A Closer Look at Decalco Litho’s W519 and W521 Strip Cards
Strip cards were generally printed on low-quality paper and given away by merchants as opposed to being packaged with products. Categorized as W-Cards by Jefferson Burdick in his American Card Catalog, these cards often featured low quality images of players and are generally cheaper than other types of cards, such as tobacco and caramel issues. You can learn more about strip card collecting here.
The origins of many strip cards are unknown. But through a few cards, we know that the W519 and W521 strip cards were printed by a company called Decalco Litho.
About W519 and W521
In most ways, the W519 and W521 sets were your typical strip card issue. The pictures weren’t necessarily great, they had blank backs, and the quality of the card stock was pretty low.
W519 was a little more confusing when comparing the two. That issue was printed in 1920 and includes three different sets – one (known as W519-1-1) has black numbers, a second (W519-1-2) is smaller has blue numbers, and the third (W519-2) is unnumbered.
W521 is less complicated with only one set. That set printed in 1921 is interesting, however, because it included the same pictures as W519-1-1. But it wasn’t completely the same.
The images were reversed.
Why, exactly, is unknown. After all, printing pictures backwards just doesn’t seem to make much sense, right? Well, the mirror images make a little more sense when you consider who printed them. More on that in a bit.
Because W519-1-1 and W521 shared the same exact pictures, those checklists are no different than each other.
In those sets, there are a total of 20 cards. Babe Ruth is the biggest name by quite a bit and also included are Hall of Famers, such as George Sisler, Eddie Collins, Home Run Baker, Frankie Frisch, Rube Marquard, Wilbert Robinson, and Ray Schalk.
In the other W519 sets, there are a few differences. W519-1-2 includes only ten cards compared to the 20 cards found in the first two sets mentioned. However, the ten included are all among the 20 in the other two issues, so none are new players.
The lone other checklisted card difference is the inclusion of Eddie Cicotte, who appears in the W519-2 set. He was not included in any of the other W519 or W521 issues.
Decalco Litho was the producer of this issue. That wasn’t widely known until a few cards started showing up from these sets with the Decalco Litho name. Decalco Litho was printed on the sheets of cards, likely around the exterior borders.
To date, the Decalco Litho name is generally found on one of two cards in the sets. In the W519-1-1 set, the Decalco Litho name is on the right border of the George Sisler card. And because W521 is a mirror image, the print appears on the left side in W521. Rube Marquard is the other card that can sometimes have the Decalco name. The placement of that name is the opposite in those two sets – in W519-1-1, it’s on the left and in W521, the right. In terms of value, the cards with the Decalco name typically sell for more than the regular versions of those cards that have that name trimmed off.
Decalco Litho was a company based in Hoboken, New Jersey. According to the Hoboken Historical Museum, the business was originally founded in 1908 as the American Transfer Pictures and Printing Company. That name is somewhat important and helps us understand the context of the backward printing a little. The company printed children’s pictures and produced printed toy goods. One example of those printed toys were dollhouses and paper dolls, which became popular in the late 1800s. The company’s name was later incorporated as Decalco Litho in 1918, only a couple of years before production of these sets.
But the company’s original name sheds a little insight here. One thing produced by the company were transfers, which were tattoos of a sort. They were originally printed backwards then, when used, would appear facing the right way. Because they had the ability to do that, that meant they had the ability to easily produce the W521 cards, which were backwards.
So Decalco had the ability to produce the backwards set. But why would they do so. That’s not something that may ever be answered.
One thought is that, perhaps the company had planned to produce transfers of the W519 cards but instead printed more cards. But while we don’t know exactly why they printed backwards cards, we do know that transfer printing was something they were known for, helping to provide a link of sorts between them and the W521 set.
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