Additional Revelations on Baseball Trade Card No. 220
Taking a deeper look at a 19th century baseball trade card
After sort of a hiatus on baseball trade cards, I’ve picked up a few recently. All were duplicates of cards in my collection but they were ones that I had not seen in nice condition recently, so I scooped them up.
One of those may barely be considered a baseball issue. The only reason for that classification is because of a baseball bat that is seen leaning up against a tree. But it is listed in Frank Keetz’s book, Baseball Advertising Trade Cards (as card No. 220 in the third edition of that book), and, as a result, is pursued by baseball collectors.
The card in question is listed by Keetz as only No. 220 and is untitled. But recently, I learned quite a bit about this card that isn’t common knowledge, even to most collectors familiar with it, I imagine.
The cards are not too hard to find but I have noted that many are in very poor condition. One common damage attribute is that many of these cards have the white borders trimmed from them. I have seen many of them with heavy creasing and with paper loss as, like many trade issues, a great number of these appear to have been glued into books and subsequently removed. Decent low-grade ones are usually around $15-$20 but better examples are, of course, often more.
Starting with the actual card for those unfamiliar with it, it’s a scene of three boys dancing together and having a good time. There’s a fourth boy off to the side and then, in the distance, there’s a fifth. Now, let’s look at a few specifics.
Many trade cards were issued with the intention of being used by numerous companies. Lithographers were to create the artwork for the card and then that card could be printed with a company’s name on it. Often (but certainly not always), that would mean adding their name to the front and printing an advertisement on the back.
That made sense financially for most companies. With the artwork already created, they could essentially ‘share’ costs with other companies wanting to use the same pictures.
However, some trade cards were used exclusively for some companies and that means you will not find their trade cards with other company names on them.
To date, I have only seen these cards printed with the Woolson Spice Company name on them or with no name at all. That is no guarantee they were not used by other companies. Some trade issues are quite rare and this card popping up with other names on them would not surprise me (particularly since some blank/stock cards have been seen). But this could potentially be a card that was used only by one company. Time will tell if others surface.
Part of a Set
One thing that will surprise some collectors is that the card is actually part of a set.
Woolson created numerous trade cards but many of them were seasonal. There were Christmas cards, Easter cards, and more. The baseball card is part of a series of Midsummer cards.
Woolson apparently ran these series’ over more than one year, too. I say that because there are several different styles used. For example, this Midsummer set has a distinctive font with cards printed horizontally. Another Midsummer set has cards with a vertical layout and a different style of font.
In all, I have identified four cards in this particular set — the baseball card, a hunting card, a boating card (shown here), and a card with an old western theme/covered wagon. The baseball card, of course, is the one that is the most desirable.
Like most trade cards, these cards are not dated. That makes determining their actual age quite difficult.
However, I would place it at or around 1891.
As stated, most of these cards have the Woolson Spice name with the text “Midsummer Greeting” added to it. A different Woolson Spice card featuring children with various toys was created for Christmas and has “Christmas Greeting” in the same style of font. Those cards indicate the lithography was done by Donaldson Brothers, out of New York, a popular lithographer. While Bufford was the lithographer for the ‘Dancing Boys/Baseball’ card, given the similarities in font/print, the cards easily could have been created in the same year.
The Donaldson Christmas cards have a copyright date of 1891 on them. That, of course, does not conclusively date these baseball cards. However, given the similarities of the greeting text, I would tentatively date this baseball card at or around the same time.
Another fun fact about these cards? Some variations exist.
I knew of one already — some cards include a small 901 printed on them while others do not. But one variation I was not aware of until a recently purchased card arrived.
The card I previously had was a standard 2D version. But a card I recently bought was embossed and had a three-dimensional look with some parts of the image popping out.
It should be mentioned that the two cards are exactly the same — same front, same back. The only difference is that one is embossed. While I expect the embossed version is rarer (Any prior mentions of the cards I have seen did not indicated it was embossed), how much rarer is anybody’s guess.
A final thing worth noting is the classification of these cards.
These cards are almost universally listed as trade cards. However, if they were exclusively used by Woolson Spice, they can also be listed as coffee cards.
The Woolson Spice Company was based in Toledo but that name is a bit misleading. The company, perhaps among other things, manufactured a product called Lion Coffee. Advertised as King of Coffees, Woolson Spice was using these cards to advertise that specific product as Lion Coffee ads are found on the backs of these cards.
Importantly, these cards were not merely advertisements for that product. The backs actually state that they were inserts. Backs state, “To secure a picture card like this you have only to buy a package of Lion Coffee.” Also on the back, it says that the product is only sold in one-pound packages and that a card was included in each package.
Thus, while these are identified as trade cards they are, at a minimum, coffee cards, too.