In the early 1900s, tobacco companies produced sports cards as a way of promoting their brands. One brand did this with college students in mind – Murad, which produced Turkish tobacco products. Turkish tobacco products were springing up as they offered an alternative to American tobacco. One of the more famous sports card sets that was produced by a Turkish tobacco company was the T204 issue, offered by Ramly Turkish Cigarettes.
Murad produced all sorts of cards and collectibles, often in the non-sports arena. But several of their issues focused on sports and, in particular, college sports, which were becoming more and more popular. In the process, Murad actually created some of the earliest known football, basketball, and hockey cards.
Here’s a look at some of the company’s sports issues.
T51 and T6 Murad Sets
The T51 set is possibly Murad’s most popular sports issue. The set included 150 cards (225 counting first and second series variations) in a six-series release (with each series containing 25 cards) and featured all sorts of sports from colleges around the world. The big four American sports, baseball, basketball, football, and hockey, are all well represented here. As you might expect, those cards generally have the most demand. In particular, the basketball, football, and hockey cards are some of the earliest known ones that feature athletes (albeit generic ones).
The most interesting card in the set may be the Williams College card. With the set being produced around 1909 or 1910, the Williams card is sometimes referred to as the first true basketball card that ties the sport to a particular team. Williams College did have an actual basketball program at the time of issue so it does tie to depict a real team. Collectors seeking this card, however, should note that two separate printings of it occurred. The second series Williams cards are marked ‘2nd series’ so they are easy to tell that they were printed later. They are generally a little less valuable than their first series counterparts.
In addition to the T51 cards, Murad also produced a premium set known to collectors as T6. These were a set of 25 larger cabinet-style cards issued by the company after the initial printing of the T51 set. They used the same images from the cards in the T51 issue but had some color variations. T6 cards could be obtained by mailing in 15 Murad coupons to the company by June 30, 1911. Two different T6 variations exist with different fonts.
Both issues are relatively inexpensive. Mid-grade cards featuring the minor sports in the T51 set start at under $20. Cards from the four major sports are a little more costly, starting around $30 in that grade. The most expensive card in the set is generally the Michigan issue, which depicts the sport of football. This card in decent mid-grade shape can be found on eBay starting at around $100. T6s are rare and a little pricier. Common T6s start around $20 for the minor sports with the major sports varying quite a bit. Those often start in the $50-$75 range with the better, more popular cards selling for over $100.
In addition to cards, Murad also ventured into the silks market. Like cards, these were also packaged with tobacco products. However, they were a much more unique and distinctive item with a color image being printed onto them. Other companies were producing silks, too. The S74 set distributed by several companies featuring major league baseball players is probably the most famous sports silk issue.
Murad took a slightly different approach with this set than they did with the T51 and T6 issues. Instead of creating only a single card for each college, they included fewer colleges (25) with ten different sports being featured for each one, giving the set a total checklist of 250. Sports included on the silks include baseball (two designs), football, and hockey, among other sports such as track and field. The three major sports are the most desirable. Two different sets were produced, now known as S21 and S22. The issues are the same but the S21 silks are larger at 5″ x 7″ as opposed to the S22s, which are approximately 3 1/2″ x 5 1/2″.
S21s start around $25 for the lesser sports in mid-grade condition with baseball, football, and hockey starting around $40. S22s are similarly priced but a little more expensive. This issue was printed at or around the same as the T51/T6 releases.
Another unique item believed to be produced by Murad is the B33 Felt Pennants set. Issued sometime in the early 1900s/1910s, this issue doesn’t have the Murad name printed onto it like the other sets, but is believed to be distributed by the company. Murad followed the model of their S21 and S22 issues, creating ten sports cards for 30 colleges. That created a theoretical 300 in the total set but these are a little rarer than the silks they produced. I’m not even sure that all ten sports have been found for all 30 colleges. Like Murad’s T51 issue, the B33 release included all four major sports with baseball, basketball, football, and hockey felts.
These felts were packaged with tobacco products and measure about 3″ x 5″. With fringes on the ends, they look like miniature rugs or carpets. The fringes, however, were sometimes cut off by collectors. One reason is so that they could be stitched together to make cloths and blankets. Felts missing the fringes are worth less than those with them still intact.
While rare, they aren’t always excessively expensive. But prices tend to be all over the board with collectors willing to pay good money for rare issues to complete sets for a specific college. B33 felts in good condition can sell for as little as $20 for the minor sports and generally start around $40-$50 for the major sports. However, with certain sport/team combinations so rare, collectors will sometimes pay more than $100 for specific felts. Note that asking prices are typically more since sellers realize that some collectors may be hard-pressed to see certain issues.