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Team photos and the press

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Brooklyn Atlantics, 1869, Digital ID 56623, New York Public LibraryAt first glance, this picture looks like it has seen better days. To a trained eye, it looks like a remarkable survival.

Which is it?

This picture of the Atlantic Base Ball Club in 1869, from the Albert G. Spalding Collection, is an albumen photographic print, mounted on thin paper board.

Two words come to mind, “fugitive materials.” Because of the albumen photographic printing process, the image will fade every time it is exposed to light. Imagine how many times this picture has been viewed since it was printed in 1869! The wood pulp that formed the photograph’s mounting backboard is also highly unstable. Stanford University has a website devoted to the albumen photographic print and there you can learn all about the printing process and the stability of early photographic prints. For information about preserving photographs and working with acidic papers and board stock, see the American Institute of Conservators (AIC) website. The AIC documentation explains some of the common problems encountered in the preservation of historical artworks.If you’d like to learn about the team, check out the site maintained by their modern-day equivalents, the Atlantic Base Ball Club. Maybe you’ve heard of or participated in re-creation events (i.e. Civil War battles, or Renaissance fairs). Well there is a group of guys in New York who dress up in base ball uniforms just like those in the picture above and play ball.

For more history on the Atlantics, check out an early account of their won/loss record from1858 to 1866 that appeared in The Book of American Pastimes by Charles H. Peverelley (New York, the author, 1866). According to George Touhey, in his A history of the Boston Base Ball Club (Boston: Quinn, 1897), the stars of the team in 1870 were “Ferguson, Zittlein, Start, Pike, Pearce, Chapman, and George Hall.”At the top of the photograph, right in the middle is a small label, pasted right onto the photographic print. Hard to read at this resolution, I think it says,

“FROM: This picture”
“TO: Get photos of [Gump?, Grant?], Zittlein, Pearce, Start, Ferguson

These appear to be instructions to the photo editor of a publication. So it would seem that this photographic print was part of a publisher’s archive, and not something that would have been framed and hung on the wall as an artistic or documentary memento of the 1869 Atlantics of Brooklyn.

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