In the late 1920s, the Stevens-Davis Company based out of Chicago produced a set of miniature booklets for its employees. These booklets were presented as a special gift and featured stories of famous men in America. Titled Men of America, the set’s value is largely linked to the sports subjects that were featured in it. Here’s a closer look at this set of collectibles.
About the 1929 Stevens-Davis Company Set
The Stevens-Davis Company distributed these booklets to their employees as a motivational gift. This listing states that they were given to employees as part of a ‘service station sales builder contest.’ Sets of the booklets were presented inside of a collectible box with the ‘Men of America’ name on the front.
Other Stevens-Davis collectibles are known. For example, Heritage previously auctioned a set of comic illustrations that were apparently also given to salesmen. But the Stevens-Davis Men of America booklets are easily the most recognizable collectibles distributed by the company.
While the boxes for the Men of America set are rare, they are still found today. In fact, many times when complete sets are sold, they include the original packaging. Each set also included an insert as an announcement that it was for a ‘Special Prize Winner.’ The insert included a color illustration along with the Men of America title and the Stevens-Davis Company name and address (1234 Jackson Boulevard in Chicago). Inside of the folded announcement was a message from O.D. Miller, who was president of the company.
The booklets, of course, are not technically trading cards. However, they are basically treated as such by some collectors. They were categorized in the American Card Catalog as H572 by the book’s author, Jefferson Burdick. They have been identified at times as a 1928 issue and others as having been distributed in 1929 — the latter seems to be the more accepted date.
These booklets measure approximately 2 1/2″ wide by 4 1/4″ tall and featured a mix of subjects. The cover included a picture of the man featured as well as his name and a brief title. Pages in the book detailed his career and provided a bit of background information.
In addition to using real photos on the cover of subjects, some also included cartoon illustrations related to the man in question. And one of the notable characteristics of these collectibles is that the designs on the front were unique, different from others. Even the fonts used for the Men of America title and other text varied from booklet to booklet, creating sort of a hodgepodge of designs. Each booklet included eight pages and a total of 52 different booklets are in the set, though, a few variations have been noted.
The Sports Subjects
Subjects in the set ranged to feature men in all sorts of industries and occupations. All were famous with subjects including past presidents, such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, innovators like Thomas Edison, and businessmen, including Henry Ford. While most of the subjects in the set are non-sports related, a few athletes are included. And while there are only a handful of athletes in the release, they are generally the most valuable cards in it.
From the baseball world is former commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis. A U.S. Federal Judge, Landis was baseball’s first commissioner and is most known for his decision to ban eight members of the Chicago White Sox team for their part in the 1919 World Series gambling scandal.
Landis wasn’t a player, of course, but his booklet is more important than many collectors realize. He was baseball’s commissioner from 1920 until his death in 1944. But despite that tenure, he is not found on many collectibles during his time in that capacity. Landis’ booklet is actually cited as his ‘rookie card’ by most.
But Landis isn’t the only sports figure in the set. Also here is legendary football coach Walter Camp. Camp was a player, a coach, and also a writer who is sometimes referred to as the Father of American Football as he was responsible many of the game’s innovations and helping to shape the sport in its early years.
Like Landis’ booklet, his is largely important because he is found on so few early cards and collectibles. Camp’s booklet is not exactly a contemporary one and it was actually printed after his death, which occurred in 1925, a few years before this set was issued. But it is one of his still one of his earlier collectibles that can be found and one of the more desirable issues in the release.
Finally, a third booklet was distributed simply titled American Athletes. This booklet features golf Hall of Famer Bobby Jones on the cover and is often identified solely as a Jones issue. However, Jones is merely one of the athletes that is included inside of it. The back of the booklet is also worthy of recognition since it includes Baseball Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby.
Beyond those men, other fringe ‘athletes’ are included, such as aviators Charles Lindbergh and Richard Byrd.
Variations, Rarity, and Value
As mentioned, at least a few variations of the booklets are known today. There are two versions of No. 11 in the set with one featuring Thomas Jefferson and another one focusing on Independence Day. These variations have the same color illustration but one simply includes a drawing inset of Jefferson and changes the title from Independence Day to Thomas Jefferson. Two versions are also known for booklet No. 19 — Myles Standish and William Bradford. Finally, two versions of businessman Haley Fiske’s No. 42 booklet are known — one includes only a portrait photo while the other is a full-body picture. Thus, while 52 booklets are recognized as being included in the set, there are actually a total of at least 55 of them. This page shows images of two of the three variations.
The reasons for the existence of the variations are unknown. But while the variations are interesting because of the small number of these booklets that were printed, there is not much premium in terms of price for them. It is also not clear, which of the variations are rarer.
While collectors will find these booklets today, they are quite rare. That is understandable as they were only created for a company promotion and not widely distributed.
Despite that rarity, the prices for them are only modest. Commons in the set start in the $5-$10 range and complete sets start around $75-$125. That modest sum even includes sets with the box and original paper announcement. Prices for the sports subjects vary but are usually the most valuable ones in the series.