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1869 Forest City Base Ball Club Imperial Photograph with A. G. Spalding
Starting Bid - $5,000, Sold For - $47,400
Exceedingly rare large-format Imperial photograph of the 1869 Forest City Base Ball Club of Rockford, Illinois. This is the first example of this rare photo we have ever offered (and we believe one of possibly as few as three known to exist) and its historical significance is equaled only by its remarkable provenance. The photo originates from the personal collection of Charles W. Mears, longtime sports columnist for the Cleveland News and legendary pioneer collector who specialized in nineteenth-century baseball. Charles W. Mears ultimately donated his extraordinary collection to the Cleveland Public Library in the 1940s, but he did save a few items, of which this is one. This photo has been consigned directly by the Mears family.
The photo captures nine uniformed members of the Forest City club as they pose together standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a formal studio setting. All of the players are identified in print along the base of the mount, most notable of whom are A. G. Spalding, Ross Barnes, and Bob Addy. The remaining members are T. J. Foley, A. Barker, D. Sawyer, F. Cone, Geo. King, and S. Hastings. Also printed along the base of the mount are the title "Forest City Base Ball Club - 1869/Rockford, Illinois," and the photographer's credit "G. W. Barnes," (father of Ross Barnes?). It must be noted that the only other photographic images we have seen of A. G. Spalding with the Forest City club are two different CDVs from 1870, both of which feature the team members in portrait only, and dressed in formal attire. Here we see the club in all its resplendent glory: full uniform (the bib-front jersey is lettered "FC"), white hats and striped belts, and members holding period equipment. Spalding, the club's star pitcher, is shown holding a baseball, while bats are held by Barnes, Foley, and Hastings. The reverse of the mount displays the name "Chas W. Mears/Cleveland/Ohio" written in pencil, as well as a few other brief editorial pencil notations.
While any and all baseball photos dating from 1869 are rare, the 1869 Forest City example has added historical importance because it features one of the very few known contemporary images of baseball great Albert Goodwill Spalding from his brief but legendary playing career. Other notable players depicted here are Ross Barnes, one of the best infielders of the era, as well as National League batting champion in 1876, and Bob Addy, one of the top outfielders of his day. The main attraction of the club, however, was young Albert Spalding. Though only nineteen years old, Spalding was considered by many to be the top pitcher in the country at this time, and his performance on the mound helped establish Forest City as one of the premier ball clubs in the land. Two years later Forest City became a charter member of the National Association, baseball's first organized professional league. Spalding, however, lured by the bonus of $1,500, jumped the club to play for Harry Wright's newly formed Boston Red Stockings, where he led the club to four championships during the league's brief five-year existence. After a stellar pitching career which saw him post an unbelievable 185-43 mark during the four-year span 1872-1875, Spalding retired to open a sports emporium in 1877. In his positions as a sporting-goods magnate and president of the Chicago White Sox, Spalding continued to play an important role in the business and development of Major League baseball throughout the late 1800s. Spalding's power gradually grew and by the close of the century he was widely regarded as the most influential man in baseball. Large-format photos predating the advent of organized professional baseball are extremely rare and this particular example, featuring both Spalding and an important early club, is especially noteworthy.
The photo (9 x 7 inches) displays outstanding clarity, but it is affected by a number of creases to the mount, the largest of which is a six-inch diagonal example in the lower right corner. A circular crease of lesser degree touches upon the images of Barker and Sawyer, while a few other creases affect the border areas of the photos. Additional minor flaws include light surface wear, what appears to be a few tiny specks of ink, and pencil marks. The mount (12 x 10 inches) is similarly affected by moderate-to-heavy creasing and edge wear. Technically in Good to Very Good condition overall, but it displays at a higher level and remains an exceptional photographic image dating from the earliest days of our national pastime. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $47,400
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