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Lot # 12 (of 1673)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

Circa 1866-1870 CDV "The Old Man" - The First Baseball Card?

Starting Bid - $1,000.00 , Sold For - $8,812.50

Important Addendum:

The original text and printed catalog description prepared for this lot can be found on the REA blog at

There is, however, one problem. The description, though we had a lot of fun writing it, is wrong. Sorry about that. It's just incorrect. Well, not totally incorrect, as the significance of the card remains the same (depending on precisely one's definition, this may be the earliest baseball card); and because of the new information we now have, it's actually an even better and more significant card than we previously thought; but the fact remains that we have misidentified the player on the card. It is not a card of Bernie Hannegan. We got the era right; we got the team right (Unions of Morisannia); and we got the great significance of the card right. But we got the player wrong. It is a card of Dave Birdsall, one of the major stars of the era, the captain of the Unions team in 1867 and 1868, and one of the elite players chosen by Harry Wright to be a member of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional baseball team.

REA would like to thank Brian and Michael Wentz of BMW Sportscards for properly researching and identifying this card for us. Frankly, we'd really like to take the credit for this great work, but we can't! Brian and Michael have done an incredible job on this. We are extremely thankful for their help. They have provided their time and energy to researching and correcting an identification error that had been made by many others, and one that without their attention might otherwise have never been corrected. As researchers and cataloguers of rare and historically significant items, to us this is what being in a collecting community is all about - looking at others work, sharing, making suggestions, and helping to correct errors in a constructive way, to everyone's benefit, and to help everyone better understand the material and the history it represents. The Wentz brothers have always been unfailingly generous with their time and knowledge. We've heard this countless times and it has always been the case whenever we have called upon their expertise about anything. But they have really gone above and beyond for us and for the collecting world on this card. Thanks guys!

Dave Birdsall was with the Unions of Morisania before joining Harry Wright's famous Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869. Reference to Birdsall's nickname "The Old Man" is cited in When Johnny Came Sliding Home: The Post-Civil War Baseball Boom, 1865-1870 by William Ryczek. It is also referred to in The Minor League Milwaukee Brewers, 1859-1952 by Brian Podoll, which explains that the Unions star pitcher Charley Pabor's eccentric but sunny disposition earned him the curious nickname "The Old Woman in the Red Cap," one of baseball's most notable nicknames from any era. It is also explained that his batterymate, catcher Dave Birdsall, was his diametric opposite in disposition and was known as "The Old Man." These nicknames poked fun at the fact that as pitcher and catcher, this unlikely pair was as inseperable as a married couple, despite being totally at odds with one another in terms of personality. We would not be surprised to see a matching card of Charley Pabor surface some day, identified simply as "The Old Woman in the Red Cap," though it is very possible that such a card was produced and none have survived.

Armed with the knowlegde that this is Birdsall, we now see that many photographs of Birdsall confirm the identication of The Old Man as Dave Birdsall. So how did we come to misidentify Birdsall as Bernie Hannegan in the first place? Well, our guard was down and we made a mistake! We were presented with the card already identified as Hannegan, and also with the woodcut image of Hannegan from the 1865 Leslie's, which we interpreted as a match and as confirmation of identication. Using artworks (even detailed woodcuts) for identification purposes, we now see, can be very dangerous, especially since any visual inconsistencies can so easily be chalked up to the fact that we are dealing with artworks made from photographs, not actual photographs. We had the right team, it was the same pose (a mirror image, and we attributed the small differences to the artwork process). In addition, we then found a portrait woodcut of Hannegan from the December 1, 1866 edition of Leslie's that we thought was also confirming, and we even went to the trouble of consulting with several baseball scholars, who each fell for the same powers of suggestion that we did. It seemed like a reasonable and well thought out identification. There was a consensus and we could find no dissenting opinion. But the identification as Hennagan was innacurate. Fortunately, the research of Brian and Mike Wentz has allowed us to correctly present this extremely important card.

Is this The First Baseball Card? Not everyone agrees on the definition of a card, so whenever we look at the earliest cards, we try to qualify the definition. The answer to that question really depends on how one defines a card. It does have some very important and unique qualities that in our opinion make the card seriously worthy of consideration for the title. It is the only card from this early era that we have ever seen featuring the image of a specific current player who is identified on the card. These are generally recognized as defining characteristics for baseball cards, dating from the 1880s all the way up to modern cards. The famous 1863 Jordan Marsh CDV photograph of Harry Wright is an extraordinary card, but does not identify Harry Wright as part of the design of the card. The famous Jim Creighton memorial Peck & Snyder trade card is not dated, but the biography on the reverse makes very clear it was issued after his passing. So there is a significant distinction to Birdsall's "The Old Man" card. He was alive. He was a current active player. He is identified on the card. To the best of our knowledge, Birdsall's card is the very first baseball card with the identification of a current individual player incorporated into the design of the card. By this definition, the "The Old Man" card can lay claim to being the first baseball card. We realize that not everyone will agree that this is the first baseball card, and we know that even attempting to declare what is the first baseball card can be controversial, but the next time there is discussion or a debate about the issue, we think that "The Old Man" is at least worthy of consideration for the title. Whether this card dates from 1866, as we believe based on the "Unions" on the bib style, or as late as 1870 (the year of Birdsall's last season with the Unions after spending the 1869 season with the Red Stockings), the next oldest baseball card(s) with a traditional design, featuring the identified image of an individual player, were issued by Old Judge tobacco in 1886. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $8,812.50

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