Thanks to their iconic retro stylings and seemingly random pick of inserts. Pretty much any collector with a foundational knowledge of trading cards can identify an Allen & Ginter card on sight.
Yet, Allen & Ginter cards are more than a callback to bygone days. By reviving the brand, Topps has been able to continue the legacy of the original trading card company.
Today, Allen & Ginter may be best known for baseball cards but the company was initially founded to grow and sell tobacco. Then, starting in the late 19th century, it decided to design and sell promotional cards featuring Native American chieftains, birds, flags, and famous baseball players. These cards slowly transformed into the first baseball card sets, sparking one of the most beloved hobbies of all time.
Of course, the full history of Allen & Ginter is a little more detailed than that. If you’ve ever wondered about these strangely anachronistic cards, sit back and read up on a brief history of Allen & Ginter baseball cards.
We’ll explain the origins of the company, how it founded collectible trading cards, and how the business slowly changed before being revived again in 2006.
A Little Backstory into John F. Allen and Lewis Ginter
The story of Allen & Ginter cards begins with the story of the company’s namesake founders—John F. Allen and Lewis Ginter.
At the time, both men were successful titans of industry and philanthropists in Richmond, Virginia.
Allen had previously made a small fortune in the tobacco industry while Ginter had made a name for himself in the real estate industry.
By combining their expertise, the entrepreneurs went into business together to grow lighter, bright leaf tobacco that could rival darker Turkish brands.
At first, it wasn’t incredibly popular in the American South but they soon found a market across the pond in London. By the end of the 1880s, they had rebranded from John F. Allen & Company to Allen & Ginter and began to expand.
The Production of the World’s First Baseball Cards
It was during this period of expansion that Allen & Ginter began producing promotional chromolithography cards. These cards featured images of traditional Americana, such as wild animals, birds, famous generals, and everyone’s favorite baseball players. These cards were initially given away with tobacco products but, as the popularity of baseball increased, the cards slowly transformed into the first baseball card sets.
The first Allen & Ginter baseball card set was released in 1887 and featured 50 cards. 10 of which were National League and American Association players. These cards were so popular that the company decided to release another two sets in 1888, including a larger premium set.
However, by the end of that year, Allen & Ginter would merge with several other large tobacco brands to produce the American Tobacco Company, putting an end to their popular branded cards. To meet demand in the market, several other companies began producing baseball cards and, as they say, the rest is history.
Unfortunately, the American Tobacco Company was found to be in violation of antitrust laws and was forced to break up in 1911, effectively wiping out any remainder of Allen & Ginter.
The Rebirth of a Brand and the Continuation of a Legacy
After more than a century without another Allen & Ginter baseball card set, the trademark for the name eventually ran out, giving existing baseball card companies free rein to reinvent and revive the once iconic brand. In 2006, Topps Company did just that, releasing the first Allen & Ginter set since the late 1800s.
This new set was an instant success, with collectors eager to get their hands on cards that so perfectly blended the classic and modern. The set was filled with random inserts and minis, harkening back to the early days of tobacco cards while also feeling fresh and new.
Within the 2006 release, fans could find a mix of celebrities, historical figures, and athletes from a wide range of sports.
In the years since, Topps has continued to release Allen & Ginter card sets annually, each one more popular than the last. The company has also expanded the brand to include other sports, such as football, basketball, and UFC.
They’ve even gone so far as to produce DNA Hair Relic cards with strands of hair from high-profile historical figures, such as:
- George Washington
- King George III of England
- Abraham Lincoln
- Edgar Allen Poe
- John F. Kennedy
- Napoleon Bonaparte
- Ludwig von Beethoven
- Barrack Obama
So, although the original Allen & Ginter cards may be long gone, the legacy of the company lives on through Topps’ annual release. These cards are more than just a callback to bygone days—they’re a reminder of how one company changed the world of trading cards forever.
The Future of Allen & Ginter
It’s safe to say that Allen & Ginter cards are here to stay. The brand has become one of Topps’ most popular and has a devoted following among collectors. With new sets being released every year, there’s always something new to look forward to. So, whether you’re a long-time collector or just getting started, be sure to keep an eye out for the next Allen & Ginter cards.
Considering that the brand continually expands to include unbelievably rare offerings, there’s really no telling where they could go in the future. But, if they’re able to maintain their current popularity, we’re certain that the modern-day Allen & Ginter cards will maintain their current values and appreciate over time.
Final Thoughts on the History of Allen & Ginter Sports Cards
Allen & Ginter cards have come a long way since their humble beginnings as promotional tobacco cards.
Today, they’re some of the most sought-after cards on the market, with collectors eager to get their hands on the latest release.
Thanks to Topps’ revival of the brand, the legacy of Allen & Ginter cards lives on, even more than a century after they were first released.
N28 1887 Allen & Ginter Checklist
Joe Acton – Wrestler
Yank Adams – Billiards
Adrian C. Anson – Baseball
Theo. Bauer – Wrestler
Wm. Beach – Oarsman
Chas W. Bennett – Baseball
Young Bibby (Geo Mehling) – Wrestler
Capt. A.H. Bogardus – Rifle Shooter
Geo. Bubear – Oarsman
Jimmy Carney – Pugilist
Jimmy Carroll – Pugilist
R.L. Caruthers – Baseball
Dr. W.F. Carver – Rifle Shooter
John Clarkson – Baseball
Hon. W.F. Cody – Rifle Shooter
Charles Comiskey – Baseball
Maurice Daly – Billiards
Jack Dempsey – Pugilist
Jos. Dion – Billiards
Albert Frey – Pool Player
Jacob Gaudaur – Oarsman
Capt. Jack Glasscock – Baseball
Albert Hamm – Oarsman
Ed. Hanlan – Oarsman
Geo. H. Hosmer – Oarsman
Timothy Keefe – Baseball
Mike Kelly – Baseball
Jake Kilrain – Pugilist
Joe Lannon – Pugilist
J.L. Malone – Pool Player
Jack McAuliffe – Pugilist
John McKey – Oarsman
J.H. McLaughlin – Wrestler
John McMahon – Wrestler
Charlie Mitchell – Pugilist
Wm. Muldoon – Wrestler
Joseph Mulvey – Baseball
Miss Annie Oakley – Rifle Shooter
Wallace Ross – Oarsman
J. Schaefer – Billiards
Wm. Sexton – Billiards
Geo. F. Slosson – Billiards
Jem Smith – Pugilist
Matsada Sorakichi – Wrestler
John L. Sullivan – Pugilist
John Teemer – Oarsman
E.A. Trickett – Oarsman
M. Vignaux – Billiards
John M. Ward – Baseball
Ike Weir – Pugilist