Significant 1859 Brooklyn Atlantics Trophy Baseball - Antiques Roadshow Provenance

Sold For: $9,000

Auction Year: 2017 spring

Lot: 1745

Item Year: 1859

Category: Pre-1900 Baseball Memorabilia

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Rare and historically significant Brooklyn Atlantics trophy ball dating from the 1859 season. The white-painted ball commemorates an Atlantics' victory over one their local rivals, the Pastimes, by a score of 29-15 on June 23, 1859. That information is beautifully conveyed in blue-painted lettering set within a circular design on the bottom panel of a classically constructed lemon-peel ball. (Part of the white paint displaying the name "Pastime" has flaked off, with only the "time" portion of the team name still visible.) This was almost certainly the ball used in that very contest, as it was customary at the time for the winning club to take possession of the game ball for later display in its clubhouse. This ball represents one of the Atlantics eleven wins in 1859 and even though there was no formal championship series at the time, the Atlantics were considered the "Champions" of 1859. (When the Atlantics won their first game of the season in 1860, a Brooklyn Eagle reporter remarked that it is now claimed for the Atlantics that they are the champion club of Brooklyn as they have never been beaten in a series of home and home matches since their organization.) All nineteenth-century trophy balls are rare, and the fact that this example once belonged to the Brooklyn Atlantics, considered to be the best team in New York (and therefore the best team in the world) in 1859, makes it all the more significant.

This ball also has a unique provenance. It was introduced to the collecting world on a 2010 episode of the Antiques Roadshow (the clip can can be seen online at this address: During its presentation on the show, the owner related that it was given to him by his grandfather, who obtained it from groundskeeper at Ebbets Field. That provenance is consistent with the information we know to be true. A treasure trove of memorabilia items was once housed in a small museum at Ebbets Field. When the Dodgers left Brooklyn, all of the material in the museum was either given away or sold at an auction held outside Ebbets Field in 1960 (pictures and newspaper accounts of the sale survive). We speculate that it is highly likely that some or possibly all of the few Atlantics trophy balls in the hobby today long ago originated from the dispersion of the Ebbets Field collection to fans and employees as souvenirs.

The Brooklyn Atlantics were founded in 1855 and just four years later won recognition as one of the top clubs in New York. They were also one of original members of the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1857, which was the first organized sports league in history. The Atlantics' high level of play continued through the following decade, during which time they were the unofficial "champions" for a number of years on the strength of a star-studded roster that included Dickey Pearce, Charlie Smith, Fred Crane, Joe Start, and Tom Pratt. In 1870 the Brooklyn Atlantics made history when they defeated the legendary Cincinnati Red Stockings (baseball's first all-professional team), thereby dealing Cincinnati its first loss in 130 games (spanning nearly two years). This is only the second Brooklyn Atlantics trophy ball we have offered in decades and we can only recall having seen two others at public auction. It is also, to the best of our knowledge, the earliest Atlantics trophy ball. As we mentioned earlier, all nineteenth-century trophy balls are extremely rare, and many of the examples in the hobby today represent those from either unknown or far less-prominent clubs. The fact that this ball is not only a very early example (we have seen only a few trophy balls that predate it), but originates from the Brooklyn Atlantics, the most celebrated team of the era, makes it one of the finest trophy balls extant, and one that would be the centerpiece of any advanced nineteenth-century baseball collection. The ball displays moderate wear to heavy wear, including the aforementioned chip to the "Pastime" team name, as well as a few additional chips and a larger abrasion on the side of the ball that reveals the ball's interior components. A mounting hole appears at the base of the ball that is almost certainly related to its manner of original display in the Atlantics' trophy case. In Good condition overall. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open).

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