One of my favorite Baseball Card Twitter people is Anson Whaley (@prewarcards). He specializes in pre-war* sports cards so his blog and twitter feed contains almost no overlap with mine; aside from my two Zeenuts, I have no pre-war cards. Yet I feel their call sirening away at me. At some level I suspect every collector of baseball cards does. It’s not just an age thing where old cards are always interesting, there’s something to getting in touch with the roots of the hobby which is deeply appealing.
*Generally defined as anything predating US involvement in World War 2.
I think every card collector is an amateur history geek. Cards connect you to over a century of collecting and the evolution of the hobby is something that you just eventually learn about. My sons, who have only just caught the collecting bug, already know about T206 and Honus Wagner. It’s just something that comes up when you get into the hobby.
Anyway, while I’m spending my time as a cheapskate collector who prefers getting cards via trade or for under a quarter on Sportlots, I’m also educating myself on pre-war issues and getting a sense of what kind of things I might one, day consider spending some money on. And I’m also educating myself on how I could do that responsibly as well as learning about what kinds of things to look for to make sure I don’t get fooled by any fakery.*
*Being a cheapskate collector does mean that my unwillingness to spend even medium money on any cards protects me from getting ripped off.
Anson’s website is one of my go-to locations for this kind of information. Plus he’s very friendly and helpful on twitter as well with regard to posting things, answering questions about them, and even discussing the best ways of storing them.
In the beginning of this month he tweeted out some photos of his set of 1928–29 John Player and Sons Footballers. It’s a beautiful set of cards. As a soccer fan there’s something about the early days of the game where everything is recognizable yet so so different. Despite the game having evolved tremendously from those days, the imagery from those decades is immensely powerful. Any team which can trace its history to those years makes damn sure sustain that visual connection to the past.
There’s also something extra special about seeing the early British uniforms since they’re the model that the rest of the world followed.* So in addition to the weight of history there’s a sense of seeing the source of the game in these old cigarette cards.
*Most famously perhaps with the connection Juventus has to Notts County.
I sent a very enthusiastic reply to Anson’s tweet observing how great the cards were and after we had had a conversation about pre-war soccer cards in general and how to find other examples.* No I’m not planning on getting into soccer cards. But you’re damn right I was curious.
*As a Barcelona fan, I was especially curious about whether there were old cards from Spain or Catalunya. Short answer, there most certainly are but they’re often chocolate cards not cigarette cards.
Anyway during this conversation Anson asked me if I was interested in a few of his duplicates. I guess he could tell that I liked them for what they are and not as any sort of investment. I was very surprised. There’s a wonderful part of Card Twitter where people just offer to send you a plain white envelope with a few cards.* I never respond to people tweeting their cards with the idea that someone will send me things** so I’m always shocked and somewhat embarrassed*** when it happens to me.
*This is what happened with the 1954 Bowman earlier as well.
**There’s a much-less-wonderful portion of Card Twitter which presumes that anything you tweet is something you’re willing to trade or sell.
***I just respond to things which I like since Twitter is most-enjoyable when you respond positively to other people instead of succumbing to the temptation to tear everything down. I’m not in it for freebies—those are just icing on the cake—and I certainly try not to come across as a prize hound.
A couple weeks ago the plain white envelope arrived. And it was beautiful. Colors were bright and crisp. I love the brushy artwork for the backgrounds and the way the ball is always halfway out of the frame. That one of the cards is a Notts County player in that black and white kit is fantastic. Do I know anything about Paddy Mills? Nothing more than what the back of the card and his Wikipedia page tell me. But the story about those shirts and how they had become Juventus’s kit in the beginning of the century is more than enough to make this card interesting to me.
Given how two of the cards feature black and white kits, I’m glad that the Jimmy Oakes comes from a period of Port Vale’s history when they did not wear black and white. As a card this is probably my favorite of the batch since the colors and the pose with the ball coming directly out of the frame are especially striking.
John Priestley’s card is fun too. I love that all three of these feature dynamic poses which capture a certain sense of the movement of soccer’s gameplay which still feels appropriate to the modern game. I’m also enjoying that all three cards feature teams that are now in League Two since the reminder of how a team’s fortunes can change over the decades coupled with the reassurance that the teams are still in existence and playing soccer is everything that’s great about the game.
But Anson did not stop there with those three Players Cigarettes card as he included some duplicate 1938 Churchman’s Cigarettes Association Footballers cards in the envelope as well. These aren’t as graphically exciting as the colorful Players cards but they do feature early action photography. This is pretty cool and the cards are printed at a fine-enough line screen that you can see that the photos are better than newsprint quality.
As a baseball card guy I’m not used to cards featuring players running or jumping. Maybe a follow-through. Maybe. But action photos on cards were pretty rare except when used as background images, special in-action cards, or World Series highlights.
The standout card here is Sir Stanley Matthews, inaugural member of the National Football Hall of Fame and the first active player to be knighted. There’s no obvious reason why should I recognize his name as being important except that he’s just one of those guys who you end up hearing about as you follow the game. Reading about him now when writing this post and it’s clear he was one of the all-time greats of the game who retired right when the modern era really got going.
Harry Goslin is an interesting card which captures certain poignancy in focusing on pre-war cards. In 1943 he was killed in action in Italy so these pre-war issues end up representing what could’ve been had there been no war. Reading the Wikipedia article gives me the impression that many of his Bolton teammates were in the same regiment as him too and while Goslin is the only one to die in the war, it’s kind of a scary thought for me as a fan that you could have your whole team wiped out in one bad battle.
George Mutch meanwhile is notable for 1938 reasons by being the game-winning goal scorer in the first FA Cup to be televised. Yes a bit of obscure trivia. But also a fun factoid to attach to this card.
That’s not all though. That plain white envelope also included a Sanella soccer “card” from the 1932 Sanella Margarine multi-sport set. It’s not exactly a card since it’s printed on thin paper but that doesn’t make it any less cool. As a type geek I appreciate seeing the blackletter fonts since I find the whole Antiqua-Fraktur debate about fonts and national identity to be incredibly fascinating. The idea that I could have printed ephemera from less than a century ago which is printed in my native language yet uses standard letterforms I can’t easily recognize is an amazing thought.
Along with letterform change that occurs in World War 2, this card also has other interesting pre/post war implications. It features Hanne Sobek whose English-language Wikipedia page is a stub but whose German page is fascinating. He ended up in East Germany after the war. In 1950 when the team he was coaching was barred from competing in West Germany, it defected to West Berlin and founded a new club.
Thanks for a wonderful, generous, beautiful mailing!