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Rescued From an Attic, Massive 19th Century Card Album Heads to Auction

Brian Dwyer in Consignor Stories

Dec 14 — 3 mins read

Since she opened her antique shop, Zeppelin and the Unicorn, 11 years ago, Jacqueline Donahue’s goal has been to take customers back to a simpler time by finding treasures that bring back childhood memories. While many antique shops have closed their doors in recent years, her shop has thrived. It serves as a hub in a tightly knit working class community in the heart of North Wilmington, Delaware. Collectors of all ages congregate regularly. “I think we’re going to be around for a while,” she says. “We’re doing better than I ever thought we would.”

 Donahue is so trusted that neighbors leave “orphans” on her doorstep. As a result, it was no surprise that when a local woman was cleaning out her mother’s house and found a well-worn leather album filled with 1,300 trading cards from the late 1800s her first stop to sell it was Donahue’s shop. After consulting a professional appraiser and spending six months researching the cards, Donahue decided to consign with Robert Edward Auctions for its auction that runs through December 4. REA has a long history of selling 19th century cards and immediately recognized the special item that Donahue had on her hands

 This scrapbook (12.5 x 15 inches) presents an instant collection containing some of history’s most colorful and popular sport and non-sport sets. It also provides an extraordinary snapshot of how cards were collected more than 130 years ago at the dawn of collecting. The original owner proudly wrote his name and address on the inside cover.  

 He meticulously skinned each card to make them fit better between the pages and arranged them by set, with up to 16 cards per page. While skinning and gluing certainly offend purists, the original owner managed to preserve the vibrant and bold colors and images on the front. More than just a collection of cards, this album is a spectacular example of folk art.

 Some of the highlights are 106 N172 Old Judges, including King Kelly, Dan Brouthers, John Clarkson, Roger Connor, Pud Galvin, Tim Keefe, Connie Mack, John Montgomery Ward, Billy Sunday, Art Whitney with dog, and two Brown's Champs. Some of the other standout pieces feature near complete sets of N28 Allen & Ginter "World Champions,” including Anson, Comiskey, Keefe, Kelly, and Ward, N76 Duke "Great Americans,” and more than 600 various "Actress" cards.

“This tells me what people were interested in at the turn of the century,” Donahue explains. The album features Birds of America, World Beauties, and Fancy Dress Ball Costumes among 16 near-complete or complete sets. Nineteenth century card aficionados are apt to recognize many of the cigarette brands. Among them are Cross-Cut, Duke, Gypsy Queen, Kimball, Lone Jack, Old Judge, and Virginia Brights.

 “We’ve handled a number of scrapbooks and albums like this over the years,” said REA president Brian Dwyer, “but this one really caught our eye and impressed us for how well preserved everything inside remained.” Dwyer believes that collectors will appreciate the condition of the cards inside, despite the fact that they are skinned, because of how nice they present. Not surprisingly, if all the cards inside were unskinned and in top condition, Dwyer estimates the collection would be worth six figures. “This album will allow collectors to get beautiful cards at a fraction of the price of high grade examples without sacrificing anything in the way of appearance.”

For the year she owned her treasure, Donahue turned its pages over and over again for hours on end. “Besides baseball, it’s a mishmash of wrestlers, Annie [Oakley], oarsmen, pool players, flags, animals, flowers, locomotives, explorers in dogsleds, famous authors— all in one scrapbook,” she says. “A lot of the cards are colored drawings that are art more than anything else. The owner must have had a lot of time and really loved his cards. It’s been a real joy and I’m glad now that someone else can enjoy them.” 

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