A mean-spirited and insulting baseball-themed “vinegar valentine.”. John Mcloughlin, Charles Howard.

A mean-spirited and insulting baseball-themed “vinegar valentine.”

New York: McLoughlin Bros, circa 1880. Unbound. This valentine measures 7.5” 9.5”. Complete, but with foxing, a creases, and a short marginal tear. (The faults are hard to see in the image, but trust me, they are there).

It is titled “Old Rye Club” and features a colorful, illustration of a drunk baseball player using a whiskey bottle for a bat. Beneath the illustration is a verse that reads:

“B. B. Innings. / The leering of your fishy eye / Most clearly indicates Old Rye, / With which upon the baseball ground / Such sots as you are often found: / Ay, there you stand upon the field / And for a club a bottle wield.”.

Very good. Item #009568

Far from their romantic counterparts, mockingly cruel, sarcastic valentines were especially popular in the last half of the 19th century and sent with every intention to be hurtful. These valentines, which were sold for sale at stationers and convenience stores for a penny (or less) a piece were especially popular among the working class and available in a myriad of combinations to abuse spinsters, drunks, blowhards, neighbors, business associates, store clerks, unwanted suitors, etc. with insults of homeliness, poor hygiene, surliness, stupidity, alcoholism, greed, and a host of other undesirable traits and conditions. The ugliness of their intent almost insured that of the thousands sent, most would be thrown out with the trash rather that saved as a St. Valentine’s Day memento.

The comic valentines created John McLoughlin and one of his company’s cartoonists, Charles Howard, were especially popular and (as noted by the American Antiquarian Society) made with an intentionally crude appearance in contrast with the firm’s “elegant, richly-colored children’s books, almanacs, games, and blocks” that intentionally “magnifies the meanness of the message.

Although the relatively young sport of baseball was incredibly popular in the last half of the 19th century, baseball players were, to put it mildly, looked down upon by the middle and upper classes. Even William Hulbert, one of the founders of the National League, referred to players as simpletons, sinful, superhuman brats, and worthless scalawags. “Character deficiencies,” especially violence and drunkenness, “were the scourge of the 19th century ballplaying fraternity.”

This valentine may specifically allude to Mike Burke, a Cincinnati shortstop who, in 1878 [sic 1879], once came to the ballpark so roaring drunk he assaulted his captain [actually both the team’s secretary, Con Howe, and its player-manager, Cal McVay].” (See Mehlville’s Early Baseball and the Rise of the National League and the Heffrons’ The Local Boys: Hometown Players for the Cincinnati Reds.)

Baseball-related vinegar valentines are rare, and this one addressing the game’s number one 19th century concern, is especially telling of the contempt in which baseball players were held.

At time of listing, there are no baseball-related vinegar valentines for sale in the trade or held by any institution per OCLC. Neither has any other example been sold at auction per Rare Book Hub and Worthpoint.

Price: $200.00

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