1930 Milton Bradley Set Features Early Aviators — and Perhaps Amelia Earhart’s Earliest Trading Card

Reviewing the little-known 1930 Milton Bradley Aviation set

The 1930 Milton Bradley Aviation set of game cards is one that has largely gone under the radar. I had never personally heard of it until only recently but a quick study shows that it’s one that is worthy of recognition.

The set was copyrighted by Milton Bradley in 1930 when it was seemingly first distributed. But the cards in the set were actually conceived in 1928, as evidenced by a 1928 trademark by the game’s maker, E.K. Barker. Both copyright dates are printed in an accompanying instruction booklet and the biographies of the pilots included reference dates primarily in 1927 and 1928 (and no later than 1928). So while it is usually referred to as a 1930 set, some may call it a 1928 issue.

The set is a playing card series and include a total of 56 cards. A total of 13 aviators are each pictured on four cards. The remaining four cards are generic cards of a cadet, a war scout, the ‘unfound fliers,’ and a card dedicated to the Bremen Aviators.

The aviator cards have different point values and the objective of the game is to score a total of 300 points before your opponents or collect the greatest number of ‘books’ of cards (a book consists of all four of a particular aviator’s cards).

Cards are packaged in a modest-sized box along with a red instructions book, shown here. The book, as you can see, includes a horrendous typo, misspelling the ‘Aviation’ title in large font right on the cover. The instructions, actually, are only a small part of the booklet. The majority of it is a focus on the history of aviation and the aviators featured in the set. Only the last three pages of the 64-page book, in fact, are dedicated to the instructions.

The cards are close to a traditional playing card size, measuring 2 3/8″ wide by 3 7/16″ tall. All pictures are black and white sketches performed by a man named Goronwy Reesor. Reesor’s name appears in small print on the cards. According to this page, he was a Canadian-born artist that lived in California and did a variety of work, including editorial art for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Backs of the cards include the same blue ink picture, also created by Reesor.

In terms of rarity, the set seems fairly difficult to find.

The Aviators

As mentioned, 13 different aviators are included:

  1. Bertrand Acosta
  2. Bernt Balchen
  3. Floyd Bennett
  4. Richard Byrd
  5. Clarence Chamberlain
  6. Amelia Earhart
  7. Arthur Goebel
  8. Albert Francis Hegenberger
  9. Charles Lindbergh
  10. Lester Maitland
  11. George Noville
  12. John Rodgers
  13. Leigh Wade

The focal point is clearly on the famous Charles Lindbergh. All of the aviators’ cards use the same picture on all four cards with the exception of Lindbergh, who got four different sketches (all shown here).

Amelia Earhart Rookie?

Lindbergh’s cards are rightfully a highlight. However, most collectors will focus on the four cards of Amelia Earhart in the set.

Earhart’s image is a fantastic one and she is the only female pictured in the set. But the real prize with Earhart’s card is that it could legitimately be her first trading card.

Prior to finding out about this set, the earliest verified card I knew of Earhart was her card in the 1932 Reemtsma Olympia German-issued set. On that card, she is pictured with several other famous subjects. PSA, notably, mentions a 1930 Leichtman Ice Cream card in their registry. But I have never been able to confirm the exact date of the card and have wondered if it is a 1930s issue as opposed to simply being printed in the year 1930 (a common issue with some third-party graded series’ of obscure sets). While that could be a rookie issue, of course, this one is definitively from 1930 and the only earlier Earhart issue in PSA’s registry is the Canadian 1929 V250 Wings Wrappers (chewing gum wrappers).

It is always difficult finding the earliest cards of non-sports subjects simply because so many obscure issues exist. But this card may be as close as it gets to a verified Earhart ‘rookie’ card.

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