American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Memory, Exhibit Object Focus

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Early Baseball Card

Champions of America
Charles H. Williamson (1826-1874)
Champions of America
Albumen silver print, 1865
Prints & Photographs Division

Baseball, America's national pastime, evolved from a child's game to an organized sport in the 1840s and 1850s. It was an urban sport, and the first teams were established in New York City and Brooklyn. By 1860 baseball had replaced cricket as the nation's most popular ball game. Before the Civil War, more than one hundred baseball teams played in the New York City area. During the war, the number of teams dwindled to fewer than thirty, but thousands of spectators flocked to games.

The Brooklyn Atlantics dominated early baseball by winning championships in 1861, 1864, and 1865. The Atlantics usually crushed their competition, scoring two or three times more runs than their opponents. The game was an amateur sport: according to the rules of the National Association of Base Ball Players, athletes could not accept wages to play ball, although gifts and jobs were sometimes offered as a means of compensation.

Baseball cards as we know them did not become commonplace until the 1880s. This early prototype is actually an original photograph mounted on a card. At the start of the 1865 season, the Atlantics presented opposing teams with framed photographs of the "Champion Nine." The Scottish-born photographer Charles H. Williamson opened a daguerreotype studio in Brooklyn in 1851, continuing to work as a photographer until his death in 1874.

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