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1868 Cincinnati Red Stockings Large-Format Team Composite Display Photo

  • Sold For: $23,700
  • Year: 1868
  • Auction: 2012 spring
  • Lot #: 975
  • Auction Category: Pre-1900 Baseball Memorabilia

Spectacular large-format composite photograph, measuring 22.5 x 18.5 inches, picturing the 1868 Cincinnati Red Stockings posing together in uniform at the club’s famous Union Grounds in Cincinnati. This is one of the most impressive nineteenth-century baseball photographs (or display piece of any kind) we have ever seen, let alone handled, made all the more significant by its subject matter. The club pictured here, which was the pride of the Queen City in 1868, features the 1868 edition of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, including four players who were retained the following season as members of the fabled 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball’s first all-professional team (H. Wright, Brainard, Waterman, and Gould). Many members of the 1868 Red Stockings were also very likely compensated, although not in the open. This team, the predecessor of the 1869 Red Stockings, literally sat on the cusp of the evolution of professional baseball. The 1868 Cincinnati Red Stockings were essentially an all-star team of top players. John Hatfield and Fred Waterman were imports from the New York Mutuals. Top pitcher Asa Brainard was lured away from the Brooklyn Excelsiors. Catcher Doug Allison was brought in from Philadelphia. Charlie Gould was recruited from a local rival club to anchor first base. Harry Wright was the first pitcher, sharing that position and second base with Brainard. Several other top players rounded out the lineup. Each player pictured here has been neatly identified (including his position) in black fountain pen either above or below his respective image: Asa Brainard (“Pitcher + 2nd base", mistakenly captioned "Barnard"), Harry Wright (“Pitcher”), J. Wm. Johnson (“R.F. and L.F.”), Fred Waterman (“3rd B.”), Chas. H. Gould (“1st B.”), Moses Grant (“R.F.”), J. V. B. Hatfield (“C + L.F.”), Rufus King (“C.F.”), and John C. Howe (no position listed). The title “The Cincinnati Base Ball Club/1868” is written in black fountain pen along the lower margin. This is a fascinating piece and by consulting a few highly knowledgeable people in the field (our great thanks to Reds super collector and historian John Gennantoni, and Chris Eckes, curator at Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame) we are able to communicate a number of important facts that help define it. It should be stated at the outset that this piece does not date from 1868, but it is definitely a nineteenth-century composition. Our research (which includes consulting with the world-renowned photograph experts at The Better Image) indicates that it was very likely produced ten to twenty years later. Also, this particular composite photo, picturing the grandstand in the background, is exceedingly rare. The only other example with the grandstand background known to exist, in the form of an 8 x 10-inch glass negative, resides in the collection of the Cincinnati Historical Society (which will be referred to hereafter as CHS). The grandstand is of remarkable significance not just as a design element, but also as the only period representation of the Red Stockings' legendary Grand Duchess grandstand and grounds. The photographic image of the Red Stocking players posed as they are here is a famous one and was taken in 1868, an original of which can be found in the collection of the Baseball Hall of Fame. In the original photograph produced in 1868, the realistic detail of the grass and dirt at the players’ feet implies that it was taken outdoors, probably at the club’s Union Grounds. However, what is most interesting is that in every example of this 1868 team photo dating from 1868, the background for it has been eliminated (with the exception of the dirt and grass in the foreground) and the players are presented in silhouette. The reason for that is unknown. Perhaps the original outdoor background was later deemed unsuitable for reasons of focus, lighting, or scale (if it were shot with the original grandstand in the background). Another explanation is that the original photo was taken in a studio and the players were silhouetted for effect. While the questions concerning the reason for the use of a blank background will probably never be answered, we at least have some information regarding the elaborate grandstand background on this piece. That it is an illustration, not a photograph, is evident upon close examination; however, by comparison with the example in the CHS, we learn that the artist’s name is William F. Noble and he created it in 1868 (the one in the CHS is signed and dated by Noble). The reason that Noble’s signature and “1868” dating are not seen on the offered piece despite its imposing size (it is considerably larger than the other prints or the CHS glass negative) is because when it was produced in this format, the image was cropped along all four borders. Most notably missing here, as made, in addition to the name and date of the artist, is a depiction of third base and a portion of the third-base foul line to the left, and an extension of the grandstand to the right. Credit for the photo of the Red Stockings, as well as the final composite image, belongs to Cincinnati photographer Leon Van Loo. The CHS credits the Cincinnati photography company Rombach & Greene as the source for the glass negative in its collection and notes that the Society obtained in 1919. Two other questions concerning this piece are why was it created and for whom? It is known that both Noble and Van Loo were members of the Cincinnati Base Ball Club. (The Cincinnati Base Ball Club was like a modern-day country club, with hundreds of members, each paying yearly dues. Only a few members were allowed to play on the baseball team.) Maybe Noble and Loo created this piece simply as an expression of pride in the team? Perhaps they created it for public display at the club? It is also possible that it was made as a presentation piece for select club and/or team members. The one thing that we do know is that its extreme rarity suggests that very few were ever produced. As we stated previously, outside of the glass negative housed in the CHS, this is the only example of this particular team composite, picturing the illustrated grandstand in the background, known to exist. The photo’s rarity, imposing size, and subject matter, combine to make this one of the premier nineteenth-century baseball photographic displays in existence. Produced in the style of a gigantic cabinet card, the mounted photo presents a remarkably strong image, as can easily be seen, and is in Excellent condition with just a hint of light scattered foxing. The numbers one through nine, respectively, are written in pencil on each player, beginning with Brainard (“1”) on the left and ending with Grant (“9”) on the right. While one cannot see the thick mount when framed, it has been examined outside of the frame and has a few chips and minor wear only at the edges and corners. In Excellent condition overall. Matted and framed to total dimensions of 30.5 x 27 inches. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $23,700

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