This post contains assorted topics on CDVs and Cabinet Cards, baseball card proofs, a curious Honus Wagner fake, essential tips for beginning collectors, and a common misdating caused by collector psychology.
Are CDVs and Cabinet Cards Baseball Cards? The Answer is Yes, No and Maybe
Though personal definitions may change in detail from collector to collector, the general definition of a baseball card (short for baseball trading card) is a card (look up the dictionary definition) with a baseball theme that was commercially issued, or at least intended to be commercially issued, as a collectible for the general public. The commercial part means they were sold as a product in and of itself (such as with today’s cards), with a product (Topps and gum, T206s in packs of cigarettes) or otherwise in relationship to a product, service or similar (premiums, advertising trade cards, etc).
As you see, a baseball card is not defined just by its physical makeup, but its useage nature and intent. Even though it fits any dictionary’s definition of a physical card, no one I know considers a baseball player’s business card to be a baseball trading card.
All this leads to baseball cartes de visite (often referred to by the acronym CDVs), cabinet cards and similar early photo cards. These 1800s to early 1900s photo cards (a paper photograph affixed to a cardboard backing) fit the physical definition of card. Baseball CDVs in particular look very much look like baseball cards.
The second question of the trading card equation is if CDVs and cabinet cards fit the commercial issue for general public collecting definition of a trading card. The answer here is some do, some don’t and for many the answer is unknown and unknowable.
CDVs and cabinet cards were just standard photograph formats and were made for different purposes. Some were indeed used by tobacco and other companies as premiums or advertisements, and some were sold directly to the public as collectibles. For these, there is the advertising right on the cards and/or we know how their distribution history. Collecting commercially issued CDVs of celebrities, from Abraham Lincoln to Prince Albert, was a popular hobby in the Victorian era.
Most of the baseball CDVs and cabinet cards, however, were family or personal photos not issued to the general public. If you find a CDV or cabinet card of a high school or college baseball player or town ball team, it was more than probably a family photo or similar. Even many card photos of star Major League players were made for personal, private use of the player or teams. By the trading card definition, these are not baseball cards. Collectible and often valuable, sure, but not trading cards.
A problem for those who like things to be well defined and to fit into air tight categorizes is that for some of the
old baseball photo cards it is not know how they were issued. They may be of a famous early team or player and made by a well known photography studio, but it is unknown if it was made for the player or team’s personal use, or as a collectible sold to the public. Baseball card collectors tend to like clear cut answers, but, in the area of early baseball photographs and ephemera, things are often ambiguous and murky.
This in part explains why determining what card is the first card is impossible and a never ending debate. Beyond the debates over a card’s exact date of origin, whether or not it really depicts baseball and the fact that there are likely early photo cards yet to be uncovered, it is often impossible to know if the card was a commercially issued item for the general public or a photo made as a personal memento for the player or team. We can make intelligent guesses, but the are still guesses. I half-jokingly call this area of eternal debate ‘baseball card theory.’
This also explains why, even though there are earlier baseball CDVs and card photographs, the Peck & Snyders are still considered by many to the first known baseball cards (emphasis on the word known, as in known to be). Unlike earlier photo cards, it is known that the Peck & Snider Reds were used for commercial purposes and issued as general public collectibles. Some have advertising on back and we know that some were sold through Peck & Snyder’s mail order catalog.
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1800s Harper’s Woodcuts, or woodcut prints from the popular New York magazine Harper’s Weekly, are popularly collected today. The images show nineteenth century life, including sports, US Presidents and other celebrities, war, high society, nature and street life. The woodcuts of baseball are popular with vintage baseball card and memorabilia collectors due to the images of famous early players and teams, including Cap Anson, King Kelly, Billy Sunday and the 1869 Cincinnati Reds.
Though issued in black and white, some of the prints have been hand colored over the years by the owners. As age is important to collectors, prints that were colored in the 1800s are more valuable than those colored recently.
The problem is that modern ideas lead collectors to misdate the coloring. Due to their notions about the old fashioned Victorian era, most people automatically assume that vintage 1800s coloring will be subtle, soft, pallid and conservative. However, 1800s coloring was typically bright, gaudy, bold and even tacky to modern taste. As Victorian people did not have color televisions, motion pictures or video games, and were restricted in their travel (and paint choices), they liked their images of exotic places and faraway celebrities to be colored bold and exciting. A learned forger might knowingly use historically incorrect colors, as he knows the average person today would consider authentic 1800s coloring to be fake.
My work and research as an art and artifact scholar is in two areas: authentication and theory (psychology and philosophy of perception and interpretation, etc). They are usually two distinctly separate areas, but this is a case where they overlap. The misdating of the colors on these collectibles is a matter of cognitive biases. I have used the above woodcut colors example in both collector’s guides and cognitive psychology texts.
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A Fake Honus Wagner card with an interesting history
From time to time one sees offered for sale this Freeman Cigar Co. Card depicting Honus (Hans) Wagner. Though usually sold as vintage, it is a modern fantasy card.
