The Wide, Crazy World of Collectible Ink Blotters
Let’s talk ink
My collection is pretty varied and, while I generally ‘just’ stick to cards, the types of those cards I collect has a wide range.
Like many do, I collect tobacco and caramel/candy cards, which are really my focus. But I also collect all sorts of other things, including trade cards, strip cards, food cards, postcards, and generally anything that’s flat and smaller than an 8X10 photo.
One of the more unique types of cards I collect are ink blotters and, to be honest, there are more than a few collectors that don’t even know what they are.
In short, ink blotters were popular in the days of fountain pens. They are typically thicker than your standard trading card and they were used to help wipe the excess ink from the tips of pens. Because of that, you’ll find these often with splotches of ink on them. But for some reason, plenty have escaped that kind of damage. I’m generally surprised at how few actually seem ‘used.’ That speaks either to the fact that blotters weren’t really being used all that much or that large quantities were produced. They vary in size but are generally somewhere around 4″ x 6″ or 4″ x 8″.
Most blotters are from the 1920s through the 1950s. The fountain started to die out by the 1960s and blotters weren’t nearly as common by then. Many will be difficult to date. Some, like the Blue Valley Butter blotter at the top of this page have a clear copyright printed on them (that one is from 1934). And some others will have calendars or years added to them. But many give little indication of just how old they are.
To serve the purpose for which they were intended, ink blotters could have been entirely blank. But manufacturers, of course, dressed them up quite a bit.
Specifically, they often included advertisements and, like trade cards, were a good way to get in front of potential customers. They were even better than trade cards because people would keep them on their desks and the advertiser’s message would always be in front of them. I imagine they collected way more advertising ‘impressions’ than many trade cards did. You’ll also see some that contained a desk calendar for a particular month.
Most of them aren’t sports-related. However, quite a few of them did actually feature sports. Here’s a look at some of the types that exist.
By far and away, most sports ink blotters feature generic, unnamed athletes.
Most of these were drawings of some sort but some featured real images. In either case, these were pictures of subjects that were not recognized as actual athletes. Most, in fact, were children.
While most were standalone issues, some could be considered part of a set. Take this one shown here of a football player, for example. These were printed by the Thomas Murphy Company in Red Oak, Iowa and this specific one, as is evident by the calendar, is from 1925. Thomas Murphy produced several of these blotters with a similar look and they can be considered as a set to some degree.
Generic blotters, like generic cards, have value and people do seek them. But the prices are often pretty low mostly in the $20-$30 range for ones in decent shape. Some even sell for less. I’ve seen some sell for more but that is not the norm.
Another type of blotters were used by schools and athletics departments to promote the schedules of a particular team. Some professional ones exist but most of the ones you will see in this category will be for high schools or colleges.
Sometimes they will be accompanied by a picture of an athlete or some other sports-related image. But most do not feature actual athletes. The key thing here is that these certainly had a limited shelf life. Once the season was over, they were likely to be discarded.
Prices on these can vary. Blotters for high schools or small colleges are usually less valuable. The exception would be, perhaps, if a star athlete that went on to do great things professionally was a part of the team. But for the most part, that isn’t the case and those will be less expensive. Some that feature bigger collegiate programs and certainly pro teams, however, are more desirable.
The most popular type of blotters among collectors are those that feature real players. And unfortunately, they’re the most rare and generally the most expensive.
There are two types of blotters in this category, really. Some feature the actual images of players and those, of course, are the most popular. Others, though, feature quotes from players or simply use their names.
Shown here are the two types.
First is one for the legendary Babe Ruth. No picture of the Babe is found on it but his name is there. This one offers a quote from him and is an advertisement for The Lamar Life Insurance Company. Ruth had some sort of partnership with the company, which is believed to date to the 1930s, like the time period for this blotter.
This one features the Babe giving some financial advice. Ruth purportedly says, “The best thing I ever did was sinking my money in a trust fund and in an annuity. I’m going to keep on doing it, too. If I don’t make another cent, I’ll get $10,000 a year for life out of my annuity.” Other similar types of blotters are known to exist for other athletes as well. Hall of Famers Walter Johnson and Connie Mack, for example, were quoted on ink blotters used by Temperance Union groups that spoke out against the use of alcohol.
And here’s a blotter from one of the more famous sets of them, the Gridiron Greats blotters.
These football blotters were used by many businesses as a form of advertising. Dating to the late 1930s (or early 1940s), one part of the blotter featured a football player while the other side was blank, which allowed a business to have its own information appear, similar to what was done with trade cards and other blotter sets. This particular one shows the area still blank with no business name yet added.
These football blotters are some of the more expensive ones out there. They are rare and because there aren’t many pre-war football issues featuring actual players, they are draw a lot of interest. Stars from this set can sell for a few hundred dollars.
I’m a big fan of blotters. Not for everyone and I get that. But the cards have some great images and, given the low prices on most, if you just enjoy collecting old stuff, you’ll probably find them to be pretty rewarding.
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