February 8, 2007

Understanding the Authentication Process: Evaluating a 19th century player bat with attributed provenance

With each item MEARS is asked to evaluate, new circumstances and challenges arise. For the Robert Edward Auction sale event ending April 28th, 2007, MEARS was asked to evaluate and grade a bat attributed to George Wright circa 1869. This bat and player were both historically important as the 1869 Red Stockings are recognized as being the first professional baseball team and George Wright was their star player. With the bat being manufactured during the 1860s with no markings or factory records, it was our job to establish whether the bat could have been made for George Wright. Grading also posed a challenge as the provenance was established via attributed baseball related accoutrements. With several months of research and evaluation and the cooperation of additional independent experts, we were able to make attribution to George Wright and issue a final grade.

RE: circa 1869 bat with accoutrements attributing its ownership and use to George Wright


The above item, Hologram #305800 was submitted on behalf of Robert Edward Auctions for Evaluation and Grading. As part of our evaluation process, we conducted a physical examination of the bat and accompanying decorative accoutrements. The accoutrements consisted of:

1. Newspaper draft with hand written notations by sports writer Tim Murnane (see image)
2. Period Cincinnati baseball ribbon (see image)
3. Period Atlantics BBC baseball ribbon (see image)
4. Boston B.B. Club Property of Mrs. George Wright/ M.T.M. hanging tag (see image)

The dating of the accoutrements were important as it served a point of departure for evaluating and substantiating the provenance which is critical for any attribution to George Wright. The ribbons were examined by John Thorn and the staff of Robert Edwards Auctions and found to be authentic and of the period. MEARS accepted the independent opinion of John Thorn in the capacity of authenticating the baseball specific relics/accoutrements, which aided in the attribution to George Wright. The credentials of John Thorn are listed:

John Thorn

1. Author of Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia
2. Author of The Hidden Game of Baseball
3. Author of Treasures of the Baseball Hall of Fame
4. Chief Editor Total Baseball
5. Founder of Total Sports Publishing
6. Essayist for the Boston Globe, New York Times, American Heritage, The Sporting News

7. Ken Burn’s 1994 “Baseball” contributor and Senior Creative Consultant
8. 2006 SABR recipient of their highest honor, Bob Davids Award

In the opinion of Robert Edward Auctions,

” In our opinion, John Thorn is the single most knowledgeable and insightful baseball scholar
in the world, and for many reasons, including the fact that he has had the benefit of studying collections at libraries all over the country for so many years, he may be the single most knowledgeable and
accomplished scholar specializing in baseball history to ever live.” …REA

John Thorn was able to authenticate the accoutrements as authentic, but their exact time of placement on the bat was undetermined.

JSA confirmed the writing on the newspaper draft as consistent with the handwriting of sportswriter Tim Murnane and that the hanging “property of Mrs. George Wright” tag and hand written notations was vintage. Dave Bushing conducted the physical examination of the bat to determine the timeframe of issuance and degree of use. Troy R. Kinunen conducted the research and fact verification and authored the final Letter of Opinion. MEARS provided the expertise in regards to the physical examination and grading of the bat while taking into account the opinions provided by the additional experts which allows us to consider the provenance into the assignment of the final grade. The accoutrements were examined independently and seem to substantiate attribution to George Wright by both period and association of individuals involved. Our evaluation concluded the bat was consistent with the style of bat, which would have been used by George Wright during the 1869 timeframe. The 1869 era was examined due to the style of the bat and approximate dating of the accouterments. According to Rob Lifson, the title of the description of the bat as it will appear in the Robert Edward Auction catalog makes note that the offered bat is “Attributed to George Wright in 1869” because it is impossible to prove that this is the bat that George Wright used with the Red Stockings in 1869, yet that is precisely what we believe it to be. –REA

Manufacturer: There is no manufacturers marking present on this bat which specifically connects this bat to George Wright, as this lack of practice would be expected from a bat from this period. The practice of adding player’s name, team, or the company of manufacture was not the norm at this time. Baseball was in its infancy and incorporated major sporting goods companies had yet to be formed, although George Wright did enter the business as Wright & Ditson during the 1880’s and became a pioneer in the industry. Competitor Albert Spalding formed his namesake rival company in 1876.

Bats used by players during this era would be of the hand turned variety with no identifying factory markings. Most were made locally by the area woodworkers. Manufacturing stampings did not begin to appear with any regularity on sporting goods equipment until the 1880s. Therefore, the lack of markings on this bat is consistent with what would have been used during the 1869 period.

