The Virginia Brights Baseball Nine Cabinets Were Hard to Find — Here’s Why
Expensive production costs made the cabinets difficult to secure in the 1800s
In the late 1800s, Allen & Ginter produced several sets of female baseball player cabinet cards. In short, there were two different ‘teams’ and each team had three different types.
One team was called the Black Stocking Nine and wore black stockings. The other team was called the Polka Dot Nine and those players had various types of, you guessed it, polka dot apparel. The Black Stocking Nine cards are cataloged as H807-1 while the Polka Dot Nine are cataloged as H807-2. Many of the cards are listed as ‘Crop of 1884’ but at least some of the cards are likely from 1886, as we’re about to see.
Allen & Ginter used female baseball players for similar, smaller cards that were packaged inside of cigarette packages. But these premiums were different. These were larger cabinets that were roughly 7″ x 13″ in size. Those cabinets weren’t really to be collected. Instead, they served as advertisements for Allen & Ginter’s Virginia Brights cigarette brand in store fronts.
Typically, vendors would be falling over themselves to give items like these away. To get the free advertising of being placed in a store front window, it would generally be seen as more than worth it. However, Allen & Ginter was in no rush to give these away.
Why is that? The cost.
A Pricey Premium
The Atlanta Constitution details this quandary in a July 16, 1886 article. While the Polka Dot Nine and Black Stocking Nine sets are not specifically named, given the timeline and a description of ‘nine handsome female baseball players in attitudes common in that popular game’, it is almost certainly these photos that are discussed. Similarly, while Allen & Ginter is not named, the article quotes a Virginia cigarette manufacturer. These are the only known cabinets that would qualify here that I am aware of.
The photos, as other cigarette cards featuring women did, caused quite an uproar. Despite the fact that the women weren’t scantily clad, they were seen as racy. The article, consequently, helps to date some, if not all, of these cards, as they appeared to be a new release.
A hotel called the Kimball House had the photos in their store window and many citizens went to Atlanta’s mayor, declaring them as indecent. As I wrote before, the use of women in trade cards was actually a reason all tobacco cards were temporarily banned in the late 1800s.
At any rate, the photos were allowed to stay as both the mayor and the police didn’t feel the sufficient amount of compulsion to remove them. That is somewhat interesting as an effort in New York actually did end in the seizure of these photos from show windows there. It wasn’t the hotel that was advertising the photos. Rather, a distributor of the cigarettes was there and was the person in charge of them.
The photos drew a lot of attention. Many people inquired about buying them but the seller said a rather odd thing. “They are not sold.”
Instead, the distributor wanted to get them into the hands of other cigarette distributors. Seems fair enough. After all, they were advertisements. But even those types of distributors were often turned away when the agent offering them at the hotel named his price.
“Buy five or ten thousand cigarette(s) and I’ll give you half a dozen sets,” he said. At ten in a pack and a pack going for about five to ten cents, you’re talking about $50-$100 for 10,000 cigarettes. Not exactly cheap more than 100 years ago. In today’s costs, that would be approximately $1,360-$2,720.
Still, given what the company was spending to produce these cards, it was understandable that they didn’t want to merely give them away. While a poster with just some words on it might cost very little, that was not the case with these. In the same article, an agent from a cigarette company indicated that the company had spent $20,000 for advertising pictures. The reason they were willing to spend so much? According to that agent, the company sold more than 27 million cigarettes.
That’s an impressive number but, of course, the company had other costs. The agent stated that the advertising costs cut into their profits quite a bit.
The profits were decreased to such an extent that the most stringent orders were issued to agents not to give the pictures to anybody except those who patronize the (manufacturer), an unnamed agent working for the company said.
That offers some unique insight into the cabinets in terms of their rarity today. Simply put, they were not given to every Tom, Dick, and Harry. I suppose that would be obvious given their size and they couldn’t have been packaged with cigarettes. But the article also proves that they were not even easily given out to even the stores that sold the cigarettes.
The cabinets were reserved for only large buyers of the product and, even then, the quantity given was relatively small. Stores may have supplied a few to their largest individual buyers but the article paints a picture that shows it was not likely that many ended up in the hands of individuals. These were probably used as advertising by store fronts with most ultimately discarded.
However, that is not the only reason the photos are tough to find. As stated above, while they were not ultimately removed from the Kimball House in Atlanta, they were removed from storefronts in New York. Who can tell how many other stores had them removed and subsequently destroyed because they were seen as indecent?
Both of those factors help to explain the very low quantity that are seen today.