Rare 1901 First Edition of Casey at the Bat

Sold For: $9,600

Auction Year: 2016 fall

Lot: 1514

Item Year: 1901

Category: Post-1900 Baseball Memorabilia

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Exceedingly rare first edition of Casey at the Bat, by Ernest Thayer, published by the New Amsterdam Book Co. in 1901. This is one of the most elusive of all early baseball works and just the third example we have ever seen at auction. The soft-cover book features thirteen illustrated pages and is "Dedicated, by special permission, to that jovial patron of the National Game - Mr. De Wolf Hopper.” Hopper was truly deserving of the dedication, for if it were not for him it’s safe to say that few people today, if any, would know of Casey at the Bat.

The poem was originally published in the San Francisco Examiner on June 3, 1888. At the time, Thayer (who was a Harvard graduate) used the pen name “Phin,” which was an abbreviation of his college nickname "Phinny." The piece received no notice at the time and, if not for a fortuitous set of circumstances, would probably have languished in obscurity for all time. Two months later, in New York City, vaudeville star DeWolf Hopper learned that members of the New York Giants and Chicago White Stockings would be attending one of his performances. As he racked his brain for an appropriate number to perform in their honor, he ran into an old friend of his named Archibald Gunther. Gunther, a novelist, had recently returned from a visit to San Francisco and just happened to have on him a newspaper clipping of Casey at the Bat. Hopper fell in love with the poem and immediately began committing it to memory for his performance. That evening, on August 14, 1888, at Wallack's Theater in New York, history was made as Hopper gave a rousing recitation of Casey at the Bat, which received an enthusiastic ovation from all of the players and other patrons. Word quickly spread about both the poem and Hopper's rendition, which led to the enduring fame enjoyed by Casey at the Bat ever since. (Hopper himself, by his own estimation, performed the piece over 10,000 times in his career.) Today, it is perhaps the best-known verse in American literature, especially for its unforgettable final stanza: "But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out."

The 32-page book (5.5 x 8 inches), which retains its original string binding, displays minor wear along the spine, very light toning along the border areas of each cover, and a bookseller's purple stamp ("Book Department/Lit Brothers") on the front cover. Aside from those extremely minor flaws the volume remains in remarkable Near Mint condition, with all of the pages clean and bright. As mentioned earlier, this is an incredibly rare book, which is no doubt related to its extremely fragile nature. This is the first example we have ever offered and it would be hard to imagine a finer copy. Opening Bid $2,500. Estimate $5,000+.


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