Picking up with my pre-war card posts with another set I got last year, the 1934 Wills Cigarettes Animalloys. This was one I got because it was just too much fun. The premise is that there are 16 animals with three cards per animal. You can put them together in complete animals or mix and match to create all kinds of interesting animals.
Besides being a fun concept, this set satisfied a bunch of my other interests. The printing is fantastic with pre-halftone stippling that results in ink screens which were designed to add texture to the image. The type is kind of a trainwreck when you put the cards together but there’s something about it which I love. Not a font but feels like one until you realize that each card is lettered individually.
And something about the animals themselves just reminds me another age. The art style reminds me of classic circus posters and the idea that many of these animals were exotic specimens from abroad. Yes it’s a bit weird for me to see a raccoon included but I can totally see how they would be exotic animals in Europe.
The opossum cards though deserve special mention. When I put the set together these three had me confused. Thankfully I had the set so I knew hat the other 15 animals made sense otherwise I would’ve thought that these didn’t in fact go together. Googling around brought me to the Australian Brushtail Possum so I’m guessing that Wills production staff was unaware that opossum was a different exotic animal from possum.
All in all a fun set to page through which looks quite a bit different than anything else in my binders. I’d love to see Topps do something like this with Allen & Ginter nowadays maybe even going with images that span five cards so they page even more nicely.
Pretty sure I’ve said this before one of the largest draws of pre-war cards is the actual craft that goes into the artwork and printing. They’re not all great but every once in a while I’ll see a set that takes my breath away.* Recently I became aware of the 1936 United Tobacco Sports and Pastimes of South Africa set and had a similar reaction.
Oftentimes I see such a set and when I check out the price, am able to quickly convince myself to walk away. Other times though these cards are pretty reasonable or I get lucky on ebay and find a lot that’s priced to move.
This case is the latter. As I understand things this set isn’t particularly easy to come by since it’s a South African release but I found a good partial set of 36 (out of 52) cards with domestic shipping even.
To the cards. I love the way that the artwork almost exclusively relies on solid inks in the design. The only screens show up in some of the dark browns and their use is restricted to fabrics that could very well be tweed. Everything else is solid and the resulting image just feels different than any of my other cards.
There’s a richness in having a print which is all ink and doesn’t rely on balancing the screens or even registering too tightly. The result reminds me of other 1930s work like the WPA posters and makes me want to get a silkscreen rig set up for custom cardmaking.
There’s also a richness in the amount of inks that are being used. I can’t fully tell how many are involved since I can’t quite wrap my head around how some of them interact but there’s got to be at least six. What’s awesome though is that not all colors are present on all cards. Some, like the fishing card, are super colorful while others, like wrestling, are completely missing a couple colors.
The backs are nowhere near as lush as the fronts but they manage to fit a decent amount of information in considering they’re bilingual English/Afrikaans. I also appreciate the variety of approaches. The golf card lists a series of champions and almost makes me think it depicts Lawson Little.* Rugby contains South Africa’s cumulative record against England, Australia, and New Zealand. River fishing is about how the rivers have been stocked with trout. And wrestling provides a snapshot of the current athletes in the sport.
*Not conclusive enough for me to move it to my Stanford album though.
The cards are also a mix of horizontal and vertical orientations with the horizontal cards being particularly beautiful. The Horse racing card is amazing in its sketchy detail and the way the crowd is rendered. The swimming card somehow manages to create water texture and movement without a lot of fine detail. The automobile racing has awesome speedlines which are a combination of black ink and paper left inkless. And the hurdler looks to be leaping out of the card.
I’m amazed at how different and distinct each card here is while they still manage to be graphically consistent with each other. Also it really weirds me out to see horse racing on a clockwise track.
I don’t have much more to comment on the backs except to note that I was caught by the reference to Robben island on the swimming card and how it captures the beginning of when swimming to the island became a thing and how that it’s now an event which marks the end of Apartheid.
A few more cards of note. The baseball card is neat in that it shows the worldwide spread of the game. I also like comparing it to the more dynamic batsman pose on the cricket card. I really dig the framing of the long jump card where the athlete is just hanging in the air. Cross country meanwhile is like the fishing and automobile racing cards in terms of being set in much more colorful landscapes. The red and white stripes are also a great look for the artwork.
Two comments on the backs here. first off, it appears that the cross country card features Paavo Nurmi. Second, the long jump card mentions “Jesse Owens, a young American negro.” As beautiful as these cards are, I can’t help but see them as being part of a deeply racist culture that was in the process of adopting measures which would officially become Apartheid in a dozen years.
