A previously unknown batch of 1857 baseball documents fetched $3.26 million on Sunday via SCP Auctions, which sold a set of “Laws of Base Ball” papers — items that pre-date Alexander Cartwright‘s contributions to the game.
It’s not quite a record-holder for historic sports documents, but it’s not shabby considering its auction history. According to the Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based auction house, these documents were first found as part of a 1999 manuscript auction with minimal details in their listing and bought without them having been researched. It was tucked away after a $12,650 purchase until recently.
Dr. James Naismith‘s “Rules of Basketball” from 1891 sold for $4.3 million, while the “Rules of Soccer” from 1859 sold for $1.4 million.
The author here is Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams, who was the President of the New York Knickerbockers, and the documents’ origin has been researched by John Thorn, who has been the official MLB historian since 2011. The documents note guidelines such as the length of base paths, number of players on the field, a nine-inning game and more.
“When Doc Adams set to work in late 1856, none of these aspects of the game were settled,” Thorn said. “This was some seven years after Cartwright had left New York for Hawaii, never to return. For his role in making baseball the success it is, Doc Adams may now be counted as first among the Founding Fathers of Baseball.
“No earlier baseball manuscript of this significance has ever come onto the open market,” Thorn said. “In 1857, baseball made its great leap forward, and these are the documents that reveal what it was like to be present at the creation.”
“When we started to peel back the layers of information held within these documents – and their origin and purpose was revealed – we were overwhelmed by the gravity of their historical significance,” said Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions. “It’s difficult to put a value on an object of such singular importance, but we feel it is worthy of a substantial seven-figure price. We have previously sold a 1920 New York Yankees jersey worn by Babe Ruth for $4.4 million, but if not for this document we may have never known Babe Ruth.”
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