March 9, 2017
The name Old Judge has always been highly revered in collecting circles as it immediately draws to mind the famous N172 set issued by Goodwin & Company from 1887 to 1890 and universally recognized as the premier nineteenth-century baseball-card set. With more than 2,000 different cards known to exist when counting team, name, and pose variations, the Old Judge set has long been the subject of intense research and interest as the first sizable card set ever produced. As most collectors are aware, the company also designed and issued a larger format cabinet-card set sharing images with the smaller N172s. Cataloged as N173, Old Judge Cabinets were available to collectors only by mail in exchange for coupons issued with Old Judge tobacco products. When these premiums were ordered by mail, the consumer actually chose the player to be received. Old Judge Cabinets are among the most highly regarded and substantial of all nineteenth-century issues.
Recently a noncollector in New England was combing through family possessions and stumbled upon a small stack of picture cards of men playing baseball. His research led him to identify them as N173 Old Judge Cabinets, and he contacted REA after seeing our long history of presenting more 19th century material than any other auction house out there. We always love fresh groups of cards that are entirely new to the hobby, but this collection of fifteen N173 cabinets was extra special. It represented a sizable grouping for a noncollector and it featured five Hall of Famers: King Kelly, Charles Comiskey, Hugh Duffy, Dan Brouthers, and Charles Radbourn. Also among this collection were two cabinets bearing Dogs Head advertisements. All N173 Old Judges are rare, but examples with Dogs Head advertising are particularly rare, and extremely desirable among serious pre-1900 and sample-card collectors. The two very rare examples were Billy Nash and New York Giants mascot Willie Breslin. The young mascot, who is dressed in a miniature New York Giants uniform (true to form in every detail to those worn by the players) and is holding a baseball, is well known by collectors for his appearance with Buck Ewing in both the large and small Old Judge sets, but few realize that he was also popular enough to warrant his own card. It is safe to say that not too many collectors went to the trouble of special ordering his N173 cabinet card by mail direct from Goodwin, especially when the "competition" included stars such as Anson and Kelly and Brouthers. We have seen only one other Dogs Head mascot card in more than twenty years!
It is not every day that a substantial grouping of high-quality Old Judge Cabinets enters the hobby, so we are pleased to present all fifteen cabinets from this exciting find in our upcoming Spring Auction. Each card has been graded and encapsulated by SGC and is presented individually in the auction. Condition spans several grades, but each card is noted for its strong image and incredible presentation. They have been beautifully preserved for more than a century and will soon find new homes with dedicated collectors around the world.