Saturday, June 6, 2015

Knickers or Pantaloons - New Jersey Base Ball Uniforms in the 1870's

As noted in the last post, for me, 2015 has been a base ball year spent in three different centuries.  On  a much larger scale, however, 2015 also marks a surprising number of major historical anniversaries.  Understandably foremost in my mind is the sesquicentennial of the end of the Civil War, something the New Jersey Civil War 150 Committee has been working towards since late 2008.  Sesquicentennials, however, pale in comparison to centennials or multiples thereof, and at least three happen this year.  Most significant in the sheer number of years is the 600th (sex-centenary) anniversary of the battle of Agincourt on October 25th, immortalized in Shakespeare's Henry V, especially in the stirring "Band of Brothers" speech.  Not quite so long ago, but far more important as a decisive event is the upcoming, June 18th, bicentennial of the battle of Waterloo.  Finally and most recent, at least in relative terms, was the centennial of the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915.  The later event has an indirect connection to my family history through one of the victims, Arthur Foley, whose son married into the Proctor family, one of my maternal lines.  To honor his memory, I wrote a brief article about the tragedy for my Proctor relatives including two of Mr. Foley's great grandchildren.

Hewitt Club of Ringwood, courtesy of Craig Brown - all rights reserved

In the process of researching Arthur Foley's part in the disaster, I was both surprised and gratified by the vast amount of information collected and shared on the Internet by Lusitania enthusiasts, affectionately known as "Lucy's."  Given that experience, I was impressed, but not surprised by similar work done on the battle of Waterloo cited by Tim Clayton as helpful in the writing of his book, Waterloo: Four Days That Changed Europe's Destiny.  Not surprisingly web sites are also an important resource for base ball history research and I was recently fortunate to be introduced to Craig Brown's fascinating site, Threads of Our Game ( which provides artistic depictions of 19th century base ball uniforms based upon historical research.  The basic process is that a "digger" or researcher submits a contemporary description of a club's uniform which Craig uses to prepare a color rendering.

Olympic Club of Paterson, courtesy of Craig Brown, all rights reserved

Although my name is listed as one of the "diggers," till now my research has provided only a few submissions, but I recently stumbled on fairly detailed descriptions of the uniforms of three 1874 New Jersey clubs.  As frequently happens, the information turned up while I was working on something else, the New Jersey base ball career of Ed "The Only" Nolan.  John Thorn, MLB's Official Historian, recently wrote at "Our Game" about Nolan's major league career and unusual nickname ( which motivated me to look into his formative base ball years in Paterson.  During 1874 and 1875 "The Only" pitched for the city's Olympic Club, a team I wrote about in Baseball Founders.  In my research of New Jersey clubs, the Olympics are unique  as a club that enjoyed two successful periods with a six year hiatus in between.  It was during the second incarnation in the 1870's that the Olympics helped develop Nolan and three other future major leaguers, Jim McCormick, William "Blondie" Purcell and, most notably, future Hall of Famer, Mike "King" Kelly.

Edward "The Only" Nolan 

While the Olympic Club was basically inactive from 1868 through July of 1874, they did come together for an occasional match.  One such match took place on June 15, 1874 against the Hewitt Club, made up of the employees of the Cooper and Hewitt mines in Ringwood.  I'd noticed this club before, but paid more attention this time because of the Neshanock's early May visit to Ringwood Manor State Park.  Located in extreme northern New Jersey, Ringwood isn't that densely populated today and must have been both remote and sparsely populated in 1874.   That Ringwood even had a club in 1874 is testimony to how extensively the New York game had spread throughout New Jersey in less than 20 years.  Interestingly the Paterson Daily Press gave quite a bit of information about the Hewitts including line ups with first (very rare) and last names and a detailed description of their uniforms.  Based on the article, the visitors from Ringwood were resplendent in blue shirts and crimson knee breeches with a white old English "H" on the shirts.  Completing the ensemble was a red and white cap and white stockings.  Wearing knickers put the Hewitts very much in the modern style popularized by the aptly named Cincinnati Red Stockings in the late 1860's.

Star Club of Newark, courtesy of Craig Brown, all rights reserved 

Not long after this match, on July 12,1874, the Olympic Club was re-organized under the leadership of some of the veterans from the 1860's.  Unlike the Hewitt Club, however, the Paterson team apparently opted for what could be described as a throwback uniform, substituting pantaloons for knickers and long socks or stockings.  According to Craig Brown, by 1874, with the exception of some college teams, most base ball clubs wore knickers which facilitated running in the field and on the bases.  Also interesting is that the Olympics chose to wear round hats rather than caps (a point emphasized by the Paterson Daily Press) which offered less protection from the sun.  In preparing the rendering, Craig assumed that by the 1870's, players knew full well that pantaloons hampered running so he tucked the pants into the shoes even though this wasn't mentioned in the article.  While this was clearly the official uniform, players or at least Nolan (he was after all "The Only") may have added their own innovations.  At the end of his second and final season with the Olympics, the Daily Guardian reported that Nolan took the field "in a most resplendent suit of blue silk" and "inscribed at the belt with the word 'Olympic.'"  Reportedly it was a gift from "the popular pitcher's admiring lady friends."

Princeton Club with knickers (1873), courtesy of Craig Brown, all rights reserved

On one other occasion in 1874, the Paterson Daily Press described an opponent's uniform, this time the Star Club of Newark.  Like the Olympics, the Stars apparently favored pantaloons over  knickers and hats over caps, but added "tight fitting green leggings."  The leggings presented an interpretative challenge for Craig since they could have been either stockings like those worn with knickers or more like military leggings, tied below the knee and extending over the shoe.  Checking with John Thorn and Tom Shieber of the Baseball Hall of Fame shed no further light on the subject so Craig went with the military option in the above rendering.  With the Olympic and Star Clubs wearing pantaloons along with an 1874 shift to pantaloons by the Princeton Club, it appears at least some New Jersey clubs had, for whatever reason, switched back to the earlier style.

Princeton Club with pantaloons (1874) courtesy of Craig Brown, all rights reserved 

While all three of these descriptions are surprisingly detailed, numerous issues were still up for interpretation in the renderings.  It's a question, Craig faces on a regular basis - is it worthwhile to offer a fact based visual with interpretations where necessary, recognizing  that some parts of the rendering may not be accurate.  My vote is yes, because Threads of Our Game can be an important step in the research process that might lead to a more detailed and complete picture.  Through this project, Craig is offering a real gift to base ball research.  Please use it and above all contribute your own research - you never know when what seems insignificant may be the missing piece of the puzzle.

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