Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the October 2002 edition of The Vintage and Classic Baseball Collector (VCBC) magazine. We have received approval from the prior owners of VCBC magazine to republish this article in digital format. We are thrilled to be able to re-circulate the fine works of VCBC magazine for today's vintage collectors.
by Dennis C. Purdy, Sr.
The chromolithographic issues of Allen & Ginter are considered by many baseball card collectors to be the most beautiful baseball cards ever produced. Released in 1887 and 1888, the cards were inserted into brands of Allen & Ginter cigarettes.
The N28 (1887) and N29 (1888) sets were inserted into 10-count packs of cigarettes while the N43 set (also released in 1888) was inserted into 20-count cigarette packs. It is not known if any of the three sets was inserted into Allen & Ginter tins, but no advertising or other evidence has yet been documented to suggest that they were.
Some hobby literature (lore) suggests that the tobacco companies inserted the cards as a stiffener to protect their product. While this may have been true with some issues, it was clearly not the case with the Allen & Ginter issues.
They were inserted solely as a means of getting customers hooked on buying their product and remaining loyal to it, and there is evidence to back this up. This evidence comes from an investigation into the chromolithographic process itself.
Lithography is based on the simple principle that oil and water do not mix. An image is drawn on a flat stone surface with an oil-based crayon, pen, or pencil. Water is spread over the stone to moisten all areas except the oil-based image, which repels the water. Then an oil-based ink is rolled over the stone, adhering to the image but not to the wet areas of the stone. A sheet of paper is placed over the image and a printing press is used to transfer the inked image onto the paper.
Since the time of medieval block books, applying color to printed images by hand was a slow and costly process. The arrival of color printing had vast social and economic ramifications. In 1846 the American inventor and mechanical genius Richard Hoe perfected the rotary lithographic press which was nicknamed "the lightning press” because it increased lithographic production sixfold relative to the flat-bed presses then in use.
This innovation proved an important boost in lithography's competition with letterpress and released its floodgates. Economical color printing, ranging from art reproductions for middle-class parlors to advertising graphics of every description, poured from the presses in millions of impressions each year.
No other set of baseball cards better captures the pure essence and spirit of 19th century baseball than the Allen & Ginter Co.'s chromolithographic issues. Displayed is the 1887 N28 card of Hall of Famer Adrian 'Cap' Anson, probably the most popular of all the Allen & Ginter cards.
The next major innovator of chromolithography was John Bufford, a masterly draftsman whose crayon-style images achieved a stunning realism. Specializing in art prints, posters, covers, and book and magazine illustrations, Bufford often used five or more colors. Separate stones were prepared to print the flesh tones, red, yellow, blue, and the slate- gray background. Browns or gray background. Browns, grays, and oranges were created when these five stones were overprinted in perfect registration.
The four decades from 1860 until 1900 were the heyday of chromolithography; it dominated color printing. Victorian graphics found a most prolific innovator in a German immigrant to America, Louis Prang, whose work and influence were international.
In addition to art reproductions and Civil War maps and scenes, Prang put vivid color into the lives of every citizen by printing literally millions of album cards called scrap. Collecting these "beautiful art bits” was a major Victorian pastime, and Prang's work became the ultimate expression of the period's love for sweetness, nostalgia, and traditional values.
Prang sometimes used as many as forty stones for one design. Exceptional quality was achieved by dropping Bufford's master black plate in favor of a slow building and heightening of the image through the use of many plates bearing subtle colors.
Album cards evolved into trade cards in the 1870s. While Prang's claim that he invented the medium of advertising trade cards doesn't hold up, his distribution of thirty thousand advertising trade cards at the 1873 Vienna International Exhibition certainly popularized chromolithographic advertising cards. Sold in bulk, trade cards enabled merchants or manufacturers to imprint an advertising message on the back or front.
Chromolithography quickly spread throughout the major cities of America's east coast. In 1860 sixty firms employed 800 people. Phenomenal growth put chromolithography in every American city, and by 1890 more than 8,000 people were employed by 700 lithographic printing firms, including Lindner, Eddy & Clauss of New York, the producers of the Allen & Ginter cigarette cards and advertising posters.
