Nineteenth century tobacco cards aren’t the kind of thing you’ll find in abundance at your local show or shop. Even online, pickings are sometimes slim. That sentiment holds particularly true for the 1887 Kimball Champions set, produced by the Kimball Tobacco Company.
The classic tobacco card issue designated as N184 in the American Card Catalog requires plenty of patience from collectors.
The N184 Kimball Champions cards measure at 1 1/2″ wide x 2 3/4″ tall. A color portrait (lithograph) takes up most of the real estate on the front of the card with a small action pose near the bottom. Also at the bottom of the card is the athlete’s name and sport and the front images are within a rectangle, leaving a thin cream-colored border around the edges.
Backs display a brief mention of distributor W.S. Kimball along with different sports included in the series. In all, there are 50 cards in the release.
With significantly duller colors, these are not generally as popular as the Allen & Ginter (N28 and N29) or Goodwin Champions (N162) releases. Several of the subjects in the set are also featured in those issues.
Perhaps the biggest reason these cards are less popular than other 19th century releases is the relatively small offering of baseball cards. Baseball collectors may be disappointed to discover only four players in that sport are included – E.A. (Ernie) Burch, Dell Darling, Hardie Henderson, and James O’Neil. Also hurting collectors is the fact that, while decent players, none are Hall of Famers. To say that star power on the baseball side is lacking is an understatement. While other popular sets, including Allen & Ginter’s N28 issue and Goodwin’s N162 release included some of the biggest names in the sport, Kimball’s set was lacking by comparison.
One thing going for the set, however, is that the players included were not in those other sets. Collectors looking for tobacco cards of these specific players have few options and the Kimball set is fortunately one of those.
Despite a set of 50 cards, baseball players make up only four of those. Filling in the rest of the set are plenty of athletes from other sports.
As identified on the back, the release also showcased boxing, pool/billiards, horse racing, track and field, wrestling, skating, and more.
Despite lacking the biggest names in the sport, the four baseball cards are all key for collectors. In addition, what the set lacks in baseball stars, it makes up for with some of the other cards. There’s ‘Nonpareil’ Jack Dempsey, not to be confused with the more popular Jack Dempsey of the 20th Century. This Dempsey was 51-4 with 11 draws and is a member of the Boxing Hall of Fame. Also from the sport of boxing was the legendary John L. Sullivan.
Another popular card is that of female sharpshooter, Annie Oakley. Oakley collectibles remain hot products when it comes to 1800s collectibles. Also included here is famed figure skater Axel Paulsen, another card of importance in this rare set.
Don’t Forget The Album
One interesting collectible sought by fans of this set is the accompanying album. Designated A42 in the American Card Catalog, this item is a rare find. Even when discovered, the albums are often in poor shape with pages perhaps separated.
The unique album, which some collectors used to keep their cards, includes images of the cards in the set on pages. Occasionally, you will find these images hand cut from the pages and with blank backs. Collectors should be careful to distinguish between these cards and the actual N184 cards, which include the advertisement and listing of sports on the backs. While still desirable, the album cuts are not as valuable as the regular cards.
In their complete form, these albums are rare and heavily sought after. One sold recently on eBay for $1,500 and they have been known to sell for more in better condition.
As is the case with most rare cards, prices on these cards are a bit difficult to pin down. Finding complete sets is extremely difficult, but one mostly lower-graded near set (48 of 50 cards) sold at auction last year for just over $3,000.
Non-baseball commons are often sold for $50 or less in lower-grade condition.
You can see what’s currently available on eBay here.
N184 Kimball Checklist