Sometimes those hours spent at estate sales, flea markets and rummage sales can pay off. A newly uncovered 19th century team card coming to Huggins & Scott Auctions is proof of that.
A person attending a Massachusetts flea market not long ago made an extraordinary discovery — tucked inside the pages of a late 19th century scrapbook was a picture of a Pittsburgh baseball team from that time period.
And not just any picture — this was an 1887 N693 Kalamazoo Bats team card of the Pittsburg Alleghenys, depicting 10 players including Hall of Fame pitcher James “Pud” Galvin. In the background are fans, admiring the players. “Pittsburg”, without the “h” was the common spelling for the Pennsylvania city at the time.
The card has been authenticated and graded as a PSA 4 and will be part of Huggins & Scott’s next auction, set to run from July 24 through August 3. The opening bid will be $10,000.
The cards were produced by Charles Gross & Co., a tobacco company in Philadelphia. Kalamazoo Bats was a brand of cigar, and the brand is featured in the margin of the photograph. There are six known cards in the set with the Pittsburgh card confirmed to be the rarest of all with only four total examples known. The cards measure 4 inches by 2¼ inches.
Underneath the Alleghenys photo is the legend, “Pittsburg B.B.C.” The Alleghenys were playing their first season in the National League after competing for five seasons in the American Association. In their final AA season, the Pittsburgh squad finished second with an 80-57 mark, 12 games behind the St. Louis Browns. Their N.L. debut was not as spectacular, as they won only 55 games and finished sixth in the eight-team league.
The team’s nickname was a reference to the location of its home field, Recreation Park, which was located in Allegheny City — now part of Pittsburgh’s North Side.
Galvin would be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1965. He won 365 games, including 126 decisions during his seven seasons in Pittsburgh. He went 28-21 as the ace in a three-man starting rotation in 1887, but his best seasons were behind him. Nevertheless, in 1887 he started 48 games and completed 47 of them, pitching a staggering 440 2/3 innings (that paled in comparison to 1883, when he pitched in 656 1/3 innings for the N.L.’s Buffalo Bisons).
Galvin is featured fourth from left in the photograph.
The Alleghenys would be tagged as “pirates” in 1891 when they signed Louis Bierbauer, the star second baseman of the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association. The nickname stuck, and the squad has been called Pirates to this day.
In the auction description, Huggins & Scott describes the card as having “proper centering” and “only limited fraying” along its upper edge. There is also a very small upper edge crease in the upper left-hand part of the card. The back has some discoloration or “browning.”
No matter the condition, it’s a discovery that once again gives collectors hope that the next musty old book or box might be the one that surrenders a valuable piece of sports history.