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Lot # 1172 (of 1743)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

Circa 1858 H. Harwood Sons Original Baseball Stitching Bench

Starting Bid - $1,000, Sold For - $1,293

Original wooden baseball stitching bench dating from the 1800s. This is both a rare and signficant historical baseball piece and the first example we have ever offered. What is all the more remarkable about this bench is the presence of a small engraved metal plaque affixed to the wooden support slate on the right side of the bench that reads "H. Harwood & Sons Inc./Original Baseball Stitching Bench/Circa 1858/From R. D. W. to A. F. F./Christmas 1987/This Is Where The Dynamic Duo? Started." H. Harwood & Sons, which was located in Natick, Massachussets, was one of the earliest and most prominent manufacturers of baseballs and baseball equipment. In 1858 they built the first factory in the world dedicated to the manufacture of baseballs and, according to some accounts, H. Harwood & Sons was also the first company to mass-produce baseballs featuring the "figure-eight" cover design. Unfortunately, aside from the plaque, no additional provenance accompanies. The 1858 date and the specific attribution to the H. Harwood & Sons company to some extent therefore relies upon a leap of faith, but we strongly believe that this attribution is correct for many reasons, not the least of which is that the baseball stitching bench was recently purchased by our consignor from an estate located just thirty-five minutes from where the Harwood & Sons factory once stood.

Prior to the opening of the Harwood factory nearly all balls were either homemade, with widely varying degrees of craftsmanship, or professionally made by skilled tradesmen, such as shoemakers. With the advent of mass production, a workstation specific to ball making was needed, and the offered bench was the final product. The bench is fairly simple in its construction. The worker sits facing the large wooden vise in front. The vise was used to hold the ball tightly in place while the worker stitched the cover on the ball. A metal foot lever, attached to the vise by means of a heavy leather strap, was used to adjust the tightness of the vise. The foot lever can lock into one of several slots to maintain the desired degree of tightness needed. The top part of the vise, which holds the ball, is padded with heavy leather, so as not to deform or harm the ball.

One of the most interesting aspects regarding the history of ball manufacture is that the method used to make balls in the late 1850s is virtually the same process used today. All of the official Major League balls in use today are still individually handmade by workers utilizing a bench similar to the type offered here, albeit more comfortable and ergonomically correct. To date, no machine has been invented that can offer the same quality in ball construction as that produced by hand. In a 1997 online interview with Steve Johnson of Rawlings (the company that makes all of the official Major League balls today), which was posted on Discovery Online, reporter Hannah Holmes details the nature of ball-making today:

Every single baseball pitched in the Major Leagues is made in a Costa Rican factory owned by Rawlings. There 1,000 baseball sewing experts start their day seated in front of a special vice holding a gooey baseball with a gluey leather cover wrapped around it. The leather is already punched with 108 stitching holes and is dampened to make it pliable. With a custom-made needle in each hand, the sewer begins at the "neck," or the narrow part of the cover, and makes about seven stitches down the seam. Then, using pliers, she jabs the needles into the guts of the ball, traveling back under those stitches, and emerging just beyond the first hole she stitched. She continues sewing in this direction, using a foot-pedal on her vice to spin new sections of seam into reach. When she returns to the neck of the ball, her last stitches dive into the guts again, cross under the neck, come up through a hole and are snipped off. "The first time I sewed a baseball, it took me 45 minutes," Johnson recalls. Pros sew four to six an hour, achieving perfect string tension by feel.

This is an exceedingly rare original nineteenth-century baseball stitching bench and a true museum piece that is further distinguished by it remarkable condition and significant provenance. The bench, which was manufactured by the "J. D. Randall Co., of Cin. Oh.," as noted by the stamp on the seat, remains in perfect working order. Heavy wear is evident throughout, indicating that it probably saw decades of factory use. The seat is well worn, and a few screws are missing from the hinge plate that operates the vise. Both the foot lever and vise function as intended, and the leather strap is free of any tears. The bench stands forty-three inches in height, measures twenty-five inches in length, and is ten inches wide. Please Note: Due to the size and/or weight of this lot, shipping costs (depending on where it is sent and its method of shipping) may be substantial. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $1,293

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