Strike! Reviewing Two Rare 19th Century Bowling Trade Cards

I have to admit that my collecting horizons have really shifted dramatically in the past few years.

About six or seven years ago now, I sort of made this move to mostly collecting pre-war cards. And, as I’ve said repeatedly, the reason for that was to simply limit my focus just so my collecting habits weren’t all over the place.

Things started off well enough. I started with just collecting a baseball card set (T206). Then a few others. Then a few others along with baseball singles. But before I knew it, my collecting reached beyond set collecting and even beyond baseball cards to where it is now — collecting virtually anything that I find appealing in the pre-war era.

I mostly stick to sports but even those sports are getting more and more obscure. Recently, I stumbled upon two trade cards that caught my eye — in the sport of bowling.


Now, I’m not a bowler and the idea of watching bowling as a spectator sport is, with all due respect to the Sunday afternoon games that you used to be able to watch on TV, not appealing to me in the slightest. The reason these cards stuck out to me is because there are so few pre-war bowling cards out there in general. Some are in the T218 Champions set but, off the top of my head, I’m hard-pressed to come up with others.

So, the rarity of a bowling issue appealed to me. Well, that and because they’re just great looking pictures.

There’s not any great evidence to help pinpoint a date on these. And even the name of a lithographer eludes us as none is printed on the front as it often is. But given the Victorian style and lithography on these, they would seemingly date like most trade cards to some point in the late 19th century — likely the 1880s, when a glut of these sorts of cards were issued.

The thing that stands out, obviously, is that these cards are very much linked and form a small two-card set. Are there more cards in the set? In a word, yes.

It should be noted that the only two bowling images in it that I have found are these. And even despite the style of the cards, the two images go together. Look at the first card of the men — all of them following a ball that was rolled down the lane. The second card shows said ball arriving to knock down all ten pins and an unlikely target — a person. The second is quite clearly a continuation of the first card.

But there are certainly other cards that can be considered part of the set. We know that for a couple of reasons.

First, a simple search of Star Cough Drops brings up several other cards with the same style of background. The images (at least for the cards I have seen) are non-sports related. But they are quite clearly in the same design and should be grouped with these.

Second, there is an offer on the backs of these particular cards for collectors wanting a whole set. Shown here is a picture of one of the backs of these cards.

In short, collectors could receive one for merely the full price of postage. The interesting thing here is that the advertisement even has the words ‘card collectors.’ We know that there were such people, of course. But the card collector term is not one I see that often from this era. In fact, many times, the cards were actually referred to ask ‘pictures.’

I digress. Unfortunately, there is no indication of how many were in a set but it is difficult to imagine that they offered a full set and would only include two cards in it. The non-sports cards with this same design are quite clearly part of whatever the set consisted of.

Like most trade cards, these aren’t particularly easy to find. I’d not even seen them before until only recently and after running searches on them, have seen only a few examples. If you happen to be searching for bowling cards and want to get your hands on them, you should know that they aren’t readily available. They are typically not extremely expensive — I’ve seen them advertised usually in the $10-$30 range. But if you pass on buying one, it may be a little while before you find another for sale.

The other cards in the set don’t appeal much to me, so this set collector is sitting this one out. But these two bowling cards in it are downright fantastic.

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