Rare imperial cabinet photo capturing the Cleveland Forest City Base Ball Club, circa 1868, including Hall of Famer Deacon White (his real name was James Laurie White), who is seen standing in the back row, second from the left. This is only the second example of this imperial team cabinet we have ever seen, with the other originating directly from the estate of Deacon White. That other example most recently appeared as Lot 958 in REA's April 2015 auction, where it realized $8,400. At the time we initially ran the piece in 2015, there was some ambiguity regarding the identity of the team; however, during the course of the auction we received confirmation through the discovery of a 1908 newspaper clipping. That clipping, which was taken from the February 14, 1908, issue of the Cleveland Press
, pictures this very team photo below the headline reading “The Original Forest City Base Ball Club.” In addition to identifying each of the players along the base, the paper also noted that the published photo belonged to E. C. Luce and was gifted to him by the family of team captain Pikey Smith following Smith’s death. According to the paper, the players pictured here are, standing (L to R), Chas J. Sheffield, Jas. L. White, J. W. Clarke, and Arthur E. Burt, and, seated (L to R), Geo. W. Stockly, A. J. "Pikey" Smith (capt.), Wm. P. Johnson, Harvey Brown, and Leonard C. Hanna (brother of Mark Hanna, a former US Senator and political advisor/manager of President William McKinley).
As we mentioned earlier, this is only the second example of this imperial team cabinet we have ever seen, and it has a unique provenance. This very piece once resided in the famed Barry Halper Collection and appeared as Lot 183 in the historic 1999 sale of Halper's collection at Sotheby's in New York City. Prior to that, the offered piece was seen by collectors in in a special pictorial issue of the National Pastime
(published by the Society for American Baseball Research, Spring, 1984), where the editors John Thorn (the Official Historian of Major League Baseball) and Mark Rucker were both unable to positively identify the team (one of them did speculate that it might be the Forest City Club). When this piece was offered at the 1999 Sotheby's sale the team was still unidentified and the photo was described simply as an "1860's Baseball Team Display Photograph." (None of the players were identified at that time either.) It was only positively identified as the Forest City Base Ball Club of Cleveland in 2015.
Deacon White was twenty-one years old when he joined Forest City in 1868, and in 1869 the club tested its mettle twice against the powerful Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball's first all-professional team (like all of the Red Stockings' opponents that year, Forest City lost both games). Two years later Forest City joined the professional ranks by becoming a charter member of the National Association. White was one of the game's top players during the early years of professional baseball. Considered the finest bare-handed catcher of his day, he left Forest City in 1873 to join Harry Wright's Boston Red Stockings, where he was known as one of baseball's "Big Four" along with Al Spalding, Ross Barnes, and Cal McVey. White led Boston to three consecutive pennants before joining Chicago in the newly formed National League. He later played with Cincinnati, Buffalo, Detroit, and Pittsburgh of the National League, and Buffalo (of which he was part owner) of the Players League. It was during his tenure with Buffalo (which later became Detroit) that White teamed with Dan Brouthers, Hardy Richardson, and Jack Rowe, to make up baseball's second "Big Four." White led the American Association in batting with a .366 average in 1875. Two years later, in 1877, his .387 mark was tops in the National League. He also led the National League in RBI in both 1876 (60) and 1877 (49). White retired after the 1890 season with a .303 lifetime average. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2013.
Early baseball photos dating from the 1860s, let alone of this size and featuring both a prominent team and players, are exceedingly rare. This is one of the finest we have ever seen and one that would be a welcome addition to any advanced nineteenth-century or baseball photograph collection. The photo (13 x 10 inches) displays a number of small circular areas of discoloration (most noticeable in the upper background areas) that do not significantly detract from its otherwise Excellent overall appearance. The mount (17 x 14 inches) is toned and displays minor edge and corner wear, as well as a few areas of light discoloration. Reserve $2,000. Estimate (open).
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