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Lot # 1200 (of 1743)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

Nineteenth-Century "Empire" Uniform Belt

Starting Bid - $300, Sold For - $705

Rare circa 1860s "Empire" uniform belt dating from the earliest days of organized baseball. The most distinguishing feature of this brown leather belt is the large metal front piece that has the name "Empire" deeply engraved on the front. It is evident, from the remains that still can be seen, the recesses of the engraved letters once featured a leather inlay to accentuate the name. An incised geometric pattern appears on either side of the front piece. The belt retains both its original interior leather strap (for size adjustment) and buckle. The name "Ogden" is engraved within the leather on the reverse. Although it is probable that more than one baseball team went by the name "Empire" in the 1860s, the most notable club was the Empire Base Ball Club of St. Louis, which was founded in 1860. Today, they are best remembered as being the forty-fifth victim of the undefeated 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball's first all-professional club. The Red Stockings defeated the Empire Base Ball Club by a score of 31-14 on September 16, 1869 in St. Louis en route to their conquest of the West Coast that fall. It should be noted that while this appears to be a baseball belt, it might also be a fireman's 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. In St. Louis, Henry Clay Sexton, who was first elected president of the Empire Club in 1864, also served as the Chief of the St. Louis Fire Department. The early connection between fire companies and baseball is the reason why 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 (35 x 2.5 inches) is well worn, displaying a number of scratches and abrasions to both the metal front piece and leather, which are commensurate with its age and former use. In Very Good condition overall. Reserve $300. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $705


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