Muscle Sport Magazine

Cabinet Cards – Inaugural 1800s Era Baseball Cards


The mid-nineteenth century was a turbulent time in the United States. The nation was going through some growing pains – literally and figuratively – with western expansion and ultimately the Civil War that tore the less-than-century old country apart. But throughout these rough years, the sport of (nee) ‘base ball’ continued to grow in popularity.

Photography was in its infancy and the timing was right with the advent of more baseball clubs being formed. Many posed for team photos that were printed on 4X6 cardboard that were earmarked to be displayed in the cabinet of a home or business, thus giving them the moniker ‘cabinet cards.’ Baseball was not the only industry that was displayed with these cards, as many other entertainment avenues were also showcased.

Some argue that these gems are not true “baseball cards” (major league douche bag Keith Olbermann being one of them, but then again, he was in favor of the Ground Zero mosque), but they were the precursors of what morphed into the miniature cigarette cards and eventually the regulation size that we all know and love today.

So to dismiss the cabinet cards, one could also scoff at their cigarette card brethren. And that would be foolish, since the most valuable baseball card of all time is part of that collection – the 1911 Honus Wagner T-206.

One of the earliest recognized cabinet cards is of the 1865 Brooklyn Atlantics and perhaps the most recognizable one is the 1869 Cincinatti Red Stockings from the Peck and Snyder set. They are considered the first professional team.

What separated these early cards is that they were given away for free and not as part of a promotion with another product such as cigarettes, bubble gum or cereal. But they still hold some value in the minds of collectors, with the ’69 Red Stockings selling for over $51,000 at an auction in 2009.

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