Evaluating a 19th-century George Wright bat

wright1.jpgWith each item MEARS is asked to evaluate, new circumstances and challenges arise. For Robert Edwards Auction ending April 28, 2007, MEARS was asked to evaluate and grade a bat attributed to George Wright, circa 1869.

This bat and player were both historically important as the 1869 Red Stockings are recognized as being the first professional baseball team and Wright was its star player. With the bat being manufactured during the 1860s and no markings or factory records produced, it was our job to establish whether the bat could have been made for George Wright.

wright2.jpgGrading also posed a challenge as the provenance was established via attributed baseball-related accoutrements. With several months of research and evaluation, and the cooperation of additional independent experts, we were able to make attribution to Wright and issue a final grade.
As part of our evaluation process, we conducted a physical examination of the bat and accompanying decorative accoutrements. The accoutrements consisted of a newspaper draft with handwritten notations by sportswriter Tim Murnane, period Cincinnati baseball ribbon, period Atlantics BBC baseball ribbon and a Boston B.B. Club Property of Mrs. George Wright/ M.T.M. hanging tag.

wright3.jpgThe dating of the accoutrements was important as it served a point of departure for evaluating and substantiating the provenance, which is critical for any attribution to Wright.

The ribbons were examined by John Thorn and the staff of Robert Edwards Auctions and found to be authentic and of the period. Dave Bushing conducted the physical examination of the bat to determine the timeframe of issuance and degree of use. This writer conducted the research, and fact verification, and authored the final Letter of Opinion.
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The accoutrements were examined independently and seem to substantiate attribution to Wright by both period and association of individuals involved. Our evaluation concluded the bat was consistent with the style of bat, which would have been used by Wright during the 1869 time frame. The 1869 era was examined due to the style of the bat and approximate dating of the accouterments.

According to Rob Lifson, owner of REA, the title of the description of the bat as it will appear in the its catalog makes note that the offered bat is “Attributed to Wright in 1869,” though it is impossible to prove that this is the bat that Wright used with the Red Stockings in 1869. Yet that is precisely what we believe it to be.

There is no manufacturer’s marking present on this bat that specifically connects this bat to Wright, but that would not be expected from a bat from this period. The practice of adding player’s name, team, or the company of manufacture was not the norm at this time.

Baseball was in its infancy and incorporated major sporting goods companies had yet to be formed, although Wright did enter the business as Wright & Ditson during the 1880s and became a pioneer in the industry. Competitor Albert Spalding formed his namesake rival company in 1876.

Bats used by players during this era would be of the hand-turned variety with no identifying factory markings. Most were made locally by the area woodworkers. Manufacturing stampings did not begin to appear with any regularity on sporting goods equipment until the 1880s. Therefore, the lack of markings on this bat is consistent with what would have been used during the 1869 period.

The dating range of the issuance of the bat is thought to be from time of 1869-82. This range was estimated based on the style of the bat, notation and hang tag, playing career of Wright (1869-82) and the understanding of the era’s manufacturing process. Understanding of the manufacturing process supports the attribution of the 1869 (starting date of dating range) which is found on the hand tag and reads:

“Geo. Wright’s bat from 1869 given by him to M.T.M.”

Manufacturer identification (corporate branding) began to appear with more regularity during the early 1880s, so the lack of logo was used to establish the end of our dating range (1882). The manufacturing process without corporate branding coincides with the playing career of Wright.
 
The absence of manufacturer markings and an examination of the style, length, weight and model (shape) of the bat determine this bat is consistent with the manufacturing practices of bats produced before 1880. The physical dimensions of the bat measured 38 inches in length and the bat weighed 37.4 ounces at time of examination. Photos of Wright support the use of a long bat. Weight is unverified, but reasonable for a bat of that length.

The style of the bat can be compared to the photograph of the Boston cabinet card of Wright. Examination of the photo for comparison sake illustrated Wright holding a bat similar in model and appearance. Note the similarities of the very long, slender bat with round barrel.

Also, the cabinet photo illustrates a very small knob with rounded end that is consistent with the examined bat. Judging by the era of this bat by the evaluation of its manufacturing traits, the bat is consistent with the model of bat that may have been used by Wright during his playing career.

