By definition, “rare” translates to terms such as unusual, uncommon or "few and widely separated." Given that line of thought, this incredibly scarce heirloom encompasses the attributes and qualities of the storied institution known as the National League. Specifically, the offered prize is an 1888 large format print regally entitled “Galaxy of the National League.” As we prepare to convey this treasure’s incredible aesthetic and historic appeal, the basic premise stands that this is one of only a handful of examples extant; by consensus, one of three known.
One can understand the fervor of individuals such as George Hastings, whose eight team photos decorate this collage. It will always remain unclear as to whether the Boston-based photographer was acting in a professional or fan capacity as he compiled these team likenesses. Symmetrically arranged in three tiers on this thick stock sheet, the 1888 Senior Circuit combatants include (row by row, left to right) the Washington Senators, Pittsburgh Alleghenys, New York Giants, Boston Beaneaters, Indianapolis Hoosiers, Chicago White Stockings, Philadelphia Quakers, and the defending 1887 champion Detroit Wolverines. Archaic photo editing on these team portrayals shows several instances of head and bodies inserted (in the original negatives, of course) into the images. Among those pictured who were bound for the halls of Cooperstown are: Cap Anson, Dan Brouthers, John Clarkson, Ed Delehanty, Hugh Duffy, Buck Ewing, Pud Galvin, Tim Keefe, Mike “King” Kelly, Hoss Radbourne, Sam Thompson and Harry Wright. Surrounding the team photos are several pastoral baseball scenes. While these elements only confirm the game’s booming popularity during that period, history tells us that the path of the National League’s progress was flecked with shortcomings, financial woes and failed franchises. This grouping celebrates the circuit’s 13th season. But throughout its previous 12 campaigns, the N.L. saw no fewer than 17 different franchises come and go. And the defending champion Detroit Wolverines, while proudly depicted in this display, would be gone the following year. Seems owner Frederick Stearns had a brilliant scheme when he purchased the entire Buffalo Bisons franchise in 1885, securing the services of (among others) Dan Brouthers. But owner bickering and resultant limited visitors’ gate receipts ensued, and Detroit was nowhere prepared to meet its payroll. The unstable culture led to the demise of most, but five teams endured and remain in the glorious game to this very day. This is a tribute to the National League’s earliest endeavors and simultaneously, a reflection of this precious survivor.
The aforementioned dimensions are approximate, as edge fissures and a series of cracks render exact measurement impossible. As expected, the item exhibits age-induced toning throughout. It has long-since been mounted to a thick stock backing and though the adhesive agent has lost its effect in many places, complete separation from the backing would likely result in unnecessary damage. Additionally, a series of tears and what appear to be smoke stains are consistent with the item’s vintage of more than 120 years. Of note is that this is a candidate for professional restoration, which could be further assisted as several of the chipped/separated pieces have been retained in an accompanying envelope. In terms of nostalgic qualities pertaining to baseball and American culture, this piece defies superlatives.