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The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > Baseball Cards, 1887-1914

[Detail] A. A. Mattern/John Kling. Hassan Triple Folders, 1912.

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Early baseball cards were issued by tobacco companies to promote sales. By 1887 cigarettes were sold in "slide and shell" boxes that did not need the reinforcement of the stiff cards. Advertising was, at this point, the primary function of the cards.

Browse the collection by player, team, league, city, or card set, to read the back of the cards and the advertising that appears there. For example, the 1887 Buchner Gold Coin card at right says "Continue to save the Wrappers They are Valuable." What other ideas are expressed in the advertisements? Does the use of a baseball card to convey these advertising messages affect the message itself? If so, in what ways?

Ned Williamson, 1887. Buchner Gold Coin

[Ned Williamson], 1887, Buchner Gold Coin

Students can analyze the tobacco companies' decision to use this medium for advertising. Why did tobacco companies think baseball images would help sell their products? Were they targeting certain audiences? Did the tobacco companies have anything at stake in the success of baseball?

Students can discuss where advertisements appear today. How do advertisers use sports to promote their products? How have the advertisements changed from the ones seen in this collection? Students can research what laws regulate tobacco advertisements. Search on tobacco in the current legislative information contained in to see what issues surround the sale and promotion of tobacco today.