The T227 Champions Set Part II: Identifying a Potential 25th Card
What could be the missing card in the T227 Set?
The T227 set is highly desired by collectors and was a multi-sport issue. One of its largest claims to fame is that, while 25 cards were advertised, only 24 are known. In a two-part series, I’ll discuss the possibility of a 25th card existing and then consider some ideal candidates for that slot.
In Part I of this short series, I mentioned that the T227 Champions set is one of the tougher tobacco sets from that era. The set has 24 known cards but a total of 25 cards were advertised on the backs. Both the Honest and Miners Extra backs touted a ‘Series of Champions’ with ’25 designs.’
The 25th card, if one even exists, has remained a mystery. However, if one does exist, I got to thinking what would be some potential options? Given that the set includes some pretty obscure stuff like a speed boat on one card, I’m not sure these athletes would have even been considered. But if I’m looking for someone that was a champion of some sort and a big name, these are options I would have loved to see in the set and ones that also would make sense.
Let’s face it — in terms of generating buzz, a baseball player would be among the best options. And if we’re opening this up to anyone without restriction, the guy that would create the most interest is probably Honus Wagner.
Here’s the thing. If we’re following the rules for the set, we need to include a champion of sorts. In terms of the baseball players, all of the included guys met that criteria. Chief Bender was touted as a Champion Pitcher as he had the highest winning percentage in the American League in 1911. Ditto for Rube Marquard, who accomplished that feat in the National League. Ty Cobb was called the Champion Batsman after leading the league in a slew of hitting categories in 1911. And Home Run Baker was called the Home Run Champion after leading the league in long balls in the same year.
As mentioned in this Net54 thread, following the pattern, it would seem likely to include either the National League batting champion or home run champion. Those players? Honus Wagner and Wildfire Schulte.
I’ll take Wagner.
The next biggest name available aside from the baseball players? In hindsight, it’s probably Jim Thorpe.
Simply put, Thorpe is one of the greatest athletes of all time. Most people know him as a football player but his professional career didn’t begin until 1915 after this set was produced. So how could he be included in the set?
Well, Thorpe participated in the 1912 Summer Olympics, winning gold medals in both the pentathlon and decathlon. Not only was Thorpe a known athlete at the time, but his medal-winning efforts certainly qualified him as a champion.
The biggest issue for Thorpe to be included is probably the timeline, though. While the T227 set was distributed in 1912 when Thorpe was active, events mentioned (at least on the baseball cards) seem tied to the previous year. But we’re dealing in hypotheticals here and if the set was created after the Olympics, sneaking him in could be possible.
One of the sports left entirely out of the set is hockey. That is understandable since it was still an emerging sport but 100+ years later, it would have been a great inclusion.
Many old hockey players are not known to collectors of baseball and other types of cards. However, one that would certainly be known is the legendary Georges Vezina. The iconic goaltender was so well regarded that the trophy given to the best goaltender in the NHL each season is named after him.
And playing it by the book here, Vezina even fits the necessary description of champion. He led the league in goaltending (in terms of goals against) in both 1910-11 and 1911-12.
Given hockey’s standing outside of Canada, I doubt a Vezina card would have been on the radar. Still, it would have been an incredible addition.
Wrestling is found in the T227 set and, curiously, the legendary Frank Gotch is not the subject.
Gotch is identified as not only one of the greatest wrestlers of his era, but to some, he is the best of all time. Stanislaus Zbyszko is the grappler featured in the set but that is an odd consideration. Gotch, not Zbyszko, was the world heavyweight champion at the time. Even beyond that, Gotch actually defeated Zbyszko, dominating him in a 1910 bout.
Why Zbyszko was included over Gotch is anybody’s guess. Gotch was trained by the legendary Farmer Burns, whose claim to fame was a healthy lifestyle, as I once covered here. As suspected, and as chronicled in his 1908 book, “Wrestling and How to Train,” Gotch also vehemently spoke against alcohol and tobacco use.
However, Gotch did appear in other cigarette card sets so his aversion did not seem to prevent him from being pictured on tobacco cards as some suggest was the case with Honus Wagner.
Gotch’s absence with Zbyszko’s appearance is interesting given the ‘Champions’ name. That leads me to believe that Gotch could actually be a strong candidate for a 25th card if one ever surfaced.
Another name that will not be familiar to many collectors is that of Anthony Wilding. That’s kind of a shame.
His inclusion here would definitely be a welcome one as Wilding was sometimes called the first star of the sport of tennis. Not only would he be a great addition because of his career, but tennis is also not represented in the set.
Wilding won six grand slam titles and, most notably, won Wimbledon in four consecutive years from 1910-13. As he won Wimbledon for the second straight time in 1911, he fits the champion mold.
Wilding’s career was also tragically cut short, making his achievements even more impressive. Wilding served in World War I and was tragically killed in action. He noted the possible imminence of his death only one day before he died, writing:
“For really the first time in seven and a half months I have a job on hand which is likely to end in gun, I, and the whole outfit being blown to hell. However if we succeed we will help our infantery (sp.) no end.”