A pair of brothers were the subjects of a popular comic series … and one is found on at least one postcard
To most collectors, the names Frank and Dick Merriwell won’t mean a whole lot. But if you’re familiar with pre-war collectibles, you may have heard of them.
The Merriwells were the subjects of a popular comics series starting in the late 1800s. In particular, Frank Merriwell was the main character. His half-brother, Dick, was also featured, though. The pair were, in general, role models who were also athletes, eschewing things like alcohol and tobacco. They were the work of George Patten, who wrote their adventures under the name of Burt Standish, for Tip Top Weekly, a weekly publication for children that was produced by Street and Smith. The newsletter-like publications were sometime referred to as dime novels.
The stories were sort of the written version of a typical 1960s or 1970s sitcom where a problem would be presented that would sort of work its way out in a half hour (i.e. think Andy Griffith or the Brady Bunch). Not all of the adventures of the Merriwells were related to sports but most were. Frank and Dick were the stars of the series and Frank would ultimately go on to play football for Yale in the stories. Football, baseball, and basketball were all featured in the series but they stories also included other sports, such as wrestling, hockey, and more. After college, the pair would continue in other adventures, traveling around the world.
The magazine was a popular one, in part because of the colorful illustrations on the covers. According to Wikipedia, it started as Tip Top Weekly then became Tip Top Semi-Monthly and then Wide Awake Magazine until its end in 1916. Merriwell lasted beyond that, however. His character was used in radio, comics, and a film series through the 1940s. A series of new books featuring Merriwell sprung up in the 1960s but didn’t last long. To date, the most popular Merriwell stuff is found in the Tip Top publications.
A Rare Postcard
While I have seen plenty of the Tip Top publications (they are usually available starting around $5-$10), I had not really stumbled upon anything like a trading card or anything I would typically collect. That changed recently when I found a rare postcard promoting the publication.
The front includes a color picture of Dick Merriwell in full football uniform and is a rare advertising postcard for a particular product. This one, of course, is to promote the Tip Top Weekly magazine and includes their slogan — an ideal publication for the American youth. Merriwell’s name is printed on the postcard and the front also includes a replica signature from the fictional character along with the phrase, ‘Yours for Clean Sport.’
On the front, Merriwell is standing with the ball and wearing a red/gray uniform. An ‘F’ flag is in the background, which presumably stands for his school team of Fardale. The back is a standard unlined postcard and mine happens to have a clean back.
How rare are the postcards? In digging around online, I’ve seen only other one for Dick and none for any other characters that appear, such as Frank or Frank’s father. I don’t know how they were distributed or even aware of an exact date for it. But we do have some possibilities.
Some postcards, like the famous 1929 Babe Ruth Shonen Club issue, were distributed directly inside of the magazines themselves so it’s possible this one was, too. And because the Tip Top Weekly name lasted until 1912 when it was changed to to Tip Top Semi-Monthly, we know it is from no later than that year. As an abundance of postcards were printed in the late 1900s to early 1910s, that fits perfectly with the timeline for many of these types of collectibles.
The first issue with Dick titled on a publication is a 1901 issue of Tip Top Weekly titled, Dick Merriwell at Fardale. Thus we can surmise the postcard would likely have been printed between 1901-12.
Are there are collectibles out there featuring the Merriwells? My guess is almost certainly. Other cards? That’s less certain. But as Dick was the lesser of the two characters, a Frank Merriwell postcard seems quite likely.
The postcard (or postcards, if one exists for Frank) may be the only ‘cards’ of the pair from the iconic series. Great little item that seems pretty difficult to find and is representative of a series from long ago.