Cold War Cards

I tend to think of general-interest cards as the major thing that distinguishes the pre-World War 2 hobby from the much-more-familiar sports cards and pop-culture cards landscape which got rolling in the 1950s. Many of my pre-war sets serve as a way to teach people about the world and I love the way they serve as a way of documenting our understanding of things at the moment.

My thinking though is also wrong since general interest sets didn’t die out immediately after the war. I’ve come across a bunch of sets from the 1950s in particular which are wonderful to discover me. A lot of them function in similar veins to comic books—both in terms of being general action stories and, later, specifically super heroes—while others are doing the same kind of thing as the pre-war cards and documenting technology or explaining history.

The ones that fascinate me though are the ones that seem to function as state department propaganda. There are multiple sets in the 1950s which are dedicated at some level to the fight against communism. This first card is from  one such set.

Bowman’s 1951 Fight the Red Menace set is basically all about the evils of communism. The artwork is frequently amazing albeit over the top and the back text pulls no punches in terms of who the good guys and bad guys are. I can’t really imagine these being packaged with chewing gum and definitely don’t think they were popular with kids.

In America you can always find the party. In Russia, party always finds you.

Even though I grew up with the USSR as our main global antagonist the idea of just having stuff like this set around is completely foreign to me. Yes, I know that there are a lot of Americans still who freak out about the idea of communism but that fear wasn’t the background radiation of my youth nor is it the way I’m teaching my kids. We’ve had plenty of time to figure out the problems with capitalism since then as well. Anyway, I really liked the idea of having a sample of this set so I selected one that reminded of the old Yakov Smirnoff joke which spawned that early 2000s “In Soviet Russia” meme.

Another set I got a sample from is the very Dr. Strangelove named Power for Peace set that Bowman put out in 1954. This set is all about the current standard of US Military technology and how it needs to be so powerful in order to preserve the peace. This isn’t as much anti-Communism as it’s  anti-Russia and more-generically pro-military as the only thing keeping us from being bombed this very instant.

Since this set is so much like Dr. Strangelove I had to get the B-52 card as a sample. For a 1954 set, getting an image of the B-52 is kind of amazing since that was the first year that any were finished building, only three were made, and they were just test planes. And yes I kind of love that nowhere on the back of this card is the plane described as a bomber.

Not the prettiest card but another one which captures the time. I’m not going to be suckered into the 1950s/1960s non-sport cards the same way as I have been with pre-war but it’s great to have a few samples to remind me of how different this time was.

Menkos!

I’ve been intrigued by Japanese baseball cards for a long time. Some, like the Kabaya Leafs, are mirror-universe amazing takes on designs I’m familiar with. But what I really like are the ones that are doing things completely differently than American cards. I jumped on a batch of mid-1970s Calbees because I love the photography and I’ve long sort of coveted some of the older menko cards.

Menkos were intended to be played with but they also depict all kinds of subjects. Sports, military, movie and TV characters are all fair game. The artwork is frequently something I’d call comic book style with bold colors and big text and the end result looks like nothing else I’ve seen.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) I’ve not dipped any toes in that water due to not having an obvious entry point. I have a hard time buying cards without attaching them to a project and, unlike my pre-war randomness, menkos tend to be sold individually instead of as sets. As a result I’m better able to resist their call.

However it turns out that there are menkos of the San Francisco Seals. In 1949 Lefty O’Doul took the San Francisco Seals on a Goodwill tour of Japan. O’Doul is in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame for his multiple trips to Japan which helped grow the game and in many ways led to the development of a professional league. The 1949 trip was a different sort of trip as it was intended to promote healing after World War 2.

The trip was clearly successful both in terms of drawing crowds but also as a bit of cultural diplomacy with a lot of ephemera still surviving today. The multiple different menko designs definitely caught my eye. Sometimes they’re super expensive. Other times they’re super reasonable. So it pays to wait. A couple weeks ago I finally found some that were going at a price I was ok with.

This menko features Cliff Melton, one of the few pitchers who made the trip.* It’s part of what’s categorized as the 1949 JCM-51 Seals Tour set. Not my favorite of the designs I’ve seen (I really like the Blue Back set) but it’s a great example of why I find menkos so appealing. Bright colors. Big bold text.** Cartoon images.

*He’s also a former Giant who shows up on Play Ball and Double Play cards in the early 1940s.

**メルトン is pronounced “meruton” which is the katakanization of “Melton.” Also, in the interests of translating text, 投手 is how you write “pitcher” in Japanese.

Many of the cards depict the seals in red and white striped uniforms that don’t at all match their home jerseys that year. Given that other cards show the pinstripes in blue and the Seals in red my guess is that the artists were just coloring things brightly. I wish the cap logo were a bit more clear but that’s really my only quibble.

