Jefferson Burdick’s American Card Catalog is a decades-old guide that is still used by collectors today. While we don’t really classify modern sets in the same way, Burdick’s reference book was essential to cataloguing older sets of cards that were distributed by various types of companies.
Burdick used simple letter classifications to organize sets. Many vintage and pre-war collectors are familiar with T-cards (tobacco) and E-cards (candy/caramel), but what about the rest? Here’s a look at how Burdick classified his sets. It should be noted that Burdick had many more classifications (including sub-classifications) than the ones below. However, these are some of the more popular ones that relate to sports cards.
American Card Catalog Classifications
A-Cards – This American Card Catalog classification was used for tobacco albums. These albums were usually premiums given away by tobacco manufacturers in exchange for coupons from their products. The albums were special because they often contained pictures of the cards in the set that tobacco companies distributed in their products. Collectors often cut the cards out from the pages of the album.
B-Cards – These were miniature blankets and rugs. Also used by tobacco manufacturers, these were unique items made of a variety of products, including cloth and felt. Some of these included pictures of real baseball players while others depicted generic athletes.
C-Cards – C-Cards were Canadian tobacco cards. Most are irrelevant to sports collectors but the C46 Imperial set (Demmitt card pictured) is a popular issue because it features minor league baseball players. The set even has a couple of Hall of Famers in Joe McGinnity and Joe Kelley, as well as Chick Gandil from the infamous 1919 Chicago White Sox team.
D-Cards – This American Card Catalog classification refers to bakery issues. Many of these cards were packaged with bread products and are often scarce issues as compared to their tobacco and candy counterparts.
E-Cards – E-Cards are early candy and caramel releases. These, along with tobacco cards, are among the most collected and common early baseball cards. Unlike tobacco cards, these were marketed directly towards children. E-Cards are somewhat unique in that many included complete checklists of sets on the backs. Many E-Card designs were also shared among companies so several of the same pictures of players can be found in other sets. The E90 American Caramel set is one of the more popular cards and includes a Joe Jackson rookie card (pictured).
F-Cards – These food-related issues were packed with all sorts of products. Burdick, for example, classified these cards further, separating them by various products including ice cream, meat, beverages/desserts, cereals, and other grocery items. Because these cards were packaged with food, staining is a problem with some of these issues.
H-Cards – H-Cards are advertising trade cards that businesses used to promote their companies. These were generally cards given away in some form and used as a business card of sorts. Despite being often printed on thinner stock, these are collectible and heavily desired because they feature some of the earliest depictions of various sports. The Peck and Synder cards, for example, were trade cards and are considered by many collectors to be the first true baseball cards.
K-Cards – You don’t hear much about K-Cards, but these were coffee cards that Burdick separated from food issues, despite the fact that he included beverages in that F-classification. Regarding sports, the most popular K-Cards are likely the Arbuckles Sports and Pastimes of all Nations. These cards featured various sports around the world and includes a United States card with an early depiction of baseball.
M-Cards – M-Cards were releases from various publications. The most popular among them are possibly the M101-4 and M101-5 Sporting News/Mendelsohn sets, which included a Babe Ruth rookie card, shown here. Various larger-size supplements from newspapers and other publications are generally thrown in this classification as well.
N-Cards – The N-Card classification is an interesting one in that is now used a bit differently than Burdick did. Burdick classified these cards as Central and South America cards. Today, however, most collectors use this classification for 19th Century tobacco cards. Cards like the early Allen & Ginter and Old Judge cards are now staples of this classification.
P-Cards – P-‘Cards’ are actually pin and button issues. Some companies such as Sweet Caporal cigarettes distributed these items, which often included pictures of baseball players.
PC Cards – These are postcards categorized by Burdick. It should be noted that, while Burdick certainly did an admirable job classifying these, that scores of uncatalogued, undocumented baseball postcards exist.
R-Cards – R-Cards are additional candy and gum issues that were released later than the E-Cards. Most examples range from the 1930s – 1950s and popular examples of these include the Goudey and Play Ball cards.
S-Cards – The ‘S’ classification is another one given to items that are not really cards. These were silks packaged with items and while most did not depict athletes, several did. The Old Mill S74 silks are arguably the most popular among sports collectors since they included pictures of baseball players. A lesser-known, but still sports-themed set, is the massive S22 set, which includes a whopping 250 silks featuring various sports, including baseball and football.
T-Cards – T-Cards are probably the king of classifications for collectors. These include cards distributed by tobacco companies and include the wildly popular T205, T206, and T207 American Tobacco Corporation sets. The T206 Honus Wagner card shown here is the most famous and expensive baseball card of all time. Tobacco cards were distributed in all sorts of products, including cigarettes and loose tobacco. Cards packaged with loose tobacco, such as the Polar Bear-backed T206 cards, are usually found with stains as a result.
U-Cards – Burdick used this classification to track unclassified folders, including things such as matchbooks. The most popular of these were the 1930s Diamond Matchbook sets, which included baseball, football, and hockey players. In addition, it should be noted that special sub-classifications were also developed here as sort of a catch-all for other types of card inserts, such as cards from movie theaters, gas stations, and more.
V-Cards – These were candy issues, but only those from Canada. Burdick separated American and candy issues and, since these were Canadian issues, many are related to hockey, not baseball. Some were also multi-sport sets. The 1925 31 Dominion Chocolate set, for example, featured Canadian athletes from numerous sports, including baseball, basketball, and hockey.
W-Cards – Finally, W-Cards in the American Card Catalog were album and strip issues. While most sports collectors don’t collect the album-related sets, the strip issues are very popular because of their inexpensive nature compared to other cards of the same era. These were cards that were hand-cut (or in some cases, torn) mostly by stores that gave them away or sold them to customers. While the cartoon renderings on some issues are often unattractive, some strip cards, such as the W575 issues (which mimicked the E121 American Caramel set) used real, black and white pictures.
Want your own copy of the American Card Catalog to further explore the various classifications? eBay usually has a few copies available.