The 1887 Buchner Gold Coin set is a unique issue. The set includes 143 baseball cards and has been famous for being a set that includes generic images of players. That assumption, however, isn’t really correct.
Introduction to the 1887 Buchner Gold Coin Set
If you’re unfamiliar with it, the 1887 Buchner Gold Coin set features some of baseball’s earliest players. While trade cards featuring non-specific players were all the rage in the 1880s, the Buchner Gold Coin set was one of the first to picture actual professional players. Jefferson Burdick classified it as N284 in the American Card Catalog.
While the baseball cards are the real prize here, the set actually includes other subjects as well, including jockeys, policemen, and actors. The baseball cards are the most desirable, obviously, but the others are collected, too.
The set is often cited for using generic images of players. The biggest reason for that is because many of the cards duplicated the poses. But does that mean the pictures weren’t meant to feature different players?
Real Pictures of Real Players
At first glance, it seems like the set features generic players. Many of the pictures look exactly the same and run together. Many were interchangeable, it seemed, and that fed into the idea that these weren’t real player-specific cards despite the fact that they used players’ real names, teams, and uniforms. However, I don’t believe this should be considered a ‘generic’ set by any means for a few reasons.
1. Many poses didn’t vary … but the pictures did
The biggest reason this is called a set with generic images is because many poses were recycled for different players. But the cards weren’t identical, or even close to it.
First, player faces changed. You can tell the creators of this set tried to make the cards as specific as possible because the visages weren’t all the same, even for the cards with the same pose. Players with mustaches had them on the cards while players without them in real life did not.
The set even took things a step further. Even players that had mustaches had cards with variances in the mustaches, as seen here in two cards for Sid Farrar and Roger Connor.
To further differentiate players, each picture featured the player in his proper team uniform. These weren’t simply one-size-fits-all uniforms, either. Not only is the player’s actual team printed on it, but the uniforms vary from player to player, even in cards utilizing the same pose as shown here. Further, it’s not as if the backgrounds were the same, either.
The poses were the same. There’s no doubt about that. But while the company saved some money by using the same poses over and over, they also did everything else they could to differentiate the cards to make them player-specific.
2. Many poses were unique
Because many of the images were repeated, one thing that gets lost in the shuffle is the fact that many images are actually unique and used only one time. Recently, I wrote about probably my favorite card in the set, the horizontal image of George Wood. But there are several more images that were not reused, either.
The most unique card actually might belong to St. Louis Browns president Chris von der Ahe. His card is the only portrait in the set and features him in a suit against a plain background.
Those aren’t all, though. In fact, dozens of cards in the set have different pictures that are not used among other players. The set gets a bad rap for being a generic issue since some of the pictures are repeated. But to call it a generic set and leave it at that is an overgeneralization.
It seems like the set is punished for not having the detail of other sets but that’s not really fair. After all, why should we consider cards with poses not duplicated to be generic in any way? If we are, we might as well call the von der Ahe card generic as well – and it clearly isn’t.
3. Jefferson Burdick didn’t appear to think the set featured generic players
I might not be the only person to share this opinion. Jefferson Burdick, author of the American Card Catalog, didn’t indicate that these cards were generic in terms of the images. At least he didn’t say as much.
That might not seem like anything but consider his description of the E91 American Caramel set. Burdick not only mentioned that the release included 33 different images for 99 players, but he also called it a ‘faked design.’ No such characterization exists in his book for this set. Burdick didn’t give this set the same generic tag as he did that one and that’s probably with good reason.
Those cards didn’t have nearly the same kind of variances as found in this set.
In the end, while it’s understandable where the generic tag came from, it’s not really accurate once you take a closer look at the set. Grouping this together with sets such as the E91 American Caramel set isn’t accurate, even if a few of the poses are the same.