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1907 Henry Chadwick "The Graves Fraud Letter" and "Origins of Baseball" Collection

  • Sold For: $310,500
  • Year:
  • Auction: 2004 spring
  • Lot #: 469
  • Auction Category:

The offered one-page letter, handwritten by Henry Chadwick, is one of the most astoundingly significant documents in existence relating to the origins of baseball. In the early part of the twentieth-century, a great debate raged regarding the origins of The National Pastime, a controversy which continues to this day. Henry Chadwick, the preeminent sportswriter of the nineteenth century, contended that the sport evolved from the English game of Rounders. Al Spalding, one of the game's pioneers and at this time also one of the most powerful forces in the game, had a great interest in promoting Baseball to the world as a purely American sport, denying any foreign (especially English) influence. In support of his position, Spalding cited the claims of Abner Graves, formerly of Cooperstown, New York, and a childhood schoolmate of Abner Doubleday, who testified that he was present when Doubleday made changes to the then popular game of "Town Ball." According to Graves, it was Doubleday who invented the game of baseball in Cooperstown in 1839. These claims were embraced and popularized by Spalding, who in 1905 created the Mills Commission to "once and for all" determine the origin of the game of Baseball. Under Spalding's direction, the Mills Commission found that based on the available evidence, the game of Baseball was invented in Cooperstown by Abner Doubleday in 1839, thus ingraining into the consciousness of American Popular Culture one of the greatest myths in all of American Folklore. Today scholars almost universally side with Chadwick in the debate regarding the origins of the game, but Cooperstown will forever officially remain the birthplace of baseball. This lot consists of three separate pieces. 1) The extraordinary letter offered here, which has never before been seen by the public, dates from the time of the explosion of the great debate. In this letter, Chadwick, the chief proponent of the theory opposing Spalding's "Doubleday theory," writes to his good friend and longtime fellow sportswriter Sam Crane, as follows: "Friend Crane, I thank you for your support of my arguments in the controversy between Al Spalding and myself as to the origin of the National Game. Spalding must realize that the rounder argument overwhelms the ridiculous fraud of Mr. Graves and the findings of the commission which are inherently flawed. It seems "Young Albert" is overzealous in his patriotism to a fault. Indeed, baseball is a truly American Game - but it evolved - and I am old enough to bear witness to this like my old friends Mr. Peck and Mr. Curry. Again many thanks for your letter. It is promising to see others interested in the truth. Yours very truly, Henry Chadwick, Editor Spaldings Base Ball Guide." It would be hard to imagine a single letter which could better tell the story, and capture the spirit of the controversy surrounding the origins of the game. The fact that in this letter Chadwick refers to the Graves theory as a "ridiculous fraud", condescendingly refers to Spalding as "Young Albert," and even cites Spalding's "overzealous patriotism," all combine to make this perhaps the single most definitive and historically significant letter in existence relating to the origins of the game. It is a miracle that it has survived, and that we can read, in his own hand, Henry Chadwick's response to his close friend regarding the turn of events regarding the controversy. Chadwick would no doubt be pleased to know that others are still "interested in the truth." The "Mr. Curry" referred to by Chadwick in the letter is Duncan Curry, first Knickerbocker club president. "Mr. Peck" is pioneer baseball entrepreneur Andrew Peck. The letter (4.5 x 7 inches) has survived in an elaborately assembled scrapbook, kept by Sam Crane, devoted to (and entitled on the cover) "The Origin of Baseball." The letter is mounted onto a scrapbook page (8 x 9.5 inches), next to an article written by Spalding in which he presents his version of the origins of baseball. The balance of the scrapbook, which itself is very substantial and comprised of 70 pages of articles, including numerous illustrations from various publications, accompanies. The letter exhibits normal mailing folds and is otherwise in Excellent condition. Chadwick's signature ('8"), as well as all writing, is perfectly bold and legible, having been protected from all light in the confines of the scrapbook for the past approximately 100 years. The scrapbook, including all interior pages, is in Excellent condition. 2) Accompanying the "Graves letter" is Chadwick's handwritten file copy of a letter he wrote to The Sun Mercury, in response to Spalding's campaign waged in the pages of The Sun, written at the height of the public battle over the issue of the origins of baseball, prior to the issuing of the Mills Commission's formal report. For a complete description and transcription of this extraordinary letter, please refer to the catalog or call to request. 3) The final item included with the lot is a black scrapbook page (5.25 x 7 inches) on which is mounted a postcard (5 x 3.25 inches, Excellent condition) featuring an identified portrait of Abner Doubleday. Pencil notes on the postcard, written by Henry Chadwick above Doubleday's portrait, read as follows: "Gen Doubleday. Veteran of the Grand Army. Based solely on testimony of Abner Graves of Denver, Colorado". Below Doubleday's portrait Chadwick has added "Friend of A.G. Mills - died 1893" and, in reference to the portrait on the postcard, "Picture from Eagle File 1905". All writing is very legible ("6"). On the reverse of this scrapbook page are two pages from Spalding's 1908 guide, one featuring a woodcut portrait of National League president N.E.Young, the other featuring a statement of support of the Mills Commission's findings which reads "We, the undersigned of the Special Base Ball Commission, unanimously agree with the decision as expressed and outlined in Mr. A.G. Mills' letter of December 30," below which are the printed facsimile signatures of Mills Commission members Morgan Bulkeley, Nicholas Young, Al Reach, and George Wright. At the bottom of this page, Chadwick has written "Commission's findings unfounded" ("7") in blue pencil. Above this handwritten Chadwick note is a mounted section of paper (approx 4 x .75 inches), which Chadwick has signed "Henry Chadwick - Council for the Defense" ("7") in blue pencil. The two black scrapbook pages in this lot are from a small scrapbook which was kept by Chadwick regarding the controversy over the origins of the game. LOAs frm Mike Gutierrez/GAI and James Spence & Steve Grad/PSA DNA. Reserve $10,000. Estimate $20,000/$40,000. SOLD FOR $310,500.00

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