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1858 Fashion Course Game Trophy Baseball

  • Sold For: $498,800
  • Year:
  • Auction: 2005 spring
  • Lot #: 1
  • Auction Category:

If it were not for the ball offered in this lot, professional baseball would not exist. This is the most significant trophy baseball we have ever had the privilege of offering, and arguably the most significant trophy baseball in existence. Few items of any kind approach the offered historical treasure in terms of pure majestic presence, or in terms of historical importance to the game. This 1858 trophy ball represents the birth of professional baseball. The decorated baseball, presented in its beautifully crafted custom-made wooden case, commemorates one of the three Fashion Course games, the historic three-game series between the all-stars of Brooklyn and the all-stars of New York played in 1858 at the Fashion Race Course in Corona, Queens. In the early days of the game, especially in the 1850s and 1860s, it was a common practice for game balls to be decorated to commemorate an important contest, and they were traditionally presented to the winning team for display in its trophy case. The Fashion Course games are considered by many to be the most significant games in the history of nineteenth-century baseball, especially with reference to the development of professional baseball, because they were the very first baseball games ever played in which fans were charged an admission to see the game. The fifty-cent admission fee charged to attend benefited New York-area fire department charities. The success of the Fashion Course games demonstrated for the very first time the potential of baseball as a spectator sport and as a business, and paved the way, in a few short years, for baseball to develop into a professional sport. How exactly did professional baseball evolve from an amateur game to a professional sport? There is a three-point line of evolution which can be traced between the rising popularity of baseball as an amateur sport, to a game that fans were willing to pay to see played, to baseball's status as a business and spectator sport fielding professional ballplayers. There is folklore and mystery relating to the exact history of the origins of the game of baseball. And it is not clear who was the very first professional ballplayer, though it is universally recognized that the 1869 Reds were the first openly professional team. But there is no argument about when the first games occurred in which fans were charged a fee to see the game of baseball played. The distinction of that historic development, the success of which transformed the game into a spectator sport and a business, is represented by the 1858 Fashion Course Series. Prior to the Fashion Course all-star games of 1858, baseball was almost exclusively a private gentleman's sport of participation, which virtually excluded crowds as spectators of the game. Although the Fashion Race Course games had been organized for charity, their extraordinary success demonstrated for the first time to baseball entrepreneurs that fans would pay money just to see the finest players of the game compete. The success of the Fashion Course games was revolutionary. The game of baseball as a professional sport was born. By 1869 the Cincinnati Red Stockings would be fielding the first all-professional salaried team, touring the country to play the best teams in the nation before enthusiastic crowds of thousands of paying fans. The Fashion Course games were played between all-star teams comprised of the finest New York-area players versus the finest Brooklyn area players. The trophy game ball in this lot is from the second game of the series, the only game that Brooklyn won to tie the series at one game apiece before falling to New York in the final tie-breaking match. In researching the whereabouts of Fashion Course game trophy balls commemorating the other two games, we have located several trophy baseballs of note, all in the collection of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. One is identical in design to the offered trophy ball but for the first game of the series. A second ball is for the third and final game of the series and is also similar in design. Both of these baseballs were a gift to the Hall of Fame in the 1930s from the family of Charles Debost, the Knickerbockers catcher who caught all three games for the New York team. A third trophy ball, also for the second game of the Fashion Course series, is decorated in the style of Eckford trophy balls of the era and almost certainly originates from the Eckford trophy case, suggesting that each participating team very likely received a trophy ball to represent each victory. The Fashion Course trophy ball is housed in a very elaborately designed box (12.5 x 10 x 8.25 inches) with inlaid pattern, custom crafted specifically to display the trophy baseball. The box at one time had a key, which is lost. The trophy ball is a gold painted lemon peel ball, decorated with text relating to the details of the game ("K. Brooklyn B.29. L.I. Fashion 1858. Aug 17"). The ball rests on a blue velvet cushion and is protected under a sealed glass covering. The ball does not move. It is not clear if it is secured in some fashion on the underside, or trapped between the velvet cushion and the glass. A blue ribbon is displayed under the glass along with the ball, pinned in place, which reads "29 - All Brooklyn Nine. 8 - All New York Nine. Fashion Race Course Long Island N.Y. Match Aug. 17, 1858 Umpire - J. Bache Excelsior - H. Chadwick - scorer." The underside of the lid houses three pieces under glass against what appears to be an embossed gold-colored metallic background: two are partially printed and appear to be sections (each 3.7 x 2.2 inches) of a program for the Fashion Course game, both with added notations relating to the game. One has the Excelsior's logo on a lemon peel baseball which is affixed to the center of the elaborately printed Excelsior design. Between these two program sections is a CDV size photograph (2.4 x 3.75 inches) of Henry Chadwick, which is beautifully signed on the mount by Chadwick ("9") in black ink. The wood of the display box, both interior and exterior, has the polished finish of fine furniture. The display box itself is an exquisite work of art, a simply extraordinary example of master woodcraft. An engraved plate (5.25 x 1.75 inches) on the front of the box reads "Presented to HENRY CHADWICK In Recognition Of Your Golden Anniversary A Trophy From Brooklyn's Past Glory By Your Friends At The EXCELSIOR CLUB." Henry Chadwick was the scorer of the Fashion Course series games, and was presented with this extraordinary keepsake in 1906 in honor of his 50th anniversary as a sportswriter. For the sake of accuracy, we note that there is a fine age crack across the top of the lid which is of no consequence with reference to the structural integrity of the box or its display value; otherwise the box, the trophy ball, and entire display are in Excellent to Mint condition. LOAs from Mike Gutierrez/GAI and James Spence & Steve Grad/PSA DNA. Reserve $25,000. Estimate $50,000/$100,000. SOLD FOR $498,800.00

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