Another ‘Spalding Collection’ photo needs to be properly identified by the New York Public Library staff.
The carte de visite photograph of the ‘Unidentified Cricket Player’ or image 55913 depicts none other than John Lillywhite.
The son of Frederick William Lillywhite, also known as “Old Lilly”, the nonpareil cricket bowler, was born on November 10, 1826 in Sussex.
John was an admirable batsman and a fine bowler. He played primarily for Sussex and was one of the 12 players who took part in cricket’s first-ever overseas tour when a team led by George Parr visited the United States in 1859.
Like his father, John was a short, square and strongly-built man and for a few seasons, one of the very best in England. His career lasted from 1847 to 1873.
John went into business as a supplier of cricket goods, and his business was the precursor of the modern Lillywhites store, which, until a few years ago, was the most revered of sports shops, a national institution that prided itself on being the place that catered for all sports, no matter how obscure. Not only was Lillywhites the royal family’s favorite sports retailer, it was also respected for its skilled tailoring. George VI’s (You know, Colin Firth) coronation slippers were made by hand at the store!
He died in 1874 at the age of 47.
Here’s John seated on board of ship Nova Scotian at Liverpool on September 7, 1859, just before the start of the English Cricketers’ trip to Canada and the US.
And a more seasoned John Lillywhite (shown right) around 1870, still sporting his usual chinstrap beard. The Newgate Fringe beard style, as it was known back then, had been in vogue in the UK starting in the 1850s. The collar of beard worn under the chin, so called because it occupies the position of the rope when men are about to be hanged. It got its name after an infamous 1600s executioner by the name of Jack Ketch. It was also known as the Tyburn Collar.
If you’re wondering about that decorated backdrop used in the studio of McLean, Melhuish & Haes, here’s Frederick Reynolds (shown left) posing with the same one. Like it or not, English photographers were well ahead of their American counterparts in every aspect of commercial photography back in the day.
It’s worth noting that Frank Harry, a brother of John, had emigrated to the US around 1856 as a professional cricketer and umpire. He was associated with the St. George’s Cricket Club and it was there that he met Harry Wright and brother George, their father Sam and also Henry Chadwick. Frank Harry played against his brother John Lillywhite in the 1859 match at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken.
After living in England for some years, he re-emigrated to America in 1887 to produce lawn tennis balls for the Wright & Ditson company and later to establish a number of sports shops in affluent areas of New York, Bermuda and Florida.
So while we wait for our friends at the New York Public Library to restore Lillywhite’s identity after more than 90 years of anonymously resting in a storage box at their Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street branch, let me remind blog readers (are there any?) that John Lillywhite played some baseball back in 1859. He manned third base in a pick-up match at Rochester, but even though there was no detailed account of the game, it was said that the English cricketers played remarkably well. I bet they did.
Update: Here’s John Wisden posing with same same decorated backdrop used in Lillywhite’s and Reynolds Photographs.
If you have other similar examples, please send them via email [here] or add a comment below.
I’ll make sure to update this post with any new findings.