1867 Philadelphia Olympic Base Ball Club Letter
Starting Bid - $300, Sold For - $5,629
Extraordinary one-page handwritten letter, dated May 24, 1867, from the secretary of the Olympic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia to the secretary of the West Philadelphia Base Ball Club. Early correspondence between baseball clubs dating from the 1860s is rare, and the fact that this letter originates from the Olympic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia makes it all the more historically significant. The Olympics (not the New York Knickerbockers) were baseball's first organized club. The team was founded in 1833 and for many years afterwards operated as an intramural club. Later, when the popularity of the game began to spread, giving rise to other organized clubs, the Philadelphia Olympics were finally able to match their skills against outside opponents. (In 2007 Robert Edward Auctions sold the only known example of the 1838 Olympic Constitution, the document which formally recorded the birth of organized baseball, for $141,000.) In the earliest days of our national pastime, long before the advent of professionalism, the scheduling of games was normally relegated to the club secretary, who would formally write a letter "challenging" a rival team to a game or match series. Today, such letters are commonly referred to as "challenge letters" and they normally indicated the date, time, and venue for the game or games requested.
The offered letter, written by W. H. Faber, the secretary of the Olympic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia, is technically not a "challenge letter, " but it does relate to the scheduling of games. In his letter, written on official club letterhead to A. C. Hanier, secretary of the West Philadelphia Base Ball Club, Faber offers his regrets at having to cancel a previously scheduled game. In full:
Sir, The Board of Directors request me to notify you that it will be utterly impossible to play your Club the game promised for next Monday on account of the absence of 3 of our players and having no substitutes to put in so as to give you any kind of a game. Feeling very sorry to thus disappoint you. I remain Yours W. H. Faber Secy. I will give you timely notice when we will play you. To: A. C. Hanier Secy W. P. B. B. Club.
All of the text is scripted in black ink and grades "9/10." This letter is one of a large group of nineteenth-century baseball letters, all written to the secretary of the West Philadelphia Base Ball Club, that was discovered approximately ten years ago. The entire group of fifty-two letters was sold at public auction in 2002 (for $8,745), with this particular letter being the highlight of the collection. As noted on the SABR website, "The Olympic Ball Club of Philadelphia was by far the longest-lived baseball club of the amateur era," and remained in existence for over fifty years; the last recorded history of the club dates from 1889. The offered letter is an extremely early baseball letter and one that dates four years prior to the formation of the National Association, baseball's first professional league. The fact that it is not only from the Olympic Base Ball Club, but also written on the team's official letterhead, adds to its desirability. The letter (5.25 x 8.25 inches) displays a single vertical mailing fold. The vintage red-ink notation "Olympic May 24/67" appears on the reverse. In Excellent to Mint condition. Reserve $300. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $5,629