Collectors pursuing pre-war cards can find great examples of old time greats that used to rule sports in earlier eras. But one pre-war tobacco set actually takes us back to the origins of the very sports themselves — the 1923 Sarony Origin of Games set.
About the 1923 Sarony Origin of Games set
The Origin of Games set is a small tobacco issue that comes to us from overseas. Sarony may not be a name you’re well familiar with but the company distributed several sets of cards in the UK.
While most of the company’s offerings were non-sports related, they did produce some sports issues, including this one. Like others, the company (Nicholas Sarony & Company) offered these cards in their cigarette packages.
Even though the era of cigarette cards in America was basically finished by the 1910s, those types of cards were just heating up internationally. England and other countries produced numerous tobacco cards (in particular, cigarette issues) in the 1920s and 1930s. So many of these cards were produced, in fact, that prices for many of them are very inexpensive, even in high-grade condition.
Measuring approximately 1 3/8″ wide by 2 11/16″ tall, these are fairly standard size cigarette cards. The cards are noticeably thicker than other UK cigarette issues but mostly look like your run of the mill tobacco cards. Fronts have white borders with color lithographic pictures and backs include a description of the sport’s origins. Since some of the sports have been around for a very long time, the images are quite noticeably old depictions.
The official name of the set is “Origin of Games” and, while this is largely a sports set, that moniker is more fitting. Many of the activities featured are more along the lines of games rather than sports.
So what’s in the set? All sorts of things. The set has only 15 cards in it but still manages to include many popular sports today.
Baseball is often the sport that many collectors want when seeking these sorts of multi-sport releases and it’s there. Sort of.
While baseball is not technically there, a card for that sport’s origins, rounders, is. Baseball was derived from the English sport of rounders and while the card is technically for rounders, the back’s description indicates that it is the origin of the American sport of baseball. That card depicts a man wearing a powdered wig and brandishing a bat, playing a sport that, well, very much looks like baseball. Today, the card is basically viewed as a baseball card — especially since baseball is specifically named on the back.
That isn’t the only recognizable sport there, however. In addition to the rounders card, a card depicting golf is probably almost as popular. Originating in Scotland, that card’s depiction shows an early unidentified player. Another key sport? Tennis. Collectors might be confused by the card that shows the sport of tennis being played by participants without rackets. But that sport dated to the 13th century in France and was originally played with bare hands, as mentioned on the back of that card.
Some of the cards do not feature subjects with actual names but it is important to note that some do. The tennis card, for example, depicts an early female player named Margot. She was known to be a very well player and, as the card states, noted that she even defeated men playing the sport. Another card representing the sport of billiards depicts Louis XIV of France playing the sport.
While most of the sports had been around for some time, it is notable that the set included a few very recent sports as well. Badminton was said to be first played in 1873, only 50 years before the release of this set. Another recent sport that is depicted in the series is ping pong, which was first said to be played on the card towards the end of the 19th century. But other references actually declare it could have been played as early as the 1860s or 1870s. Whatever the case, it is certainly one of the more recent sports named in the series.
Here’s the full checklist of cards found in the set.
- Football (Soccer)
- Rounders (Baseball)
- Ping Pong
It is important to note that there are actually two Origin of Games sets. The more common variation is the smaller, standard cigarette-sized card mentioned above. But a larger set of cards also exists.
The larger set does not include more or different subjects. Rather, it’s the size of the cards that is different. The larger cards are 2 1/2″ wide by 3″ tall and look much more similar to the 1930s American gum cards in size and shape.
This was a common thing in UK tobacco issues, which often created a set of smaller cards and a set of larger ones. Typically, the set of larger cards would contain fewer cards than the smaller set. However, because the smaller set of these cards contained only 15 cards (as opposed to a more common UK number, such as 25 or 50), that is likely the reason that the larger set was not a shortened version.
It is interesting to note that while the larger cards share basically the same images, there are very minor variations observed, too. The pictures are cropped slightly differently due to the orientation of the cards and there are some minor differences to the actual pictures, too.
Rarity and Pricing
Some collectors may dismiss this set as just another overpopulated tobacco release from the UK. But those that would haven’t studied it at all because the set is significantly rarer than most UK tobacco sets from the 1920s and 1930s. A good example of the rarity is seen in graded population reports. To date, PSA has not even graded 100 total of these cards (and has graded fewer than 50 in each the small and large sets).
The relatively small amount of cards on eBay also speaks to the rarity of the set. And while cards for the lesser sports can be bought in decent shape for as little as $5-$10, cards for Rounders, golf, tennis, and others are more. When you can find them (which is rare), complete raw sets of the small cards typically start around $75-$100. Sets of the larger cards are usually in the $100-$150 range.