Antique baseball game discovered in small third floor bedroom at Bingham-Waggoner Estate.
It was likely purchased by William Waggoner who, as owner of the Waggoner Milling Company, was wealthy enough to purchase the painterly 1893 Zimmer’s Base Ball Game for his first-born son, William Waggoner Jr., who would have been 6 years old when the game premiered.
“We know William Waggoner attended the 1893 Chicago Exposition (also known as The Chicago World’s Fair), where he bought a number of household goods,” said Steve Schreiber, who is on the Bingham-Waggoner board of advisers. “It is reasonable to believe that, as one of the world’s most prominent game makers, McLoughlin Bros. (the producer of Zimmer’s Base Ball Game) would have been well-represented – and proved too much for William to pass up.”
When young William grew older, the game – in which the aim is to hit a wooden ball launched by a spring-action pitcher and get past the metal pieces (designed to catch the ball) behind each defender’s portrait – was probably inherited successively by each of his three brothers, though at some point the pitching device became lost and the game rendered unplayable. Ultimately, it was stowed in a third-floor servant bedroom. It would remain there until summer of last year, when it was discovered amidst broken furniture, Christmas decorations and other antiquated household goods as part of a house-cleaning sweep.
The game was propped on an upstairs table where for months it was plainly seen by tourists, one of whom was on vacation from New York City. The man told Schreiber, who was leading a tour of the property, that the game was indeed a collector’s item and ought not be laid out in an open space.
“He seemed as if in disbelief, like he couldn’t believe his eyes,” Schreiber said. “I immediately put the game in an empty display case that could be locked.”
In late April, Schreiber received an e-mail from Tom Shieber, senior curator for the Baseball Hall of Fame, that said a friend of his was touring the estate and believed he saw an 1893 Zimmer’s Base Ball Game. Schreiber snapped some photographs of the game and sent them in an e-mail attachment. The next day, before receiving a reply to the e-mail, Schreiber dialed the Baseball Hall of Fame and requested to speak to Shieber.
“He informed me that we had happened on the most sought after baseball game in the world,” Schreiber said.
Schreiber discovered through message boards that the game is one of only 10 known to exist.
Soon he realized that the game could fetch even greater appeal if he could find its box lid. Frantically he – and several other volunteers at the estate – searched the premises, looking in the attic, in crawl spaces, everywhere. Then he found it, resting along a wall inside a top floor cubby hole.
Page 2 of 3 - The copy of the game came with a bat, two wooden balls and three token pieces, which may or may not be a part of the original game.
“If these are the actual balls and tokens, it is the only one I know of,” said Shieber, who has in his research never found any suggestion that such tokens were authentic to the game.
The Baseball Hall of Fame currently has two of the games on display for an exhibition called “Home Games,” featuring more than 50 baseball games (dating from 1860 to 1960) owned by Mark Cooper, who many consider the world’s foremost baseball game historian.
A Zimmer’s Base Ball Game was recently sold to a private collector through Robert Edwards Auctions.
Bidding opened April 3 at $5,000 and the new owner’s bid of $17,000 closed the auction on May 4. And, though in excellent to mint condition, it was without a box lid or game pieces, which could have added thousands to its value.
According to Schreiber, one game sold for $27,500 in the mid-1990s.
But, for now, Schreiber said the estate has no intentions of selling.
“Our obligation is to share this family keepsake with the community for awhile, then we’ll see where we are,” Schreiber said.
Although his name is affixed to the game, Charles Louis “Chief” Zimmer – the Cleveland Spiders’ catcher during the latter part of the 19th century – did not invent it, nor did the game-making behemoth McLoughlin Bros.
It was a man named Joseph A. Meaher of Cleveland who got the idea patented in February of 1893, according to Shieber. While Meaher was likely responsible for the game’s set-up as well as the painting of the field and the children peeking over the one-and-a-half inch outfield wall, it was no doubt McLoughlin Bros. – revered for their lithographs – that created the instructions along with the image of Zimmer and 18 other portraits, including 11 Hall of Famers.
While a good but not great baseball player (he was not a Hall of Famer), Zimmer was one of the first athletes to actively pursue self-marketing. In addition to the board game, Zimmer endorsed a line of cigars.
“There were a lot bigger names,” said Shieber, who speculates whether Meaher’s hometown loyalties may have played a part in the sale to McLoughlin Bros. But two teammates of Zimmer’s in Cleveland were Cy Young and Buck Ewing, both of whom are Hall of Famers.
“Meaher liked something about Zimmer,” Shieber said.
And McLoughlin Bros. did as well.
The seventh player in the lineup is Chief Zimmer’s younger brother, William Zimmer, who never made it past the minor leagues.
There have been few surprises at the Bingham-Waggoner estate. The trove of trinkets and child play things stashed in an upstairs glass display case came with the home, as did an original painting of Johnston Lykins by George Caleb Bingham.
Page 3 of 3 - But perhaps the greatest work of art was tucked in a throwaway room, as if a missing part were enough to bury it beneath the estate’s Victorian prestige.
Not that Schreiber is displeased it escaped easy viewing for so long.
“Thank God Mrs. Waggoner didn’t get her hands on this,” Schreiber said. “Or else it could have wound up like so many baseball cards.”
The 1893 Zimmer’s Base Ball Game will be on display every weekend during the month of June at the Bingham-Waggoner estate, 313 Pacific in Independence.