Monday, February 7, 2011

Favorite Cards: Louisville Colonels

1898-1899 National Copper Plate Portraits #45 - John Wagner

I have a strong fascination with 19th century baseball memorabilia. When cards or other items feature a defunct team or a famous player, something clicks in my brain to pay attention. The 19th century is littered with teams that changed radically, moved or folded. Some clubs were only around for a season.

The Louisville Colonels jumped from AA ball into the National League in 1892. The Colonels survived until 1899, when it was one of four teams contracted after the season. The owner bought half of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900 and moved many of his Louisville players to Pittsburgh.

Although the Colonels featured many star players and eventual Hall of Famers, the card that has always caught my eye is one of John Wagner, better known as Honus Wagner, perhaps the greatest all-around player of the dead ball era.

This portrait is the earliest known example of Honus on any type of baseball memorabilia. It doesn't show him in uniform, but he is identified as the third baseman of the Louisville club in 1899. Essentially, this is Honus Wagner's rookie card. The portrait was used again in the M101-1 Sporting News supplement on August 19, 1899.

Very few copies of this issue survive. There is only one known complete collection. These pictures were black and white photomechanical prints on semi-gloss paper in a size of 8-3/4-by-11 inches. They were produced by the National Copper Plate Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Wagner only played 2 1/2 seasons with Louisville, so any collectible, especially of that era, with the Colonels is rare. Most collectors today aren't aware that Honus Wagner was on any other team besides the Pittsburgh Pirates. The majority of those collectors aren't even aware that Louisville, Kentucky had a Major League baseball team. Those same collectors may be surprised at the things they might find if they look into the past.


LongFlyBall said...

Great post!
The history of The Game is so rich there are too many stories like this that get buried.

Steve Gierman said...

Thanks! It's a real shame that a lot of fans and collectors are satisfied with the cookie cutter version of the history of the game and won't take the time to learn about the real history of the game.

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