Rare 1865 baseball card fetches $92K at Maine auction

An 1865 baseball card discovered at a yard sale in rural Maine sold for $92,000 at a Wednesday auction. The seller found the rare baseball card in a photo album, for which he paid $100. 

Saco River Auction Co./AP/File
A rare 1865 baseball card of the Brooklyn Atlantics, discovered in a photo album bought at a yard sale in Baileyville, Maine, on the Canadian border. The Saco River Auction Co. sold the card for $92,000 at its Wendnesday, Feb. 6, 2012 auction.

 A rare 148-year-old baseball card discovered at a rural Maine yard sale has been auctioned for $92,000.

The card depicting the Brooklyn Atlantics amateur baseball club was sold by Saco River Auction Co. in Biddeford Wednesday night and it drew plenty of interest.

Bidding started at $10,000 and quickly rose to the final $92,000, which included an 18-percent premium.

The name of the buyer, who was at the auction house, was not released.

"We're happy with it and the consigner is happy with it," said Troy Thibodeau, manager and auctioneer at Saco River Auction.

A Maine man who doesn't want to be publicly identified found the card inside an old photo album he bought while antique picking in the small town of Baileyville on the Canadian border. The man bought the photo album, old Coca-Cola bottles and a couple of oak chairs together in a single purchase for less than $100, Thibodeau said.

The card isn't the same as a modern-day baseball card, which became common in the 1880s. Rather, it's an original photograph from 1865 mounted on a card, showing nine players and a manager.

The Library of Congress said last month it was aware of only two copies of the photo. The other is in the institution's collection.

In its book "Baseball Americana," the Library of Congress calls the item the first dated baseball card, handed out to supporters and opposing teams in a gesture of bravado from the brash Brooklynites, who were dominant and won their league championships in 1861, 1864 and 1865.

It was impossible to predict what kind of price the card would fetch because of its rarity, Thibodeau said, but he guessed before the auction that the winning bid would fall somewhere between $50,000 and $500,000. The priciest baseball card ever is a 1909 Honus Wagner card, which sold for $2.8 million in 2007.

Tom Bartsch, editor of Sports Collectors Digest, said $92,000 is a good price for a pre-war card without a Hall of Famer's picture.

"There are very few artifacts around from the 1860s," he said. "Baseball was near its infancy in that time."

Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions for Heritage Auctions, said there's also only a small pool of buyers for such an esoteric item.

Both said the story of the card's discovery remarkable is a reminder to collectors of all kinds that a rare find can easily be missed among otherwise unremarkable items.

"It's what keeps those treasure hunters out there going," Ivy said.

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