Rare 19th Century Baseball Memorabilia Uncovered on Antiques Roadshow

The owner of a collection of early professional baseball memorabilia could be cashing in after a visit to the PBS series “Antiques Roadshow”.

The collection of autographs and rare images of the Boston Red Stockings dates from the 1870s.

For insurance purposes, PBS says the collection was appraised at $1 million but while rare and unique, it seems unlikely the collection would fetch that much at auction.

“This is the largest sports memorabilia find in the 19-year history of the series,” said Marsha Bemko, executive producer of the 12-time Emmy Award nominated production of WGBH Boston.

Boston Redstockings 1870s baseball memorabilia

Credit: Photo by Meredith Nierman for WGBH

According to Antiques Roadshow, the owner of the items inherited them from her great-great grandfather, who operated a boarding house in Boston where team members lived during the early 1870s. The owner brought them to a taping of the show at the Jacob Javits Center in New York on Saturday where they were appraised by Leila Dunbar of Leila Dunbar Appraisals and Consulting.

The photos are from the Mort Rogers scorecards issued during that time period. Rogers, a former player, pasted the photos onto the front and put a scorecard on the back which was designed to be folded in half, with one team represented on each half.  They were offered for sale at Boston’s South End Grounds.

“What set these cards apart from the standard scorecards of the era was the inclusion of an oval portrait photograph of a Major League player affixed to the cover,” reads a catalog description of another Rogers scorecard offered by Robert Edward Auctions in 2010.  “Today, Mort Rogers scorecards are not only rare, but one of the most highly prized baseball souvenirs from the era.” 

Mort Rogers Scorecards

These Mort Rogers scorecards from the 1870s Boston Red Stockings were part of the memorabilia examined on Antiques Roadshow.

However, the letter featuring the signatures of those early pro baseball pioneers is also extremely valuable.

“The crown jewel is a May 1871 handwritten letter with envelope, written affectionately from the Red Stockings players to the owner if the boardinghouse where they were staying, telling her how much they missed her cooking, including separate notes from pioneering Hall of Famers Harry Wright, George Wright and Al Spalding; and a group of exceedingly rare  Mort Rogers Scorecards of players, including The Wrights and Spalding, of the 1871-1872 teams.,” Dunbar stated.  Albert Spalding went on to be the founder of the Spalding sporting goods empire.

After writing their ‘thank you note’ on stationery, the players signed their names, presumably while on a road trip.

1870s Boston Red Stockings letter

1870s letter signed by Boston Red Stockings players including George and Harry Wright and Albert Spalding.

While the collection has never been formally appraised, the owner was previously offered up to $5,000 to sell it.  There was no immediate word on whether the owner, whose identity is being kept secret, plans to sell the items.

The Red Stockings franchise eventually became the franchise known today as the Atlanta Braves.

The baseball segment will be airing next year.