1881 O.J. Ramsdell Trade Cards An Early Cricket Set

This early cricket set is somewhat rare and often confused with baseball

Trade cards are typically heralded as the earliest sports cards. And cricket was one of the sports covered when those types of cards were initially produced. One of the earlier cricket sets is the 1881 O.J. Ramsdell set.

These lithographic trade cards depicted the sport of cricket. But while that might be easily determined on some cards, others are often erroneously called baseball cards by those that don’t know their full story.

What is that story?

Essentially, these unique cards are actually pictures of paintings of cricket players. Each card shows a painting of a cricket player. Two are batsmen, one is a bowler (pitcher, basically), one is a wicket keeper (catcher), and one is a fielder. The cards have a strong red, white, and blue theme with a gold background. Like many trade issues, the pictures depict unidentified children playing the sport. The cards were printed in 1881, as indicated by the date in small print on the front of each card. Lithography was done by O.J. Ramsdell, whose name also appears with the date. The set has no formal title and is often merely called the 1881 O.J. Ramsdell Cricket set or some variation thereof.

Tops of the cards included a fairly large white block. This was the place where advertisers would print or stamp their information. Like other trade cards, some of these do have an advertiser name and others are blank ‘stock’ cards that were not used. There isn’t a premium for one or the other with the exception of potentially popular businesses that may have used them. Some collectors would pay extra for those cards. Of note is that some collectors cut this part of the card off, removing an advertisement to leave a considerably shortened variation. Regular untrimmed cards measure 3″ wide by 5″ tall.

While four cards are commonly cited as making up a set, there are at least five. I believe the checklist is complete at five but have never seen any definitive checklist.

The cards are titled, though, interestingly enough, the titles don’t appear on all of the cards. On cards that received a full dose of black ink, the titles are evident. However, many cards did not receive all of the black ink and thus, the titles do not appear at the bottom or are very faint. That sort of printing ‘gaffe’ has occurred on other trade cards and in some strip card sets. However, instances of that are typically limited and you see so many of these cards without the titles that some would wonder if the variance was intentional.

The checklist/titles of the cards are:

  • Batsman
  • Bowled
  • Bowler
  • Fielder
  • Wicket Keeper

Baseball?

As mentioned, the cards are sometimes attributed to baseball. That is a mistake, however.

Two of the cards depict batsmen using the large, paddle-like bats used to hit the ball. Only those collectors unfamiliar with cricket would confuse those for baseball bats. Similarly, a third card depicts a wicket keeper and is easily identifiable as a cricket card.

However, the other two cards are often mistaken for baseball images. One depicts a bowler (pitcher). It looks like it could easily be a baseball pitcher or simply a child holding a ball. However, on cards where the title is present, that card is titled, Bowler, and clearly not a cricket card.

The most confusing of the group is the card depicting a fielder. That card simply shows a boy with arms outstretched attempting to catch a ball. And because it is titled ‘fielder,’ collectors not familiar with the rest of the set could easily mistake it for a baseball card. However, it clearly is in this set and is a cricket player.

Both cards are shown here.

Prices/Rarity

The set is not scarce by any means but it is also not seen too frequently. eBay usually only has a handful of listings for them at any given time. Despite that and the fact that these are very early cricket cards, prices for them are not terribly steep. The cards often are in the $10-$20 range with higher prices paid for high-grade examples.

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