Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bambino Tobacco

Babe Ruth lent his name to dozens of products during his lifetime: Babe Ruth Ice Cream, Babe Ruth Home Run Shoes, Babe Ruth Caps, Babe Ruth Union Suits, and so many more. The slugger could sell most anything.



Bambino Tobacco was no different than the rest of these products, except that Ruth did not receive a penny from the sale of these tins.

At the time the tobacco was sold (more about that later), the nickname "Bambino" was synonymous with Babe Ruth. And the product's image of a silhouetted batter was clearly based on the famous slugger's classic swing.

But Bailey Bros., the makers of Bambino Tobacco, never made an agreement with the Babe and got away with the implied endorsement without having to reimburse Ruth.

Scour auction sites for "Bambino Tobacco" and you'll find that numerous vintage tobacco tins bearing his nickname and silhouette have been sold in recent years. When I ran a check in early 2015, auction prices ranged from less than $600 for one in poor condition to a nearly pristine tin that sold for over $5,000.

While these auction sites were eager to sell the collectables, none had a clue as to the date that the product was made:
So, when was "Bambino Tobacco" available?

The earliest advertisement I could find was in the Baltimore Sun of April 30, 1922:

The ads stopped less than a year later, the latest I could readily track down being found in this advertisement for Peoples Drug Stores in the Washington Post of April 8, 1923 (see lower right-hand corner for mention of Bambino):

By the December of 1923, Bailey Bros. had filed for bankruptcy and Bambino Tobacco was no more.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Will Eno's Unknown Man with a Mustache

In 2011, the New York Public Library published and freely distributed a book titled "Know the Past, Find the Future: The New York Public Library at 100." The NYPL described its centennial celebration book as follows:

From Laurie Anderson to Vampire Weekend, Roy Blount Jr. to RenĂ©e Fleming, Stephen Colbert to Bill T. Jones—more than 100 luminaries reflect on the treasures of America’s favorite public library. Marking the Centennial of The New York Public Library’s Beaux-Arts landmark at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, now called the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Know the Past, Find the Future harnesses the thoughts of an eclectic assortment of icons as they ponder an even more eclectic assortment of objects. From among the Library’s vast collections, these writers, artists, philosophers, scientists, musicians, athletes, architects, choreographers, and journalists—not to mention some of the curators who have preserved these riches—selected an item and describe what it means to them. The result, in words and photographs, is a glimpse of what a great library can be.
Stephen Colbert penned an essay about a selection of J.D. Salinger letters. Yoko Ono chose to write about a book edited by composer John Cage. And acclaimed playwright Will Eno chose to focus on this photograph from the A. G. Spalding Baseball Collection:

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library

Eno wrote, in part:

Back when the backyard was the world and everywhere else was far away, I had, like almost everyone else of my height and weight, a baseball card collection. It was only a few dozen cards, none that special, and in no particular order, but it was something real to have and hold, something to refer to when it was raining or my arm was broken. It's long lost and was lost so well that I couldn't even tell you what decade it got lost in.
Humanity has its troubles and drawbacks, of course, but when you look at the things we cherish and save, we all seem very dear, very clumsy and life-sized. It's in this context, or one very like it, that I would like to highlight, from the A.G. Spalding Baseball Collection, "Unidentified baseball player with mustache, Boston." I do this partly as a Boston fan, and partly as a fan of anonymity. You would think, in the past couple hundred years, someone would've figured out his name. If efforts have been made, he has resisted and remains nameless, or, named, in a way, but named only by an archivist.
So, by all means, be sure to stop by the Declaration of Independence, ... enjoy the Japanese erotica and make sure to see the first letter home from Christopher Columbus. ... Just don't forget that there was also once, and still remains in some way, an unknown man with a mustache, standing in the sun, playing baseball.
As it turns out, this photo was one of four taken by Boston-based photographer James Wallace Black (1825-1896) that the NYPL has listed as "unidentified." The others are:


The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library


The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library


The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library

Each of these men sat patiently as he was photographed in Black's studio at 173 Washington Street. And, now, each of these men whose names have remained elusive can be removed from the veil of anonymity and identified.

Portrait number 1 depicts the English-born Sam Jackson. Jackson played in portions of just two seasons in the National Association (baseball's first professional league). He filled in for Boston's injured star George Wright for 16 games during the 1871 season, and participated in four games for the Brooklyn Atlantics in 1872. A scorecard featuring this same image of Jackson (see red arrow and expanded detail of the card) was recently revealed to the public in a January 5, 2015, episode of PBS's "Antiques Roadshow."

Portrait number 2 is of the great Ross Barnes. Barnes first burst on the scene as an immensely talented teenage shortstop for the Forest City Club of Rockford, Illinois. This was the same team that produced the great pitcher and eventual sporting goods mogul, Albert G. Spalding. Barnes was arguably the greatest player in the five-year history of the National Association. In 1871 he led the league in runs scored (66 in just 31 games played) and batted .401. The next season he paced the circuit with 99 hits, 28 doubles and a .430 batting mark. And in 1873, he dominated completely: leading all NA batters with 60 games played, 125 runs scored, 138 hits, 31 doubles, 11 triples, 43 stolen bases, and a .431 batting average. In 1876, he led the newly formed National League with 126 runs, 138 hits, 21 doubles, 14 triples and an average of .429. The Spalding Collection at the NYPL features this additional image of Barnes:

