Earliest Signed Baseball Cards: 1871-72 Warren CDVs
The earliest signed baseball cards in existence are quite likely an autographed group of eleven (11) 1871-72 Boston Red Stockings Cabinet Cards by Warren Studios (each measuring 4 1/4 in. by 6 1/2 in). They were apparently discovered in 2005 in a New England family home in which they had descended, kept by the family of the original photographer and perhaps split up between his heirs at some point. A lot of eight (8) of them, shown above, sold for $120,000 at a Sotheby's Auction on December 10, 2005. By at least extreme coincidence, the other three (3), shown below, were sold in a Mastro Auction that literally closed the night before the Sotheby's Auction.
The winner of the three from Mastro also won the other eight, and -- as legend has it -- is never going to let them go for pretty much any price. Arguably they are the finest set of 19th century cards in the hobby.
As explained in the Sotheby's auction description, the cards were produced by Warren Studios of Boston, and are "a scarcely-known cousin to the rare (and smaller) Warren CDVs (carte de vistes). Unlike their CDV relatives, these cabinet cards are currently uncatalogued, with only a handful of scattered examples rumored to exist. It is conceivable that several of the cards within this group are unique." Each card is signed on the back by each the cards' subjects, including Harry Wright, sometimes considered “the father of professional baseball” and fellow Hall of Famer, and baseball pioneer, Albert "Goodwill" Spalding, as well as teammates George Wright -- brother of Harry, and perhaps the best player in the game at the time -- Cal McVey, David Birdsall, John Ryan, Andy Leonard, Harry Wright, Ross Barnes, Charlie Gould, Fraley Rogers, and Harry Schafer. Six of the players added date notations to their signatures, each within a span of three days from July 22nd 1872 to July 24th, 1872, suggesting that the team was together in one location when each player signed his card.
You can review the original Sotheby's auction lot for yourself by clicking here.