It’s not lost on me that all the athletes depicted on the cards are white* and, from what I can tell, Jesse Owens is the only one mentioned on the backs whose race is included. I also have to point out here that these cards clearly pre-date the 1936 Berlin Olympics since none of them mention the results of those games.
*The Garbatys, while coming from Nazi Germany, are a pretty international group though I’m not sure they feature any Black or Jewish actresses.
Definitely a fun set and I could’ve scanned all 36. I feel no desire to complete things and am perfectly content with four pages worth to enjoy. It also takes me to having trading cards from eight different countries (USA, Canada, Japan, UK, Germany, France, South Africa, and Australia) which is pretty cool too.
I guess I’m going to spend this Covid lockdown blogging about my pre-war sets. In many ways this feels wholly appropriate. Much of the joy of the pre-war stuff comes in the way it functions as a way of showing the world to people who are unable to travel. these sets aren’t just about sports, they cover everything.
One such set I acquired a couple months ago is the aptly-named 1926 Will’s Cigarettes Wonders of the Past. We’ll start of with the big names which need no introduction. Even when I was a kid over six decades later I learned about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Can I still name them all from memory? No. But I sure can recognize them when I see them.
I don’t have a lot to say about the subject matter so I’ll comment on the artwork and how lush it is. There’s also a lot of three-point perspective going on which gives everything an extra sense of massiveness. These cards may only be around two and a half inches tall but the way the art is drawn makes it clear how huge the subjects actually are and give a sense of what it must’ve been like to see them.
As a photographer who often tries to avoid three-point perspectives and keep my verticals vertical, it’s good to be reminded that that impulse is not always the correct one.
The backs of the cards are the standard Will’s backs I’ve seen on other issues. I love reading them though since they manage to pack a lot of information into a nice concise space. They also frequently have a bit of an editorial view such as on the Colossus card and how it explicitly corrects the misperception that the legs were on both sides of the harbor.
I didn’t rotate the two horizontal ancient wonders cards because those seven cards are sort of the least interesting cards in the set. While at first glance this set seemed like the kind of thing that feature only the obvious subjects and its name made me think that it was recreating wonders that are long-gone, in fact it’s doing something much more marvelous.
Aside from the seven wonders cards this set takes you on a tour of the world and its architectural and archeological highlights as of 1926. I’ll start off with four horizontal cards, three of which show sites in Asia.
These come much closer to substituting for travel as the sites are described both in their physical appearance as well as their history and usage. They’re “Wonders of the Past” because they were used in the past and remain fantastically impressive structures today.
I really love the worldwide breadth of this set. Yes there are still missing spots. The Maya stele is the only North American card.* Easter Island is as close as we get to South America.** And while Egypt has a bunch of cards there’s nothing from sub-saharan Africa.***
*No Chichen Itza or Tenochtitlan. No Mesa Verde.
**No Machu Picchu.
***No Timbuktu or Djenné.
As much as the “missing” subjects would look fantastic, it’s great to see so many cards from so many different Asian countries. Multiple cards from Japan, China, Jordan, India, Cambodia, Iran, and more really give the set a lot of life and variety.
There are a bunch of Greek/Roman and Egyptian cards too. I didn’t scan a bunch of those but I do love the Forum card with the birds and the way it’s lit with half the image in shadow. The Tutankhamen card meanwhile is super-topical since his Howard Carter had only opened his tomb three years earlier.
I appreciate that the backs continue to focus on the objects and not the westerners who discovered them. It would’ve been easy to make the back to the Tutankhamen be all about Carter. I also like how they offer information about similar structures and explain that many of these highlights are not one-off artifacts.
The other fun part of a set like this is getting cards of places I’ve actually been to. I haven’t travelled as much as I’d like but here are three cards which cover three of the places I saw when I was in Spain. The Aqueduct in Segovia even has a bunch of people enjoying themselves just like they were when I was there.
The Mezquita and Alhambra meanwhile are much more empty than I experienced. All three cards are fun to look at and remind me of my trip.
I especially love the Mezquita back and how it talks about “Christian defacements” in turning it into a cathedral. Truth be told, the way that building is so many different things and manages to wear its history as part of its very structure is my favorite thing about it.
Wow. I ended up scanning more cards for this set than I planned to. There’s so much variety though that I kind of had to. Is it my favorite pre-war set? No that’s still the Romance of the Heavens. But this is pretty close both in terms of its artwork and how it captures a point in time in the world’s understanding of itself.
