Diamond Visions: Baseball’s Greatest Illustration Art, Part 5
Boy, now that I’m at the end of the series I realize that I like these last five as much as any of the others ranked higher. But Clickbait 101 has no lesson plan for unranked groupings. I have written full articles related to the five images below, excepting only Gary Cieradkowski’s Infinite Card Set, amazing for its scholarship as well as its art. But steeling myself to the task, let me talk a little about the steel engraving below of the Magnolia Ball Club’s playground at the Elysian Fields of Hoboken. This unassuming little ticket to an 1844 ball, of which only one example has survived–it is in a private collection–is the first visual depiction of grown men playing baseball. Because it was clearly produced in numbers, and for sale, I would call it the first baseball card, a further distinction if less impressive than that previously mentioned. And a further distinction is that the image, which came up at auction with a misleading description, opened the door onto a previously unknown baseball club of New York n’er-do-wells–one that preceded the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club.
The “Great Base Ball Match” depicted on the cover of the New York Clipper of July 24, 1858 had been played four days earlier, pitting the best of New York against the best of Brooklyn. The firsts that can be pinned to this event are: first all-star game; first game played in an enclosed park (the Fashion Race Course Grounds, spitting distance from today’s Citi Field); and first paid admission. To me this is not only a historic image but a beautiful one. For more on this signal game, see:
What are we seeing in this tiny image, engraved by William Fairthorne of New York? In the foreground, the North River, as the Hudson was called near New York City; the Colonnade Hotel at the Elysian Fields of Hoboken; a waiter bringing refreshments to the ball players; and a game of game of ball, with the bases artisticall terndered as posts, as in the old game of baseball that had been played in this country since the mid-18th century. As I wrote in the piece linked below, “The baseball scene on the card reveals three bases with stakes, eight men in the field, a pitcher with an underarm delivery, possibly base-stealing, and a top-hatted waiter bearing a tray of refreshments from the Colonnade. Some of the members of the ‘in’ side are arrayed behind a long table; others are seated upon it. The pitcher delivers the ball. A runner heads from first to second base. This is, from all appearances, the original Knickerbocker game, and that of the New York Base Ball Club, and that of the Gothams of the 1830s (shortstop was a position not manned until 1849–1850).” For more on this ball club and the circumstances surrounding its rediscovery, see:
Gary Cierdakowski recently published a stunningly executed book called The League of Outsider Baseball: An Illustrated History of Baseball’s Forgotten Heroes. I blurbed it thus: “Gary Cieradkowski is to me the most interesting artist working in baseball today. His bold graphic style recalls America’s poster kings of yore–Edward Penfield, J.C. Leyendecker, Fred G. Cooper–and his love of the game breathes new life into heroes long gone.” Here are links to that book and to his blog:
Apart from its drop-dead-gorgeous portrait of Boston shortstop George Wright, the hero of the age, this 1874 poster has the distinction of being the first instance of an American athlete endorsement of a product or service. Wright was about to embark on a tour of England with his fellow Red Stockings and the Philadelphia Athletics. And 1874 was also the year when the fledgling firm of Nichols & Macdonald, Boston cigar makers, secured the rights to his photographic image for a 14– by 10–inch advertising poster. Produced for them by the venerable lithographer and job printer J.H. Bufford’s Sons of 490 Washington Street, it is a graphic and historic landmark. Wright’s image within the poster dates to 1871 or ’72, when Warren’s Photographic Studios of Boston issued it as a cabinet card. The address listed for Bufford in the city directory for 1875 is 666 Washington, so we may deduce the date of the poster as no later than 1874. The young cigar makers are not listed before 1874, so there we have the date of issuance with certainty. For (a great deal) more, see:
SABR pal Bob Tholkes shared this with me some time ago: “An August 1, 1860 ad by a book seller in the Buffalo Daily Courier of August 1, 1860 mentioned that pictures of the recent match between the Atlantic and Excelsior (played on July 19) appeared in the current edition of Demorest’s New-York Illustrated News [August 4].” Examining an enlargement of the panoramic scene, it struck me that the emblem on the pitcher’s bib front looked to be single letter, not the ABBC of the Atlantic Club. He must be an Excelsior and, as the box score would corroborate, he must be Creighton. This was no generic, bucolic scene–as all baseball-game views had been to this time–but an illustration of a specific contest. As the caption put it: “Grand Base Ball Match forthe Championship, Between the Excelsior and Atlantic Clubs,of Brooklyn, at the Excelsior Grounds, South Brooklyn, on Thursday, July 19.–from a Sketch Made by Our Own Artist.” That artist’s name, barely legible, appears to be J.H. Gooter, but that is a name not identifiable today.