There are authentic early 1900s Hans Wagner cigar tobacco labels designed to be affixed to cigar boxes. The labels are rare, and come in various designs. The most expensive examples are usually offered by major auction houses or dealers. In similar fashion to the T206 Wagner, this brand of tobacco was apparently never issued to the public. All the labels known to exist were not used. One of the labels has a close design to this fake card.
About 1993, a manufacture of collectible tin signs (all those Ted Williams Moxie and Joe Jackson H & B reprints) made a sign based on the design of the just mentioned tobacco label. This man was selling the signs as modern collectibles, not representing themselves as vintage. The sign was not an exact copy of the label. He added the ‘5 Cent Cigar’ text at the bottom for artistic balance. He also he used a different text font in parts because he could not find a modern duplicate of the original.
A numbers of years later a man used a computer printer to reprint the tin signs as the tobacco cards, roughing and scuffing the cards to make them appear old. He sold them at flea markets to unsuspecting collectors who knew the legend of Honus Wagner and thought they had struck gold.
When shown a picture of one of the cards, the tin sign maker himself said it could not be genuine as it had his 1993 design.
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Essential Tips for Beginning Collectors of Most Anything
While experienced collectors may already know most of the following tips, I get many inquiries from total beginners, including many who have gotten burned by buying fakes. Considering this, I think it’s a good thing to periodically bring out my age old “Essential Tips for Beginning Collectors of Most Anything.” I’ve used this list, and variations of it, in numerous of my collecting and authentication books:
Whether it involves trading cards, celebrity autographs, movie posters, fine art prints, postcards or antique figurines, collecting can be good clean fun for boys and girls of all ages. However, all areas of collecting have problems. The following is a brief but important list of tips that the beginner should read before jumping into a hobby with open pocketbook.
1) Start by knowing that there are reprints, counterfeits, fakes and scams out there. If you start by knowing you should be doing your homework, having healthy skepticism of sellers’ grand claims and getting second opinions, you will be infinitely better off than the beginner who assumes everything is authentic and all sellers are honest.
2) Learn all you can about material you wish to collect and the hobby in general. The more you learn and more experience you have, the better off you are. Most forgers and scammers aren’t trying to fool the knowledgeable. They’re trying to make a quick buck from the ignorant. Besides, half the fun of collecting is learning about the material and its history.
3) Realize that novices in any area of collecting are more likely to overestimate, rather than underestimate the value of items they own or are about to buy.
4) Get second opinions and seek advice when needed. This can range from a formal opinion from a top expert to input from a collecting friend. Collectors, including experienced collectors, who seek advice and input are almost always better off than those who are too proud or embarrassed to ask questions.
5) Start by buying inexpensive items. Put off the thousands dollar Babe Ruth baseball cards and Elvis Presley autographs for another day.
Without exception, all beginners make mistakes, as that is a natural part of learning. From paying too much to misjudging rarity to buying fakes or reprints. It only makes sense that a collector should want to make the inevitable beginner’s mistakes on $10 rather that $5,000 purchases.
6) Gather a list of good sellers. A good seller is someone who is knowledgeable and honest. A good seller fixes a legitimate problem when it arises and has a good authenticity guarantee and return policy.
It is fine to perfectly fine to purchase a $9 trading card or piece of memorabilia from an eBay stranger, but it is best to buy expensive and rare items online from good sellers, including those you have dealt with or those who otherwise have strong reputations.
Ask other collectors who they like. Discover good sellers on your own by buying a few inexpensive items from an eBay seller and seeing how good are the transactions. The seller you bought that $9 item from may be added to your list of good sellers.
7) If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.
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When in doubt assume a baseball card is not a proof
The trading card hobby puts a premium on proof cards. Proofs are pre-production test cards the card printers use to check graphics and text before the final print run. Antique card proofs are often blank backed, sometimes on different stock than the final cards, often with hand cut borders and little pencil written crosses on the borders. Proofs sell for good money as they are rare and offer a look at the creation of the cards.
The collector should be aware that many cards resembling that proofs are not proofs. The manufacturers sometimes accidentally printed cards with blank backs and inserted them into the packs of gum or tobacco. As a kid I pulled a blank backed card from a Topps pack. These are not proofs, but printing errors.
There are also ‘cards’ that were long ago scissors cut from vintage advertising posters, tobacco albums and kids’ notebooks. As these cutouts have hand cut borders, blank backs and different than normal stocks, they are often mistakenly called proofs.
Collectors will also come across printer’s scraps, often of T206 baseball cards. These scraps came from a printer’s rejected sheet, often with
poorly printed images, bad color registration and other graphics problems– which is why it was rejected, or scrapped, by the printer. These rejected sheets were rescued from the trash bin by workers, often to be taken home for the kids. The individual scrap cards that we see today were hand cut from the sheets. As the cards are hand cut, often oversized and usually with printing defects, they are often mistaken for proofs. As with the above mentioned blank backed cards, scraps are simply factory mistakes.
As you can see there are lots of non-proof cards that resemble proofs. When in doubt it is best to bid on an unusual card assuming it is not a proof, because it likely is not. Scraps and other printing mistakes are collectible, but are much more plentiful and inexpensive than genuine proofs.