Before Boston Garter. Before Wheaties. Before Be Like Mike and Mars Blackmon and way before Bo Knows… there was George Wright for Red Stockings Cigars.
Some 140 years ago, the first superstar of American sports agreed to promote a local brand of stogies and now the only known surviving display poster from the dawn of American sports endorsements is about to go on the open market. It is the earliest American advertising poster featuring the endorsement of a commercial product by any player or sports figure. Robert Edward Auctions will sell the remarkably well preserved artifact in its upcoming Spring Auction.
“This piece is of monumental importance, not just for baseball memorabilia collectors but as an item relating to American culture,” stated REA President Robert Lifson. “The historical significance is really impossible to measure. It would be at home on display at the Hall of Fame but it really belongs in the Smithsonian.”
Measuring 15x11”, the standard size for similar posters of the day, the stone lithograph display piece features Wright, the driving force behind the dawn of professional baseball, holding a bat with an early game going on behind him. The Red Stockings Cigars logo is at the top.
The poster was discovered many decades ago by renowned collector and hobby pioneer John Bounaguidi and was the highlight of his famous and at the time unparalleled collection. Since selling his collection decades ago, the Red Stockings Cigar Poster has changed hands. Unfortunately, for many years no one really knew where it was.
“No one could even get a quality picture of it,” said Lifson. “It seemed as if it had literally been lost to the baseball memorabilia world.” That, in fact, was essentially the case. For years it has very quietly resided in a world-class American advertising collection.
Until now, Lifson says most baseball collectors have only heard rumors of the existence of the poster. A small image appeared as an illustration in an article written by Bounaguidi for the 1986 July/August edition of Collectors' Showcase magazine. For most, that tiny image has been the only tangible evidence that this legendary poster really did exist.
Lifson says the date can easily be pinpointed through the lettering and captions on the bottom margin under the image. The tobacconist Nichols & Macdonald was not listed in a Boston city directory until after the Great Boston Fire of 1873. Printed on the bottom left of the poster is J.H. BUFFORD'S SONS and on the bottom right is their address 490 WASHN ST. BOSTON. REA says the 1875 Boston city directory lists the company of J.H. Buffords Sons in a new location of 666 Washington Street, which dates the poster to precisely 1874.
In 2008, REA sold another historic advertising poster from Bounaguidi’s original collection, one featuring Hall of Famers Cap Anson and Buck Ewing touting E&J Burke beer in 1889. It sold for $188,000.
Also fascinating is the fact that the batting pose of George Wright on the poster was created using a Wright image from a Boston Warren studio photograph known to be taken during the summer of 1872. The Warren Studios cabinet cards featuring Red Stockings players in full-length poses in their uniforms are widely considered the first individual baseball player cabinet cards of the professional era. REA sold a George Wright example in 2007 for over $17,000.
It isn’t known exactly how much George Wright’s endorsement pumped up Red Stockings Cigar sales in 1874, but it would be a tactic that soon gained traction, eventually transforming the relationship between sports and commerce in America as sports stars and celebrities became marketing assets in the decades that followed.
“There’s just nothing you can compare this to,” Lifson said of the poster. “You could be in this business for a very long time and never get to handle or even see a printed item so historic. It’s really a privilege to be able to present it at auction.”
Major League Baseball’s official historian John Thorn gives his take on the Red Stockings Cigar poster at MLB’s Our Game blog.