Obscure Card of the Month: 1878 Huntley & Palmers Baseball Trade Card

The Obscure Card of the Month appears to be one of the earliest baseball trade cards

Huntley and Palmers Biscuits produced many trade cards in the 19th century. But their most collectable sets are two 12-card releases surrounding sports.

The cards, believed to be issued in 1878, are quite popular with collectors, including a golf card which is viewed as one of the earliest known cards for that sport. But the headliner of the set is a baseball card, which is also among the earliest baseball issues.

Pictured here, the baseball card features old-time uniforms. The teams aren’t real as the batter has a jersey that reads, “HPC” (presumably for the Huntley & Palmers company). Huntley and Palmers was an English-based company so the idea to include the sport so early is an interesting one. Baseball did, of course, generally originate with England’s variations of the sport, so that could help explain its inclusion here.

The card pictures a batter and catcher awaiting a pitch with a third baseman in the scene. At 3″ wide by 4 7/16″ tall, these oversized cards are about the size of many other trade card issues from the time period. They are distinguished by thick gold borders.

Backs of the cards are interesting and essentially have given collectors their justification for dating them to 1878.

The back includes an advertisement for the company’s biscuits. Somewhat surprisingly, they are printed in French, giving the impression that the cards were distributed in that country despite Huntley and Palmers’ British origins.

The backs list the company’s product offerings in English, while most of the rest of the back is in French. The key part is the bottom of the card, referencing the Paris Exposition, the Exposition Universelle in 1878. Translated, the phrase is a bit difficult to understand. Roughly, it says, “Grand Prix of the Universal Exhibition of Paris, 1878 — of which here is the official report. The separate house, known worldwide for its immense production and for the excellent quality of its products.”

Are these actual 1878 cards that were used to promote the 1878 Paris Expo or were they produced afterwards and only mention that event? I’m not sure it’s ever been fully proven these cards are from 1878 but the longheld belief is that they are indeed from that year.

The prices of most of the cards in the set are quite modest, starting around $10. However, the baseball card is a different story with low-grade cards starting around $75-$100.

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