In order to promote the national pastime and market his business, from November 1888 to March 1889 baseball pioneer Albert Spalding summoned a team of players from the Chicago White Stockings and an “All-America” squad from various cities to compete domestically and abroad. The teams commenced a seven state tour covering the western United States before embarking on a month-long six city trip throughout Australia. Prior to starting the contests, a few players gathered at Stevens Studios in Chicago to have their pictures taken. Presumably, these cabinet photos were to be sold as souvenirs over the slate of games.
Recently, Huggins & Scott was contacted by an Oregon-based consignor who uncovered a portrait of a player surnamed Ryan among their family belongings. According to the consignor, a family member had purchased the cabinet at a far-flung flea market during the 1970s. An update to the known checklist is now necessitated as the offered 1888-89 Stevens Studio Australian Tour Jimmy Ryan Cabinet (possibly signed) is now confirmed! The dapper White Stockings center fielder is portrayed in suit-and-tie on this sturdy 4-1/4 x 6-1/2” sepia cabinet. The crease-free vignette presents in (VG to EX) condition with incidental soiling throughout and limited water staining spots located toward the lower portion of the canvas. Tucked beneath the gilt “Spalding’s Austrailian (sic) Base Ball Tour” text, a previous owner affixed a newspaper slice reading “Ryan, Center Field.” near the lower middle border. The reverse remains attractive with varying degrees of foxing and soiling surrounding the ornate advertisement.
The most intriguing aspect of this uncatalogued prize is the placement of a signature on the bottom left of the photo mount. In shorthand the black script reads, “Yours resp’y James Ryan.” James (Pony) Ryan passed away in 1923 and no exemplars are currently known. Upon careful review by James Spence Authentications, no conclusive determination could be made regarding the author. However, upon reviewing Ryan’s 1888-89 Australian Tour journal, similarities have been noted regarding the slant and style of certain letters in comparison to the signature. In short, the endorsement has the appearance and look of a legitimate autograph. With career statistics that rival several Hall of Famers, should Ryan be eventually inducted at Cooperstown and the signature be conclusively confirmed as “authentic,” then this already extraordinary piece will reach unprecedented heights.