Trade cards, a form of early advertising, were prevalent in the 1880s and 1890s. These cards advertised businesses and products while generally including some sort of artwork. The majority of these types of 19th century cards featured non-sports subjects. But there are plenty of sports issues to be found and one of the most beautiful sets is arguably the 1893 Arbuckle Coffee Card set featuring sports and pastimes of various nations. Let’s take a closer look at this unique set.
1893 Arbuckle History of the Sports and Pastimes of all Nations
Arbuckle Bros. was a New York City based company that distributed coffee. The company encouraged consumers to grind their own coffee and, according to the company’s website (the company still operates today), they were the first to offer roasted coffee beans in one-pound packages to customers.
Like many companies, Arbuckle turned to trade cards to help publicize their business. While they issued several trade cards, arguably their most popular set was one called the History of the Sports and Pastimes of All Nations. Cards are marked with an 1893 copyright date and were classified as K4 (K-Cards were Coffee Cards) by Jefferson Burdick in his American Card Catalog. The 3″ x 5″ index card-sized cards are slightly oversized, as are most other trade issues of the era. Finding the cards in good condition can be a bit of a challenge. They are a bit thinner than standard cards and often have rips or tears.
The set is commonly referred to as having 50 cards but in actuality, 51 are present. There are two different No. 24 cards — one for Alaska and another one for Greenland. As suggested in the title, these are cards that depict a variety of sports and pastimes in different parts of the world. The lithographic artwork on the cards is quite special and similar to what collectors will find in other 19th century sets, such as the Allen and Ginter Champions issues.
Finally, while the cards are commonly referred to as being in the Arbuckle set, the same set was used for other company names as well. There are more than 20 different advertiser sets with different companies using their names on the cards. However, it is not clear if all 51 cards can be found with each advertiser name. Most are quite rare. The Arbuckle cards are easily the most common and another brand name, Holloway’s, is probably second in terms of availability of the cards.
A Look at the Sports
Many of the cards are certainly non-sports related. An actual sport is not depicted on every single card. Some merely picture activities that pertained to a particular country. The card for Italy, for example, shows children playing a game during the country’s Carnival week and also boaters in Venice. But make no mistake, there are plenty of sports featured in the set.
Most prominently is the card for the United States, which depicts baseball, cycling, and fishing. The American card with a small baseball scene is, certainly in this country, anyway, the most popular card in the release. Two American cards actually exist with a second one depicting Native Americans.
Baseball is maybe the most popular card but other common American sports are found on different cards for other countries. The card for Scotland features an early golf scene as the sport originated in that country. The Scotland card also depicts other sports, including the shot put and curling. That card, in particular, also brings to an earlier time as the backs of the cards have particularly interesting text.
Shot put, for example, is described as “Putting the Shot.” That sport, as mentioned on the back, also is said to have originated in that country. And curling as a winter sport, interestingly, was quite popular in Scotland. In fact, the card states that it is second in popularity only to golf. And speaking of golf, the sport is described as such on the back: “In brief, it consists of trying with the aid of specially constructed clubs to strike certain balls into holes four inches in diameter and from 100 to 400 yards apart. The players are ranged in opposing sides, and the side succeeding in closing the final hole first, wins.” Those descriptions provide yet another reminder that these cards are quite old.
Several other popular sports are found, too. In addition to all sorts of things, Ireland’s card features the sport of boxing (no fighters are named on the back, however). Finally, France’s card is another popular one with American collectors, depicting tennis along with billiards and fencing.
Other cards, it should be mentioned, include a mention of sports on the back that sometimes are not pictured. England’s card, for example, depicts a cricket player on the front. Cricket is discussed on the back of the card as is soccer (football), even though that latter sport is not pictured.
Rarity and Pricing
While the cards are not exceedingly rare, they are not commonplace, either. eBay typically has many of them for sale but asking prices range greatly due to sellers’ understanding of these cards. You can sometimes find them for as little as $5 each but cards for the more popular sports such as baseball, boxing, and tennis will command a premium.