Photographer Thompson left behind a more slender record: even such basic biographical information as the dates of his birth and death is hard to establish. But some two dozen of his player portraits survive in the Library of Congress, bringing to life the subjects' determination, their enduring passion for a physical game and the ravages of a lifestyle that predated the luxury travel, sophisticated equipment and personal trainers of today. The gold-border cards that followed created heroes of banker's and paperhanger's sons alike, filling ballparks and selling cigarettes. The bubble gum came later.
Harry Katz is the principal author of Baseball Americana: Treasures from the Library of Congress. He was head curator of the library's Prints and Photographs Division from 2000 to 2004.