Clearly, this is a baseball, basketball, football, hockey, or other sports card that has been signed by the player depicted. Don’t expect a facsimile signature printed on the card during the printing process to be a true autographed card. Also, stamped signatures, like the one this author received on a card sent to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, are not considered autographs. You can pretty much toss such cards in the trash.
Photo: Autographed cards from the early tobacco era.
Many collectors consider a sports card with an autograph on it to be altered, or defaced. And, in most cases, signed sports cards carry less value (for star player cards) and are more difficult to sell or trade.
Autographs should be requested on something other than the card itself. Blank, white, index cards and signature books are the preferred method for obtaining autographs of your favorite players.
Getting an autograph can be a challenge for collectors today. Prior to about 1990, one could simply send the card with a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the player and request an autograph and usually get it returned. Today, autographs from big name players is big business and usually requires a trip to the ball field, spring training events, or sports collectibles shows.
An All-Star card is pretty much what you would think it is - a baseball or other sports card depicting a popular player. However, it’s not just a card of an outstanding athlete. The term "all-star" derives from the elite team of players from a league, conference, etc.
Therefore, an All-Star card depicts a baseball, football, basketball, etc. player who was selected to the All-Star team from the year prior to the release of the card. In other words, if baseball great Ken Griffey, Jr. has a 1996 All-Star card, then he was on the All-Star team from 1995.
After a very slow 1920s for the hobby, another unique advancement influenced the rebirth of sports cards. Prior to about 1930, chewing-gum, as the world called the product, was simply gum you would chew; no bubbles could be blown. But that changed with the discovery of the material that enables us to blow bubbles. It also changed the way sports cards were distributed.
Although the first sports card set ever released with chewing gum was the 1888 E223, which featured baseball cards quite small in size, the 1933 Goudey Big League was the first set of baseball cards issued with bubble gum. This beautiful set was also Goudey Gum Company’s first baseball cards, and it just so happens that it is loaded with Hall of Fame players. At 240 cards, the Goudey Big League baseball card set was the largest issue in quite some time by major baseball card manufacturers. And it would remain as such for nearly two decades.
In 1932, just prior to their first major set of cards, National Chicle of Springfield, Mass. issued three test cards. Known as the Diamond Kings, these baseball cards are considered premiums and look just like the R327 National Chicle effort issued from 1934 to 1936.
Each card is 3-1/2" by 5-3/8" and was sold as premiums at small-town candy stores and drug stores. The idea was to promote the forthcoming R327 set.
The fronts of the Diamond King cards show a full-color portrait of the player in uniform. The backs are blank.
The hottest looking set from 1911 definitely has to be the T205 Gold Borders. Issued by the American Tobacco Company, the complete set consists of 208 colorful, lithographed cards.
Actually, 11 different cigarette companies - all under the ATC - distributed the Gold Borders. The set features players from both the major and minor leagues.
The cards could be found in packs of Drum, Cycle, Hassan, Honest Long Cut, Piedmont, Sovereign, Sweet Caporal, American Beauty, Broad Leaf, Hindu, and Polar Bear cigarettes. The most common advertisements are of Piedmont and Sweet Caporal.
Alterations made to a baseball card, basketball card, football card, or other sports card - usually to correct minor imperfections, errors, or photographic mistakes. Typically involves changes made to logos on the hats or uniforms of the player depicted. Technique used by artists. Card companies like Topps were notorious for making minor changes to their card photographs using the airbrushing method. For example, the 1969 Topps Paul Popovich (card # 47) shows airbrushing done on the emblem and helmet.
Oversized cards issued in the "tobacco" days of baseball cards (late 19th and early 20th century), cabinet cards usually measure 5-3/4" by 8".
A cabinet card will feature either a photograph attached to a cardboard backing (making it a true cabinet card), or a lithographed image card.
Cabinets were premium cards that typically could be obtained by sending in coupons from packs of cigarettes. Turkey Reds, (pictured here) issued in 1911, are examples of cabinet cards.
