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Lot # 809 (of 1594)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

Nineteenth-Century "Excelsior" Belt

Starting Bid - $400.00, Sold For - $2,937.50

Rare 1850s/1860s "Excelsior" belt dating from the earliest days of organized baseball. The elaborately designed black leather belt displays the name "Excelsior" on the front and features an interior leather strap for size adjustment. The team name is actually the result of the neighboring leather having been elaborately carved out, thus displaying "Excelsior" in raised relief. The leather surrounding the team name has been painted red, while the individual letters bear a contrasting coat of white paint. No manufacturer's label or tag is present. During the 1850s, belts were the single defining characteristic of a team's uniform and 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 actually survived. The Brooklyn Excelsior Base Ball Club was one of the earliest and most prominent teams in New York. In 1857 they became one of the sixteen charter members of the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP), the first organized baseball league. In properly cataloguing this belt, we must note that it is impossible to say with absolute certainty that this belt originates from a Brooklyn Excelsior baseball uniform, as opposed to being part of the uniform of another club of the era that shared the Excelsior name. The possibility also exists that this is an Excelsior Fire Engine Company belt. Most early men's social clubs were simply extensions of each neighborhood or town's local fire company. As baseball rose in popularity, those social clubs also sponsored baseball teams. Thus, many of the earliest baseball teams were composed of firemen. Alexander Joy Cartwright himself, one of the founding fathers of baseball, was a member of the New York Knickerbockers Fire Fighting Brigade several years before the Knickerbockers baseball team ever took the field in 1845. 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. For that reason, many early nineteenth-century firefighters’ belts are indistinguishable from baseball belts. The belt (41 x 2.5 inches) is well worn, displaying a number of cracks and abrasions along the hardened leather. The buckle piece remains intact. Very Good condition overall. Reserve $400. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $2,937.50


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