The 1887 Kalamazoo Bats card set contains somewhere around 60 cards consisting of team photos, portrait style photos, outdoor photos, sliding, trees, and more sliding and trees. Since we don’t see a lot of 19th cards getting that much exposure here, I thought I’d introduce you to some of my favorite Kalamazoo Bats.
Outfielder Harry Lyons is getting checked out by the trainer. What other card set would have the trainer get equal billing? Billy Taylor was probably the local vet just back from delivering a litter of puppies. “Your paw…..I mean …..your hand looks fine, probably just one broken bone. Now get out there and play.”
This is Metropolitan pitcher Al Mays. There are several sit down portrait studio type cards in this set. All players have the same proud look on their face, and many are wearing ties. None, however are leaning into a mirror while worshiping their reflection, a la A-Rod.
Lou Bierbauer tags out a player that might be Jim Gallagher. He is the only Gallagher, that I could find, that played baseball around 1886/1887 listed in the Baseball Encyclopedia. He played just one game with Washington, getting 1 hit, in 1886. If it is in fact Jim Gallagher he is buried in Hyde Park Cemetery in Scranton, Pa. just 3 miles from where I sit. Like many of the Kalamazoo cards, this one featured sliding, and was taken outdoors with a canvas backdrop that included trees, lots of trees.
More sliding, but where are the trees? I need more trees in here!!!. Charlie Bastian puts the tag on Harry Lyons. And, as in all the Kalamazoo Bats cards, the runner is clearly out. Although the umpire in the background is totally out of position to make the right call.
Ed Andrews goes up there hacking. Baseball, apple pie, and……. suspenders.
Hey, this is 1887, there’s no gloves in baseball! By 1887 catchers were regularly using some type of glove to protect their hands. And yes, this hard throwing lefty was a catcher. Jack Clements caught in 1076 games, and was the last regular southpaw catcher in the game. Clements throwing style is reminiscent of my attempts to throw left-handed. Uncoordinated. His complete lack of athletic style may be the reason lefties no longer catch.
Hmm?……there’s something wrong with this card. I can’t quite put my finger on it……oh…..I know……..Henry Larkin has his name misspelled……..No……that’s not it……..there’s not enough trees……..no…….what could it be? Jocko Milligan and Henry Larkin are clearly giving their all to sell this very close play at the plate, but the photographer has gone a different way, both artistically and mentally. The wooden beams supporting the canvas, and the concrete wall in the background, at least from my perspective, do not add to the overall baseball ambience. I wonder what Jocko and Henry said when they saw this disaster. This card has sold at auction for over $17,000.00. So maybe the photographer actually knew what he was doing.
Do these pants make my ass look fat? This card features Jocko Milligan at catcher and Harry Stovey hitting. This photograph was obviously taken by the same photographer of the previous card. I can hear him now, “Trust me Jocko, you won’t look stupid, I am an artiste.” Harry’s just waiting for the ball to come busting through the background canvas at any second.
Al Maul is clearly tagged out by Arthur Irwin. Irwin seems to be signaling Maul safe, while Maul has that look on his face that seems to say, “Can I be safe just one time?!”
What a great card of a great Baseball Pioneer. I wish I owned this one.
Most of the Kalamazoo Bats cards push for you to “Smoke Kalamazoo Bats”. I’m sure the kids did just that.
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.
* * * *
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.
* * * *
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.
* * * *
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.
* * * *
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.
When a collector says that they don’t make baseball cards like they used to they’re saying more than they likely realize. This article shows the unique antiquated methods by which 1800s baseball cards were printed, and how early baseball cards, fine art and photography overlap.
Printed baseball cards as original artworks
Today, we take for granted the photorealistic images printed on and in everything from baseball cards to calendars to posters to magazines. We can even make our own, using our digital cameras, scanners and phones and home computer printers. As many know, this ‘halftone photomechanical’ printing method translates the image, whether it is of a photo for a 1975 Topps card or a painting for 1953 Topps, into a fine minute dot pattern. You can see the dot pattern under strong magnification, and it is this fine pattern that make the images look realistic from normal eye distance.
However, in the centuries old history of printing this halftone reproduction of photographic images is relatively modern. It was invented in the 1870s, but not used commercially until the turn of the 20th century. Before then, photorealistic images in ink and printing press prints were not possible. If you look at the pictures in 1800s newspapers, magazines and books, the pictures are often attractive but resemble hand drawn sketches. If you examine them under magnification you will see that they are made up of solid lines and marks.
In the fine arts, antiques and antiquities world, “handmade prints” or “original prints” are prints where the graphics were made directly onto the printing plate by the artist or craftsman by hand or handheld tools. This is the way Rembrandt, Albrecht Durer and modern artists such as Picasso, Renoir and Chagall made their original prints that hang on museum walls. Handmade prints are considered the highest form of printmaking, and are considered as original of artworks as paintings and sculptures.
