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H804   Baseball Advertising Trade Cards
by Lyman Hardeman and Frank Keetz

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Picture cards depicting sports and other activities of public interest were often used as promotional items in the last half of the ninteenth century. Referred to as trade cards, they were generally distributed locally by the businesses they promoted. They featured a drawing or picture on the front, which often also included the name and address of the business. The backs were either blank or contained further information about a company's products or services.

It is not surprising, then, that as the sport of baseball gained popularity in the late 1800s, trade cards relating to baseball also gained broader use in the United States. Although cards with a baseball theme represented only a small fraction of all trade cards, examples of "baseball" trade cards from the late 1870s and 1880s are relatively available among today's collectors. Moreover, these early cards are generally recognized as being direct ancestors of the large (and still growing) family of baseball cards produced today.

Baseball Trade Cards -- Overview
(the 8 sets identified in the ACC)
ACC # Series Nickname
H804-1Baby Talk Series
H804-2Vertical Brownies Series
H804-3Buffords Series
H804-4Capadura Cigar Series
H804-5Black Players Series
H804-6Forbes Co. Series
H804-7Merchant's Gargling Oil Series
H804-8Sporting Life Series
Eight sets of trade cards are specifically identified and cataloged in the American Card Catalog and assigned the number H804 with the suffix -1 through -8, respectively (see table at left). Examples (and in most cases full galleries with all known variations) from each of these sets are presented below.

Several dozen additional sets have now been identified beyond these eight and were first documented in the seminal reference Baseball Advertising Trade Cards by Frank Keetz (a longtime baseball trade card collector and co-author of this section of the Old Cardboard website). Descriptions of these additional sets are provided on the More TC Sets continuation webpage.

Two additional categories of trade cards (TC Singles--Titled and TC Singles--Untitled; also defined by Keetz) will be added to this section in the 1st and 2nd quarters, respectively, of 2020.

This Trade Card section of the Old Cardboard website provides a significant update and expansion (with complete galleries of all cards and variations in each set) of the Third Edition of Keetz reference.

1) Frank Keetz, "Baseball Adv. Trade Cards (Third Edition)," Self Published, 2011
2) Lyman Hardeman and Frank Keetz, "Baseball Trade Card Sets: The 'Big Eight' in the ACC" Old Cardboard Magazine, Issue #10 (Winter 2007, p. 28-33)
3) "New Trade Card Section on the Old Cardboard website," Old Cardboard eMagazine, Issue #172 (December 2019), Item #5

H804-1 (Baby Talk Series) $30
Nine cards; about 3 x 4-5/8 inches

Set Gallery

Cards from this nineteenth century set were among the most widely distributed of the early baseball trade cards and are typical of the Victorian trade cards of the 1880's.

Captions for these cards relate to the cartoon image in a baseball setting. The spelling for the captions, however, is highly modified to represent the way an infant might speak. As a result, the name of the set is most often referred to as the "Baby Talk" series (all captions are displayed in the Set Gallery).

The cards are identified in the American Card Catalog as set H804-1. All of the cards depict infants with baseball caps in a baseball setting.

The set has been further subdivided by collectors into four subseries, based on print styles and other identification marks found on the cards (see table below). Cards in all four subseries draw from the same group of nine multicolor lithograph images of babies with large heads. The differences in the four subseries are summarized as follows:

  • H804-1A: Uses different images for all nine cards in the series; thin black frame line around perimeter of card; captions in lower left.
  • H804-1B (see example): Same 9 images as in H804-1A but with red frame line and different captions and print styles; "baby name" in lower right of image inside frame line; number "5" in lower left border and "Copyrighted 1889 by M. F. Tobin, N. Y." in lower right border of some cards.
  • H804-1C: Same print style and captions as H804-A (but without "baby name" in lower right and without number and copyright in margin). The cards are cut a little shorter (about 4-1/4 vs 4-5/8 inches). The each have wide white margins and no frame line.
  • H804-1D: Similar to H804-1B series except no "baby name" in lower right part of image inside frame line. Thin red line frames the image; number "5" in lower left border and "Copyrighted 1889 by M. F. Tobin, N. Y." in lower right border.
The sample card shown above is from the H804-1B subseries. This example was distributed with an overprint to promote a local carpet and wallpaper store in Allegheny, PA. Like all others in the series, it carries a caption phrase in "baby talk" (i.e., "I'se a doe'n home.") along the lower part of the card.

Example cards from all four H804 subsets are illustrated below. As indicated, all nine images (poses) are repeated in each subset. However, the captions for each pose often differ, as seen in the comparisons below.

