N154 Duke Presidential Candidates is the Ultimate Nonsensical Presidents Day Set
The rare 19th Century Set shows presidential candidates in a different light
Ordinarily, the N154 Duke Presidential Candidates set doesn’t get a whole lot of attention. Don’t get me wrong. The cards are rare and, when offered, usually sell for a good bit of money. But many collectors haven’t even heard of them and they have an admittedly limited group of interested parties.
But Presidents Day is one of the few times of year that they get a little bit more attention.
If you haven’t heard of this quirky set, it’s a rare 19th century issue. They aren’t impossible to find but with fewer than 100 graded between PSA, SGC, and Beckett combined, you certainly won’t be likely to see these at your local card shop most of the time. Even with the resources of online shopping, finding them isn’t terribly easy.
The cards are one of the many humorous tobacco sets out there. The highlights are clearly the oversized heads of presidential candidates on the bodies of female baseball players. Candidates were from the 1888 election and included Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, Levi Morton, and Allen Thurman. If you’re not up on your history, Harrison defeated Cleveland, who was president at the time.
I’ve never been a huge fan of these cards. Would I own one? Sure, if the price was right. But would I shell out a few hundred bucks for one? Nah. I’ve just never understood the appeal. Cool piece of history? Mayyybe. But this is a type of slapstick humor I can’t generally appreciate.
How Duke came up with the idea for the cards is unknown. But they probably didn’t require a ton of work. Duke had created numerous cards for some of their other cigarette brands around the same time. Classified as the N48 sets, the cards featured female baseball players, which were either models or possibly even workers in their factories. The N154 presidential cards had basically the same theme, using the female bodies and simply adding a politician’s head on top of the bodies.
Seeing some of the poses up close, it is obvious on several of them that they are female bodies just by basic anatomy. However, when you compare them to other Duke cards, it is even more obvious.
For example, here is one of the more popular cards featuring Cleveland and Harrison (left). If you compare the card to the one on the right, the Champion Batter card from the N508 Sub Rosa set, it is obviously the same layout with the same poses.
Now, the bodies and poses are not exactly the same as you can see some variances. However, that was quite common, as I outlined here. The N48 sets are extremely difficult to catalog. I have identified five types but even some slight pose variances within at least one of those types are known. Simply put, it’s kind of a mess.
A few possibilities for the origin of the exact poses and models used in the N154 Presidential Candidates series exist. First, they could have been exact copies of cards in the N48 or closely related N508 Sub Rosa sets. I’d really have to compare them to known N48/N508 cards to be able to say for sure. Second, they could have been exact copies of cards in the also related Black Stocking Nine cabinet series (basically larger versions of N48 type cards). Finally, they could have been extra images from the N48 shoots that the company had but never used.
So what are these cards worth? All of the cards are valuable but because Harrison and Cleveland were presidents, they are worth a bit more than Morton and Thurman. Prices for some can even top $1,000 and it is hard to find any for less than $200-$300.