The height of the gum card era was the 1930s with Goudey, Play Ball, National Chicle, and others pumping out sets. But gum cards actually began much earlier, making their first appearance in the 19th Century. The 1888 G&B Gum card set is often cited as the earliest such release.
1888 G&B Gum Basics
The 1888 G&B Gum cards didn’t look like the later gum issues. While those cards were often colorful, utilized artwork, and had a shape that resembled a square, these cards looked very much like many of the tobacco baseball card issues of the 19th Century. Similar to the popular Old Judge set, for example, these cards were thinner in appearance and used real sepia photos of subjects (some were line drawings, too). Pictures include a range of designs from portraits to action shots.
G&B stood for Green and Blackwell, a company based in New York. The cards are believed to originate in packages of their chewing gum or candy products. The cards measure approximately 1 1/6″ wide x 2 1/8″ tall.
Because the cards used real photography like other early tobacco issues, they are prone to fading. As is the case with other similar sets, premiums are offered for cards with clear images, even if the technical grade of a card may be somewhat low.
Numerous stars help make up this rare set, including Hall of Famers Cap Anson, John Clarkson, Charles Comiskey, Buck Ewing, Tim Keefe, King Kelly, Connie Mack, Jim O’Rourke, John Ward, and more. Also of importance is that the set contains one of the few period collectibles of Hall of Famer A.G. Spalding. Spalding was a player and executive who was also the founder of Spalding Sporting Goods. Additionally, baseball player turned evangelist Billy Sunday is also featured in the set (his card featuring a fielding pose is shown here).
Finally, it is notable that the set shares a connection to the equally rare N403 Yum Yum Tobacco set. Those cards were not only similar in appearance but several of the pictures of players were the same ones.
G&B Gum cards are exceedingly rare and not easily found. As a result, the cards are relatively expensive. Because of the extreme difficulty in trying to assemble even a partial set, 19th Century collectors and type card collectors are generally the ones most interested in this release.
These cards are generally not found on eBay and typically reserved for traditional auction houses, rarely coming up for sale in quantities greater than one at a time. Even low-grade commons can top $1,000 and stars and Hall of Famers are predictably more. In 2017, Heritage auctioned off a Jim O’Rourke SGC 10 for $6,600.
A couple are currently listed on eBay.