Baseball and More are Found in the Rare Shirley President Suspenders Set

The set of Shirley President Suspenders store display advertising cards features women in sports

When I traveled to the National last year in Chicago, one of the things I’d seen for the first time was a rare set of display advertising cards for a product called Shirley President Suspenders. Upon heading home, the first thing I did was try to find some of these cards for my collection and it didn’t take me long to figure out that they were quite rare.

Like many of the things I write about here, even finding information was scarce. So I did what I typically do in those cases — figure out what sort of information could be pieced together.

So what are these cards?

Well, cards is sort of a loose definition. Yes, they are made of sturdy cardboard. But measuring approximately 8 1/2″ wide by 13 1/2″ tall, they are quite oversized. The reason for that is because they were created to be displayed in store windows as advertisements as opposed to serving as collectible trading cards.

The exact date these cards were issued is not known. But they are typically dated to around 1900 or the early 1900s when many of Shirley’s other advertising was known. The suspenders were distributed by the C.A. Edgarton Manufacturing Company, based in Shirley, Massachusetts — hence, the Shirley part of the name. The President was the brand of these particular suspenders, which most records indicate were sold for fifty cents. While I’ve seen plenty of advertisements and advertising mediums used by the company, I’ve not seen any standard trading cards.

Like some other cards of the era, these featured lithographic pictures of women playing the sports, not men. The lithographer for this issue was the American Lithographic Company of New York.

Women in sports was a popular theme, particularly in the 19th century and the reason was clear — they were printed to attract men in paying attention to the product being issued (usually tobacco). These cards aren’t shy about that fact, either. The product in this case was not tobacco, rather suspenders. But the backs of these cards make it clear that getting the attention of men was the focal point. Backs read, “If you want the men to stop at your window in greater numbers than ever before, display all six pictures in your window.”

Well, there you have it.

But yes, six pictures. There were six of these in the set featuring a variety of sports. The cards were numbered and the full checklist is:

  1. Golfing Girl
  2. Ball Playing Girl (Baseball)
  3. Tennis Girl
  4. Bowling Girl
  5. Fishing Girl
  6. Billiard Girl

Here’s a not-so-great picture of the set I saw for sale at the National last year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come close to showing the true beauty of these fantastic gems. But you can Google your way to nicer images of most. Here’s a better picture of the baseball player from a Heritage Auction.

So, how did stores get their hands on the cards? Well, unlike other products that may have freely given them away, that was not the case with these. The company issued one of these in every six boxes of their suspenders. And who knows if they were randomized or not. Thus, at first glance, securing a complete set in that manner seems difficult.

However, it might not have been quite as tough to get a full set as it seems. Backs of the cards also stated that if dealers were missing any of the pictures, they could simply write to the company and ask for them. They even incentivized them to do that in a way, mentioning that stores/dealers should sell their pictures to customers for twenty-five cents each.

Still, the fact that these were store displays and not collectible cards is surely one reason many are not still around today. Since finding that set at the National, my efforts to buy others have been mostly futile. I did manage to add the billiards card shown above. But I just haven’t come across many for sale.

A key feature of the ones you do often find is heavy damage. That’s because these would have been taped in windows, removed, and more. Many of these cards have damage to the edges and corners. That makes the clean billiard card example even more significant. But frankly, I love this set so much that I’d take them in any condition if I found them for the right price.

If you can find them, they are not terribly expensive. Decent looking commons in the set start around $50-$100. The baseball card starts around $150-$250. However, the rarity is real and finding them is the real trick.

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