Era: The dating range of the issuance of the bat is thought to be from time of 1869-82. This range was estimated based on the style of the bat, notation & hang tag, playing career of George Wright (1869-82) and the understanding of the era’s manufacturing process. Understanding of the manufacturing process supports the attribution of the 1869 (starting date of dating range), which is found on the hand tag and reads,

“Geo. Wright’s bat from 1869 given by him to M.T.M.”

Manufacturer identification (corporate branding) began to appear with more regularity during the early 1880s so the lack of logo was used to establish the end of our dating range (1882). The manufacturing process with lack of corporate branding coincides with the playing career of George Wright. With lack of manufacturer markings, an examination of the style, length, weight, and model (shape) of the bat determine this bat is consistent with the manufacturing practices of bats produced before 1880. The physical dimensions of the bat measured 38” in length and the bat weighed 37.4 ounces at time of examination. Photos of George Wright support the use of a long bat. Weight is unverified, but reasonable for a bat of that length. The style of the bat can be compared to the photograph of the Boston cabinet card of George Wright (see image). Examination of the photo for comparison sake illustrated George Wright holding a bat similar in model and appearance. Note the similarities of the very long, slender bat with round barrel. Also, the cabinet photo illustrates a very small knob with rounded end that is consistent with the examined bat. Judging by the era of this bat by the evaluation of its manufacturing traits, the bat is consistent with the model of bat that may have been used by George Wright during his playing career.

Production Information: For the purpose of grading, there are no chronicled references available for this bat. To our knowledge, there are no factory records available for any bats issued for players for the 19th century. The examination of the manufacturing characteristics and the study of period photography determined our base grade. After our evaluation we then determined the bat was consistent with bats used at the professional level for the 1869-82 timeframe. We also examined catalogs containing images and descriptions of trophy bats (non-game used) to eliminate the possibility of this being one. Provenance was evaluated for completion of the final grade.

Use Characteristics: The bat exhibited use that was evident throughout the length of the bats’ surfaces. Use was evenly distributed on all surfaces of the barrel. Examining the compressions of the grain and indentations to the bat’s surface saw this. The indentations were consistent with use found from handling, traveling, game play, and general storage. When evaluating the use in terms of its effects on the condition of the bat, we found no handle crack, no deadwood, and no other condition problems. Yet, without the lack of any of the above examined condition traits, the bat was still evaluated as having significant use. Although now decorated, it can clearly been seen the use occurred underneath the application of the accoutrements. Use was consistent when compared to other game used bats examined by MEARS. It was our opinion the use was applied in game situations and environments, and not associated with handling and storage wear found on trophy or presentation bats. Handling wear on a trophy bat would be more superficial when compared to a bat known to be game used. This bat exhibited use characteristics closely associated with game action.

Grading: One of the main components of grading is to assign a numerical value, which aids in the comparison of one item to another similar one. Typically grading is conducted while using a blend of production information, use characteristics and player traits. With the bat being manufactured during the 19th century, different grading criteria was applied. Therefore, this bat is being graded based on the similarity in style to the type of bat used during the 19th century. Attribution to George Wright was considered after examining the model of the bat with additional emphasis on the accruements. There is no recorded manufacturer data to support this bat being manufactured for George Wright and the foundation of its attribution lies solely on the provenance. Therefore, MEARS established a grade based on those criteria of style, use, and attribution. The application of our grading system will allow us to evaluate and assign a grade to additional 19th century items if the opportunity arises. Even with the challenges faced with the grading of this bat, MEARS is quite confident to award this rare 19th century bat the grade of MEARS A10 based on the evaluation of the bat and the accompanying evaluation of the accoutrements. The qualification of the bat as “Attributed” is a necessary lower standard inherent in evaluating a bat of this type; appropriate for the evaluation of a bat from this early era attributed to any specific player.

A base grade of 5 points was awarded for the bat comparing favorably in regards to length, model, knob & barrel style to examined photos of players from the period. Additional examples examined include:

– Baseball by Ken Burns. Photo of 1869 Reds with bats, page 22
– A Celebration! By James Buckley, Jr and Jim Gigliotti. Photo of 1869 Reds with bats, page 35

In regards to style, model, & barrel dimensions of bats manufactured to be used during 1869-82, due to the limited and unique nature of this bat, we did not have additional physical bats or production information to compare. Therefore, our awarding of the base grade was conducted by visual comparison to available photos of players from the era. The image of the George Wright cabinet photo was very helpful in determining the style and model of bat preferred by George Wright during his playing career with the Red Sox. The photograph did not verify this as the exact bat when compared to the cabinet photo, but it did allow for style and manufacturing verification. The base grade was awarded for the style/model of bat only. Provenance and attribution to George Wright were addressed in the provenance section. (5 points)

