Reviewing a 19th Century Ketterlinus Trade Cards Set — with Sports

This trade card set from the 1800s includes children playing a variety of sports

Where can you find a set that includes archery, badminton, and children walking a pet turtle? The 19th century Ketterlinus trade card set, of course.

All joking aside, this set does seemingly have it all. To the dismay of sports fans, it doesn’t include major sports cards. But it does feature children participating in sports and other activities.

First things first, the set is often referred to as a set for Mack’s Milk Chocolate product. That product was a chocolate mixture of sorts that could be combined with hot water to make chocolate milk. The reason for the Mack’s Milk designation is that the majority of these cards bear the Mack’s Milk Chocolate name.

However, while it might appear so, they were not exclusively used to promote that product. Like most trade cards, these were used by other businesses, too. The Mack’s Milk Chocolate cards just appear to be the most plentiful.

The better name for these cards is as a Ketterlinus trade card set. Ketterlinus was the lithographer that created these cards for use by businesses. The Ketterlinus name is printed at the bottom of these cards and their business was located in Philadelphia, PA.

So if these are not merely Mack’s Milk Chocolate cards, what can we call them? The problem with merely calling them the Ketterlinus set is that the company issued many other trade cards. But while the cards don’t have a distinguishable name, they are easily recognized by their printing style. The cards are printed in color but have a muted tone. The overwhelming ‘theme’ of the set is a light brown/beige style of background and color tones of brown. If you see a few of these cards, it is quite easy to distinguish them from other Ketterlinus cards.

So what sports are found here? The primary sports cards are for archery, badminton, bowling, and running.

A few things are notable about the sports cards. The badminton card, for one thing, is sometimes mistaken for tennis. The birdie in the picture makes it clear that it is a badminton card but if one merely glances at the rackets, it can be a little confusing. We know this because it is sometimes advertised as a tennis card.

The bowling card shown here is also not for true bowling. Instead, the card depicts the children playing a form of the sport that looks a little like duckpins or some other format.

Finally, the card depicting running is more like hurdling as it shows children jumping over a wooden structure. Some may not consider this to be a true sports card. However, similar cards like this have been included in other sports sets, giving the insistence that it is an honest-to-goodness sports card. For example, a similar card is shown in the 1878 Huntley Palmer trade card set which is decidedly a sports card release.

Sports aren’t the only thing here, though. The rest of the set has a decidedly non-sports feel. Those cards, as you can imagine, are of less interest in general.

The trade cards are not terribly rare. Typically, eBay will have a decent number of examples of them. But without a formal title, they can be hard to find as sellers will describe them in all sorts of ways. Often, you can buy them in the $5-$10 range, though it is not uncommon for sellers to ask for more.

Here’s the full checklist of the set.

  1. Accordion Playing
  2. Archery
  3. Badminton
  4. Bowling
  5. Children Walking with Boy Spying
  6. Hurdling Fence
  7. Painting
  8. Walking Turtle

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