The American Tobacco Company distributed the Turkey Reds (designated T3) in 1911. It is a set of full colored (lithograph) premium cabinet cards similar to the M110 Sporting Life series. The cards were originally issued in panels. Loaded with hall of fame players, the set is one of the most desired by early card collectors and is probably one of the easier cabinet sets to complete. Each card measures 5-3/4" by 8".
Advertising Turkey Red, Fez, and Old Mill cigarettes, the T3 cards were given in exchange for coupons that were circulated in packs of the three brands of cigarettes. The are simply referred to as Turkey Reds, or Turkey Red Cabinets, since that is the only brand advertised on the card backs.
There are 126 numbered, chromolithographed, hand-colored cards in the set: 100 baseball players and 25 boxers. Numbers 1-50 and 77-126 (which feature baseball players) are Turkey Reds. Numbers 51-76 feature boxers - a subset known as the T9.
Honest Long Cut Tobacco, of the Duke Tobacco Company issued the Honest cabinet cards in 1893. Probably the most popular of 19th century baseball cards, the set is designated as the N142.
These cards are much to be desired for their beauty as their scarcity. Plus, the mystic of Hall of Fame player Delehanty, who is featured on one of the cards, adds a higher level of interest in the set.
The set represents the first cabinet-sized baseball cards distributed. The cards also happen to be the first cabinet set issued prior to 1900.
Released in 1889 were the N526 No. 7 Cigar baseball cards. The 15-card set features cards measuring 3-1/2" by 4-1/2". The fronts show a black and white drawing of a Boston bseball player.
The player’s name and position played are printed in capital letters at the bottom of the card. Below that are the words, "Boston Base Ball Club". There are some versions with "C.S. White and Co." printed at the card tops.
This set of early baseball cards feature players from the NL’s Boston Beaneaters (now called the Atlanta Braves).
Issued in 1887 by Goodwin and Company is the N174 Gypsy Queen baseball card set. Issued in two sizes, with the large cards measuring 2" by 3-1/2" and the small cards at 1-1/2" by 2-1/2", these cards are similar to the Gypsy Queen series in the N172 Old Judge set, making it a closely related set of tobacco cards.
In fact, the same images are used on the Gypsy Queen cards as the Old Judge cards. As the name implies, the N174 cards were issued with Gypsy Queen cigarettes.
Goodwin and Company’s massive yet, sometimes confusing N172 set of baseball cards was the first widely distributed set devoted to baseball players only. Consisting of six series of printings over four years, I’ll try to explain the set here.
While Allen & Ginter were busy releasing exciting tobacco cards, competition in the tobacco market was growing at an extremely rapid rate. Not to be outdone, several additional cigarette manufacturers were also issuing cards. One, the Goodwin and Company, issued a sepia-colored baseball set promoting their Old Judge and Gypsy Queen cigarettes.
It’s known as the enormous N172 series. This was the first set the featured baseball players exclusively. There are six different printings expanding over four years extending from 1887 to 1890; three in 1887 and one each in 1888, 1889, and 1890. There are more than 500 known players depicted with as many as 17 different cards each.
The 1887 N370 Long Jack set is one of the toughest sets of cards to collate from all 1800s tobacco sets. It was distributed by the Long Jack Cigarette Company of Lynchburg, Virginia. It depicts 13 cards of players for the early St. Louis Browns of the American Association, and champions of all baseball teams in 1885. Each card measures 1-1/2" by 2-1/2". The fronts contain a sepia-toned non-action photograph of the baseball player (in uniform) surrounded by a white border.
The first nationaly disseminated baseball card set is the Allen & Ginter’s N28. The set of varying sports cards is considered the first of the tobacco issues. It’s fitting to know that Allen & Ginter’s prior standard included a set of cards picturing shocking young women in their tightest swimwear!
