T-Cards represent American tobacco issues and are one of the most popular of the designations given by Jefferson Burdick in the American Card Catalog. When it comes to tennis cards in the pre-war era, they are most abundant in tobacco card issues printed in the 1920s and 1930s.
These were cards that were either packaged directly with tobacco products or issued separately by tobacco companies. Some tennis issues are American cards. The bulk, however, are from other parts of the world. Several were part of multi-sport issues from the United Kingdom. And while many cards feature actual tennis players, some like the card here, feature a generic picture of the sport.
Tobacco cards were popular (and at least one even led to a marriage) but they were also being blamed for causing all sorts of problems related to children collecting them. After a temporary ban on American tobacco cards in the late 1800s, they came back with a bang in the early 1900s.
From a tennis standpoint, pre-war tobacco sets offered cards from some of the game’s early stars. While tennis cards were released in the late 1800s, the sport did not really start to take off until the 1920s and 1930s with Hall of Fame players Bill Tilden, Helen Wills, Fred Perry, Jean Borotra, Suzanne Lenglen, Henri Cochet, Rene Lacoste, and many others gaining recognition.
One important note for this page is that, similar to what occurred with the famous T206 baseball card set, many issues were produced for numerous tobacco brands. Instead of repeating each set in the table below multiple times, some sets are simply listed once by its set name and the individual brands are then mentioned on that page. For example the 1927 Homeland Events set was issued with Lambert & Butler, Wills, and British American Tobacco products. Instead of listing that set three times, it is simply listed as ‘Homeland Events’ with references to those distributors on its page.
A final note with regards to cataloging efforts here. Many tobacco sets were created featuring movie stars. These are generally non-sports sets that may involve an actor or actress with a tennis racket. Because of the large number of those sets and their relative lack of importance to sports card collectors, those have not been listed here.
These issues are interesting as many high-grade examples still exist, despite their age. As stated, the majority were international issues. Those were often preserved by collectors better than their American counterparts as collecting was seen as more of an adult hobby in other parts of the world. Many cards were affixed or placed into collecting books and sat undisturbed for decades. Thus, it isn’t uncommon to see them in very good condition and without major flaws.
Looking to learn more about collecting tobacco cards? Here’s an introduction of sorts that I wrote, which covers their history
Below is a list of pre-war tennis card sets and multi-sport sets where a tennis card can be found.