Original carte de visite (CDV), issued by the J. A. Pierce Company of Chicago, Illinois, capturing nine members of the 1871 Kekionga Base Ball Club (Fort Wayne, Indiana), a founding member of the National Association, baseball's first professional league. To the best of our knowledge, this is one of only two surviving examples of this rare team CDV (the other first appeared at auction in 2006 and has remained in private hands since that time). The composite CDV features portrait images of each player in uniform. Both the team and each individual player are identified in print along the base.
The Kekionga Base Ball Club is one of the most obscure professional baseball teams because it competed for only one season in the National Association before disbanding. Despite its short-lived existence, the club holds the distinction of playing the first game in National Association history on May 4, 1871, against the Forest Citys of Cleveland. Kekionga also became the first team to record a win and shutout in professional baseball by defeating Forest City 2-0 that day. Bobby Mathews, who was the team's starting pitcher and best player, is pictured prominently in the center of the team composite and his name along the base is typed in all capital letters (each of the 1871 team cards features the top player's name in all capital letters). Mathews was the only player of note on the club and he enjoyed a long and successful professional career, later playing in both the National League and American Association. He retired in 1887 with 297 career wins.
As noted by the text on the reverse, this CDV was issued by the Chicago sporting goods company J. A. Pierce, with the photographs supplied by O. F. Weaver. The street number of the J. A. Pierce Company has been crossed out in ink and a new street number is written to the left of it (presumably because the company had to move after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871). The J. A. Piece Company issued team-composite CDVs for each of the nine founding members of the National Association in 1871, seven of which are offered in this sale.
This CDV originates from an extraordinary unprecedented find of early baseball photographs recently discovered in a nineteenth-century photo album, all of which are offered in this auction. Included in the album were team-composite CDVs for seven of the nine founding members of the 1871 National Association, plus individual portrait images of many of the game's earliest stars. Original baseball photos dating from the 1870s are exceedingly rare and for many of the players represented in this collection their offered CDV is not only the first such example we have handled, but in many cases, the only one we have ever seen.
All the CDVs in the collection have been slightly trimmed by the original owner so that they could fit properly within the predesigned album sleeves (a common practice at the time). However, for most, the trim affects the mount only and the photos remain in outstanding condition overall. The history of the album is unknown (our consignor purchased it from an antique dealer), but since nearly all the photos found in the album are of ball clubs or ballplayers from the early 1870s, it most likely belonged to a former player or perhaps a National Association team executive.
As previously noted, the CDV (2.5x4 inches) has been slightly trimmed to its current dimensions. Encapsulated and certified "Authentic" by SGC.