But because jealous females didn’t approve, this norm quickly shifted to the sports scene. The arrival of the N28 50-card set, which was actualy the first of three series entitled World’s Champions, met the concluded infatuations of numerous sports fans - baseball fans in particular.
Although the 1869 Peck & Snyder Cincinnati Red Stockings card is recognized as the first tru baseball card, the first pure domestic baseball card set was issued by Old Judge in 1886. This was a time when Mike "King" Kelly, Adrian "Cap" Anson and Charlie Comiskey ruled the early diamond.
Classified as the N167 set, the 1886 Old Judge baseball set was issued regionally by the Goodwin and Company, a senior establishment of Old Judge of New York City. Included are cards of 12 New York National League baseball players. These unnumbered cards measure 1-1/2" by 2-1/2". The card fronts depict a green and sepia-toned print derived from a woodcut (a wooden block engraved with a design). In this case, the picture of the baseball player is pasted to a slender piece of cardboard.
The 1859 Harper’s Weekly Woodcuts is a set of baseball team cards issued from 1859 until 1891. There are at least 40 baseball images in the set, and likely more. These were published in the Harper’s Weekly newspaper. Each card size varies.
One of the earliest baseball cards ever printed, the 1886 Red Stocking Cigar baseball card set actually consists of three known cards. The three players depicted are C. G. Buffington, Capt. John F. Morrill, and Charles Radbourn. These unnumbered cards were discovered by a collector named Jim McClean. Each lithographed card features black and red, full-body drawings of the player and measures 6-1/2" by 3-3/4".
Though Harper’s Weekly - a nationally distributed newspaper first published in 1857 - had printed baseball woodcuts for at least a decade - the first American baseball card was circulated in 1869. It is a team card that was distributed by desperate retailers trying to spread the word about their company. Known as the Peck & Snyder Cincinnati Red Stockings card (because of the manufacturer and team depicted), this 140-year-old card measures 3-1/4" by 4-1/2". It shows a sepia-toned image of ten professional baseball players.
According to the American Card Catalog, all 19th Century sports cards are known as "N" cards. Other numerical codes used to describe sports cards are:
T - Twentieth-century tobacco
E - Early gum or candy
R - Gum cards produced after 1930
B - Felts, or "blanket" issues
F - Food
W - Miscellaneous issues
C - Canadian
Bowman, who had recently changed over from Gum, Inc. is credited with issuing the first major basketball card set. Consisting of 72 fairly rare cards, the 1948 Bomand basketball set includes a very rare rookie card of Mikan, and several rookie Hall of Famer cards (A. Phillip, B. Davies, J. Fulks, and J. Pollard).
1948 was the only year (prior to 1996) in which Bowman produced basketball cards. In fact, these were the last basketball cards collectors would see for nearly ten years.
Key Players: Mikan, Phillips, Davies, Fulks, Pollard
Early Food Issues
After several years of success with tobacco cards, manufacturers of candy, bread, and other food companies were showing an interest in creating their own baseball cards. They believed that if sports cards would sell tobacco products, then why not candy? Thus, candy issues began appearing throughout the hobby. It was the birth of "E" cards (as they later were designated by the American Card Catalog).
America’s sports cards have been around for more than a century. In fact, the typical baseball, basketball, football, and hockey cards - measuring 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ with action photos, player biographies, and career statistics - didn’t appear until the 1950s. This was a time when collecting sports cards was a simple pastime for most school-aged boys.
Back then, the cards came in 1- and 2-cent packs of chewing gum. They were often bought from the local soda shop or drug store. Kids would chew the splintering, sugar wafers while attaching the bland cards to their bicycle spokes or used as target practice for B. B. guns. Though most ended their short lives in similar situations, only the “best” cards, depicting big name baseball or football players, were given better appreciation. But, even these cards were dealt a spot in the trash can when all possible fun was rendered.
