Of the four major multi-sport 19th century champions tobacco card sets featuring baseball players (N28 Allen & Ginter, N29 Allen & Ginter, N162 Goodwin, and N184 Kimball), the N184 Kimball set is perhaps the least understood. With the trading cards distributed in cigarette packs came a special album you could order, depicting all of the athletes in the set. Now, one of those seldom offered pieces has made its way to eBay.
All four card sets created in association with the albums included a total of 50 champion athletes. However, the Kimball Champions set easily has the oddest assortment of subjects. From famed tightrope walker Charles Blondin to Heel-to-Toe Pedestrian Daniel O’Leary to child boxer Master Ray Perry to ‘Water Queen’ Ada Webb – the ‘athletes’ in the set are varied and, to some degree, questionable as true sports subjects.
The N184 Kimball set is seemingly the rarest of those four aforementioned champions sets. And the fact that the baseball subset is easily the weakest in terms of subjects among those sets, the Kimball Champions cards are often overlooked for the more popular Allen & Ginter and Goodwin sets. Still, it is considered very collectible by those focusing on 19th century cards.
Kimball’s album included pictures of all 50 of the tobacco cards in the set. While the actual Kimball cards are categorized as N184 in the American Card Catalog, the album carries its own designation in that book as A42.
The albums measure approximately 5 3/4″ wide by 7 3/8″ tall. They include pictures of the cards in the set with several shown on a page. The front of the album features a somewhat odd color art depiction of two women ashore with a body of water in front of them. The formal title of the set, ‘Champions of Sports and Games’ is printed across the top with the distributor’s name, W.S. Kimball and Company (based in Rochester, NY) across the bottom.
Most of the pages in the album include pictures of four cards. Where applicable, the subjects are arranged by sport. The pages containing the cards include background artwork, usually relating to the sport in question. For example, the baseball page includes a design with a ball and pair of crossed baseball bats. A young Jack Dempsey is pictured among the boxers.
For as rare as the cards are, the albums with their outstanding lithography are that much more difficult to find. They pop up on occasion but are certainly rare. Even major auction houses do not typically come across many of them.
Walnutts Antiques, based in Massachusetts, has secured one and currently has it up for sale on eBay. Currently sitting at approximately $450, it is certain to sell for higher with the auction not set to end until Monday.
The album being offered by Walnutts is particularly notable because of its condition. Many of these albums were eventually separated or cut up. Individual album pages are sometimes offered for sale (as are partial albums) and on top of that, some collectors even took to cutting out the pictures of the cards, treating them as de facto cards themselves. As I wrote previously, there are ways to distinguish these cuts from the actual cards. And even though the cuts do have some value, they are not nearly as valuable as the actual cards themselves.
Even in cases where the albums were left intact, they are often found damaged with major creases, rips, or with other flaws such as writing or stains. Walnutts’ album is impressive as it appears to be in incredible condition.
Part of the reason for the rarity of the tobacco card albums is that they were not distributed as readily as the cards, which were included inside packages of cigarettes. Instead of being freely given away with a product, collectors were required to mail in coupons from the cigarette products to receive them. And as mentioned above, some of the albums that were distributed were intentionally separated or cut up for the individual pictures of the cards. Plus, many have simply been discarded or lost to time over the years. Add it all up and it becomes easy to see why these albums are not available in large quantities.
What could the album ultimately sell for? Because they are fairly rare, it is not easy to say. Leland’s sold a high-grade example for just over $1,700. However, that sale took place in 2008. REA sold one in lesser condition in 2013 for slightly more than that.
Whatever the final selling price, the A42 album now on the block is an incredible example of a truly rare piece of 19th century sports memorabilia.