What does Mail in Bolivia have to do with the 1910 Philadelphia Athletics?
Linking the Mail of All Nations set to a team of World Champion baseball players
In 1910, the Philadelphia Athletics won 102 games on their way to a World Series title. It would be the first of three championships in a four-year period as the franchise would build a mini dynasty during that time.
Some card manufacturers, as they did for other champions, created baseball cards to commemorate their title. One of the most popular sets was distributed by the Rochester Baking Company and is cataloged as D359. A parallel set was also issued for the Williams Baking Company and is similarly cataloged as D359, too. Rochester and Williams are believed to the properties of a company called Geiger Brothers, which is cited on the Williams cards.
The D359 cards were very clearly a World Series issue as they bore the name, “World’s Champions 1910” at the top and the back titled them as “World’s Championship Series.” As the backs mentioned, they were distributed with the company’s Gibson & Perfecto Bread products. Like many bread and bakery issues, both D359 sets are pretty rare and, as a result, expensive.
But while the Athletics are what baseball collectors will undoubtedly care about, a unique promotion is mentioned on the back of the Rochester cards (not the Williams set, though), which will draw the attention of some folks. And it has to do with mail of all topics.
To the fine print we go:
“A different card will be issued each day. Don’t miss getting the entire set. When you have the full number return them to our office and get a set of “Mail of all Nations Cards” or a megaphone.”
Now, first things first. To my knowledge, a megaphone linked to this set is not known. But I have zero doubt that some would have been obtained. If you’re a kid in the early 1900s, a megaphone certainly would be more attractive than a set of cards about mail.
Still, let’s get back to that part about mail. If you collected the entire set of baseball cards, you could trade them in for the mail cards set. The company would also return the baseball cards, as they indicated on the backs.
Mail of All Nations Cards
This turned out to be a 48-card set of full color cards (measuring 1 3/4″ x 2 3/4″) illustrating how mail would be delivered in countries all around the world. The result, as you can imagine, is a wide range of photos depicting everything from traditional looking mail men as we are accustomed to seeing here in the U.S. to native villagers looking more like they are on a hunt than to deliver mail. The images are pretty great, to be honest.
The actual layout of the card isn’t the best as it is often difficult to make out what particular country is being represented. For some reason, the maker of this issue felt it appropriate to use black ink against what is often a dark background, hiding the key information. But each picture is accompanied by a postal mark related to that specific country and it’s a great concept.
It is worth noting that these cards, like the baseball issues, were also in the American Card Catalog, though the exact classification may be difficult to pin down. Most generally, this mail set is recognized by collectors as D73, which are called ‘Stamps and Mail Carriers of all Nations.’ However, several 48-card mail sets are also advertised in the book, including F353, which indicates small and large versions are possible, as opposed to D73, which does not and, in fact, states they are similar to K138, which was a larger set. My personal belief is that these belong as D73 as they are D-Cards (Bakery/Bread issues), but that a notation is needed in the book for D73 to indicate smaller and larger versions. But that’s neither here nor there for what we’re looking at today.
Finally, collectors should note that these cards could be found with a variety of sponsor names on the backs. The American Card Catalog, for example, mentions the D73 cards were distributed with products for Collins, Crispy, Freihofers, Gibson, Mothers, and the well-known Tip Top, brand, which is famous for printing a few baseball card sets.
Interestingly enough, Geiger Brothers loved this mail concept and actually doubled down on it. So, get this.
If you collected the entire set of mail cards, you could then mail those in for a larger set of … more mail cards. The larger cards measure approximately 2 3/4″ x 4 1/8″. You can see one of those here. And similarly, collectors could also choose to have ‘an option for a different prize – this time, instead of a megaphone, it was ‘a beautiful picture’ that was offered.
Looking beyond the question if people would even want more of these mail cards, let’s look at the more obvious question. If you were given a full set of these cards, why would you then have to trade them in again for the larger set of mail cards? After all, why wouldn’t the company just send you the larger version to start with?
Well, we’ve got an answer, which is found on the backs of them. Backs of these mail cards (the Rochester ones … others have different backs) mention that one of the mail cards was distributed inside of their bread packages, just like the baseball cards were. Those mail cards, the ones that were given away in the bread packages, were the ones where collectors were to piece together a set for the larger cards.
Now, could you send in your redeemed mail set that was received for redeeming the baseball card set for the larger mail set? Beats me. I’m not even sure we conclusively know that the set of mail cards received from redeeming the baseball set have the same backs as the mail cards found individually in Rochester’s bread packages. But at least we know the redemption for the larger mail set was really tied more to the smaller mail cards that were distributed individually.
So, why Combine Mail with Baseball?
The elephant in the room is, why were cards depicting mail delivery the prize for a set of baseball cards? After all, keep the time period in mind here. Tobacco cards, while still very popular, were slowly being phased out as cards were included in more candy packages. That was, in part, because it was the kids that were after them. How much interest would kids really have in a set of mail delivery cards?
I suppose that was the reason for the megaphone offer and the makers likely thought the mail cards would be something that might appeal to adults. Typically, though, redemption prizes for these sorts of things were usually more baseball oriented, offering things like a baseball, bat, or a glove.
I’m not sure any real answer will ever be known. But given that the mail cards were also distributed individually, I have somewhat of a theory. The mail cards would have almost certainly had to be produced before the baseball set because they were issued as the prize. And if they were printed beforehand, it is entirely possible that too many were created. The idea to give them away could have been an easy for the company to get rid of the extras that may have been printed.
That excess printing may not have even been a mistake, to be honest. Printers give discounts for ordering more of a product and it is likely that, the more of the mail cards they printed for Geiger Brothers, the more discounted they became. It is possible they ordered a higher quantity intentionally to snag a better price.
Lots of ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ there, so even that might be a stretch. But whatever the reason, this promotion linking baseball and mail is one of the more curious ventures out there.