Exceedingly rare and significant team composite of the 1870 Forest City Base Ball Club of Rockford, Illinois, featuring Albert Spalding. This card originates from an extraordinary find of eight circa 1870 baseball team cards that were included among 135 nineteenth-century CDVs and trade cards featuring various subjects. (All 135 cards in the find were featured in REA's Spring 2012 auction.) While all baseball team cards dating from 1870 are rare, this 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. The card displays portrait images of nine team members in formal attire, with Spalding's photo prominently featured in the center above that of manager Scott Hastings. Each player is identified below his respective image. Other notable players depicted 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 20 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. The following season 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 during which he posted an unbelievable 185-43 mark in the four year span of 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. CDVs predating the advent of organized professional baseball are extremely scarce, and this particular example, featuring both Spalding and an important early club, is universally recognized by advanced collectors as one of the very best, as well as among the rarest.
The card (2.5 x 3.75 inches) has a slight trim to the mount along the top and bottom borders but is otherwise in outstanding condition. The composite photograph displays exceptional clarity and contrast, with all of the images and names clearly discernible. The reverse features the name of the photographer, however, it has been almost entirely covered by a paper overlay bearing the name of another merchant: "J. W. D. Kelley & Bro./No. 164 Lake Street, Chicago." (The photographer's name, "G. W. Barnes," is still legible beneath the overlay.) Without regard to the slight trim to the mount, the card is in Excellent to Mint condition. Although not central to the piece, the presence of the paper overlay on the reverse is interesting in that it reflects the beginnings of the hobby. Baseball CDVs are, in essence, the first baseball cards. When the art of mass production of photographs was mastered in the early 1860s, it was only natural that photographs of baseball teams would find an enthusiastic audience among fans of the national pastime. Who could imagine at that time that collecting cards picturing ballplayers would evolve over the years into the most popular hobby in America? In the 1860s and early 1870s, these CDVs, which are very similar in size and format to the photographic baseball cards that exploded in popularity in the 1880s, offered fans their only opportunity to obtain a keepsake honoring their favorite ball clubs and players. Obviously, as seen here, cards were later resold by other merchants and were clearly viewed as a commodity, an item to be bought, sold, and collected.
As noted earlier, this piece entered the hobby in 2012 and was discovered among 135 CDVs and trade cards left to the original consignor by her parents, who purchased them over thirty years ago at an antiques shop. Remarkably, also included were two different 1869 Cincinnati Reds cards. This is an extraordinary example of a great nineteenth-century rarity and, by virtue of the overlay on the reverse, one that might also be regarded as one of the first commercially sold baseball cards. Encapsulated and labeled "Authentic" by SGC. Opening Bid $10,000.