It’s known for producing what may be the grandfather of all baseball cards but Peck & Snyder Sporting Goods was more than that.
by Jerry Houseman
Baseball today is a different game when compared to its earliest incarnations. When the very first professional baseball teams took the field shortly after the Civil War, they had a tendency to slaughter their often clueless amateur opponents by scores in excess of fifty runs. The Buffalo Niagaras once won a game 209-10. As the support for the sport swiftly increased, entrepreneurs Andrew Peck and Irving Snyder made a decision that would make them famous more than a century later.
Peck & Snyder Sporting Goods, produced what are considered by some to be the world’s first mass produced baseball cards. Their advertising cards, issued in 1869, featured a team photo of the famous Cincinnati Red Stockings. One was about 3 3/16" x 3 5/16". The smaller version measured about 3 15/16" x 2 3/8".
Today, of course, baseball cards are sold in thousands of stores around the world to fans that collect, trade, and resell them. Back in 1869, the concept was unheard of.
Andrew Peck and Irving Snyder started the Peck & Snyder Sporting Goods company in 1866. The business was located at 124-128 Nassau Street in New York. They found early success with their invention of the first rubber-soled and canvas tennis shoe as well as the two wheeled inline skate.
At that time, both baseball and photography were in their infancy. The American public was exhausted from the Civil War that nearly tore it apart and they needed a release. Baseball was just the thing people needed to bring them together.
Although their emotions were still raw from the war, Americans found the rapidly spreading popularity of baseball was a common ground upon which to gather. Men that only a year earlier had tried to kill each other on the battlefield were now teammates on the ballfield. Peck & Snyder Sporting Goods seized the moment and combined sports and pictures into one. Baseball fans no doubt loved it.
As a sporting goods store, Peck & Snyder sold baseball equipment and supplies. Producing baseball cards as advertising material fit right in with the business they had already established. Other businesses, in an attempt to capitalize on the growing marketing trend, soon followed suit. They started distributing baseball cards with advertisements for their companies printed on the back even when their companies had absolutely nothing to do with baseball or athleticism. Cigarette cards like Old Judge and Allen & Ginter gained popularity before the century was over.
Peck & Snyder produced team cards featuring the New York Mutuals and Chicago White Stockings in 1870 as well as a different styled composite featuring the Philadelphia Athletics.
Today, the cards are extremely scarce and considered truly historic relics. The Peck & Snyder Red Stockings card found inside a Fresno collectibles shop last year sold for over $75,000 at auction. Another sold in July for $51,000.
Peck & Snyder Sporting Goods flourished. In 1875, Irving’s little brother Ward Snyder designed a catalog for consumers, “Peck & Snyder: Price List of Out & Indoor Sports & Pastimes.” It boasted items such as baseball equipment, gymnasium equipment, magic lanterns, and tennis rackets. They even sold weapons ranging from assorted knives to rifles. For the non-sports minded consumers, the catalog offered items such as puzzles and banjos.
In order to promote baseball to a worldwide audience, Irving Snyder joined Chicago sporting goods owner and ex-baseball pitcher A.G. Spaulding on a world tour in 1888. According to biographer Mark Lamster in his book “Spalding’s World Tour,” Irving had a secondary motive for the trip. He wanted to find an international buyer for thirty thousand pairs of roller-skates. They went to Australia, Egypt, England, France, Hawaii, Italy, and New Zealand. Several prominent baseball players of the time accompanied them. Snyder and Spaulding’s trip was designed to introduce baseball to a global market.
Six years after their return from the world tour, A.G. Spaulding expanded his Chicago based sporting goods store by purchasing Peck & Snyder Sporting Goods. The sale was beneficial to Spaulding because he gained an established business. Over one hundred years later, Spaulding is a household name in sporting goods. Andrew Peck and Irving Snyder decided to retire after thirty years in retail and focus their efforts on manufacturing.