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Baseball Advertising Trade Cards 3rd edition
Baseball and Trade Cards

[This information is from p. 6 of Baseball Advertising Trade Cards 3rd edition, copyright 2011 by Frank Keetz and is reproduced here with his permission. No part of this material may be reproduced for commercial purposes without the written consent of the author.]

Go back to: Contents | Advertising Trade Cards — What Are They? | ahead to: Baseball During the Late 19th Century

Trade cards with a baseball theme make up an infinitesimally small amount of all trade cards. They are not that easy to find. A collector can often go through a dealer's stock of, say, 600 trade cards and find none. During the Victorian 1880-1895 high point of trade cards, baseball was trying to get established in the United States. It was a struggling sport in a nation whose populace was just beginning to have more leisure time and money. The World Series, as now known, did not start until 1903. (The earliest "World Series" contests were played from 1884 to 1890 between National League and American Association pennant winners.) Seating capacity of ballparks was very small compared to those that were built during the early 20th century, let alone during the past twenty years. But there were established leagues and most towns had their teams and followers. Interestingly, while there are not that many baseball trade cards, there are probably even fewer of all other formal human sports combined.

Baseball advertising trade cards were often reflective of what baseball was really like. For example, trade card illustrators seem fascinated with the injuries and umpire-baiting in the young sport. A great number of the trade cards emphasize the ball or bat hitting a player causing injury. Likewise, the umpire was a source of artist inspiration — and usually in an unfavorable connotation. The game was popular with young boys and many trade cards depict them as eager, happy, even ebullient players — often in their bare feet. A few sets actually include real professional ball players including King Kelly, Dan Brouthers, Cap Anson and Tim Keefe. Nineteenth century baseball rules differed from those of the 1990s. The date of the cards can often be traced by observation of barehanded fielders. In 1880, players did not yet use gloves. In short, the early evolution of baseball is often documented on these cards.

Advertising trade cards were frequently humorous. These cards were meant to sell products but they also brought pleasure, some color and a little happiness to homes long before airplanes, radio, television or relatively inexpensive travel was available for the common people. Many of the cards with a baseball theme have often been categorized as "baseball comic advertising trade cards" since they frequently had the comic aspect. J. R. Burdick said, "If the design makes you smile, it probably is in the comic class." Many of these baseball advertising trade card designs certainly make a viewer smile.

But, above all else, these early baseball trade cards show the effort, the competitiveness, the movement, the tension, the concentration of players and spectators alike in the sport that was to become "the national pastime." Likewise, never forget the words written by Jacques Barzun of Columbia University, "Whoever wants to know the heart and soul of America had better learn baseball."

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You are here: Home » Baseball » Baseball Advertising Trade Cards » Baseball and Trade Cards updated March 30, 2015

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