Set #1 — A Look at the First Set of Cards in the American Card Catalog
Meet the first cards listed in the American Card Catalog — the 1880s Currier and Ives Advertising Cards
The American Card Catalog is probably the most important trading card publication that was ever printed. Authored by Jefferson Burdick and others, it provided collectors with an early catalog to help track many of the thousands of card sets that had been issued to that point in time.
Despite the book’s importance, interestingly, few collectors could tell you about the first cards Burdick mentioned. The first type of cards mentioned, which some would know about, were advertising/trade cards. But what were the first cards cataloged?
The First First Cards
The very first ones in the book were classified as HA1, HA2, and HA3 — three different types of pre-1950 cards. But these cards were scarce, had little information known about them, and it was so difficult to identify real sets or series. Thus, they were simply classified as HA1 (small cards), HA2 (cards up to approximately 5″ x 7″), and HA3 (cards greater than that size).
After those were trade cards for Clipper ships, which were used for the transportation of equipment and materials/supplies to the less-developed western U.S. Again, though, these cards are too vast (approximately 3,000 known cards existed at the time of Burdick’s book) that he did not do much cataloging of them, only calling them HK1 (plain cards with no illustrations), HK2 (illustrated cards), and HK3 (cards with ‘extra-ordinary (sp.) designs’).
While those are technically the very first things mentioned in the book, no specific cards in those groups were really documented — Burdick merely identified the types. If you’re looking for the first specific cards mentioned, those began with the standard H-Cards.
The First Set: Currier & Ives Cards – Cigar Titles
H-Cards are advertising/trade cards. While some of these cards were issued only by specific companies, the majority of them were used by many businesses who simply took cards with images printed on them and added their own name/company information, using them as a form of advertisement.
The very first H-Cards mentioned in the book are the Currier & Ives trade cards. And the first of the Currier & Ives trade cards were ones called ‘Cigar Titles.’ These cards were designed by Currier & Ives, a famous lithography business that created numerous trade cards. Collectors unfamiliar with these cards may believe that Currier & Ives was the cigar brand being promoted here but that is not the case. They were merely the lithographer designing these cards, which featured cigar smokers.
Now, it’s important to note that these are not the earliest trade cards. Even though Burdick listed them first, earlier known cards exist. Like the pre-1850 cards he discussed. In fact, these aren’t even the oldest Currier & Ives cards, some of which date back to at least the 1870s. Yet, they are somewhat important, even if from just a sentimental interest, as the first cards listed in Burdick’s book.
The set is a bit different from how Burdick classified other sets. In fact, it even calls into question if he even considered this a set. See, typically sets received one designation under which all the cards fall. But for these 20 cards, Burdick gave each one its own number — H1, H2, H3, and so on.
The cards all bear color illustrations in the same format and include a title at the bottom with a 1880 copyright date at the bottom. They all look alike and it is difficult to understand why he did not simply classify this set as H1 as he did for other types of sets. The very first card in that set, identified as H1, A Capital Cigar, depicts a man sitting in a chair smoking.
One thing that should be mentioned is that the cards are not labeled according to the order they were issued. Instead, Burdick labeled them in alphabetical order.
I have seen the images for the cards in the set and my favorite one is a card that I recently acquired. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to find it. This card is called “A Crack Shot” and features a younger version of Uncle Sam than we are typically used to seeing.
Uncle Sam is not identified on this card by name. But we all but understand it’s him with the American flag in the background and his trademark red and white stripped pants with the dark jacket. He’s aiming a rifle under his leg while casually smoking a cigar, the clear motif of the set. The ‘Crack Shot’ reference, of course, means someone that is an accurate shooter or marksman.
Collectors should know that a similar version of this card is floating out there but Uncle Sam is not pictured with a cigar. The non-cigar card is found in Currier & Ives’ next cataloged set, “Comic Titles,” and is H24.
The set is mostly a non-sports one. But there’s a little something for sports fans with Card H8. H8 is a horse racing card titled, “Jockey Club,” and if you’re looking for the first sports card cataloged in Burdick’s book, I believe that’s it. The Uncle Sam card might be considered a sports card of sorts since rifle shooting is considered a sport found in some sets, such as the 1888 N28 Allen & Ginter set, which has trick shooters Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill. But the Uncle Sam card doesn’t fit that category for me and it clearly isn’t a sports card.
So what of the availability of these cards? You’ll typically find some of them on eBay but not all. Even in the case that you do see them there, you’ll often find no more than one or two of the same cards.
Prices for these cards are sort of all over the map but decent ones usually start in the $30-$50 range and can easily go for considerably more with some sales topping $100.
Here’s the full checklist of cards in the set:
- H1 – A Capital Cigar
- H2 – A Crack Shot (with cigar)
- H3 – A Smoking Run
- H4 – A Sociable Smoke
- H5 – Cupid’s Own
- H6 – Good Luck to Ye
- H7 – High Toned
- H8 – Jockey Club (Horse Racing)
- H9 – La Cigaretta
- H10 – No, No, Fido
- H11 – Perfect Bliss
- H12 – Please Give Me a Light, Sir
- H13 – Taking Breath
- H14 – Taking it Easy
- H15 – The Jolly Smoker
- H16 – The Pet of the Fancy
- H17 – The Queen’s Own
- H18 – The Young Cadets
- H19 – Tip Top
- H20 – Where Do You Buy Your Cigars?