenth-century bat featuring a team affiliation or identification of any kind stamped on the barrel. Factory stamping became the norm long after the turn of the century, but in the nineteenth century bats were blank, or with stenciled decorations or advertising, and very rarely factory-stamped or branded. Normally the attribution of any nineteenth-century bat to a specific player is fraught with uncertainty due to the fact that, unlike modern-day bats, they have no manufacturing labels or model numbers, and are not stamped with the player's name on the barrel. Thus, it is usually impossible to definitively state, without additional provenance, that a particular nineteenth-century bat was used by, or was even issued to, a specific player. The offered bat, which is stamped "Detroit" on both sides of the barrel, is the rare exception, and is accompanied by provenance directly from the family of nineteenth-century star Deacon White. The accompanying letter of provenance from Deacon White's great-grandson, Roger Watkins, reads in part: My great grandfather, James "Deacon" White, was a professional baseball player in the 19th century, playing for several teams in the 1860s-80s including the Cleveland Forest Citys, Boston Red Stockings, and Detroit Wolverines. Before she died, my grandmother, Grace White, brought a box full of Deacon's things to our house. We put the box in a closet where it remained unopened for many years. This 19th century baseball bat originates directly from Deacon White's personal collection. It has been in the possession of our family until its current offering. Watkins eventually sold this bat, as well as all of Deacon White's personal possessions (consisting of numerous photos, letters, awards, equipment, and other baseball-related materials) at public auction in 2006. The hand-turned bat is composed of top-quality white ash and features a flat barrel end. It is stamped "Detroit" on each side of the barrel, with no other visible manufacturer's stampings or markings. The stamping of the team name is both unique and extremely important in narrowly defining the years of its use. The "Detroit" stampings, combined with its impeccable provenance, makes it a virtual certainty that this bat was used by White during his years with the Wolverines. The physical state of the bat also points to that conclusion. Significant use is displayed along its entire length, including numerous surface marks, cleat marks, grain swelling, and light deadwood. There is also a slight six-inch chip on the side of the barrel. White was a member of the National League Detroit Wolverines from 1886 through 1888. In 1887 the Wolverines captured the National League pennant and then went on to defeat the St. Louis Browns ten games to five in the longest World Series on record.
White was one of the game's top players during the early years of professional baseball. Considered the finest bare-handed catcher of his day, he began his career as a member of Cleveland's entry in the National Association in 1871. In 1873 he joined Harry Wright's Boston Red Stockings, where he was known as one of baseball's "Big Four" along with Al Spalding, Ross Barnes, and Cal McVey. White led Boston to three consecutive pennants before joining Chicago in the newly formed National League. He later played with Cincinnati, Buffalo, Detroit, and Pittsburgh of the National League, and Buffalo (of which he was part owner) of the Players League. It was during his tenure with Buffalo (which later became Detroit) that White teamed with Dan Brouthers, Hardy Richardson, and Jack Rowe, to make up baseball's second "Big Four." White led the American Association in batting with a .366 average in 1875. Two years later, in 1877, his .387 mark was tops in the National League. He also led the National League in RBI in both 1876 (60) and 1877 (49). White retired after the 1890 season with a .303 lifetime average.
Graded 9.5 by MEARS (5 point base grade, plus 3 points for use and 2 points for provenance, and minus a half point for the slight chip in the barrel). MEARS makes special note of both the barrel stamping and the bat's unique provenance in its accompanying LOA by stating "This is the only known documented 19th Century team or player marked bat known with family history." Ideally, the bat is accompanied by a circa 1870s-1880s large-format hand-tinted professional portrait photograph of White (also accompanied by an LOA from Watkins) that is perfect for display together with the bat. The photograph (16 x 20 inches) is printed on linen-backed paper and has been hand tinted with various details in charcoal. Aside from a few minor border tears, the photograph is in Excellent condition overall. Matted and framed to total dimensions of 25 x 29 inches. This bat has been consigned to this auction directly from the personal collection/inventory of world-renowned bat and jersey authenticators David Bushing and/or Troy Kinunen. LOA from Dave Bushing & Troy Kinunen/MEARS. Total: 2 items (bat and photo). Reserve $2,500. Estimate $5,000+. SOLD FOR $10,575.00