Topps revived the name with its modern era Mayo football set but the new find of one of the hobby's most rare sports cards has brought the original back into focus. The 1894 Mayo’s Cut Plug card set is the first ever football set to be offered exclusively featuring football players. Strange as it may seem today, the tobacco cards featured student-athletes from three collegiate programs but there was no NCAA to even bat an eye.
The NFL was still more than 25 years away from playing its first game and what little traction football had in the sports world was centered on east coast universities. Mayo football cards were produced as an insert for the “Cut Plug” brand of P.H. Mayo tobacco company, based out of Richmond, Virginia.
The set contains 35 cards of Ivy League football players and they were inserted in the chewing tobacco. The cards were unnumbered and identifiable by the player’s last name and team. In comparison to today’s cards, they were relatively small. They were just 1 and 5/8” by 2 and 7/8”. Each card also had the Mayo Cut Plug logo on it. They were black and white on the front with the completely black backs.
Only 11 collectors have listed their holdings in the databases of the hobby's two vintage grading and authentication specialists; seven with SGC and four with PSA. Only five graded complete sets are listed according to the company's registries.
One card in the set did not identify the player and was originally listed as "Anonymous". This card in considered a famous rarity and has been hard to find over the years. The player has since been identified as John Dunlap of Harvard where he earned four varsity letters and eventually became assistant coach. This contributed to the oddness of the situation; that such an accomplished football star would be left unidentified.
Another card in this set that is of particular distinction is the Poe card, which likely depicts Neilson Poe. He was one of six sons of Maryland Attorney General John Prentiss Poe and the nephew of the more famous writer Edgar Allan Poe.
Other notable players from this set are Princeton players Arthur Wheeler, William Douglas Ward and Thomas Trenchard. Wheeler was a four-year starter for Princeton and named All-American three of his four seasons. He later moved on as a banker in Philadelphia. Ward was a jack-of-all-trades; an excellent football player and well known for his academic excellence. Ward became an NYC gynecologist after college. Trenchard played both football and baseball for the Tigers, then moved on to coaching football.