BOSTON (Reuters) – A rare 1865 photograph of the Brooklyn Atlantics baseball team, discovered at a Maine yard sale and considered one of the first baseball cards ever, sold for $92,000 at an auction on Wednesday.
A Massachusetts man offered the winning sum in cash after a brief round of bidding at Saco River Auction Co., said Troy Thibodeau, manager and auctioneer at the company in Biddeford, Maine. Thibodeau declined to name the buyer.
The photograph mounted on a card, known as a carte de viste, is the only one of its kind known to exist, though the Library of Congress has a similar image made from a different negative, Thibodeau said before the auction.
“It’s rarer than rare.”
The card shows nine members of the Brooklyn Atlantics, known as the first champions of baseball, and their coach. The team was a founding club of the National Association of Base Ball Players, a forerunner of today’s National League, Thibodeau said.
“It’s more of a piece of photography than a baseball card, but it’s considered by many to be the first baseball card just by the fact that it was distributed by the team,” he said. “It kind of set the stage for baseball cards after that.”
An antiques enthusiast bought the card at a yard sale last year in eastern Maine, Thibodeau said. It was in a photo album the buyer purchased along with old Coke bottles and oak chairs for about $100.
The owner mailed the card to Saco River after the auction house set a state record in August by selling an 1888 baseball card of Michael “King” Kelly for about $72,000, Thibodeau said.
It was unclear how many of the cards like the one of the Brooklyn Atlantics team were produced. The ball club had them printed and handed them out to fans and players, even those from opposing teams, because the Atlantics were so good at the time, Thibodeau said.
“It was kind of a sign of bravado,” he said.
Before the auction, Thibodeau said he found it difficult to place a value on the card because it was so unique but estimated bids might range from $40,000 or $50,000 on the low end to as much as $500,000.
“The key piece of this is not only that it’s a baseball card, but that it’s a wonderful piece of Americana,” he said.