"A Sport for Every Girl": Women and Sports at The Metropolitan
Collectors take note: there’s a small but very choice show of vintage trade cards featuring women in sport at The Metropolitan Museum’s Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art, now through July 14, 2013.
The 100 cards on display in the hidden recesses of the American Wing have been culled from the 300,000 trade cards and postcards bequeathed to the museum from 1943 to 1963 by Jefferson Burdick (1900-1963), a Syracuse electrician with a passion — make that obsession — for collecting paper cards. His collection, which he meticulously catalogued (and includes 30,000 baseball cards), is the largest private collection of American trade cards in the US.
The cards, not to be confused with trading cards, made early appearances in cigarette packs in the late 1870s. They were made of stiff paper or cardboard that served to protect the product, advertise the product, and reward the buyer. These mini company ads were prizes, like the prizes that can still be found in Cracker Jack boxes.
And as such, they were attractively illustrated. The cards on display at the newly renovated Luce Center, at the far end of the museum’s cavernous Visible Storage area on the mezzanine, date from the late 1880s to 1914.
The women were, for the most part, models posing for the tobacco companies’ card series, not athletes. As the press release elaborates: “In these early days of female athleticism, the figures shown remained types rather than individuals, engaged in exercises and training but without the recognition given to their male counterparts in competitive and professional leagues.”
Exception: Sharpshooter Annie Oakley (1860-1924), the show’s first image and the real thing. The picture, a color lithograph dated 1887, is tiny and labeled “Miss Annie Oakley,” but it is writ large in this exhibit because Annie was a bona fide personality and sportswoman (note the three guns), not a poseur or coquette. This particular card was part of Allen & Ginter’s The World’s Champions series, which featured sharpshooters, fighters and billiard players; Annie, a star of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, was the only female.
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