The vitality of this graphic revolution stemmed from the talented artists who created the original designs, frequently working in watercolor, and the highly skilled craftsmen who traced the original art onto the stones. They translated designs into five, ten, twenty, or even more separate stones.
Colored inks applied to these stones came together in perfect registration, magically recreating hundreds or even thousands of glowing duplicates of the original. The lithography firm, rather than the individual artists or craftsmen who created the work, was credited on chromolithographs. Therefore, the names of many designers who defined the medium by bringing an original vision to chromolithography are lost to history.
Born in New York City in 1824, Lewis Ginter was the prominent half and driving force of the partnership of he and John F. Allen, an Irish immigrant who had formed a modest tobacco company in Richmond, in 1860, twelve years before Ginter was to join forceswith him.
Lewis Ginter's original family name was Guenther. His father, John Ginter, was a grocer in New York, and this no doubt provided young Lewis with his exposure to retailing.
At the age of 18, Ginter, primarily self-educated with no college training and in search of work, traveled south to Richmond with a friend. There he displayed his characteristic initiative by starting up a house furnishings store on his own account.
His business prospered and by the early 1850s he had become an importer of 'fancy goods' as well as a dry-goods wholesaler trading extensively with village and country merchants. In 1860 his company earned him $40,000, a handsome profit for the times.
After he formed a partnership with John F. Alvey, the firm of Ginter & Alvey specialized in silk, linen, and white goods, and Ginter himself went to Europe yearly on buying trips.
When the Civil War broke out, Ginter, in spite of his Yankee family roots and birth, closed his business and joined the Confederate army as a quartermaster, earning the rank of major under General Joseph R. Anderson in the Army of Northern Virginia. His frequent involvement in battle won him the title of 'the fighting commissary'.
After the war, Ginter became associated with a brokerage firm in New York which failed during the crisis of 'Black Friday' (Sept 24, 1869). This misfortune turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Ginter then directed his energy into a new venture, tobacco, where he made his fortune.
Allen & Ginter - The Start of A Landmark Tobacco Partnership
The desire to return to Richmond encouraged him to form a partnership with John F. Allen of that city in 1872, and their new company was called the John F. Allen Co. They begin in a small way by manufacturing smoking and chewing tobacco and cigars in a small factory in New York, then the center of the tobacco industry in the United States. Like other tobacco companies of the day, the John F. Allen Company employed primarily immigrants to hand roll their Greek and Turkish tobaccos.
Ginter with his earlier mercantile experience, traveled extensively to put their the company's goods on the market. In the face of sharp competition, Ginter caught the eye of customers by utilizing handsome lithographed labels and attractive packaging designs. He cultivated their tastes with the high quality of their products.
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A more important move, however, took place in 1875, when the company moved to Virginia. Ginter ventured his company into the manufacture of cigarettes, at the time a foreign product as yet untried with Virginia tobacco. Under the name 'Richmond Gem' (see inlcluded picture) he introduced paper-rolled cigarettes made from the Virginian virgin leaf, and which enjoyed rapid and increasing success.
In the early 1880's the firm changed its name to Allen & Ginter. It kept that name even when John Allen retired from the company in 1884. Their Gem Tobacco Works, which stood on Cary Street, was mentioned frequently in the trade journals of the day.
Ginter appreciated the inﬂuence upon the public mind of pointed advertisements at a time when modern scientific advertising was yet unborn. Richmond Gem cigarettes, Opera Puffs, and Virginia Brights became bywords among smokers whose taste had been cultivated by Allen & Ginter. Pipe smokers found contentment in Old Rip and Richmond Gem Curly Cut.
The ﬁrst factory began operation with 20 unskilled girls; by 1888 the new plant employed over 1,000 skilled women and girls, and cigarette production had increased from 100,000 per month to, 2,000,000 per day.
Jefferson Burdick noted in the American Card Catalog that Lewis Ginter, ever the Southern gentleman, was proud of the women who worked for him in his factory, some of whom were from the better Southern families, and he guarded their welfare with great solicitude. (In fact, many of the subjects of Ginter’s card sets were girls and young women, often of Southern extraction.)
Each girl had her own little workbench where she neatly and efficiently rolled each cigarette, clipped the ends, and wrapped them in bundles of ten or twenty.