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library

And the nattily dressed gentleman in portrait number 3 is Dave Birdsall, a veteran catcher who gained fame in the 1860s with the great Union Base Ball Club of Morrisania. (Today, Morrisania is better known as the South Bronx, a neighborhood located half a mile or so east of Yankee Stadium.) When Birdsall sat for this photograph he was in his final full season, generally patrolling the outfield for the 1871 Boston Red Stockings. Here's another image of Birdsall:

Finally, the photo chosen by Will Eno is of a ballplayer named Frank Barrows. Barrows played 18 games for Boston of the National Association, batting just .151 as a part-time outfielder. However, it was as a star second baseman in the late 1860s with Boston's Tri-Mountain Base Ball Club that Barrows made his mark in the game. In fact, it very well may be his likeness that graces the cover of "The Base Ball Quadrille" sheet music, published in 1867 and dedicated to the Tri-Mountains, "Champions of New England":

Lester Levy Sheet Music Collection

Compare the two faces:

So while this "unknown man" is now known, worry not, Mr. Eno. There are hundreds upon hundreds of other old baseball photographs that remain unidentified. Then again, their number is dwindling as a stalwart group of baseball researchers do their best to match names to faces.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

There Used to Be a Ballpark Right Here - Washington Park

Recently, I was contacted by three gurus of baseball board game collecting: Butch, Kerm and Win (they wish to remain otherwise anonymous). The trio of passionate collector/historians run a web site devoted to this niche hobby, and in the past have helped me with a number of research requests. This time, however, they came to me with a question ... one which led me to write this post, the third installment of my "There Used to Be a Ballpark Right Here" series.

They were curious about a game produced in 1886 titled, simply, "The Game of Base Ball."

The Strong National Museum of Play

Published by McLoughlin Brothers, the leading board game manufacturer of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the game was made available in two versions: a high-end model, complete with hand-painted metal ballplayer tokens, and a low-cost model called "Home Base Ball."

Specifically, Butch, Kerm and Win wanted to know more about the artwork found on the game board of the low-end version:

They alerted me to an advertisement they found for the game in a McLoughlin Brothers catalog from 1886:

Intrigued by the statement that "the design is an accurate picture of one of our leading Base-Ball grounds," Butch, Kerm and Win asked if I happened to know what park it might be? Or did I think that the catalog description was mere hyperbole and the image simply a fictional, generic ballpark, the whim of one of McLoughlin Brothers' many talented artists?

These were great questions, so I decided to research the problem.

Working under the assumption that the illustration was indeed of an actual ballpark, I took a close look at the specific characteristics depicted.

First, the presence of numerous buildings and smokestacks beyond the outfield walls implied an urban setting. Second, the field appears to well-below ground level, as massive, sloping banks are seen in the outfield. And third, while only a small portion of the seating area is seen, what little there is shows a single-deck structure of a rather simple construction.

All three characteristics suggested one likely ballpark: Brooklyn's Washington Park. There have actually been a few ballparks in Brooklyn named Washington Park, but the park that fits the bill was the first to bear the name. That first version of Washington Park was home to Brooklyn big league baseball from 1884 to 1890.

Brooklyn, of course, satisfies the first characteristic: an urban setting. Bounded on the west and east by 4th and 5th Avenues, and north and south by 3rd and 5th Streets, the park was situated in a deep basin that some historians claim to have been over two dozen feet below street level. In fact, in the winter the outfield slopes of the park lent themselves perfectly to tobogganing. The following note was published in the New York Times of November 11, 1886:

Washington Park, Brooklyn, presents many facilities for a good toboggan slide. The ground lies many feet below the surface of the roadway, making it easy to construct a slide with a great declination. President [Charles] Byrne, one of the lessees of the park and manager of the Brooklyn Baseball Club, has had plans drawn for an 18-foot slide, to start from the Fifth-avenue entrance to the ground. The incline will stop at the home plate, about 180 feet. The distance then to the end of the ground would be another 520 feet. Should the project be carried through three slides will be made and extra facilities will be introduced by which they will be saved the trouble of tugging their sleighs back up the hill.
At other times during the off-season, the park was partially flooded for ice-skating. The following woodcut titled "Base-Ball on Skates, Washington Park, Brooklyn" was published in the January 24, 1884 issue of Harper's Weekly:

Take a close look at the background of the woodcut and you can see wooden walls situated atop a steep incline, not unlike those seen in the image on the baseball game board. This incarnation of Washington Park clearly satisfies the second characteristic.

Alas, there are very few images of the park that show its grandstand. This one, from a May 30, 1887, doubleheader pitting the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers against the St. Louis Browns, was taken from deep right field:

... and this one (quite possible from the same day) from deep left field:

The first image (taken from right field) reveals that the grandstand on the third-base-side has a single deck, thus satisfying the third characteristic of the image on the game board.

Though I was not able to track down any other large overview images of the park, a few images showing details from the ballpark can be found ... if you know where to look. In 1888, Joseph Hall took a number of photographs of baseball clubs at the ballpark. He seated the ball players near the end of the third-base-side grandstand for their portraits. For example, here are the St. Louis Browns of the old American Association:

Now compare this cabinet card with the top photograph of Washington Park. The red arrow points out the corner of the grandstand that can be seen in both images:

This "Old Judge" tobacco card of Brooklyn third baseman George Pinkney is one of a number of such cards taken in 1887 that show one of the grassy slopes at the sunken ballpark. Apparently, some seating was even built into the incline, though this is not seen in the game board picture.

Despite the fact that there are very few images of this first version of Washington Park, there's little question that the picture on the "Home Base Ball" game board depicts that very Brooklyn ballpark.