Two Baseball Cards Spotted in Rare, Uncatalogued Palmer Cox Brownie Set

Two baseball cards highlight a largely unknown set, presumably from the 1800s

Finding uncatalogued pre-war stuff that’s new to me is still a relatively common occurrence. But finding baseball issues, aside from cabinets and other non-traditional ‘cards,’ happens far less frequently. Recently, though, I stumbled on a pair of baseball cards that were complete new and unknowns to me — and I’m guessing they are to most of you, too.

I recently won an auction for 34 Palmer Cox ‘brownies’ cards. Brownies were mythical figures drawn by Cox (and others) in an assortment of poses. They looked a bit like elves and the most common Brownies baseball cards are probably the colorful H804-2 Vertical Brownies trade cards dating to about the 1880s. Most Brownies issues are usually cited as 19th century cards, though a few were printed beyond that.

The cards I won were not trade cards with advertisements. Rather, these appear to be from some sort of matching game because each topic or subject type has two cards (albeit, with different images). They are similar in appearance to the c1900 Game of Sports set out of Germany that I learned about at the last National — practically the same in size, measuring 2 1/4″ wide by 3 1/4″ tall, and made of the same type of thin type of brown cardstock, resembling strip card material. Backs of the cards are blank and there are no other identifying characteristics on them.

These cards, however, do not have quite the same type of artistry, lacking backgrounds with the images being limited to very basic sketch drawings.

The set includes an assortment of subjects. There are some brownies representing nationalities, others occupations. But a handful delve into sports.

Cards of tennis players are key ones and there are other minor sports included, such as gymnastics and ice skating. But without a doubt, the key cards in the set include a pair of baseball players.

Dubbed ‘Ball Players,’ one card features a gloveless fielder standing on a base. While not named ‘baseball’ players, that is undoubtedly the sport featured as seen in the second card, picturing a player with a bat and ball.

It is tempting to merely date these as an 1880s issue and call it a day. As mentioned, that is the era typically ascribed to these sorts of brownies issues and an 1880s classification would make sense and satisfy most. However, I couldn’t leave it there and simply had to dig to see if any other possibilities could be found.

My patience was rewarded when I found this advertisement for some brownies stamps. Several brownies are pictured, including one in a top hat. That was the critical as the sketch is the same exact one used for a card in this set, titled ‘Dude.’ The picture of the man in the ad is copyrighted as 1892 and also includes the Palmer Cox name, confirming these cards would have belonged to him. And while I can’t simply take that date and confirm these cards are from the same exact year, that is better than the sort of ‘1880s’ guesswork we’d otherwise have.

Still other questions here. Can a better date be found? And is 34 even the number of cards in a complete set? How were the cards distributed or sold? This is the sort of stuff that I love stumbling upon.

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