Tale of the Tape: How does Allen Ginter’s N28 Set Stack Up with the N29 Release?
Allen & Ginter distributed two of the most popular tobacco card sets of the 19th Century. Cataloged as N28 and N29, these two releases were issued in 1888 and 1889, respectively. They can really be considered as one large set with two series’. We know that the 1889 N29 set was to be a continuation of the 1888 N28 release because the former plainly calls the the ‘Second Series’ on the back.
If you’re unfamiliar with the sets, they were multi-sport issues that featured some of the best athletes of the time in various sports. Each set has 50 cards and the cards are popular even today with Topps reviving the Allen & Ginter series in the 2000s. Here’s a closer look at Allen & Ginter’s, as well as other Champions sets from the 1800s.
But while the cards have the same general design and look, they are two different productions. Which set is better? Let’s take a look at how the two sets stack up against each other.
Card Layout / Design
The layouts of the cards are pretty similar. Shown to the left here is an N28 card while an N29 card is on the right.
Each card has a mostly white back background with a color subject. Some are close-up portrait pictures but others are more half-body images.
In addition to the pictures, the card fronts include an athlete’s name. Besides that, though, there are some differences. Most notably, the N28 cards include the Allen & Ginter’s logo while the N29 ones do not. More than 125 years after their production, the reason for that may never be known. However, an explanation for the change could be how tobacco cards were perceived in general.
In short, many collectors did not appreciate tobacco brand names being associated with the cards. While the cards were distributed in cigarette and tobacco products, not all who collected them were tobacco users. As a result, you will often find N28 cards with the Allen & Ginter’s name cut off. That practice was also similar with other tobacco cards as well where the names of the sponsor were removed. It is possible that Allen & Ginter’s caught on to this and found that to be a suitable enough reason to remove their name from the cards by 1889.
That is not only seen in these sets but many other Allen & Ginter’s sets as well, as many of their post-1888 sets have the name removed from the fronts.
In addition, the N29 cards also include a bit about the athlete. Baseball cards, for example, give the player’s position and team.
Backs of the cards are generally the same. Both mention the name of the set, ‘The World’s Champions’ at the top as well as a mention that one is packed in each box of ten of their cigarettes. Each also includes the checklist of the set as well as the name of the lithographer. But the Allen & Ginter’s name is another difference. While that name is not on the backs of the N28 cards it is printed on the backs of the N29 set to make up for it not appearing on the front.
Personally, I like the N28 addition of the Allen & Ginter’s name on the front. I’m not a smoker personally, but seeing the old A&G name there is a nice touch and the fact that it is in blue even helps break up the other black/dark brown text. Because of that, I give the N28 design a slight nod over N29.
Both checklists are varied as each set was a multi-sport release. In general, the baseball cards are the most expensive but other sports found in them are boxing, wrestling, tennis, and more.
From purely a baseball standpoint, the N28 set comes away the clear winner. For one thing, it has more baseball cards (ten to the six that are in N29). And for another, the names are much bigger. Cap Anson. Tim Keefe. Mike Kelly. John Clarkson. Those are all among the best players in the sport at the time of production. The N29 set does have one of the game’s early stars in Buck Ewing, but from a baseball standpoint, there’s no comparison here.
But what about the rest of the checklist?
Well, the boxers are another big part of these sets for many collectors. N28 comes out ahead there, too. The N28 set includes the legendary John Sullivan and Nonpareil Jack Dempsey. The N29 set includes some good fighters as well but none that really compare to those two.
And not to pile on, but the N28 set includes a couple of very desired ‘non-sports’ cards in shooting legend Annie Oakley and wild west hero Buffalo Bill. Both cards are often expensive and, aside from the baseball players, among the more valuable cards in either release.
One area where N29 excels is in the diversity of athletes represented. The N28 set includes six general categories of athletes – baseball players, rowers, wrestlers, boxers, rifle shooters, and pool/billiard players. But N29 boasts more than a dozen types of athletes, including those representing baseball, tennis, cycling, wrestling, ice skating, track and field, walking, boxing, weight lifting, rowing, club swinging, and swimming, as well as an all-around athletes category. In particular, the tennis players really gave us some of the earliest tennis cards in existence.
Despite that, from a star power standpoint, the N28 checklist is far superior to N29. That, of course, is understandable. Allen & Ginter’s would have included the cream of the crop in their first set and, since the athletes didn’t repeat in N29, there were fewer big names to be had.
Neither set is particularly easy to assemble. The cards aren’t impossible to find and, with only 50 cards in each, putting together a complete set is entirely possible.
That said, the N29 cards are much harder to find. PSA’s population report shows us a glimpse of this as they have graded more than 4,500 N28 cards and fewer than 1,200 N29s. That type of disparity is also seen on eBay where collectors will find many more N28s available than N29s.
There’s just a big advantage to N29 here when it comes to determining which set is harder to come by.
This one is pretty tough. Both were produced by the same lithographer, Lindner, Eddy, and Clauss, of New York and the imagery in both is fantastic.
I will certainly concede that the baseball imagery in N28 is far superior to that of N29. That doesn’t have as much to do with the quality of the artwork as it does the poses.
The N28 baseball cards utilize several different poses while all six in the N29 are merely portraits. And if you hadn’t yet picked up on it, this Jack Glasscock card features the pose for the logo at the top of the page for this site as it’s one of my personal favorites.
But I’d also suggest that the variation in sports in N29 provides for some very unique artwork not seen in N28. For example, this card of Gus Hill, a club swinger, is fantastic. Some other, too, provide for some really nice pictures of other types of athletes not seen in the N28 set.
To me, the artwork in these sets is tough to distinguish and a virtual push to me if you consider the entirety of the set and not merely the baseball cards.
I love both of these sets equally. As primarily a baseball collector, it’s very difficult to ignore the number of big names of the baseball players in the N28 set. And if you forced me to pick only one, I would choose that set over N29. But N29 is equally impressive in its own right and given how few of the cards were printed in comparison to the N28 set, finding an N29 usually makes me happier than I am in finding a more common N28.
But looking at all of these categories, there’s no denying that N28, by my standards, anyway, is the superior one.