The other Seals card I got is actually not a menko. It’s categorized as a bromide though by the 1940s these were no longer bromide photographic prints but just halftones which kept the bromide toning. This one is cut from the November 1949 issue of Yakyu Shonen magazine and not only features Cliff Melton as well but uses the photo that was used to create the menko artwork.

His menko isn’t a particularly good likeness but it’s clearly from the same image plus the text* confirms that it’s the same player.

*メルトン 投手 (シールス) or “Melton Pitcher (Seals)” underneath the image.

Looking at the Melton menko again mades me start thinking about why I like them so much more than American strip cards. It’s clearly not the accuracy of the drawings so all I can conclude is that the vibrancy of the color and text is the difference.

I took a quick peek through the other stuff that this seller had available and was unable to not impulse-add this card. I’ll leave it a little bit of a surprise and just link to a Google search for his name: 三船敏郎.

Yeah.

The price was right and how could I say no. Plus the artwork, while not exactly looking like him, has a certain charm to it with that rakishly misplaced hair that does capture a certain essence. I don’t know exactly when this is from but the seller says 1950s which feels right. It’s made by the Kagome Toy Company* and has a lot more going on on the back than most menkos I’ve seen as they aren’t known for having backs full of text.

*The 6-pointed star is their mark.

While I can struggle through figuring out what the front text says through context/guessing I have no idea about the backs. There are online tools to deciphering stokes but doing that figure by figure is more than I want to deal with—especially when even the single word on the back of the Melton menko looks like it says スペルコミ which doesn’t translate to anything but sounds like superukomi or super komi. I can’t image trying to do the full text backs on the other cards.

As it is I’m happy to just have a few menkos as well as be able to update my oldest Japanese cards to be 1949 now. Plus it’s nice to add a bit more color to my Seals page.

Around the World

So I just got my first Venezuelan cards. I’ve avoided them for years because they tend to be way too expensive, poorly-printed, and really beat up. Plus most of them don’t offer anything substantially new (let alone  better) to the standard US Topps cards.

Only the 1962s with their Spanish-language backs (also 1967 though those have the non-licensed feel to them as well) have called my name as an extension to my barajitas series of posts on SABR.

But a couple weeks ago a deal on eBay that was too good to pass up came by and so I picked up my first three Venezuelans. Was waiting for a while for them to come in but they arrived over Easter weekend.

I figured that while getting team sets of Venezuelans was neither cost nor time effective, starting a type collection made a certain amount of sense. So I have one each from 1962, 1964, and 1966. There are also sets from 1959, 1960, 1967, and 1968 but I’m in no rush.

Holding these in hand is sort of the opposite feeling I had when I encountered O Pee Chee cards in the 1980s. Where the 1980s OPCs were bright white card stock instead of the brown Topps stock the Venezuelans are duller and greyer than the bright white Topps stock.

“Sort of” because while this sounds underwhelming it’s actually not. The paper just doesn’t match what I’m expecting any printed material form the 1960s to look like. It feels either decades older or like it should be fragile newsprint and adds something evocative to the photos because it feels like they’re in danger of slipping away. As much as the Cepeda is the highlight of the three I think the Jim Ray Hart card is my favorite looking with the way the photograph still glows.

Back to the Cepeda. While it’s mighty beat up* the back is completely readable. One of the reasons I’ve avoided Venezuelans is that since my interest is the Spanish-language backs and so many Venezuelans have paper loss three. Cepeda has glue marks and is a bit off-register but I can totally read the Spanish.

*Recalling my suggestion years ago that card conditions should be like the Mohs hardness scale. If Zeenuts exemplify 1. Venezuelans would be 2s.

Despite all the extra empty space, the text is basically the same only (and surprisingly for Spanish) much less wordy. Stats are still using the English abbreviations but a careful reader will pick up the translations for rookie (novato), home run (jonrón), and RBIs (carreras impulsadas). Interestingly, outfield is left untranslated instead of becoming jardinero.

1964 and 1966 are essentially unchanged from the US releases. The only difference is the inks used. To my eyes it almost looks like they made the decision to print them using process inks—1964 going from spot orange to process black and 1966 from a spot pink to process magenta.

As with the Cepeda, no paper loss is very nice here and I can totally put up with the glue spots. Venezuelans are supposed to look used and well-loved and these certainly fit the bill.

All in all very cool. Plus this addition takes the number of countries I have cards from to nine (and the number of continents to six). In addition to Venezuela I have cards from the USA, Canada, Japan, South Africa, Australia, Germany, France, and the UK.  I figured it would be fun to end this post with a call back to the oldest card I have from each of those countries.

