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main index........................ tobacco era index


(1886 - )

The Tobacco Era

1880's Ad for Allen & Ginter cigarette brands

The tobacco industry is responsible for baseball cards as we know them today. The brief period 1886-90 produced most 19th century of which you and I are familiar. Most baseball cards were produced by the various tobacco companies trying to get a competitive edge on each other. Goodwin & Co. is considered to be the first major issuer of tobacco baseball cards. This New York company produced Gypsy Queen, Old Judge and other popular cigarette brands. As a marketing ploy cards were inserted directly into cigarette packs (actually hard slide boxes). These 'inserts' are much smaller than today's cards and depicted everything from baseball players to actresses to boxers. Larger cards were occasionally offered as premiums. For example, packs of Old Judge cigarettes had both a small picture card and coupons. If one collected the required number of coupons, he or she could send them in to receive a fancy card. These fun and attractive cards gave a smoker ample reason to buy the brand of cigarettes. At this time newspapers and other publications did not have color pictures and travel was limited. It was a novelty to own a card picturing a player one had only read about. Other tobacco and a few non-tobacco companies issued cards in similar fashion. These companies included Allen & Ginter, D. Buchner and Co., P.H. Mayo and Brother. This competition produced many high quality cards avidly collected today.

The companies used the popular printing and photographic techniques of the day. The premium cards were cabinet cards with a large photograph glued to a cardboard mount. Some inserts were miniature picture cards (photo on cardboard mount) even smaller than a Carte de Viste. In fact 'cigarette card' is listed by the Library of Congress as a category of 19th century mounted photography. Other inserts used colorful lithography including the new half-tone process which allowed more realistic looking non-photographic images.

By 1895 a monopoly was formed between the various tobacco companies. With the lack of competition there was no need a need to use cards to promote their products. Few baseball cards were produced from this time until the early 1900's when the government broke up the monopoly and the card competition started again.

unopened pack of Mayo's Cut Plug tobacco

Organization of this section

As most 19th Century issues were made during the period past 1885 I needed to take extra care in organization. In general, the issues are presented chronologically. I say 'in general' as dating some issues is guesswork. Some issues were produced over more than one year, and some issues cannot be dated with one hundred percent accuracy. Further, the diverse Trade Cards and women's issues were each consolidated into one section even though each covers several years. Let's just say that while there the motto is foreword, there are a handful of coffee breaks and like diversions.

For reference, the issues have been also numbered 1-45.

Along with images and descriptions for the issues I have provided specific information about the issue type, availability and popularity. The type tells how the card was issued and what is its physical makeup. Most cards were inserts (small cards inserted into a product, usually tobacco packs), premiums (usually large cards obtained via mailed in coupons inserted into products) or Trade Cards (giveaways). The physical makeup is usually lithographed cardboard, photograph on cardboard mount or Cabinet Card (large mounted photograph). A few issues will stray from the above descriptions.

The popularity and availability are meant to give an issues' 'place' in the hobby. The ratings used are to compare 19th century cards with 19th Century cards They are not rated in popularity or scarcity relative to 1957 Topps or 1989 Fleer. Cards from the 19th century are more limited than from any other time. Even plentiful issues such as Old Judges are much scarcer than T206s, 33 Goudeys, early Topps or Bowman. Similarly 19th century baseball cards is a highly popular genre and there is even some demand for minor issues. I certainly don't use the ratings to put down issues. The ratings place an issue within the hobby and not within a personal collection.

main index........................ tobacco era index


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