This Cuban baseball card has me intrigued.
The card shown, featuring a photo of the Almendares Blues – or Bando Azul, was advertised as a cabinet card, and indeed the little photograph was glued onto a piece of cardboard. But I knew something was up when I saw the scan of this photo, although it took me about four days to figure out what was familiar. After the image of this card floated through certain synaptic channels, it was the black border of the card that caught my attention, though it was not conscious. It was familiar – only this one did not encircle the image as with the cards in the Nacionales set issued in 1924.
The piece is photographic, 2 3/32″ wide and 31/32″ high. The back of this card is blank with an iridescent black border trimmed on two sides.
Those Nacionales photographic cards are 2 716″ x 1 5/8″ with a shiny, 1/4″ iridescent black border all the way around them.
Noting the measurements, if I place the Bando Azul card on top of a Nacionales card, it fits and looks proper when placed so that the upper left corners meet.
This card has a date of 1903 on it.
That does not insure that the piece was produced in that year. But it is likely. In spite of the card’s primitive photo quality, one can still make out Abel Linares the manager, Regino Garcia the catcher, Alfredo Cabrera the first baseman, and at least one of the Prats brothers. This is indeed the integrated Almendares team from the 1903-4 Cuban winter league, with a number of Cuban Hall of Famers present.
All this information is good, but I have now reached an impasse. The oldest known cards (postales, in Havana) with baseball images produced in Havana are the Cabañas set of printed cards. The first photographic postales issued were the Punch cards from 1910. That places this card, if 1903 is the date, six years earlier, or if 1904, five years earlier. The information on Cuban tobacco issues is limited. The American Card Catalog does not list dates, and only a few of the sets issued in Cuba. The web does not disclose any books or experts on early tobacco issues from the island, and as of now I have nowhere to go. But, there is someone out there who does. If you have the info, please comment below.
And so, the question remains – is this the first baseball card from Cuba?