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Lot # 1619 (of 1641)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1929 The American National Game of Baseball "Aquatint" Print - Unique Variation

Starting Bid - $300, Sold For - $948

This rare "aquatint" print, which pictures the action from the 1865 Grand Baseball Match at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, is a reproduction of the famous Currier & Ives print titled The American National Game of Base Ball, originally produced in 1866. While many collectors are very familiar with this image from the many reproductions made over the years, especially the colorful Sidney Lucas aquatint prints, few are familiar with this earlier edition. This is not the colorful aquatint produced by Sidney Lucas, but a far rarer earlier version engraved by R. Varin and published in 1929. Originally executed in muted tones, the piece is signed by R. Varin in pencil in the lower right. We have seen only one other example of this famous Currier and Ives print engraved by Varin (it appeared as Lot 998 in REA's April 2006 auction, where it realized a final sale price of $1,160). The previous example we offered was hand numbered "30/150" in the lower left corner; however, the offered print displays no such limitation number. Further distinguishing the offered example is the fact that it has been beautifully painted over in water color. The artistic execution of the work clearly points to a very skilled hand, but it is unknown if a number of these prints were published or commercially produced in this manner, or if this is a unique example produced by a former owner. It has been in the family of our consignor for twenty years (it was willed to him by a friend; he has had it hanging up ever since) and we have never seen another example like it. Regardless, the result is a most colorful and highly visual representation of this famous Currier & Ives print image.

The lettering along the base reads "Engraved in aquatint by R. Varin and published by A. Ackermann and Son, Inc. New York and Chicago and by Robert Fridenberg Galleries New York USA 1929." While the Sidney Lucas prints have never been definitively dated, they are believed to have been produced in the 1940s and could easily have been printed as late as the 1950s. This piece is not only the earlier of the two, but also by far the rarer. Interestingly, this print is actually much more significant today as a result of recent research by John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball. In his article (which can be read in its entirety on the internet at this link:, Thorn details the long-lost true identification of the scene and the players featured on the Currier & Ives American National Game of Base Ball lithograph.

In short: Published in 1866, the American National Game of Base Ball was one of Currier & Ives most famous prints. The print features a game-in-progress scene that has long been described as the 1865 Grand Match for the Championship between the Atlantics of Brooklyn and the Mutuals of New York, which was played on August 3, 1865. But the fact is that this identification is totally inaccurate. The Currier & Ives American National Game of Base Ball print actually features an artist's representation of an 1860 championship game between the Brooklyn Atlantics and the Brooklyn Excelsiors (with James Creighton on the mound pitching) that was never played! In 1860, the defending champion Atlantics and the Excelsiors had split their first two contests, but trouble with the crowds dictated that the Excelsiors abandon the field of the deciding championship match. The Atlantics and Excelsiors never played each other at the Elysian Fields, as featured in the famous Currier & Ives print. It is an artwork featuring the Championship game of 1860 that never was!

The print (23.75 x 17.75 inches) is dry mounted onto a white, foam matting. A single tack hole is evident in each corner, as is toning along the white border as a result of the piece having been matted. A few minor areas of surface paper loss and adhesive residue are exhibited along the white border areas as well (none of which are visible when properly matted). The original matting accompanies the piece but is no longer affixed to its backing. Without reference to the dry mounting, the piece displays an overall Excellent to Mint appearance when matted. This is a most unusual, and possibly unique example of this classic print, now made all the more significant thanks to John Thorn's research. Framed to total dimensions of 31 x 24.5 inches. Reserve $300. Estimate $500/$1,000. SOLD FOR $948

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