1916 Moriarty Playing Card Set Home of a Charlie Chaplin ‘Rookie’ Card
The famous silent film star Charlie Chaplin has an early appearance in a WWI-era set of playing cards
Early cards of famous non-sports subjects have really grown in popularity — and not just in the pre-war era, either. Even modern post-war cards of famous actors, actresses, musicians, and entertainers can sell for big bucks depending on the rarity and subject.
I’ve been diving deeper into these cards. While the term ‘rookie card’ for these non-sports personalities seems a little strange, these first cards of popular non-athletes are becoming known by that term. And a ‘rookie’ appearance of famous silent film star Charlie Chaplin is picking up steam among non-sports collectors.
The card in question is Chaplin’s 1916 Moriarty Movie Souvenir Playing card.
Before I get more into the card, it’s worth noting that Chaplin does indeed have slightly earlier appearances. There is some confusion because those appearances are on postcards, which can be difficult to date. However, we know that a series of cartoon-image postcards produced by Cobb and Shinn, and presumably issued by Essanay Studios (which produced early Chaplin films) were first issued in 1915 since some do in fact bear 1915 postmarked dates. It should be pointed out that, while Chaplin’s name does not appear on those cards, they do undeniably depict him.
Chaplin also appears on other real-photo Essanay postcards, which appear to have been issued in either 1915 or 1916. Those are seen postmarked less and I have not personally seen any with a 1915 date yet. However, given that the other postcard are Essanay issues, too, that certainly is not out of the question. The film star may be on additional postcard series’ made in 1915, too.
Nevertheless, the card most commonly cited as a Chaplin rookie is the Moriarty playing card because of the uncertainty in dates on the postcards and because the playing cards are closer to a traditional style of trading card. While some collectors will indeed consider the Chaplin cartoon postcard series as the rookies, that does not appear to be majority opinion at this point.
Regardless of where you stand on the definition of rookie cards (some, in fact, may not even consider playing cards as true rookie issues), the playing card is an intriguing one. A few notable names are found in the set, which includes famous actors and actresses. And while 53 cards appear in a deck, most believe that the series was issued over several years because some actors and actresses were replaced in the set with different ones. This site, a good authority on the series, mentions a total of more than 100 cards, in fact.
However, it’s the Chaplin card that stands out for a few reasons — first because of the notoriety, correctly or not, as a rookie issue. Second, Chaplin is the Joker in the set. That is important when it comes to the dating. The fact, too, that it is a classic black and white image of Chaplin, typically only associated as a black and white subject, only enhances the card, in my opinion.
But why is the Joker designation important? Well, besides the obvious that collectors associate him with comedy (comedy, Joker, get it?), while some actors and actresses may have been replaced in later iterations of the set, Chaplin’s Joker card is believed to have been issued from the beginning in 1916 (all cards, by the way, include a 1916 copyright date). And while some Chaplin cards would have been printed after that in later printings of the set, of course, the card (like most others in the set) is generally considered as a 1916 issue. Grading companies agree with that assertion as the card is graded as a 1916 issue by at least PSA and SGC.
If Chaplin were not picture on the Joker card, it would be difficult to simply assume it was a definitive 1916 card. How would we know if Chaplin was a replacement in later sets, after all? But because his card appears to have been distributed with every version of the set, the 1916 link is easier to make (even if, as stated, some versions of the card would have been printed in later sets).
In terms of value, the card has been on the move with even modest examples usually topping $100.