Extraordinary 1867 Large-Format Baseball Team Photo

Sold For: $2,644

Auction Year: 2010 spring

Lot: 1151

Item Year: 1867

Category: Pre-1900 Baseball Memorabilia

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Original albumen photo, measuring 13.25 x 9.125 inches, picturing an unidentified baseball team posing together in a formal studio setting. Both the photographer's name and the date are printed in the lower right corner: "A. Berger/Photos/1867." This photo is both an extraordinary and rare early baseball image that is further distinguished by its size. Baseball photos from this era are scarce and those that do exist are normally in the form of smaller carte-de-visites (the most popular photographic format of the era). This is one of only a few large-format original baseball photos dating from the 1860s we have ever seen, let alone handled. One of the most interesting aspects regarding this photo, and one that will truly appeal to baseball historians, is the fact that the cover of the ball one of the players is holding clearly appears to be of a "figure-eight" design. The "figure-eight" baseball, as opposed to the earlier "lemon-peel" and "belt" balls, was slowly gaining popularity at this time and would become the standard design the following decade. This photo is the earliest we have ever scene in which a "figure-eight" style ball is pictured. Despite the fact that the pictured team is unidentified, we do have a few clues that may help point historians in the right direction regarding the photo's origin. Upon very close examination, the letter "M" can be seen on the top of the caps worn by each of the nine players pictured here, most likely indicating the first letter of either the team name or the team's hometown. That this is a prominent, well-financed team, is clearly evidenced by both their uniforms and the nature of the photo. Each member of the team is nattily attired in the most fashionable baseball accessories of the period, including piped trousers and "golf-style" caps. The fact that the team could afford to pay for a formal studio sitting and also have prints made of this size, which were extremely expensive at the time, further confirms the depth of the club's treasury. The most important hint as to the identification of the team may lie with the photographer. While we cannot be certain, we strongly believe that the "A. Berger" listed here is Anthony Berger, a prominent Washington, D.C., photographer at the time. Prior to owning his own photography studio, Berger worked in the famed Mathew Brady Studio and is best known today for a series of photographs he took of Abraham Lincoln, including one of the few known images of Lincoln posing in the executive office, as well as the most famous image of Lincoln posing with his son. Another of Berger's Lincoln portraits was later used on the five-dollar bill. The technical aspects of the offered photograph certainly point to a talented eye behind the lens. The crystal-clear photo is an exemplary print from the era. As a matter of due diligence, we have submitted this photograph for examination to The Better Image, universally acknowledged experts in the field of early photography and 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 one-page letter of authenticity in which it notes that the piece has benefitted from professional restoration (the letter can be viewed in its entirety on our website). The print has been cleaned and probably bleached in order to remove a vertical stain that is still quite evident on the reverse, but only partially, and less noticeably on the front (touching upon the second player from the left). A small area of paper loss (affecting the barrel of the bat held by the second player from the left) has been repaired by reaffixing it to its original position against the photo's paper support (which is trimmed almost exactly to the size of the photo). The reverse also displays a few areas of repair to previous surface paper loss when the piece was presumably removed from its original support. A few areas of the photo (mainly around the faces of the players) have been retouched, but, as noted in the accompanying LOA, it is most likely original retouching work. The reason it is noticeable today is due to the fact that an albumen photo, as it ages, fades to a yellowish hue, whereas the media used in the retouching work has held its original color. The minor cosmetic work aside, the piece displays as Excellent to Mint, with only a slight area of vertical discoloration on the front still visible. This is an exceptional piece in all respects and one of the earliest original baseball team photos we have ever offered. Hopefully, further research will someday identify the club and possibly some, or all, of the players pictured. This photograph heralds from the estate of a longtime collector of early photographs of extraordinary quality of all types of subjects; this was the only baseball-related image in the collection. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $2,644

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