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Lot # 832 (of 1389)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1868 Atlantics vs. Tri-Mountain Trophy Ball

Starting Bid - $4,000, Sold For - $9,600

Rare and historically significant Brooklyn Atlantics trophy ball dating from the 1868 season. The white-painted ball commemorates an Atlantics victory over the Tri-Mountains by a score of 33-5 on July 23, 1868. That information is beautifully conveyed in blue-painted lettering set within a circular design on the bottom panel of a lemon-peel ball. This was almost certainly the ball used in that very contest, as it was customary at the time for the winning club to take possession of the game ball for later display in its respective clubhouse. All nineteenth-century trophy balls are rare and the fact that this example once belonged to the Brooklyn Atlantics, one of the top teams in New York during the 1860s (and therefore one of the best teams in the country at the time), makes it all the more significant.

The Brooklyn Atlantics were founded in 1855 and just four years later won recognition as one of the top clubs in New York. They were also one of the original members of the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1857, which was the first organized sports league in history. The Atlantics' high level of play continued through the following decade, during which time they were the unofficial "champions" for a number of years on the strength of a star-studded roster that included Dickey Pearce, Charlie Smith, Fred Crane, Joe Start, and Tom Pratt. In 1870 the Brooklyn Atlantics made history when they defeated the legendary Cincinnati Red Stockings (baseball's first all-professional team), thereby dealing Cincinnati its first loss in 130 games (spanning nearly two years). The Atlantics compiled a record of 47-7 in 1868 and were the reigning champions; however, they relinquished that title to the Mutual Club of New York following two losses to the Mutuals in late October.

The Tri-Mountains were the reigning champions of New England at the time of the contest recorded here and were considered one of the more prominent teams in the country from the 1850s though the late 1860s. In fact, the adoption, by the New England-based Tri-Mountains' of the "New York style" rules over the "Massachusetts style" rules for their games in 1859 is cited by scholars as the critical turning point of the universal acceptance of the "New York style" rules throughout the country. The fact that they suffered such a resounding defeat at the hands of the Atlantics shows just how good the top New York clubs were during the late 1860s.

This is the just the second Brooklyn Atlantics trophy ball we have offered in decades (the other appeared as Lot 1040 in our April 2014 auction where it realized $8,295) and we can only recall having seen two others at public auction. The most recent example, which was originally featured on PBS' Antiques Roadshow, was for an 1859 game against a lesser opponent, the "Pastimes," and sold for $10,755 in 2011. Interestingly, the family who owned that ball had been given it by the Ebbets Field groundskeeper. A treasure trove of memorabilia items that were housed in a small museum at Ebbets Field were given away or sold at an auction held outside Ebbets Field in 1960 (pictures and newspaper accounts of the sale survive) and we speculate that it is highly likely that some or possibly all of the few Atlantics trophy balls known long ago originated from the dispersion of the Ebbets Field collection to fans and employees as souvenirs. As we mentioned earlier, all nineteenth-century trophy balls are extremely rare, and many of the examples in the hobby today represent those from either unknown or far less-prominent clubs. The fact that this ball originates from the Brooklyn Atlantics, one of the most celebrated teams of the era, and commemorates a game against the equally noteworthy Tri-Mountains, makes it exceptional in all respects, and one that would be a centerpiece in any advanced nineteenth-century baseball collection.

The ball, which is heavily toned, displays moderate wear, including crazing and a number of abrasions that reveal the brown leather surface of the ball (one of the abrasions has even eroded the surface of the leather) but all of the text remains bold and legible. There is a single mounting hole evident on the underside of the ball that is almost certainly related to its manner of original display in the Atlantics' trophy case. In Very Good condition overall.

SOLD FOR $9,600


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