A 148-year-old team photo of the amateur Brooklyn Atlantics, which the Library of Congress calls “the first dated baseball card,” might fetch $100,000 or more when it goes up for auction next month in Maine. Problem is, nobody knows exactly how much it’s worth.
Only two Atlantics cards are known to exist — the other having been in the Library’s archives since the 1880s, when the photographer Charles Williamson submitted the photo for copyright.
Of course, this card is not like the contemporary baseball cards your mom threw away when she cleaned out the attic back in the ’70s. It’s not even like the tobacco cards of the late 19th century, either. It’s an original photograph, mounted on a card, that features nine uniformed players gathered around a bearded manager in a suit who appears ready for a Civil War reenactment. Or maybe even the real thing. It was 1865, after all. None of the players (or the skipper) have been identified by individual name. The Brooklyn team created the card as a promotional stunt and because it was a frequent league champion. Hey, you got a problem with that?
Relegated to the dustbin of history for several generations, the card was found at a yard sale by accident (of course) when an otherwise unidentified man in northern Maine bought a photo album, old Coke bottles and two oak chairs for less than $100. That’s some find.
According to its web site, the Saco River Auction Co. has scheduled the card’s auction for Feb. 6. Saco River also sold an 1888 card of Michael “King” Kelly for $72,000 in the summer of 2012 (which is how the seller of the Brooklyn card knew to contact Saco about his find). FYI, the most expensive card ever sold at auction was a 1909 Honus Wagner, which went for $2.8 million in 2007. Imagine how the moms who tossed one of those might feel if any ever knew.