Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Second Look at the Illustrations in "Our National Game"

In early 1887, Liebenroth, Von Auw & Company, publishers of blank books, produced what is now one of the most sought-after of 19th-century baseball collectibles, a scrapbook titled “Our National Game.”

The earliest notice of the scrapbook can be found in the March 3, 1887 issue of “The American Stationer.”

The book was apparently produced in two different sizes, 11" × 14" and 12" × 15", and contained around two dozen blank pages. The title page features an illustration of a baseball club, and interspersed throughout the rest of the scrapbook are five additional color lithographs depicting baseball action. Each drawing bears its own title: “Home Run, “Foul Ball,” “Wild Pitch,” “Caught Between Bases,” and “Fly Ball.”

On April 17, 1887, the day after both the National League and American Association celebrated their season openers, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle made note of the scrapbook:

A New York publishing firm have [sic] just published a pretty base ball scrap book containing pictures of the base ball grounds at St. George, Staten Island and Washington Park. It is well adapted for baseball picture collections.
The suggestion that the pictures in “Our National Game” depicted actual ballparks was news to me, so I thought I’d take a closer look at the images to see if they really do match up with these ball parks.

St. George Grounds, Staten Island

The St. George Grounds on Staten Island (not to be confused with St. George’s Cricket Grounds in Hoboken, New Jersey) was home to the Metropolitan Club of the old American Association in 1886 and 1887, and was the site of nearly two dozen games for the National League’s New York Giants during the 1889 season. I am aware of only two images of the park. The first is a woodcut published in Harper’s Weekly of May 15, 1886:

The second image of the park is an advertisement promoting the park's “Fairyland” concerts, water fireworks, and illuminated geysers for the summer of 1886.

Not only is this latter image simply gorgeous, but in the background one can distinctly see the Statue of Liberty, which would not be officially dedicated until October 28, 1886.

Washington Park, Brooklyn

I discuss Washington Park (the first of a number of ballparks of the same name) in my blog post titled “There Used to Be a Ballpark Right Here - Washington Park.” Home to big league baseball in Brooklyn from 1884 to 1890, the park had a number of distinctive features, two of which are worth pointing out here. One is that the park was located in a deep basin such that the ground just inside the outfield walls sloped up drastically towards the fences at ground level. This unique characteristic can be clearly seen in this illustration from an 1886 baseball board game:

The other feature of note is that a large archway is visible at the back of the stands, behind and just to the first base side of home plate. It can be seen in the background of this illustration published in the January 24, 1884, issue of Harper's Weekly:

... and in this photograph taken at the park on May 30, 1887:

Comparing Pictures

Notice that the scrapbook images titled “Home Run,” “Foul Ball,” and “Wild Pitch” all show ballparks with sloped outfield grounds topped by tall fences. These match quite well with what is seen in the board game illustration of Washington Park. Furthermore, the distinctive arch of Washington Park can be seen in the background of the scrapbook picture titled “Fly Ball.” Clearly these four scrapbook illustrations were based upon Washington Park, though the hills and buildings beyond the fences are assuredly the result of artistic license.

The scrapbook picture titled “Caught Between Bases” does not show the ground sloping up toward an outfield fence. Instead, there appear to be fans gathered behind a low fence in the outfield. Beyond the low fence there appears to be a stone wall topped by a taller fence. This outfield configuration does not match what we see in the board game illustration of Washington Park. Perhaps, as suggested by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle article, this picture shows the outfield at St. George Grounds? With no known images of the outfield configuration at that park, it is hard to make this claim with any certainty.


  1. There were no New York Metropolitans in the American Association. They were the Metropolitans. And they didn't exist in 1888; the New Yorks of the National League used it for a while in 1889.