Sometimes you see something so cool you can’t help but buy them. As I’ve gone a bit down the Hollywoodrabbit hole, I’ve found a lot of other poeple on card twitter are in the same boat as me. While we all are interested in baseball cards, there’s a similar allure to classic Hollywood.
This shouldn’t be too surprising. Baseball fans are nostalgic traditionalists who enjoy comparing athletes from a century ago to current players and believe that learning about the game should include a hefty dose of learning about the history of the game. So of course we treat other forms of entertainment the same way. Movies, like baseball, are one of those American™ things which comes with a ton of cultural history.
Anyway as I’ve was showing off my Hollywood cards, one of the guys on card twitter responded by showing off his collection of Garbaty cards.
Garbaty is a German Cigarette manufacturer who, from 1934 to 1937, released three amazingly beautiful sets of cards. The sets all have the same look of lushly printed photos of actresses and other famous women of the 1930s but what really distinguishes them are the borders and extensive use of gold ink.
Anyway I was smitten and while I said I was basically done with pre-war Hollywood cards I occasionally type “garbaty” into my eBay searches just in case something stupidly affordable pops up. A month ago I got lucky and found a lot of a couple dozen of them for roughly a buck a card. I haven’t been so excited about an eBay purchase/shipment in a long time.
One of the problems with the Garbaty cards is that a lot of the actresses are not names we know anymore so it’s possible that a lot can be a bunch of “commons” of the same actress. This wouldn’t have been a huge deterrent at the price I was looking at but when I saw these two cards in the preview I knew I had to act fast.
When it comes to 1930s film stars there aren’t many bigger names than Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo. The Dietrich in particular is all kinds of amazing between the portrait and the lush border. I’m not sure any of the other cards in the set can look better than this one.
All the cards I got are from Garbaty’s first release of 300 cards in 1934. These all have backs that define the set as Moderne Schonheitsgalerie (Modern Beauty Gallery) and it’s clear that Garbaty drew from all around the world for its checklist.
It’s a lot of fun to have a Lupe Velez card to represent a certain amount of non-European (plus United States) diversity* plus I enjoy having reminders of how vibrant Mexico’s film industry was during this time.
*While I don’t plan on getting more Garbatys I can see myself being tempted by Anna May Wong or Dolores Del Rio for similar reasons.
The highlight here though is the 16-year-old Rita Hayworth featuring her original name. She looked familiar and the name sounded familiar but I couldn’t quite place who she was for a long time. Her being in this batch means that three of Madonna’s Vogue name checks were in there.
Two more. No star power this time (though Lil Dagover was apparently one of Hitler’s favorites) but I’m including these to give a sense for how varied and wonderful the borders of this set are. I only scanned half of the lot for this post but besides the Garbo and Dietrich, the others all have distinct border designs. Some are gold-focused. Others are colorful with gold accents. They look fantastic together in a 12-pocket page.
A handful of the cards feature pairs of stars. Many of these are in horizontal orientation so as to better frame the couple. The Garbo card pairing her with John Gilbert is a still from Queen Christina. A Garbo/Gilbert card is highly appropriate given how their supposed romance was a big deal for movie fans at the time.
Clark Gable and Joan Crawford meanwhile are a fantastic pair who appeared together in eight movies and also supposedly had some romance as well. Each actor represents 1930s Hollywood stardom by themselves but together they’re even more iconic. This appears to be a still from Chained and doubles as an example of why everyone used to smoke so much.
The Garbaty set has multiple cards per actress. Most of my batch was distinct names but there were a bunch of Brigitte Helm cards. I’ve only selected four of them here. I love how different each card is from the others. Different border. Different pose. Different hair. Even if it’s the same women these look very nice together on a page.
I’m glad that I have multiples of her too. She’s not a household name but she has one iconic role—in many ways the most iconic role of any of the actresses in the batch. Helm is famous for playing both Maria and the Maschinenmensch in Metropolis. She’s pictured here basically at the end of her career since she gave up films and fled the Nazis right around 1934.
Am I searching for more of these or looking to complete a set? God no. But my oh my do I like looking at them in the album.
It’s been busy whatwith the move and everything. I haven’t had a chance to write any letters since Spring but I finally got back on the horse and sent a few out before Thanksgiving. This is the first batch which includes some of the latest round of customs I designed and printed. It’s especially fun—in some cases even more fun than expected—to get those back.
