This set may well be the sole surviving complete set of 1898-99 National Copper Plate Co. player pictures in existence. Once in a great while, a single picture shows up at auction and it's usually in lower grade. This complete set offered in Collect.com Auctions debut auction arrives looking very similar to the issued condition 110 years ago and even includes the original binder the cards were issued in. Most singles in this set have only the two pinholes along the left side, where they were bound, as their only flaw.

The NCP Portraits were produced at the end of the 19th century in Grand Rapids, Mich. National Copper Plate Co. (NCP) appears to have been a specialty engraver producing illustrative plates for periodical and book publishers in an era when photo illustrations in the print media were uncommon.

With the opening of the 1898 baseball season, NCP began offering what it advertised as its "Art Gallery of Prominent Base Ball Players of America." The pictures were initially issued in series of about six each and sold for 10 cents per series. The NCP pictures were issued in two sizes. Each were black-and-white photomechanical prints on semi-gloss paper. It appears that the pictures that were sold in series directly from the maker were about 91/2-by-121/2 inches size. The version here is in a size of 8-3/4-by-11 inches. Whether there are any significant differences in the images to be found on the differing sizes is largely a matter of conjecture because so few of the large-size prints are known.

The original cover with which this set was discovered makes it clear that this is the portfolio that was offered as a subscription premium to The Sporting News. It is not currently known whether this collection was available in any other manner. The cover appears to be a heavily shellacked burlap, imprinted in black. On the front is a rampant lion between lines of type that read: "VOL. 1. / Portfolio of / Prominent Ball Players" and "ISSUED BY / The Sporting News, / ST. LOUIS, MO." The back cover pictures a catcher's mitt and a fielder's glove and is imprinted with advertising that reads, "The Ball Players Whose Pictures are in this Volume Use Reach Mitts and Gloves." It carries the imprint of the A.J. Reach Co., Philadelphia."

The majority of the pictures have on their fronts a head-and-shoulders portrait of a National League player, either in street clothes or in uniform, five of the pictures have full-length portrayals of uniformed players. The dual dates with which the set is identified reflects the fact that many of the pictures carry either an 1898 or an 1899 date along with the player name, position and team on front.

For more than half of the players on the checklist, this appearance is their first, if not their only, appearance on a collectible. This is the earliest memorabilia depiction of Jimmy Collins, Elmer Flick, Willie Keeler, Bobby Wallace, Vic Willis and, most significantly, Honus Wagner. The backs contain within a box at center a career summary of the player. The write-up summarizes the player's amateur and pro career and often includes such personal data as hometown, physical description and career highlights.

The complete NCP set will be available in Collect.com Auctions June 18 auction, which will open for bidding on May 29 at www.collect.com/auctions.

Checklist

Here is checklist for the 1898-99 NCP pictures that includes the team with whom the player is. Parenthetical initials after a player name will indicate that player's NCP picture is: (R) a "rookie" issue (his first solo appearance on a baseball collectible; (O) his only known collectible; (F) a full-length picture; and (M) also included in the M101-1 set. A few other notes are also included.

1898-99 National Copper Plate Portfolio of Prominent Baseball Players

  1. M.F. Amole, Washington (O) (F). Doc Amole's middle initial was actually "G." He played only two seasons in the majors, 1897-98.
  2. A.C. Anson, Chicago. This is technically a post-career contemporary issue, as Anson retired as Chicago's player-manager after the 1897 season.
  3. Robert Becker, Philadelphia (O). Becker pitched in only six major league games, all with the Phillies in 1897-98, with a 0-2 record.
  4. Martin Bergen, Boston (R) (M).
  5. James J. Collins, Boston (R) (M).
  6. Joe Corbett, Baltimore (O) (F). The only known baseball collectible of boxing champion Gentleman Jim Corbett's brother.
  7. Louis Criger, St. Louis (R) (M).
  8. Lave N. Cross, St. Louis (M).
  9. Montford Cross, Philadelphia (R).
  10. Eugene DeMontreville, Baltimore (R) (M).
  11. Charlie Dexter, Louisville (R).
  12. P.J. Donovan, Pittsburg (R) (M). All other Pirates have the city name spelled with the 'h" on the end.
  13. Thomas Dowd, St. Louis (O). Surprising because he played in the major leagues for 10 years between 1891-1901.
  14. John J. Doyle, Washington (F) (M).
  15. Hugh Duffy, Boston (M).
  16. Frank Dwyer, Cincinnati.
  17. Fred Ely, Pittsburgh (R).
  18. A.F. Esterquest, Cleveland (O). Though property of the Indians, Esterquest never played in the major leagues. The shortstop was farmed out to Youngstown early in 1898.
  19. Wm. Ewing, Cincinnati.
  20. Elmer Harrison Flick, Philadelphia (R) (M).
  21. Daniel Friend, Columbus (O). Friend is the only player in the NCP set to be identified with a minor league team. From 1895-98, he had pitched for Chicago, with a 32-29 record, including 18 wins in 1896.
  22. Geo. F. Gilpatrick, St. Louis (O). His name was correctly spelled "Gillpatrick." His big league career comprised only seven games with the 1898 Brown Stockings, comprising an 0-2 record.
  23. J.M. Goar, Cincinnati (R).
  24. Mike Griffin, Brooklyn (M).
  25. Clark C. Griffith, Chicago (M).
  26. Wm. Hill, Cincinnati (R).
  27. Wm. E. Hoy, Louisville.
  28. James Hughes, Brooklyn (R) (M).
  29. William Joyce, New York.
  30. William Keeler, Brooklyn (R) (M). Most of Wee Willie's cards and collectibles date from his later association with the N.Y. Highlanders.
  31. Joseph J. Kelley, Brooklyn (M). Because he was with the Superbas for only a short period (1899-1901) of his Hall of Fame career, collectibles specifying that team association are rare.
  32. William Kennedy, Brooklyn (M).
  33. William Lange, Chicago (R) (M).
  34. John J. McGraw, Baltimore (M).
  35. W.B. Mercer, Washington (R). Win Mercer's initials were actually "G.B."
  36. Charles A. Nichols, Boston (M).
  37. Jerry Nops, Baltimore (F) (M). This is not technically an "only" card for Jerry Nops, as he does appear in the 1990 Target all-time Dodgers set, but it is his only career-contemporary issue, despite his having pitched in six major league seasons.
  38. John O'Connor, Cleveland (M).
  39. Richard Padden, Pittsburgh (R).
  40. Wilber Robinson, Baltimore (F) (M). Of course, the Hall of Fame catcher's first name was actually "Wilbert."
  41. William Shindle, Brooklyn.
  42. Charles Stahl, Boston (R) (M).
  43. E.P. Stein, Brooklyn (O). Ed Stein's middle initial was actually "F." He falls into the only-collectible category despite having had an eight-year big league career with Chicago and Brooklyn, winning 109 games, including 27 and 26-win seasons with Brooklyn in 1892 and 1894. (He was only 19 in 1893.)
  44. S.L. Thompson, Philadelphia.
  45. John Wagner, Louisville (R) (M).
  46. R.J. Wallace, Cleveland (R) (M).
  47. Victor L. Willis, Boston (R) (M).
  48. Parke Wilson, New York (R).
  49. George Yeager, Boston (O). Because his career in the bigs was in the period 1896-1902, this is Yeager's only known collectible. He played all over the diamond for Boston, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, the Giants and Baltimore.
  50. C.L. Zimmer, Cleveland.