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1860s Athletic B.B.C. Team Silk
Starting Bid - $500, Sold For - $1,304
Rare circa 1870 silk ribbon issued by the Athletic Base Ball Club. The ten-inch long blue ribbon features the team name, "Athletic B. B. C.," in faded gilt letters. Team ribbons such as this have always been among the rarest baseball items, and, along with trophy balls, among the few surviving relics directly related to players of the 1860s and early 1870s. At the same time they have always been something of an enigma to collectors. It has always been known that they were worn, but we have never been entirely clear as to what purpose they served. So we asked noted baseball historian John Thorn! He has solved this mystery for us, providing us with the following explanation: According to an article by author Clarence Deming that appeared in the Outing (June 1902, No. 3, pp. 357-360), these ribbons were not actually worn by players from the teams whose name appears upon them, but by their opponents: "One or two of the customs of the old game were unique. Such for instance was the habit of the better class of clubs of exchanging, just before each match, silk badges imprinted with the club name. The players wore those accumulated trophies pinned upon the breast, sometimes with startling color effects; and the baseball man was proud, indeed, who could pin on the outside of his deep strata of badges a ribbon from the mighty Atlantics, Mutuals or Eckfords, attesting his worth for meeting giants, if not mastering them." The custom of exchanging silk ribbons was not a long-standing one, and it appears that the tradition entirely started and ended within five years on either side of 1870 (1865-1875). Even in its heyday, the planning and expense limited the practice almost exclusively to the most accomplished and highly respected teams. The better the team, the greater an honor it was to be able to have a ribbon from that team to wear as a badge of honor. Because these ribbons are made of silk and are naturally fragile, and were actually worn while playing, few have survived. All are very rare. The most prominent "Athletic" team during the 1870s was the Philadelphia Athletic Base Ball Club, whose roster included such notables as Cap Anson (1872-1875), A. J. Reach (1865-1875), Dick McBride (1861-1875), Ezra Sutton (1873-1876) and Tim Murnane (1873-1874). While we cannot state with certainty, it seems probable, given that these ribbons were normally exchanged by the better clubs, that this ribbon is one that originated from the Philadelphia Athletics. The offered ribbon displays wear commensurate with its age, former use, and fragile nature, including a few small tears along the edges, minor staining, and light creases. There also appears to be a small amount of adhesive residue along the left and right reverse borders. In Very Good condition overall. The ribbon (10 x 1 inches) is housed in a recessed Lucite holder (it can be easily removed if desired) with an easel back for optimal presentation. Reserve $500. Estimate $1,000+. SOLD FOR $1,304
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