Non-Cardboard Baseball Cards – B18 Blankets, S74 Silks, and L1 Leathers
The past few decades have seen a rise in interest and collectibility of baseball cards that for years were on the fringes of the hobby. Cards that were made on stock other than cardboard were often overlooked and dismissed as nothing more than a novelty.
Today, these cards that were once treated as red-headed stepchildren within the hobby both from advanced collectors seeking a new challenge or from newer collectors that appreciate the chance to own a unique century old baseball card. While some prices are in the stratosphere, there are many affordable issues that make great collectibles and display items. Below is a look at some of the most commonly collected and famous options for those looking to try something different from the classic cardboard stock.
B18 Blankets – 1914
The large, felt squares that comprise the B18 Blankets are a great choice for a collector. The set has many quirks and can be quite a challenge to complete. Amongst the 91 players issued are legends like Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Walter Johnson. Each 5¼” felt square features a line drawing of the player surrounded by two pennants with the team and league and with a baseball diamond as the frame. The drawings vary greatly in quality with some players barely recognizable and others are a good likeness. Issued as a tobacco premium, many ended up being sewn into quilts or pillowcases. It is not unusual to find them with telltale needle marks along the border.
There is no wrong way to collect these. Many try and collect a single team (there are 10 of the then 16 teams represented), while others go strictly for the rare color combinations (many of these cards have multiple colors for the infield and basepaths). The prices offer something for everyone – a mint Ty Cobb will normally be $500+ and many of the rarer color combinations will cost $100+, but many common players can be found in excellent to mint condition for less than $20. This makes them great for the type card collector and affordable even to the newest of collectors.
S74 Silks – 1909 / 1910
Another popular non-cardboard baseball card is the 1909 era silks (actually a satin fabric). Measuring roughly 2″ x 3″ these cards have designs based on the popular T205 gold border tobacco set. The silks were produced with advertising from four of the American Tobacco Companies: Red Sun (rare), Old Mill, Helmar and Turkey Red. These cards were issued as plain white cards with a thin paper back that boasted an advertisement and also as a colored version that featured the tobacco company name as part of the front design and no paper backing. Both types are unnumbered, but there are 92 known white series and 120 of the colored variety that have been cataloged.
Unlike the robust blankets, these cards are commonly found with frayed edges and in poor condition. Many were also used in sewing projects and like the B18 blankets may be found with obvious needle holes. There have been cases where unscrupulous people have rebacked them as the thin cardboard backing is often missing and greatly devalues the card. The prices range greatly. Stars like Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb command hundreds of dollars depending upon condition, but common players and semi-stars can be purchase in lower grades for $15 – $30. It is any great non-cardboard type set and the beautiful portraits based on the T205 are instantly recognizable.
There is also an S81 Large Silk that measures a robust 7″ x 9″ and feature the same lineup as the L1 Leathers discussed below. The poses werebased on the more common T3 Turkey Reds. These silks are far rarer than the S74 issue and routinely fetch $500+ for almost any common player and the stars (especially Mathewson) may command thousands. The full set of 25 is only for advanced collectors with patience and deep pocket!
Among the most unique of all baseball cards is the 1912 L1 Leathers. This cowhide shaped piece of genuine leather depicts the same 25 players as found in the S81 Silks, but with a different number. The sizing is roughly 9″ x 12″ along the widest and tallest point. The poses are similarly taken from the T3 cabinets in most instances. Impossibly rare, the leathers rarely surface and generate bidding excitement whenever one comes available at one of the leading baseball card auctions. Commons may still easily fetch $1000+. In addition to the baseball leathers there were also many non-sports leathers produced at the same time with topics ranging from Indians to cowboys to actresses and more.
The B18s, S74s, and L1 Leathers are among the more celebrated non-cardboard baseball cards, but there are others and this non-traditional baseball card is well worth an exploration. And as always – sell baseball cards you hate so you can buy the ones you love!