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Lot # 58 (of 1594)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1887 Syracuse Stars Team Card - The First Baseball Card with African-American Ballplayer (Pool Hall Advertising Card)

Starting Bid - $500.00, Sold For - $2,643.75

Addendum: Though it may be of no significance due to the low grade of the card, when discovered in 2005 we understand that this piece originally had newspaper clippings on the reverse, sharper corners, and also tape on the revesre, which has been removed. The card may have also been cleaned and had some minor restoration. We don't believe this has any impact on the value or desirability, especially for an item graded poor, but because we have just become aware of this, in the interest of disclosure we are providing this information.

Presented is a unique card of both tremendous rarity (we believe it is the only one known) and enormous historical significance: This is the very first baseball card ever issued featuring a black ballplayer. The card pictures cameo portraits of thirteen members of the 1887 Syracuse Stars of the International League, including nineteen-year old African-American star pitcher Robert Higgins. This card was recently discovered and introduced to the collecting world for the very first time ever in the spring of 2006 in an article in Sports Collector's Digest written by Bob Lemke (editor of The Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards ). The card was previously unknown. Its designation as a baseball card is extremely well founded though we recognize that collectors can sometimes disagree on what qualifies as a card. We don't believe there is much room for disagreement in this particular case in that along the bottom of this card, in print as part of the design, it prominently reads: "Mf'D. Expressly For Geo. G. Campbell, 78 E. Genesee St. Syracuse, N.Y." Research reveals that George Campbell operated a pool and billiards hall at that address in Syracuse in the late 1880s, including in 1887. With such a prominent advertisement, it is reasonable to conclude that these team cards could only have been distributed as promotional vehicles for his establishment. Ironically, this card was issued during the very year in which organized baseball's league owners agreed not to sign any more black ballplayers. The "Gentleman's Agreement," as it came to be known, remained in effect until Jackie Robinson joined Montreal in 1946. In 1887, Fleetwood Walker, Bud Fowler, Frank Grant, Robert Higgins, George Stovey, and three other black players went to play in the newly organized International League, the equivalent of Triple A baseball and just one step down from Major League status. They were not welcomed with open arms by either their teammates or fans. It was in the middle of the year that the International League's board of directors told its secretary to approve no more contracts for black players, although it did not terminate the contracts of the league's few remaining black ballplayers. Moses Fleetwood Walker, who in 1884 became the first black player in Major League history, joined the Syracuse Stars in 1888. Higgins, who was from Memphis, endured harsh treatment from his teammates during his short time with Syracuse. During his second start with the club, on May 5th in Toronto, the fielders intentionally muffed balls in an effort to have Higgins taken out of the game. The team lost 28-8 (twenty-one of the runs were unearned) and the following day the Toronto World newspaper made note of the farce by issuing the headline "Disgraceful Baseball." The Sporting News offered a different headline: "The Syracuse Plotters." On June 4, two of the Syracuse players, outfielder Henry Simon and pitcher Doug Crothers, refused to appear in the official team picture with Higgins. Crothers, whose refusal was punctuated by a fist fight with team manager Joe Simmons, was initially suspended for the year. He was briefly reinstated before being given his outright release on July 2nd. Simon was not punished for his action, but, as the local papers made note at the time, he was far more valuable to the team than Crothers and thus his offense against Higgins was overlooked. It is interesting to note that while Simon refused to pose with Higgins in person, he was powerless to prevent his image from appearing together with Higgins' on this card. Crother's image does not appear on the card, indicating it was issued after he was released. The "Gentleman's Agreement" allowed black ballplayers who had existing contracts to remain in their respective leagues, but by the early 1890s few remained. Many cards have a story, but this one has a much greater and more significant story than most, with a direct connection to the history of the banning of black ballplayers from professional baseball, an event which soon led to the glorious rise of the Negro Leagues. This is truly a rare and unique nineteenth-century baseball card. The card (7.5 x 5.25 inches) displays toning, minor creases, a few surface abrasions, and areas of light discoloration that appear to relate to some water damage long ago. The card is of exceptionally high production quality, printed on sturdy cabinet card stock, and with naturally rounded corners as made Please Note: While we have kept our original description text as it appears in the printed catalog online, per the addendum above, we were in error when we described the corners as "rounded as made." Technically in Fair to Good condition, the card displays very well and its condition problems are far overshadowed by both its rarity and historical significance. Reserve $500. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $2,643.75

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