Most of the more inexpensive issues from the 19th Century are trade cards. But one of the bigger bargains is sort of hidden away from the 1890s.
1893 Arbuckle Coffee America Baseball Card
In 1893, Arbuckle Coffee produced a 50-card set featuring various pastimes of areas from around the globe. The cards that they provide a pictorial history of sports and pastimes from various nations. However, given that some of the locations of the cards aren’t actually countries, it’s more a depiction of sports and pastimes from different areas of the world.
There are plenty of recognizable sports featured in the set and those cards that feature them are a little more desirable. But, by far and away, the key to the set is the card for America that features the sport of baseball. The baseball image features a batter with a catcher behind him. The players are unidentified on the front and also on the back, which includes a brief writeup of the sport but no mention of specific players.
Baseball, of course, isn’t the only thing featured on the card. Typically that might be kind of a downer but in addition to things like fishing, cycling, and photography, P.T. Barnum and his famous circus are mentioned on the back – one of the few earlier cards likely bearing his name.
One interesting thing about this card was that, because it served as an advertisement for Arbuckle Coffee, it has the rarely-seen K-Card classification in the American Card Catalog. Jefferson Burdick classified this set as K-4 in the book. The card is already a great one but considering that you can add a unique classification to your collection by picking this one up, it makes it even better.
One of the greatest things I love about this card is that, aside from trade cards, there are so few 19th Century issues out there featuring baseball that are this cheap. No, the card doesn’t depict an actual named player. But it’s still a really great collectible that’s now 125 years old. Asking prices on these fluctuate quite a bit because they’re not always for sale. But when they go up for straight auction, you can get them in low-grade condition for as little as $20.
A word of caution – they certainly sell for more than that in low grade. They are not overly common, particularly to the rest of the cards in the set. Baseball card collectors have gotten their hands on them and certainly have stored some away because you see the card much less often than most others. But with some patience, you can often find this card in the $20-$30 range.