CHECK OUT THE VIDEO HERE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zup6xMgrtR8
I’ve kept this acquisition under my hat for over a year now 🙂
In 1902, the first Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton was discovered by Barnum Brown in Hell Creek, Montana. Does it shock you that it wasn’t that long ago? Think of all the people who never got the chance to know about the T-Rex. George Washington, Van Gogh, Darwin, etc.
Barnum Brown is in the white shirt, next to his discovery.
Ever since, the T-Rex has been known as the king of the dinosaurs. If you ask a child what their favorite dinosaur is, they will either say a T-Rex, or lie and say something else like a Triceratops or Brontosaurus.
Could you imagine being the person to have discovered it? *Digs a bit … “Oh, neat! I found a little…HoooOOLLLYYyYYY CRAPPPPPZZZZ WHAT IS THIS!?!?!?!?!? DRAGONS EXIST!!!!!”
Ever since then, kids and scientists alike have been trying to illustrate what a T-Rex could have looked like. Did they stand up tall? Did they have feathers? Were they multi-colored? Few things have captured my imagination like thinking about what dinosaurs were like. Hence getting goosebumps when I tried the Jurassic Park VR on our Oculus! Seriously, man … goose … freaking … bumps.
Speaking of Jurassic Park, it came out when I was a kid, and instantly became my favorite movie. (It was also my first PG-13 movie!) I saw it in the theatre four times, fell in love with dinosaurs all over again … and Lex. Mom bought me the VHS tape when it came out, and it was the greatest thing, ever. Up until that point, all I had were books from the library about dinosaurs.
SPOILER ALERT: (lol) If you didn’t already know, the movie Jurassic Park was about mining for dino DNA, and being able to recreate dinosaurs.
So, what is needed to know what exactly a T-Rex truly looked like? Say it with me …
And that, my friends, is where we begin the baseball card portion of our story. Raise your hand if you are surprised about me writing a baseball card / dinosaur cross-over article.
About a quarter of a century prior to the discovery of our favorite dinosaur, our beloved hobby’s first nationally distributed photographic baseball cards were produced: Old Judge. I’ve heard them described as a primary building block for the collecting community – the cornerstone manifestation of baseball cards as noted on the PSA website. I think that’s quite aptly described!
Oh, and yes, Old Judge baseball cards pre-dated the discovery of the T-Rex by about 25 years!
Catalogued with the designation of N172, Old Judge provided the only way for many baseball fans to see actual photographs of their favorite players. Much like the T-Rex fossils that were discovered, Old Judge cards can perhaps be considered the fossils of the baseball card hobby. It was a time before photographs could be mass produced. Instead what they would do, is they would line up photographs of players in a 24 image matrix, put a matte of borders on top of them with names, teams, copyright info, etc., take a photograph of the 24 image matrix, and chop them up into cards.
Holding one of these baseball relics demands your full attention, because you are holding Baseball history. Baseball card history. American history. They are incredible relics of the past that steal the spotlight as a conversation piece, even amongst those who don’t care one bit about baseball. The typical non-baseball fan’s response will be “Okay, now THAT’S cool!!!” Heck, I’ve had conversations with baseball enthusiasts who had absolutely no idea whatsoever that 19th century baseball cards even existed!
To those who don’t know the history of Old Judge cards, one might look at one, and be instantly intrigued. Take a look at this Abner Boyce card. Study it. Seriously! Look it over. What observations can you make?
It’s faded, but give it a break, will ya? The fella depicted was alive and likely coloring with crayons during the Civil War! Scratch that – crayons weren’t yet invented. No one living on the planet today was even alive when this card was created. Heck, no one living on the planet today can say they’ve seen 19th century baseball game! This card was created closer to the birth of the United States than today’s date. So yeah, it’s old. It’s been through a lot. To top it all off, this particular card is the only one that has been graded by PSA. (It is a 1.5, fyi … I just photoshopped it out of its holder.)
Anyway, back to the question. What observations can you make? Here’s what you might find …
- A man with a hearty moustache by the name of Boyce
- He’s a Catcher, and is catching a ball with his bare hands. (That, or is doing one of those Dragon Ball Z things)
- It appears as though he is partaking in a game of our national pastime out in the country.
- There is a fence in the background, with flowers just behind him
- Way in the back, you can almost make out what looks to be a dirt road. (Keep in mind, cars weren’t yet a thing.)
Much like the T-Rex, we don’t have much else to go by for this particular Old Judge issue of Abner Boyce, aside from this faded relic. We simply can’t make out much detail. It leaves me wanting more. A student of baseball and its cardboard history may want to know why he was in a field, and would want to know what it felt like catching a ball without a glove. Sadly, this may be the only thing we have regarding this photograph of Boyce.
