Nineteenth-Century "Excelsior" Belt

Sold For: $1,528

Auction Year: 2010 spring

Lot: 1153

Item Year: 1870

Category: Pre-1900 Baseball Memorabilia

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Rare 1850s/1860s "Excelsior" belt dating from the earliest days of organized baseball. The elaborately designed white leather belt displays the name "Excelsior" on the front and features an interior leather strap for size adjustment. The team name is actually the result of the neighboring leather having been elaborately carved out, thus displaying "Excelsior" in raised relief. The leather surrounding the team name has been painted black, while the individual letters bear a contrasting coat of white paint. A metal manufacturer's label, bearing the engraved name "Cairns & Bros." appears on the exterior side of the belt. It should be noted that Cairns & Bros., which was founded in 1850, was the nation's leading producer of fire equipment and supplies during the last half of the nineteenth century, producing everything a fire department would need with the exception of trucks and ladders. Given that knowledge, it seems certain that this belt was originally sold as an Excelsior Fire Engine Company belt. However, that does not preclude the possibility that it was also used on the baseball diamond. Most early men's social clubs were simply extensions of each neighborhood or town's local fire company. As baseball rose in popularity, those social clubs also sponsored baseball teams. Thus, many of the earliest baseball teams were composed of firemen. Alexander Joy Cartwright himself, one of the founding fathers of baseball, was a member of the New York Knickerbockers Fire Fighting Brigade several years before the Knickerbockers baseball team ever took the field in 1845. The early connection between fire companies and baseball is the reason why many early baseball uniforms were designed in the style of fire uniforms (often displaying a shield design on the front of the jersey). As a cost-cutting move, members would then use the belts from their fire uniforms with their baseball uniforms. For that reason, many early nineteenth-century firefighters’ belts are indistinguishable from baseball belts. The belt (37 x 2.25 inches) is well worn, displaying a number of cracks and abrasions along the hardened leather. The buckle piece remains intact. Very Good condition overall. Reserve $200. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $1,528

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