Al Reach was born in England in 1840 and emigrated to the New York City with his parents. By the age of 16 he was working in an iron foundry and found the work to be brutal. His true passion was the after work baseball games at which he excelled. He played for the Brooklyn Eckfords as a lefty second baseman in addition to outfield positions. He was such an elite ball player that he attracted the notice of the Philadelphia Athletic Baseball Club in 1862 who offered him a $25 a week stipend to move there and play. It is written that he was the first paid professional ball player. Below is a team photo of The Philadelphia ball club from 1870.
Reach augmented his salary by opening a tobacco shop which he manned before and after ball games. The shop became a popular hang out for sportsmen and evolved into a sporting goods emporium by 1865. Below is an invoice from 1867 with a pretty cool letterhead logo. The invoice is to the Pythian Baseball Club for a dozen belts.
Reach had learned how to expertly stitch baseballs back in Brooklyn which served him well in his new emporium. Below is a trophy ball from an all star game between the New York and Brooklyn teams from 1861 that was hand stitched by Al Reach. It sold at auction a while ago for $58,000
Al Reach was quite the entrepreneur and businessman. By the time he retired in 1875 he made enough money to start his own baseball club, the Philadelphia Phillies. In 1882 He also formed a partnership with one of his sporting goods vendors, Ben Shibe and opened Reach & Shibe Co. which later was changed to A.J. Reach Co.
This early webless crescent glove is one of the finest known in the hobby. To have any manufacturers identification is a huge plus and this glove has a stunning cloth patch on the wrist strap.
The Reach catchers mitt below is of the same era as the glove and has an interesting quirk regarding the patent stamping on the face.
The first patent date on the mitt above is Feb. 24, 1891. It is for the perimeter lacing and the second date, Mar. 18, 1891 is for the arrangement of padding to form a pocket. Later mitts, post 1900 are stamped with a patent date of April 14, 1891 instead of the Mar. 18 date. The reach mitt below shows the change.
The book "Banana Bats and Ding Dong Balls" conjectures that the patent date discrepancy reflects the convoluted purchase of the patents by A.G. Spalding from famous but erratic ball player and inventor Harry Decker at a time when Spalding was also purchasing the A.J. Reach Co. There may have been intermediate assignors to Decker's patents reflecting different patent issuing dates.
This A.J. Reach factory circa 1907 takes up most of the 1700 block on Tulip St. in Philadelphia. Nice sign work on the facade. Even with this large facility, Reach was still outsourcing the stitching of some baseballs to the Fishtown neighborhood seamstresses.
Here is the same factory view as of 2007. There was a permit issued for its demolition for condominiums. I don't know if it is still standing. I'm sure Murph has already made many a midnight raid with flashlight in hand in search of NOS gloves in the nooks and crannies. The A.J. Reach sign is missing from the facade of the building. Murph?
A couple of Reach gloves recently at auction piqued my interest. The Max Bishop and George Earnshaw model gloves are uncatalogued but come with very ornate Art Deco boxes. I wonder if they were commemorative issues celebrating the 1929 & 1930 Philadelphia A's World Series wins. It would be interesting if there were other player commemorative models out there.
There are way too many great examples out there in Reach hobby land for me to post. It would be great if you all could post your favorites.