Uncatalogued Baseball ‘Game’ Cards Remain an Unknown
A recent purchase had me looking back to an uncatalogued issue
Ever see a rare baseball card and, even if you didn’t know what it was, you know that you’d seen it before? That happened to me recently.
Any frequent readers of this blog know that I’m always after the more obscure stuff. And when I found a pair of unique cards a couple of weeks ago, I immediately knew where I’d seen them before.
I’d seen the cards where I’ve seen a lot of really rare stuff — on the Net54 set. I remembered a thread about them in the past so, while they were certainly unique, I’d at least seen them before.
The cards in question are these two odd looking things. These are cards picturing pre-war players Harry Davis and Solly Hofman. It wasn’t so much the players I was interested in. Rather, it was just owning any cards from this unique set. The players, though, certainly help add to the greatness of these extremely tough cards.
Neither are Hall of Famers but both were notable players. Hofman had a long-time career primarily with the Cubs and Pirates, and was part of the Cubbies’ last World Series team in 1908 before their historic drought that ended in 2016. Davis was a true star player that famously led the league in home runs in four straight seasons (1904 through 1907).
So, what are these, exactly? Well, that’s hard to say, though the Net54 thread about them has what is likely the most information about them on the internet. I thank the seller, who was able to point me to that thread again because, frankly, I could not find it on my own, even though I knew it existed.
The first thing that immediately stands out is the low quality of the printing of them. The pictures appear to be from a low-grade source. The names are not centered or always even straight. Additionally, the numbers are handwritten and the pieces are cut to different sizes. Given the nature of their appearance, some have even speculated that these could be some sort of prototype.
Interestingly, the same player bodies were reused on more than one card with only the head replaced. That leaves some pretty comical pictures, including the Homan card shown here, whose body looks far too big for his head.
They measure as oddly as they look — roughly 3/4″ wide by about 3″ tall, though the exact measurements vary a little across the other cards. They were printed against red and blue backgrounds using only black ink. One side pictures the player along with their last name and a written number while the other side includes only their last name in larger letters.
While it is quite unknown what these cards are, we know that they were originally attached to wooden bases because a picture of that exists on the Net54 site from one of the commenters in that thread. And if you look at the bottoms of them, you can see that with glue remnants and torn paper. Because of that, they have been cited as game pieces designed to move around some sort of board. That seems to fit with the sturdiness of the cards. Because while they were not printed with any real quality control, they are at least printed on very thick cardboard.
The game theory seems quite possible, though, even that has never been confirmed. What has been confirmed, however, is the rarity of the cards. These are the only ones I have seen pop up for sale on eBay and I have never seen more than one example of the same player.
It is unclear how many total cards might have been printed. But there are 11 confirmed players in that Net54 thread — Hofman, Davis, Home Run Baker, Frank Chance, Johnny Kling, Orval Overall, Joe Tinker, Eddie Collins, Topsy Hartsel, Babe Adams, and Ed Willett. In all, four teams (the Pirates, Cubs, Tigers, and Athletics, are represented. None of the known cards is numbered higher than six, potentially giving us a total of 24 in the entire set. National League cards (Cubs and Pirates) were printed on red card stock while the American League cards (Athletics and Tigers) are in blue.
That checklisted number, of course, is a pretty big assumption. It assumes that each team not only had the same amount of cards but also that no other teams were represented. 24 might be the best guess in terms of the total number of cards but it is hardly documented.
Dating the cards, too, is not particularly easy. For one thing, the players represented generally spent several years with their respective teams and all seem to overlap from at least 1908 through 1910. Additionally, while suspected that it is, there is not truly proof that the set was issued in the year those players were featured. Given the collection of players and the crude style of printing, it seems likely that these are period. A better question is if they were truly the work of an actual company or an issue created by collectors.
There’s a lot unknown about these cards and without more concrete evidence, that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.