Original carte de visite (CDV) capturing shortstop Ezra Sutton, the player who hit the first home run in National Association history. Produced by the J. H. Nason photography studio of Cleveland, Ohio. We have never seen another example of this CDV of Sutton, a player for whom very few original portrait photos exist, and it may be unique. This is also an extremely early photo of Sutton, dating from the early 1870s. Sutton began his professional career in 1871 with the Forest Citys of Cleveland, members of the newly formed National Association, baseball's first professional league. He played with Cleveland for two seasons before the club folded, then joined the Philadelphia Athletics. Since this photograph was taken by a Cleveland photographer, it is reasonable to assume that it dates to his two-year tenure with Forest City. Sutton is featured on the 1871 Forest City team card offered in this auction, which helped to positively identify him here (aside from the fact that Sutton is pictured in uniform on the team card, the image is nearly identical).
Even at the young age of twenty-one, Ezra Sutton had the reputation as being the finest defensive third baseman of his day. He was also a fine hitter. Sutton led Forest City in average (.352), home runs (3) and RBI (23) in 1871. He also hit the first home run in National Association history. Sutton later played for the White Stockings in the National League's inaugural 1876 season before joining the Boston Red Stockings in 1877, where he remained for the next twelve seasons until his Major League retirement in 1888 (he played several years afterwards in the minors). One of the team's fan favorites during his years in Boston, Sutton batted over .300 on seven separate occasions and finished his career with a .294 lifetime average.
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. While the history of the album is unknown (our consignor purchased it from an antique dealer), 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.
A "J. H. Nason" credit stamp appears on the reverse that includes the studio's address ("130 Ontario Street, Cleveland, O."). As previously noted, the CDV (2.25x4 inches) has been slightly trimmed to its current dimensions. Please note: This CDV was submitted to SGC for encapsulation but the company would not authenticate it because apparently SGC was not completely confident in the identification. Lelands is positive this is Ezra Sutton, but bidders should conduct their own analysis and come to their own conclusions.