The cigarette industry became such big business that the young girls could no longer keep up with demand, and gradually most of them were replaced beginning in 1883 with the invention of James Bonsack’s new automated cigarette rolling machine which could turn out 200 cigarettes a minute.
The activity of the firm's agents extended throughout the United States and into leading markets abroad, particularly Europe, South American and Australia. In 1883, Allen & Ginter opened a factory in England and eventually produced various card issues that were only intended for overseas, particularly their photographic series which can be found in quantities in Australia and South Africa.
In 1885, Ginter introduced a new type of cigarette pack onto the market, the more expensive stiff cardboard “slide and shell” box which did a much better job than the paper packs of protecting the cigarettes from being crushed while being carried in pocket or purse.
So, prior to the introduction of baseball cards as premiums, the Allen & Ginter Company had already figured out how to protect their product from being damaged. They didn’t need the cards to act as stiffeners.
In 1885, Lewis Ginter put it all together, everything he’d learned in his previous 43 years—retailing, wholesaling, brokering, advertising, customer satisfaction, cutting-edge innovations, new technology—and introduced the beautiful chromo-litho graphic images of a variety of subjects. A few examples of these were: Birds of America; American Indian Chiefs; Pirates; Fruits; Flags of the Nations; and dozens more.
It should be noted for accuracy's sake that there is evidence that Allen & Ginter may have produced an insert card in 1884 titled the 'Woodburytype Series' as the words 'Crop of 1884' appear on the back of some cards.
Additional evidence shows that some of these 'Crop of 1884' cards positively were released in 1885 and 1886 in England because of the appearance of one of their local politicians who didn't arrive in office until 1885.
Whichever scenario is accurate, however, (and it’s possible both are), this set of cards was not chromo-lithographic in nature, rather they were a chocolate-brown color on the front with blue backs and included, among other subjects, young unnamed cigarette making girls!
Finally, in 1887, the race among tobacco companies for product loyalty was on, and Ginter released his 50-card set titled, “World’s Champions,” which today goes by the designation of N28, and which Includes ten baseball players.
The following year he released his two “Second Series" of World's Champions sets, the sets we call N29 and N43. The N29 set includes six baseball players among its fifty subjects, and the N43 set includes the same six baseballers but with added background decoration on a large-card format.
Ginter included a checklist, or "backlist," on the back of each card. This no doubt helped to increase the frenzy among collectors of the day as they were able to see just how many cards they were still missing to complete their sets.
As mentioned earlier in this article, the collecting of chromolithographic images was a popular Victorian pastime, and Ginter made only too sure that his customers had plenty of images to collect.
The Allen & Ginter Cards
The cards themselves are simple, yet elegant. The border-less white background contrasted by the beautiful color lithography-both pastels and bolds—combine to create esoteric masterpieces that have not been equaled or surpassed in the 115 years since their creation.
It’s hard to imagine that any other set of cards better captures the essence of 19th century baseball than the Allen & Ginter chromolithographic issues. The cards were so popular in their day that it was common practice for collectors to paste them into Victorian scrapbooks.
Later collectors, usually post-Victorian era, would then routinely tear the cards out of the albums. This is why many of the cards will be found with either paper loss on the backs, whereas portions of the checklist are missing, or small globs of glue with scrapbook paper still attached to the card backs.
The checklist on the back makes for an interesting observation of the times, i.e.,who the public saw as its “champions.” Note that in the 1887 N28 set there are ten baseball players, but there are also ten augilrsts (boxers) and ten oarsmen. Apparently rowing and boxing were as popular and as important as baseball in 1887 America.
N28 Allen & Ginter Photo Checklist
While not rare by any standard, the Allen & Ginter issues are still prized by advanced collectors, and, if one has funds available, it should not be too difﬁcult to put together a complete set of N28s.
The N29 set is also attainable, although it will be somewhat tougher to complete than the N28 set.
editor's note, PSA has graded on average between 40 to 70 cards of each of the baseball issues of the N29 set, which is about half that of the N28 baseball cards.
The N43 set, however, will be decidedly tougher to put together, though in time it could be done. It’s not so much a matter of prohibitive cost with the N43's --though they will cost you $1000-$4000 each in lower grades, and much higher for nicer specimens--it's more a matter of availability. N43's just don't come on the market that often. And for some strange reason--for which I have no explanation--the Fogarty card is far and away the single toughest card to locate. (editor's note, the Fogarty rarity does seem to be true if looking at PSA's population reports for the card.
