Obscure Card of the Month: 1888 N86 Duke Perilous Occupations (Baseball Umpire)

This rare pre-war 19th century tobacco baseball card details the difficulties of early umpiring

Today, baseball umpires take all that fans will give them on the field. They typically don’t get much credit for making the right calls and are the subject of criticism when making poor ones.

But umpires have had their fair share of struggles for some time now. In fact, one of the earliest baseball cards gives us a glimpse into the woes of umpires back in the day, proving that the hatred of umpires is not exactly a new thing.

N86 Perilous Occupations Umpire TopMostly cited as an 1888 issue, the N86 Perilous Occupations set comes to us from Duke Tobacco. Duke created numerous 19th century sets with several of them focusing on sports. The Perilous Occupations set is mostly a non-sports issue but it does have a few sports cards in it. Most are relatively minor ones (i.e. diving, fishing, and hunting) but the most popular one by a mile is one that features a baseball umpire. And that’s the subject of this month’s look at an obscure card.

The front of the card features our unwilling participant being chased by some angry players. The title, “A bad decision by the umpire,” explains the scene.

And the back of the card gives us even more.

“Base ball is a game for the people, and good wholesome sport. The materials are inexpensive, and all that is wanted is a field. It takes the stoop from the shoulders, puts hard honest muscle all over the frame, and frequently gives the player hard knocks and dangerous falls. Sometimes the umpire holds a thankless position. In his anxiety to see that the provisions of the rules are observed – to judge good and bad balls, put outs and runs – he is liable to make mistakes, and sometimes, as in the picture, he is chased off the field. But the breeze soon blows over.”

This is one of the cooler 19th century cards out there for my money. It doesn’t get a ton of notoriety because it doesn’t feature specific named players. But it is a great card featuring early baseball and one that does command some attention from 19th century collectors.

The card is very tough to find. Only a little more than a dozen have been graded by PSA to date and it is rarely on eBay. Even in low-grade condition, it is hard to find for less than $25 or so. Graded ones in decent mid-grade condition start around $50-$100.

That, of course, is when you can find one available. Because of that, asking prices for them are often significantly higher.

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