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1874 Red Stockings Cigar Advertising Display Poster Featuring George Wright

Reserve - $100,000. Estimate - (open).

Before Boston Garter. Before Wheaties. Before “Be Like Mike” and Mars Blackmon and way before Bo Knows… there was George Wright for Red Stockings Cigars.

The Mona Lisa of Baseball Advertising Posters

Very few baseball items in the world today are of such astounding historical and cultural importance as the piece offered here: an 1874 advertising poster for Red Stockings Cigars featuring Hall of Fame shortstop George Wright. Before we begin extolling its many distinguishing features, such as its aesthetics (self-evident), rarity (it is the only known example), and vintage nature (one of the earliest baseball advertising pieces extant) it must be properly identified for what it is, first and foremost:

The earliest American advertising poster featuring the endorsement of a commercial product by a player or sporting figure. Ever.

This is the poster that started it all, the one that ushered in the age of player endorsements and forever changed the commercial landscape in American culture. That a baseball player would first be chosen for the honor of endorsing a product is not surprising, given the incredible popularity of our national pastime. Nor is it surprising that George Wright would be that player, for he was clearly without equal on the baseball diamond at the time.

The colorful stone lithograph (11 x 15 inches) features a large illustrated image of Boston Red Stockings shortstop George Wright in a striking batting stance. The background displays a pastoral scene of a game in progress. The text, printed above and below the illustration, reads “Red Stockings Cigar – For Sale Here.” The brand logo, a large “red stocking” appears within the body of the top advertising text. Both the manufacturer, “Nicholas & MacDonald – Sole Proprietors – Boston,” and lithographer “J. H. Bufford’s Sons – 490 Washn. St. Boston,” are identified in print along the base.

Interestingly, the illustration of George Wright on the poster was copied from a cabinet photograph of Wright produced in either 1871 or 1872 by the Warren Studios of Boston (REA sold an example in 2007 for $17,000: http://www.robertedwardauctions.com/auction/2007/20.html). Wright was one of many Boston Red Stocking players photographed in uniform by the studio at the time. Today, those Warren Studios cabinets depicting members of the Boston Red Stockings are widely recognized as the first individual baseball-player cabinet cards of the professional era.

This is the only known example of the 1874 Red Stockings Cigar advertising poster. It was discovered many decades ago by renowned collector and hobby pioneer John Bounaguidi and was the highlight of his famous and, at the time, unparalleled collection. Since selling his collection decades ago, the Red Stockings Cigar Poster has changed hands. For many years its whereabouts was unknown and even a quality picture of it was unavailable to collectors, publishers, and historians. It seemed as if it had literally been lost to the baseball memorabilia world. That, in fact, was essentially the case. For years it has very quietly resided in a world-class American advertising collection. Because of its extreme rarity, many advanced collectors have never seen this poster, with most having only heard rumors of its existence. A small image of it did appear as an illustration in an article written by Bounaguidi for the 1986 July/August edition of Collectors' Showcase magazine. For most, that tiny image has been the only tangible evidence that this legendary poster really did exist.

Although undated, the poster can be conclusively pinpointed to the year 1874 by a review of the public records relating to both the manufacturer and lithographer. The tobacconist Nichols & Macdonald was not listed in a Boston city directory until after the Great Boston Fire of 1873. Also, the lithographer’s address on this piece is listed as 490 Washington St., Boston. The 1875 Boston city directory shows that the company of J. H. Buffords Sons moved to the new location of 666 Washington Street in that year. Based upon those two pieces of information, the poster can be dated with certainty precisely to 1874.

It is hard to imagine today, in a culture that worships professional sports and celebrities, a time when athletes were not recruited to endorse products, but that was the case in 1874. Nichols & MacDonald were the first to envision the persuasive power of endorsement on consumer purchases. It isn’t known exactly how much George Wright’s endorsement pumped up Red Stockings Cigar sales in 1874, but it would be a tactic that soon gained traction, eventually transforming the relationship between sports and commerce in America as sports stars and celebrities became marketing assets in the decades that followed. As a point of reference, the only other nineteenth-century player-endorsed advertising poster that is even remotely comparable to this extraordinary piece is an 1889 E & J Burke ale poster featuring Cap Anson and Buck Ewing. An example of that poster, which also originated from Bounaguidi’s collection, appeared as Lot #1 in REA’s May 2008 auction, where it realized a final sales price of $188,000.

The poster has been professionally cleaned, removing superficial residue, at which time it also benefited from some extremely minor conservation along the perimeters (minor edge roughness in the border was strengthened with starch paste). We have been told that a tiny abrasion in the background to the right of the ship was professionally mended (no in-painting was necessary); we can't see this but note the report. There was no need to mount or back the original stone lithograph; it has been kept in its original state. The colors remain flawlessly bold and vibrant. Excellent to Mint condition. Beautifully matted and framed to total dimensions of 23 x 27 inches.

John Thorn: A Brief Introduction

Almost all baseball fans and scholars are familiar with the work of John Thorn. His many baseball books published over the past thirty years include Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia, The Hidden Game of Baseball, and Treasures of the Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition to serving as chief editor to Total Baseball, he was the founder of Total Sports Publishing and served as its publisher from 1998 to 2002. Mr. Thorn has written numerous essays and op-eds for the Boston Globe, the New York Times, American Heritage, and The Sporting News. His newest book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden, was published in 2011.

Some may know Mr. Thorn as one of the primary “talking heads” in Ken Burns’ 1994 “Baseball” documentary, but his involvement was actually much greater. He was also the senior creative consultant for this most significant historical project. In June 2006 The Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) awarded Thorn its highest award, the Bob Davids Award. The award honors those whose contributions to SABR and baseball reflect the ingenuity, integrity, and self-sacrifice of the founder and past president of SABR, L. Robert "Bob" Davids. In our opinion, John Thorn is the single most knowledgeable and insightful baseball scholar in the world, and for many reasons, including the fact that he has had the benefit of studying collections at libraries all over the country for so many years, he may be the single most knowledgeable and accomplished scholar specializing in baseball in history to ever live. We are not alone! In March 2010, John Thorn was named the Official Baseball Historian for Major League Baseball.

It is a great honor and privilege for Robert Edward Auctions to have had the opportunity to present several essays by the esteemed John Thorn in the pages of REA’s catalogs, as well as to consult with him on numerous issues of historical import. Mr. Thorn has graciously granted us permission to reproduce in the pages of the REA catalog the following article entitled The Dawn of Player Endorsements which first appeared on Major League Baseball’s website in John Thorn’s “Our Game” blog.


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