Behold: The Women of the N184 Kimball Champions Set
The 1887 N184 Kimball set is one of four such ‘Champions’ tobacco card issues that featured baseball players in the late 1880s. Together with Allen & Ginter’s N28 and N29 issues, as well as the N162 Goodwin Champions set, all four of those issues are often compared and contrasted.
The Kimball set is certainly the least popular of the four. Part of that is because the baseball card offering of only four cards without a single Hall of Famer is weak. Part of it is because the cards have the least appealing artwork. And another part of it is because they are so rare by comparison that they simply are not as well known by collectors. Add in an eclectic mix of subjects, and it is easy to see while the other champions cards draw more interest.
But while the four do have some similarities, one major difference is how women were used in them.
To be fair, the N28 Allen & Ginter set did include one woman — the famous trick shooter Annie Oakley. But Allen & Ginter’s follow-up N29 issue in 1889 didn’t feature a single female. Ditto for the colorful N162 Goodwin release, which was also an all male set.
By comparison, women were somewhat plentiful in the N184 Kimball series. Women aren’t overwhelming in the set, but it does include the most of any other in the Champions sets.
First, there’s the aforementioned Oakley, who also appears in N28. Oakley’s card is generally on par with the less popular baseball cards. It isn’t the most valuable card in the set but is certainly one of the more sought after cards in the entire series. Certainly, it is the most popular of the cards dedicated to females.
Oakley’s popularity has held firm over time. Even if collectors could not tell you much about her, many have at least heard the name. And of the five women included in this set, her name is the only one that most collectors have probably ever heard of. Even in modest condition, her card is often over $100.
Then there’s Della Ferrell. While Oakley is featured on other cards, cards of Ferrell are pretty slim aside from possibly some cabinet cards. Farrell was a ‘Champion Girl Rider,’ as printed on her card. Ferrell was indeed a skilled horseback rider and even appeared in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Her card is a common, typically starting around $20-$30 in low-grade condition.
Hattie Stewart is a third. Aside from Oakley’s card, Stewart’s is probably the most in demand of the female cards. That’s because she was a female boxer and boxing cards are highly collected.
Finding information on Stewart’s career in terms of documenting her success is not terribly easy. But she was so well known that she was one of two women compared to men’s heavyweight champion John Sullivan. Stewart is sometimes called the first true female champion boxer and was said to have even fought men on occasion. Stewart’s card is typically a common but can sell for a bit more sometimes.
Lillian Smith is a fourth. Smith is dubbed the champion glass ball shooter on her card. Like Oakley, she was a trick shooter of sorts and her card pictures her with a rifle. Another great card of a rifle shooter, but like most, Smith’s card is a common, starting in that same $20-$30 range. The card does not hold the value of Oakley’s but honestly, it is probably my favorite in the entire group.
Finally, there’s Ada Webb. Webb’s card is probably the most unique of the four and her ‘sport’ isn’t entirely clear at first glance.
She is presented as the ‘Water Queen.’ Clad in a swimsuit, it might be suspected that she was a bathing woman or some sort of winner of a beauty contest. But Webb was indeed a true athlete.
More specifically, she was a swimmer, diver, and also performed all sorts of other underwater feats, including eating, drinking, signing, and even smoking underwater. Nicknamed ‘Queen of the Crystal Tank,’ the name Water Queen actually fits more given the proper context.
Despite the interesting backstory on Webb’s card, it’s also typically a common, starting in low-grade for about $20-$30.
Five women in a set of 50 cards isn’t a whole lot. But it was a far better effort than the other champions sets had to offer and, while the cards outside of Oakley are not in high demand, the set still gives us a great look at some early female athletes from the tobacco card era.