1880s H804-7 Baseball Comics Merchants Gargling Oil Set

‘It’s In The Details’

Title H804-7 Baseball Comics Merchant’s Gargling Oil
Year Unknown (1880s)
Size 3 1/8″ x 5 1/4″
Images Color
Type Trade
Number in Set

H804-7 Baseball Comics Merchant’s Gargling Oil Overview

prewarcards-h804-7-merchants-gargling-oil-trade-card-put-it-thereIn the 1800s with the game of baseball growing in popularity, businesses began using the game more and more to promote their businesses. In addition to N-Cards distributed with tobacco products, trade cards began sprouting up quite a bit.

One popular H-Card set is from the 1880s and is designated with the Baseball Comics classification in the American Card Catalog. The publication also gives it the designation H804-7 (the seventh under the Baseball Comics header) and calls these the Merchants Gargling Oil cards, which is only partially accurate.

The set features an odd-looking, overweight baseball player in a variety of baseball poses. Two feature him with a baseball bat – one (as shown here) ready to swing and a second dragging the bat after he struck out. A third depicts him as a catcher waiting for a pitch. They are printed on white or cream-colored paper with black ink.

Two are a little more comical in nature. One has him on the ground holding a baseball with his legs up in the air and the final one shows him taking a break, fanning himself.

The cards are commonly found trimmed because the bottoms had an advertisement for the oil, which some collectors cut off. The H804-7 set was a typical trade card issue featuring a player in various comedic poses. That was common for trade cards of the day.

Lithography for the set was done by Gies & Company of Buffalo, NY. Trimmed versions of the cards with the bottoms cut off will not include this information. However, the fully intact versions have their name in small letters in the bottom border. This site says the company existed for about 50 years from approximately 1871 through 1922.

Merchants Gargling Oil Liniment and Others

The H804-7 cards were used to promote a few different businesses. The main one was Merchants Gargling Oil Liniment, which was supposed to remove all sorts of body pains and aches. That is the namesake of the set even though it was only one of many advertisers using these cards. A quick glance at the checklist on the back shows that it was usable for all sorts of things, including burns, flesh wounds, swelled legs, toothaches, hemorrhoids, joint weakness, and many other things you’ve probably never even heard of. Cost at the time was $1 for a large bottle or $.25 for a small bottle.

The fronts of the cards had a generic image depicting the same fellow in five different poses. The Merchants Gargling Oil name was on the front in different spots, including the players belt or the baseball bat he carried. And while they were a primary sponsor, these cards also featured many other businesses, too.

Blank/Stock Cards


In addition, you can also find stock cards available such as the one pictured here. These have the same exact pictures and titles but they will have blank areas at the bottom with no advertiser yet added.

They aren’t significantly more valuable but do carry a small premium over the others. These cards are also often found in good shape because they haven’t been stamped with an advertiser’s name and are less likely to have been handled a lot.

One small note regarding the stock cards is that they also often (or always) measure a little larger than the other cards with the advertised backs. While other cards in the set are 3 1/8″ wide, the stock/blank cards are 3 1/4″ wide. It almost makes you wonder if they were not used because they were printed and cut larger than the others.

Variations and Scarcity

One unique feature is that there are actually four versions of the H804-7 set with varying colors and punctuation differences, as documented in Frank Keetz’ excellent book, “Baseball Advertising Trade Cards.”

These are relatively scarce in a general sense but in terms of comparing them trade cards, they are abundant. You see them for sale on eBay a good bit. Among baseball-related trade cards, these are among the most common. This is a great trade card set to begin with since there are only five cards in the release and they aren’t nearly as difficult to find as other baseball trade cards. Another great thing about them is that they are very inexpensive for cards more than 125 years old. Often, you can them in the $10-$15 range on eBay and even less than that when trimmed.

These trade cards are paper thin, printed on a stock not designed to stand the test of time. That so many have survived more than a century is somewhat remarkable and tells us that they were heavily produced.

Another thing of note is some versions appear to be slightly thinner (in terms of width).

A Separate Card

Finally, a somewhat related but entirely separate card from this series exists as well.

Technically, Merchant’s Gargling Oil distributed numerous trade cards. But most do not have any sort of tie to this set. At least one, however, does.

A horizontal card shown here is a close relation. It is certainly separate from this standard set for several reasons. First, the man is not dressed as a baseball player. Second, it has a horizontal layout as opposed to the vertical one for these cards. And third, the formatting is slightly different.

However, it can be seen as a tie to this set, too. For one thing, the man pictured is unquestionably the same character. For another, he is wielding a baseball bat (at least it is shaped like one). Even the red shirt he is wearing lightly ties to the red and white themed baseball outfits in these cards.

H804-7 Baseball Comics Merchant’s Gargling Oil Checklist

The H804-7 checklist includes the following cards (each with the aforementioned variations):

  1. Something must be done “Put it there!” (with bat)
  2. The Hero of a Home Run. The Ladies Favorite.
  3. Bravo! The Pet of the Nine.
  4. A Close Affair. Hugging the Bat.
  5. Struck Out

Follow Pre-War Cards on Twitter and also be sure to like our page on Facebook.