Tag Archives: Henry Chadwick

Rare Books about Baseball Are a Home Run!

The first book devoted exclusively to the sport of baseball was The Base Ball Player’s Pocket Companion, published in Boston in 1859. Since then America’s love of baseball has continued to grow, establishing the sport as America’s pastime. Now baseball is also the most popular subject among collectors of rare books in sports. Because of the breadth of baseball literature, most collectors of rare baseball books narrow their focus to a specific aspect of the literature or sport.

Early History

The game of baseball has evolved considerably since its beginnings. Consider, for instance, that there were originally two sets of rules for baseball: one from Boston, and the other from New York. Thus books from baseball’s early history are often quite fascinating, detailing a sport that varies widely from the one we know today.

Beadle's Dime Base-Ball Player

Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player


Spalding's Base Ball Guide

Spalding’s Base Ball Guide

Hidden Histories

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League began during World War II and operated from 1943 to 1954. The history of this league and its players don’t receive much attention today, but the league was quite popular at the time. Meanwhile, both the Negro Leagues and African-American players were frequently overlooked; few books exist about either before the 1970′s. One notable exception is Sol White’s Official Base Ball Guide (1907), sometimes called the “holy grail” of baseball book collecting because it’s so scarce. It’s both challenging and engaging to build a collection around these hidden histories in baseball.

“Get that Nigger off the Field!”

Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues

Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues

Regional Leagues

As baseball’s popularity spread, smaller leagues began popping up all around the country. Although these leagues may not have boasted star players, they offered one means of local entertainment. Teams were sometimes formed around occupation or work location, as illustrated by the photograph of the New Almaden Quicksilver Mine Baseball Team.

New Almaden Quicksilver Mine Baseball Team

New Almaden Quicksilver Mine Baseball Team

Official Baseball Program-Pacific Coast League, 1934 Season

Official Baseball Program-Pacific Coast League, 1934 Season

Middle Atlantic League 25th Anniversary Souvenir Book

Middle Atlantic League 25th Anniversary Souvenir Boo

Biographies and Autobiographies

In the early days, baseball players were frequently illiterate. Their autobiographies were therefore frequently ghostwritten. Both autobiographies and biographies were also “cleaned up”; they tended to be much more inaccurate than modern biographies, sanitizing the players’ lives to make them more acceptable to middle-class readers.

Mickey Mantle of the Yankees

Mickey Mantle of the Yankees

Baseball Fiction

Likely the first novel primarily devoted to baseball was Noel Brooks’ Our Base Ball Club (1884). The genre has grown considerably. It includes dime novels, comic books, and modern first editions. Some collectors focus on a particular series, while others explore the limits of baseball fiction and collect a wider variety of examples.

The Big League

The Big League


Double Curve Dan the Pitcher Detective

Double Curve Dan the Pitcher Detective

The Pick-Up Nine

The Pick-Up Nine

How-To Guides

With the establishment of official rules and leagues, the art of playing baseball became much more standardized. That certainly didn’t mean that opinions never differed on the right form and approach for skills like pitching, batting, and fielding.

Spalding's Baseball for Beginners

Spalding’s Baseball for Beginners


The Science of Baseball

The Science of Baseball

Individual Teams

If you love to “root for the home team,” it makes sense to build your baseball collection around them. You’ll likely find a wealth of programs, statistics, and score cards. Some items, such as the New York Giants’ Press Radio TV from 1956, include a list of players, schedules, and statistics. A collection built around a single baseball team also encompasses biographies and memoirs from team players.

Press Radio 1956-Giants

Press Radio 1956-Giants

New York Giants 1954 Training Season

New York Giants 1954 Training Season


Regardless of your area of expertise, it’s important to learn all you can about the rare books of baseball, and about your specialization. And that means one thing: getting the right bibliography! A terrific place to start is David Block’s Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game (1995). In addition to offering a great print history of the game, it also has a bibliography of pre-1850 books that treat baseball in some way. For baseball fiction, you’ll want Andy McCue’s Baseball by the Books (1991). And a more general bibliography is Myron Smith’s Baseball: A Comprehensive Bibliography (1986). Smith has since published supplements to include later material.






The Rare Books of Baseball

This weekend kicks of the beginning of the 2013 Major League Baseball season. While the precise origins of the game remain dubious, the sport has gained a sure place as the most popular sport of focus among rare book collectors.

A Legendary Rivalry

Henry Chadwick (1824-1908) was a British-born journalist. A true baseball enthusiast, Chadwick launched one of the first newspaper columns devoted to baseball. He was also among the first to record baseball statistics as a means to evaluate individual players’ performance. In 1903, Chadwick wrote an article suggesting that baseball was a form of an English game called rounders. The game had similar rules and equipment, so the guess seemed plausible enough.

Enter Albert Spalding (1850-1915). A great pitcher from the 1870′s, Spalding was one of baseball’s greatest advocates. He owned the Chicago White Stockings and the National League of Professional Ball Clubs. In 1911, Spalding launched a massive campaign to make baseball the national pastime. He believed that baseball was a quintessentially American game–and was invented by Americans. Thus he vociferously disagreed with Chadwick’s assertion that baseball had British origins.

