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Lot # 1135 (of 1727)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1787 A Little Pretty Pocket Book - First Book To Mention "Base-Ball"

Starting Bid - $5,000, Sold For - $18,800

Addendum: The following additional valuable information has been provided by world renowned scholar and baseball historian John Thorn: The existence of the 1762 Gaine edition is heretofore unknown--i.e., no one has ever seen one, though Henderson wrote in Ball, Bat & Bishop that there was a Gaine edition of 1760 (I think he was wrong). I have Hugh Gaine advertisements from 1762 proclaiming the availability of Little Pretty Pocket Book but that's all ... except for another ad for another pirated edition, from William Spotswood of Philadelphia in 1786. Therefore, the offered Isaiah Thomas 1787 Little Pretty Pocket Book may be the earliest extant American edition.” Our thanks to John Thorn for taking the time to share his research with us. It is greatly appreciated!

Offered here is the rarest and arguably the most significant early baseball book in existence: A Little Pretty Pocket Book, authored by John Newbery and published in 1787 by Isaiah Thomas, Worcester, Massachusetts. This particular book (3 x 4.75 inches) is the earliest available American edition of this important work, which was first published in London, England, in 1744 (although no extant copies of that edition are known). Its great significance to both baseball historians and bibliophiles alike lies in the fact that the book contains the first known reference to the game of baseball and marks the first appearance of the word "base-ball" in print. Additionally, it is also considered to be the very first children's book devoted primarily to games and juvenile entertainment. The small book describes, in verse, thirty-two children's games and pastimes (one to a page), each accompanied by a woodcut illustration and brief moral. Also included are various fables, rules for behavior, and a tutorial on the alphabet. As noted earlier, the most important game described within its pages is that titled "Base-Ball." The verse reads: The ball once struck off,/Away flies the boy/To the next destined post,/ And then home with joy." The illustration above the verse pictures three young boys and three bases marked by posts. While none of the players is depicted holding a bat, one of the youths stands ready to pitch the ball. Neighboring pages describe the games of stool-ball, trap-ball, and tip-cat, respectively, with each accompanying woodcut engraving also representing the earliest known illustrations for each of those games. In our nearly forty years of specializing in nineteenth-century baseball items, this is the only example of this book we have ever handled, or seen, or even heard of being available in a sports or baseball auction. In every attempt at compiling a complete bibliography of baseball literature (there have been many, from Anton Grobani to David Block), this is always the first American volume listed and the first example cited for using the word "Base-Ball." Very few copies of the 1787 first American edition exist today, probably fewer than five, with all residing in public institutions or the world's most prominent private collections. It should be noted that no extant copies of the original 1744 English edition, nor any of the subsequent eight English editions, are known. Single copies of the 10th (1760), 11th (1763) and 12th (1767) English editions exist in institutional library collections, as do two of the 1770 editions. There were two earlier pirated American editions published. One was printed in 1762 (New York; Hugh Gaine) and the other in 1786 (Philadelphia; W. Spotswood). Of those two reported printings, only one example (the 1762 Gaine edition) is known and it resides in a public institution. This particular example once resided in the famed Bradley Martin collection, one of the most prestigious book collections ever assembled. (The Martin collection was later sold in 1990 at Sotheby's, where this particular book appeared as Lot 2411; this volume was later sold in April 2006 at REA, where it appeared as Lot 661, and has been consigned to this auction directly by the original purchaser.) 122pp. (2pp. ads). The untrimmed sheets are rebound in three-quarter blue morocco with marbled paper covered boards (most likely a nineteenth-century rebinding). The binding joints are rubbed, the cover is otherwise in Excellent condition. A bookplate from a former owner is affixed to the interior cover. Light pencil notations on front flyleaf. The book is housed in a beautiful custom-made leather slipcase. This is not only an outstanding copy of this great and most significant rarity, but, most important, perhaps the only copy we will ever see available. This is a museum-quality relic, and a worthy centerpiece to the most advanced collection or library. Reserve $5,000. Estimate $10,000++. SOLD FOR $18,800


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