Obscure Card of the Month: 1936 United Tobacco Sports & Pastimes of South Africa Baseball
This international tobacco card shows how the sport of baseball was spreading around the globe
Like many collectors, I love baseball cards featuring truly great players from the pre-war era like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, or Christy Mathewson. But I’ve also got a strong interest in other early baseball cards. Specifically, international sets where baseball is depicted.
If you weren’t aware, there are several such cards. They can often be a bit hard to track down here in the U.S. but, thanks to sites like eBay, they’ve gotten to be more accessible. And one of these cards is from a 1930s set distributed by a tobacco company called United Tobacco.
United Tobacco produced many card sets and, according to this page, the company was a venture of the British American Tobacco Company (which itself was a joint venture of the American Tobacco Company and a UK tobacco firm), which teamed up with South African tobacco companies and operated out of that country.
The 52-card set was distributed (individually) inside packages of Springbok Cigarettes and was called Sports & Pastimes in South Africa. As you might expect, these cards featured all kinds of sports being played in the country at the time, including golf, boxing, tennis, wrestling —
Many of the sports in the set are represented by two cards but there is only one baseball card found here. Some named specific athletes while others did not. And while the baseball card does not name specific players, it does mention specific South African teams, Transvaal, Natal, and Province.
The card details the origins of the sport in the country, stating that baseball ‘became firmly established in this country in 1934.’ Games, however, had begun sooner than that. 1934 was merely when an official ‘board’ for the sport was created. The baseball card mentions Transvaal’s dominance dating back to 1931 and it is possible that games were played even before then.
The card specifically features a batter — again without a name. But, aside from a messenger style of cap, he’s mostly wearing what looks to be a traditional baseball uniform.
The card is a popular one with collectors of early international baseball cards, though it is not always easy to find. The cards do pop up on occasion but not with any great regularity. How rare are the cards? Well, the population reports aren’t a great indicator since many, I suspect, have not been graded. For example, I own two and neither is graded. But given that PSA, SGC, and Beckett have combined to grade only eight, you get a pretty clear picture that the cards are not exactly commonplace.
As a result, prices can range all over the place. On sites like eBay, they often go under the radar and sell for smaller amounts in the $20-$30 range. However, dealers aware of their rarity will often ask significantly more.