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Lot # 1148 (of 1807)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1860 Brooklyn Stars Constitution - Newly Discovered!

Starting Bid - $5,000.00, Sold For - $7,702.50

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Exceedingly rare 1860 Constitution and By-Laws of the Star Base Ball Club of Brooklyn (Mann, Stearns & Beale, New York, 1860). Twenty-seven pages. This is the only example of this early and significant baseball constitution that we have ever seen and we have heard of the existence of only one other (whereabouts unknown) after checking with numerous baseball scholars. Very few early nineteenth-century baseball constitutions have survived, with many of the existing copies housed in libraries and museums. The small, hard-bound volume, the front of which is lettered "Star B. B. C." in gilt, outlines the by-laws of the club and the rules of the game of baseball by which club members must adhere. In these early days, the first baseball clubs were as much social clubs as teams organized for sport. The publishing of formal requirements for membership, and the rules of baseball, was a very significant part of the evolution of the game and provided the foundation blueprint for the organization of other baseball teams, the number of which grew exponentially following the Civil War. It should be noted that these constitutions were published for distribution only to team members, thus accounting for their extreme rarity today.

The Star Base Ball Club of Brooklyn, which was founded in 1856, is best known today for its most famous member: James Creighton, who played with the club in 1858 and 1859. It was during a game against the Star Club in 1857 that Creighton debuted his new pitching method that revolutionized the sport and made him the greatest attraction in the game at the time. The members of the Star Club were so impressed with Creighton that they immediately recruited him as a member. However, his fame grew so great that he was eventually lured away (many say by a cash inducement) after the 1859 season by the more prominent Brooklyn Excelsiors. Creighton died (according to legend having ruptured his spleen or bladder during a powerful swing at bat) in 1862 at the age of twenty-one after hitting a home run, the occurrence of which only further served to immortalize his name and legacy.

Amazingly, there is a "Creighton" listed in the constitution as a team member and when we first saw that we immediately thought that the book was printed prior to his leaving the club for the 1860 season. However, the Creighton noted here is "H. J. Creighton," not James Creighton. Unfortunately, our research has failed to discover if the men were related. Along with "H. J. Creighton" there are an additional fifty-five members listed here, with "G. Douglas Tracy" noted as president under the heading of "Officers [May 11, 1860]." Of the fifty-six recorded members, the most important, with regard to this volume, is "J. S. Van Cleef," because it is J. S. Van Cleef to whom this book originally belonged! Evidence of his former ownership is displayed on the title page, which bears the scripted pencil notation "J. S. Van Cleef/Brooklyn/Oct 8. 1860." That Van Cleef was a prominent member is indicated by a page listing the club's former officers, where he is listed as the club president for both 1856 and 1857 (probably indicating he was a founder of the club; those were the first two years of the club's existence). A number of handwritten notations, presumably by Van Cleef, appear throughout the pages, the most interesting of which are found on the two pages listing the members. Some members have an "S," "D," or "O" written next to their names, while others have a "+" sign or a small triangle. The addresses for two members is also listed.

Incredibly, this example was just recently discovered by our consignor while cleaning out a house after an estate sale! However, it was not just any house, but a house belonging to an old woman (she was over 100 years old when she passed away) whose maiden name was "Van Cleef." As noted by our consignor in his accompanying letter of provenance, he had known the woman for over twenty-five years. In part:

Her maiden name was Van Cleef, and she grew up in Brooklyn. She was a fascinating woman who lived to be over 100, and I assume the booklet belonged to her Grandfather. She lived on her own well into her 90s and had a wonderful house filled with heirlooms and amazing things she had created and collected over the years. My friend and I were so sad to see the haste and carelessness with which her estate was dissolved when she went into the nursing home. Her relatives were not very smart or sentimental and had had everyone from antique dealers to scrap metal salvagers come through. They took what they wanted and trashed the place! I bet her relatives got pennies on the dollars those dealers will make! We offered to help finish clearing the house out to get it ready for sale, and hopefully donate or recycle what wasn't wanted. We were told to keep whatever we wanted and trash the rest. One of the things that interest me are old photographs, and we were dismayed to see boxes of them had been knocked over onto the floor of the library and were being stepped on. Some of the contents of the desk drawers were on the floor too. I was gathering up some photos and other items when I found the booklet, which I took to scan the design on the cover. The booklet sat on a shelf next to my desk for a few months waiting for its turn on the scanner, but I never scanned it. Luckily I became interested in what it was, and realized its historical value.

As his narrative relates, this constitution has remained in the private hands of members of the Van Cleef family for over 150 years and has never before been seen in the hobby. As such, it represents an incredible new historical find dating from the earliest days of organized baseball, just fifteen years after the Knickerbockers formulated the first modern rules of baseball in 1845. The constitution (3.25 x 5.5 inches) is remarkably well preserved given its age and former use. The embossed cloth boards display only minor wear, including a tiny tear at the top of the spine. One eight-page segment of the book has detached from the spine, but all of the pages, which are clean and bright, are present and accounted for. In Excellent condition overall. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $7,702.50


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