Original Patent for T. Norpoth Playing Cards Game Rediscovered
Here’s a copy for the patent of a World War I baseball playing card set
You can find all sorts of great stuff on the Internet. Some of those things just happen to be old patents for baseball card sets.
There are many of these out there and I’ve linked to some before. A Twitter friend named Nick recently pointed one out to me that I’d seen before but I thought was worth sharing.
— nick (@vossbrink) January 2, 2020
The patent is for an early game of playing cards simply known as the 1917 T. Norpoth Baseball Playing Cards (or sometimes referred to as a minor variation of that). Patented in 1917 (the application is actually from 1916), this would have been one of the relatively few number of card sets issued during World War I.
The game features mostly pictures of generic baseball players but has some other images, including equipment. The gist of the set is to include real team cities, including Boston, Chicago, New York, and St. Louis, but not real team nicknames or players. That, of course, allowed the set to be produced without any permission needed from those players/entities.
That was important because it was difficult to make much of a profit with many of these sorts of games. As I explained before, the popular Walter Mails game set had a tough time making money even without paying players to use their likeness.
The patent, of course, includes a depiction of what the cards would ultimately look like. You can see the picture in that tweet and compare it with one of my cards shown here.
However, the link to the actual patent actually has quite a bit more information. In particular, the game’s founder, Theodor (no ‘E’) Norpoth outlines details of the playing card deck and how the game was to be played. That was necessary to properly patent the game to prevent imitators from coming up with something too close by comparison.
Because of its generic images and post-1900 production date, there’s not a ton of demand for the T. Norpoth set, even though it is somewhat difficult to track down. Asking prices for individual cards can be a bit on the high end sometimes as sellers know they can be a tougher type card.
But when complete sets are sold, they’re generally in the $100-$200 range. The No. 1 set on the PSA registry sold for a somewhat modest $350 in a Memory Lane Auction.
Many collectors would be hard-pressed to even tell you what these cards are. Still, seeing early patents for games like this is always really interesting.