Rare uniforms, bats, balls, and documents belonging to the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings hit the auction block…Now that I have your attention, I must confess that I’m about ninety years late in reporting this. We tend to think of sports memorabilia auctions as recent phenomena, but this is clearly not the case. According to an article that appeared in the January 1917 issue of Baseball Magazine titled “The Team that Never was Licked: Relics of the Famous Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869 Bring Back Recollections of the Old Days” we had premium items and bidder frenzy that would rival anything you could imagine by today’s hobby/industry standards.
As the story goes and is told, this was really the estate auction of one Mr. Harry Ellard conducted by Stacy Auctions on Gilbert Avenue. Not much is mentioned about how Mr. Ellard came into possession of the collection. In looking at similar artifacts from the first professional nine, I did however find that a rare 1869-1870 Red Stockings Pamphlet offered as part the Barry Halper Collection. This publication promoted a Mr. Geo. B. Ellard’s Base Ball Emporium on West Forth Street. The Emporium was billed as “The Red Stocking Headquaters” and we know that a George Ellard was instrumental in helping to establish the professional club. This at least provides some form of linkage, although only as far as a last names goes. Another thing that has probably already been noticed by those of you with an advanced interest in the Cincinnati Reds, is that the book titled Base Ball in Cincinnati (published 1907) was written by a Harry Ellard as well, very likely one and the same person.
The article goes on to describe that when then Red’s Owner, August “Gary” Herrmann, learned of the pending sale, he sent an employee to the auction with instructions to “go get these things and bring them to my office , no matter what they cost!” As things would play out, the Reds lost the sale to Mr. William C. Kennett Jr., the son of former team President. Kennett did make the magnanimous gesture of turning over the bulk the collection over to the Reds after his purchase. The article does not seem to indicate the prices for these items or that they were broken down into lots. It appears it was an all or nothing deal. Items described as being offered included:
-Uniforms of George Wright, Harry Wright, Asa Brainard, and Doug Allison (possibly others)
-Cap belonging to Asa Brainard
-Teeth guard used by Doug Allison
-Three Original Trophy Balls
-Team Directors Badges
-Satin Fan Badges (maybe a hundred)
As far as what item interested me the most in this vast array of treasures, it would have to have been the cap of Asa Brainard. Although the uniforms would have the greatest value, I could not help but notice that the cap is dark and not the white caps that we see depicted in period images. Does this mean that there were other uniform variations we don’t know about? It certainly does open the possibility considering the nature of the collection and the source.
Getting back to the Baseball Magazine article, the author goes on the offer that “Let’s hope that, in the safety vaults where Mr. Herrmann hopes to place them, they will remain as long and as tenderly cared for as through the forty-seven years that Mr. Ellard watched beside them.” What struck me was the short span of time that had passed between the 1869 team and the time of the sale of these priceless artifacts. Clearly in 1916, there were any number of people in Cincinnati who still had first hand recollections of the 1869 ball club. If this sale was covered by a national publication, then what was the level of local interest in the story at the time?
After reading this article, I felt a bit of Nicholas Cage (ala National Treasure) coming over me. I decided to do a little more digging since we had a holiday trip planned to Cincinnati as well. The article states that the auction was held on October 25th, 1916. I had a couple of questions going in; was this event covered by the local press and what happened to this collection which is beyond historical in its significance?
I decided to visit one of my favorite old haunts, the newspaper microfilm archive at the Main Branch Section of the Cincinnati Public Library. I found that the auction of these items made the front page headline for the Cincinnati Times-Star on October 25th. What surprised me was the bi-line belonged to W.A. Phelon. Phelon was the same person whose article appeared in the January 1917 edition of Baseball Magazine. Sadly, I found no new or additional information in the Times-Star article. There was no mention of this auction in the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette and only the briefest of blurbs in the Cincinnati Enquirer. On page 9 of the Enquirer, under the heading of “Relics of the Old Reds”, is mention of the sale and the source being the family of George Ellard, father of author Harry Ellard (the author of Base Ball In Cincinnati). This confirmed my early thoughts of the linkage of the team to the owners of the items. In looking into this a bit more closely, I found that the attribution of these items to Harry Ellard was not correct. Harry Ellard died in 1913. The Hamilton Ohio Evening Journal of 30 September 1916 cites the death of Colonel George B. Ellard, father of author Harry Ellard, and the man who “helped organize the original Cincinnati Reds.”
Getting back to auction itself, the Enquireer article does mention that the original score books were purchased and now the possession of the sports editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer. The only equipment item identified by name was the Asa Brainard cap.
So what do we know? We know that more than one individual made purchases of these items since William Kennett Jr. was not the Enquirer sports editor. We know that uniform items did in fact survive and that the Red Stockings wore dark caps as well as white ones. We know that some of these items were said to have been donated back to the Cincinnati Reds, but here is where the trail goes cold as the jerseys and caps are not with the ball club today nor are they at Cooperstown. The question then becomes where are they today?
There are published accounts that say that the items bought by Kennett were destroyed in a later house fire, but what about the items that were to have been given back to the Reds? Are they in some collection or have they been lost to the ages. Could they have been lost in the 1937 flood of Crosley Field?
This is the essence of research… the more you find out, the more questions you end up having. This also highlights something I have been saying for some time, that being that you should seldom consider a topic closed and always be looking for new or buried information….or in this case buried treasure…where the heck is Nicholas Cage when you really need him.
As always collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com