More Questions Than Answers Surround Rare L.A. Becker W516 Strip Cards
A rare type of W516 strip cards includes handwritten notes from a mysterious L.A. Becker
The W516 strip cards are about as ‘strip card’ as they come. Some of the pictures could be worse, I suppose, but mostly they could be better. It’s a set that includes pictures that sometimes even look more like sketches than true artwork as is found on more expensive tobacco and caramel cards. For strip cards, they’re fine. For anything else? Kind of sloppy. Even worse than the pictures are the registry issues with images and colors often misaligned.
The real distinguishing characteristic for the set is that, well, it’s more than one set. Five subsets are widely known and, even though the different types are similar, they are in fact, not entirely the same.
I say all of this to explain why a lot of people don’t bother with these cards. For one, the many subsets make it very tough for most collectors to even know what’s out there. For another, as stated, they aren’t real pretty. Put the pair together and you get enough reason to take a hard pass on this issue.
But for one person, they worked. Enter L.A. Becker.
What is an L.A. Becker? Truth is, we don’t really know. But their name is scribbled onto the backs of a number of W516 strip cards. Recently, I wrote about old collectors that used to stamp their name or initials onto the backs of cards. Some, though, also wrote their names.
Becker doesn’t appear to write his/her name as a collector, though. Instead, it’s there along with an obscure message. The cards signed by Becker all have this statement (or perhaps a slight variation of it):
“Save your tablet fronts and win a prize.”
Well, what’s that about? No one can say for sure but the conventional thinking is that Becker was teacher of some sort, which makes the most sense. What kind of tablets and what kind of prize is unsure. The cards themselves appear to be more of a messaging point as opposed to the actual prize themselves, but tough to say. Heck, we don’t even know if Becker was a male or female.
While there is a lot that we don’t know about them, there is one key thing that we do. Collector Andy Huntoon is one person that collects them and his page displays them. All of Andy’s cards (and the others I have seen) are from the W516-1 subset. That thought is also echoed by another collector, Ed Hans, who mentions that, even more specifically, the cards signed by Becker are numbered 11-20. From cards we have seen to date, and until others emerge, there appear to be a total of ten different cards in the ‘Becker set.’
Could Becker have used other cards to spread the message about winning a prize? Possibly. To date, though, I have not seen evidence of this message on other cards.
So, okay, how rare are these cards? That’s really tough to say. But as they were the work of one person, I can’t imagine that hundreds and hundreds were signed. However, the survival of them is also something difficult to reconcile. As I’ve written before, it’s easy to surmise that, at least as a ballpark figure, less than 1% of older pre-war cards exist. Perhaps, as I stated in that article, even significantly less. That number, of course is going to be different for various sets. But even if we said that a full 1% of these cards existed, even just counting Andy’s cards, that would mean that 800 were signed by Becker. That just would be surprising.
Personally, I just don’t see it. My guess is that we are just very fortunate that these specific cards survived in higher-than-number quantities. It is possible, even, that these were leftovers from Becker that were not distributed and scattered where there would be a greater chance they were lost. Or a singular student may have been overly dedicated to them. Whatever the case, my strong belief is that they likely survived at a greater rate than other cards.
While the W516 strip cards may not be great on their own, this special twist to some of them makes them a lot more interesting.