USA

My oldest US card (and card in general) is this 1887 Allen and Ginter card of Hawaii.

Germany

A set of 1899 Stollwerck cards would be my oldest German cards.

UK

I’ve a ton of pre-war UK releases but my oldest are these 1901 Ogdens.

France

Not sure if Liebigs were released in France or just published in French but for a 1906 set I’m treating it as being a French set.

South Africa

A gorgeous set United Tobacco made in 1936.

Canada

Only showing the back since the front is identical to Topps. But it’s never a bad thing to show off 1971 O Pee Chee’s backs. I have a decent amount of OPC from 1977 to 1992 as it functions a bit as a Traded set for my Giants team sets but not much more.

I might pick up more 1978s as part of my 1978 build. And I’m now considering doing a type collection for other years for the Giants album since I’ve opened that door with the Venezuelans.

Japan

While I have a 1960s playing card of Sadaharu Oh, my oldest proper trading card are some 1975 Calbees. I do however have a 1949 menko headed my way so that’ll be fun.

Australia

Modern, well 1996, cards for the Australian League.

Sort of surprising to me that I have no cards from Spain since finding Barcelona soccer cards is something I totally would do. I’ve definitely had my eye on a few Xocolata Amatller cards before. I’m sure there are Panini stickers from Italy that would catch my eye as well. Plus some of the Dutch Gum cards. I’d also love to find cards from Mexico or elsewhere in Latinamerica but as always, I’d have to be caught by the cards not just the country of origin.

Addendum/edit April 26

Italy

So SanJoseFuji commented and reminded me about Panini Stickers. Unlike the other cards on here, these are intended for worldwide release and have back text in English, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and Turkish. They are however manufactured in Italy so I’ll count them here. I don’t have many of these but I do have a couple Spain ones from 2010 when they won their first World Cup.

And this takes me to a nice round 10 countries worth of cards. Two North America (USA and Canada), one South America (Venezuela), four Europe (UK, France, Germany, Italy), one Africa (South Africa), one Asia (Japan), and Australia.

Addendum/Edit May 16

A pair of updates for my oldest cards.

I realized last weekend that my oldest Canadian card is actually this 1962 Jim Davenport Post Canadian card. Post already does a great job at packing everything you want on a card on just one side. That they manage to do this in two languages is even more impressive.

And I’ll add an image of the 1949 Menko to update the Japan selection since I mentioned it was in transit in my original post.

Zeenut haul

I’ve been slow-rolling my San Francisco Seals type collection but it received a decent shot in the arm last week. Marc Brubaker is a bit of an enabler and sent me a link to an ebay seller with a bunch of Zeenuts available for super cheap. I bid on a few auctions and won without any competition. The seller them accepted my offer on the remaining Seals cards which went unsold.*

*I didn’t want to risk getting into multiple bidding wars so bid on only the ones I wanted most.

A good deal all around for a half-dozen Zeenuts. Then things shipped out and arrived even faster than I expected. The resulting haul added two years, 1924 and 1926, to the collection as well as a few other samples which show off uniform details and whatnot.

Starting off with four 1924 Zeenuts. The Guy Williams is the one I wanted most since it’s both in great shape for a Zeenut and is a fantastic image with his expression, pose, and the view of the stadium behind him.

The other three are nice to add since they feature the other Seals jersey design. As far as players go, Knobby Paynter and Charles Schorr are like Guy Williams in terms of being flagged on Baseball Reference with a question mark. Joe Kelly though actually played five seasons in Major League baseball.

Fun to look at the 1924 Seals roster and see Paul Waner listed. That team went 108–93 and finished 3rd in the PCL.

The 1926 was the other one I really wanted. It’s the most Zeenut condition of the batch but still looks great. I guess that’s an outfield fence behind Marty Griffin but it’s a much different background than the rest of the cards here. Griffin meanwhile also played in MLB albeit only one season.

The 1926 Seals team has a bunch of names I recognize on it—Earl Averill, Dolph Camilli, Lloyd Waner, among others—but finished way short of their  1925 season (which is documented as one of the best minor league seasons of all time) as they finished up with a 84–116 record and went through three different managers.

The 1928 Zeenut is an upgrade to the one I got from Anson and features the fantastically-named Buckshot May. May is sort of the ultimate cup of coffee guy whose Major League career consists of one solitary inning finishing up the May 9, 1924 Pittsburg-Boston game.

1928 though was a great year for the Seals with an absolutely stacked lineup. The Seals won their 7th PCL title with a 120–71 record that year.

These six cards take my vintage Seals collection to twelve cards, eleven of which are Zeenuts. Those eleven Zeenuts cover seven (1916, 1917, 1924, 1926, 1928, 1930, and 1931) of Zeenut’s 28 years of sets from 1911 to 1938. In other words I have 25% of the Zeenut type collection now. Which is very fun and I really like seeing them all together.