H804-1A H804-1B H804-1C H804-1D
3 x 4-5/8 inches 3 x 4-5/8 inches 3 x 4-1/4 inches 3 x 4-5/8 inches
Thin black frameline
No baby name
Red frameline
Baby name
No frameline
No baby name
Red frameline
No baby name

Tum on, ets' pay ball!

Wow-ow!       Baby Kelly.

Fee Stykes, Out!


The first two subsets (A and B) are the most common and examples can be readily found in the hobby today. Series C and D, however, are much less common, making it extremely difficult to complete a master set (all nine cards from each of the four subsets) of H804 cards.

While many trade cards have blank backs, it is not uncommon to see the backs also printed with an advertising message.

In the example shown at right (the back of the card shown at the top of this article), the message on back reinforces that printed on the front, adding detail such as "New Choice Styles for Spring" and "At Special Prices."

H804-2 (Vertical Brownies Series) $40+
Five cards; 2-7/8 x 4-7/8 inches (see text)

Set Gallery

Known as "Vertical Brownies Series" to differentiate them from similar cards that are printed horizontally, this set is made up of three subsets. Named for the elf-like "brownies" with pointed hats dipicted on the cards, most cards in the series are marked with the letter "B" inside a diamond followed by a number. These subsets are:
  • H804-2A: Series of 5 small format (2-7/8 x 4-7/8 inches) cards; series number 344
  • H804-2B: "Large Brownies" Series of oversized cards that measure 4-1/2 x 6-1/2 inches
  • H804-2C: Vertical "Flat Cap Brownies" Series (3 x 4-1/2 inches)
Each subset contains the same five cards (i.e., poses and captions, although all five examples have not been confirmed for Subset C). The card captions are:

  • A 'Panic-er!'
  • Judgement!
  • Out on Second!
  • Putting on the 'Curve.'
  • Taking a Fly.
Note: a related 6-card Horizontal Brownies set can be viewed at H804-19. However, the scenes and captions for the horizontal set are distinctly different than the vertical cards.

1888 H804-3 (Buffords Series) $40
Four cards; 3-3/8 x 5-1/8 inches

Set Gallery

The four cards that make up this set depict various game action scenes. Each is titled in the upper left corner of the card. In much smaller lettering in the lower left is the notice "Copyright 1888 by The Buffords Son's Lith. Co." In addition, the number "801" is printed at the bottom right of all cards.

The series is listed in the American Card Catalog as set H804-3. The horizontally oriented cards measure 3-3/8 by 5-1/8 inches.

Promotions for various sponsors are found printed in black and white on the card backs. Perhaps the most common is an ad for A & P Baking Powder and various other products distributed by the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, importers based in New York. Ads by other sponsors are known including "Crawford Grand cooking ranges," "Dr. Swett's Root Beer" and more.

The titles of the four cards in the set are:

  • A Brush with the Ball
  • A Short Stop
  • Chance for a kick
  • The Umpires lot not a happy one

1) "Set Profile: 1888 H804-3 "Buffords" Trade Cards," Old Cardboard eNewsletter, Issue #116 (March 2013), Item #4

H804-4 (Capadura Cigar Series) $30
Five cards; 3-1/4 x 5-1/4 inches

Set Gallery

This five-card series, sponsored by Capadura Cigars, is scarce but not rare among early trade card sets.

The set is believed to have been produced in the late 1880s although the exact year(s) that they were distributed are not currently known. For cataloging purposes, we estimate that they were produced around 1889.

Unlike many other trade card sets with overprints that advertize the products of a variety of different sponsors, this series was printed exclusively for Capadura Cigars.

The five cards from this set include:

  • A Short Stop!
  • Behind the Bat.
  • Judgement!
  • Two Men out and three Men on Bases!
  • Where will you have them?
1) "Set Profile: 1889 Capadura Cigar Trade Cards," Old Cardboard eNewsletter, Issue #122 (June 2014), Item #2

H804-5 (Black Players Series) $120
Four cards (see text); 2-3/4 x 4-7/8 inches

Set Gallery

This baseball-themed set depicts Blacks in one of several baseball scenes with corresponding captions.

Labeled as set H805-5 in the ACC, the series contains four cards in each of three subsets. The three subsets are:

  • H804-5A "Standard" cards (printed in color; titles block lettering)
  • H804-5B Same as subset 5A except duo-toned (brownish) images
  • H804-5C Same as subset 5A but with fancy lettering for titles

The four cards from this set include:

  • A Point In Dispute.
  • F-O-U-L Ball.
  • Home Run.
  • Out! - On A Fly.

