BIDDEFORD — Floyd Hartford was thrilled to have a rare 1860 Abraham Lincoln campaign button for his auction on Feb. 6.

Then an envelope sent from Washington County showed up in the mail.

Inside was a small photo of the 1865 Brooklyn Atlantics, on a baseball card so rare that it’s one of only two known to exist. The other is in the Library of Congress.

“Any auctioneer in the country would want this card,” Hartford said, showing the small piece of baseball history that he will auction off next month at Saco River Auctions. “Who would have thought within six months we’d get two (rare) cards like this in Maine?”

Saco River Auctions set a Maine record for a baseball card sale in August when it sold a rare 1888 Michael “King” Kelly card for $72,100.

Five months later, Hartford and his staff are gearing up for a sale that may draw even more attention from collectors from across the country.

“If the other one was a home run, this is a grand slam,” said Troy Thibodeau, manager of the auction house. “It will make huge waves in the industry.”

The Brooklyn Atlantics card dates to when baseball was in its infancy, before baseball cards gained popularity in the 1880s.

The Atlantics dominated early baseball by winning championships in 1861, 1864 and 1865, often crushing the competition by scoring two or three times as many runs, according to the Library of Congress website.

The card was found a couple of months ago by an antiques picker in Baileyville, a town of about 1,700 people in rural Washington County.

The picker stopped at a yard sale in search of furniture, but found none. Instead, the people who were having the yard sale brought the picker to a woodshed, where he found some old Coca-Cola bottles and a photo album, Thibodeau said.

Inside the album was the card, which shows 10 stone-faced baseball players, some with bats in hand. It’s a carte de visite, a type of small photograph usually made of thin albumen print and mounted on a thicker piece of paper.

Hartford said the picker, who does not want to be publicly identified, sent it to Saco River Auctions because he had heard about the King Kelly card auction.

“It came to us out of the blue,” Hartford said.

The card was authenticated Monday by Paul Messier, a Boston-based conservator of photos. Hartford said the process to authenticate the card took nearly six hours and cost $700. The card is in good condition, with some slight yellowing after nearly 150 years.

Thibodeau won’t hazard a guess about the price the card could fetch, saying only that “the sky’s the limit.”

There have been no known auctions or sales of that particular card to provide a comparison.

Such rare cards attract wealthy collectors, Thibodeau said, such as actor Charlie Sheen and former hockey star Wayne Gretzky.

“This is the rarest of the rare,” Thibodeau said of the picker’s find. “Some days you win, some days you lose. Some days you really knock it out of the park.”

Don Hontz, a baseball card collector who owned Don’s Card Shop in Portland, said he won’t be surprised if there is intense bidding for the Atlantics card, just as there was at the King Kelly auction.

“It’s kind of shocking because it’s a very rare card and you just don’t find these things around,” he said. “I feel like it’s going to go for a lot of money.”

While Hontz was shocked to hear about the Atlantics card, he said he isn’t surprised that old sports memorabilia would be found in Maine.

“New England states are the hotbed for sports cards. This is where the teams were, way back,” he said. “To me, the East Coast, and especially New England, are where the true finds are going to be. Maine has had a lot of good cards come out over the years.”

While Hartford is especially excited about the baseball card, he is also happy to auction the Abraham Lincoln campaign button from 1860.

The ambrotype – a photo printed on glass – was taken by the George Clark Co. of Boston and shows a beardless Lincoln. It belongs to a family from Portland who had the pin for years “but didn’t know what they had,” Hartford said.

The auctions for the baseball card and the campaign button will attract different types of buyers, but they show there are still treasures hidden in Maine, Hartford said. “From one end of the state to the other, there’s still stuff around.”

 

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:
ggraham@pressherald.com
Twitter: grahamgillian