I’ll end this with a gallery of all my Zeenuts. Yes they all kind of look the same but they’re pretty unique compared to the other card releases out there. As a West Coast baseball fan they are especially fun to have in the album and are way more affordable than Obaks and 1949 Bowmans.

Unexpected connections

A couple days ago I published a bit of a rant on SABR about 2022 Topps Heritage and how lazy its greenscreen photography was. While I try not to go too negative in any of my blog posts sometimes I can’t help myself. Anyway that post was in many ways a lot of words padding an animated GIF that could have been posted by itself and made the exact same point.

After I made my SABR post I realized that 2020 Topps Heritage used the exact same background on a dozen cards as 2022 Heritage did and have expanded the GIF to include all 24 cards. It’s worth noting that the 2020 cards have much more variance in the zoom and cropping of the backdrop (even removing the light standard in one of them) which goes a long way in making the backdrop not nearly as obvious.

Anyway, one of the best things about Twitter is  the way that it encourages people to respond to tweets with things that my observation reminded them of. In this case, Ross/@design_on_deck pointed me toward a fantastic video about post cards which all use the same sky.

While I don’t at all think that Topps did any of this with the level of intent that Dexter Press did, the video reminded me about why I got interested in cards and how they interact with my more-professional interests in photography and print production.

Photography and the way it has been distributed as mass media and informed our visual literacy is indistinguishable from trading card and post card history. Looking through those items and seeing them together in sets or collections is a way of seeing how we used to see and learn about the world. This is the reason why I collect the pre-war cards that I do and I absolutely love digging through piles of postcards and arcade cards a antique shops.

That the Bechers were brought up in the video is perfect. I’ve long admired their work but hadn’t made the connection to their typology grids and the way that I organize trading cards in binder pages. In many ways, the very act of collecting cards and other printed ephemera is an exercise in typologies—especially the further I get away from organizing by number, team, or player.

While I usually bias toward having pages of variety, there’s something wonderful in a clean grid of images all featuring the same sky or red shirt photography. My Candlestick Pages are one such typography which I collect. As are my multi-image action images. I’ve seen other people collect cards which feature catchers, bubble gum, double plays, broken bats, cameras, kids, etc. In many ways all of us trading card collectors are making our own typologies and seeing he different ones is one of the best things about Card Twitter and the way people share their collections.

That’s not the only connection that happened though. After two different artificial cloud discussions I remembered Eadweard Muybridge and his particular skill at artificially adding clouds to his landscapes before he became the animal in motion guy.* Because early photographic emulsions were primarily sensitive to blue light, skies ended up being completely white in the prints.** It was commonplace to add them back in when printing and Muybridge excelled at this.

*Bringing us right back the grids of small prints.

**Blue sensitivity means that there’s no difference between something being white because it has lots of blue or being white because it’s actually white. As a result, clouds disappear.

There’s a fantastic article by Byron Wolfe about both Muybridge’s clouds and how his different prints were often different composites. Wolfe is a frequent collaborator with Mark Klett in rephotographing and putting old photographs into a larger context so seeing his approach to Muybridge’s work is great.

It’s also a reminder that compositing is as old as photography itself. As long as we’ve been using cameras we’ve been messing with the images to improve upon the scenes or create things that aren’t actually there.

1938 Wills Cigarettes Speed

One of the first pre-war sets I got was the 1938 Churchman’s Kings of Speed. It’s a fun set which captures a moment in time as it relates to how fast humans can travel. While much of the Churchman’s set involves athletes, there are also a decent number of drivers and pilots as well. Meanwhile there’s a great companion set, also from 1938, which has the exact same theme but features the planes, trains, and automobiles instead of the men who drove them.

This set is from Will’s cigarettes and is just named “Speed.” It’s got a lot of great artwork and is catnip for anyone who likes the look of 1930s industrial design as applied to transportation.* I like the way the vehicles are depicted in their environments and especially like the wide-angle view that shows up in the Mormon Meteor and Super Chief cards.

*Sadly no 20th Century Limited or Coast Daylight card though.

With a lot of the cards there’s not just the sense that the subject is moving fast, it’s also incredibly powerful to the point that it threatens to burst out of the card frame. There are a bunch of great-looking images (though I’m partial to the trains) but I only chose eight which show the breadth of the set coverage.

As an American the Santa Fe card is particularly great because it’s also one of the entry-level Bachmann Trains sets. A lot of the vehicles in the set look pretty dated but the Santa Fe engine is one I’ve been familiar with my entire life.