Roy Face came back in 8 days. It’s always nice to see the generosity of some of these players. Face is not a Giant but I pretty much had to make a custom with this photo. This template is my adjustment to the 1956 Topps design so it can also work with vertical images. I like it a lot and really enjoy just making a card here or there as I come across a cool photo.
Face though is an interesting player in his own right since he’s sort of the first reliever who we can point to as starting us on the path toward the way modern baseball uses bullpens. It’s kind of wild for me to read the back of his 1968 card and see it gush about his saves and consecutive games played as being new and notable accomplishments. And yes they are but in 1968 no one knew what would happen with the game 50 years later.
Another custom so I have no one to blame but myself. How embarrassing. Oh well. Kaline still has a wonderful signature and something like this makes it pretty clear that he’s signing things. Also I can’t kick myself too hard since I double checked Getty’s records before making my card.
Heck this kicked of a decent discussion on Twitter (as well as a lot of people laughing at/with me) and a bunch of Tigers fans confirmed that they’d always thought this was Kaline too. Suggestions for who it might be instead? Don Demeter appears to be the Twitter hive-mind consensus. Right-handed. Similar build. Correct playing years.
Anyway it’s always nice to add a Hall of Famer and the fact that this came back in 10 days was very nice. Even with the wrong image it’s a fun piece to have. I only ever saw cards and photos of the older Kaline when I was a kid so I very much like having one of him in his youth. Maybe I’ll re-make this with a correct photo and try again.
Another 10-day return, this time from John Cumberland. He had a fantastic 1971 season with the Giants so I’m very happy to have his 1972 card signed. As a Giants fan I’ve most enjoyed learning about one-season wonders like Cumberland. I remember how important those were to my enjoyment as a fan and it’s players like this who symbolize a particular place and time in the team’s history.
And yet another 10-day return. John D’Acquisto won the Sporting News National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year award in 1974. I did not ask for the inscription but I like that it’s there. D’Acquisto was a fireballer but could never quite put it all together to become dominant. He was formidable enough though that I became aware of him while I was a Giants fan over a dozen years later.
I sort of wonder what would’ve happened if someone with his skill set had come up now and only had to throw for an inning at a time. That he stayed around in the Majors for a dozen years suggests he had the stuff.
Outfielder Frank Johnson came back in 11 days. I always wonder what stories guys like Johnson could tell. He was stuck trying to break into a pretty crowded outfield but still got to play with Willie Mays. He’s a got a great signature which looks fantastic on that 1969 card too.
Kong! This is a fun one. Dave Kingman also came back in 11 days. I don’t particularly picture him as a Giant despite the team-specific rookie records and achievements he racked up. But I did grow up hearing about his prowess as a power hitter and his penchant for hitting balls into suspended elements of domed stadiums. It’s one thing to be known as a slugger. It’s quite another to be the guy who got a ball stuck in the Metrodome roof.
Dave Rader came back in 13 days. Rader started off his career with the Giants in impressive fashion as both the runner up to the Rookie of the Year and the winner of the Sporting News Rookie of the Year. This 1973 card reflects that rookie season and features one of those photos that could only come from this set.
Steve Dunning also came back in 13 days. Most of his cards have astonishingly awful photographs. Thankfully his 1972 is a nice classic pitchers’ pose at Yankee stadium. It’s the only good photo of Dunning I found s0 I had to scan this card for my custom.
I modified the 1978 manager template to reflect Amateur/Professional status and have been digging through Stanford Daily and Stanford Quad archives to pull photos of guys when they played at Stanford. I’ve been enjoying sending these out and this is the first one that returned.
Frank Linzy came back in 20 days. This was a fun request to send out at the same time as Roy Face since both are part of the first generation of dedicated relief aces. As with John D’Acquisto I can’t help wondering how these sort of players both feel about today’s game and how their careers would’ve been different if they’d played during an age of bullpen reliance.
Lots of players can kind of be compared across time but the bullpen guys are different since bullpen usage has changed so much. I’m not one of those guys who professes to say that one era was better than another. Yes I miss longer starts but I also don’t miss seeing managers leave pitchers in too long. hat does excite me is that bullpen usage is one of those things where it’s clear that managers and teams haven’t settled on a by-the-book strategy and are still trying different approaches.
Bruce Robinson is the first repeat send for me. He had an awesome return the first time and I’ve owed him a response letter ever since. Between my moving and trying to put together customs it took me a long time to write back. But I finally did and sent him a bunch of customs.
