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Rare King Kelly Program Passes $100,000

What SCP Auctions calls the “greatest 19th Century baseball autograph find in hobby history” is making an impression on collectors of rare baseball memorabilia–and those fascinated by the pro game’s early history.

Signed Mike "King" Kelly photoA program from a testimonial banquet given to Mike “King” Kelly by the Boston Elks Lodge in May of 1887 and carrying an autographed photo of the charismatic, hard-drinking star, is up for bid and has already surpassed $100,000.

Measuring 5 ½” by 9 ¼”, its centerpiece is an actual studio cabinet-style photograph of the guest of honor, inscribed by him in black fountain pen “Truly Yours, M.J. Kelly”. Constructed of rigid card stock, the program is typical of the ornate style of such gatherings in the 1880s but has been preserved remarkably well, with its red velvet ribbons and mini pom-poms still vibrant.

Kelly was a huge fan favorite, despite his playboy image and tendency to cozy up to a bottle.  Babe Ruth before Babe Ruth according to those who have studied his life and times.  He was an exciting player, known well beyond his home city.

Some believe the number of authentic King Kelly autographs known to exist is fewer than ten, with most appearing on documents.  According to SCP, the program contains the only known King Kelly autographed photograph known. It has resided for years within the collection of a curator of Elks Lodge memorabilia, with more consideration for that genre, than for its revelation as a piece of historic baseball memorabilia.

Kelly’s colorful history, the scarcity and appearance of the item and its provenance, were the subject of this excellent write-up at Yahoo Sports.  Less than 24 hours after it appeared, the headline was dated when the bidding passed six figures.

Bidding closes on Saturday night.

About Rich Mueller

Rich is the editor and founder of Sports Collectors Daily. A broadcaster and writer for more than 30 years and a collector for even longer than that, he's usually typing something somewhere. Type him back at [email protected].