1884 Lawson Game Cards Set

‘It’s In The Details’

Title Lawson Game Cards
Year 1884
Size 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″
Images Color
Type Game Cards
Number in Set

1884 Lawson Game Cards Overview

84L 2nd Baseman.jpgPatented in 1884, the Lawson Game card set is one of the earliest gaming playing card issues in existence. In fact, it is often cited as the first baseball-related set, though, at least one other set believed to be produced in 1884 exists (The Parlor Base Ball Game). It was issued by the Lawson Card Company.

The cards feature several designs including a player catching, a player hitting, a baseball, a baseball with bats, a pair of crossed bats, a base, and a weird design featuring four arms. The two types of players shown, a fielder and hitter, are generic in nature and not of specific players.

Cards are rounded and were sold in packages with a box and instructions. While it is relatively easy to find individual cards from this set, finding an entire set is a bit more of a challenge.

Because these cards were part of a game set, often, these were left virtually untouched within the playing card box. For that reason, several high grade examples (even PSA 10) of cards in this set exist.

The full set contains 36 different game/action cards and two score cards.

Two Types

1884 Lawson Game Bats Burgundy Back1884 Lawson Game BackNot all collectors realize that two different types of these cards exist. The side with the pictures is the same in both sets. However, the backs are different.

Now, the pictures on the backs are the same, as they depict a baseball scene; it’s the colors that are different.

The most common of the two are the cards featuring blue backs. The much tougher type are the cards with a burgundy, wine-colored ink. Both are equally stunning to look at but the burgundy backs are significantly rarer than the blue ones.

Why the two types? The burgundy ones were a bit nicer with a gilt edge and today are considered to be a premium version of the set. At the time they were issued, they were offered at twice the price. A Boston Globe advertisement from 1886 notes this as the standard blue cards were reduced to $.25 per set while the burgundy ‘gilt edge’ pack was $.50. Fifty cents, of course, was the price of the regular blue set when the game was first introduced.


1884 Lawson Game AdIt should be noted that, while the game was patented in 1884, it may not have been issued until 1885.

Lawson patented the game on September 16, 1884, as indicated on the exterior of some of their boxes for the cards. However, the majority of advertising seen for this game is in the fall of 1885 and the earliest advertising I have run across was in mid-March of that year. Ads ran in numerous publications in October and November of 1885 calling it a ‘new’ game.

Additionally, the Lawson Card Company wasn’t even formed until June of 1885, as announced in the local Boston Globe. And while the game was said to be developed by Thomas Lawson, he wasn’t even named as one of the officers. The officers were Edward Chaffee (President), Charles Burgess (Treasurer), and Calvin Page (Clerk). That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have been sold before — only that the actual formation of the company didn’t exist until that time.

The advertising was uniform across the numerous newspapers in which it ran. It featured a baseball, calling the game a version of ‘baseball with cards.’

Further evidence that the cards may not have been printed until later is that the company was not even formally organized until June 1885, per a small note in the Boston Globe. That mention recognized the formation of the company with a capital of $100,000 and officers including, Edward Chaffee (President), Charles Burgess (Treasurer), and Calvin Page (Clerk).

Many sets were issued well after they were patented so if that was the case, it wouldn’t be an odd occurrence here.

1885 Lawson Game Tournament

As part of the promotion of this game, the Lawson Game Company held a tournament featuring major league players from the eight National League teams. Each team was represented by two players and some big names, including Hall of Famers Roger Connor and Dan Brouthers were a part of it.

The tournament finals featured Chicago and Philadelphia, and the event was a big deal with the results of games being published in newspapers around the country. Oddly enough, while the other results of the games were published in newspapers, a finale either was not or has eluded researchers so far. The event included more than $1,000 in cash (gold) and prizes.

Here’s a much more in-depth look at the tournament.

1884 Lawson Game Cards Checklist

The players are generic and do not include specific names. Most card images are repeated. The pictures in the set include the following:

  1. Player with bat
  2. Player on ground
  3. Player preparing to catching ball
  4. Various pieces of equipment

A total of 36 cards exist with the pictures above and two score cards were also included.

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