By David C. Kaszuba, Susquehanna University
In the 30-plus years that the Harris Interactive polling firm has been asking Americans to rank occupations by prestige, the journalism profession has consistently ranked in the bottom third of the list – lagging behind even the oft-derided likes of lawyers and politicians. Annually, less than 20 percent of Americans have assigned “very great prestige”
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to journalists – an assessment due partly, perhaps, to the unflattering shadow that celebrity- and scandal-obsessed media outlets have cast on the entire newsgathering profession.
Given that this lack of regard for the Fourth Estate has been an established three-decade trend, it may come
as a surprise to learn that the members of the journalism profession were so revered 120 years ago that they were actually featured on their very own trading cards.
Trading cards – as in, “I’ll give you two James Gordon Bennetts for your
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Bennett and Pulitzer, lions of nineteenth century New York
journalism, were among 50 newspapermen from across the
country who were featured in a set of collectible “American Editors” cards issued in 1887 by the
Allen & Ginter tobacco company of Richmond, VA.
Like many tobacco companies of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Allen & Ginter produced
a variety of card subjects that were inserted in their tobacco packages. Popular sets included Native American chiefs, world monarchs, pirates, and athletes.
Among swashbucklers and baseball heroes, editors might seem, at first blush, an unlikely subject for a card set. But when one considers the era, the production of editor cards makes perfect sense, according to Robert Forbes, co-author of American Tobacco Cards.
“You’ve got to think like the time,” Forbes says. “You’ve got to block TV, radio and national magazines out of your head. When you do that, what do you have left as your primary means of communication? Newspapers. So editors were the big power brokers. They influenced popular opinion. They controlled the news.”
Forbes’ co-author Terry Mitchell adds: “Editors of that era were famous. They were well known.”
Today, the editors included in the set are largely forgotten. Aside from Pulitzer and Bennett, only a few other from the set (Charles Dana, Henry Grady) are likely to be familiar – except
to media historians or to contemporary journalists who are acquainted with their own newspapers’ histories. Even so, Scottsdale, AZ, collectibles dealer Robert Marcy says the editor cards are “very desirable,” not only among collectors of tobacco issues, but also among people seeking an artifact connected to their hometown or to the newspaper where they or a family member once worked.
“I might get a call from someone looking for a card because they’re a relative of someone who used to be employed at that newspaper, or maybe because they’re
a family member of the editor who’s pictured on the card,” Marcy explains.
The biggest factor in the cards’ appeal, though, is probably the artwork. The cards, which come in two sizes, feature color paintings by Philadelphia-based lithographers George Harris & Sons. The smaller cards, which measure 2-by-4 inches, have head-and-shoulder shots of each editor, with a page from the respective newspaper shown behind each portrait. The larger cards, similar in size to a standard postcard, include the same content, but also add an iconic background picture (Main Street, a church steeple, a monument) from the town where the newspaper was published. The color, variety and attractiveness of these backgrounds are striking, according to dealer Forbes and author Mitchell.
“The artwork is glorious,” Mitchell says. The larger cards “have beautiful pictures as a backdrop.”
Pulitzer’s card, for example, shows a scene from Central Park, while the card of Denver Rocky Mountain News editor John Arkins depicts a cowboy herding cattle in Colorado’s foothills.
Nearly all of the editors depicted on the cards are males – not surprising considering that men dominated the newspaper industry at the time. Each of the men is formally attired in a coat and tie, and many of them sport mustaches, beards or muttonchops.
The only woman depicted in the set is Mrs. Eliza J. Nicholson, who inherited control of the New Orleans Picayune when its owner, her husband Col. A. M. Holbrook, died. Nicholson is generally credited with leading the paper out of debt and making it a powerful political voice in the South.
In contrast to the gender imbalance of the card set and its complete lack of racial diversity (black press editors are nowhere to be found), its 50 editors do reflect geographic diversity. The East has the greatest representation, with 21 of its editors included in the set. Next is the Midwest, with 17; followed by the South, with eight; and the West, still largely unsettled in 1887, with four. The Western-most newspaper to be featured is the San Francisco Chronicle, led at the time by Michael Henry de Young.
Although San Francisco is the only California city featured in the tobacco set, some states have several newspapers included in the card series. Ohio, for example, is represented fives times – on cards featuring the editors of the Cleveland Leader; Columbus Daily Ohio State Journal,
Dayton Daily Journal, Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, and Cincinnati Enquirer.
