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Lot # 1174 (of 1743)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

Extraordinary 1859 Trophy Ball - Unions vs. Excelsiors - Earliest Unions Trophy Ball Known!

Starting Bid - $5,000, Sold For - $23,500

Extremely rare, early, and remarkably significant trophy ball from an 1859 match between two of the greatest teams of the era, both New York clubs that were charter members of the National Association of Base Ball Players: the Unions of Morrisania (based in the Bronx) and the Excelsiors of Brooklyn. The gold-painted "lemon-peel" ball commemorates a victory by the Unions and is lettered "1859/Oct 5th/Union 19/Excelsior 15/9 Innings." Though we have no definitive history of the trophy balls that were once displayed in the Unions' trophy case, it is known that many years ago (we believe prior to the 1940s) the team's trophy balls were broken up from their original display case and scattered to the collecting winds, many apparently given away as keepsakes. Today, it is very rare to find even a single example, but the few that have survived are among the most important trophy ball examples in existence and among the most highly prized of all nineteenth-century baseball memorabilia. A handful of examples can be found in the hobby's most advanced collections, while an equally small number reside in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. All are extremely desirable and significant. Presented here is one of the very best in existence of these monumentally historic treasures.

The offered ball is the earliest Unions of Morrisania trophy ball we have ever seen and dates just four years after the founding of the club in 1855. Equally significant is their opponent in the match. The Excelsiors were one of the top clubs in New York in 1859, finishing the season with a record of 12-3. The Unions' schedule was much lighter that season, as they only played five games, winning just two of them. Given the final results of the season, the game represented here was no doubt one of the most talked about upsets of the year. This very game is recorded by Charles Peverelly in his important history of the sport, American Pastimes (self published,1866). In his brief summary he notes, in addition to the score, that the game was played on the Unions' ground at Morrisania and that the umpire was Wm. H. Van Cott, of the Gotham Club. Trophy balls dating from the 1850s are exceedingly rare. To put into perspective the rarity of a Unions trophy ball dating from the 1850s, one has only to look at the number of Grand Matches each season during these early years: one match in 1855, five in 1856 and 1857, two in 1858, and five in 1859. It wasn't until the mid-1860s that the Unions played twenty-plus Association games per season. In the entire 1850s, they played only eighteen matches. A Unions Trophy ball could have been created for display in the trophy case at their clubhouse at Melrose Station, Morrisania, only for their ten victories at most (of the eighteen matches during the 1850s); but it is not necessarily the case that a trophy ball was even made for each of these ten victories. To the best of our knowledge, this 1859 Unions trophy ball is the earliest known by many years and the only one dating from the 1850s. This is not only by far the earliest example we have ever seen, it is one of the most significant as well, given the status of the the clubs and their importance to New York baseball history.

The ball displays moderate wear throughout, including a number of cracks to the gold paint and a few small abrasions, but nearly all of the black-painted lettering remains bold and perfectly legible. A small mounting hole is present at the base. In Very Good condition overall. In this era it was a tradition for the game ball (only a single ball was used for the entire game at this time) to be decorated with the key information relating to the game (including the date, teams, and score) and presented to the victor for display in the winning team's clubhouse trophy case. All early trophy balls are extremely rare and prized by collectors. This ball originates directly from the legendary collection of Frank and Peggy Steele, and it has been on display at their home for many decades. Over thirty years ago, Frank and Peggy Steele had the good fortune to acquire a now legendary find of approximately ten Unions of Morrrisania trophy balls. All have long ago found new homes, but this one, being the earliest and memorializing a game between two such important teams in the earliest years of organized baseball, was Frank's favorite, and that is why it has been held back, saved by the family all these years. It is easy to see why this trophy ball was deemed special, and it is a great privilege for us to present this extremely important item from the personal collection of one of the most highly respected historians and finest gentlemen we have ever have the privilege of knowing. This is an extraordinary museum-worthy relic from the earliest days of our national pastime. Reserve $5,000. Estimate $10,000+. SOLD FOR $23,500

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