To settle the disagreement, Spalding appointed a committee whose mission was to uncover the origins of baseball. He selected Abraham Mills as the chairman. Mills was the National League’s president from 1882 to 1884. The task force, nicknamed the “Mills Commission,” ruled on December 30, 1907 that Abner Doubleday had invented baseball. Immediately a myth was born.

The Doubleday Myth

The Mills Commission based their ruling almost entirely on the testimony of one man: 71-year-old Abner Graves, a mining engineer who lived in Denver, Colorado. Graves responded to a “call for people who had knowledge of the game,” placed in Akron, Ohio’s Beacon Journal by Spalding. Graves claimed that he’d seen Doubleday draw a diagram of a baseball field back in 1839, during a schoolboy’s game. Graves sent his account to the Beacon Journal, which printed it with the headline “Abner Doubleday Invented Baseball.”


US Army general and Civil War hero Abner Doubleday was spuriously credited with creating baseball thanks to the Mills Commission.

Meanwhile Doubleday himself never claimed that he invented the sport. A US Army general and Civil War hero, Doubleday never once mentioned baseball in his extensive diaries. By the time the Mills Commission declared Doubleday the inventor of baseball, he’d already passed away. But that didn’t stop the myth from taking on a life of its own. Soon, Doubleday was even credited with introducing baseball to Mexico during the Mexican-American War.

Flaws in the Doubleday Myth

Unfortunately the Mills committee overlooked some critical information. First, Graves wasn’t the most reliable witness. He’d been only five years old in 1839 when he supposedly saw Doubleday diagram the baseball field. But the greatest flaw in Graves’ account was that Doubleday was not even in Cooperstown, New York in 1839.

Clearly Doubleday hadn’t invented baseball, but who had? America longed for an answer. In 1953, Congress named Andrew Cartwright the inventor of baseball, definitively debunking the Doubleday myth. Cartwright, a volunteer firefighter, had been a founding member of the New York Knickerbockers (est September 23, 1845). He’d been instrumental in making baseball more of a gentlemen’s sport. But modern scholars of baseball have also dismissed Cartwright as baseball’s inventor.


The New York Knickerbockers were the first organized baseball team. In 1953, Congress declared founding member Andrew Cartwright the inventor of baseball.

Historian and antiquarian David Block is the leading scholar on the history of baseball. His 2005 book, Baseball before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game, outlines the earliest mentions and illustrations of baseball in literature. The first known appearance of “base-ball” in print occurred in the 1744 edition of A Little Pretty Pocket-Book. And the first-known rules of baseball were printed in Spiele zur Erholung (1796). The German book that summarizes the rules of a game called “Ball mit Freystaten (oder das englische Base-ball),” which translates as “ball with free station (or English base-ball). Block illustrates the similarities between baseball and trapper ball He also notes that the first written account of rounders in England was in The Boy’s Own Book (1828).

Thus, neither Chadwick nor Spalding (nor the 1953 American Congress) was correct about baseball’s origins. The game had already existed for nearly a century before Doubleday, Cartwright, or any of their relative contemporaries could have “invented” it.

Collecting Rare Baseball Books

Baseball is by far the most popular game among collectors who specialize in a sport. This is due, in large part, to the mysterious origins of the sport. But there are also plenty of niches for collectors to focus on, from baseball’s early history, to regional leagues or specific teams, to baseball fiction.


Henry Chadwick, the sports writer who had questioned baseball’s origins, played a significant role in nationalizing the rules of baseball. He wrote Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player most years, from 1860 to 1881. The guide included not only rules for the game itself, but also guidelines for establishing baseball clubs and game statistics from the previous year. These guides were ubiquitous at the time, helping to spread interest in the game and normalize rules. But Chadwick’s guides have become exceptionally scarce, and they’re prized among collectors who specialize in baseball.

Juvenile-Pastimes-BaseballOne of the earlier references to “base-ball” as a children’s game comes from Juvenile Pastimes; Or Girls’ and Boys’ Book of Sports (1849). References to the sport at this time are particularly uncommon. One of the 17 woodcuts in this book depicts two boys playing “base-ball,” making it a relatively early pictorial depiction of the game.

Baseball fiction has long been favored among collectors. Earlier baseball fiction was often published in serial form, though novels soon gained steam. One especially collectible title is Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars (1955) by Walter R Brooks. The Freddy series itself is beloved among many collectors of modern first editions, as well.


Ephemera also remains attractive, especially to collectors who focus on individual teams. One particularly interesting piece of ephemera comes in the form of a poem by Barry Gifford. An avid Cubs fan, Gifford published “The Giants Are Going to Win the Pennant” on a Madrugada broadside. He compares the poet Jack Spicer to Ted Williams, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, whose “hits are in/the record books/waiting to be broken.”


As Americans’ love of baseball remains strong and the game continues to evolve, collectors of rare baseball books will undoubtedly have plenty of opportunities to expand their collections.