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1860 Brooklyn Atlantics (vs. Brooklyn Stars) Trophy Ball - Trophy Ball from the Game in which the Atlantics are Declared The Champions
Starting Bid - $5,000, Sold For - $8,295
Rare and historically significant Brooklyn Atlantics trophy ball dating from the 1860 season. The white-painted ball commemorates an Atlantics victory over their local rivals, the Brooklyn Stars, by a score of 30-11 on May 25, 1860. That information is beautifully conveyed in blue-painted lettering set within a circular design on the bottom panel of a classically constructed 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, considered by many to be the best team in New York (and therefore the best team in the world) in 1860, makes it all the more significant.
Interestingly, the May 25th game between the Atlantics and Stars is documented in an article written by John Thorn (the official historian of Major League Baseball) that appeared on his "Our Game" blog site (November 25, 2011, available at this link). The article, which examines the growing importance at the time of establishing a "champion" of the sport, focuses mainly on a series of 1860 games between the Atlantics and the Excelsiors, the two top clubs in New York. However, the game against the Stars, which was the first game of the season for the Atlantics, is duly referenced. In part:
Reporters used the words champion and championship more frequently in 1860, especially in accounts of games involving the Atlantics. When the team played its first match of the year, a return game against the Stars on May 25 that they easily won 30–11, the Eagle reporter remarked that “It is now claimed for the Atlantics that they are the champion club of Brooklyn as they have never been beaten in a series of home and home matches since their organization.”
It should be understood that when Thorn refers to the game against the Stars as a "return" game, it is in the context of his preceding paragraph, where he notes that the two clubs played in late October 1859 (which was probably the last game of the season for each club). Ideally, one of the photos Thorn chose to illustrate the article was an 1859 Atlantics trophy ball, which, except for the date and opposing team, is identical to the offered ball in its distinctive design that is unique to Atlantics trophy balls.
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 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).
This is the first Brooklyn Atlantics trophy ball we have offered in decades 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, that ball had been a gift to the family that owned 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 is not only a very early example (we have seen only a few that predate it), but originates from the Brooklyn Atlantics, the most celebrated team of the era, makes it one of the finest trophy balls extant, and one that would be the centerpiece of any advanced nineteenth-century baseball collection. The ball displays moderate wear, including minor abrasions to both the white paint and blue-painted letters, but all of the text remains legible. There are two mounting holes evident on the underside of the ball that are almost certainly related to its manner of original display in the Atlantics' trophy case. In Very Good condition overall. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $8,295
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