Rare Nineteenth-Century "Dead Ball" Baseball

Sold For: $840

Auction Year: 2017 spring

Lot: 1769

Item Year: 1880

Category: Pre-1900 Baseball Memorabilia

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Rare circa 1870s "Dead Ball" baseball with white-leather cover. The green-stitched ball, which features a hand-stitched figure-eight pattern, displays a very faded manufacturer's stamping on the sweet spot. While most of the stamping has faded beyond legibility, one can still read the printed words "Dead Ball" upon very close examination. Because we wanted to know exactly what the stamping read, we had this ball examined under a video spectral comparator, which allows for the observation of latent writing and/or markings. That examination revealed not only the full stamping on the sweet spot, but additional stampings on the other panels. The sweet-spot stamping reads "Half Dollar Dead Ball," while a side-panel stamping reads "Compliments of Jordan Marsh." The final stamping, on a separate side panel, reads "5 1/4 oz. 9 inch Horsehide." Jordan Marsh, which was located in Boston, is considered to be the nation's first department store. The company began business as a wholesaler in 1851, but in 1861 it began selling directly to the public. For nearly 100 years, Jordan Marsh remained Boston's premier retail outlet, with its main store taking up a full city block. This is the first nineteenth-century "dead ball" we have ever seen or handled. During the 1870s, companies manufactured both "Dead" balls and "Lively" balls. The "Lively" balls were wound tighter and featured a larger rubber core, which would make them jump off the bat quicker and go farther when hit. The "dead" balls, conversely, featured a smaller rubber core and were wound looser, which resulted in less distance when hit. When teams met for match games during the 1870s there was often great debate as to which type of ball would be used, with the harder-hitting teams naturally favoring the "lively" ball and the light-hitting teams more partial to the "dead" ball. Peck & Snyder has often been credited with producing the first "dead ball," but by the 1870s many companies offered both "dead" and "lively" examples. The offered ball remains in a remarkable state of preservation given its age and former use. Moderate wear is displayed on the covers, including a number of small nicks, abrasions, and age spots, but there are no tears and the stitching remains intact. In Excellent condition overall. Reserve $300. Estimate (open).


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