He was apparently away for a bit and took 20 days to get back to me. Another nice letter and it’s especially gratifying to be thanked for the customs. It’s cool when guys keep some but getting a thank you letter back is even better.
As much as sending out these requests and doing the research to write nice letters is fun, putting together customs and pulling the stats and everything is even more enjoyable. I love adding them to the binder (yes even that Kaline).
Jim Lonborg is another repeat request. I sent him versions of both my 1956ish design and 1978ish design. He kept one of each and sent the rest back in 6 days. I really like how both of these came out and it’s fantastic to start off with so many of these customs getting signed out the gate.
Time for a break until next year. I know I’ve got at least one return waiting for me at my parents’ house still and there are a decent number just out there in general. But it’s too close to holiday season to send anything.
I’ve got more customs to try though but until then I’m just going to put all the signed one at the bottom of this post since I’m so happy about how they turned out.
A surprise envelope from Mark Hoyle arrived late last week. When I opened it up I found a couple non-card items that, on the heels of the Jay Publishing mailday, suggest that my collection is crossing from being just cards and is instead getting into card-adjacent areas.
The first item is a 4×6 print of Jim Lonborg being interviewed after the Red Sox won the 1967 American League Pennant. I always like these kind of post-celebration photos* where athletes are still happy but the reality is setting in too.
This one is also a great look at how interviews worked before today’s much-more organized media room press conference table. One interviewer with a microphone plus another mic on a stand and two more being held by disembodied hands belies the relative calmness of the photo.
Mark’s a Lonborg supercollector. While I have a much more casual Lonborg collection due to him being just a part of my Stanford Alumni project, because I’m making customs and things* for my own usage I’m able to send Mark some Lonborg items he doesn’t have.
*This will be a post of its own someday.
This Gypsy Oak custom is an example of other Lonborg customs that Mark has acquired over the years. It’s also a 4×6 print even though it looks like it should be a linocut.* If I remember correctly there are versions of these that are more like postcards and evoke vintage Exhibit/Arcade cards instead.
*While I haven’t jumped into the world of 3D printing yet I’m keeping an eye on it for both linocut/letterpress related printing and investment casting.
I’ve kept my eye on Gypsy Oak’s work for a while* but never pulled the trigger since I’ve been a bit scared to jump down the rabbit hole of modern card-related art. As nice as the artwork looks it’s something that I can see getting out of hand. It’s hard enough to limit my scope with just cards. Including other stuff like this? Where do I draw the line?
*Well until I got blocked on Twitter and he closed his BigCartel shop.
It’s some pretty cool stuff though—especially his Helmar Stamp cards. They just don’t quite feel right for my Giants collection but they very much feel more appropriate for the Stanford one. I’m glad my first is a Lonborg since he’s sort of the first noteworthy Stanford baseball star. Thanks Mark!
It’s easy to get sucked into pre-war British tobacco cards. There are tons of sets out there and they’re all mostly affordable. As much as I call this a rabbit hole I’ve been very careful in only buying things that are both cheap and especially interesting to me. What this means though is while I try to avoid making “look what I bought” posts,* my pre-war purchases invariably break this rule because they’re so cool I want to post about them.
The latest addition is a set of 1928 Will’s Cigarettes Romance of the Heavens. I don’t even know where I saw these first but I was floored by how beautiful the cards looked. This isn’t just chromolithography, it’s chromolithography at its best with deep saturated colors and fine details.
Just look at these. Most of the set is dominated by yellows and oranges set against the deep blue black skies. The content ranges from depicting celestial objects to explaining phenomena such as the tides and how the moon was formed.
I especially love the “Earth as Seen from Moon” card since it predates Earthrise by 40 years but still knows how awesome and fragile the blue marble view is. I also like how a zeppelin is used to provide some depth to the image. I grew up with the Goodyear Blimp but that was limited to sporting events and not something that was just seen overhead.
Where this set really sings though are in the horizontal cards. Over half the set is like this and the almost-panoramic proportions lend themselves to incredibly dramatic compositions. Halley’s Comet* is the first card in the set and each successive image tries to better it.
*Which last appeared in 1910 so its presence here suggests that interest in the comet survived for a long time.
Jupiter from an unknown, imagined, moon’s surface is straight out of Star Wars. Aurora Borealis* is a splash of red that really pops compared to the cards around it. And the gaping black eclipsed sun gives a surprisingly good impression of what it’s like to see one live.
