1887 Red Stocking Cigar Card Charles Radbourn - Newly Discovered!

Sold For: $19,975

Auction Year: 2010 spring

Lot: 9

Item Year: 1887

Category: Pre-1900 Baseball Cards (1830-1899)

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Presented is an exciting and extremely rare sample card from the 1887 Red Stocking Cigars series featuring Hall of Fame pitcher Charley "Old Hoss" Radbourn as a member of the Boston Nationals. This newly discovered example was part of a fascinating small collection from a noncollecting family in the Boston area which included not one but two particularly exciting rarities: this Red Stockings Cigars card and an incredibly rare 'Goodwin Round Album' advertising poster (offered as one of the featured lots in this auction). Also included were various programs and scorecards dating from the 1880s to the 1910 era (all for games attended by family members), and a few other odds and ends that, while they were not formal collectors, the family saved as devoted fans.

Red Stocking Cigars have always been one of the rarest of all nineteenth-century cards, and one of the most seldom seen of all sample cards from any era. In all our years, we have seen a total of only five examples. This newly discovered Radbourn will immediately hit collectors as instantly recognizable, as another Red Stocking Cigar card of Radbourn famously graces the cover of Lew Lipset's Encyclopedia of Baseball Cards Volume 1, 19th Century Cards. Lew Lipset could have chosen any card for the cover of this extraordinary book; he chose the Radbourn Red Stocking card to serve as the iconic cover, no doubt because of its combination of extreme rarity, the stature of the Hall of Famer featured, and its elegant design. Prior to the discovery of the offered card, to the best of our knowledge the Encyclopedia plate specimen was the only Red Stocking Cigar card of Radbourn known to exist. In comparing the two examples, however, we found that each is still one-of-a-kind! The Encyclopedia of Baseball Cards plate specimen features a schedule for 1886 games on the reverse and was obviously issued in that year. The newly discovered example was issued the following year! It has slightly different advertising text and features the schedule for Boston games for the 1887 season. (An image of the cover of the Encyclopedia appears online for easy comparison.)

As noted in the Standard Catalog , only three different players (Buffington, Morrill, and Radbourn) are known from this elusive series. This card features a full-body line drawing of Radbourn dressed in full uniform identified as "Charles Radbourn, Pitcher Boston Base Ball Club. - 1887," surrounded by advertising on the front ("For Sale Everywhere - Smoke the Red Stocking Cigar - F.W. MacDonald, Proprietor., 15 Oliver Street, Boston"), with the complete 1887 schedule for Boston's home and road games and additional advertising on the reverse ("Smoke the RED STOCKING Cigar. All Genuine Stamped Red Stocking").

Radbourn, who was described by one reporter at the time as erratic, capricious, and ill-tempered, may not have been the most amiable player, but he was certainly one of the greatest pitchers of his era. "Old Hoss" was a workhorse on the mound and in 1884, while pitching for Providence, set a Major League record with fifty-nine wins. Although he was often plagued by arm problems later in his career he still managed to win 309 games in just eleven seasons. Radbourn played with Boston from 1886 to 1889, before jumping to the Players League in 1890. He ended his career in 1891 with Cincinnati. After his retirement he lost an eye in a hunting accident, and thereafter became somewhat of a recluse. He passed away in 1897 at the age of forty-three. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939.

The card is very crisp and clean, with just a hint of corner wear. At a glance this card appears to be in Ex-Mt condition, but has been encapsulated as "Authentic" due to Radbourn’s right foot being colored in with black ink. It is so neatly executed and unobtrusive that it was not even apparent to us for days until we were staring at the card and closely comparing it to the 1886 Radbourn illustrated on the front and back covers of the Encyclopedia looking for differences. There is some light soiling on the lower portion of the reverse. This is a spectacular example of one of the great sample rarities of all nineteenth-century baseball cards, an exciting new addition to our understanding of this striking issue, and would be a worthy highlight addition to any world-class Hall of Famer or nineteenth-century baseball-card collection. Dimensions: 6.5 x 3.75 inches. Encapsulated as Authentic by SGC. Reserve $5,000. Estimate $10,000+. SOLD FOR $19,975

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