This set may well be the sole surviving complete set of 1898-99 National Copper Plate Co. player pictures in existence. Once in a great while, a single picture shows up at auction and it’s usually in lower grade. This complete set offered in Collect.com Auctions debut auction arrives looking very similar to the issued condition 110 years ago and even includes the original binder the cards were issued in. Most singles in this set have only the two pinholes along the left side, where they were bound, as their only flaw.
The NCP Portraits were produced at the end of the 19th century in Grand Rapids, Mich. National Copper Plate Co. (NCP) appears to have been a specialty engraver producing illustrative plates for periodical and book publishers in an era when photo illustrations in the print media were uncommon.
With the opening of the 1898 baseball season, NCP began offering what it advertised as its “Art Gallery of Prominent Base Ball Players of America.” The pictures were initially issued in series of about six each and sold for 10 cents per series. The NCP pictures were issued in two sizes. Each were black-and-white photomechanical prints on semi-gloss paper. It appears that the pictures that were sold in series directly from the maker were about 91/2-by-121/2 inches size. The version here is in a size of 8-3/4-by-11 inches. Whether there are any significant differences in the images to be found on the differing sizes is largely a matter of conjecture because so few of the large-size prints are known.
The original cover with which this set was discovered makes it clear that this is the portfolio that was offered as a subscription premium to The Sporting News. It is not currently known whether this collection was available in any other manner. The cover appears to be a heavily shellacked burlap, imprinted in black. On the front is a rampant lion between lines of type that read: “VOL. 1. / Portfolio of / Prominent Ball Players” and “ISSUED BY / The Sporting News, / ST. LOUIS, MO.” The back cover pictures a catcher’s mitt and a fielder’s glove and is imprinted with advertising that reads, “The Ball Players Whose Pictures are in this Volume Use Reach Mitts and Gloves.” It carries the imprint of the A.J. Reach Co., Philadelphia.”
The majority of the pictures have on their fronts a head-and-shoulders portrait of a National League player, either in street clothes or in uniform, five of the pictures have full-length portrayals of uniformed players. The dual dates with which the set is identified reflects the fact that many of the pictures carry either an 1898 or an 1899 date along with the player name, position and team on front.
For more than half of the players on the checklist, this appearance is their first, if not their only, appearance on a collectible. This is the earliest memorabilia depiction of Jimmy Collins, Elmer Flick, Willie Keeler, Bobby Wallace, Vic Willis and, most significantly, Honus Wagner. The backs contain within a box at center a career summary of the player. The write-up summarizes the player’s amateur and pro career and often includes such personal data as hometown, physical description and career highlights.
The complete NCP set will be available in Collect.com Auctions June 18 auction, which will open for bidding on May 29 at www.collect.com/auctions.