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Lot # 19 (19 of 1911)   « Previous Lot | Next Lot »

1871 "DeAfriques" Trophy Ball - Earliest Known Piece of Memorabilia Relating to "Negro League" Baseball

Starting Bid - $5,000, Sold For - $13,200

Early nineteenth-century trophy balls are rare and have always been highly prized by collectors; however, this particular ball has a special distinction that makes it one of the most significant examples we have ever seen: this is, to the best of our knowledge, the earliest piece of memorabilia relating to "Negro League" baseball. The white painted ball features a bluish-green shield design framing the black-painted lettering "DeAfrique/Bethlehem, Pa./54-10/July 24/1871." While we have not been able to find any specific information regarding the DeAfrique club, its very name leaves little doubt as to the ethnic makeup of the club. Incredibly, the game recorded on this ball is documented in the July 24, 1871, issue of the Bethlehem Daily Times newspaper. In the column headed "Baseball" the first entry reads "The Quicksteps will play the DeAfriques of this place, this afternoon." (A photocopy of the article accompanies the ball.) We have consulted with a few advanced nineteenth-century and Negro League collectors, none of whom was able to remember seeing a piece of memorabilia relating to black baseball that would predate this extraordinary relic. It also comes with a unique and fascinating provenance: This ball was one of a number of nineteenth-century trophy balls that were originally housed in the collection of Lehigh University (every ball in the collection was dated either 1871 or 1872). However, many decades ago the University deaccessioned most or all of its nineteenth-century trophy balls, thereby making them accessible to collectors. Like all of the other deaccessioned balls from the University's collection we have seen, this example has a a small dab of what appears to be white paint, or perhaps Wite-Out, applied on the unpainted base of the ball, upon which are written a series of letters and numbers in red ink that read "61-K-990" (probably indicating an inventory number). Memorabilia relating to Black baseball, even in the twentieth century, is scarce. Items dating from the 1800s are rarer still and consist mainly of a few photos. This is, by far, the most significant item we have ever seen in that regard and one that would be a cornerstone piece in any advanced Negro League or nineteenth-century baseball collection. While the DeAfrique and Quickstep ball clubs were not members of the National Association, they were most likely playing under the organization's guidelines. In 1871 the National Association rules governing the ball were listed under Section 1 and read "The ball must weigh not less than five nor more than five and one-quarter ounces avoirdupois. It must measure nine and one-quarter inches in circumference. It must be composed of India rubber and yarn, and covered with leather. The quantity of rubber used in the ball shall be one ounce - no more or less." While we cannot comment on the interior contents of the ball, its circumference (9 inches) and weight (5.4 ounces; the heavy lead paint obviously adds some slight weight), both conform to the organized standards of the day. Also, Section 2 of the 1871 National Association rules pertain specifically to ownership of the ball following the game: "In the first and third games of a series, the ball shall be furnished by the challenging club, and in the second game by the challenged club. But when 'single' games are played only, the ball shall be furnished by the challenging club. In all cases it shall become the property of the winning club as a trophy of victory." In addition to simply keeping the ball, it was customary at the time for the winning club to paint the ball and record the score, date, and other specifics of the contest. The ball was then usually displayed in the team's clubhouse. The paint on the offered ball displays only a few tiny imperfections and all of the lettering remains bold and legible. In Excellent to Mint condition overall. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $13,200

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