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Lot # 23 (of 1512)   < Previous Lot | Next Lot >

1879 Worcester Grays (National Association) Team Cabinet Card

Starting Bid - $300, Sold For - $7,200

Rare team-composite cabinet card featuring portrait images of eleven members of the 1879 Worcester Grays, a minor-league club playing in the National Association. All of the team members are pictured in uniform with the exception of manager Frank Bancroft. The other ten team members pictured, all of whom are identified in print below their respective images, are Doc Bushong, Lon Knight, Lee Richmond, Steve Brady, Arthur Irwin, Tricky Nichols, Charlie Bennett, George Wood, Art Whitney, and Chub Sullivan. The photographer's credit, "Charles D. Holmes" of Worcester, Massachusetts, appears on the reverse. This is a particularly interesting and significant team cabinet because, with just one exception (Steve Brady), all of the players pictured here were members of Worcester during the club's inaugural season in the National League the following year. Worcester remained in the National League for three seasons before the League replaced them (along with Troy) with teams from New York and Philadelphia. Those three seasons (1880-1882) marked the only years in which Worcester hosted a major league club.

This is the first example of an 1879 Worcester team cabinet and we have ever seen and it comes with a remarkable provenance. This card 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. The handwritten pencil notation "Chas. W. Mears Photo" and the name "W. M. Rankin" appear on the reverse. 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 cabinet has been consigned directly by the Mears family.

The "W. M. Rankin" name on the reverse is also particularly interesting. Many of the items in the Mears" collection bear Rankin's name on the reverse, and for good reason: William Rankin's scrapbooks were among the many baseball items donated to the Cleveland Library by Charles Mears (the family recalls that Mears either purchased or was given Rankin's entire baseball collection). Rankin was a prominent New York sportswriter who worked for the New York Clipper in the 1880s (he eventually became the paper's sporting editor in 1894). Rankin was the first writer to publicly denounce Henry Chadwick's long-held assertion that baseball evolved from the English game of rounders. In an 1886 syndicated newspaper article he asserted, in part, "It can no more be claimed that the game of baseball had its origins in rounders or town-ball than billiards were the issue of pool, or the latter came from bagatelle. . . . The game of baseball seems to have sprung up, just as any game has." Three years later A. G. Spalding, perhaps after reading Rankin's article, would also champion that theory, positing further that the game must have an American inventor. In addition to writing about the sport of baseball, Rankin was also one of the game's preeminent scholars and a collector. According to his obituary in the April 5, 1913, issue of Sporting Life, when Rankin died he "left one of the most complete base ball libraries in existence. It contained records of the diamond extending over a period of nearly forty years." Another obituary from the time noted that Rankin "kept a record of everything of interest from the time he first became identified with the game [baseball], and after Chadwick's death he assumed the latter's title [Father of Baseball]." It is no surprise then that this card would have been one of many team cabinets in his collection.

The card (4.25 x 6.5 inches) displays moderate surface wear as well as a diagonal crease and corner wear in the upper left. A small "x," written in black ink, appears directly above the image of Bushong. Light staining, as well as a few small areas of surface paper residue and loss are evident on the reverse. In Good to Very Good condition. Reserve $300. Estimate $1,000+.

SOLD FOR $7,200

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