1886 Defiance BBC Silver Trophy Ball

Sold For: $2,400

Auction Year: 2017 spring

Lot: 1770

Item Year: 1886

Category: Pre-1900 Baseball Memorabilia

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In the 1860s, the ultimate prize for the victorious team in an organized baseball tournament was a silver ball. The coveted silver bal was the earliest formal baseball trophy, presented to honor the tournament champions. Today, silver trophy balls are incredibly rare, with only a few examples known. This particular silver ball, which was presented to the Defiance Base Ball Club in 1866, is one of the few survivors. The design of the ball (9 inches in circumference) replicates the stitch pattern of a figure-eight baseball from the era and bears an engraved inscription on the front that reads: "Presented/to/Defiance Base Ball/Club/'Champions 1886'/b/ L. M. Woolf & Son/Johnstown PA." The ball displays moderate-to-heavy tarnishing, a few small indentations, and a number of moderate scratches. In Good condition overall.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to find any information regarding the Defiance Base Ball Club, but the fact that it won this ball means it was one of the top teams from the area. It should also be noted that silver trophy balls were awarded only by outside parties or organizations. Teams did not purchase their own silver balls to commemorate important victories; they were prizes to be won. In that way they differ significantly from the gold-painted trophy balls from the era, which were game balls from the match that were elaborately decorated and given to the victorious club for display in their clubhouse. The announcement that a silver ball would be presented to the winner of a match game conferred a special status upon that contest and always served to increase fan interest. In that manner, it was also an effective promotional tool for the organization or individual offering the silver trophy ball. Such appears to be the case with this ball. L. M. Woolf was a prominent Johnstown clothing merchant and well-know philanthropist at the time, and he probably offered this ball to generate additional publicity for both his company and the town of Johnstown.

Silver trophy balls, so named because most were literally crafted by artisans of silver, are the earliest form of championship trophies. Today, silver trophy balls are virtually nonexistent. Even the Baseball Hall of Fame does not have a silver trophy ball dating from the 1860s. We have seen only three other silver trophy balls ever offered at auction. The explanation for the great rarity of silver trophy balls is probably a combination of several factors: 1) Each silver trophy ball represented a special tournament or even an entire season of games for an organized league; therefore, relatively few were ever needed for presentation; 2) They were very expensive. One 1860s advertisement quoted a price of $10 for a silver ball. That was a lot of money at that time, and this alone probably caused many baseball tournaments and leagues to pass on the purchase of a silver ball due; and 3) The tradition of awarding a silver trophy ball was almost exclusively associated with the 1860s. In addition, because they were made out of silver, most silver trophy balls probably fell victim to being melted down over the years. All of these factors make the survival of any silver trophy ball dating from the 1860s unlikely. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open).

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