1862 "Eclipse" Trophy Ball - "The Oldest Known Baseball"

Sold For: $4,113

Auction Year: 2010 spring

Lot: 1142

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Addendum: Subsequent to the publication of the catalog we were contacted by world renowned scholar and baseball historian John Thorn, who has provided us with a great deal of fascinating additional information and documentation regarding the ball’s true origins: The copy of the 1947 newspaper article that accompanies the ball contains a number of factual errors. This ball commemorates a game played between the Eclipse Athletic Club of Kingston, New York, and the Hudson River club of Newburgh, New York, on June 20, 1862. The Hudson Rivers were victorious on that day, defeating their rivals by a score of 39-21. Also, the game was played in Newburgh, not on Kingston’s home grounds as the writing on the ball implies. Lastly, the story about the ball originating from a player named Ben Johnson also seems to be an embellishment, as the box score from the game, published in The Clipper, shows no player by that name on either club. The brief article on the game notes that “Both the Hudson River and Eclipse clubs can turn out a strong nine; and their members always offer a credible exhibition of base ball playing.” What is particularly interesting is that Seixas obviously knew all of this information at the time the 1947 article was written. An earlier article about this ball appeared in the August 18, 1909 edition of The New York Times (also provided by John Thorn) in which all of the facts regarding its origin were correctly noted. An additional newspaper article about the ball, published in the July 1, 1915 edition of The Pittsburgh Press, even made note that this ball is NOT the earliest known (it cites an 1857 trophy ball between the Tri-Mountain Club of Boston and the Portland, Maine club). A photo copy of both the box score from the game and The New York Times article can be viewed on our website. Another interesting fact noted by John Thorn is that the Hudson River Club of Newburgh (1863-64) sent one player all the way to the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869 and an eventual big-league career with the Washington Olympics, Boston Red Stockings, and finally Cincinnati again in 1880: Andy Leonard. Our thanks to John Thorn for taking the time to share his research with us. It is greatly appreciated! If the title to this lot seems in obvious error, we should state that this ball's designation as "the oldest known baseball" is not ours, but that given to it by a local California newspaper in 1947. The fact that people have always cared about such titles such as this, as they relate to the earliest relics of the game, has always been fascinating to us and to other collectors as well. It is fortunate that a copy of the original 1947 newspaper article (the name of the paper is not provided) accompanies the ball, as it remains our sole source of information regarding its very detailed history. This ball originates from the collection of one Dr. P. M. Seixas (the corresponding newspaper photo pictures him holding the ball) of Hermosa Beach, California. As the article duly notes, being the owner of "the oldest known baseball" made Seixas a celebrity of sorts and the recipient of numerous offers to purchase the historic piece. A number of passages in the article are obscured, but most of the text remains legible. In part:

Owner of the oldest known baseball in the world is Dr. Phillip M. Seixas, 74 of 115 Nineteenth Street, Hermosa Beach. The 72 year-old ball was last used in the first world's championship baseball game at Kingston, New York, June 20, 1862 between the Eclipse Nine of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Red Stockings. Dr. Seixas acquired the ball in 1903, when he as [employed?] as athletic coach at West Point Military Academy from Ben Johnson, who was a first baseman for the Eclipse team. Johnson had stuck the ball in his pocket after the game as a memento. At one time Dr. Seixas thought of selling the ball and received offers from Robert (Believe-it-or-not) Ripley, John (Strange-as-it-seems) Hix, and Jack Dempsey. Later Seixas thought better of his offer and decided to keep the ball. Not long after this, in 1930, Jack Dempsey offered him $1,000 for the ball as an oddity for his famous New York restaurant but Seixas turned him down...[passage illegible]...has been varnished to preserve it against age with the painted inscription June 20, 1862 Eclipse versus Red Stockings, Kingston, New York. Dr. Seixas has had the ball insured against fire or theft by Lloyds of London for $5,000. In recent years authorities such as Ford Frick, president of the National League, and William Harridge, president of the American League, have manifested interest in the ball...

The ball itself is a classic, leather "belt-style" example from the era that has been painted gold; however, the actual lettering on ball is slightly different than is reported in the article. The writing, painted in black, with the exception of "Eclipse (brown lettering), reads "From Eclipse of Kingston - June 20, 1862." If this ball does commemorate a game between the Eclipse Nine of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Red Stockings, as the newspaper article reports, then it seems safe to assume that the town of Kingston cited on the ball is not Kingston, New York, but possibly either Kingston, Pennsylvania, which is a borough of Wilkes-Barre, or Kingston, New Jersey, both of which are geographically much closer to Philadelphia. It is also highly probable that the Eclipse Nine were not based in Philadelphia, as stated in the article, but in Kingston, as the ball implies (in which case, it may very well be Kingston, New York). Regardless of the ball's exact history, the one thing we know for certain is that this is an extremely early trophy ball. It was only sixteen years earlier that the first organized baseball game took place between the New York Knickerbockers and a "pick nine" club at Hoboken's Elysian Fields. While the popularity of the game quickly spread throughout the Northeast metropolitan areas, it had yet to become our national pastime in 1862. For that reason, trophy balls such as this are not only exceedingly rare, but historically significant artifacts dating from the dawn of organized baseball. The ball displays a small slit along one of the top seams, as well as heavy wear. Crazing to the gold painted surface is evident throughout and, as noted in the newspaper article, the ball was later coated with a thin layer of protective shellac, most of which has chipped away. A few portions of the lettering are light, but legible. Despite the flaws, which are what one would expect to find on a ball that is nearly 150 years old, it remains an exceptional display piece dating from the time of the Civil War, when the game of baseball was still in its infancy. This is an outstanding and extremely early trophy ball with a fascinating history of being celebrated as "the oldest known baseball in the world," which gives it tremendous additional charm. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $4,113

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