Tobler Chocolates Cards a Large, Diverse International Series
The Swiss chocolate maker issued hundreds of early 1900s trading cards
The more you dig into the vast expanse of international pre-war cards, the more you are continually amazed at what you will find.
I’d heard of Tobler Chocolates before because the company issued several sets of sports stamps, likely in the 1920s and/or 1930s. But recently, I discovered the company actually distributed early candy cards — a lot of them.
Tobler Chocolates cards (from Switzerland, for the record), are very similar to the German Stollwerck cards I recently wrote about.
The bad news for most collectors is that, so far, I haven’t uncovered any sports cards in it yet. But the cards are so vast that it is possible some may exist. And even if they do not, the cards are so diverse that they will appeal to folks willing to dive into the non-sports world.
While the sizes vary a bit, they are roughly 1 3/4″ wide by 3 1/2″. Fronts include an assortment of color depictions while the backs offer an assortment of advertisements about the cards and Tobler.
Most of the backs have a special offer printed in several different languages (more on that in a bit). But some have an overprinted advertisement for Toblerone, one of the company’s candy bars.
The overprint ad simply reads, ‘Eat more Toblerone, it’s so good!’ against a black rectangle. That the advertisement is printed in English is somewhat intriguing. The backs do include advertising print translated in several languages but it is interesting that English was the one chosen for this overprint as opposed to French, which is really the primary language used in the set on the fronts and is the first language on the back translations.
So what’s in the set? Eh, all kinds of stuff, really.
Most subjects are generic ones when it comes to people. Many of the cards feature unnamed women or children while some include men.
Other sorts of cards found are those featuring objects, such as flowers. Others still focus on scenery and landscapes.
Still, there are some that feature real people. Among the more notables ones are Shakespeare or others involved in literature, art, or the military. Some, too, feature fictional characters. At least two series’, for example, include the likes of Robinson Crusoe.
Most collecting Tobler cards, I imagine, are not doing it for the specific subjects in it. Rather, they are doing it for the rarity or trying to piece together subsets, just as early collectors were doing.
Of note is that, because the cards were distributed out of Switzerland, several series’ focus on that country. However, it’s really a broad issue with all sorts of countries featured.
The First Tobler Card?
When did Tobler first begin creating cards? While I’ve seen some references to them beginning in the 1800s, that is almost certainly not true for a few reasons. First, the style of cards used is more common to the early 1900s. Second, some of the cards reference the company’s Toblerone candy bar (for what it’s worth, the candy bar is still produced to this day), which was not offered until 1908 and these cards were generally believed to have been issued all around the same time. If I had to, I would estimate these to be from around 1910 or so.
The exact date aside, do we know what the first Tobler card was? Well, the one shown here is a solid candidate. The card pictures a woman and is part of a set of six cards, all picturing women. It isn’t the women, however, that are the focal point. Rather, the cards also include pictures of flowers and the ‘Fleurs’ (Fleurs is ‘flowers’ in French, a national language of Switzerland) title at the bottom makes it clear that is where the emphasis is.
Most notably, this card is Card No. 1 in Series 1, making it appear as the first overall card. However, where things get murky is, Tobler appears to have issued at least two 30-set series’. There are two Series 1 sets, two Series 2 sets, and so on.
So, how many series’ are there? A fair question.
30 Series, Redemptions, and Free Chocolate
As mentioned, back advertisements were printed with several different translated languages. Fortunately for us, English is one of those, in addition to French, Spanish, and Italian.
The advertisement gives a few intriguing clues about the set as well as a special offer. It reads as follows (note that other ads use slightly different words but have the same intent):
“We have published 30 different series of pictures and shall give two dollars worth of our chocolate to any person submitting us the complete collection of pictures properly arranged in Tobler’s special Album. This album can be bought for one shilling or 25 cents at most places where our chocolates are sold.”
Now, at first glance, if there are 30 series with each one consisting of six cards, that’s 180 cards. But remember, there appear to be at least two separate 30-set series, which would give us a total of 360 cards. Additionally, at least one of the Series 4 sets depicting fairy tales includes 12 cards. If both Series 4 sets include 12, that pushes our total to 372.
If these cards were like others with redemption offers, it looks like some collectors did indeed turn them in. That is because many of them found today are known with star-shaped punch holes. While not fully confirmed, many companies marked redemption cards in the same fashion before returning them to collectors along with their prize. The reason for the punch hole, of course, is so that they could not be redeemed again. One such card is show here.
As stated, there appear to be at least two different 30-set releases. From what I have seen, the sets appear to have parallel titles (or very similar ones) featuring the same subjects. For example, one Series 1 set is titled Fleurs (flowers) while the other Series 1 set is titled, Fleurs des Champs (wildflowers). Both Series 2 and Series 3 sets feature Tom Thumb and Robinson Crusoe, respectively.
Note that, below, I have not listed all of the cards. I’ve merely captured the titles of the six-card sets.
- Series 1: Flowers
- Series 2: Tom Thumb
- Series 3: Robinson Crusoe
- Series 4: Fairy Tales (includes 12 cards, not six)
- Series 5: Swiss Costumes
- Series 6: Italian Costumes
- Series 7: Cascades
- Series 8: Parrots
- Series 9: Babies
- Series 10: Tyrolese
- Series 11: Swiss Artillery
- Series 12: Steamboats
- Series 13: Mexico
- Series 14: Russian Costumes
- Series 15: Beauties
- Series 16: Caricatures
- Series 17: Poultry
- Series 18: Emblems
- Series 19: Dogs
- Series 20: Birds
- Series 21: Bernese Oberland
- Series 22: Swiss Alps
- Series 23: Men of War
- Series 24: Country Life
- Series 25: Globe Trotting
- Series 26: Globe Trotting
- Series 27: Parisian Traders
- Series 28: Parisian Life
- Series 29: Statues
- Series 30: Monuments