Oldest Cards

I’ve somewhat-recently I picked up some new oldest-baseball cards for my collection. Yes, the 1901 RG Knowles is kind of a baseball card but it doesn’t depict him as a ballplayer. Until then my oldest cards had been my pair of 1917 Zeenuts. While I’d like to get a T205 at some point, I haven’t had the money to move for one of the star players and haven’t really had the opportunity to just grab a random Giant.

I do however on occasion search for some of the Stanford guys who show up on pre-war cards. These are usually fruitless but much to my surprise a couple weeks ago one turned up at a decent price.

This is a 1916 Zeenut of Johnny Couch. Not only is this a San Francisco Seal card, it’s also a Stanford card. Stanford doesn’t have a lot of early ballplayers and most of them don’t show up on accessible cardboard. Bert Delmas and Charlie Swindells don’t appear to have any cards at all.* Bill McGilvray has one T210 card but it’s in the super hard to find series so that’s not going to happen. Tillie Shafer is on two cards (M116 Sporting Life and D304 General Baking) that are similarly out of reach.** Ernie Nevers is a football Hall of Famer whose baseball cards carry a premium as a result. so that leaves Zeb Terry and Johnny Couch as the only remaining players who are remotely accessible.

*There are a bunch of Delmas cards listed in the database but they all date to the year of his birth so I’m assuming the database is wrong. I do have his Target Dodgers card though. 

**I do have a reprint of the General Baking card though.

Couch shows up on a half-dozen Zeenuts from 1916 to 1929 which makes searching for his cards an easy thing to do periodically. This 1916 is his first professional card and predates his time in the Majors. Unlike my other Zeenuts it’s got a bit of color to it with some cyan sky/cloud details behind the usual black and white photo. The difference in design has encouraged me to casually work on putting together a type collection of Seals cards. At first I was thinking just Zeenuts but there really aren’t that many PCL issues out there.

Here’s my start. Five vintage Seals cards from 1916 to 1953. In addition to the Couch there’s a 1917 Zeenut Del Baker, 1928 Zeenut Nick Williams, 1931 Zeenut Pop Penebsky, and 1953 Mother’s Cookies Bill Boemler.

That the four Zeenuts are four of my six oldest baseball cards (a fifth is a 1917 Zeenut) makes me think about why I’ve been so much more eager to acquire random Seals players compared to random Giants players from the same period. Some of this is price—the Giants carry the same New York surcharge that Yankees do—but there’s also something to me feeling more interested in PCL baseball in that pre-integration period.

I don’t normally collect Minor League cards but the PCL’s status as an independent league in a part of the country without Major League baseball makes them that much more interesting to me. These aren’t just cards of the team that existed before the Giants came to town, they’re also cards of a different age of baseball organization. I think that’s pretty cool.

The other accessible Stanford player is Zeb Terry. He has a 1917 Zeenut but also appears on a couple American Caramel releases. One of these also just popped up recently at a good price so I jumped on it. Where the Couch is my oldest baseball card, this 1921 American Caramel is my oldest (by a dozen years!) Major League card and the only non-PCL card of my oldest six cards that I mentioned earlier.

It’s not the best photo of Terry but I’m tickled to have an American Caramel card. Certain pre-war sets just have a bit of mystique and this is one of them. While my reticence in acquiring pre-war Giants cards has surprised me, the Stanford project remains appealing and I love that it’s given me the excuse to reach out and find cards that are a century old.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

7 thoughts on “Oldest Cards”

  1. I’ve been thinking about trying to build a collection of defunct Bay Area sports teams. Nothing crazy. Just one card to represent each team with one prerequisite. It has to be a playing era card. I’ll have to look into a Zeenut and the San Francisco Seals.

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