Sports Featured in 1881 J&P Coats Trade Cards

Some of the earliest trade cards from this thread manufacturer focused on sports

Like many businesses, the J&P Coats Company offered trade cards in the 19th century to advertise their business. J&P actually printed many different cards.

The majority of these were not sports-related. But a group of three printed in 1881 did focus a bit on sports.

J&P Coats produced thread for different styles of sewing machines. The company’s origins dated back to the 1750s when founding families were involved in the weaving and textile businesses in Scotland. A century later, the company was operating in the United States and by 1912, was one of the world’s largest companies in the world. The company was acquired and folded into other companies as the years went on but it still exists today.

I group these three particular trade cards together because of their similarities. However, one is slightly different than the other two so citing all three of these as part of the same set is somewhat of a stretch.

It should be pointed out that the sports are not necessarily major ones. But they do have a decided sports ‘feel’ to them and are significantly different from the other non-sports J&P Coats cards.

Still, even though one is slightly different, there are undeniable similarities between the three. Each has a color lithographic picture with a title on the front. Additionally, all of the pictures on the front depict a 200-yard spool of thread being used as part of the image. All of the cards picture children and backs are virtually identical, advertising the “Best Six-Cord Spool Cotton” as well as a chart of specifications for different types of thread for different brands of sewing machines. Two of the three cards advertise an 1881 copyright date.

It is notable that other J&P Coats trade cards have similar backs with tables. However, those cards have a mention that they were printed by Auchincloss & Brothers in New York and one of the cards in this spotlighted trio mentions a completely different printer.

One of the cards is titled, ‘The Champion,’ and features a young female rifle shooter. This card is slightly different from the other two. The white border on the front is significantly thicker. The style of the print on the front is different and the back does not include the 1881 date.

The other two, however, were done in exactly the same style as the other.

One pictures a young boy sailing with the title, “Always ahead, catch on to this.” The spool of thread in this picture is part of the boat.

The second card is a little more intriguing. No baseball equipment is present so it is difficult to definitively classify this as a baseball issue. However, the boy on this card is wearing what looks to be a uniform of sorts. Now, is this a card depicting a young baseball player?

Personally, between the uniform and the hat he’s wearing, he looks more like a jockey. And the fact that he’s riding a train ties in more with a horse racing theme, anyway. The title on this card is, “We Beat Them All,” clearly giving off a sports theme, even if that sport is unclear.

Could there be other cards that fit in with this ‘set?’ Other J&P Coats trade cards have similar elements. However, none have all of the elements mentioned here and it is also important to point out that all three of these cards are seen with some degree of regularity.

No, you shouldn’t expect to find them at your local card shop. But there are usually several examples of each on eBay. They are common enough that, if there were others in the set, they would likely be just as easily found — and I have not seen any matching these same characteristics on both sides of the card.

Three cards seems like an odd set number. However, remember that the Champion card does not really fit in with the same exact theme as the other. Plus, the reality is that J&P Coats has many other cards issued in 1881 but with differences as well. These should really be thought of as less of a set and more individual trade cards. My main interest was identifying the sports issues that appear as if they should be somewhat lumped together.

None of the cards are particularly expensive. You can typically find each of these cards in the $10-$20 range.

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