The backs tend to be very technical in how they include both under-the-hood information as well as streamlining details. I don’t have much to comment on besides to note that the Amtrak still operates the Chief and Zephyr lines. The Chief is much the same (though is 40+ hours instead of ~39) while the Zephyr now extends past Denver to California.

Definitely a fun set to have in the binder right after the Carreras Famous Airmen and Airwomen and I’m glad I picked it up at the end of last year.

Candlestick

As soon as the Colorwheels pages taper off in the 1970s, my Candlestick pages pick up the slack. I picked up a decent amount of the early 1970s ones from COMC last year and the binder is really starting to take shape.

The first year I’ve been able to find multiple obvious Candlestick photos is 1972. As much as I enjoy the under construction photos, it’s nice to have some of the other key Candlestick details such as the chain link fences or on-field bullpens which show up in the two In Action cards.

1973’s action photos show a lot more of the field. Not as many which show the whole stadium but there are some like the Eddie Matthews which do.

It’s interesting in 1974 that I have two American League teams represented. I should probably switch up for some more photo and color variety but I probably won’t do anything intentionally.

1975 meanwhile needs no variety. One very nice thing is that the photos are taken all over the field his year so the background shows different parts of the stands.

1976 isn’t as varied as 1975 but the larger photos show a lot more of the stadium. I should probably look for more 1977s to replace some of the Braves on here but it’s a good mix of stadium details. I especially like the Lou Brock which, despite the out of focus background, is clearly at Candlestick.

Into the pages I didn’t update from COMC. With my recently-completed 1978 set there’s no 1978 page. Would be nice to put a Hostess page together for each set but for now I’m just looking for a couple from each year. And yeah I should try completing my 1979 page since the big photos are really nice.

I’ve added a few to my 1980s and 1990s pages but they all look like the one above with their multiple sets and years. I have more scans in my previous post so there’s not much more to add here. The thing about these years is that I don’t feel like seeking cards out and as a result just add them as I come across them. It’s definitely a fun way to look at junk commons.

Colorwheel Surprise

A couple days ago I found a surprise PWE from Shlabotnik Report in my mailbox. He’d seen my colorwheels update and decided that he would send me a few of the cards I was missing.

The yellow 1967 and purple 1977 slide in and complete two pages. The 1967 page looks great and I just need to figure out what card to slide into the last slot on the 1977 page. I’m leaning Big League Brothers but there are a decent number of choices. The brown 1969 made me realize that I actually have a bunch of browns only they’re in my expansion/moves binder. Yeah I’m collecting Pilots cards in general so this one slid into those pages.

The most interesting card here though is the 1967 Gene Brabender. I’ll ned to do a proper post about cards like this but I’m always intrigued when I come across an image where Topps has just removed all the magenta and yellow from the background in order to make it look like sky but you can still see all the background details in the cyan screen. I don’t have a lot of these but the 1968 Manny Sanguillen is another such example in my collection.

Thanks for the cards! It’s always great to complete a page and in many ways those two pages also completed the project as well.

Set building and set completion

Spring cleaning seems to be a hobby thing as well. This year I’ve seen a bunch of guys express a desire to streamline their collections and offload sets and set builds which are eating up storage space but provide them no joy. This is a good thing. A lot of us have a lot of cards in storage that would make someone else much more happier and routing those cards to the correct person makes everyone happy.

Steve/Cardboard Jones was one such cleaner and when he mentioned what he was getting rid of I pinged him on 2014 Topps since I’ve been trying to build that set for a while. I was half expecting just a pile of cards to go with my existing pile of 2014 cards but Steve actually went through my search lists and sent me only cards that I needed.

No I’m not going to scan them all but I continue o enjoy this set. he design is a bit of a mess but it’s also mostly ignorable. Photo is big. Names are readable. And the photo selections do a good job providing the splash of color which the design is missing.

There are also a lot of photos, especially of celebrations, which look like the kind of thing Topps would short print nowadays. It’s really nice to see these as just regular base cards and serves as yet another reminder how the optimization around variant images has really hurt the quality of the base product.

Anyway I’m down to needing only 10 cards on this set build now (current status is on my search list page).

42 Mariano Rivera
123 James Paxton
133 Xander Bogaerts
342 Brad Miller
358 Christian Yelich
401 Felix Hernandez
424 Jose Ramirez
496 Jose Abreu
657 Corey Hart
659 Ervin Santana

Paxton, Bogaerts, Ramirez, and Abreu are all rookie cards.  Yelich is a first flagship. I don’t expect any of them to be expensive but the market can definitely be stupid here.

I also went though and put together a list of cards which are currently in a different binder (mostly Giants or Stanford). I don’t need these to feel complete on a set build but it’s always nice when there are no holes anywhere.

