“Girl Baseball Players” Cigarette Pack Cards Of The 1880s

Polka Dot Laying Down
Polka Dot Picking Up Ball
The Batter With Catcher, From Type 2 Series of Baseball Cards
Stealing Second Baseball Girls, From Type 2 Series of Baseball Cards
“Girl Baseball Players” Cigarette Pack Cards Of The 1880s
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In 1886, Virginia tobacco manufacturer Allen & Ginter created two unusual series of baseball cards to promote their Virginia Brights brand.

Virginia Brights, according to the firm, were "unexceptionably fine" and "unusually mild" cigarettes from the state's "Bright Districts" that offered "great comfort and satisfaction to those who inhale the smoke of their cigarettes."

To peddle that satisfaction to their predominantly male smokers, Allen & Ginter chose not to include cards featuring hand-painted portraits of star baseball players from the era in their cigarette packs, an increasingly common practice. Instead, they hired female models to pose as baseball players in two series of sepia-toned baseball cards.

The "Type 1" "Girl Baseball Players" series shows a female baseball player or players wearing a polka-dotted bib. The "Type 2" series, lessening the indignity, depicts the women in standard uniforms, sometimes with player positions noted somewhere on the image.

These novelty baseball cards weren't meant merely for promotional purposes: Their stiffness helped the ten hand-rolled cigarettes in the pack stay uncrushed and intact, the second instance in the production pipeline of female labor ensuring a quality smoke.

In an industry-changing move, that same year Allen & Ginter also became the first tobacco company to employ females, with more than 1,000 girls hand-rolling Virginia Brights and other brands at their Richmond warehouses.

But work for women on the baseball diamond was still unavailable. More than a half-century before A League of Their Own-era women proved their baseball bonafides, these anonymous women, instead of even being given the chance to play, were used as props to help convince men to prolong a deadly smoking habit.

Why did Allen & Ginter use these women in this way? The images in the gallery above, while playful, are far from pornographic, even by late 19th-century American standards. And there do not appear to be any contemporary accounts of Allen & Ginter's motives for creating the cards, leaving one to wonder and worry if misogynist ridicule, as opposed to titillation, sparked their creation.


Next, read the tale of Jackie Mitchell, the 17-year-old girl who struck out Babe Ruth. Then, discover the history of America's defunct baseball teams.

Kellen Perry
Kellen Perry writes about television, history, music, art, video games, and food for ATI, Grunge, Ranker, Ranker Insights, and anyone else that will have him.
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