1908 Garfield’s Tea Syrup Documented the Historic New York-Paris Auto Race
These pre-war trade cards covered one of the most famous auto races of all time
Never heard of the 1908 New York to Paris Race? You’re not alone. More than 100 years after the fact, it’s largely been forgotten. But make no mistake — it’s one of the most historic races of all time and a pre-war trade card set helped to document it.
The race is exactly what it sounds like. It began in Times Square in New York on February 12 in 1908 and concluded in Paris. A total of six teams from the U.S., Germany, France, and Italy took part in the race but only three would finish the incredible 169-day event. Teams raced their cars on paved roads, unpaved roads, and everything else. Wikipedia even says that teams straddled railroad tracks in some parts of the world.
The race started in New York, headed west to Alaska, and continued by boat across the Pacific into Japan, then the Sea of Japan, then Siberia, and through Asia and Europe. France had three cars in the event while the other three countries had only one. But at the end, it was the United States winning the event with a Thomas Flyer car that was drive by George Schuster, a Hall of Famer. The German team actually technically arrived at the finish line first but penalties added time to their total and the United States was declared the winner.
The race was an important one at the time and a set of pre-war cards was created to commemorate it.
Garfield’s Tea Syrup was a laxative product that was made of herbs and supposedly free of drugs and other harmful materials. It was marked as a product largely for children and infants but used by adults, too.
The cards have the look of postcards from the front with borders and centered, formatted text. However, they’re trade cards as shown on the backs. The backs of the cards, shown here, advertised several of their products, including the syrup, Garfield Tea, headache powders, owl oil, and digestive tablets.
That Garfield would produce these cards is unsurprising. They were a Brooklyn-based company located within 30 minutes of the race’s starting point in Times Square.
Unlike most trade cards, these appear to have been offered exclusively for the Garfield Tea Company. To date, I have never seen them with different advertisers on the backs.
In all, there are a total of six cards. That would seem to correspond with the six teams that were entered but that isn’t the case.
One card was given to each of the four countries with cards picturing a car and a driver. A fifth card pictures three cars (including the American’s Thomas Flyer car) at the starting line. The final car is a more distant picture of the starting point in Times Square. The large crowd at the starting line is further evidence of how big of a deal this event was. All six cards have black and white fronts with the same advertisement on the back. The cards measure 3 7/16″ wide by 5 1/4″ tall.
As shown here, five of the cards have a horizontal layout. The only vertical card in the set is the one picturing Times Square.
In addition to the fact that these cards picture such an early race, they are also important because they are among the earliest racing cards of actual drivers, even predating the popular T36 Auto Drivers set that I recently wrote about.
If you’re looking to get your hands on these cards, they aren’t what you would call scarce. But they are quite difficult to track down. Typically, asking prices are in the $10-$20 range per card when you can find them. The card picturing the winning American Thomas Flyer card typically commands the most with asking prices sometimes slightly higher for that one. But I am not aware of any of the six cards technically being rarer than the others.