The Subjects of the N245 Sweet Caporal Actors and Actresses Set

A massive haul of the 19th century N245 Sweet Caporal Actors and Actresses cards has me looking deeper into the set

You might recall that, about six months ago, I wrote about the N245 Sweet Caporal Actors and Actresses set. Shortly after picking up a handful (more as a novelty than anything), I found about 100 low-grade cards with the backs mostly missing.

I hate to write about a set again in such a short time period because there’s so much great stuff I’ve never tackled on the site. And I wasn’t planning to take it much farther until I stumbled upon nearly 1,000 of these cards. They were inexpensive on an individual basis but, collectively, still cost a good amount of money. Despite knowing little about the set, really, in terms of who was in it, I was desperate to find out more. So I bought them.

Dated to around 1890, they are similar in appearance to the more popular N172 Old Judge baseball cards, which also originate from that era. These cards feature real sepia photographs affixed to thick pieces of cardboard with advertisements for Sweet Caporal on the back.  Vintage Non-Sports Auctions says there are about 2,300-2,400 different cards, not accounting for the back variations.

I won’t note the appearance differences of them. Like Old Judge cards, you can find them with all sorts of minor size differences. Many of the pictures have faded over the years and premiums exist for ones with strong images. And many often have back damage due to being pasted in scrapbooks. But what I really wanted to dive into was the types of subjects you’ll find in this massive offering.

So what did I find? Here are six observations.

A Lack of Sports

This one wasn’t a surprise. I’d seen enough of these cards before to know that they are decidedly a non-sports offering. But a few minor sports did sneak their way into the set.

Calling out the several cards in it that feature women in Cupid fashion with bows and arrows as true archery cards is a stretch, sure. But there are some in here that would certainly classify as minor sports cards.

Some feature Eva Bartholdi, a circus performer and noted contortionist with the ability to twist her body into all sorts of positions. Collectors may be surprised to find out that her cards are somewhat desirable. Larger Bartholdi cabinet cards have sold in excess of $200 in auctions. Another card includes Johnstone Bennett as a club swinger. Club swinging, really a sort of exercise, is featured in other multi-sport sets — most notably Allen & Ginter’s Champions series.

Numerous other cards feature women in circus-like poses, depicted as trapeze artists and the like.

Again, it’s not a set where you’ll find the likes of baseball, boxing, or golf. But a few minor sports cards surface in the series.

Child Actresses

I was surprised to see children featured in the set. Not because children didn’t appear on early tobacco cards. Rather, because of the 100 or so cards I personally had before acquiring these, I didn’t have any that pictured children.

I don’t believe the set is dominated with them. Of the nearly 1,000 cards I just bought, I saw maybe a dozen. But they are certainly there and they are a bit unique compared to the rest of the set that is 95% adult women.

Is there any increased demand for the children pictured? I can’t say, honestly. But given that there are few of them featured, I could see collectors paying a little more for them.


Jefferson Burdick coined this as a set of ‘Actors and Actresses.’ That seems to indicate males are included but men are hardly seen at all in the series.

True to the name, however, a few do show up.

I haven’t seen enough cards in this set to find many (scratch that — any) notable ones. And of the nearly 1,000 I purchased, only a handful were seen at all. Even in some cases, they were relegated to sharing a card with females. That is the case here with “The DeForests,” who are described as ‘Whirlwind Dancers’ on their card.

I’m not much of a 19th century non-sports expert so I can’t say why there are so few. But cigarette cards often depicted women as a way to lure male cigarette buyers to their products. That could, in part, explain why so few men were pictured. Females in early acting also often played male roles and is another likely reason for not seeing as many men shown.

Native Americans

Native Americans were also subjects I did not expect to encounter in the set.

I have not seen any African Americans portrayed in the set and was surprised to see even a Native American at all.

But shown here is a woman named Go-Won-Go (generally typed as ‘Gowongo’ elsewhere) Mohawk. She was of the Seneca Nation and had an English name as well (Carrie or Caroline).

Go-Won-Go performed in both America and overseas.

I would not be surprised if her cards in the set were a bit more difficult to find. In cursory searches on eBay and Google, I’d not found any for sale — that is a stark contrast to the many cards of Lillian Russell, perhaps the most popular actress in the series. I would expect her cards to be desirable.

Strong Lineages

Experienced non-sports collectors can point out a few of the bigger names in this series. And while I’ve heard of Russell and several others, I was not aware of one in particular.

Actress Georgie Drew Barrymore appears in the set and is none other than the great grandmother of famous contemporary actress Drew Barrymore.

The Barrymores have a particularly long line of acting in their family and the name, of course, prompted me to look deeper into Barrymore. The acting in her family did not begin with her, either. Georgie’s parents and siblings all acted as well and the Barrymore family has been acting for nearly two full centuries dating back to her father John, who became active in the occupation in the 1840s.

Georgie, herself, would perform on Broadway before dying young at 36 from tuberculosis only a few years after this set was issued.

While the Barrymore name was easy for me to spot, I would be not surprised to see other similar famous actresses with links to some more modern movie stars.

So. Many. Poses.

Like the Old Judge set, subjects featured in this set are found on numerous cards. Some have more than ten cards and one begins to think, how could they appear on so many?

The answer, in part, is because there are many very minor pose differences in the set.

This was easy to pick out as I sifted through the lot. So I wanted to provide at least one example as a visual. Here are three cards of a woman identified only as Miss Benney. Benney is shown in what appears to be Japanese style clothing with a fan. All of these images picture her in the the same outfit and the first two are very similar.

These sorts of minor changes in the poses are seen in many of the actresses featured.

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