A family kept one of the oldest baseball cards for 155 years. Now it’s at auction

The Brooklyn Atlantics baseball team c. 1860.

For decades, one of the oldest baseball cards in existence lived inside a Fanny Farmer chocolate candy box, which was hidden away in the secret drawer of an old bedroom set.

The yellowed card has been in Florence Sasso’s family for 155 years, but she doesn’t want it anymore. She put it up for auction, where it’s expected to sell for six figures.

Sasso, who is 74 and lives in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, decided to sell the card in April. Her mother, Mildred, gave it to her 25 years ago because Sasso has always been interested in genealogy.


Her great-great-uncle, Archibald McMahon, played outfield for the Brooklyn Atlantics, and is one of the players featured on the card’s team picture. Sasso said she’s not sure which one he is, but she does know from tracing the lineage that the McMahons had big ears. She also added that a few of the players appear to have big ears, so she hasn’t narrowed it down much.

Sasso keeps family photos, like the baseball card, and bits of information about her relatives in albums, which she sometimes brings to the Claire Teague Senior Center in Great Barrington.

This past April, someone at the senior center told her about how a similar baseball card featuring the Atlantics had sold for $92,000 in Maine. That card was from 1865, and Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions at Heritage Auctions, said just by being five years older, this one is automatically more valuable.

“The significance stems from the fact that this one is pre-Civil War,’’ he said. “Five years does make a difference. It’s possibly the only team card printed before the first drop of blood was spilled in the Civil War.’’

Upon hearing how much it was worth, Sasso contacted Heritage Auctions, which came to her house to see the card in person and to verify its authenticity. She also had a copy of an obituary from McMahon’s brother, John, to prove it had been in her family since the very beginning.


John McMahon had the card in his possession until he died in 1928. “An ardent baseball fan,’’ John had a picture of the original Atlantic team in his home because his brother, Archibald, was a player, according to John’s obituary.

The card passed from family member to family member after his death before ending up with Sasso’s mom, Mildred, who stashed it away in the chocolate box. Even though she loved baseball and had a personal connection to the card, Mildred eventually gave it to Sasso, who is admittedly not a baseball fan.

Before she rediscovered the baseball card, Sasso said she hadn’t done much research about the McMahon side of the family. In the past few months, she learned that the Atlantics were named for Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, and were some of the founding members of the National Association of Base Ball Players, which was the sport’s first organized league. They played without gloves, and at the end of the game, passed around a hat to collect money from spectators. They were one also of the first baseball dynasties, according Ivy.

The team dominated. They were league champions from 1859 to 1861, before eventually losing to their archrivals, the Brooklyn Eckfords, in 1862.


The baseball card shows the nine players in their glory days. It measures 2.5-inches by 4-inches, and features each player dressed in high-waisted khaki pants and starched, bib-front uniforms with varying degrees of bushy facial hair and sideburns framing their stoic faces. The players are bookended by the team’s president and secretary, who are distinguished by their suits.

Sasso’s mom cherished the card, but, after finding out how much it was worth, told Sasso to sell it. Mildred died in May at the age of 101.

“She was lying in bed and would try to sit up to ask me if we had sold the card,’’ Sasso said through tears. “She wanted the card to take care of me. I’ve never been debt-free my whole life, so now this will help.’’

No matter how much she makes, Sasso said she’ll buy a new TV for the senior center, as well as donate some money to the Wounded Warrior Project and pay some toward her mortgage.

As of Monday, bids on the online auction were at $36,000. The bidding ends July 29, and will be followed by a live floor auction July 30 in Chicago as part of the National Sports Collectors Convention. Ivy predicts bids for the card will bring in more than six figures.

“It’s rare that it’s been in the same family for so long and this is the first time it’s going to auction,’’ he said. “She wanted to share it, and now people can learn about the history of the game from its earliest days.’’


That doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult for Sasso to part with the card. It’s already in the auction’s possession, and she said she was sad to see it go.

“I’m not married, I don’t have kids, and I’m going to be 75 in October,’’ she said. “The story of the card was my mother’s story because she loved baseball so much. I hate to part with anything, but it’s just that. It’s a thing.’’

Now that her mother is gone, Sasso is learning that it’s possible to understand the significance of a physical entity even if it isn’t present. That’s why she’s selling in the card. She has the story and the memories. She knows you can’t put a price on those.

Forgotten Red Sox All-Stars:

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