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:


“Ten thousand eyes were on him

As he rubbed his hands with dirt,

Five thousand tongues applauded

When he wiped them on his shirt;

Then when the writhing pitcher

Ground the ball into his hip,

Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye,

A sneer curled Casey’s lip.”


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 soft-cover form in 1901, he dedicated it to Hopper and rightfully so.


The softcover first editions are incredibly rare. (Much more common hardcover first editions were released in 1912.) In fact, only three are known to exist. This same exact one sold for $7,589 in 2005. Of the two others, one in much worse condition sold for $5,500 in 2003, while the other went for $9,600 in 2016. Published by the New Amsterdam Book Co. in 1901, the 7.75” x 5.25” softcover book features 13 sepia pen-and-ink illustrated pages and is "Dedicated, by special permission, to that jovial patron of the National Game - Mr. DeWolf Hopper.”


The original side-stitched stuff paper cover with the poem’s title and publisher address is printed in red and green. There is light-to-moderate edge and corner wear, and some faint soiling/toning to the front and back covers. All pages (32 overall) are intact and quite clean with bold black printed text, strong brownish-red colors, and sharp drawing detail. The front cover exhibits a slight area of restoration to a corner chip in the upper right and the reverse cover has a small edge tear on the left side. A tiny split is visible along the top 1/2" area of the spine. The title page has a tiny, vintage black ink notation at the top dated “January 1902” with the name of the original owner. A piece of paper was once attached to the dedication page by means of a paper clip, resulting in an area of brown discoloration on four pages, including the first page of the poem. Despite these minor condition issues mentioned strictly for accuracy, the book remains incredibly well-preserved and presents in EX overall condition. It comes wrapped in a protective, clear plastic dust jacket and survives as an extraordinary example of this scarce classic, one that would surely become a highlight in any significant rare book or memorabilia collection.


This lot is part of the Ultimate “Casey at the Bat” Trio, along with Lots 74 and 75, from the same consignor.

Current Bidding
Minimum Bid: $2,000
Final prices include buyers premium.: $46,147
Number Bids: 19
Auction closed on Saturday, May 2, 2020.
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