The Brooklyn photography studio of Joseph Hall produced a number of different baseball-related photographs, among which were a group of individual player cabinets featuring members of the 1888-89 New York Giants. Very little is known about these cards, though the majority of the known player images were used for the very rare and valuable N338-2 S.F. Hess issue of 1888 (which contains 16 known members of the Giants). The cards measure approximately 4″ x 6 1/4″, and feature beautiful, black-and-white portrait photos, with the player’s name lettered below the image (in some cases in script writing). The Joseph Hall cards are very rare.
Presented here is a collection of four Hall of Famers from the Joseph Hall set: John Ward, Mickey Welch, Jim O’Rourke, and Roger Connor. Each of these four cards originated from a large group of 18 different cabinets that were sold at auction in 2006 for more than $70,000. After that initial sale, the cards were broken up and were scattered throughout the hobby.
These cards represent four of the five Hall of Famers in that initial group (the fifth being Tim Keefe, not part of this collection), and the largest single group of cards from that issue to be sold publicly in one place since. The cards are among the most rare of all 19th Century cards; despite the aforementioned sale of 18 cabinets in 2006, just four of those 18 have made it as far as the Standard Catalog. Over the years since the discovery of the initial group, several individual examples (including Hall of Famers) have exchanged hands both privately and at public auction, with this group of four pieced together individually by a private collector who has held them for some time.
Included in the group are the following:
1) Jim O’Rourke (HOF) – Graded FAIR 20 by SGC, the card has been clipped at all four corners, as is the case with a great number of the cabinets from the initial find. The image quality is strong, with excellent contrast, and some wear on the surface that is restricted largely to the area outside the oval where the photo appears. The number 2 is written in ink on the otherwise clean and ornate reverse. O’Rourke is currently not catalogued as part of the N338-2 S.F. Hess set, though the existence of this cabinet would make it likely that an O’Rourke was produced for that issue as well.
2) Roger Connor (HOF) – Graded A by SGC, this card has also been clipped at the corners and exhibits surface wear similar to that seen on the O’Rourke. The image quality and contrast is similarly strong, and the reverse is largely clean with some minor staining at the bottom. This particular example boasts the identical image to the N338-2 card of Connor.
3) Mickey Welch (HOF) – Graded A by SGC, the card of “Smiling” Mickey has the same four corner clips as the others, along with some staining and wrinkling on the surface. Welch’s name is written in ink under the oval photo, and the number 4 is written in ink on the reverse. Of the known Joseph Hall Giants Cabinets, the image of Welch is one of just three known player images that were not used in the N338-2 S.F. Hess issue (the others being O’Rourke, Mike Tiernan, and Hall of Famer Tim Keefe). As of this writing, the image of Welch used in this cabinet is unique and unknown to any other of Welch’s card issues.
4) John Ward (HOF) – Graded A by SGC, the card of Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward appears to have been slightly hand cut along the edges, along with the four corners being clipped. The card exhibits considerable wear that is manifested in some tears to the photo itself; the SGC holder lends itself to a strong appearance and excellent protection for the card. Ward’s name is written in ink in the lower border, and above it again in pencil, and the number 3 is written in ink on the reverse. The image of Ward used in this cabinet is identical to that of his S338-2 S.F. Hess issue, and also to that of a recently discovered Police Gazette cabinet that sold for nearly $10,000 earlier this year.
These cards are extraordinarily rare, so much so as despite the fact that the advertisement on the reverse clearly indicates that duplicates could be purchased from the studio, these cards are thought to be unique. The existence of the initial 18 cards sold at aucton in 2006 was a hobby miracle; that four of the five Hall of Famers known to exist have been reassembled by a dedicated collector despite the overwhelming demand for (and cost of) 19th Century material is simply astonishing. It is entirely unlikely that a group of Hall of Famers from such a rare issue will be offered together in this way again.