A Review of Canceled Cards in the Rare 1890 Kimball Pretty Athletes Set

The 1890 Kimball Pretty Athletes Set (N196) was one of those 19th century sets that used pictures of women as inserts into tobacco packages.

If you’re familiar with these cards, you know they aren’t your standard tobacco card size. Most tobacco cards in the 19th century were used in packages of cigarettes and had a smaller, narrower design. But at 2 1/2″ by 3 3/4″, these are actually slightly larger than even today’s standard cards.

The pictures are incredible, in case you haven’t seen them. No, they aren’t believed to feature actual female athletes. But they picture women participating in a variety of sports and, like other such types of 19th century cards, are quite rare. Shown here is the card for swimming.

In low-grade condition, cards of the more minor sports start around $20-$25. But that’s when you can find them. There are usually few on eBay and are not seen elsewhere very often. Thus, it isn’t uncommon to see sellers asking much more at times. And of course, for the sports much more in demand like boxing and tennis, those will usually be even more.

Like many companies, Kimball offered a special contest. The contest was a bit different from others, though. See, most companies offered contests for a prize to any collectors completing a specific set of cards. Often, such contests were ‘controlled’ by printing only a a small quantity of a particular card, making it difficult to complete a set. But Kimball did not apparently shortprint any of their cards. Their contest required only sending in 50 of any of the cards in exchange for a picture book or one of 100 novels.

Kimball made sure to state that the cards must be in ‘clean‘ condition. But why would they do that and why would the condition matter?

Well, by clean condition, they didn’t necessarily mean that the card could not have what collectors consider as flaws today (i.e. creases, damaged corners, etc.). Rather, the cards could not have already been redeemed previously.

To date, I know of two ways that Kimball marked redeemed cards. It is possible that others may even exist, though I have seen no evidence of that.

One type of ‘canceled’ cards includes thick, black lines over the printed text offering the promotion, effectively voiding the offer. The other type is a bit cruder, with a purple stamp on the back stating that the offer was withdrawn. These were both better options than what other companies running contests have done for redeemed cards, in some cases dramatically altering the card by punching a hole through it or trimming part of it off.

Both types of canceled cards can be seen here. And we know that, obviously, the cards would have been returned to collectors. That’s somewhat important to note because sometimes, companies simply kept/discarded the cards to keep them from being used again.

So, how often do you see these cards? Given that the ‘regular’, unmarked cards are difficult to find as it is, they are quite rare. I recently purchased two and they are just up for sale very often.

The cards are sold so little that even determining accurate prices for them is not an easy task. Collectors may even vary in how they should be priced. Calling the cancellation marking a flaw is a bit of a stretch because they were placed there by Kimball or the company handling the redemption. And we see similar company markings (such as the Packer No. stamps on the T51 Murad cards) have no real effect on a card’s grade or price. However, in that case, nearly all T51 cards have a Packer stamp so there is no real reason for a price premium.

While there is no real consensus on pricing for these cards, they are ultimately a wonderful example of a 19th century tobacco issue with a true link to a promotion.

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