Or is it?
Much like in Jurassic Park when they found dino DNA, I found Old Judge DNA! Here’s what I mean …
What exactly is this? It is THE original glass plate negative straight from the Vermont Find from years ago! It serves as our lens into a lost world. Let’s talk a bit about the Vermont Find …
Remarkably enough, against all odds, a mere 84 original glass plate negatives were discovered years ago. I don’t have many details on this find (that I can discuss publicly, that is), though I can imagine the thrill it must have been for the person who had them to see they were photographs of baseball players. Maybe a similar response to digging up the first T-Rex.
Of the 84 glass plate negatives, 63 of them were used to create Old Judge baseball cards (that we know of). For those keeping score at home, a total of 30 players were covered – about 32 adult T-Rex skeletons have been discovered. Is there a reason to call this to attention? Meh, not really – I just like me some numbers!
It is truly remarkable that these exist…truly! They are not like the printing plates of today – they weren’t meant to be preserved and collected. Heck, you could probably throw a printing plate at a wall, and it won’t do much to it. Sneeze on the glass plate negative? Things might get sketchy. The glass is very fragile. Over the years, they have been broken/destroyed (intentionally or unintentionally) and many were simply wiped clean to be used again for other photographs. So yeah – the very fact that 84 of them even exist is a miracle. Keep in mind the Old judge cards are about 2 1/2″ tall. The glass plate negatives are about 6″ tall.
Every now and then, they will pop up. In fact, I think Robert Edward Auction has a couple up for auction right now (though I’m not sure the auction will be live anymore by the time I release this article.)
When this came to auction, I immediately fell in love.
Watch what happens when you bring a scan into photoshop and invert the image …
Magic? Witchcraft? Nope. Photoshop! I get a kick out of it every time.
The clarity and detail shown is simply amazing. Plus, it answers a lot of questions for those who may not know much about Old Judge baseball card history! Boyce is on a blanket or rug, with some sort of fake grass behind him. Behind that, is a painted backdrop! This was common practice back then. I found this on the internet that gives you a better idea of how it all went down:
Here’s another …
It is wild to think that this exact physical glass plate negative was not just used to make a real Old Judge card, but was literally right in the room with the player to have his image imprinted upon it.
Check out this craziness … I pulled some high quality 8x10s from it, even zooming in on his body. We can study every detail up close and personal.
That’s a far cry from this little 2 1/2″ tall piece!
What this means is that we now have the DNA needed to create our own N172 Old Judge card.
Check it out …
The final product … before and after …
Y’all, this gives me goose bumps! I’ve had the plates for over a year now, and just last night put this together. When I was done … well … let’s just say I couldn’t stop looking at it!
It’s fun, because this isn’t just a “reprint” that’s been copied from online. It is an actual photograph taken from the original glass plate negative, and it’s perfect. It embodies everything I love about Old Judge cards. The reason why I fell in love with this one in particular is because I’m a huge fan of interesting 19th century painted backdrops used in Old Judge cards. Many players were posed in front of a blank wall – and those are great, too, as they tell a story. But for me, a great backdrop is where it’s at!
But that’s not all.
The auction house that sold it, had the other Boyce…and I was the winner of this one, too!
Not only that, but I was able to track down the Old Judge card from Jay, one of the authors of “The Photographic Baseball Cards of Goodwin & Company” – aka the Old Judge bible. It’s extra fun that my Boyce is the exact specimen shown in the Old Judge bible! (See below). To my knowledge not a single copy of this one has been graded by PSA.
Second verse, same as the first! Invert in photoshop …
*squeals like a little girl again … and whammo! A perfect Old Judge card, created from the original glass plate negative …
The before and after isn’t as dramatic as the first example, but still a night and day difference.
And here are the two Old Judge reproductions together!
Would you like a copy of each for your collection? They should make for a great conversation piece for both your collecting and non collecting friends alike! Send $20 shipped via paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org / tanner-jones-93 venmo or $10 for one (just let me know which you want!)
It’s shocking to me how I can pull such large high res images from them! I have a feeling we can go even larger. In fact, I was considering making a 20×24 of one of them, but I simply don’t have the room…but when has that stopped me before?
I’m far from done with these – my plan is to have much more fun with them, but for now, I’m just happy to have been able to share them with you all! But stay tuned 🙂
So there you have it – original glass plate negatives from the first nationally distributed photographic baseball cards!
CHECK OUT THE VIDEO HERE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zup6xMgrtR8