This shouldn't exist. Joseph Hall's 19th-century imperial photos are scarce as hen's teeth. Those few survivors to reach the auction block have been battered by time and the elements. Given the limited technology of the 1880s, just producing such an expensive, grandiose piece was a luxury reserved for only the most elite photographers. That one of Hall's extreme rarities would then manage to endure 130 years looking no worse for wear—why, it's downright miraculous.
Over our many decades in the hobby, we've seen it all. So many shocking finds, so many thrilling discoveries, so many killer gems. The threshold for taking our breath away is high...but this one does the job with ease. It was a heart-stopper from the moment we laid eyes upon its monumental, 20-1/2 x 19-5/8" dimensions. And it can be hard not to just sit and stare, agog, losing yourself in the crisp, crystal-clear, lustrous scene of these Giants among men.
No fewer than 6 Hall of Famers are showcased on the championship team: Monte Ward, Buck Ewing, Roger Connor, Jim O'Rourke, Mickey Welch and Triple Crown winner Tim Keefe. (Immediately after the season Ward would embark on Spalding's World Tour.) Each figure's lapel is marked with a number corresponding to the legend below, just like in Hall's small-format cabinet version.
Of the two prior 1888 Giants imperial cabinets, one was completely missing the name-captioned lower mount, while the other was in poor shape with heavy staining. Nothing could be further from the case here. We proudly declare the all-important central image area to be Near Mint with only the faintest foxing. There is additional light foxing/toning along the perimeter and a small corner chip to the mount—all of which is moot with a masterpiece of this significance.
Indeed, when we recently consulted with esteemed photo authenticator Marshall Fogel, he called it a "once-in-a-lifetime collecting opportunity." For our part, we believe it also to be the very pinnacle of Joseph Hall's looming legacy. The best team...by the best photographer...in the best size...and in the best setting. The only other Hall imperial team cabinet of similarly epic proportions likewise depicts the world-champion Giants, however it's dated 1889 and its appeal is drastically lessened because the players are dressed in formal wear at Hall's studio rather than in their iconic baseball uniforms at the Polo Grounds. To our knowledge, no additional team ever received the same royal treatment, as only the Cincinnati Red Stockings were ever also produced by Hall in a large-format imperial size—yet that one comes in a distant second place at just 11x14.
When Cooperstown someday rightfully honors baseball photographers, Joseph Hall will be inducted alongside the heirs to his throne, Charles Conlon and Carl Horner. Each cameraman's career will be defined by one sole image: Conlon's "Cobb Sliding" action shot, Horner's T206 Wagner portrait, and Hall's 1888 Giants imperial cabinet. May we all live to see the day.
Housed in a handsome birdseye-maple frame.