Obscure Card of the Month: McLaughlin Coffee Children of Nations Baseball Player

The Obscure Card of the Month

The Obscure Card of the Month is a rare coffee card from the 19th century — and it features baseball.

The McLaughlin Coffee name can be found on hundreds of early trade cards. Most of these are not related to sports, but a few are. One of those is a baseball card buried in a somewhat unknown set known as Children of Nations.

The set is one of many early issues that used pictures of children from different countries around the world. As is the case with most of these series’, the cards representing America are quite popular with domestic collectors. And in this set, that is especially true since, unlike most in the series, the American card pictures a young athlete.

Shown here is the card in question. The child is wearing an appropriately-themed red, white, and blue uniform with America printed at the bottom. Backs of these cards included advertisements for McLaughlin. It is unclear if the company distributed these apart from its product or if they were included directly inside packages of their coffee. But Jefferson Burdick categorized them as coffee cards in the American Card Catalog, specifically, designating the set as K66.

Some collectors familiar with this card may be of the belief that it is a sole, standalone issue. However, as mentioned here, it is actually part of a set. To date, I know the set includes at least 24 cards. The cards are simply not seen that often and even commons in the set can fetch prices of $20 or more.

The cards are slightly oversized at roughly 3 3/4″ wide by 5″ tall. It should be noted that I have found several of these cards trimmed — sometimes at the bottom to remove the McLaughlin and country name.

I have never seen a known date on the series. However, given the images and the trade card nature of this set, it is almost always dated as a 19th century issue, likely from the 1880s or 1890s. McLaughlin issued some other known baseball cards, which both date to the 1800s — a calendar card where some included an 1886 calendar, and at least one paper doll of a baseball player, that dates to the 1890s. McLaughlin began printing cards in the early 1880s and into the 1890s. While the company existed into the 20th century, McLaughlin trade cards are almost always dated as pre-1900.

As for the baseball card, prices on it can vary significantly with dealers not quite realizing what it is. But as a buyer, you can expect to pay $50-$100 for a decent copy — if you can find it. You may see it for less, but due to its rarity, seeing it at a higher price is not out of the question, either, especially when found in good condition. Like many 19th century trade issues, backs of these are sometimes seen with scrapbook removal damage/paper loss.

A final note is that somewhat of a variant of these exists, too. A poster or book was made to promote this set. These included images of the cards in the set and some of those have been subsequently cut out. Some of those have a light blue border and are paper thin.

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