Use: In our opinion, the use was consistent with a full season or move of use and categorized as heavy or significant. George Wright joined the team in 1869. Under the terms of his contract, the season started on March 15th and lasted until November 15th. The professional Cincinnati Red Stockings club played their first game May 4th, 1869 with a 45-9 win over the Great Westerns of Cincinnati. The team won 57 games without defeat, counting only those games against National Association clubs. The Red Stockings played over 70 games in the first season counting games against other collegiate and amateur teams. Its commercial tour of continental scope, visiting Boston and San Francisco, was unprecedented and may be essentially un-repeated. In its final game on November 6, 1869 they defeated the Mutuals of New York, 17-8. Use is consistent with a schedule such as laid out above, and possibly additional seasons of use.

With this degree of use, 3 points were added to the base grade. Although we have not positively identified the exact use and player characteristics of George Wright, we were able to determine this was a game bat and not a trophy bat. First, the accoutrements were added at a later date and did not appear on the bat at the time of manufacture. This was determined by the fact the use appeared underneath their addition. Second, we have examined numerous trophy bats. Typical trophy bats from the period were adorned with silver decorative features. On a trophy bat the handle would have a decorative plug, silver bands were found placed at various intervals throughout the length of the barrel, and plates identifying the year, team, event would be found. This bat had no signs of any of those features ever being present. Examples of trophy bats can be seen on:

Halper Catalog (lot #190) for example of an 1869 trophy bat, page 191
1886 Peck and Snyder Sporting Goods Equipment catalog. Listed as model #’s 248 through 254, the diagram and description read,

“Solid Rosewood bat highly polished, with two beautifully engraved silver plated bands, and a silver plated inscription plate in center. Offered with one band, two bands, engraved inscription plate, plate only.”

After comparison of the George Wright bat to the catalog descriptions of a trophy bat, it is determined this bat DOES NOT match any of the manufacturing characteristics associated with trophy bats issued by Peck and Snyder or the one offered in the Halper sale. Although the Peck and Snyder trophy bat was offered during the 1886 timeframe, its manufacturing characteristics in terms of production details, i.e. use of rosewood which was highly polished, engraved silver plated bands, inscription plate and end cap were consistent with an example we examined dating from 1867. Therefore, manufactured trophy bats were available as far back as 1867, and this was not one of those.

The addition of the accoutrements might indicate to some this was a “trophy” bat. It is the opinion of MEARS the accoutrements were added at an undetermined later date and was not present on the bat when the use occurred. Therefore, MEARS is able to categorize this item as a “game used” bat. After evaluating the degree of use, 3 points were assigned.

Provenance: The evaluation of the provenance fell outside of the area of expertise of the staff at MEARS. The staff of REA brought in respected expert’s JSA and baseball historian John Thorn to evaluate the accoutrements, which were the basis for the provenance. Their independent findings were reasonable and respected. (2 points for attributed provenance)

JSA’s findings:

Newspaper draft with hand written notations by sports writer Tim Murnane:

Boston B.B. Club Property of Mrs. George Wright/ M.T.M. hanging tag: The tag bears a preprinted notation, “Property of” followed by the name “Mrs. George Wright” which JSA concluded the writing was vintage black fountain pen. The exact handwriting could not be attributed to any specific person. Printed above her name, upside down in faded black fountain pen, is an additional notation that reads, “Geo. Wright’s bat from 1869 given by him to M.T.M.” JSA concluded all writing on this tag as vintage. With the verification of the tag as appearing in vintage ink, the writing attributing the bat to George Wright could be deemed original and of the period.

John Thorn’s opinion:

John Thorn examined the two attached ribbons. Item #1. Brooklyn Atlantics, Item #2. Cincinnati Red Stockings. The two ribbons were the finest, most extraordinary and desirable baseball trophy ribbons of the era. Each is the only known example in private hands. These ribbons only could originate from someone directly involved with these teams during this era. Each of these is the first ever seen in private hands.

Final Grade: Even with the challenges faced with the grading of this bat, MEARS is quite confident to award this rare 19th century bat the grade of MEARS A10 based on the evaluation of the bat and the accompanying evaluation of the accoutrements.

