Spring Premier Auction 2020

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This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 5/2/2020

Ernest Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat” is, according to the late Donald Hall, “the most popular poem in our country’s history.” First appearing in the San Francisco Examiner on June 3, 1888, it rose from anonymity to pop-culture fame thanks to a comic actor from NYC named DeWolf Hopper. On August 15, upon hearing that the New York Giants and Chicago White Sox would be in the audience that evening, Hopper was scrambling to find something relevant to recite when he came across this obscure baseball poem recommended by his novelist friend Archibald Gunther, who had just returned from the Bay Area. The show was a huge hit and the piece’s popularity began to spread like wildfire, with the animated Hopper delivering such catchy verses as:

“And now the pitcher holds the ball,

And now he lets it go,

And now the air is shattered

By the force of Casey’s blow.”

It was reprinted in countless periodicals and Hopper’s success grew as he continued to perform it for packed houses [an estimated 10,000 times in his career]. It wasn't long before the majority of Americans knew the poem's fateful ending by heart: "But there is no joy in Mudville; Mighty Casey has struck out." 

 

Interestingly enough, its author, Ernest Thayer—not a poet by trade—never wrote another notable piece. The Boston native and Harvard grad, who was covering baseball as a reporter for the S.F. Examiner in 1888 when he came up with the rhyming story, allegedly based the protagonist, a slugger named Casey, on Hall of Famer Mike “King” Kelly of the Boston Beaneaters. When his poem was first published in softcover form in 1901, he rightfully dedicated it to DeWolf Hopper.

 

The softcover first editions are incredibly scarce (with only three extant). Eleven years later the hardcover first editions were released, and these are more common in the hobby, albeit it still very hard to track down. This is the second hardbound we have ever listed, the first selling for $1,477 in 2016. Published by Chicago’s A.C. McClurg & Co in 1912, the 6.5” x 5” book features 13 two-page chapters enclosed by green endpapers and hard-bound with original green cloth boards that have been tastefully re-backed. The lovely black and white illustrations are enhanced with orange-tinted vignettes—the chapter titles and full drawings on the left page, and the text verse on the right page above its themed caricature.

 

The poem’s title and author are gold-embossed on the front cover alongside a vertical baseball bat decorated with a navy-blue ribbon. Thayer, who preferred to go by his college nickname, “Phinny,” decided to use “Phineas” as his pen name for the 1912 hardcover edition. All pages (32 overall) are perfectly intact and mostly clean with some areas of minor soiling/toning. There is moderate edge and corner wear to the front and back covers. The black text remains strong, orange colors are bright, and illustrative detail sharp. The top corner of the front endpaper is nearly excised to remove notes from the original/previous owner. Overall, the book has been very well-preserved and presents in EX-MT condition. It comes wrapped in a protective, clear plastic dust jacket and survives as a rare and lovely example of this American classic.

 

This lot is part of The Ultimate “Casey at the Bat” Trio, along with Lots 73 and 75, from the same consignor.

Bidding
Current Bidding
Minimum Bid: $200
Final prices include buyers premium.: $1,118
Number Bids: 9
Auction closed on Saturday, May 2, 2020.
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