Circa 1865 Jim Creighton Original Albumen Photo

Sold For: $18,800

Auction Year: 2010 spring

Lot: 1149

Item Year: 1865

Category: Pre-1900 Baseball Memorabilia

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For a complete description of the Circa 1865 Jim Creighton Original Albumen Photo please go to: The following is an edited (shortened) version. Within the baseball collecting world, there are a small number of special pieces, relics so incredibly rare, so historically significant, that one cannot help but be amazed at their very existence. This is one such item: an original circa 1860s albumen photo of James Creighton, baseball’s first “superstar” player. The formal studio photograph pictures Creighton in full uniform as a member of the Brooklyn Excelsiors, posing in the traditional pitching stance of his day. Original period photos of James Creighton are extraordinarily rare, almost to the point of being nonexistent. This is one of only two known original photographic images of Creighton alone dating from either his active playing career or shortly thereafter. The other example, which is the exact same image as on the offered photo, appears on a period trade card, and as such, is recognized as one of the earliest known baseball cards. While the exact year of its issue is unknown, the trade card features a short biography on the reverse that refers to Creighton's passing in 1862, and was therefore clearly issued shortly after his death. It is one of the most significant of all nineteenth-century cards, a priceless relic both to card and memorabilia collectors, and one of the most iconic pieces of all nineteenth century baseball. Only one example of the trade card is known. For decades we have hoped to somehow stumble across an example. We still haven't. But the offered photograph is very close. We first learned of the existence of the 1860s albumen photo of Creighton that is offered here several years ago, when we were contacted by the family of Charles W. Mears, longtime sports columnist for the Cleveland News and legendary pioneer collector who specialized in nineteenth-century baseball. Charles W. Mears donated his extraordinary collection to the Cleveland Public Library in the 1940s, but just the idea that he kept anything, and that we were being contacted by his grandchildren seeking information about the few items that he did retain, was very exciting. When we requested images, one scan that arrived stunned us. It contained three early photos. We have posted the original scan online so everyone can see exactly what we first saw. It wasn't the photo of the 1868 Atlantics or the 1869 Red Stockings Peck & Snyder trade card that stopped us in our tracks, though both, of course, are extraordinary items of great historic and monetary value. It was the photograph of Jim Creighton. This was a true holy grail. In addition to its extreme rarity, the offered photo also represents one of only two known photographic images of Creighton. The only other photographic image of Creighton we have today is that found within a team photo of the 1860 Brooklyn Excelsiors, which depicts the club posing together in uniform in a formal studio setting. Interestingly, based upon that 1860 team photo, we can determine that the offered Creighton photo was taken at the exact same sitting, as both the uniform style, carpet, and backdrop are identical. Although we were able to definitively date the precise year the offered photo was taken, determining the exact year it was produced is a question we found desirable to consult with outside experts, as even the exact date of the trade card is unknown with certainty and (based on the biography on the reverse referencing Creighton's passing in 1862) dates from several years after the image was taken. For assistance, we submitted the photo for examination and a formal report to The Better Image, universally recognized experts in the field of early photography and world renowned as one of the country’s leading photographic conservation and preservation companies. After a thorough examination of the photo, The Better Image has issued a formal report in which it enumerated the physical characteristics of both the piece and its mount, and presented its highly educated opinion as to its precise date of production (the letter can be viewed in its entirety on our website). That opinion is summarized in the letter’s closing paragraph: “At this point we cannot precisely date this photograph. It could conceivably have been made as early as the late 1850s and as late as the early 1870s. It is our opinion that this photograph was probably produced in the 1860s, and later mounted onto the current support.” This report, of course, is entirely and perfectly consistent with the circa 1865 dating of the famous trade card featuring the only other known example of this Creighton image. Though the offered photo is not mounted on the trade-card-with-biography mount, it is very possible it once was, or was intended to be. The current mount was clearly not designed for this photo and we believe dates from approximately ten years later than the photo. This mount is for a much smaller photo. The Creighton photo was obviously long ago mounted onto its current support for protection and handling. Clearly, the ideal legendary trade-card-with-biography reverse is a far more desirable piece; it is one of the most important of all nineteenth-century cards, and if ever available for sale would be one of the most valuable cards in the world. Whatever the offered Creighton photo is worth, the trade card may be worth a multiple of that amount. But there is only one Creighton trade card with biography reverse example known to exist. It is a highlight in the world's most advanced nineteenth-century collection. It will never be available and another may never be found. The offered photo is likely to be as close as anyone will ever get. As noted in the accompanying letter from The Better Image, the photo (2.375 x 3.3125 inches) is an albumen print that is in “generally good condition despite moderate soiling on both the image and mount.” The Better Image formal report also notes that the purple coloring present in both the lower left and right corners of the photo is original retouching work by the photographic studio (filled in by hand to match the background design of the rug). When this was done in the 1860s, it looked perfect. A vintage black fountain-pen notation, scripted atop Creighton’s image, reads “James Creighton/Excelsior B.B.L./Brooklyn/N.Y.” The photo is affixed to a white mount (2.875 x 3.375) that, as previously noted, does not appear to be original to the piece. The Better Image states “the mount is more consistent with those from the 1870s and later, with its ornamental perimeter design. It also has a smaller, rectangular embossed area in the center that could have been designed for a smaller format photograph.” The mount displays four tack holes (one in each corner) and there are two small paper remnants on the reverse, each of which displays printed numerals. Reserve $10,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $18,800

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