MEARS interpretation of the provenance: JSA’s and John Thorn’s findings have been outlined above. Both have deemed the accoutrements are vintage, of the period, and authentic. With their expert findings being recognized in the determination of the validation of the provenance, we can accept attribution via their work to George Wright. What are still left unanswered, are when the accoutrements were added to the bat and by whom. The exact dating and purpose are unknown. Also, examination of the handwritten notes and article by sportswriter Tim Murnane references the exploits of the 1870 team in past tense, thus indicating the notes were penned at a date later than 1870. The exact date of his writing is unknown. Writer Tim Murnane died February 7th, 1917 so the notes had to have been before 1917. For MEARS, provenance must be seen as both reasonable and verifiable. The persons Mrs. George Wright and prominent period sports writer Tim Murnane are considered reasonable figures with respect to ownership and relationship to the bat and surrounding events. The verification for MEARS is based on the supporting work done by JSA and John Thom.

MEARS Conclusion: The bat is deemed to be a very rare, seldom seen 19th century bat which was consistent in terms to length, model, weight, and knob preference of a bat depicted in images as associated with George Wright when compared to the examined cabinet photo which featured him in his Red Stockings uniform. No direct link via established manufacturer production information was made available to aid us in our opinion. Provenance via the accoutrements was examined next. As REA noted, the ribbons themselves are quite rare and would only have originated from someone directly involved with these teams during this era. Independent experts determined the accoutrements are authentic and served as attribution to the teams and events associated with George Wright. The exact time, person, and reason of the assembly of the bat were undetermined. There was not a direct personal link between George Wright himself and the assembly/attachments of the accoutrements. Based on the totality of the circumstances, observations and supporting research and findings, attribution to George Wright is reasonable. With the understanding and combining of the above facts and understanding that “attributed” grading is done with a lower standard which is inherent in evaluating a bat of this type, the bat was awarded the grade of: MEARS A10

Images Used

Examined Bat: circa 1869 period bat attributed to George Wright

Photo 1.) Newspaper draft with hand written notations by sports writer Tim Murnane (JSA)

Photo 2.) Period Cincinnati baseball ribbon (John Thorn)

Photo3.) Atlantic B.B.C. baseball ribbon (John Thorn)

Photo 4.) Boston B.B. Club Property of Mrs. George Wright/ M.T.M. hanging tag (JSA)

Photo 5.) George Wright Red Stockings cabinet photo

RE: 2008 Catalog description:

“Nineteenth-Century Baseball Bat Attributed to George Wright In 1869

The title of this description notes that the offered bat is “Attributed to George Wright In 1869” because it is impossible for us to prove that this is the bat that George Wright used with the Red Stockings in 1869, yet that is precisely what we believe it to be. Offered is a nineteenth-century bat that is decorated by a number of attached items that strongly suggest that this bat was owned by and used by Cincinnati Red Stockings shortstop George Wright during the club’s historic 1869 season. Included among the attached items are two extraordinary circa 1869 baseball trophy ribbons, the first of each we have ever seen in private hands, one for the Atlantics and one for the Cincinnati Red Stockings, which themselves are among the most incredible baseball items we have ever seen from the era. The bat itself is extremely impressive, and is the only nineteenth-century bat that we have ever handled that appears from comparison with photographs to be exactly the type, in terms of design and dimensions, used by George Wright and the Red Stockings in countless photos of the era. Nineteenth-century bats, unlike modern-day bats, had no manufacturing labels or model numbers, and were not stamped with the player’s names on the barrel, thus making it impossible to definitively state, without additional provenance, that a particular nineteenth century bat was used by, or was even issued to, a specific player. That being the case, we can only present our opinion that we believe that the offered bat was used by George Wright in 1869, and describe what we base this opinion on. At the very least, it is a monumental museum-caliber bat dating from circa 1869, identical in style to those used by professional players of the era including the 1869 Red Stockings, and is accompanied by two attached ribbons, the finest, most extraordinary and desirable baseball trophy ribbons of the era, (one Brooklyn Atlantics, and one Cincinnati Red Stockings), that are each the only examples known in private hands, and which could only have originated from someone directly involved with these teams during this era. The bat, measuring 38 inches in length and weighing 37.4 ounces, is very distinctive and is in the classic style of bats from the late 1860s era. The knob features a slight protuberance at the end and the circumference of the handle is only slightly less than the barrel. Very few examples of any baseball equipment other than balls have survived from this era. This is the first bat of this type we have ever had. In addition to the trophy ribbons, the bat has been decorated with additional related period pieces. The most direct association to Wright comes from the property tag attached to the handle by means of string. The tag bears the preprinted notation “Property of” followed by the name “Mrs. George Wright” scripted in vintage black fountain pen. Printed above her name, upside down in faded black fountain pen, is an additional notation that reads “Geo. Wright’s Bat From 1869 Given By Him To M. T. M.” That second notation is extremely important. We believe that the initials “M. T. M.” almost certainly stand for “Michael T. McGreevy.” Michael McGreevy, better known as “Nuf Ced” McGreevy” was the leader of Boston’s famed Royal Rooters at the turn of the century and the game’s most ardent fan. He also owned the legendary 3rd Base saloon, which was the unofficial headquarters of the Royal Rooters. His tavern, however, was no ordinary saloon. McGreevy decorated the bar with all manners of baseball memorabilia and it could rightly be called the first baseball museum. McGreevy often traveled to other cities to secure new pieces for his walls and, as the fame of the tavern grew, he received numerous gifts from players and fans alike. Players were normally honored to have their items placed upon the wall of his tavern and years later, after his death, much of his collection was donated to the Boston Public Library. Today, numerous photos exist of the tavern during its “heyday” (including a number of photographs offered in other lots in this auction) in which one can clearly see the vast amount of baseball material on display. In 1871 the Cincinnati Red Stockings, with George Wright its greatest star, and led by his equally famous brother, Harry, moved to Boston, where they established a new team called the Boston Red Stockings. The Boston Red Stockings were a charter member of the National Association, baseball’s first all-professional league, and were was also an inaugural member of the National League in 1876. They were unquestionably the dominant professional team of the decade and George Wright was the club’s greatest player. After a brilliant career on the diamond, Wright opened a sporting goods store in Boston. Interestingly, the reverse of the tag features a portion of a printed advertisement for Wright’s sporting goods store, “Wright & Gould.” The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings silk ribbon (7 x 3.5 inches) is affixed to the barrel. This ribbon, issued during the Cincinnati Red Stockings historic 1869 season, remains one of the most incredible finds in the hobby, as the only other known example resides in a museum collection. The white ribbon bears the team name “Cincinnati” printed in red lettering, above which is the team’s unique logo of a bat, belt and base designed in the shape of the letter “C.” The ribbon is attached to the barrel of this bat by means of twenty-two small, vintage nails. Adjacent to the Cincinnati team ribbon is the blue silk ribbon (5.25 x 1.5 inches) of the “Atlantic B.B.C.” (also attached by small, vintage nails, and also the only example, to the best of our knowledge, known in private hands). The Brooklyn Atlantics were one of the top teams in New York in 1869 and, in 1870, were the first team ever to defeat the Cincinnati Red Stockings. All silk baseball ribbons dating from the 1865 to 1875 era are extremely rare, due to both their fragile nature and the fact that they were intended to actually be worn by players, pinned to their uniforms during games. (The game’s elite clubs normally exchanged team ribbons before the game and wore them on their uniforms, a practice which largely ended by 1875.) Few ribbons from this era have survived, let alone from such a prominent team as the Atlantics. Below the ribbons, attached by nails, is a thin strip of white paper bearing the handwritten notation “The Cincinnati Ball Club, Cincinnati, Ohio.” An 1869 newspaper article, recapping the undefeated season of the 1869 Red Stockings, including scores of the games, is attached to the back of the barrel, also by means of vintage nails. The final item appearing on the bat is the handwritten draft of a newspaper article by legendary Boston sportswriter Tim Murnane, which surrounds the center of the bat, regarding the 1869 Red Stockings. The article, handwritten by Murnane and penned in black fountain pen upon a sheet of yellow paper reads “The first time I had the pleasure of seeing the Cincinnati Club play was at the Capatoline grounds Brooklyn in 1870. They had won every game up to this time and many were willing to bet they would go through this second season without meeting a defeat. No club ever received as much notice. Wherever they went they were the lions of the hour.” Affixed to the yellow sheet is a portion of the published article, which includes the last few handwritten lines in published form, as well as additional coverage of that famous game. The bat displays both heavy wear and use along its entire length, including a few tiny chips in the knob, light grain separation on the back of barrel, and a number of small depressions on the back of the barrel as well. Both ribbons show wear, including minor fraying along the borders and a few small tears, but display beautifully. The Cincinnati Red Stockings ribbon alone, in particular, is of such great importance that if it were not attached to the bat, it would all by itself be one of the most extraordinary and major items ever offered relating to the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. This is a fascinating item and one of the most impressive nineteenth-
century baseball display pieces we have ever seen. LOA from James Spence/JSA. LOA from Dave Bushing & Troy Kinunen/MEARS. Reserve $5,000. Estimate (open)”