10.08.2009

Cartes de visite and baseball cards.

When we lived in the Washington DC area for many years, we became Civil War buffs. I'm not sure it's possible to live in that region and NOT become interested in the Civil War, because Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia have so many battlefields reverently preserved by the National Park Service.

One year, in March, I was driving back from Indiana on one of the very few times in my whole life that I had to take a long drive by myself. For some reason, on the way back home, I took the turnoff to see Antietam, the site of what the South called the Battle of Sharpsburg, the bloodiest single day in American history.

This turned out to be one of the most moving experiences I've ever had in a historical setting. The park was virtually empty, which is rare indeed. There was someting eerie in the way the wind was blowing, in the sounds of the air, in the terrain itself--which in 1853 had seemed to commanders it would provide fine cover for infantrymen. The rail and stone fences, outcroppings of limestone, and many hollows and swales remain as they were in 1863. I walked and drove the battlefield for about two hours. At Bloody Lane, the Cornfield, at Burnside Bridge, and perhaps most of all at the Dunker Church--please don't think I'm loopy--most certainly I could feel the presence of spirits, of the people who fought and fell there. Not only the soldiers, but the people of the town and surrounding farms of Sharpsburg, whose lives were turned upside down.

Well, that experience at Antietam led to a lifelong interest in the Civil War. My later trip to Gettysburg was not as dramatic, but reading about those three days--especially in Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Killer Angels--served to deepen my interest. There are two figures who fascinate me from that dramatic period in American history. One is Clara Barton, whose courage and determination to help wounded soldiers no matter the personal cost is a complex and stirring tale. The other figure is Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, whose quick thinking and bravery as commander at the Battle of Little Round Top (Gettysburg) contributed to the coming Union victory.

He commanded, and was wounded in, several other battles; he was made a brigadier general and brevet major general. For his actions at Little Round Top, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain received the Medal of Honor. At the end of the war, he was given the honor of commanding the Union troops at the surrender ceremony for the infantry of Lee's Army at Appomattox. Chamberlain returned to his home state, Maine, where he had been a professor at Bowdoin College, and became president of the college and also governor of the state. I expressed interest in this card somewhere in blogland, and dayf was kind enough to put one aside for me. It's one of my favorite nonsports cards now. Is there any deft way to tie in this Joshua Chamberlain Topps card with baseball cards?

Yes. From 1860-1866, the idea for baseball cards was planted in the American brain in the form of "cardomania" as people collected cartes de visite, a small paper photographic print mounted on a commercially produced card.

The size is 2⅛ × 3½ inches mounted on a card sized 2½ × 4 inches. The carte de visite is not considered a particularly rare item today because millions were produced in the 19th century. In the day, people collected cards of prominent contemporary figures.People put together binders...er, that is, albums, and amassed as many cards as possible in their areas of interest. The albums and cards became enormously popular and were traded among friends and visitors. Albums for the collection and display of cards became a common fixture in Victorian parlors.

Does any of this sound familiar? And don't you keep your binder in the parlor?

But wait, I have digressed. The point is that the Cardboard Junkie sent us a number of wonderful cards. (We have a packet for him too, and it will get mailed any minute now, no doubt.)

Do you like how the drawing on the back is reminscent of the one on the front?

dayf is a gentleman blogger who doesn't revel in the brilliance of his own writing (although he could, because he runs the most entertaining baseball card blog in the history of the world) but notices what other people say in their blogs...for instance, he remembered our passing reference when we decided to collect 1956 NY Giants Topps cards. (We like 1956 Topps and have deep family ties with the NY Giants. Related to those facts, here are our 1956 Topps dream and our Polo Grounds posts.) And cardville is all kind of six degrees related, because dayf's favorite baseball card is a 1956 Topps Hank Aaron. We don't own that one. But he does.

Aren't these kind of beautiful? The backs of 1956 Topps cards are breathtaking. Unstinting detail, extreme graphics...would Topps pay anyone nowadays to draw detailed narratives such as these? No. Of course not. This isn't computer art, peeps. This is the effort of someone hunched over a table. This is a labor of love:

The fronts aren't bad either:

What have we lost in card art? We've lost something. I wish I were articulate enough to name it.


Here's another back that can bring a tear to the eye:dayf also included two Zito Effect Darryl Strawberry cards. Here's the back of one:

Never laid eyes on these before. On the left, Darryl looks like he is batting right before he climbs the beanstalk:Two Davids that made you know who very happy! (The Goodwin adds the bonus smiling Mr. Met!): A dreamy Nolan Ryan, in a Mets uniform, floating in the clouds right before he cleans someone's clock:

Mr. Met is trying to get off the card, to the right, hustling so it is not HIS clock that gets cleaned by Mr. Ryan. We like the Goodwin Champions. A noble effort. And dayf, who is an expert on vintage cards, also included a vintagey Curtis Granderson, making for a perfect effect:A baseball player with old-fashioned values and a classic work ethic depicted on a classic style card. That works for us. Thank you, dayf, for adding cards to our Favorites of All Time collection.

10 comments:

packaddict said...

Great post. The 1956 Topps cards really are beautiful.. I'll have to pick one up one day. And I'm pretty sure I saw Chamberlain's story in a movie some time ago.

night owl said...

'56 Topps is truly the best set of all-time. I always say my favorite set ever is '75 Topps, but that's because I have so many personal connections to that set. But if I am being as objective as I can, then '56 outshines all. I am lucky to possess the number of them that I do.

Thanks for another '56 tribute.

Grand Cards said...

Very Nice Curtis Card--if you don't mind my asking, what is printed on the back?

MattR said...

The 1956 Topps set is a beautiful set. It's in my top 5 (along with 1960, 1967, 1975, and 1976).

bul2 said...

Those Topps drawings in the back look nice. On the other hand, that Ryan card has a weird "George W. Bush" look.

Spiff said...

I know exactly what you mean by what you experienced at Sharpsburg. I have never been there but have been to several other fields and the feeling is the same.

dayf said...

Glad you liked 'em, I got some of those '56s in the huge lot where I got my '56 Aaron. I thought the New York Giants were cool and had many of them already when I bought the lot. I figured the best way to put them to good use would be to send them to you to try to tempt your to try to go for the team set. I saw the Mays once for $15, so it's doable.

As for the Cartes de Visite, there was an exhibit of them at the Civil War Museum in Kennesaw last year. I went and checked them out and they were really, really cool. That museum is great for a Civil War buff, but it's got a bit of a southward slant. It also has a great unintentionally hilarious film of the taking of the General. "We woulda got away with it if it weren't fer them damn Yankees!". Buster Keaton is rightly honored there as well so it's all right with me.

Grand Cards: The back features a Polar Bear tobacco logo. I have a duplicate I can scan for you one of these days, just e-mail me or pester me with a comment.

Dinged Corners said...

Thanks dayf for answering Grand's question.

Thrash said...

Antietam is a beautiful place. And, don't feel weird about feeling spirits, I feel them nearly every time I visit a battlefield. Good post.

Clay said...

As nice a card as the Chamberlain item is there is one major and glaring error on this card in that the Medal of Honor shown at bottom right is a Navy variation and not the proper Army variation that General Chamberlain received ...

If you are unfamiliar with the many different design / ribbon changes of the various Medals of Honor since its inception just go to ' SEARCH ' where you will find many informative web pages with detailed material and images.