8 Coco Crisp
399 Hector Sanchez
423 Marco Scutaro
442 Angel Pagan
446 Tim Hudson
537 Madison Bumgarner
607 Jed Lowrie
615 Drew Storen

Actively looking for these? Not really. But they’re nice to have in hand if I’m looking to gang a few cards on to a Sportlots order.

Steve also noticed on my set building search list that I was one common card away from completing 1994 Topps. The bulk of this build was actually another spring cleaning pick up a couple years ago. Despite dropping 1994 cold turkey I decided that completing the set would make a nice bookend on my 1986 set as a way marking my childhood collecting years. Plus it’s got a lot of fun photos.

Joey Cora is a weird one to end up with as the last card but sometimes that’s the way things break.

As with 2014, there are a couple of cards which I’d kind of like to get doubles of so that I can have them in different binders. One of these is Stanford, the other is a Giant.

237 Curtis Pride / Shawn Green / Mark Sweeney / Eddie Davis
433 Dave Burba

Thanks so much Steve! I’m glad I could put these into a good home.

Stollwerck Chocolates

I’ve been seeing Stollwerck Chocolates cards around Twitter for a while now. They’re kind of like Liebig in that they consist of all kinds of 6-card sets. Unlike Liebig though the Stollwerck sets are predominantly 1897–1916 and tend to be wonderfully Jugendstil designed with beautiful artwork and fantastic letterforms.*

*They’re also smaller sized than Liebig. At 48×93mm they’re almost business card sized. A little too long to fit in 9-pocket pages but they fit fine in 8-pockets and would fit perfectly in 10-pockets. Unfortunately, by being 6-card sets they look best with all six cards on one sheet.

They’re hard to date but thankfully they list which album they’re part of and I was able to use the Stollwerck albums page to get an approximate date. The sports cards are often nice but with subject mater from all over I decided to bide my time and jump on a bunch of cheap sets which just struck my fancy.

I ended up with four sets and they’re all so beautiful that I scanned everything. This post will list them in chronological order by album.

Album 3, 1899

The first set is dedicated to the arts and features cards for baukunst (architecture), sculpture, malerei (painting), music, schauspielkunst (acting), and poetry. The scans don’t do them justice since these are actually printed in gold ink and still shine 123 years later.

I love everything about these. The lettering (which retain a hint of neoclassical sensibilities). The flowers. The fine details in the artwork in the circle and how the art being depicted is almost an afterthough to the composition yet remains an important part of the image.

The printing is super nice too. Besides the solid gold ink, these aren’t halftones but are instead a regular stipple pattern.

Flipping the over shows the tag a the bottom which indicates which album they go in. The way each card has different letterforms for the Stollwerck branding is amazing. Where there’s a certain painterly sensibility to the fronts, the backs are super-precise.

I started to translate these but they’re actually poems about each ancient art. Since the rhythm and rhymes are more interesting than the content, translating such a thing is way beyond my abilities.

It’s also worth noting here that all the text on all of these is  solidly on the Roman/Antiqua side of the Antiqua-Fraktur dispute. I’m not sure what exactly to make of this especially given the extremely-German content of  two of the sets in this post.

Album 4, 1900

I have two sets from 1900’s album number four. The first is one of the very German sets in that it consists of Grimm’s Fairytales. These, like the Fraktur black lettering, were often part of a movement to create a national German identity. Cards of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Frog Prince, Seven Swabians, Hansel & Gretel, and Snow White would presumably be instantly recognizable to German consumers.

While I bought these because I also know the fairytales, I was also just taken by the artwork (which also often features gold detailing which flattened during scanning). The drawings are great but the lettering and framing—especially on the first three cards—is what’s amazing. Sleeping Beauty with the thorns/plants literally covering the image and using flowers for the header is superb but the Cinderella card with the trees framing the image and the gold text on top of the foliage is even better. The way the text creates ST, OL, LW, and CK ligatures is just tremendous. It shows up better in the Frog Prince scan but in-hand the gold just shines.

I have to confess that I was unfamiliar with the Seven Swabians story. It’s kind of weird but anything that results in an image of seven men facing down a guardian beast with its nasty, big, pointy teeth* can’t be all bad. Also, including a Hansel & Gretel card as part of a candy promotion is nearly metacard-worthy.

*You’re darn right I’m considering this part of the Python PC

These backs aren’t as exciting as the 1899 backs and they continue with poems so I’m still not translating. It is however interesting to note story details which are different from the (heavily-Disney-influenced) versions I grew up with as well as just which moment from each story is depicted and described.

In Sleeping Beauty there’s a reference to flinging the magic spindle (zauberspindel) far away. The card is also only about her being rescued from the hedge of thorns (dornenhecken) and waking up, not about everything that led up to her curse.

