''Rarer than rare'' 1865 baseball card up for sale

Wed Feb 6, 2013 3:49pm EST

(Reuters) - A rare 1865 photograph of the Brooklyn Atlantics baseball team, discovered at a Maine yard sale and considered one of the first baseball cards ever, will be auctioned on Wednesday.

The auction house, Saco River Auction Co., hopes it could fetch as much as $500,000.

The photograph mounted on a card, known as a carte de viste, is the only one of its kind known to exist, though the Library of Congress has a similar image made from a different negative, said Troy Thibodeau, manager and auctioneer at Saco River, in Biddeford, Maine.

"It's rarer than rare," he said.

The card shows nine members of the Brooklyn Atlantics, known as the first champions of baseball, and their coach. The team was a founder of the National Association of Base Ball Players, which preceded today's National League, Thibodeau said.

"It's more of a piece of photography than a baseball card, but it's considered by many to be the first baseball card just by the fact that it was distributed by the team," he said. "It kind of set the stage for baseball cards after that."

An antiques picker bought the card at a yard sale last year in eastern Maine, Thibodeau said. It was in a photo album the buyer purchased along with old Coke bottles and oak chairs for about $100.

The owner mailed the card to the auction house after it set a state record in August by selling an 1888 baseball card of Michael "King" Kelly for about $72,000, Thibodeau said.

It was unclear how many of the cards were produced. The team had them printed and handed them out to fans and players, even those from opposing teams, because they were so good at the time, Thibodeau said.

"It was kind of a sign of bravado," he said.

Thibodeau found it difficult to place a value on the card because it was unique, but estimated bids could range from $40,000 or $50,000 on the low end to as much as $500,000.

"The key piece of this is not only that it's a baseball card, but that it's a wonderful piece of Americana," he said.

(Reporting by Daniel Lovering; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Leslie Adler)