A History of the
Printing Used to Make Baseball Cardsd
This is a quick
summary of printing used to make baseball cards, followed by a focus on
the famed 1909-11 T206 issue.
These processes and techniques were also used to make the
closely related post 1880 sports cards and non-sport trading cards.
of baseball card authenticator’s luxuries— a luxury that also helps
make collecting baseball cards a popular hobby— is that while many
ultra rare cards are ordinarily unattainable, many times examples from
the issue are. While most
collectors can’t afford a T206 Honus Wagner,
they can afford other cards from the same set and that were made from
the same process. The same goes
for the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth, 1914
Cracker Jack Shoeless Joe Jackson and so on. Naturally, there are some issues
where obtaining any examples for comparison is nearing impossible. 1887 Four Base Hits, 1913 Fatimia Premiums, 1893 Just So Tobacco and 1923
Fans Cigarettes are few.
However, examining the variety of other cards is useful in
establishing significant trends.
Nearly all printed (non-photographic)
baseball cards were made with either lithography or relief
printing. Since at least 1970,
all baseball cards are lithographs.
Lithography: In the 19th
century, the Allen & Ginter, many other
colorful inserts and trade cards were handmade chromolithographs. This means they were made by hand on
the printing plate. This was
before the half-tone process in lithography, so there cannot be a
half-tone pattern. Stippling was
often used to give tone in some areas.
These isolated areas of dots can be distinguished from from the consistent half-tone pattern on a modern
trading card. Under a
microscope, the handmade process becomes apparent. It often appears to be like a
watercolor painting, with lines, swooshes and other marks. Under higher magnification, and if
the printing is on smooth surface, the chromolithographic rim is often
trends also exists on many related 19th century
signs, posters, tobacco labels and premiums. Lithography does not tend to fade,
and, if well stored, these 19th century cards and
collectable prints can retain their original, brilliant colors.
the golden age, circa 1909-15, baseball cards were sometimes made with
lithography without half-tone that appears much like the cards from the
19th century. This
includes the chromolithographic rim seen under the microscope. More commonly, however, a colored
half-tone lithographic process was used. This method was applied to the
majority of the E (candy) and T (tobacco) inserts, mostly notably the
T206 cards. This is discussed
later in following chapter.
both halftone and line, was used from the end of the golden age to
today. By the 1950s, and the
popularity of the Topps and Bowman cards, the
modern style, in particular as it applies to half-tone lithography had
been established. Under the
microscope, the half-tone pattern on the typical 1950s card looks much
the same as on a 1980s card. In
the late 1990s, due to changes in technology, many cards were printed
with a higher density dot pattern (more dots per inch). In the 1990s, a UV
(glossy) coated stock, along with various effects (metal
embellishments, refractor and other finishes, etc) were commonly
Relief Printing. A significant
minority of vintage cards were made with some form of relief
printing. Significant for
authentication purposes, relief printing has not been used for trading
cards for many decades. While
the appearance of the microscopic hard relief rim ordinarily does not
indicate a date of printing, it strongly suggests that the card is vintage. On
some cardboard or paper stocks the relief rim may not be as apparent.
one cannot predict with total certainty, there are rules of thumb about
when relief print was used.
Newspapers and magazines were traditionally relief prints, and
their trading cards and premiums were therefore also commonly relief
prints. Examples include the
1911 M116 Sporting Lifes and 1920s-50s
Baseball magazine Premiums.
Non-photographic trading cards with photorealistic realistic
black and white images from the late 19th century and first
few years of the 20th century, such as the rare Just So and Briesch Williams issues,
are most probably relief half-tone prints. Half-tone lithography could not
regularly make realistic images until later. Many early playing cards, such as
1913 National Game, are relief prints.
A scattering of other vintage issues, including postcards, are
Photographic Trading Cards.
A number of early trading cards were photographs. In the 19th century,
probably all photographic trading cards are albumen prints mounted to
cardboard backing. Popular examples, include the Old Judge inserts and cabinet
cards, Gypsy Queens, Four Base Hits, Kalamazoo Bats, Peck and Snyder
Trade Cards (cartes de visite)
and Joseph Hall Cabinet Cards.
Examination of albumen prints is discussed earlier in this
book. Due to the distinct signs
of the process and that it hasn’t been used commercially for many
decades, should make authentication of these cards straightforeward.
the early 20th, before World War II, there were a few
photographic trading cards.. This include
the various 1910s Fatima issues, Pinkerton Cabinets and circa 1930 Ray-O-Print
Ruth and Gehrig. All of these are gelatin-silver
prints, and will often have the typical silvering effect.
Other Printing Processes. Nearly all cataloged trading cards were made with
the just described processes. A
few exceptions are known are will no doubt pop up in the future. Etching and engraving was sometimes
used on vintage baseball related items, such as letterheads. Other than the odd obscurity (most
likely an early trade card or postcard), etching and engraving was not used trading cards. Postcards were made with a variety of
processes. The collector or
examiner might come across a cyanotype (bright blue) real photo or a
collotype postcard. Some
postcards used more than one process, such as relief and lithography,
or relief and hand coloring.
out of the ordinary, these processes should help authentication. It is more than unlikely that the
baseball card forger is going to use etching, engraving or
collotype. The forgery is more
likely to use a computer printer or modern half-tone lithography.