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Old 06-11-2007, 03:49 PM
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Default America's First Baseball Book: The Base Ball Player's Pocket Companion

Posted By: barrysloate



As per a request earlier this week to discuss particular pieces of baseball memorabilia, I thought I would get the ball rolling:

As baseball grew in popularity in the 1850's, fans of the game wanted to know more about it, particularly the rules and their finer points. There was limited access to the game in print save a paragraph or two in a local newspaper, or a column in a weekly paper such as Porter's Spirit of the Times. Fans actually wrote to the editors of various newspapers requesting more detailed coverage, as well as asking if a book about the game might one day be written.

In 1858, Mayhew and Baker of Boston published a book called the Manual of Cricket and Baseball. While it was the first of its kind available to the public, 20 of its 24 pages were devoted to cricket, and only the final four pages contained some very rudimentary rules of how baseball was played.

However, in 1859, the same company published the Base Ball Player's Pocket Companion, a 36 page guide that was the very first book in America devoted entirely to the game of baseball. Its contents included a detailed discussion of the differences between the Massachusetts and New York style of play (the latter which would ultimately become universally accepted); a set of basic rules; a constitution that teams joining the National Association of Amateur Baseball Players would have to abide by; and four woodcut engravings featuring ballplayers batting and fielding. The book would prove to be immensely popular, and it would be reissued in 1860 and 1861 (with a blue metallic cover the final year).

When I wrote my article on rare baseball books in issue #3 of VCBC, I only knew of these three editions. Since then I have discovered three separate editions for 1860 alone. This suggests two things: 1) the rules were regularly being refined at that time, and 2) the book was popular enough that there was a need to reissue it several times during that year.

In 1861, with the start of the Civil War, much of organized baseball would take a hiatus. Likewise, it would be the last year of the Pocket Companion.

Today it is a very rare and desirable collectible, with perhaps a dozen or so copies known of all the editions combined. It is rightly considered the very first baseball guide ever issued, and as such it is a landmark work.

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Old 06-11-2007, 04:28 PM
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Default America's First Baseball Book: The Base Ball Player's Pocket Companion

Posted By: Jason Mishelow

Do you have any info on the original cost of the book. I have always wondered if this was a work for the masses or if it was just being bought by the elite "gentleman" who still dominated the organized clubs of the time. Also am I correct that the book stresses the Mass. rules over the New York rules?

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Old 06-11-2007, 04:38 PM
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Default America's First Baseball Book: The Base Ball Player's Pocket Companion

Posted By: barrysloate

There is no indication of what the book originally cost. It's nicely made so it probably was purchased by someone of at least modest means. What isn't clear, and you've raised a good point, is what was the average baseball fan like in the early days? Was he a rowdy sort, or well mannered and monied? I just don't know.

As far as stressing the Massachusetts rules, the publisher was located in Boston but I believe both sets of rules were discussed equally. Perhaps in 1859 it wasn't clear that the Massachusetts rules would soon be on their way out, but in New England in 1859 it's fair to say they were still popular. They were also implemented by less experienced teams in smaller towns for a longer period of time, even after some of the big time league clubs in New York and Philadelphia were already incorporating the newer style of play.

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Old 06-11-2007, 04:47 PM
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Default America's First Baseball Book: The Base Ball Player's Pocket Companion

Posted By: barrysloate

I should also add that regardless of the book's original cost, it was likely bought by someone who was fairly well educated. If you didn't have much schooling, the book would have been too technical and uninteresting. That alone suggests it would have been purchased by someone with at least a bit of social standing.

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Old 06-11-2007, 06:48 PM
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Default America's First Baseball Book: The Base Ball Player's Pocket Companion

Posted By: mr. moses

an awful ot of gambling and drinking going on. Hard to remember the rules exactly

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Old 06-11-2007, 09:50 PM
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Default America's First Baseball Book: The Base Ball Player's Pocket Companion

Posted By: peter chao

Have you actually seen a copy of the book. Is there a copyright date on an inside page. Also, who was the publisher, any idea of the initial size of the print run. How much would a nice copy of this book sell for at auction. When was the last time the book came up for auction.

Peter

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Old 06-12-2007, 06:37 AM
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Default America's First Baseball Book: The Base Ball Player's Pocket Companion

Posted By: barrysloate

Peter- that's a lot of questions.

Yes, I've handled many copies of this book and the one I pictured is my own, which I recently purchased. I've probably seen close to ten different copies, including a few in museum collections.

Mayhew & Baker was the publisher, which I mentioned above.

I have no idea of the print run, and there were several editions. That information isn't available.

The auction price on the book is somewhat soft these days, due to the fact that the book market is down. The one pictured is from 1860, and I value it in the 6K-8K range. An 1859 edition would sell for more. When I sold my 1859 edition a number of years ago, I got 25K for it. But the book market has some volatility, depending on who is bidding.

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