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Extraordinary 1889 Baseball Medal Presented to Robert Westlake
Starting Bid - $1,000, Sold For - $1,410
Exquisite baseball medal presented to catcher Robert Westlake in 1889 in recognition of his endurance behind the plate. This is one of the most exceptional nineteenth-century baseball presentation pieces we have ever seen, distinguished both by its elaborate design and rarity, as well as provenance. The medal, which is composed of three separate metal components, features an engraved gold and silver-colored brooch at the top that reads "Robert L. Westlake/Worlds Record Of 1889." Hanging from the pin, on two small chains, is a semicircular gold-colored banner that is intersected by two crossed baseball bats. The engraving on the banner makes note of Westlake's achievement: "Catching 75 Straight Games." Hanging from the center of the intersecting bats is a silver-colored baseball. A second hanging piece, attached by two small chains on either end of the bats, is composed of a silver-colored disc decorated with a floral pattern that surrounds a gold-colored baseball located in the center. The letters "B," "F," and "C" are engraved on the ball (meaning unknown; possibly the initials of the organization presenting the award). The medal displays only light wear and is in Excellent to Mint condition. Strictly in terms of design, this is one of the finest nineteenth-century presentation pieces to ever surface. Of course, it should be noted that the extreme rarity of such pieces allows for very few comparisons. This is one of only a very small number of individual baseball medals we have ever seen dating from the 1800s and the that fact so few have surfaced almost surely indicates that the presentation of such pieces was the exception rather than the rule. Robert Westlake (who in prior years was a teammate in both Bellaire, Ohio, and Wheeling, Virginia, with Hall of Famer and Negro League pioneer Sol White) played with Springfield of the Tri-State League in 1889. Known as a fine defensive catcher, he was obviously durable too, as evidenced by this award. Although catchers were wearing chest protectors and masks in the late 1880s, the gear was still primitive by modern standards and offered little protection from foul tips (the practice of wearing shin guards was still twenty years in the future). Catching was the most hazardous occupation any athlete could choose at the time, and only the most resolute, or stupid, volunteered for the job (catcher's gear is not called "the tools of ignorance" without good reason). Broken fingers were commonplace, not to mention sprains and cuts, and the rigors of the position normally necessitated many days off just to recuperate. The fact that Westlake caught seventy-five consecutive games is a true testament to both his skill and fortitude. To put the accomplishment in proper perspective, one should note that Buck Ewing, who is universally considered the greatest catcher of that era, never caught more than ninety-seven games in any season of his career. The act of catching seventy-five straight games was truly an incredible feat at that time and one that was certainly worthy of such an expensive and singular presentation piece. Ideally, this pin originates directly from the family of Robert Westlake and is accompanied by two period cabinet photos of Westlake in uniform that would be perfect for display with the medal. The first, a formal studio photograph, pictures Westlake wearing both his catcher's mitt and chest protector as he strikes a throwing pose. The photographer's credit, "Edmonston/East Liverpool, Ohio" is printed along the base of the mount. Additional advertising for the Edmonston studio appears on the reverse. The name "Bob" is written in pencil at the base of the mount. Although Westlake's team affiliation in this photo is not known, the fact that it was produced by an Ohio photography studio lends to the possibility that it was taken during his tenure with Springfield (Ohio) at the time he received this award. The cabinet (4.125 x 6.5 inches) has been slightly trimmed along the right border and displays moderate surface wear (Gd-Vg). The second cabinet (4.25 x 6.5 inches) pictures a bust-length image of Westlake as a member of Portland in 1891. The photographer's credit "Jackson/Portland, Me." is printed along the base. Advertising for the Jackson photography studio appears on the reverse (Vg-Ex). Total: 3 items (medal and two cabinet photos). Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $1,410
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