What you see: An 1869 copy of The Red Stockings sheet music, lauding a Cincinnati team of that name. Robert Edward Auctions estimates it at $2,000 to $3,000.
The expert: Tom D’Alonzo, vintage memorabilia specialist at Robert Edward Auctions.
How was sheet music of this sort used in the mid-19th century? Also, is this sheet music for the piano, for voice, or both? It might be a little hard, but try to imagine living in a time with no radio, no records, no televisions. If you wanted to hear music, you had to go to a concert or play an instrument. A lot of homes had a piano, so sheet music like this was sold to be played for entertainment. This sheet music is for exactly that – a piano – with no lyrics included.
How many songs are in it? Would we recognize any of the songs today, or are all of them unknown to modern audiences? Only one song appears in this sheet music, and I would think it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t be recognized today if the tune came on the radio.
How was music of this sort important to baseball and baseball fandom? Did clubs that were similar to the Royal Rooters in Boston exist in 1869? Would they have used sheet music such as this? I don’t know how important it was to the fan base, but other prominent teams and players had songs dedicated to them – it was considered a great honor. I’d imagine that some of these songs were popular in their day, but it’s hard to say for sure – we have no way of seeing how many pieces of sheet music were sold. The Red Stockings had a strong local following, of course, but nothing to the extent of the Royal Rooters.
Why are the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings ‘one of the most celebrated teams in baseball history’, according to the lot notes? What is the demand like for that club’s material today, and how does it remain strong? This team is generally considered to be the first professional team. That, coupled with the fact that they won all their games in 1869 against some of the best teams in the country, has made them pretty famous today. That contributes to a strong demand for items related to the team, but there aren’t a ton of items to go around. We’ve seen some, including CDVs [cartes de visite] and sheet music like this, and they’re always in demand.
Are the Cincinnati Red Stockings an antecedent to the Cincinnati Reds? Does the club have any connection to the Boston Red Sox? You’d think they would, but they don’t. Four players from the 1869 Cincinnati team joined up with the Boston Red Stockings in 1871 as part of the National Association, which was baseball’s first professional league, after the Cincinnati club disbanded. That Boston team is actually today’s Atlanta Braves – stick with me here – and the Boston Red Sox didn’t come along until 1901. The Cincinnati Reds that we know today weren’t a thing until 1882.
Is this cover design unusually elaborate? What can we infer from the fact that the publisher thought they could pay to show all nine players in this level of detail on the cover and make a profit? This cover was obviously designed to catch the eye, and that’s true of most early baseball sheet music. They’re phenomenal display pieces and very attractive. The players on the 1869 team were all well known, so it’s likely the manufacturer saw them as great selling points and included them all.
How does this copy compare to the other four that you’ve handled? Without being able to hold them side by side, I’d estimate that this example is middle of the pack – not the best, but not the worst. It’s really a solid example.
How did it manage to survive so well? Much of the early sheet music was bound together in an album, and that’s true of this example. Having it preserved tightly and free of exposure to the elements contributed to its survival.
The lot notes mention the sheet music’s ‘extremely fragile nature’–what makes it fragile? Was it printed on lower-quality paper? And does it require any sort of special handling, such as gloves? It’s printed on thin paper – not low quality by any means, but thin and susceptible to tearing or damage. Gloves aren’t needed to handle it, but common cautions should be taken to ensure it lives another 100+ years.
How did this item come to you? How many owners has it had? Have you sold it before? This piece has a typical story – it was collected by a sheet music collector who enjoyed it for many years before deciding it was time to sell his collection. I don’t know where he acquired it or how many owners it had, but it’s the first time we’ve ever offered it.
What is the world auction record for this particular piece of sheet music? The highest price we’re aware of at public auction is $4,025 in 1999.
Why will this item stick in your memory? It’s just a classic piece from the early days of baseball. When we think sheet music, it’s hard not to have the 1869 Red Stockings sheet music come to mind.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Robert Edward Auctions.
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