Obscure Card of the Month: 1887 Duke Gymnastic Exercises Fencing Card

The Obscure Card of the Month is a 19th century tobacco card from a rare gymnastics set

The N77 Duke Gymnastic Exercises set isn’t one that many people know about. And even looking for it can be a bit maddening since search results often lead to college gymnastics sites (even if Duke University doesn’t actually have a gymnastics program). But this is a rare set of 19th century tobacco cards.

There are only 25 cards in a complete set but don’t let that fool you into believing it’s a simple build. The cards are not easy to find and when you do, you can expect to pay at least $20-$25 for one unless it’s in terrible shape.

The set contains, of course, subjects (all women, I believe) performing gymnastic exercises. It’s one of the few sets dedicated to that sport in the pre-war era.

The cards were issued by Duke Tobacco, who made countless sets in the 19th century. Like other tobacco cards from the 1800s, they are on relatively thick cardstock — significantly thicker than most of the early 20th century tobacco cards. Backs include a full checklist of the set.

While the entire set is fantastic, one card is particularly intriguing to me as it represents the sport of fencing. When I got this one in the mail recently, I liked it so much I thought I needed to mention it here. I thought the image was so great that it warranted a short article. I love the old style image right down to the mask on the ground. But what I love even more is that a card like this is in a set of gymnastics.

Now, I’m no fencing card collector, per se. I’ve got a few cards representing the sport but it’s hardly a focal point. But I really just wondered why the heck the card is in something called gymnastic exercises?

After doing some digging into the early forms of the sport, it turns out fencing was used quite a bit for military exercises as opposed to just the sport we know today. The other thing to point out is that, the set includes a few other non-gymnastics types of cards, too. One card, for example, features dumb bell exercises. The conclusion I have reached is that, while gymnastics are certainly included, the set also focuses on general sorts of exercise, too.

The fencing card doesn’t seem to be any more expensive than others in the set. You can expect to pay about $20-$25 for it as a starting point. But that’s assuming you can even find it.

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