First Stylish MLB Uniforms—the 1883 New York Gothams

Today's San Francisco Giants trace their roots back to New York, where they played from 1883 until moving to California in 1958. That first 1883 Giants team—known as the New York Gothams—wore this amazing emblem on their uniforms:


This original patch resides at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown.

While it's certainly an incredible object to look at, it's significant too. It could well be the first non-typographic decoration of any kind on a Major League Baseball uniform.


The National League was founded in 1876; this emblem dates back to its eighth season of play. Prior to then (and for many years thereafter,) MLB uniforms were fairly well devoid of decoration or visual embellishment—with the exception of typography. This example is fairly typical—simple block lettering, centered on the front of the jersey in a radial arch.


Today, the seal of the City of New York is virtually unchanged from the Gothams' uniform decoration (other than the fact that artistic license was employed in reinterpreting it as a silk-embroidered patch.)


The city's official colors are orange and blue—adopted in 1962 by the New York Mets, themselves a replacement for the departed Giants (as well as the Brooklyn Dodgers.)

Here is a description of the seal, according to the City of New York:
Arms: Upon a shield, saltire wise, the sails of a windmill. Between the sails, in chief a beaver, in base a beaver, and on each flank a flour barrel.

Supporters: Dexter, a sailor, his right arm bent, and holding in his right hand a plummet; his left arm bent, his left hand resting on the top of the shield; above his right shoulder, a cross-staff. Sinister, an Indian of Manhattan, his right arm bent, his right hand resting on top of the shield, his left hand holding the upper end of a bow, the lower end of which rests on the ground. Shield and supporters rest upon a horizontal laurel branch.

Date: Beneath the horizontal laurel branch the date 1625, being the year of the establishment of New Amsterdam.

Crest: An American eagle with wings displayed, upon a hemisphere.

Legend: Upon a ribbon encircling the lower half of the design the words "Sigillum Civitatis Novi Eboraci," meaning Seal of the City of New York.

The whole is encircled by a laurel wreath.
Lots of symbolism there.

As for the Gothams, they won their first ever game, played at the Polo Grounds in New York, located at 110th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, directly across 110th Street from the northeast corner of Central Park. They defeated the Boston Red Stockings—today's Atlanta Braves—7 to 5. These same two franchises are scheduled to play one another on May 2 this season, 131 years and one day after their first meeting. While we cannot predict the outcome, we can say with some certainty that the Giants' uniforms will not be as interesting or as symbolic as those of their Gothams ancestors.



First Stylish MLB Uniforms—the 1883 New York Gothams — 7 Comments

  1. this is great stuff! thanks for this. i love getting more info (and in color!) about the 1880 teams. I keep trying to dig up more info on the Detroit Wolverines, specifically, but this is a great landmark to go back to from a design standpoint.

  2. Good point Todd. I gave this a bit more thought and maybe it should be read as New York, League-with League implying National (and New York the teams location). I know that the National League succeeded an association but where there any other groups referring to themselves as a league at the time? If not then the word “League” could have been just a shorten form of National League and understood as such during this time period.

    • Bill-
      I think that you are correct—”League” could well have been an accepted abbreviation for the N.L. back then. There was a rival American Association at this time (launched in 1882) but the National League was considered to be the dominant organization.

  3. Pingback: 1883 National League All-Star Team « Year-by-Year All Star Teams

  4. Assuming the league part is to differentiate between the association team they shared the Polo Grounds with, and an owner with, this is a really neat piece of history. It’d be fun to know the thought process in having the patch commissioned, since it wouldn’t be legible to most spectators…

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