Cinderella’s card is similarly about just the end of the story when she’s rescued by the prince and becomes a queen. The poem in this case is about the moral of the story and unpredictable nature of destiny with zero mention of the actual events in the tale.

The Frog Prince card pretty much tells the whole story with the frog retrieving the golden ball from the well, being thrown against the wall by the princess, and then turning into a prince. No kisses on this card, just violence.

The Seven Swabians card tells about their encounter with the “dragon,” how they were all scared, and only at the end does it reveal that it was in fact a rabbit. Having read the rest of that story I think the rabbit episode is clearly the best one to choose.

Hansel & Gretel tells about encountering the delicious gingerbread house while starving and then being turned upon by the witch. It’s explicit in saying that Hansel is terrified and Gretel is the one who turns on the witch and shoves her into the coals. Is interesting here that the card depicts encountering the house and none of the struggle inside since every other card depicts the scene that’s described on the back.

Snow White’s card is about how the dwarves (or in this case perhaps gnomes since the German is gnomenmännchen) are taking care of her in the glass coffin until the prince finally appears. The last stanza though is about the mirror on the wall (spieglein an der wand) and wishing that the evil queen’s heart will burst.

The other set from this album consists of 66% of the Muses. So we’ve got Polyhymnia (sacred poetry), Melpomene (tragedy), Euterpe (flutes and music), Clio (history), Terpsichore (dance), and Thalia (comedy and pastoral poetry). And we’re missing Calliope (epic poetry), Erato (love poetry and lyric poetry), and Urania (astronomy). Sort of a shame since Urania would likely have made a great card.

These are very similar design-wise to the arts cards from 1899 although the letterforms have gotten much more fanciful as they nest vowels into adjacent consonants. The artwork also manages to suggest a lot with a bare minimum of space. You can barely see Euterpe’s flute but it’s there. And Terpsichore is clearly dancing even though all you can see is her head.

More poetry on the backs and a little more interesting design in the Stollwerck branding. I don’t have anything to comment on the poems though so instead I’ll use this space to talk about the information that Stollwerck says about itself. Like how it has factories in Cologne, Berlin, Bratislava (then Pressburg), and New York. And how it has branches in Berlin, Leipzig, Wrocław (then Breslau), Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Bremen, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, London, New York, and Chicago.

Another card has what I’m guessing is a list of prices for bar chocolate. The prices start at ℳ1.20 and increase to ℳ5 for a half kilo. Another two cards have cocoa powder listed at ℳ2.40 for a half kilo, ℳ1.25 for a quarter kilo, and ℳ0.65 for an eighth kilo. Yes I know that typically the ℳ comes after the number but I’m mimicking how it’s used on the cards.

To put these prices in perspective wasn’t easy. Since these are listed in German Gold Marks it’s hard to do any direct currency/inflation conversions because all the online calculators stop in 1948 when Deustche Marks were introduced. However, since Marks were on the gold standard* we can do a rough metal-based conversion to US Dollars. Five Marks are ~2.0g of gold at .900 fineness. Five dollars (using the 1900 Half Eagle coin for reference) are ~8.4g of gold, also at .900 fineness. Which means that I feel comfortable saying that ℳ1=$0.24. Dumping this into the US inflation calculator which says that $1 in 1900 equates to $33.68 in 2021 gives us rough conversion of ℳ1 in 1900 equalling $8.08 in 2021.

*Side comment. It’s also interesting to me that despite German unification being carried out via the Prussian army conquering everyone, after the the German Empire was established in 1871 they switched from using the silver-backed Prussian Thaler to creating a new gold-backed currency, the German Mark.

Looping back, this gives approximate modern prices of Stollwerck’s chocolate bars as starting at $9.70 and increasing to $40.40 for a half kilo while cocoa powder is $5.25 for an eighth kilo and $19.40 for a half kilo. Or for Americans who can’t handle metric, $36.70 per pound for bar chocolate and $17.60 per pound for powder.*

*I’m perfectly willing to hear why I did all this wrong but wanted to try doing something to put the prices in perspective.

Finally, one card mentions “Eichel-Cacao” which Google kicks out as acorn chocolate and, after digging through some book hits appears to be a chocolate powder made by removing fatty content and mixing in foasted acorns and some sugar. The Dr Michaelis branding along with the google books hit being a medical journal suggests that this was for medicinal purposes only.

Album 10, 1908

The last set I got is from 1908. A first I though it was a Nibelungenlied set but it turns out that this isn’t quite right. The first four cards all feature characters from that epic though with Siegfried (and Fafnir), Hegan (killing Siegfried), Brunhild (sleeping behind flames), and Kriemhild (mourning Siegfried). I say “not quite right” because Brunhild’s card depicts something that’s part of the Völsunga saga but not the Nibelungenlied.

