T205 Brooklyn Superbas and 1911 Spalding Guide – SABR’s Baseball Cards Research Committee

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T205 Brooklyn Superbas and 1911 Spalding Guide – SABR’s Baseball Cards Research Committee

The Brooklyn Superbas of 1911 finished seventh in the National League standings and in attendance as well, which is to say they were not a pretty team to watch, but oh what a gorgeous team to collect!

Carpet o’ Superbas

While it’s the gold borders of these cards that give the T205 set its nickname and hallmark feature, I am just as much a fan of the rich, colorful backgrounds and simple design and an even bigger fan of the expressive (mostly) Paul Thompson portraits on which the player artwork is based. (See Andrew Aronstein’s site for some absolutely stunning side-by-side images.)

As many collectors of the T205 set are aware, many of the images used on the cards can also be found in the 1911 edition of Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide. For example, here is the two-page spread on the Brooklyn team.

The Zack Wheat image matches up nicely with his T205 card.

In all, half of the 24 Brooklyn portraits in the Guide use the same photo as an image in the T205 set. I created this mashup to show the correspondence.

As there are 14 different cards in the T205 Brooklyn team set, there are necessarily instances where cards do not match the Guide portrait.

One such example is “Bad Bill” Dahlen, who managed the team from 1910-13.

A more unusual example occurs with the Tony Smith card, which matches up to the Guide image of a different Smith: Henry Joseph “Happy” Smith.

Interestingly, the Guide image of Tony matches up with the T206 card of Happy.

The third and final T205 Brooklyn card that doesn’t match the Guide image belongs to Cy Barger. Sort of.

I say “sort of” because Barger had two different cards in the T205 set but only one Guide portrait. The second of the two Barger cards, known as “Full B on Cap,” is the one that matches the Guide.

That Barger had two cards in the set is curious but hardly unique. Seven other subjects had multiple cards in the set as well: Roger Bresnahan, Hal Chase, Eddie Collins, Russ Ford, Bob Harmon, Bobby Wallace, and Hooks Wiltse. That Barger had the least impressive resume of the lot, circa 1911, may or may not be significant, and we’ll return to it shortly.

Returning to the crosswalk, there are a dozen Guide images that failed to make it onto cards, including the Smith and Dahlen portraits already discussed.

Had the set lived up the “400 designs” promised on the backs of the cards, perhaps we’d have cards of all or most of these players.

While four of the “missing” players made it into the T207 “Brown Backgrounds” set the following year, some had to wait all the way until the 1990 Target Dodgers mega-set to get their first cards with the team.

Before closing out the crosswalk portion of this article, I’ll note that there are two other pages of the Guide that include photographs of Brooklyn players. Each of pages 34 and 36 features four-player composites using photographs taken by Charles Conlon.

Collectors may recognize the Bergen image on page 34 as matching one of his two T206 cards, but none of the images provide matches to T205.

Having exhausted the Spalding Guide/T205 crosswalk angle, I’ll now return to the two cards of Cy Barger for something of a postscript.

When I first saw these two cards, I firmly believed they showed two different players, the shapes of the face and ears initially striking me as most discrepant. With Barger also being an unusual player to double up on in the set, I wondered if the reason for the second card was that the first card depicted the wrong guy. In other words, did the two cards represent an error card and its correction?

Let’s assume for a minute that this error/correction theory is correct. Perhaps the first question to ask is which card, if either, shows the real Cy Barger. As the Spalding Guide matches “Full B,” let’s start there. Additionally, as my wallet can attest, “Full B” is the more common of the two, which is what we would expect where errors and corrections are concerned.

However, any further scrutiny seems to torpedo the error/correction theory. Take the population report for the set, for example. Were one card a correction of the other, we would expect the combined population of the two cards to correspond roughly to that of a typical card in the set. Conversely, if the set simply (intentionally or not) doubled up on Bargers, then we would expect their combined population to be roughly double of a typical card in the set.

What we do find (as of May 31, 2022) is that the PSA population report for “Partial B” is 125 and “Full B” is 249. Meanwhile the population for a typical card in the set appears to be in the 200-250 range. This seems to refute the error/correction theory, instead suggesting “Full B” as a standard print and “Partial B” as a short-print in the set.

Were an error and correction at play, we would also not expect to see continued or repeated usage of the erroneous image on other cards. However, there are two other sets where both Barger images appear.

The first is the S74 Silks set, in which “Full B” appears on white silks and “Partial B” appears on colored silks.

The precise dating of these silks within the 1909-11 window can vary by source, though most that differentiate between white and colored have the former preceding the latter. (See the S74 website for an argument that dates the white silks to mid-1911 and the colored silks to later in the year.) Provided the white silks indeed came first, then we would have the correct Barger image replaced by the incorrect one, which feels odd. Obviously, odder things have happened in the baseball card universe, but I’d still say the Silks provide yet another blow to the error/correction theory.

We also see both Barger images in the 1912 Hassan Triple Folder (T202) set. Certainly one possibility is that T205 artwork, known errors and all, was simply recycled into T202 without scrutiny. More plausibly, however, there was no known error to begin with.

The two Barger images appear in several other issues, though not together. For example, here is the “Full B” image used in a few oddball issues of the period: 1909-12 Sweet Caporal Domino Discs, 1910-12 Sweet Caporal Pins, and 1911 Helmar Stamps.

Meanwhile here is the “Partial B” image used in the 1914 Helmar Art Stamp issue, which a discerning eye will note places him with the Pittsburgh Rebels of the Federal League. Careless recycling? Perhaps. Or, as before, we can take this as another nail in the coffin of the error/correction theory.

Even with the error/correction theory looking like a big, fat nothingbarger, a question still alive is whether one of the two Barger images is an uncorrected error, or UER as we way in the Hobby.

To no avail, I’ve tried to locate a source photograph for the “Partial B” image, even going so far as reviewing all 350+ portraits across the 16 teams in the Spalding Guide. I’ve also reviewed a couple years or so of images from old newspapers thanks to the free newspapers.com access our SABR memberships now include.

Finally, I’ve looked at the various Cy Barger cards that use neither the “Full B” nor “Partial B” image in hopes that they might provide hints.

In the end, I’m not sure any of the Barger cards, save the first two, look like the same guy, and that may well be the true conclusion of all this. There is always some “drift” in creating artwork from photographs, and this is only accentuated when the photos themselves differ. Each piece of art, or baseball card in our case, may resemble its source photograph reasonably well while at the same looking very different from other art of the same subject.

Personally, I still see two different guys on the T205 Barger cards. However, it’s no longer a hill I’d die on but one I can only Cy on. Feel free to share your own take in the Comments.

SABR’s Baseball Cards Committee

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