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Baseball is now over a hundred and fifteen years old. Its birthplace was Cooperstown, New York, and it was evolved from a now forgotten game called "town ball" by one Abner Doubleday, a student at a military school there. Abner could not have foreseen the far reaching results of what he started with a ball, bat, and nine boys in 1839, when sports were mainly confined to horse racing, boat racing, and county-fair wrestling matches.
Baseball remained an amateur game until the latter part of the nineteenth century and the prints depicting various games were few in number. During the 1860's there were a few pieces of sheet music published, such as "The Home Run Polka," which bear on their covers a lithograph of some phase of the game. There is also a print showing a Confederate military prison with a baseball game taking place within the stockade. This is called "Union Prisoners at Salisbury, N. C.," and was published by Sarony, Major, and Knapp, New York lithographers and competitors of Currier & Ives. Its sub-title states that it was "drawn from nature by Act. Major Otto Boetticher." He may or may not have been one of the prisoners, but the emphasis with this print is more on the prison than on the game.
Probably the most important print with baseball as the subject is the large folio entitled "The American National Game of Baseball. Grand Match for the Championship at the Elysian Fields, Hoboken, N. J." . Published in 1862 by Currier & Ives, it was drawn by an unknown artist. Whoever he was, his work is far above the average as to action and setting. This rare and important print is illustrated in color in Currier & Ives, Printmakers to the American People, by the well-known authority, the late Harry T. Peters. He considered the print one of the finest ever published by this firm.
Aside from its artistic merit, baseball fans will find it interesting as showing a time when the game was still very young. Grandstands and stadiums were still in the future. Players' uniforms are informal and the spectators stand around in groups or sit in their carriages. Silk-hatted gentlemen brush elbows with those in less formal attire and it is doubtful if anyone raised the cry of "Kill the Umpire!" Incidentally, the umpire is dressed in a Prince Albert coat and a pork-pie hat.
This appears to be the only large-folio baseball print published by Currier U Ives. They were true prophets regarding the importance of the national game, since the big leagues had come into existence before they finally closed their doors. They used the game as a subject five times in their comic prints. It is an interesting fact, however, that no artist seems to have used the game as a subject for a formal oil painting.