For the purpose of grading, there are no chronicled references available for this bat. To our knowledge, there are no factory records available for any bats issued for players for the 19th century. The examination of the manufacturing characteristics and study of period photography determined our base grade.

After our evaluation we then determined the bat was consistent with bats used at the professional level for the 1869-82 time frame. We also examined catalogs containing images and descriptions of trophy bats (not game used) to eliminate the possibility of this being one. Provenance was evaluated for completion of the final grade.
The bat exhibited use that was evident throughout the length of the bat’s surfaces. Use was evenly distributed on all surfaces of the barrel. The indentations were consistent with use found from handling, traveling, game play and general storage.

When evaluating the use in terms of its effects on the condition of the bat, we found no handle crack, no deadwood and no other condition problems. Yet, without the lack of any of the above examined condition traits, the bat was still evaluated as having significant use. Although now decorated, the use can be seen underneath the application of the accoutrements. Use was consistent when compared to other game-used bats examined by MEARS.
It was our opinion the use was applied in game situations and environments, and not associated with handling and storage wear found on trophy or presentation bats. Handling wear on a trophy bat would be more superficial when compared to a bat known to be game used.

Grading
One of the main components of grading is to assign a numerical value, which aids in the comparison of one item to another similar one. Typically grading is conducted while using a blend of production information, use characteristics and player traits. With the bat being manufactured during the 19th century, different grading criteria were applied. Therefore, this bat is being graded based on the similarity in style to the type of bat used during the 19th century.

Attribution to Wright was considered after examining the model of the bat with additional emp hasis on the accoutrements. There is no recorded manufacturer data to support this bat being manufactured for Wright and the foundation of its attribution lies solely on the provenance.
Therefore, MEARS established a grade based on the criteria of style, use and attribution.
The application of our grading system will allow us to evaluate and assign a grade to additional 19th-century items if the opportunity arises. Even with the challenges faced with the grading of this bat, MEARS is quite confident to award this rare 19th-century bat the grade of MEARS A10 based on the evaluation of the bat and the accompanying evaluation of the accoutrements. The qualification of the bat as “Attributed” is a necessary lower standard inherent in evaluating a bat of this type; appropriate for the evaluation of a bat from this early era attributed to any specific player
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A base grade of 5 points was awarded for the bat comparing favorably in regards to length, model, knob and barrel style to examined photos of players from the period. Additional examples examined include Baseball by Ken Burns, photo of 1869 Reds with bats, page 22; A Celebration! By James Buckley, Jr. and Jim Gigliotti, photo of 1869 Reds with bats, page 35.
In regards to style, model and barrel dimensions of bats manufactured to be used during 1869-82, due to the limited and unique nature of this bat, we did not have additional physical bats or production information to compare. Therefore, our awarding of the base grade was conducted by visual comparison to available photos of players from the era.

The image of the Wright cabinet photo was very helpful in determining the style and model of bat preferred by Wright during his playing career with the Red Sox. The photograph did not verify this as the exact bat when compared to the cabinet photo, but it did allow for style and manufacturing verification. The base grade was awarded for the style/model of bat only.

In our opinion, the use was consistent with a full season or more of use and categorized as heavy or significant. Wright joined the team in 1869. Under the terms of his contract, the season started on March 15 and lasted until Nov. 15. Use is consistent with a schedule such as laid out above, and possibly additional seasons of use.

With this degree of use, three points were added to the base grade. Although we have not positively identified the exact use and player characteristics of George Wright, we were able to determine this was a game bat and not a trophy bat.

First, the accoutrements were added at a later date and did not appear on the bat at the time of manufacture. This was determined by the fact the use appeared underneath their addition. Second, we have examined numerous trophy bats. Typical trophy bats from the period were adorned with silver decorative features.

On a trophy bat the handle would have a decorative plug, silver bands were found placed at various intervals throughout the length of the barrel, and plates identifying the year, team, event would be found. This bat had no signs of any of those features ever being present. Examples of trophy bats can be seen on:

? Barry Halper Auction Catalog (Lot No. 190) for example of an 1869 trophy bat, pg. 191
? 1886 Peck and Snyder Sporting Goods Equipment catalog. Listed as model Nos. 248-254, the diagram and description read:

“Solid Rosewood bat highly polished, with two beautifully engraved silver plated bands, and a silver plated inscription plate in center. Offered with one band, two bands, engraved inscription plate, plate only.”
 
