Get your learn on: The First Baseball Card March 23 2015

From the March 20th New York Times. By Michael Pollak

In 1869, Peck & Snyder printed trade cards with a photo of the undefeated Cincinnati Red Stockings, the pioneering professional team

Q. While waiting endlessly for Opening Day, I got to wondering: What was the first baseball card?

A. While the date of the absolutely oldest card is uncertain, what is believed by many collectors to be the first true mass-produced baseball card was created in 1869 by the Peck & Snyder Sporting Goods Company of 124-128 Nassau Street in Manhattan. The company was founded in 1866 by Andrew Peck and Irving Snyder, who sought to capitalize on a growing interest in sports by an America that was exhausted from the Civil War.

“Although their emotions were still raw from the war, Americans found the rapidly spreading popularity of baseball was a common ground on which to gather,” Jerry Houseman wrote in an article about the company on the website Sports Collectors Daily. Men who only a year earlier had tried to kill each other on the battlefield were now teammates on the ball field. “Peck & Snyder seized the moment and combined sports and pictures into one,” the article says. “Baseball fans no doubt loved it.”

Baseball and photography were both in their infancy; newspapers were not printing advertising photographs yet, and Peck & Snyder, like many other mid-Victorian businesses, advertised themselves by mass-producing trade cards to give out. In 1869, the company printed trade cards, in bright red lettering, with a team photo of the undefeated Cincinnati Red Stockings, the pioneering professional team. There were several varieties of the card; in the most sought-after, the players’ names were printed beneath the photo. They posed in their uniforms and bootlike shoes, and held bats, but there were no gloves yet.

Depending, as always with collectibles, on their condition, the few surviving 1869 Red Stockings cards can be worth a small fortune.

In 2009, a card found in an odd lot by an antiques dealer in Fresno, Calif., Bernice Gallego, sold for more than $75,000. Ms. Gallego, who had never seen a baseball game, initially offered the card for $10 on eBay, but withdrew it after bidders showed unusual interest.

The Peck & Snyder company prospered, branched out to other sports, especially bicycling, and was later sold to the Chicago sports equipment maker A. G. Spalding, the former player and team executive.