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February 27, 2013

Vintage Auction Item Has Sketchy Past

Wednesday night, bidding will end on an 1870 photograph of former big leaguer (and 2012 "HOVG Heroes" subject) Al Reach.

Not a big deal really (bidding sits at a mere $1000), but if you consider that this particular photograph might have been part of a heist...look out!

This from friend of The Hall Peter Nash:

Like everything else in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s collection, the 1870 CDV photograph of Al Reach and the Philadelphia Athletics was donated by someone.

Long ago, a librarian scribbled assorted numerals on its reverse preceded by a designation Hall curators know well as “BL” representing items in the Baseball Library, the National Baseball Library, that is.  The Hall of Fame does not purchase artifacts and relies solely on the generous donations of the enshrined players immortalized with bronze plaques, their widows, their kids, their grand-kids and even everyday Joe’s who somehow came into possession of something truly Cooperstown-worthy.

Back in 1983, authors John Thorn and Mark Rucker set up a photo shoot in Cooperstown to capture many of these treasures on film for a retrospective of nineteenth-century baseball photography in a Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) publication called The National Pastime. The publication was highly regarded in the baseball collecting community since it featured images of many rare and never before seen images depicting the early game.

Nearly a decade after that photo shoot took place at the Hall of Fame something strange appeared in a black and white auction catalog produced by auctioneer Rob Lifson, then of Hoboken, New Jersey. It appeared to be the exact same CDV of Al Reach’s Philadelphia team that Thorn and Rucker had captured on film in 1983.

The auction catalog photograph was extremely small but visible was a tell-tale surface scratch on the vintage albumen photograph identical to the one found on the contact sheet from the Hall of Fame shoot. In his lot description Lifson wrote, “Extremely small abrasion on reverse and a single insignificant scratch in brown background are the only imperfections that keep this card from being Mint.”

You can check out Nash's entire critique (and see the evidence) of the Reach photograph over at his site Hauls of Shame.

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