There’s something about the mysteries of the hobby – the unsolved puzzles that century-old memorabilia creates, particularly with baseball cards – that somehow turns collectors into detectives. Digging deep to figure out how a card issue was printed, what part of the country it was distributed, why certain players were left out, why certain print errors occurred – keeps us all up nights.
Several months ago, a consignment we received had the same effect here. It was two unique pieces from the 1888 Scrapps Tobacco issue – a pair of conjoined die-cuts, two of the only three known to exist. One of the two pieces featured two Hall of Famers – Sam Thompson and Ned Hanlon – connected together. The other featured Bill Gleason and William Robertson, but it also featured something far more interesting:
One of the card’s die-cut tabs was still attached to the bottom of the Bill Gleason die-cut: a six-pointed star, with “H. D. S. & Co.” printed in the center of it, in red ink. What on earth was “H. D. S. & Co?”
It is well-known at this point in the hobby that no such brand as “Scrapps Tobacco” ever existed. In fact, none other than Rob Lifson of Robert Edward Auctions, in a 2005 auction description, explained “This seems an appropriate time to clear up a long-standing, obscure hobby mystery relating to the identification of this issue as “Scrapps Tobacco.” This identification first appeared in The Sports Collectors Bible (1975). The fact is, there is no tobacco brand by the name of “Scrapps.” The responsibility for this erroneous attribution, we must admit, falls squarely on the shoulders of Robert Edward Auctions’ President Robert Lifson. ‘Back in 1974, when I was working on The Sports Collectors Bible, editor Bert Sugar called me up and wanted me to clarify the name of this issue. I wasn’t sure what this set should be called, so I called up Dr. Lawrence Kurzok and asked him. Kurzok was one of the great old-time collectors who was a contemporary of Jefferson Burdick. In a very quick fact-checking conversation, he told me they were ‘Scrapps,’ and assuming this was a tobacco issue, I misinterpreted him and thought that he meant ‘Scrapps Tobacco.’ What he really meant was that these cards were a series designed to be glued in scrapbooks…I reported back that this set should officially be catalogued ‘Scrapps Tobacco’ brand…”
Ever since, these beautiful die-cut cards have been catalogued as “Scrapps Tobacco,” in the Standard Catalog as well as by both grading companies and virtually every other checklist we have ever seen.
We have the utmost respect for Rob Lifson, his integrity, and his researching capabilities. Rob has forgotten more about the hobby than most of us will ever know. However, this did nothing for our curiosity, and only made us think more about “H. D. S. & Co.” Could H. D. S & Co possibly be the company that manufactured and/or distributed the Scrapps Tobacco cards?
Our research led us to several companies that were active in the late 1800s that could be called “H. D. S. & Co.” One company based in Virginia appeared to be in the textiles business. Another company, H. D. Smith & Co. of Connecticut, was a manufacturer of tools, with products that are still widely collected today.
It was the third company, however, H. D. Smith & Co. of Cincinnati, that interested us most. An Ohio business directory from the late 1800s identified the company as “Manufacturers of Confectionery, Chewing Gum and Paper Boxes; Dealers in Nuts and Fire Works.” This seemed like something more up our alley!
As we dug further, we found a number of different ads for H. D. Smith, as well as some business information on the company. Owned by Harry D. Smith of Cincinnati, the company offices were at 206-210 Main Street. They manufactured several brands of chewing gum, and applied for a patent for a medicinal gum they called “Cough.” According to the “inspector of shops,” the company employed 30 men and 45 women. They advertised their “Big Long Chewing Gum” on trade cards, including one die-cut card in the form of a rooster.
“Prominent among our Cincinnati industries is to be found the well and favorably-known house of HD Smith & Co., manufacturers of confectionery and chewing-gum, making a specialty of the latter. Their goods are known and sold from Maine to California. Among their large variety, the brands “Red Riding Hood,” “Crystal Palace,” “Beauty,” “Cough,” “Excelsior,” and “Ylang Ylang” are the most prominent, and which the trade at large are familiar with. A novel production of theirs this season is the St. Louis and Detroit Champion Baseball Gum – a piece of gum with a perfect lithograph picture of one of the champion nine of the National League or American Association on each piece. The pictures were made to order in Germany, and are wonders in their way. Their “Beauty” gum (with mirror attached) commands a large sale the country over. H. D. Smith & Co. believe in and make only pure goods, and at all times are alive to the wants of the trade in their line.”
This paragraph, coupled with the “H. D. S. & Co.” printed on the tab of the Gleason/Robinson pair, leads us to believe that the mystery surrounding the origin of “Scrapps Tobacco” cards have been solved. They are actually “H. D. Smith & Co. GUM” cards, likely issued in early to mid 1888, and could potentially be the earliest gum cards ever issued, if they predate the G&B Gum issue of that same year. At the very least, they appear to be the hobby’s first full-color gum cards.
We have presented our findings with the editors of the Standard Catalog, and we have been advised that they agree with our findings – beginning with the next issue, “Scrapps Tobacco” will heretofore be known and catalogued as “1888 H. D. Smith & Co.” We are pleased to present you with two lots in our Fall auction that represent two of the three attached pairs of 1888 H. D. Smith & Co. Baseball Gum die-cuts, the very cards that helped solve the longstanding mystery of Scrapps Tobacco, and quite possibly the first commercially-issued gum cards.