N29 Allen & Ginter Photo Checklist
In doing my research for this article, I scanned about 100 auction catalogs from numerous auction houses over a 13-year period and only ﬁve examples of the Fogarty were offered for sale. I observed twelve N43 Millers for sale while anywhere from 15-20 of each of the four were offered for sale.
It is also possible that a few of the N43s I saw up for auction were cards being re offered for sale after not selling in their ﬁrst attempt. Also I will admit that I did not have an auction catalog for every single auction house in existence, but I do have almost all the catalogs from all the major houses that have been in business since 1990, so even if not 100% complete, my research was at least indicative of the market.
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As far as the frequency of appearance of the individual cards of the N29 set is concerned, once again it was Fogarty who appeared the least, only being offered for sale seven times (less times than ﬁve of the six N43 cards!).
In the N28 set, in order of least frequently observed for sale, there was Bennett (the least observed), Glasscock (second toughest to find), Mulvey, and Caruthers. It’s easy to understand, I suppose, why the six big N28 stars such as Anson, Clarkson, Kelly, Keefe, Comiskey, and Ward - all of whom are in the Hall of Fame- appears for sale so much more than the commons: they were collected more heavily back in the days they were issued, therefore, more of them survived.
And, no doubt, the same factor is at play in the N29 and N43 sets. Fogarty just wasn’t as popular, then or now. But if any card(s) deserve a premium for scarcity, it’s clearly the two Fogarty cards, and there ain’t no arguin’ that one, folks.
**editors note--while Mr. Purdy's analysis was close, if we judge scarcity based on PSA reports, the Fogarty N43 is the scarcest (only by a few graded copies), whereas in the N29 set the Fogarty isn't quite the scarcest (according to graded copies) the Morrell is.
N43 Allen & Ginter Photo Checklist
*Note player checklist identical to the 1888 N29 Set
And finally, one bit of unrelated trivia that was so fascinating when I read it I just had to pass it along. The blue federal tax stamp printed on every pack of cigarettes and tobacco produced in this country from 1878 to June, 1959, had the same person's image on it.
This image was printed more than 500 billion times, more than any other non-currency person in history. Do you know whose image it was and why it was chosen?
The man whose image appears on the tax stamp was afforded the honor because of his brainchild, the Erie Canal, which was considered an important achievement in American history. Say hello to New York Governor DeWitt Clinton.
The End Of An Era
Almost as suddenly as it had begun, the inclusion of collectible cards into cigarette packs-baseball players and otherwise-ended.
The competition among the principle cigarette manufacturers-Allen & Ginter, W. Duke & Sons, Kinney Tobacco Company, William S. Kimball & Company, and Goodwin & Company-was growing so bitter that they were forced to combine for their own advantage.
Once the former competitors combined their various companies, there was no longer any need to go to the trouble and expense of providing free insert cards in order to attract customers.
In 1890, after several failed attempts to merge, Ginter succeeded in negotiating an outright sale of all the businesses to the American Tobacco Company, organized solely for that purpose.
It was capitalized at $25,000,000 and incorporated in New Jersey after Virginia had disallowed a previous charter. Allen & Ginter acquired stock amounting to $7-1/2 million in the new corporation, of which Ginter was a director until shortly before his death in 1897.
The enormous income he enjoyed during the ensuing years enabled Ginter, who never married, to turn his efforts towards beautifying Richmond, developing her suburban area and supporting numerous charitable organizations.
One of his final undertakings was the construction of the fabulous Jefferson hotel, which opened in 1895 at a cost of $1,350,000.
There were those who said at the time it was a monument to himself, although it was also clear that he was a great and beloved man in the city of Richmond, Virginia.
The provisions of his will bespoke broad interests in the public welfare and so great was the demonstration at his funeral that the Richmond Times declared, “Never before in the history of Richmond did so many of the people do honor to one of their fellow citizens.”
The evidence of Ginter’s inﬂuence and importance to the city of Richmond can still be seen today as documentation of the number of places that have his name attached proves: the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Ginter Park, and the Ginter Mausoleum among others.