1888 Kitchel’s Liniment Trade Card with Baseball Testimonials Discovered

A rare 19th century baseball trade card for S.B. Kitchel’s famous liniment surfaces

In the 19th century, businesses used trade cards to advertise all sorts of products and services. One of the most popular type of advertisements spotted on these cards were related to health and medicine.

Now, there are all sorts of trade cards that I see for the first time quite often. But thanks in part to the cataloging efforts by noted collector Frank Keetz, the number of new baseball-related trade cards that are discovered is not that numerous. I do manage to find some new ones I’d not previously seen cataloged, though, and one of those popped up last week.

Shown here is a trade card advertising a liniment product from a man named Simon Kitchel. Kitchel was quite a popular person, apparently. He lived a pretty full life, serving in the Army, then becoming a lawyer, and later became a mayor and noted owner of horses. In addition to that, he developed his S.B. Kitchel’s liniment which, according to this site, was somewhat of a national product and was very popular. Some references state that his liniment was for the treatment of animals. But the liniment was also endorsed by at least two baseball players and could be used by humans, too. In fact, one of the company’s slogans was that the product was “Good for man or beast.”

Empty bottles of the product still exist and can be bought starting as little as $10 or so. And while trade cards and other advertisements exist, this one mentioned here is arguably the most intriguing to sports collectors.

At first glance, this trade card doesn’t look much like a baseball card. There are no pictures of the sport and the subject pictured is a famous image of Kitchel himself, not a player. It features a portrait of Kitchel on the front that was seen in other advertisements and an advertisement of his liniment on the back with a rooster with the liniment defeating one using ‘other liniments.’ But the key part is the bottom of the front, which includes testimonials by two baseball players, as well as the clear phrase of “Base Ball!”

Both players, purportedly, play for team called the Selma Pastimes. That, of course, was not a major league team and references to it at all are scarce. But the mention of that club does appear in some 19th century newspapers and they appear to be some sort of local, semi-pro team, playing other local teams.

The first player who gives an account is John E. Taylor. But while several other John Taylors played in the major and minor leagues, I haven’t found an exact match for him but he possibly did not excel beyond the semipro ranks.

The other, however, is Chas. E. Petty, a bonafide major leaguer. He played for the Cincinnati Red Stockings, New York Giants, Washington Senators, and Cleveland Spiders over three years in between 1889 and 1894. Petty is almost certainly the same player featured on this card and several things point to that.

His middle name was Edward, matching the E. on the card, and he played for southern minor league teams in the late 1880s and early 1890s in Alabama (Mobile, Birmingham), making the 1888 quote and link in Selma, Alabama a strong one. Additionally, he was a pitcher and that is the position of Petty mentioned on the card. The card is effectively dated by the quotes from Taylor and Petty. Those statements are attributed to them in June of 1888. That year, Petty played in a single game with Birmingham of the Southern League as a 22-year-old rookie. Thus, we’ve got a pretty open and shut case that this is the same Petty.

The consistency of the card is essentially paper thin and it doesn’t have the feel of most traditional trade cards that were printed on heavier stock. In fact, without the appearance of the product advertisement on the back, I would be inclined to dismiss this as a advertising cut instead of an actual trade card. But the card seems to be factory/machine cut and the back advertisement clearly seems to remove the notion that it was an advertisement in a publication, which would almost certainly have some other sort of print on the back. Additionally, while not terribly common, other trade cards were in fact printed on standard paper as opposed to a light cardstock.

The potential exists for this to have come from a publication, I suppose. However, the front and back matching up coupled with the machine cut seems to make that unlikely.

Interestingly enough, Kitchel’s product endorsements in the field of athletics were not limited to baseball. Barney Oldfield, a legendary race car driver (and before that, cyclist), also endorsed the product in an advertisement from 1896.

More information is desired here and this is one of those cases where I’d love to hear from anyone with more knowledge about this specific issue.

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