Few people realize the American sports card hobby is much older than 50 years. The roots of card collecting can be traced back to the 1700s in Europe - a time when "trade" cards were first circulated. Businesses used painted or "drawn" cards as promotional items. Owners would give out small, interesting cards touting people and events of the day. Each card, of course contained an advertisement regarding the business.
Similar to the business cards of today, the usual recipient was a preferred customer or important figure within the village. Considered premium cards, they were desirable since they looked good hangnig on the wall or resting on the mantle. Most ended up being conversation pieces. Nonetheless, the original intent of promoting the business was accomplished. The trade card promotional piece followed European settlers as they arrived in America. And by the late 1800s millions of them had been distibuted promoting everything from railroads to general stores. They appeared with categories of items or events printed on previously blanked backs. Trains, political figures, animals and other interesting sets were being circulated. The cards now served two purposes - promotion and collectibility. And no where was the trade card concept more prevalent than in the American tobacco industry.Gaining steam in America, the marriage between sports figures and tobacco products had become the leading combination for trade cards by 1900. As mentioned earlier, trade cards were meant to spread the word about businesses. And during the late 19th and early 20th century, tobacco was king! And so was another golden era pastime - baseball.
Similar to the business cards of today, the usual recipient was a preferred customer or important figure within the village. Considered premium cards, they were desirable since they looked good hangnig on the wall or resting on the mantle. Most ended up being conversation pieces. Nonetheless, the original intent of promoting the business was accomplished.
The trade card promotional piece followed European settlers as they arrived in America. And by the late 1800s millions of them had been distibuted promoting everything from railroads to general stores. They appeared with categories of items or events printed on previously blanked backs. Trains, political figures, animals and other interesting sets were being circulated. The cards now served two purposes - promotion and collectibility. And no where was the trade card concept more prevalent than in the American tobacco industry.Gaining steam in America, the marriage between sports figures and tobacco products had become the leading combination for trade cards by 1900. As mentioned earlier, trade cards were meant to spread the word about businesses. And during the late 19th and early 20th century, tobacco was king! And so was another golden era pastime - baseball.
Sports have always been a popular way to pass the time. And although there has been a number of different sports since the dawn of civilization, baseball has played the most influential role in the origin of the American sports card hobby.When the National Association of Baseball Players (NABP) was formed in 1858, little did the world know that this would be the beginning of the Major Leagues, and a great sport that will last forever. Formed from layman baseball players on 25 teams from cities located throughout the Northeast, baseball soon became a household word. Not to say football, hockey, basketball, and racing haven’t played their roles; just that is was baseball that was the most popular sport in America when sports cards were being introduced during the late 1800s. Continue »
During the late 1800s cigarette smoking had become ever popular. Smoking was previously reserved for the upper class since the cost of hand-rolled, tin packaged cigarettes was steep. But now, courtesy recently invented machines, they could be produced more effeciently. In fact, the Bonsak Machine could produce thousands of cigarettes per hour.
While myriad tobacco companies were feuding for a share in the cigarette market an ingenious marketing ploy became popular. Since cigarettes could now be produced at about 10 percent their previous costs, packaging had moved from the expensive tins to paper packs. And the idea of inserting a single piece of cardboard inside each pack of cigarettes quickly became the norm. A slab of cardboard was meant to keep your smokes from getting crushed. Within a couple of years, an advertisement for the cigarette company was printed on one side of the cardboard. And pretty soon, baseball players were being printed on the other side.
There are a number of problems with candy and tobacco cards that irritate collectors today. Perhaps the most annoying of these intricacies is the confusion created when trying to determine which cards belong to which sets. Sports card produced from about the 1950s on do not present this dilemma since virtually all consisted of a numbering and listing system.
The design of the hobby’s pioneering sports cards can vary. Almost all entail some type of cardboard. This could be thin and brittle paperboard, thick pasteboard, delicate paper, paper mulches, or clothe. sizes range from as small as 1 3/4" x 2 3/4" to composite sheets measuring about 8 1/2" x 10". In between is everything from exhibits and strip cards, to cabinets and silks.
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