After comparison of the Wright bat to the catalog descriptions of a trophy bat, it is determined this bat does not match any of the manufacturing characteristics associated with trophy bats issued by Peck and Snyder or the one offered in the Halper sale. Although the Peck and Snyder trophy bat was offered during the 1886 time frame, its manufacturing characteristics in terms of production details, i.e. use of rosewood which was highly polished, engraved silver plated bands, inscription plate and end cap were consistent with an example we examined dating from 1867. Therefore, manufactured trophy bats were available as far back as 1867, and this was not one of those.

The addition of the accoutrements might indicate to some this was a “trophy” bat. It is the opinion of MEARS that the accoutrements were added at an undetermined later date and were not present on the bat when the use occurred. Therefore, MEARS is able to categorize this item as a “game-used” bat. After evaluating the degree of use, three points were assigned.

The evaluation of the provenance fell outside of the area of expertise of the staff at MEARS. The staff of REA brought in respected experts from James Spence Authentication and Thorn to evaluate the accoutrements, which were the basis for the provenance. Their independent findings were reasonable and respected. (2 points for attributed provenance)

JSA’s findings:

? Newspaper draft with handwritten notations by Murnane:
? Boston B.B. Club Property of Mrs. George Wright/ M.T.M. hanging tag: The tag bears a preprinted notation, “Property of” followed by the name “Mrs. George Wright,” which JSA concluded the writing was vintage black fountain pen. The exact handwriting could not be attributed to any specific person. Printed above her name, upside down in faded black fountain pen, is an additional notation that reads, “Geo. Wright’s bat from 1869 given by him to M.T.M.”

JSA concluded all writing on this tag as vintage. With the verification of the tag as appearing in vintage ink, the writing attributing the bat to Wright could be deemed original and of the period.
Thorn’s opinion:

? Thorn examined the two attached ribbons, the Brooklyn Atlantics, Item #2. Cincinnati Red Stockings. The two ribbons were the finest, most extraordinary and desirable baseball trophy ribbons of the era. Each is the only known example in private hands. These ribbons only could originate from someone directly involved with these teams during this era. Each of these is the first ever seen in private hands.

Final Grade
Even with the challenges faced with the grading of this bat, MEARS is quite confident to award this rare 19th-century bat the grade of MEARS A10 based on the evaluation of the bat and the accompanying evaluation of the accoutrements.

There are still some questions left unanswered. When were the accoutrements added and by whom? The exact dating and purpose are unknown. Also, examination of the handwritten notes and article by Murnane references the exploits of the 1870 team in past tense, thus indicating the notes were penned at a date later than 1870. The exact date of his writing is unknown. Murnane died Feb. 7, 1917, so the notes had to have been before 1917.

For MEARS, provenance must be seen as both reasonable and verifiable.  The persons Mrs. Wright and Murnane are considered reasonable figures with respect to ownership and relationship to the bat and surrounding events. The verification for MEARS is based on the supporting work done by JSA and John Thorn.

Conclusion
The bat is deemed to be a very rare, seldom seen, 19th-century bat which was consistent in terms to length, model, weight, and knob preference of a bat depicted in images as associated with Wright when compared to the examined cabinet photo which featured him in his Red Stockings uniform
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No direct link via established manufacturer production information was made available to aid us in our opinion. Provenance via the accoutrements was examined next. As REA noted, the ribbons themselves are quite rare and would only have originated from someone directly involved with these teams during this era. Independent experts determined the accoutrements are authentic and served as attribution to the teams and events associated with Wright.

The exact time, person and reason of the assembly of the bat were undetermined. There was not a direct personal link between Wright himself and the assembly/attachments of the accoutrements. Based on the totality of the circumstances, observations and supporting research and findings, attribution to Wright is reasonable.

With the understanding and combining of the above facts and understanding that “Attributed” grading is done with a lower standard which is inherent in evaluating a bat of this type, the bat was awarded the grade of MEARS A10.  

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