Presented is an extraordinary example of one of nineteenth-century baseball-card collecting's most intriguing and extreme rarities: an N172 Old Judge California League player: an 1889 N172 Old Judge of Cornelius Doyle of the San Francisco team of the California League. In addition to being very distinctive and fascinating, all California League Old Judges are incredibly rare. In fact, only one example of many N172 California League players (including this one) is even known to exist. This is the first California League Old Judge we have EVER had the opportunity to auction. The only other example we have ever had (and we’ve had thousands of Old Judges over the years) is a trimmed example we sold as a favor to hobby legend Lew Lipset over thirty years ago that we got from the Kurzrok collection.
It is a coincidence that Cornelius Doyle happens to share the same last name as the T206 set’s rare “Slow Joe” Doyle. We know it doesn’t make any sense, but this coincidence really does make the extreme rarity of this card all the more amusing to us, as this N172 Doyle (with only one example known) is far rarer than even the rare T206 Doyle, New York Nat'l. (The Charlie Conlon T206 Doyle example, offered in the April 2009 REA auction, sold for a record $329,000.) But more important, this is also just a beautiful card in all respects. And anyone familiar with Old Judges, we think, will look at this card and be struck by how unusual and unfamiliar it is. The Old Judge book pictures nineteen N172 California League players (including Doyle; this card is the plate specimen). It would be hard to imagine that most or all collectors would not agree that Doyle is one of the very best looking of these ultimate Old Judge rarities, in terms of overall condition, contrast, and background detail. The contrast and overall condition of this card is rivaled only by only a few other examples, including Lew Lipset’s ridiculously high grade McDonald (Oaklands), one of the best cards in the world and which he has assured all who have asked that it will literally have to be pried from his hands after his passing (and, really, we don’t think he’s kidding).
Cornelius J. Doyle (1862-1921) was born in Ireland. He played in the National League with the Philadelphia Quakers in 1883, and with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys of the American Association in 1884, compiling a lifetime batting average in the Majors of .254. Though he no doubt played elsewhere (reliable records can sometimes be scarce when dealing with players who moved around a lot in the nineteenth century), it appears that Doyle played in the California League as third baseman for San Francisco for only one season (1889), where his average was a modest .175. His timing could not have been better as far as baseball cards are concerned. His appearance in the Old Judge set would have never occurred had he played in the California League just a year earlier or later. Fortunately, ideal timing allowed Cornelius Doyle's ball-playing career to be immortalized on this baseball card. Condition:
Spectacular Excellent appearance, with perfect centering, and flawless contrast. The card does have a couple of very slight creases that can be seen from the reverse only (they are essentially undetectable from the front, but when held with the photo surface reflected in light at just the right angle, can barely be detected). On the reverse is a neatly printed ink notation relating to the card and its long-ago discovery as a new checklist addition. The notation reads "New Card Cornelius or John??" Reverse notations are very common and "come with the territory" with Old Judges, but naturally have an impact on a card's technical grade. We have elected not to send this card in for grading simply because it seems unnecessary. (This is our way of "protesting" the shortcomings of grading; we can't think of a high-value card that we have ever offered that "needed" professional grading less than this card.) The low technical grade this card would receive due to the reverse notations would not begin to tell the story of its outstanding condition. We think the extraordinary visual appeal of this card speaks for itself. (Note: REA does guarantee that this card will grade, though it will technically grade low as noted; and, if desired, REA will have this card graded by SGC or PSA per the request of the winning bidder.)
This N172 Doyle, 3rd B., San Francisco, has been locked away for decades in the collection of one of the hobby's great pioneer collectors (who passed away in 2009). It was the prize card of his collection and is being offered by his family. Pricing information is very difficult to come by on California League Old Judges, simply because they are so extremely rare. Auction records for examples sold several years ago exceed by several thousand dollars the $100,000 mark, but those examples were in far lesser condition than the offered Doyle. Because of their extreme rarity and the fact that many California League Old Judges are literally the only examples known, it is possible that extraordinary condition, contrast, and stunning visual appeal of this example will have little or no impact on value. Whether that is the case remains to be seen, but we think all collectors will agree that the exceptional positive attributes that characterize this card make it a particularly stunning example, over and above its great significance as the only known N172 California League example of Cornelius J. Doyle, San Francisco. Reserve $100,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $129,250
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