The American Card Catalog is likely the most important resource in the history of card collecting. Authored by Jefferson Burdick, the book gives us the classifications for most of our vintage cards today, such as T206, E90, and a host of others. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, here’s a quick breakdown. Essentially, the book categorizes cards in different classifications so that we can more easily refer to them and better keep tabs on all of the great stuff out there.
If you don’t already own a copy and are interested in pre-war cards, it’s basically a must have. I paid about $25 for mine and, while much of the information we know is online these days, I’ve still referred to it countless times for any number of reasons.
While most people are familiar with the book for things like tobacco cards, gum cards, and caramel cards, there are quite a few wacky things in there that you might not have guessed. There are plenty of non-sports issues in there, such as Bible cards and such, but even some of the sports ones are oddball items.
Here are some of the least-known types of items with sports issues that are referenced in the book.
Yep, you read that right.
I first thought about this idea for a column when I retweeted something recently from Sports Collectors Daily about sheet music for a Babe Ruth song. While I have no doubt that some collectors have seen/heard of such items, I’m willing to bet that few would have thought sheet music was in the American Card Catalog.
It is, though. Right under that pesky ‘G’ section, which was mostly for banners and labels of different sorts. For whatever reason, Burdick listed sheet music here and, while the specific music he cataloged is of the non-sports variety, there are plenty of sports-themed sheet music issues, like that song about The Babe.
As an aside, some other similar collectibles that are cataloged in the G-Card section are also movie stills.
Cigar Bands / Cigar Box Labels
Also in the G-Cards are cigar bands and cigar box labels. You might be inclined to think that, if cataloged at all, these would be tobacco issues. Not so, as Burdick actually had a separate category for these small collectibles.
The former are exactly what they sound like – the bands that would be wrapped around cigars. And if you’re thinking that there wouldn’t be any sports ones, think again. As listed here on the site, there are several of these for various players, including Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Joe Tinker, and Al Simmons.
Also in this category were cigar box labels. These, too, are what they sound like – the labels from cigar boxes.
Many of these were simple names of cigar brands. But other more creative ones had pictures. And while a lot of those were non-sports pictures, there are plenty of sports-related ones to be found in baseball, football (like the one shown here), and other sports. Some are even worth big bucks as they featured Wagner and other famous players.
This one is sort of tricky. That’s because, while Burdick classified these as WG cards, that designation has been taken over by sports card collectors, who now use it to classify game card issues.
But Burdick actually used this classification for greeting cards and if you’ve ever looked for pre-war cards online, you’ve probably found out by now that there are quite a few of these sorts of cards around.
Most of the ones referenced in the American Card Catalog are Valentine’s Day issues. And while many of those are going to be non-sports cards, there are quite a few featuring generic athletes, usually children, playing a variety of sports, including baseball.
This is another category that most collectors don’t know exists. Some may have seen these sorts of items but few know there’s an actual place for them in the American Card Catalog. In fact, you’ll sometimes see these listed as H-Cards as advertising issues. Technically, they could arguably be placed there if not otherwise cataloged. But if you go all the way to the Z-Card section of the book, that’s where you’ll find them.
These items were die-cut cards of a sort. ‘Cards’ is a relative term and probably depended on the person in possession of them. Some of these had paper cutout outfits that could be placed over the doll, which, itself was a paper cutout, often from a book of some sort.
Others were merely die-cut figures of people, often children. And some even were designed to stand up and be sort of a display piece.
The most popular paper dolls for sports card collectors are easily the Enameline College Colors paper doll series. They featured children representing various colleges and universities in a variety of sports. Two are featured here in the Princeton baseball card and the Illinois Wesleyan basketball card (some even believe this to be the first ever basketball card). Enameline was a stove cleaner company and Burdick categorized these cards, along with a host of other dolls with advertisements, as Z12.
Sports booklets are found in the book as well but you have to dig a little to find them. You’ll find these items mentioned in the rare U-Card category, reserved for folded items (i.e. matchbooks) and other miscellaneous types of issues.
All sorts of these booklets existed. Some could have been religious pamphlets featuring a player. Others could have been instructional booklets. Or they could have been a small promotional booklet produced by a sporting goods company.
Presumably, such booklets would probably be issues that could not be cataloged elsewhere. For example, the Rabbit Maranville ‘How To’ booklets of the 1930s were issues that were cataloged with the Gum and Candy card section (as R344). To be cataloged as miscellaneous, these would have to be issues produced by other types of companies with a catalog designation (i.e. clothiers, movie theaters, etc.).