I’m gonna collect like it’s 1899

The book that started it all

I was gifted this book in 1989 as a birthday present. I already had a Beckett book and a few other card-related books by this time, and I was a faithful Beckett monthly and CCP price guide reader. (‘member that price guide?)

But this book was different. This book was my 1st real exposure to 19th century cards.
The title is the “Consumer Guide Official Baseball Card Collecting Handbook” by Publications International. It was written by the late Bob Lemke, a collector I have always considered to be a member of the second generation of hobby pioneers.
In the 2nd issue of “The Old Judge,” Lew Lipset gives us a “review” of the book. It was not a very glowing report as Lipset claimed there was not much in the way of new material in the book with some of the reference material being lifted from his own publication, the “Encyclopedia of Baseball Cards.” (Lew is also a member of the second generation of hobby pioneers.)

But Lew’s books were not for the entry level collector. His detailed books were for the advanced collector of pre-war baseball cards. The Comsumer Guide was written for the newer, more modern collector. And in 1989 there were a lot of new collectors showing up to the card scene. This book was more for a kid like me that knew modern cards already and was beginning to get into vintage.

The book includes some general pricing for card sets and even some “investing” advice in the form of what the author sees the sets value doing over time. This info is clearly outdated by this point. But you don’t pick up a book like this for the pricing.

The book has its flaws, for sure. For example, there are a number of mainstream vintage sets not listed in the book. E-cards are absent completely. But there was enough there to spark a new found love for me.

What made this book “new” at the time was the detail that Bob added to what otherwise would be your basic card set catalog listing. As we go back through time in the book and get into vintage 1950s cards, we start to see a bit of deep diving into some old school card knowledge with set details and opinions. No doubt Lemke, like all of us vintage collectors, was inspired by Lew and his expert writings to some extent.

Besides your typical card set descriptions, the book includes sections titled: “Noteworthy Cards” in the set descriptions and in some instances “Our Favorite Card,” which happens to be the section I latched onto and read word for word.
I would go back thru the book and only read the “Our Favorite Card” portion of the set listings, and it put me on a different level of collecting. I learned there is so much more to the story when it comes to cards. Every card has a story to tell.

The one set that really stuck out to me was the 1887 Kalamazoo Bats set. First off, what a name for a baseball card set!
These cards looked so primitive, like “hundreds” of years old (hey, I was young).
The set listing explains just how rare these cards are, one of the rarest 19th century sets. Even today, we still only know 62 different Kalamazoo Bats cards.

The “Our Favorite Card” of the Kalamazoo Bats set was mysterious and intriguing. It was a card with a story to tell, or at least a portion of a story.

To begin with, it is a two-player card. Two-player cards are one of the most desirable types of cards in the Kalamazoo Bats set. One card even features two players facing away from the camera!

The first player on this particular card, making the tag, is Lou Bierbauer. Now, if you are a Pittsburg Pirates fan (no “G” in Pittsburgh back in the day) you can thank Mr. Bierbauer for the team nickname. It was his move to the Pittsburgh team and the circumstances surrounding the move that led to the team nickname “Pirates.” The name stuck around.
The player “just” short of the bag is shown as Gallagher with the Philadelphia Athletics.

But this guy may not even exist! At least not by that name. There was no Gallagher that played for a Philly team at this time. In fact, if this was in actually an image of Bill Gallagher, it would be a bit out of date even for 19th century card standards. He last played pro ball in 1884 in the Union Association league!

What is interesting is if we look closely at the cabinet version of this rare card, we get another clue towards identifying the player sliding. In the photo, we can see that he is wearing a bib-style jersey, unlike the Athletics jerseys of that time. Across the bib is the name “Defiance.”
While there are clues to help one day ID the player for sure, there remains work to do.

How can a player be on a card and not be known? My tween brain was short-circuited by this. If I opened a pack of ’89 Upper Deck, I am going to know, or at least find out who every single player is. So how could a baseball card be made and distributed and no one knows who is really depicted on it?

19th century cards were exotic stuff for a kid like me. How were they made? (That is a whole ‘nuther blog post) How did these cards get into collector’s hands? Who were the teams and players? I had a lot to learn. And I knew that even if I ever saw this particular two-player card in person, I probably would never be able to afford it. But I knew I wanted an example of the card one day.
This is the only example I have seen in person since 1989 when my chase began. This card was sold in an auction lot in 2018, but now here in 2022, I got the chance to snag it. Even though the “Smoke Kalamazoo Bats” ad was cut off the bottom of the card by no doubt a protective mother back in the 1800s, it doesn’t matter. After nearly 34 years, I have added this card to my collection.

How can you not love these cards? The look of these cards is mesmerizing. Some were outdoor photos on the diamond. Some players have suspenders hanging down over their uniforms. Some of the outdoor photos were in front of canvas backdrops featuring trees and other everyday decorations not quite appropriate for a baseball scene. Some were taken haphazardly where we can see the wood frames holding up the canvas. A book could be published just showcasing each photo used in this amazing set of cards.

I landed my white whale. I got the card I have chased for the longest time in my collecting life. So, what card is next? Hopefully it’s another Kalamazoo Bats. Maybe it is this same card whole with the ad at the bottom. Maybe it is something new entirely.

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