*At this time of year, at this time of day, in this part of the country, localized entirely within this set!?
The backs look like the rest of the Wills backs I have but I enjoy reading them since I can compare to what I’ve learned about these things. Unlike athletes and celebrities, every subject in the set is one that my kids are still being taught about and that’s pretty cool in and of itself too.
Rather than going through my notes and highlighting everything that jumped out at me like I did with my previous visit, I’m going to go through the two or three groupings I enjoyed the most both in terms of the parallels they offered as well as the maps they showed. The Rumsey webpage includes links to the excellent catalog and I totally suggest downloading the high-definition PDF.
Baron F.W. von Egloffstein, Geological map and profiles of some of the principal mining districts of Mexico, 1864
Tauba Auerbach, Untitled (Fold), 2010.
We’ll start with two pieces that best demonstrate the spirit of the exhibition in Baron F.W. von Egloffstein’s map of Mexican mining districts and Tauba Auerbach’s Fold series. Von Egloffstein’s shaded relief maps are a great example of how maps make a two-dimensional surface look three-dimensional. This is not the first such map but it’s both an early example and von Egloffstein is apparently somewhat of an inventor in this category.
Tauba Auerbach meanwhile paints a folded canvas with spray paint that mimics raking light so hat the resulting stretched canvas maintains the image of the earlier folds and still looks wrinkled.
Both pieces look three-dimensional and just ask to be touched even though they’re actually flat. And in both cases the intent of the craft is to actually use this shading to take advantage how our eyes can mislead us in how they interpret a two-dimensional image.
American Airlines Inc., Air Map, 1943
Richard Long, A Seven Day Circle of Ground, Seven Days Walking Within and Imaginary Circle 5 ½ Miles Wide, Dartmoor, England, 1984.
My favorite grouping were a selection of maps and artworks that removed maps’ attachment to geography and replaced it with other spatial and temporal relations. Maps aren’t just about seeing where things are in relation to each other, they frequently correspond to travel time and reflect our understanding of when we’ll get someplace.
At one level, these aren’t maps anymore because they no longer feature any geography. At another level, they absolutely are since geography isn’t the point. By removing the geography we’re forced to think about the world in a different way where the specific pathway no longer matters.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau, (United States) Weather Map, 1901.
On Kawara, I Went (detail), 1968–79.
I also particularly liked pairing a couple maps that worked as small multiples. Sometimes one map isn’t enough and instead you need to see a series of maps. Pairing a series of weather maps with On Kawara is brilliant. One map is boring. Even two is pretty weak. Four though? We’re starting to see how things can be interesting.
What happened this day? What happened that one? Our brains start to fill in stories and connect dots even with this small of a sample set. The map information itself ceases to be the point and instead becomes the context for the actual data that changes day-to-day. It’s a neat trick.
There are so many other great groups. A Trevor Paglen star timelapse that reveals satellite movements paired with a map of the Apollo 11 mission is fantastic. Photographs of Christo and Jeanne Claude’s Running Fence paired with maps of the US-Mexico border are similarly great. I love that they found a way to work in Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip. For such a small little show there’s so much awesome stuff.
I don’t usually post “look what I got” posts but I have a feeling that my foraysinto pre-war issues will be the exception to this rule. There are tons of pre-war cards sets out there covering all kinds of subject matter. In many ways each checklist is a cool and interesting example of the kinds of things that were deemed collectable and represent a snapshot of popular culture of some sort at the time. Now though a lot of that stuff is only interesting for what it says about the past and doesn’t hold much of any current cultural interest.
Those sets though that do retain cultural interest though are super cool and hard to resist when I encounter them at a decent price. For example:
Yeah. I just got a set of John Player and Sons Player’s Cigarettes Film Stars. This is the 1938 Third Series. I love this design with the painted portraits and facsimile autographs. And the checklist is wonderful with a bunch of 1930s film stars who capture that late-30s era when 3-strip Technicolor and the end of the depression gave us a number of films that still make up our visual literacy.
Being a 1938 set puts this release after Adventures of Robin Hood but before Gone with the Wind. The three Robin Hood stars—Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, and Basil Rathbone—are highlights of this set for me. Robin Hood is one of the first classic films I watched on the big screen at the Stanford Theatre when I was a kid and it’s one I’ve already made sure to show my kids as well.
The backs are also interesting. I enjoy seeing what studios people are with (and who’s without a studio). The bios are pretty bland but frequently include birth names vs Hollywood names. It’s also nice to see real birthdates and, for many of the actors, heights and weights.
