As cigarette and tobacco inserts became more and more popular in the early 1900s, companies started to get more innovative with the collectibles they included in their products. Cards, which were used as stiffeners in packs of cigarettes, remained popular for some time. But one insert that gained some traction with consumers were baseball silks.
What are Silks?
Silks are exactly what the name implies. These were generally smaller (though some were larger) rectangular pieces of silk or satin that featured pictures of various subjects. Similar to the cards that were inserted into cigarette packages, silks featured both sports and non-sports subjects. In general, the sports silks are the ones that usually hold the most value.
Silks are not traditional trading cards, of course. However, they are widely pursued by pre-war collectors. Part of that is surely because they are categorized in Jefferson Burdick’s American Card Catalog. In the book, Burdick listed these in the ‘S’ section.
The pictures on the silks can come within two forms. Some have the images printed onto them while others, they are sewn on.
Many different silks were created but a few stand out as the most popular among sports collectors. Arguably at the top of the list are the S74 Baseball Silks sets.
Created around 1910, these silks were distributed with various tobacco products for brands, including Red Sun, Old Mill, Helmar, and Turkey Red. If you’re a pre-war collector, those names will likely sound familiar as they also distributed other baseball cards and collectibles.
A total of two sets were printed – those on white silk and those on colored silk. Between the two, there are a little more than 200 in all. The S74 sets are known mostly for their pictures, which were taken from the popular T205 card set. These are far less common than T205 cards but not too difficult to find. Prices for commons start around $20.
Another popular issue with baseball collectors are the S81 Silk Premiums.
This set included a total of 25 baseball players and these were given away as premium items through the Helmar brand. While the S74 silks are much smaller and somewhat similar in size to today’s baseball cards, at approximately 7″ x 9″, the S81 silks were nearly three times as large.
The American Card Catalog also identifies a smaller 5″ x 7″ set as well. These are much tougher to find and commons usually start at several hundred dollars. The bigger names, such as Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson, are often thousands.
A third issue commonly sought by collectors features collegiate athletes.
Believed to have been produced by Murad in or around 1910, the S21 and S22 sets include a total of ten different pictures. Each picture is found with one of 25 different colleges, providing for a total of 250 silks in each set.
S21 and S22 silks are similar with the S21 silks being a larger, 5″ x 7″ size. S22 silks are about the size of a postcard. These silks do not feature specific athletes so they aren’t quite as interesting to many collectors. However, they do feature real universities and include mainstream sports such as baseball, football, and hockey.
The small S22 silks start around $20 while the larger S21s usually begin around $40 for the ‘lesser’ sports. Silks featuring baseball, football, and hockey, are usually more expensive.