Four newly discovered carte de visite team cards issued in 1871 by Chicago baseball goods store J. A. Pierce & Co. have been discovered by Rob Lifson of Robert Edward Auctions. Each of the feature composite photographs of major league teams from the then brand-new National Association.
“This set is extraordinarily significant in that it represents one of the earliest of all baseball card sets,” said Lifson. All four cards have been encapsulated by PSA. Each card has the team and all players identified at the bottom of the mount and features advertising for J. A. Pierce & Co. on the reverse. Lifson said the entire set probably included every team in the National Association, the very first professional baseball league.
Lifson pointed out that because 1871 is the first season of the National Association – the first professional baseball league – all cards from this set might reasonably be defined as “rookie cards” of each player featured.
“Prior to the recent discovery of these four cards, we had only seen a single example from the set: the 1871 Chicago BBC, and we had previously assumed this was a ‘one-card set’ issued to promote the Chicago sporting goods company advertised on the reverse.
“In addition to these four cards, while researching the set we have also located four additional examples housed in the collection of the Chicago Historical Society,” Lifson added. Those four cards include the 1871 Haymakers, Chicago, Boston, and Athletics.
The offered collection of four advertising cards includes the following: 1) Boston B.B.C., 1871 including A. G. Spalding, George Wright, Harry Wright, Cal McVey, Ross Barnes, etc. The CDV is technically in Good condition due to light creasing (creases more easily visible from reverse than front) but with far superior overall presentation; 2) Olympic B.B.C., 1871 includes five players from the 1869 Red Stockings (Leonard, Allison, Brainard, Sweasy, and Waterman) as well as Davey Force; 3) Athletic B.B.C., 1871 including A. J. Reach and Dickey McBride (vg-ex). “The Athletics were the champions of the National Association in 1871, and this card therefore represents the first championship baseball team of the first-ever organized professional league,” Lifson noted. This card also features A.J. Reach’s first appearance as a professional ballplayer.; and 4) Kekionga B.B.C., 1871 including R. Mathews (good condition with half-inch tear in left border, no paper loss).
“The Ft. Wayne Kekiongas are not exactly a household name. Even we had to look them up,” Lifson said. The team played only a single season as a major league franchise in 1871 and finished in second-to-last place above Rockford with a 7-21 record. Pitcher Bobby Mathews went on to become a star with several other teams, enjoying a 15-year career with 297 lifetime victories. Mathews must have been recognized as the star of the Kekiongas as his name is larger and in all capital letters on the mount.
Each of the four cards has one player identified in all capital letters and in each case this player is the most prominent player on the team. The street address for J. A. Pierce on the reverse of each card has been changed from “117 West Madison Street” to “129 West Madison Street” by crossing out the “117” by hand and adding the “129” to the left. This change is executed in the same hand on each card, and is how these cards were issued by J. A. Pierce & Co. The change was made to reflect the store’s move during 1871, which was possibly related to the Great Chicago Fire of that same year.
REA officials pointed out that these four cards, representing one of the most interesting and exciting finds dating from the dawn of both professional baseball and the dawn of “the baseball card,” will appear in Robert Edward Auctions’ spring sale.