The Greek Revival building itself is worth the visit. Its grand columns were fashioned after the Temple of Jupiter in Rome (and not the Georgia town with a South Atlantic League franchise). It has been through a lot. The Spring Street structure dates to 1791, was a Confederate hospital during the Civil War, lost its roof during Hurricane Hugo.
But the Karpeles Manuscript Museum currently shines like a diamond. The free "Very Early Baseball History" display runs through April 30, ideal timing for fans of the national pastime looking to warm up for the 2014 season.
By "early," the Karpeles people mean very early.
From the 1870s to 1935.
So things you won't see:
Nacho recipes from ballparks around the big leagues
The unedited first draft of Charlie Sheen's lines from "Major League"
Derek Jeter's little black book
But Tuesdays to Fridays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., you can see a primitive scorecard from an 1877 exhibition game pitting the National League's Boston Red Caps against Harvard. It was scored by legendary baseball developer Harry Wright, then the Boston manager.
Dr. Stephen J. White, the museum director, favors the Babe Ruth contracts.
"I'm fascinated with a lot of it," said White, a former College of Charleston and Citadel history professor. "I'm not sure I'm fully convinced, but we think the baseball card we have is the first one ever made. It's certainly among the first."
Babe Ruth's contracts
Starting lineup highlights:
The Babe's 1918 Boston Red Sox contract. For $5,000, Ruth tied for the American League home run lead (11), went 13-7 as a pitcher and helped the Red Sox win the World Series - just before a Boston drought that lasted until 2004.
Ruth's first New York Yankees contract. The deal calls for Ruth to receive $52,000 per year for the 1922, 1923 and 1924 seasons. Ruth was famously - or infamously, if you're a Red Sox fan - acquired from Boston in 1919 but played during his early New York years under his Red Sox contract. The manuscript was purchased in a 2005 Sotheby's auction by a New York collector for $996,000.
Ruth's 1933 contract, and a $25,000 deal he signed with the Boston Braves in his final big league season.
1867-68 Dave Birdsall tobacco card, billed as the first baseball card issued featuring a named active player. Birdsall was dubbed "The Old Man" and played for the Unions of Morrisania, N.Y.
The "oldest surviving scorebook" in baseball. It's an 1875 edition, 48 pages worth, from Peck & Snyder Sporting Goods.
From Japan to Veeck
An 1871 children's book from Japan. The "historically important" 78-page softcover edition includes woodblock illustrations of boys playing baseball.
A 1921 document establishing the "Office of Commissioner" of baseball. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was hired to clean up baseball, stung by the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal. The paper is signed by team presidents, including Jacob Ruppert (Yankees), Charles Comiskey (White Sox), Charles Ebbetts (Brooklyn) and William Veeck (Cubs), the grandfather of current Charleston RiverDogs' co-owner Mike Veeck.
A 1939 letter written by former player Joseph Gunson, in which he discussed his role in the invention of the catcher's mitt.
Charleston's version is one of 12 Karpeles Manuscript Museums founded by Dr. David Karpeles and spread across the nation from Santa Barbara and Duluth to Buffalo and Shreveport.
"Dr. Karpeles is not a historian; he's a collector," White pointed out. "So he often has a peculiar interest in things. But that makes it fun."
Yes, for fans of baseball, architecture or a New York-Boston rivalry that extends well beyond baseball and architecture.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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