H804-6 (Forbes Company Series) $45
Six cards; 3 x 4-11/16 inches

Set Gallery

Generally considered to be the first baseball trade-card set ever produced, the copyright date on these cards is 1878. The six cards in the set were produced by Forbes Company of Boston, and often carry the stamped imprint of an advertiser in Massachussets or New England. The card backs are usually blank, but may also carry an advertiser's imprint.

At the top of the cards is printed a baseball term--A Fly, Foul, Homerun, Judgement, Muff and Twist--each related to the actions of the caricature on the card. Near the bottom edge is printed "Forbes Co., Boston" (lower left) and "Copyrighted 1878" (lower right).

The six cards from this set include:
(1) A Fly. (2) Foul. (3) Home Run. (4) Judgment. (5) Muff. (6) Twist.

Variations in the H804-6 series are abundant. For starters, a sub-set of all six cards can be found with the titles printed in both red (H804-6A) and black (H804-6B) lettering. Still another subset (H804-6C) is printed without any titles or other lettering on the front at all. Other duo-tone versions of the cards are also known.

1) "1878 H804-6 Forbes Company (the Earliest Trade Card Set)," Old Cardboard eNewsletter, Issue #104 (December 2012), Item #2

H804-7 (Merchant's Gargling Oil Series) $25
Five cards (see text); 3-1/4 x 5-1/4 inches

Set Gallery

This series of five baseball-related traded cards is designated in the hobby as set H804-7. The cards were used to promote a product claimed by its manufacturer as the remedy for maladies from ranging from toothaches to hemorrhoids and a multitude of other "diseases incident to man and beast." The product, a liniment produced by Merchant's Gargling Oil Co. of Lockport, NY, was widely distributed throughout the mid-to-late 19th and into the 20th century.

The company was founded by Dr. George Merchant and dates back to 1833. The H804-7 trade cards were likely distributed over a several year period beginning in the early-1880s.

The H804-7 set contains four subseries (and in some cases, variations within these subseries). While there are noticeable differences, primarily in background colors used, the different subsets are defined by the companies that printed the cards. As cataloged by Keetz, they are:

  • H804-7A, printed by Clay & Richmond of Buffalo, N. Y.
  • H804-7B, printed by Courier Lith. Co., Buffalo, N. Y.
  • H804-7C, printed by Gies & Co., Buffalo, N. Y.
  • H804-7D, printed by Karle & Co., Rochester, N. Y.

Of these, the Karle & Co. subset is noticeably more difficult to find than the others.

In addition, there is another subset (we will label H804-7E) that uses the same stock graphics but contains no advertising or printer labeling. These too are moderately more difficult to find.

The five cards in the set include:

  • A Close Affair. Hugging the Bat.
  • Bravo! The Pet of the Nine.
  • Something must be done "Put it there!"
  • Struck Out.
  • The Hero of a Home Run. The Ladie's Favorite.

H804-8 (Sporting Life Series) $190
Twenty-four cards; 2-3/4 x 4-3/4 inches

Set Gallery

Sponsored by the Philadelphia-base publisher of the weekly Sporting Life newspaper, this set was distributed by the newspaper in the late 1880s.

Set H804-8 can be further divided into three subsets based on the tan, yellow or brown background color of the advertising panel at the bottom.

Differences in the three subsets are also found in the design format for the ad at the bottom and in the card backs. Examples for each of these variations is shown in the H804-8 Set Gallery.

Altogether, there are twenty-four cards in the three H804-8 subsets, with each subset containing eight cards. The titles for the cards within each of these is as follows:

Type A:
  1. A Base-Ball Meeting
  2. A Good Base-Stealer
  3. All Persons Who Are Interested in Out of Door Sport...
  4. An Easy Pitcher to Hold
  5. Old and Young Are Pleased With...
  6. Read the Sporting Life (two crossed bats and a ball)
  7. The New Electric Light Scheme Will Raise...
  8. The Sporting Life Has All The Scores
Type B:
  1. A Catcher At The End of the Season.
  2. Aint This A Daisy.
  3. Give Me A Dew Drop.
  4. Hold It.
  5. Judgment.
  6. Our Base Ball Manager.
  7. The Curve For This Season.
  8. The Sporting-Life Fiend.
Type C:
  1. Ball on Strike
  2. Champion Batsman
  3. Pitcher Under The New Rules
  4. Read the Sporting Life (woman, man and boy read the paper)
  5. Safe At Second?
  6. Sporting Life... is the Best
  7. Sporting Life Price 5c (Fishing Mishap)
  8. The Winning Run

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