Twice the Fun: A Rare Tris Speaker Card Appears in Two Sets, Two Decades Apart
Virtually the same Tris Speaker card can be found in two sets nearly 20 years apart
Tris Speaker was one of the early greats of the game. But while he played for a total of 22 seasons, he actually doesn’t have as many cards as he probably should. That’s because much of his career came during the 1910s with baseball card production being interrupted by World War I.
Still, Speaker has a ton of cards. And two of them are quite interesting, given the context.
1915-16 Susini Card
Speaker has this unique looking card in the 1915-16 Obsequio de Susini set (or … just plain Susini) That’s an international issue, as you might have gathered by the name — Cuban, to be exact. Translated, it means “gift of Susini,” which was a Cuban tobacco company.
And like many other international sets, the title of the card is a generic one, citing only the sport of baseball on the front. The back also gives no mention of a specific player, offering a card No. of 202 and little else. Backs of the cards also included Spanish, roughly citing that an album was available for the series of their cards.
That Speaker wasn’t named is hardly surprising. That was quite a common occurrence in international, multi-sport sets, who often used generic players or sometimes didn’t even bother to name actual ones. Babe Ruth, for crying out loud, isn’t even mentioned on the 1929 Churchman cards, even though we know they feature him based on the picture used elsewhere that does identify him.
However, while the card might appear generic, it certainly is not as it has been determined to feature Speaker. As for the card itself, it is a popular one, selling for even $100-$200 in lower-grade condition. It’s just a tough issue that a good amount of demand from pre-war collectors who can actually identify it.
The actual picture on the card just doesn’t seem to make much sense, given the placement of the figures on it. Speaker looks okay but an opposing player is running in an odd part of the field and an apparent umpire looks too far away to do much good. This could be a case of Speaker appearing in some sort of exhibition contest, though I’ve never bothered to try to find out the photo’s origins.
And interestingly enough, the same wacky picture was used in a set in a different country nearly 20 years later.
1934 R&J Hill Card
In 1934, the R&J Hill Sports Series was issued from the UK. These sepia toned cards included all sorts of sports, including tennis, boxing, and more. Speaker, however, is the highlight.
Speaker wasn’t only included in the set but the same picture as was found on the Susini card was used. Unfortunately, he isn’t named on this one, either, with only a description of the sport appearing on the back.
For the record, the picture isn’t 100% the same. It’s cropped a bit differently with the R&J Hill card giving more of a panoramic view.
In terms of value, as you would expect, the R&J Hill card is not as valuable as his Susini card. For the $100-$200 range, you can probably get a mid-grade R&J Hill card when you find them available. They are not quite as rare as the Susini cards but not an easy find, either. If you think you can compare these to the other mass-produced UK sets of the 1930s, think again.
The reason for the pricing disparity is pretty obvious. The Susini cards are rarer, about 20 years older, and just as importantly, were issued during Speaker’s career as an active player. Meanwhile, the R&J Hill cards came a good six years after Speaker was done playing.
To the larger issue, though what’s the deal here? I mean, why would a cigarette company use this same picture of a player that had long since retired?
No one can say for sure but several thoughts emerge. First, keep in mind, these were international sets. While baseball pictures would have been quite plentiful here in the U.S., finding American ones to use for trading cards was probably a little more difficult internationally. And in the game of keeping printing costs for cigarette cards cheap, reusing artwork whenever you could just made good sense.
It is also possible that these two tobacco labels had some sort of connection or were tied in some way. That would have made for sharing the photo all the more easier.
With regards to using Speaker in the R&J Hill set after he retired, few would have cared or even known. Baseball was not a major sport in the UK and Speaker isn’t even named on the card. Before the days of the internet or television, the number of people in the UK that could have properly identified Speaker as the figure on the card could possibly be counted on one hand. Okay, maybe not that few, but you get the point. Reusing a picture of a retired player likely went under the radar of just about everyone.