Cincinnati is one of several cities whose inclusion in the card set underscores an era a when urban centers regularly had two or more competing newspapers. New York City, in fact, has editors from eight of its newspapers commemorated in the tobacco card series. Among those editors is Oswald Ottendorfer, editor of the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung, a daily aimed at German immigrants and the sole foreign-language newspaper represented in the card set.
Other cities with multiple editors in the card set are Philadelphia and Chicago, with three each, and Baltimore, Boston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., with two apiece.
Anyone interested in
collecting Allen & Ginter editor cards should check eBay. The cards occasionally pop up on the auction site, although it is rare to find more than two or three listed at any one time. The cards also can sometimes be found at sports and nonsports card shows, with the latter, of course, being the more likely venue.
The smaller cards, called N1s by collectors, are more common than their larger counterparts, classified as N35s.
According to card dealer Marcy, a small editor card in excellent condition would cost around $40, whereas the larger version would likely fetch $100 or more.
Finding cards in excellent condition can be difficult, though. Many original owners of the tobacco cards glued them in albums; therefore, any surviving cards that were removed from those books often have paper loss on the back. However, given that the backs contain no biographical information – they simply state that the card is one in a series of 50 – the paper loss may not be a major drawback for a casual collector interested in purchasing one or more cards simply to frame and display them.
Another option for those who want to create a display is to purchase a digital print from the New York Public Library archives (http://digitalgallery.nypl.
Below are the journalists featured in the 1887 Allen & Ginter “American Editors” tobacco card set. Names of editors and newspapers are listed as they appear on the cards.
Geo. Abel – The Baltimore Sun
Felix Agnus – Baltimore American
John Arkins – Denver Rocky Mountain News
Lewis Baker – St. Paul Daily Globe
A.H. Belo – The Galveston Daily News
Jas. Gordon Bennett – The New York Herald
W.D. Bickham – Dayton Daily Journal
George Bleistein – Buffalo Courier
Alden J. Blethen – The Minneapolis Tribune
Saml. Bowles – Springfield Republican
J.M. Bundy – New York Mail and Express
Geo. W. Childs – Philadelphia Public Ledger
W.W. Clapp – Boston Morning Journal
A.S. Colyar – The Nashville Daily American
Edwin Cowles – The Cleveland Leader
Charles A. Dana – The New York Sun
F.W. Dawson – The Charlotte News and Courier
M.H. DeYoung – San Francisco Chronicle
S.J. Flickinger – The Columbus Daily Ohio State Journal
Allan Forman – The New York Journalist
G.C. Goodwin – The Salt Lake Daily Tribune
Henry W. Grady – The Atlanta Constitution
Murat Halstead – The Cincinnati Commercial Gazette
Jos. R. Hawley – The Hartford Courant
Charles H. Jones – Jacksonville Times Union
George R. Jones – The New York Times
Albert R. Lamar – The Macon Telegraph
Page McCarty – The Richmond Daily Times
J.B. McCullagh – St. Louis Globe Democrat
John R. McLean – The Cincinnati Enquirer
Joseph Medill – The Chicago Tribune
Jno. C. New – The Indianapolis Journal
Mrs. E.J. Nicholson – The New Orleans Daily Picayune
William Penn Nixon – The Chicago Daily Inter-Ocean
Crosby S. Noyes – The Washington Evening Star
Frank R. O’Neil – The St. Louis Missouri Republican
Oswald Ottendorfer – New Yorker Staats-Zeitung
Joseph Pulitzer – The New York World
William Purcell – The Rochester Union and Advertiser
William E. Quinby – Detroit Free Press
Whitelaw Reid – New York Tribune
O.H. Rothaker – The Omaha Republican
Richard R. Silvester – The Washington Post
William M. Singerly – The Philadelphia Record
John A. Sleicher – Albany Evening Journal
Charles Emory Smith – The Philadelphia Press
Melville E. Stone – The Chicago Daily News
Charles H. Taylor – The Boston Daily Globe
R.T. Van Horn – Kansas City Daily Journal
Henry Watterson – The Louisville Courier Journal
David C. Kaszuba, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Communications and Director of
the Center for Teaching & Learning at Susquehanna University. He has previously published research in
the Center for Teaching & Learning at Susquehanna University. He has previously published research inAmerican Journalism.