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1888 New York Giants Joseph Hall Imperial Cabinet Photo - Newly Discovered - Direct Player Provenance!
Starting Bid - $1,000, Sold For - $13,035
This extremely large Joseph Hall Imperial display photograph of the 1888 National League Champion New York Giants is noteworthy not only for its enormous size, extreme rarity (it is one of only two known examples), the prominence of the team and players pictured, and its extraordinary display value, but also for the fact that it originates directly from the family of Elmer Foster, who is pictured seated to the left of manager Jim Mutrie. This Imperial cabinet, along with a few additional nineteenth-century cabinet photos and scrapbooks (which are offered as a separate lot in this auction), has been consigned directly by a member of the Foster family and has not seen the light of day in over 100 years. Interestingly, the only other known example of this imperial cabinet photo appeared as Lot 1559 in REA's May 2009 auction, where it realized a final sales price of $12,925. In our description for that previous offering, which was also newly discovered at the time, we noted that it was the only Joseph Hall large-format display photo that we had ever seen in which the players are identified on the mount exactly as found on a traditional Joseph Hall team cabinet card. In that regard it is nearly identical in design to the standard-size (4.25 x 6.5 inches) 1888 Giants team cabinet card issued by Joseph Hall. Only much larger!
The team photo captures the Giants posing together in front of the grandstand, including all six Hall of Fame players on the club: Tim Keefe, Roger Connor, John Montgomery Ward, Buck Ewing, Jim O'Rourke, and Mickey Welch. Also pictured seated in the center is manager Jim Mutrie. The remaining players featured here are Stump Weidman, Bill George, Ed Crane, Pat Murphy, Cannonball Titcomb, Elmer Foster, Danny Richardson, Willard Brown, Mike Tiernan, Gil Hatfield, George Gore, Elmer Cleveland, and Mike Slattery. The Giants, led by the pitching of Tim Keefe and Mickey Welch, who combined for 61 wins that season, captured the National League pennant by nine games. They then defeated the American Association Champion St. Louis Browns in the World Series to capture the first World Championship in franchise history.
Joseph Hall was the preeminent baseball photographer of the late 1880s and collectors have long revered Joseph Hall team cabinets as among the most highly prized of all nineteenth-century cabinet issues. The unprecedented size and display value of this example makes it certainly among the most striking of all Joseph Hall photos. It is interesting to note the unusual perspective of the Giants team photo in this image. The players are looking to the right rather than forward toward the camera. It is likely that two cameras were set up at the same time and this shot was taken when the players were posing for the second camera. The 1888 New York Giants photos by Joseph Hall are the only nineteenth-century team images we have seen taken in this unorthodox style. This is one of several photos of the Giants taken by Hall on that day, each obviously taken minutes or possibly seconds apart, with numerous subtle (and in some cases easily found) pose variations (for example, Mutrie standing versus Mutrie sitting, etc). We have seen three standard-sized Joseph Hall team cabinets of the Giants with similar, but very slightly different, photographs. The offered photograph of the Giants features a fourth image from that day that was previously unknown prior to the discovery of the first Imperial cabinet in 2009. While it is possible that this style of Imperial photograph may have been offered for sale to the public by Joseph Hall Studios, given the size, quality, and rarity of this display piece, it is also very possible that a number were specially produced as keepsakes for members of the team (and the fact that this very example was personally owned by Elmer Foster is certainly consistent with this theory).
When originally issued, this display piece was identical in design to a standard Joseph Hall cabinet photo in that it was mounted onto a cardboard backing, where both the team and players, as well as the photographer, were identified in print along the base. Unfortunately, the offered photo has a number of condition flaws, the most notable of which is that the original matting has been trimmed away, with the photo itself measuring 22 x 14.5 inches (visible dimensions). (The mount on the other example we sold measured 25 x 20 inches, and the photo measured 22.5 x 17.5 inches. This example has not been examined out of frame, but since the entire frame only measures 25 x 17.5 inches, it seems almost certain that the photo is probably slightly trimmed as well.) Fortunately, the family saved the base of the mount displaying all of the indentifying text, and that remnant (20.25 x 1.75 inches) has been affixed (by means of adhesive) to the back of the frame (which is the main reason why we did not remove the piece from the frame). The photo itself displays a number of moderate scratches and abrasions, as well as a few light stains. While technically in Fair condition overall (which takes into consideration the loss of the mount), the photo still displays extremely well. Even more important, most of the flaws can be addressed by professional restoration (especially since the most important element of the mount has been retained), which, if done properly, could probably return this piece to all its former glory. It should also be noted that the other example we offered in 2009, even though it was complete with its original mount, also had serious flaws, including staining and tears to the mount. One truly has to view this piece in person to fully appreciate its remarkable aesthetic appeal. This is one of the most visually impressive nineteenth-century baseball-team display photos we have ever seen. The fact that it features the 1888 New York Giants, the top team of the era, makes this an all-the-more exceptional nineteenth-century display piece. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $13,035
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