Breaking Down the American Card Catalog
The American Card Catalog isn’t something used much by collectors of current cards. But the effort led by famed collector Jefferson Burdick is absolutely essential to vintage (and especially, pre-war) collectors. If you’re even thinking about collecting pre-war cards, I can’t recommend the book enough. Some versions are pricey but you can sometimes find lower-grade ones on eBay or elsewhere for $20 or so.
Who is Jefferson Burdick?
To vintage collectors, Burdick is probably the most famous American card collector of all time. Looking for a way to catalog all of the various cards out there, Burdick (working alongside other noted collectors) began a massive effort to sort through the various issues.
Sports card collectors know him for his work with, primarily, baseball cards. However, the American Card Catalog goes far beyond that scope and includes not only other sports cards but all kinds of non-sports issues.
What is the American Card Catalog?
Burdick’s efforts resulted in the publishing of the American Card Catalog (often called the ACC for short). This book sorted cards by classifications and gave issues a special designation to allow collectors to easily recognize them.
American Card Catalog Classifications
The classifications set up by Burdick were essential to early collectors and are still used to this day. The reason is because there were so many cards out there that collectors needed a way to classify them and keep them organized. Burdick sorted cards by how they were distributed or what they were. For example, cards placed inside of tobacco products were given a T-Card (for tobacco) designation. Miniature blanket cards were called B-Cards. Cards distributed by magazines or publications were called M-Cards.
The most popular classifications assigned by Burdick included the following:
A-Cards (Tobacco Albums): Paper albums that tobacco companies created that were usually given as a premium item to customers redeeming coupons. In most cases, the albums included pictures of the cards the
B-Cards (Blankets and Rugs): Special premiums given mostly by tobacco companies that were typically made of cloth or felt material. They can also be subcategorized sometimes as BC (cloth) items or BF (felts).
C-Cards (Canadian Tobacco): Tobacco cards originating from Canada
D-Cards (Bakery): Cards distributed with bread or bakery items
E-Cards (Early Candy/Caramel): Cards packaged with candy or caramel products up to around 1930
F-Cards (Food): Cards packaged with food products. In addition, the FC designation is used for Canadian issues
G-Cards (Banners and Labels): Advertising banners, posters, calendars, cigar bands, tin tobacco tags, other types of albums not classified as A-Cards, and sheet music (featuring jingles for products)
H-Cards (Advertising and Trade Cards): Advertising and trade cards – many sub groups exist (i.e. HA is pre-1950, HB is cards advertising mechanical banks, etc.)
J-Cards (Soda): Cards distributed by soda companies
K-Cards (Coffee): Cards distributed by coffee brands
L-Cards (Leathers): Unique collectibles made of leather
M-Cards (Magazines/Publications): Cards distributed inside of or by various publications and periodicals such as magazines and newspapers
N-Cards (19th Century Tobacco): Tobacco cards from the 1800s. It is important to note that Burdick actually called N-Cards Central American issues (more on that below)
P-Cards (Pins/Buttons): Pin and button issues with many different subgroups included, such as PD (Bakery pins), PE (early candy pins), PF (food pins), PR (recent candy pins), PU (miscellaneous pins), and PX (novelty pins and metals)
PC-Cards (Postcards): Postcard issues
Q-Cards (Stereoscope): Stereoscope issues
R-Cards (Recent Candy/Gum): Recent candy and gum issues from about 1930 and beyond
S-Cards (Silks/Stamps): While Jefferson Burdick identified these as only silks, today collectors sometimes use the S-Card designation for stamps, too. Some collectors call stamps S-Cards and others, ST-Cards.
T-Cards (Tobacco): Tobacco cards from the 20th Century
U-Cards (Matchbooks/Miscellaneous): U-Cards are sort of a catch all for everything else not categorized. They include folded items, matchbooks, gasoline and oil items, theater items, and miscellaneous items. While the designation is not used widely today, any item that somehow doesn’t fit anywhere else belongs here.
V-Cards (Canadian Candy): Canadian candy issues
W-Cards (Strip Cards/Exhibits): Burdick stated this category was for ‘album’ cards, which encompasses a much larger area. However, to sports card collectors, the relevant cards are generally either strip cards or exhibit cards/postcards.
WG-Cards (Gaming): While Burdick used this definition for greeting cards, today it is used to represent gaming issue.
Y-Cards (Other): Burdick used this category for various types of reward items and various things, including rewards of merit, school tokens, bible cards, items given as a reward (perhaps, from a teacher), name cards, scrap pictures, and other paper items that don’t fit anywhere else, such as bookmarks, documents, periodicals, envelopes, stationery, paintings or prints, menus, etc. Y-Cards and U-Cards can often be confusing since they can both include a number of items that are otherwise uncategorized.
Z-Cards (Paper Dolls): Paper dolls were popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. While most were non-sports related, a few were sports issues.
Add in a Number and You’ve got Yourself a Book
Finally, after the classifications, Burdick then had to number the issues to keep them all straight. So he began … the first tobacco card set he categorized was T1. The next was T2, etc. The the early candy/caramel cards. E1, E2, E3, etc. The cards weren’t numbered by year. After all, that would have been impossible since he was constantly discovering new sets. Some are organized together, such as the Allen & Ginter N28 and N29 cards. Others are not.
Some designations have hundreds of issues. Others, such as gasoline issues, have only a few.
Since the distribution of Burdick’s book, several collectors have sought to expand on his work with new designations. Some of these have been accepted and some have not.
The biggest accepted change for sports card collectors is probably that of the N-Card category. Burdick previously identified N-Cards as Central American issues. However, today, collectors use the N-Card categorization for 19th Century Tobacco cards. Tobacco cards from 1899 and earlier are called N-Cards while Tobacco cards from 1900 and later are T-Cards.
A second accepted change involves the PL and WG designations. Burdick designated playing cards as PL-Cards and WG-Cards as greeting cards. However, today, we use WG-Cards to reflect gaming issues and playing cards fit within this designation, too.
Finally, another accepted change by collectors is found in the trade card category (H-Cards). Trade cards were cards distributed as forms of advertisements for businesses, products, and services. Often, they were generic stock cards used by many businesses that stamped or printed their own information onto them. You can read more about trade cards here.
While more than 100 different trade cards featuring baseball are known today, Burdick either had not seen many of them or did not recognize them all. His trade card classifications for baseball issues started at H801-7, H801-8, and H801-9, and continued with H804-1, H804-2, and so on, up to H804-8. Burdick then labeled everything else as H804-9. Perhaps he continued finding issue after issue and the work became too tedious. Instead of continuing with more classifications, he simply used H804-9 as a catchall for all others found.
A noted collector named Frank Keetz came along and developed a passion for trade cards. He discovered nearly 150 more types and cataloged them using these designations:
- Sets classified as H804-10 through H804-41
- Numerous individual issues sorted by title
- 41 issues numbered 201 through 241
Other updates have also been made with mixed acceptance by the collecting community.
Confused yet? You’re not alone. Keep in mind that since many collectors don’t use most of these designations, you’re not likely to need to know them all. The most common ones are, without a doubt, E-Cards, N-Cards, R-Cards, and T-Cards. To a lesser degree, D-Cards, H-Cards, M-Cards, W-Cards, and WG-Cards are popular, too.
Beyond those, you will find that many collectors are unfamiliar with the others. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t know them – only that you’ll find a great many people don’t, either. Your best bet in getting familiar with the different types is to buy your own copy of the American Card Catalog or to review this list periodically.