Anyway supercool. Superfun to look through and read. I’m very happy to have these in my collection and will enjoy looking at them again and again.
Being sort of the resident printexpert over at SABR Baseball Cards has resulted in me getting tagged into other print-related discussions online. It also meant that people like Jason have started to alert me about non-baseball-related sets that I should be interested in from a printing point of view.
The most-interesting of those sets was manufactured in 1906 by Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company. Liebig was a massive producer of trade cards around the turn of the 19th century. Most of these appear to have been printed through chromolithography. There were enough sets produced by Liebig and its ilk that in some parts of the world it appears that trading cards are still known as chromos.*
*Where trading cards are known as “barajitas” in Latin America, they’re known as “cromos” in Spain.
Liebig sets are wonderfully printed and fantastically varied in subject much in the same way that American and British Tobacco cards depict subject matter that runs the gamut from sports to geography to history to anthropology to science and nature. The key difference is that the Liebig cards are huge—much larger than the traditional baseball card size and close to four times the size of a tobacco card. As a result the artwork can be much more detailed and informative.
Jason had specifically informed me about a set which details the production of the cards themselves both through illustration and print progressives which demonstrate how the image looks as each ink is added. This set immediately became something I’d occasionally search for on ebay. It’s there but not cheap. While some pre-war cards are affordable, this did not look to be such a case. Jason however suggested he had a source where it was way cheaper and offered a trade where I’d help out with some fast graphic design expertise in exchange for him sending me the set. So I did. And he did.
The cards arrived last weekend and they’re wonderful. I received the French issue* which, while I can’t read French, I have enough experience doing tech support and QA on non-English computers that I can sort of muddle my way through a lot of romance and germanic languages now.
*There are Italian and German versions as well.
They’re in remarkably good shape for being the oldest cards in my collection* and the depth of the printing is indeed fantastic. Chromolithography looks so much different than modern offset printing. No halftone line screens although there are dot patterns in the different inks. Also there are 14 different inks used on these cards and the resulting images have much different tones than anything you’ll get with modern four-color offset printing.
Anyway, because these cards themselves describe how they’re made I’ll take each card one by one.
Card number one is titled, “The artist composes the subject.” The back, rather than going into the detail of this step chooses to offer a brief description of lithography itself. It was invented in 1796 by Alois Senefelder. It’s useful in reproducing signs, designs, colors, etc. from an original artwork. Liebig works with many artists to create all kinds of chromos.
The front shows an artist whose work gives a hint at the diverse nature of Liebig’s subjects. The progressive though is what’s most interesting to me since it shows the first three inks (two colors and gold) that get printed.
I’m intrigued that the gold goes down first. Metallic inks are opaque so the order they get printed can make a big difference in how things look. In modern printing they usually go down first because they’re denser but sometimes they get thrown on last because they cover up everything else.*
*I always had to check with the pressman on how he wanted things to be trapped.
With this century-old printing, the ink order appears to generally be reversed. Where on modern multi-ink printing presses the dark colors go down first for density reasons, back when colors were printed one at a time you printed the lightest colors first so you could register them while you could still see them on the press sheet. Starting with the yellows and light tans produces a faint image but one where you can still distinguish the inks from each other.
Card two, “Extraction of the lithographic stones.” Lithography requires a specific kind of fine-grained limestone.* As this card specifies, the stones are from a Jurassic deposit found in Solnhofen, Bavaria** but can also be found in France in Le Vigan, Gard. They can also be found in America and England albeit of a lesser quality than the Solnhofen stone. The stones are cut to be 5 to 10 centimeters thick and ground flat. They’re colored yellow-grey and on occasion blue-grey—which indicates a stone that’s especially suited for printing fine details.
*Hence the “lith” portion of the name of the medium. This is literally writing with stones.
**Non-printing nerds may know of this deposit and quarry as the location where Archaeopteryx was discovered and as the single source of all Archaeopteryx fossils. And yes this is why one Archaeopteryx species’s scientific name is Archaeopteryx lithographica.
The image on the front presumably shows a picture of the Solnhofen quarry and shows how the limestone in the quarry guides the thickness of the slabs that get cut. To print these cards you’d need fourteen different slabs.
The progressive has added light cyan and a darker tan. Already Mr Liebig’s face is starting to look real with the blue providing a decent amount of shadow detail. The gold is no longer showing up on the list but we’re at five inks used now.
