In the pre-war era, numerous sets that were often produced in England and other countries featuring sports of the world. The gist was to create a set that showed what sports were popular in different parts of the world. Today, the sets are usually a little harder to find here in the U.S. They remain popular but some are especially so because many of the cards for America depict the sport of baseball.
One of these sets was called Sports of the World and is believed to have been issued in 1916 and 1917. The cards were distributed by tobacco companies/brands British American Tobacco and Wills in the UK as well as candy companies, MacRobertson’s and Village Maid, in Australia. Because these are sets from the UK and Australia, you will often see online sellers of them located in those countries.
Like the T206 cards, many different backs were used as they represented by the different brands. Here’s a look at the six types.
One of the backs is tied to Village Maid and a second of sorts is available as it features a cancellation stamp. Village Maid cards are sometimes referred to as tobacco cards but the brand was actually a confectionery company, making these cards a candy issue.
The back identifies the name of the set and cites that there are 50 subjects. The title of a particular sport is mentioned and it is followed by a description of it.
The Village Maid cards have a golden border and also a golden box at the bottom. Inside of the box is a Village Maid stamped/printed name and a brief mention that collecting 50 of the cards (a full set) will give the redeemer a free collectable album.
We know the albums were distributed because some of the Village Maid card backs have a purple stamp that reads, ‘Presented and Cancelled.’ To date, I have never seen the stamp in any other color. These were clearly cards that were redeemed for the album and likely returned back to the collector so that they could not be redeemed again.
The gold borders and gold box on these make them condition sensitive.
In terms of rarity, the Village Maid cards are probably the most plentiful ones I’ve seen of all of these types listed here.
These cards are sometimes called Village Maid cards even though no Village Maid name exists. That is because the layout of the backs are exactly the same minus the Village Maid stamp/print.
Numerous possibilities exist, of course.
These could have been cards that were simply not issued with the Village Maid name having not yet been printed. They could have been intended for distribution and simply never received the name on them.
Perhaps they were printed that way intentionally and Village Maid distributed them but never included their name on them on purpose. This seems less likely.
They also could have been intended for other brands/companies as well. There is plenty of precedent for this with things like trade cards. Many trade cards were printed with an intentionally blank space and intended to be used by several companies. Some of these cards have been found with the blank space and are generally referred to as stock issues as they never received an intended company stamp or print.
Wills was a popular tobacco brand in the U.K. Pre-war collectors familiar with U.K. issues will almost certainly know of that name as Wills produced numerous sports and non-sports sets in the early 1900s.
The Wills backs are very similar to the Village Maid cards with a few differences. The top remained the same but these cards are missing the gold border and the gold box. These cards also have a Wills name instead of a Village Maid name and mention several of their products.
Wills also offered collectors the chance to obtain a collectable album but in a different way. Instead, these albums were offered for sale from tobacconists. It’s clear Wills did not have a redemption program like Village Maid because these cards are not found with the ‘Presented and Canceled’ stamp that is found on the Village Maid issues.
Because these are missing the gold foil borders, they are not as condition sensitive as the first two types. And, as an aside, the front of these cards are different because they have the Wills name included.
These backs are drastically different from the others already discussed.
They do share some similarities in that they have a card number, the title of a sport, and also a short biography of the sport. The biography is also the same on the other backs. But the card numbers are different as is the layout.
These are not called ‘Sports of the World’ cards and merely have the name ‘Sports’ on them. That name is on the bottom instead of the top as the MacRobertson’s name is printed there. While the Sports of the World name is not found, that is still considered to be the name of the set as the pictures and sports included are exactly the same as the other issues.
A decorative design is presented like the others but it is entirely different.
The biggest difference for these cards is actually found in the fronts. Instead of full-color images of the sports, the set features bi-color images with a brownish and white/cream color.
British American Tobacco
A final variation of this set exists and it is believed to be for British American Tobacco.
That topic may be up for debate as I have not yet seen evidence correlating the cards with that company. However, these are mostly referred to as British American Tobacco cards despite the fact that their name is not on them anywhere.
The cards have the same pictures and subjects as found in other sets and they also feature full color images. As an aside, I have read reports that there are also bi-color images (like the MacRoberton’s cards) but have never seen a single example.
While the fronts are familiar, though, the backs are completely different as they are entirely blank with no markings at all.
The blank backs provide some confusion as to the set’s origin and distributor but, as I said, they are generally called British American Tobacco cards.
The blank-backed cards are among the rarer types I have seen.