It was September 6, 2011 (thanks Exif metadata!) and I thought I had found one–a T206 Honus Wagner card, the “Holy Grail” of baseball cards. I was in the bowels of the Rubenstein Library stacks skimming through several boxes of a large collection of trading cards that form part of the W. Duke, Sons & Co. adverting materials collection when I noticed a small envelope labeled “Piedmont.” For some reason, I remembered that the Honus Wagner card was issued as part of a larger set of cards advertising the Piedmont brand of cigarettes in 1909. Yeah, I got pretty excited.
I carefully opened the envelope, removed a small stack of cards, and laid them out side by side, but, sadly, there was no Honus Wagner to be found. A bit deflated, I took a quick snapshot of some of the cards with my phone, put them back in the envelope, and went about my day. A few days later, I noticed the photo again in my camera roll and, after a bit of research, confirmed that these cards were indeed part of the same T206 set as the famed Honus Wagner card but not nearly as rare.
Fast forward three years and we’re now in the midst of a project to digitize, describe, and publish almost the entirety of the W. Duke, Sons & Co. collection including the handful of T206 series cards I found. The scanning is complete (thanks DPC!) and we’re now in the process of developing guidelines for describing the digitized cards. Over the last few days, I’ve learned quite a bit about the history of cigarette cards, the Duke family’s role in producing them, and the various resources available for identifying them.
Brief History of Cigarette Cards
- Beginning in the 1870s, cigarette manufacturers like Allen and Ginter and Goodwin & Co. began the practice of inserting a trade card into cigarette packages as a stiffener. These cards were usually issued in sets of between 25 and 100 to encourage repeat purchases and to promote brand loyalty.
- In the late 1880s, the W. Duke, Sons, & Co. (founded by Washington Duke in 1881), began inserting cards into Duke brand cigarette packages. The earliest Duke-issued cards covered a wide array of subject matter with series titled Actors and Actresses, Fishers and Fish, Jokes, Ocean and River Steamers, and even Scenes of Perilous Occupations.
- In 1890, the W. Duke & Sons Co., headed by James B. Duke (founder of Duke University), merged with several other cigarette manufacturers to form the American Tobacco Company.
- In 1909, the American Tobacco Company (ATC) first began inserting baseball cards into their cigarettes packages with the introduction of the now famous T206 “White Border” set, which included a Honus Wagner card that, in 2007, sold for a record $2.8 million.
Identifying Cigarette Cards
- The T206 designation assigned to the ATC’s “white border” set was not assigned by the company itself, but by Jefferson R. Burdick in his 1953 publication The American Card Catalog (ACC), the first comprehensive catalog of trade cards ever published.
- In the ACC, Burdick devised a numbering scheme for tobacco cards based on manufacturer and time period, with the two primary designations being the N-series (19th century tobacco cards) and the T-series (20th century tobacco cards). Burdick’s numbering scheme is still used by collectors today.
- Burdick was also a prolific card collector and his personal collection of roughly 300,000 trade cards now resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Preview of the W. Duke, Sons & Co. Digital Collection [coming soon]
- When published, the W. Duke, Sons & Co. digital collection will feature approximately 2000 individual cigarette cards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well as two large scrapbooks that contain several hundred additional cards.
- The collection will also include images of other tobacco advertising ephemera such as pins, buttons, tobacco tags, and even examples of early cigarette packs.
- Researchers will be able to search and browse the digitized cards and ephemera by manufacturer, cigarette brand, and the subjects they depict.
- In the meantime, researchers are welcome to visit the Rubenstein Library in person to view the originals in our reading room.
I recently traveled to Cleveland to attend the second-ever Hydra Connect meeting. For some quick background, Hydra is a repository solution that many libraries and other institutions are using to manage large and interesting collections of digital things. At DUL, our amazing Repository Services team has been working on our Hydra-based repository for around two years. Mike Adamo of DPPS and others have been getting lots of content into the system and from what I understand it’s working great so far. David and Jim have also worked on a Digital Asset Management tool that will be used by the Duke CIT to archive video assets from MOOCs.
DPPS has grand plans to migrate our current digital collections platform to a Hydra-based system, so we’ll be working closely with David and the Jims to utilize their expertise. I attended Hydra Connect as a way to get some exposure to the community and to try and soak up as much knowledge as possible. I’d say the grand takeaway (and I heard this sentiment repeated time and time again) is that Hydra is an amazing open source community. Every single person I met at the meeting was friendly, knowledgeable, and happy to answer questions. It was a fantastic experience. The host institution, Case Western Reserve University, was great and in general Cleveland was excellent - the area we stayed in was very walkable, there were several interesting museums nearby, and by and large the weather was perfect.
Hydra Connect #2 nearly doubled the attendance number from Hydra Connect #1 so clearly there is momentum behind the project. But what seems really apparent is that the community is very welcoming. Beginners like me are treated warmly – you are not scoffed at for asking basic questions.
I started off the meeting by attending a half day Dive into Hydra workshop and followed that with an intro to blacklight. The organizers cleverly passed out USB drives with a pre-packaged development environment all ready to go, so everyone in the room was up and running right away. We made it all the way through the program and even completed a few of the bonus tasks. The organizers did a great job of explaining how our simplified examples could be applied to more complex projects and also stressed best practices for making UI tweaks (protip – use the internationalizations). All in all a very empowering experience.
Wednesday was filled with lots of knowledge sharing. Between the lightning talks and the poster sessions it was amazing to see how many really interesting Hydra projects are out there! In particular, I was struck by these:
- NYU Libraries Project Ichabod
- Amherst and Riak
- Temple Oral History Repository
- Tufts Digital Library – especially their page turner
- Stanford Bassi-Veratti Collection
Overall I had a great experience at Hydra Connect. I learned a ton, met some great people, and most importantly I’m psyched to get to work on a Hydra project here at DUL.
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