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Lot # 1038 (of 1866)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1857 Putnam Base Ball Club Constitution and By-Laws

Starting Bid - $5,000, Sold For - $9,480

Exceedingly rare 1857 Constitution and By-Laws of the Putnam Base Ball Club of Brooklyn, New York (published by Baker & Goodwin, New York). This small volume, which was only issued to club members, is one of the earliest baseball constitutions extant and one of only a few known examples dating from the 1850s. To the best of our knowledge, this is the only 1857 Putnam constitution in existence, as we have never seen or heard of another. In his outstanding reference work on the origins of baseball, titled Baseball Before We Knew It (University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 2005), author David Block cites only eight earlier baseball constitutions. Most important, this example is NOT listed in Block's book.

The historical significance of this particular volume cannot be overstated. Contained within its twenty pages are a roster of the club members, the team's constitution, its by-laws, and most important, the formal rules of the game at the time. What makes this particular constitution so consequential is that it was published very shortly after the first-ever baseball convention held in New York City on January 22, 1857. The convention brought together representatives from the fourteen most prominent baseball clubs in New York with the purpose of settling upon a formal set of rules for the game of baseball. The Putnam club was one of the teams represented at that meeting and a few weeks later, on February 25th, the fourteen representatives ratified the rules they had agreed upon. The convention's establishment of those new rules, which were the first changes ever made to the original rules formulated by the Knickerbockers in 1845, was a watershed moment in the history of the game and ultimately led to the formation of the National Association of Base Ball Players the following year. The 1857 Putnam constitution includes the new rules established that winter and therefore represents one of, if not the earliest, printed version we have of the game's new regulations, especially considering the fact that, to the best of our knowledge, no other baseball constitutions from 1857 exist. In addition to changes in the playing rules, the convention also established general codes of conduct for club members, which are included here.

The Putnam Base Ball Club was formed in 1855 and, surprisingly, preceded the formation of its more well-known Brooklyn rivals: the Excelsiors, the Atlantics, and the Eckfords. The club's founder was Samuel Godwin, who is listed here as one of the members. Interestingly, this is not the earliest Putnam constitution known, as one from 1856 is cited by Block. However, that earlier constitution would not contain the new rules set forth by the convention in early 1957, making the offered example the more significant of the two. The Putnam club was one of the charter members of the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1858 and remained a member in good standing until 1862, when the club disbanded. This is one of the most important 1850s baseball constitutions we have ever handled and one that would be a cornerstone in any advanced nineteenth-century baseball collection.

The book (3.25 x 5 inches) features two, plain red-leather covers that are heavily worn, including minor separation along the top and base of the spine. The name of a former owner, "Property of R. F. Kinsella Springfield Illinois," appears in black ink on the interior front cover. (R. F. Kinsella was a prominent baseball scout for Giants manager John McGraw.) The pages are clean and bright, and remain firmly bound together. In Very Good condition overall. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $9,480

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