cycleback * april 10 Pack Secrets

Cycleback, 2003, all rights reserved

Q & A






QUESTION: Can a computer print be considered an original?


ANSWER: Yes, if the design did not exist before (not a reproduction or copy). Assuming there isn't significant graphic embellishment, if someone scans and computer prints out the cover of Reader's Digest, that's not original. However, if my young daughter draws a unique picture of her kitty cat on a computer drawing program and prints it out for the refrigerator door, that's as original as a Rembrandt in a museum.


The common pitfall in defining what is original is assigning false qualities to definition. Common phrases one will hear include: "It's by Picasso and sold for $1 million. It's got to be original" ... "A cheesy baseball card sold in packs of gum can't be as original as a painting" ... "An original can't be in a kid's fingerpaints. It's got to be something like oils" ... "I paid $1,000 for it, so I consider it an original" ...


While financial value, artist's celebrity, beauty and prevailing taste are fine and dandy qualities, they have nothing to do with originality. The originality of my daughter's computer sketch isn't defined by its sell price on eBay.




QUESTION: Can a CDV be considered a trading card?


ANSWER: Some, but not all can be called trading cards.


There are two necessary components to a trading card. First, it has to be a card. Personal definitions of cards vary, but most consider the classic example of a card to be a business card or a standard sized Topps baseball card.


The second component for a trading card is it has to have been distributed, or intended to be distributed, in a commercial way. A trading card has to have been distributed, intended to be distributed, or at least available, to the general public, and it has to have been for an advertising, promotion or other commercial purpose. 1870s trade cards were given away for free to the public and usually had advertising for a store or whatever on the front or back. 1909-11 T206 baseball cards have tobacco ads on the back and were distributed as prizes in tobacco packs. 1960s Topps cards were sold directly to the public with bubble gum. Today, trading cards are popular enough that they are sold by alone. Though distributed differently, these all fit the definition of trading cards.


Another important component (Yeah, I know I said there were only two components, but I'm adding another. Get off my back) is that trading cards were intentionally made so that they would be collected by the public. Even in the 19th century, companies realized that it was good to create an advertising item that someone would collect. Having a kid paste in his hobby your company's trade card because he likes the cartoon picture on it is a lot better than him throwing away a plain flyer.


The Cartes de Visite (aka CDV) photographs definitely are cards in the physical sense. In fact, the name is French for 'visiting card.' If you hold one in your hand, you will see that it's a card with a smaller paper photograph pasted on the front.


Most CDVs are not trading cards, because of the commercial part. Most were simply family portraits or such made and kept by a family. The same as the Kodak snapshots of your camping trip in your photo album, or the Wedding photo on your dresser.


Some CDVs are trading cards. In the 1860s-70s, CDVs of popular subjects, like Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria and popular actresses were sold to the public in stores. Many of the famed baseball 1860s-70s Peck & Snyder baseball cards are CDVs, with Peck & Snyder advertising stamped on the back (Peck & Snyder was a prominent sports equipment manufacturer). Some non-sport CDVs were sold with products, like tobacco, and have advertising printed on front or back.


The problem that arises for the trading card collector (who tend to be a picky bunch), is that it is not easy, and sometimes impossible to tell how a CDV was distributed. The CDVs sold in stores usually don't have an appearance different than one that was not. If there are enough examples of a particular U.S. Grant CDV, it be assumed that they were commercially issued. Most CDVs of Abraham Lincoln and Queen Victoria are likely trading cards. But, in many cases, it's impossible to know. Many trading card collectors don't like 'there is no answer' as and answer, but that doesn't change the answer.


An interesting test case for you to ponder is the 1863 Hoboken Match Harry Wright CDV which is owned by CNN Newscaster and well baseball card collector Keith Olbermann. If this CDV is defined trading card it is the earliest known baseball card- which makes it a significant piece of memorabilia, at least in the baseball world. The problem is that not everyone agrees that it is a trading card.


Harry Wright was a pioneer in baseball, often referred to as the "father of professional baseball." Olbermann's little photographic card pictures Wright on front and was used as a pass for series baseball and cricket matches in Hoboken New Jersey. The back has printed info concerning the game. It was more than likely that this pass was given to, or at least intended for, a VIP, and almost certainly wasn't intended for the general public.


As you can see, the pass' method of distribution doesn't align with the criteria I earlier mentioned. There definitely was a commercial component (pass for games), but was not distrubuted or available to the general public like tobacco cards or bubblegum cards. Many respectable and knowledgeable people consider Olbermann's card to be the earliest known baseball card. Others do not, as it was never intended for the consumption of the general public. As one collector said to me, "It's not a trading card. It's a ticket."


I will let you decide for yourself whether or not Keith Olbermann's card is a true baseball card.