1911 T38 Aviators Set Focused on the Pioneers of Flight
Despite having only 25 cards, the T38 Aviators set is harder than it seems
Earlier this year, I got into the 1911 T36 Auto Drivers set. A couple of places down in the American Card Catalog is another set I’ve recently found and can’t get enough of.
The 1911 T38 Aviators set is another one of those American Tobacco Company issues that few have seemed to pay attention to over the years. The most sought after of the ATC sets, of course, are their baseball releases, including the famous T206 set. But the company released a slew of other sports and non-sports tobacco cards during the same era. One of those is the T38 Aviators set.
Despite what you might thing, the T38 set is most definitely a sports issue. Back in the pre-war era, flying was very much considered a sport, even as that activity was really just getting underway. Aviators were some of the most popular people in the world and these cards of ‘athletes’ would have been undoubtedly popular at the time.
The set is perhaps not as popular as the 1933-34 National Chicle Sky Birds set — a well-known set of aviators. But it is much older and much rarer than that later gum card set.
The set consists of only 25 cards but if you think it’s an easy build, think again. Similar to the T36 Auto Drivers set, few of these seem to exist. eBay typically has only a few dozen at a time and finding them elsewhere seems to be a bit of a challenge. I’ve managed to build a near-set of these cards fairly quickly but that was achieved by likely overpaying a bit.
The cards have your standard American Tobacco Company look when it comes to their ‘larger’ style of cards. They measure similar to a square shape and are roughly 2 1/2″ wide by 2 7/8″ tall. Fronts have their trademark white borders and color images while the backs offer biographies of the subject. Collectors will also note the small print under The Aviators title at the top that indicates this is Series No. 1. That seems to allude that a second was to be printed. However, no such sequel is known.
Today, low-grade commons in the set typically start around $20 each.
The Wright Brothers
The set includes all kinds of famous aviators from the time period. But the most recognizable name in the set is easily The Wright Brothers.
Orville and Wilbur Wright were aviation pioneers and most credit them as building and flying the first true airplane, even though there has always been some debate about that. They are not only big names in the field of aviation but the Wright Brothers name is well-known to the public in general.
The Wright Brothers appear on a card together (shown here). In addition to this card, Wilbur Wright also appears on his own card. Both cards are very rare with PSA only grading a combined total of nine of their cards.
Prices for their cards vary but even in low-grade condition, they usually command starting fees of $100 or more when they are found. They rarely surface for sale with their cards in demand, even by collectors not particularly interested in this set.
The set was released apparently shortly before Wilbur’s death. The series is believed to have been distributed in 1911 and Wilbur died in May of 1912 after contracting Typhoid Fever.
Several variations exist in the set and, regarding the backs, there are two different styles.
The more common back type has a unique gold background with cards printed for United Cigar Stores. That company was touted on the back as the largest retailers of cigars and tobacco in the world. The less common back type has a white background and indicated those cards were packed with Tokio and Mezzin cigarettes by the United Cigar Stores.
The Tokio and Mezzin back is undoubtedly rarer. Despite that, I haven’t observed much of a premium in terms of price being paid for them. Dealers that know of the rarity will possibly seek more but hammer prices on auctions don’t seem to be too much higher for them.
One thing I’ve observed, too, is that several of the Tokio and Mezzin cards I’ve seen have been hand cut. I don’t know if that’s just a coincidence or if many of those cards were indeed hand cut. But it’s something I’ve noted.
Additionally, PSA says that there are three card front variations for Count de Lesseps (horizontal and vertical card), Alfred LeBlanc (No hands showing and left hand showing), and Augustus Post (horizontal and vertical card). The rarer variations appear to be Lesseps’ vertical card, LeBlanc’s card showing a hand, and Post’s vertical card, though I have not fully confirmed that.
- Thomas Baldwin
- Louis Bleriot
- Walter Brookins
- Glenn Curtiss
- Count de Lesseps
- Henry Farman
- Claude Grahame-White
- Charles Henry Hamilton
- Clifford Harmon
- William Hilliard
- Ralph Johnstone
- Count Lambert
- Hubert Latham
- Alfred LeBlanc
- Captain Olieslagers
- Louis Paulhan
- Augustus Post
- E.V. Roe
- Alberto Santos-Dumont
- Roger Sommer
- Gabriel Voisin
- Charles Weyman
- Charles Foster Willard
- Wilbur Wright
- The Wright Brothers