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Circa 1860 Ambrotype of the Active Junior Base Ball Club
Starting Bid - $1,000, Sold For - $2,644
This full-plate ambrotype of the Active Junior Base Ball club, circa 1860, holds the distinction of being the only baseball-related full-plate ambrotype known to exist, as well as being one of the earliest original baseball photos of any type known. Photography was in its infancy in this era, and the ambrotype was an expensive process predating more economical alternatives that soon became popular. The formal studio photograph captures nine nattily attired young men posing together for the camera. There is always a leap of faith to some extent when dealing with the identification of any photo as a baseball team when the identity of the players are unknown and they are featured in street clothes, as is the case here, but we believe the leap of faith here is small. This ambrotype was discovered long ago by legendary nineteenth-century photography expert Mark Rucker, author of the groundbreaking work Baseball Cartes - The First Baseball Cards (self-published, 1988), and was once one of the great prizes in his personal collection. Obviously, from the photo itself, there is nothing evident that would conclusively identify this as a baseball photo, though the age and the number of young gentlemen in the photo are precisely consistent with that of a baseball nine. However, glued within the interior recess of this ornate gutta-percha oval beaded frame is an extremely tiny newspaper clipping that reads "The Actives - These juniors are practising regularly on their new grounds, Fifteenth and Wallace, and will shortly assert their claim for the championship. Their practice days are Tuesday and Friday." Because that clipping is the sole identifier for this photo, and therefore central to its historical significance, a previous owner commissioned a forensic chemical analysis of both the adhesive used to affix it to the frame and the paper itself. In the accompanying four-page report, issued by Microtrace, both the glue and the composition of the paper itself were found to be chemically consistent with materials dating from the 1860s, in keeping with and validating the newspaper clipping identification of the photo.
While "Actives" was a common name, shared by many baseball clubs during the nineteenth century, there is a possibility that the club pictured here is the Active Junior Base Ball Club of New York. Detailed information regarding the history of the Active Junior Base Ball Club of New York can be found in Charles Peverelly's important historical work American Pastimes (self published by the author in 1866): "The Active Base Ball Club, of New York, was organized in October, 1856, and remained a junior club until 1863 when it was admitted at the annual meeting of the National Association, December 9. From the period of its formation, the Active Club has filled an honorable and influential space in the advancement and progress of our national game." Peverelly also makes note that the Senior club's home field and clubhouse is located at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, site of the very first organized baseball game in 1846. Based upon the information found in the Peverelly book, if this photo does picture the Actives of New York, it must date between the years 1856 and 1863, the time of the club's formation to the time they became a Senior club. One of the interesting aspects of this photo is that a large pin (almost certainly related to the club) can be seen on the lapel of eight of the nine players. The ambrotype (8.5 x 6.5 inches) remains in Excellent condition. The period gutta-percha oval frame, which displays a few chips on the reverse, measures 13 x 11 inches. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $2,644
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