Sorting Out the 1800s to 1900s Old Judge ‘Proofs’ and Display Photos

1888 N173 Old Judge Cabinet Card

1888 N173 Old Judge Cabinet Card

There are a variety of so-called Old Judge Cabinet ‘Proofs’ and other Old Judge photo displays directly or indirectly related to the popular 1880s N172 and N173 Old Judge baseball cards. They come is different forms and were made in different time periods. As there is common confusion and misdating, the following is a quick description of the types.


New York’s Goodwin & Company tobacco company issued the popular 1880s Old Judge N172 cigarette cards and larger 1880s N173 Old Judge Cabinet Cards. The little N172s were inserted into packs of Old Judge brand cigarettes, while the N173 Cabinet Cards were premiums obtained by mailing in coupons. Measuring 4-1/4 x 6-1/2 inches, the N173 Old Judge Cabinets have ‘Old Judge Cigarettes’ and ‘Goodwin & Co. New York’ text on the bottom front below the player image. There is also a rare ‘Dog’s Head’ brand variation, also with the Goodwin & Co. name listed on the bottom.

1800s Regional Photography Studio Cabinet Cards

1880s Regional Studio Cabinet from the Gilbert & Bacon studio of Philadelphia

1880s Regional Studio Cabinet from the Gilbert & Bacon studio of Philadelphia with the Goodwin and 1888 copyright dry stamp/embossment on the player’s image.

Goodwin and Company was a tobacco manufacturer, not a photography studio, and hired regional photography studios to take the photos of the players. Examples of the actual regional studio cabinet card photographs are found for sale with some regularity. They are of the same dimensions and style as the N173 cabinets and have the Old Judge images. However, instead of having the Goodwin and Old Judge Cigarettes text below the image, they have the name of the regional photography studio beneath the images and usually also on the backs.

These regional studio cabinet photos are often called ‘proofs,’ though, as the following details, most probably aren’t.

1880s Cabinet Photo by the Gray studio of Boston.  This one has no Goodwin copyright drystamp.

1880s Cabinet Card by the Gray studio of Boston, with no dry stamping on the player image.

There are two types of these regional photography cabinet cards: ones with a Goodwin & Co. and copyright date dry stamped (physically embossed,  no ink) across the players’ images and those with no such dry stamping.

The Goodwin dry stamped examples clearly were given to Goodwin and were likely prototypes, proofs, copyright samples or similar official photos.

There is no indication what the regional studio cabinets with no dry stamping were used for.  It is possible they were given to Goodwin, but it’s likely, probably more likely, many were kept by the regional studios with many being sold by the studios to the public. It’s questionable if these are really proofs, but they are still often called proofs. It’s best to consider the ‘proof’ moniker just a hobby nickname.

Both versions of these regional studio cabinets date to the late 1800s and are highly collectible, with the Goodwin dry stamped version being the rarer.

‘Vermont Find’ Photos

In recent years, an archive of Old Judge negatives and related photos was discovered and is often referred to as the ‘Vermont Find.’ It appears the negatives are originals, but the mounted paper photos were made later. Accompanying documentation point to the paper photos having been made in the early 1900s.

The so-called Vermont Find photos included large framed displays consisting of several Old Judge image photographic prints pasted to a dark cardboard backing.  These displays have sometimes been cut apart into cabinet size photos, though they look distinctly different than the 1880s N173s and 1880s regional studio cabinets and usually have clearly handcut edges.  The Vermont Find images were varnished and have distinct varnished, crackly image surfaces. As they were made from the original negatives, the images are crystal clear and highly displayable. There are also metal photos from the find with Old Judge images. Also made years after the original Old Judge cards, these metal photos resemble tintypes but are not.

1900s Old Judge framed display piece from the 'Vermont Find'

1900s Old Judge framed display piece from the ‘Vermont Find’

The Vermont Find photos are popularly collected and have fetched a fair amount of money at major auctions, but realize that they were made some time after the 1800s.  They are often referred to as ‘proofs,’ but clearly are not as they were made after the N172 and N173 Old Judges.

Old Judge Team Composite Displays

circa 1926 Old Judge Composite of Detroit TIgers players

Old Judge Composite of Detroit TIgers players that many believe dates to 1926.

Last on the list, there are large (over 27 x 18 inches) team composite display photographs using the Old Judge images. Each composite photo represents a team and contains numerous smaller Old Judge images of players from that team. Unlike the Vermont Find displays, the images are not individual photographic prints pasted to a backing, but part of the overall photographic image.  Also, the surrounding background and borders are light colored and the team name and “in the 1880s” are on the bottom border.

Though no one knows for sure, it is commonly believed that these team displays date to 1926 and were used to mark the 50th anniversary of the National League. Even though made a number of years after the original N172 and N173 Old Judges, these composite photos are rare and fetch good money at auction.
Old Judge cards on eBay

About David Cycleback

David Cycleback is an art and artifacts historian and an internationally known authentication expert. He has authenticated artifacts for major institutions, was a writer for the standard academic reference Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Photography, and teaches courses in art authentication. Reprinted by Beijing's Three Shadows Art Center, his guides "Judging the Authenticity of Prints by the Masters" and "Judging the Authenticity of Photographs" were the first comprehensive books on the subjects published in China. He can be reached at [email protected].