The last two cards though are completely different sagas. One of Kudrun* and the other, Frithiof. I was unfamiliar with either of those stories before I got this set.

*Listed as Gudrun which really confused me at first because Kriemhild is also frequently called Gudrun.

I really like the paintings in this even though by this time it’s clear that Stollwerck had been templating their designs a bit to all use the same wordmark-next-to-image look. These cards are also printed using traditional halftones and the paper stock is both brighter and better-coated. Still very cool but not nearly as spectacular as the other sets.

The backs give a nice summary of the stories. Siegfried tells about him as a youth, being sent to battle a dragon (it does not name the dragon),  and how after his battle he noticed that its blood created a “callus” on his finger which prompted him to bathe in the blood, leaving him invulnerable except for where a linden leaf had fallen on his back and giving him the nickname “Der Hürnene” (the horn-skinned).

Hagen’s card is not only about how Hagen treacherously spears Siegfried in his vulnerable spot while Siegfried’s back was turned and he was having a drink, but also includes that he did it on behalf of Brunhild and why she was so upset. It doesn’t go too much into the story of Siegfried deceiving and subduing Brunhild on behalf of Gunther but it mentions enough to explain why she’s both angry and ashamed.

Brunhild’s card, instead of being more about her deception, explicitly tells her story according to “the Norse version of the Nibelungenlied” (ie. the Völsunga saga). It explains how she was one of the valkyries who was charged with transporting fallen heroes from the battlefield to Valhalla until she crossed Odin. Odin took her divinity, sunk her into a deep sleep, and surrounded her with a ring of fire that could only be breached by a true hero. That hero was Siegfried who crossed the fire, woke Brunhild, and led her out.

It’s also worth noting on Brunhild’s card that Stollwerck is now offering mocha at prices of 10, 25, and 50 pfennig (100 pfennig per Mark). No idea what the sizes are here to even guess at how much mocha you get for that price but those prices are all much much cheaper than the prices from eight years earlier (using the previous calculations, 50 pfennig in 1908 is ~$3.75 in today’s money).

Kriemhild’s card tells about how she had premonitions about Siegfried’s death and asked “the treacherous” Hagen to watch over him—going so far as to mark the spot on his back where Siegfried was vulnerable. It continues by describing the scene when she discovered Siegfried’s body after it had been retrieved from the forrest and how she mourned over it for three days and three nights.

Kudrun is a fun one. Always nice to learn about something new and as the Wikipedia article says, it’s an interesting story to compare with the Nibelungenlied with the way the women have more agency and choose reconciliation over retribution. This card in particular contains the outline of Kudrun’s story, her becoming engaged to Herwic, her abduction by Hartmout, her 13 years as a captive because she refused to marry Hartmout and instead was forced to wash clothes by the sea as a maid. The image on the front depicts an episode on the beach where a beautifully colored bird brings her news that Herwic is near and that she would soon be freed.

Frithiof is another new one to me. Compared to Kudrun and the Nibelungenlied it’s much much shorter plotwise—to the point where most of the plot actually fits on the back of the card. How Frithiof, a bond’s son, and Princess Ingeborg grew up together but were forcibly separated after the king’s death. Frithiof sent away while Ingeborg was married to Old King Ring. Frithiof returned and fought with Ingeborg’s brothers, burned Baldr’s temple, became a famous viking, and returned to marry Ingeborg after Ring’s death. The image on the card front depicts the young Frithiof and Ingeborg as he returns from a hunt and she crowns him with flowers.

And that’s that. Only took ~2000 words to get through two dozen cards. But that’s what’s fun about pre war stuff. In many ways every card can be a blogpost.

Stollwerck still exists today* but unfortunately no longer has the same Jugendstil esthetic. A shame since this kind of visual legacy would be awesome to be able to lean on nowadays. It doesn’t appear that they make cards anymore either which is kind of a shame.

*They also have some history in New Jersey with a factory in Camden that supplied chocolate to Tastykake and Whitmans.

As beautiful and affordable as these cards are though I’m not really looking for more. Very very happy to have these four sets and I love them in the binder. But I’ve said similar things in the past and gone back on my word. With sets like this where the subject matter can be literally anything I have no clue what’s out there and what might strike my fancy.

I also couldn’t help myself and whipped up these customs to fill the last two slots in one of my 8-pocket pages. Once I saw the Nibelungenlied/Volsungs cards I had no choice but to kill the wabbit. Yes I know that the Seven Swabians card is literally about hunting wabbits but the simplicity of the 1908 design lends itself perfectly to customs.