Card three, “Lithographic reproduction,” contains a bunch of details about how lithography actually works. A reversed image has to be drawn using special oils on a polished stone. With colored subjects, the design has to be drawn on multiple stones, one stone for each color although when inks overlap even more colors can be produced. Nothing I can make sense of as for how the different color components are determined though.
This description finally starts to get into the actual process of how lithography actually works. At it’s heart it’s just the oil and water principle. The design gets drawn on the stone in oil or grease. The stone is wetted. Water doesn’t stick to the design. The stone is then inked. Ink is oil based, sticks to the design, but doesn’t stick to the water. Then the paper is pressed against the stone and takes the ink.
The image shows a room with multiple artisans each drawing on a lithographic stone. Note that everyone’s working on a large-scale lithograph rather than something card sized.
The progressive meanwhile has added a brown and a light magenta ink, taking our total to 7 inks used and giving Mr. Liebig a little flush in his cheeks.
Card 4, “Printing proofs.” After the stones have the grease drawing on them they’re cleaned with Nitric Acid.* This cleaning allows the non-oily parts of the stone to accept and hold water so only the oily parts attract the ink. Before the final printing, progressive color proofs (which will look very much like the progressive portraits of Mr. Liebig) are run beginning witt the lightest colors and ending with the darkest.
*Diluted since limestone aka Calcium Carbonate and concentrated acid will react.
It’s nice to see my observation about the progressive proofs being explicitly mentioned. We’ve now got a pair of darker cyan and magenta inks added to the mix as well.
And the image shows a number of printers all working single sheet hand presses that squeeze the paper against the stone in order to produce the print. This is a pretty labor-intensive process where the wetting, inking and paper pressing is all done by hand.
Card 5, “Final printing.” When the proofs are sufficiently close to the original artwork, the rotary pressman can follow them. The original artwork is transferred multiple times to a new, larger stone which undergoes the same polishing, drawing, and acid wash as before only this time it’s wetted, inked, and printed via automated cylinders.
I wish this described how the images are transferred from the small stones to be printed multiple times on the large ones. It’s very interesting however to see a depiction of the automatic press. I’ve only seen lithography done as art prints now so hand-presses are the only surviving production method.
The automatic press shows why offset printing is a commercially more viable process. Instead of a stone which has to be inked by rollers moving across the entire surface, modern offset lithography uses metal plates that have the same oil/water surface but can also be wrapped around a cylinder. The water can get applied via rollers. Same with the ink. A rubber blanket cylinder transfers* the ink from the plate to the paper (also on a cylinder) and, since it’s softer than stone allows for a more-even print while also protecting the stone image from being degraded by paper.
*Hence the term “offset” being used since there’s no longer a direct contact between the plate and the paper.
The printing industry just needed photography to catch up to its needs. We used photography to convert images to halftone screens. We used it to expose plates. And we used to create multiples of a single piece of artwork.
Also I can’t help but point out that a woman makes her first appearance on the cards as the press operator.
Meanwhile Mr Liebig now features dark brown and dark cyan inks and is looking nearly human in his 10 inks plus gold frame.
Card 6, “Cutting and packing.” The sheets are cut mechanically. They’re then counted and packaged for shipping. The rest of the text describes the progressive proofs in twelve colors plus gold and calls out the new colors that result in the completed image.
The bindery is a basic hand bindery with a mechanical paper cutter and lots of desk space for people to count and sort and package everything. This is still a pretty common thing. While super-advanced automated systems do exist, for small jobs doing it all by hand is the way to go. Cutters are safer and counting is usually done by weighing the finished product but otherwise yeah, lots of hand work at this point.
Also, while the progressives specific 12 colors plus gold, the last two inks added on the list are dark magenta and medium grey. Black never gets mentioned despite being clearly in the image not only as his name plate but also the final detail work in Mr. Liebig’s irises.
This isn’t an oversight but instead reflects how Black doesn’t show up much in the images. Black objects usually get there because of mixing the other inks. You only need to generate the black component to save ink or prevent too much getting put on the paper. Black typically only shows up on it’s own Key* plate and is used for text and border colors and so.
*Why it’s assigned K in the CMYK model.
So yeah. Where modern printing would print this in five inks (CMYK plus metallic gold) in 1906 this used fourteen. Lots more work. Lots more effort. All for something that was being given away. Still, super duper cool and I love having these in my collection both as a explanation of how chromolithography works and as a demonstration of what they actually look like. Thanks Jason!