Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Dangers of Collecting Baseball Cards

In the spring of 2018, I was asked by Mark Armour and Chris Dial, the founders and co-chairs of SABR's Baseball Card Committee, to give a presentation at their committee meeting as part of the 2018 SABR Convention in Pittsburgh. This is a slightly-updated version of that presentation.

The Dingley Act of 1897, a massive tariff law that was put into effect under the McKinley administration, included a provision that made it illegal for companies to give away coupons (including things such as baseball cards) in packages of tobacco. The exact legalese reads:

None of the packages of smoking tobacco and fine-cut chewing packages of tobacco and cigarettes prescribed by law shall be permitted to have packed in, or attached to, or connected with, them, any article or thing whatsoever, other than the manufacturers' wrappers and, labels, the internal revenue stamp and the tobacco or cigarettes, respectively, put up therein, on which tax is required to be paid under the internal revenue laws; nor shall there be affixed to, or branded, stamped, marked, written, or printed upon, said packages, or their contents, any promise or offer of, or any order or certificate for, any gift, prize, premium, payment, or reward.

Why do this? Because the monopoly known as the American Tobacco Company tried to quash its competition (independent tobacco companies) by giving away goods through this coupon system, something that smaller companies did not have the wherewithal to do.

This effectively halted the creation of baseball cards until the act was usurped by the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act of 1909, which removed the ban on tobacco inserts. With this new law, baseball (and other cigarette) cards returned ... and with a vengeance.

Today, well over a century later, the various baseball card sets of 1909-1911 — the sets known as T204, T205, T206, T207, etc. — are prized and celebrated. But, as you might expect, baseball card collecting was also quite popular at that time. What you may not know is that nearly just as popular was the press expressing great concern that baseball card collecting was dangerous. Dangerous to children, dangerous to business owners, and dangerous to society in general.

I’ve found dozens of articles detailing dangers (or perceived dangers) of baseball card collecting at and around the time of the return of baseball cards in the 20th century, and these dangers fit into six main categories.

1) Baseball card collecting created a nuisance.

From the Washington (DC) Evening Star, June 30, 1912:


And from the Greenville (SC) News, March 15, 1910:

Wagner, Cobb, Evers, Mathewson, Collins ... and Bugs Raymond? Well, Bugs did have a decent season in 1909, but wouldn't you think they'd tab someone a bit more obvious, like Three Finger Brown or Ed Walsh?

2) Baseball card collecting promoted the illegal purchase of cigarettes by minors.

According to the Lexington (NC) Dispatch, September 29, 1909:

3) As a consequence of purchasing tobacco, children were enticed to become smokers.

This article was published in the Raleigh (NC) News and Observer, August 15, 1909:

"Nude or near-nude picture of a woman?" Perhaps they were thinking of the N166 "Occupations for Women" series? (There were other "tempting bait" series, as well.)

And this from the Raleigh (NC) Times, August 25, 1909:


4) Baseball card collecting promoted gambling.

As published in the Wilmington (DE) Morning News, July 21, 1909:

Additionally, according to the Fort Mill (SC) Times, October 21, 1909:

5) Baseball card collecting brought about physical injuries.

Read this from the Washington (D.C.) Post, May 8, 1910:

6) And, thanks to baseball card collecting, children became criminals.

The Los Angeles (CA) Times, August 10, 1911 wrote:

This report appeared in the Winston-Salem (NC) Twin-City Daily Sentinel, August 6, 1909:

Finally, the Wilson (NC) Daily Times, August 23, 1910 reported:

In doing this research, I found these complaints about card collecting in numerous newspapers during the period of 1909 through 1912, with most occurring in 1909 and 1910. It seems that by 1911, the furor over the evils of baseball card collecting had subsided considerably. Additionally, the majority of newspapers that railed against the practice were based in major tobacco-producing states, particularly North and South Carolina.