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Lot # 664 (of 1411)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

Circa 1850s Knickerbocker Belt

Starting Bid - $1,000.00, Sold For - $4,930.00

This extraordinary relic dates to the dawn of organized baseball. To the best of our knowledge, it is the only Knickerbocker belt in existence. The elaborately designed leather belt displays the name "Knickerbocker" lettered across the front and features an interior leather strap for size adjustment. A small metal tag attached to the side of the belt reveals the manufacturer: "Cairns & Bros. 143 Grand St. N.Y." During the 1850s, belts were the single defining characteristic of a team's uniform. Most were similar in style and color. These belts were the only garment players wore bearing the club's name. As such, they were often quite elegant and striking in design, and a symbol of team pride. While they are very prominently featured in various equipment catalogs for sale, very few nineteenth century baseball belts (especially those dating to the 1850s) have survived. The only examples from any teams that we have ever handled were the six examples that Barry Halper spent a lifetime assembling that were sold (as one lot in a large framed display) during the sale of his legendary collection in 1999. The fact that this belt bears the name "Knickerbocker" gives this example a particularly great significance. The Knickerbockers, formed in 1845, were New York's first organized baseball club and for many years remained among the country's most prominent teams. This particular belt is one of just a few known existing items relating to that celebrated club and certainly one of the earliest. It is especially interesting to note that the decorative design and sytle of manufacture of this belt is identical to one of the belts for a different team in the Halper Collection and was obviously made by the very same company. The black leather belt is trimmed in white, with red stitching, and features a decorative window design in the center. The team name is actually the result of the neighboring leather having been elaborately carved out, thus displaying "Knickerbocker" in raised relief. The leather surrounding the team name has been painted red, while the individual letters bear a contrasting coat of white paint. The belt (47 x 2.5 inches) is well worn, displaying a number of cracks along the hardened leather, and the buckle piece is no longer present. Very Good condition overall. This is an extraordinary find and one of the most impressive nineteenth-century baseball pieces relating to the Knickerbockers that could possibly exist. In properly cataloguing this belt, we must note that it is impossible to say with absolute certainty that this belt originates from a New York Knickerbockers baseball uniform, as opposed to being part of the uniform of another club of the era that shared the Knickerbocker name. The fact that it was manufactured by a New York City company supports the liklihood of this being a belt from the famous Knickerbockers of baseball fame, and we have researched the belt maker company, which is still in business to this day, which was founded in 1836. The possibility exists that this is a Knickerbocker Fire Engine Company belt. Most early men's social clubs were simply extensions of each neighborhood or town's local fire company and the New York Knickerbockers were no exception. In fact, Alexander Joy Cartwright was was a member of the New York Knickerbockers Fire Fighting Brigade in 1842, several years before the Knickerbockers first played baseball. It was while working at the Knickerbockers fire station that Alexander became involved in playing town ball, an early version of baseball. The early connection between fire companies and baseball is the reason many early baseball uniforms were designed in the style of fire uniforms, often displaying a shield design on the front of the jersey. As a cost-cutting move, members would then use the belts from their fire uniforms with their baseball uniforms. Thus, many early nineteenth century baseball belts are indistinguishable from firefighters' belts. Regardless of that possibility, this remains a singular example and a museum-quality display piece, and is to the best of our knowledge the only known Knickerbocker belt (baseball or firefighter) known to exist. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $4,930.00


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