This handmade way is also the way early baseball cards and related baseball ephemera (posters, tobacco albums advertising signs, Spalding and Reach guide illustrations, etc) were made. With handmade lithography, such as with the 1880s Allen & Ginters and many trade cards, the graphics were made onto the printing stone by brush, pens and special handheld tools. These lithographs resemble little paintings, even up close, and are prized by collectors for their beauty and brilliant colors. With woodcut, woodengraving and intaglio (engraving, etching) prints, such as with the Harper’s Woodcuts, 1885 Red Sox Tobacco cards and numerous trade cards. the graphics were cut or carved into wood blocks or metal plates. This was a long and laborious processes and publishers and card issuers employed professional artists and craftsmen.
So when you own an 1800s Allen & Ginter or Goodwin Champions cigarette card, baseball trade card, advertising sign or Harper’s Woodcut, realize that you own a handmade artwork that pre-dates modern reproduction methods and it is as original as the Rembrandt or Picasso that hangs in the Louvre.
* * * *
1800s real photo cards
Beyond the ink-and-printing press trading cards, the other 1800s baseball cards are actual photographs. This includes the 1880s Old Judges, Gypsy Queens, Peck & Sniders, Lone Jacks, Newsboy Cabinets and other cards with photorealistic images.
Again, this was before printing presses could reproduce photorealistic images. The only way baseball card manufacturers could produce cards with photorealistic images of the players was to issue actual photographs.
Real photo images are created via the chemical interaction of sunlight and photochemicals, so there is no printed dot or ink pattern even under the microscope. This is part of the way these baseball cards are authenticated. If an Old Judge or Gypsy Queen image has a dot pattern, you know that it is a reprint.
These photo cards were made with an early photographic process called albumen. This was the standard paper photographic process of the day and most paper photos of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria and such are albumen. As an antique and commercially discontinued process, the following are some of the interesting aspects of the process and baseball cards:
— The albumen photopaper was extremely thin and fragile and would roll up like a cigarette with time, so it had to be pasted to cardboard backing. You will see that the 1800s photocards have cardboard backing and cabinet cards are by definition a photographic print pasted to a larger cardboard backing. As the paper shrank over time (causing the cigarette to roll if unbacked), many N172 Old Judges have a noticeable bow. You will occasionally find “skinned” cards, where the albumen photo was peeled off from the backing. As you would expect, these are graded as poor.
— Albumen means egg whites, and that is what was used to affix the photochemicals to photopaper. Photographic paper needs a clear substance to hold the chemicals to the paper and to allow the images to develop. 1800s photopaper manufacturers owned large chicken farms to produce all that albumen. By the 1900s gelatin had replaced albumen.
— Albumen photos and baseball cards are well known for their old fashioned sepia tones. This was a product of aging, and the images were originally much closer to black-and-white with some purplish tones. You will occasionally find a well preserved example with the original tones.
— Almost all 1800s real photo baseball cards are posed studio images, either portraits or fake action photos. The posed action shots often have painted backdrops, rugs as fake grass on wooden floors and balls hanging from strings. It is sometimes comical. This is all because it was not possible to to make instant
snapshots, much less live game action shots. The subjects had to stay perfectly still or the image would be blurry. In many American Civil War photographs, when the required exposure time needed was even longer, you will often see props and stands behind the standing soldier used to keep him still.
— A rarely used method of adding color dye to the photopaper was invented in the 1880s. Though possible to find blue and yellow albumen photographs, pink was technically the easiest to make and you will see a number of pink Old Judge cards. The down side of this novelty color is that the pink cards are usually underdeveloped.
— Realize that in the 1800s, many people who lived outside of the big cities followed the big teams and stars in the newspapers and magazines but never saw the games, much less the players, in person. Before television, easy travel and magazines with realistic pictures, pulling an Old Judge or Gypsy Queen photographic card from a pack of cigarettes was often a fan’s first time seeing what a star such as King Kelly or Cap Anson really looked like. It was akin to meeting the player in person.
David Cycleback is an internationally known art and artifacts scholar who grew up collecting baseball cards and following the Milwaukee Brewers. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Above is the team photo of the 1865 Brooklyn Atlantics, the proud Champions of Baseball. The reproduced photograph is considered by some to be the first “baseball card.”
The Atlantics formed in 1855 and were one of the founding members of the National Association Of Base Ball Players. They quickly established themselves as one of the dominant teams in the game. After winning the Championship in 1864 the Atlantics sat down for a team photo for photographer Charles Williamson. The club had the photo reproduced and gave copies away as souvenirs before each game to fans and opponents alike. This little piece of self promotion and braggadocio was backed up by a 23-0 record and another NABBP Championship.
The Championship Nine included: John Galvin-SS, Dickey Pearce-C, Fred Crane-2B, Charlie Smith-3B, Frank Norton-CF, Joe Start-1B, Jack Chapman-LF, Tom Pratt-P, Sid Smith
Is this really the first baseball card? Who cares?
My take on this card is one of complete and total awe. I would like to thank the pioneers and inventors of the art and science of photography for making this photo possible. More than 150 years ago ten men sat down for a photographer to proclaim themselves the Champions Of America. Starched collars, black ankle-high shoes and no gloves. Just one baseball, two bats and nine players.