DescriptionTruly Exceptional Oversized 1905 Cleveland Naps Team Photograph by Van Oeyen. From one of the true pioneers of baseball photography, and likewise one of its greatest practitioners, comes this simply monumental work that will thrill all from the casual enthusiast to the most discerning of collectors. With the varied attributes of the piece each competing for praise and celebration, it is hard to know where to begin, but perhaps a brief word about the photographer himself is a proper place to start.
Louis Van Oeyen rose from staff photographer of the Cleveland Press in the opening years of the twentieth century and later rose to prominence as the official photographer of the American League, documenting almost all of the greats of the first fifty years of the 1900's in his artful and distinctive style. Any Van Oeyen work carries a significant premium among baseball photography collectors, particularly those bearing his personal stamp on verso, as this treasure does.
Secondly, we must point to the heroic proportions of this century-old print, slightly greater than 10x14" in size. The tremendous difficulty and expense in creating a piece of this magnitude in these early days made such a production an extremely rare occurrence. One can safely surmise that this piece was gifted to a very important figure, and our reasoning to suspect that it was an investor in the team will be addressed as we flip the photograph over to study the back.
Here we find a handwritten note in pencil from an unknown author. In its entirety, it reads, "Atlanta, GA, 1905, Dear Sir, The Players that are numbered are those who are now playing with the Cleveland American League Ball Club. The others having been sold or released to other clubs. 1 Hess, 2 Congalton, 3 Townsend, 4 Flick, 5 Eells, 6 Turner, 7 Rossman, 8 Bemis, 9 Jackson, 10 Bay, 11 Barbeau, 12 Clark, 14 Stovall, 15 Rhoads, 16 Joss, 17 Lajoie, 18 Bernhard, 19 Bradley." We could certainly be wrong, but the care taken in identifying only those players still active on the roster, combined with the magnitude of the piece, seems to support our hypothesis that the presentee had some sort of new financial interest in the club.
Finally, and most notably, we come to the image itself, which stands as the absolute embodiment of the gruff and grizzled Dead Ball era. These are not prep school boys. There is an almost menacing air in this gang of immigrants' sons, bundled against the cold in matching pea coats as they wait impatiently for Van Oeyen to finish his work. Addie Joss and Nap Lajoie, standing front and center, appear in simply flawless contrast and registration, as do the balance of this rough looking crew. To compare this work to the stark and powerful images that made Dorothea Lange's 1930's Dust Bowl series a national treasure would not be entirely unjustified. Certainly the line that separates photojournalism from "art" has evaporated in this case as well, and as such this remarkable piece would find a fitting home in both a museum of sporting artifacts and a gallery of fine photographic works.
Condition: Only upon quite close inspection will one spot the occasional occurrence of a minor edge tear or light wrinkling. Photograph presents as NRMT.
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