The Cards of Camille du Gast, the First Female Auto Racing Star
Camille du Gast has few cards but was the first true female star in motor racing
Auto racing cards are starting to gain popularity and that has sort of led me on a hunt for the first cards of the sport. That rabbit hole brought me to the famous T36 Auto Drivers set, issued by the American Tobacco Company, which in turn led me to earlier cards.
And I was surprised that some of the first cards of actual drivers actually depicted a woman named Camille du Gast.
Now, to be fair, du Gast was more known as being a famous person in general — not just an auto racer. Auto racing was only one of her hobbies and, in addition to being a wealthy philanthropist of sorts, her interesting life included a foray into all sorts of sports. And while she wasn’t the first female driver, she was undoubtedly the most famous and, by all accounts, the most successful.
du Gast participated in the 1901 Paris-Berlin race, becoming the second female to appear in a motor race. Helen van Zuylen (the first, who appeared in an 1898 race) participated in that race, too, but did not have the same sort of success. While van Zuylen did not even finish the race, du Gast finished a more-than-respectable 33rd out of 122 participants. du Gast didn’t only finish 33rd, she reportedly did it while starting in last place, literally passing nearly 100 other drivers. In 1903, she participated in the Paris-Madrid race, rising from 29th to eighth before reportedly stopping to help a driver involved in an accident, ruining her own race in the process. du Gast also participated in other races but was unable to race in others because of her gender.
Cards of Camille du Gast
Unfortunately, despite her popularity, du Gast doesn’t appear on many cards.
Her most common card is one shown here from the 1908 Felix Potin Chocolates set. The card does not picture her as a racing driver. Instead, she is shown in formal apparel. However, her title at the bottom, which could have listed her as any number of things, recognized her in the “Automobilisme” category, translated to “Motoring.” That designation is an important one, of course, and is one of the few collectibles that essentially treat her as an auto racing driver.
The Felix Potin cards are not terribly easy to find. That is particularly true here in the United States where you will rarely see them. But you can sometimes find them on eBay and when you do, the cards often sell for shockingly low prices of around $10 or so.
If you’re looking for a card of du Gast, that is your best bet for a traditional one. Her other known cards that I have observed are really limited to postcards.
There, you won’t find du Gast necessarily linked to auto racing. But they are still important cards because of her popularity and standing in the sport and, well, because she doesn’t have much else out there. The postcards are also rarer than her Felix Potin cards.
Which of these postcards is rarer? Oh, I don’t know. They’re both pretty tough to me and you don’t see either one all that frequently.
Both of these postcards are from France and appear to be from the ‘heyday’ of pre-war postcards, which was really from the early 1900s through the early 1910s. One does not have a date but the other, the horizontal card, does have a 1905 date printed near one of the images.
The vertical card is notable because it seemingly pictures du Gast nude. It is titled La Femme au Masque, which was the title of the painting picturing a naked woman wearing only a mask. That photo was oddly circulated during a famous court case to smear du Gast in lawsuits between her and family members. But the picture is actually of a younger model that was not du Gast. Nevertheless, it has become a famous image tied to her because of the case and the allegations.
Both of these cards are quite rare, as mentioned. I’ve seen them for varying amounts from anywhere as little as $10-$15 to $50 or more.
The Felix Potin card will probably always be du Gast’s most popular card, simply because of the title on it listing her as an automobile driver. But the postcards are, from my experience, harder to find.
If du Gast has additional cards, though, I have not yet seen them to date. She was a popular enough world figure that additional cards would not surprise me. But to date, I have not encountered any.
And given her importance in the sport, that’s kind of a shame.