This badly chipped, bent, and otherwise spindled and mutilated cabinet card of the absolutely angelic-looking actress Alice Evans (although you just know she wasn’t an angel, making it even better)1 dates to about 1892. It was from the first series (no. 16, printed on the card and written on the photo) of cards issued as a premium with Newsboy2 plug tobacco, and an early example of what would become known as the tobacco card.
The tobacco card was at first just that: a plain card used to stiffen a pack of cigarettes. In 1886 Allen and Ginter began printing cards with product advertising, and several years later various companies began to produce cards with collectible pictures based on a specific topic, an ingenious marketing device designed to encourage sales of a particular brand of tobacco. It would become a popular method of advertising, in both America and England, until World War II.
The subjects of tobacco cards varied widely. For example, some of the early Allen and Ginter series were Birds of America, National Coats of Arms, Song Birds, Fruits, Great Generals, Quadrupeds, Prize Chickens, Racing Colors, and, perhaps most importantly, several series of beautiful women and professional athletes, such as World’s Beauties (I and II), Girl Cyclists and World’s Champions (I and II). Actresses and sports figures would be particularly well-represented for the next 40 years.
The Newsboy cards were not package stiffeners, but were available as premiums from tobacconists or druggists, or by mail (in exchange for paper tags). The cabinets included mostly Broadway stage actresses, but also actors and sports figures, including some baseball players,3 and boxers, and later, famous people (including Edison and McKinley), important landmarks and warships. But for now let’s concentrate our energies on the hot Victorian babes.
The first two series of cards, albumen prints mounted on cards with red printing (in many different variations), consisted of 136 numbered cards (1―136) and 227 cards (1―227):
The third series consisted of silver gelatin prints mounted on gray cards with green printing (Nos. 301—385):
The fourth and fifth series were mounted on white cards with red or brown printing (Nos. 502—604 and 800—841).
The last series, advertised as a "Handsomely colored photographs given free with each 10 cent plug of Newsboy tobacco...100 different photographs of beautiful women in this collection" were, of course, not photographs, but cabinet-sized chromolithographs:
After this last series of cabinets, Newsboy continued to offer cards as premiums, but they were much smaller package-sized lithographs.
1. Alice Evans, a relatively minor stage actress, is perhaps best known as being the first wife of the noted old-school actor Wilton Lackaye (m. 1895). She died 5 Aug 1919 after an unspecified illness. Here is the NYT’s obituary.
She was a close friend of Evelyn Nesbit, who gained notoriety when her lover, the architect Stanford White, was murdered in a fit of rage by her sadistic, cocaine-addled, millionaire husband Harry Thaw. At Thaw’s sensational 1906 trial, Alice was Evelyn’s constant companion. As Irvin Cobb wrote for McClure’s: “ There was Evelyn Nesbit Thaw...always with her her little actress friend at her side.” Alice apparently created quite a stir due to her scandalous attire during Evelyn’s testimony. Here’s an alternate version from the first series Newsboys:
2. Newsboy was a brand of the National Tobacco Works, 1806 W. Main Street, Louisville, KY, or, after it was sold to the American Tobacco Company in 1892 (for 2.2 million USD), P.O. Box 2591, 45 Broadway, New York City.
3. The original Newsboy series included 14 images of baseball players, mostly from the 1894 New York Giants championship team, including the hall-of-fame pitcher Amos Rusie (No. 175) (lifetime: 245-174, 3.07 ERA, 1934 SO). Along with the Old Judge series of cabinets (Goodwin & Co.), they are some of the earliest known baseball cards. Although not as valuable as, say, a T206 Wagner, they still are quite desirable, especially in good condition. Needless to say I don’t have any of these.
4. Charlotte Louisa Collins, AKA Lottie Collins (1865—3 May 1910) was an English singer and dancer. She is best known for her provocative can-can version of the 1891 Henry J. Sayers Vaudeville song “Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay.” The melody, which, trust me, you know, was the basis of the Howdy Doody theme. A more contemporary version was sung by the Dilly Sisters (AKA Las Hermanas Nuñez) on Hanna-Barbera’s ultra-bizarre, pop-art, don’t-watch-this-on-acid children’s show, the Banana Splits Adventure Hour (1968―1970).
5. Lillian Grubb was a singer of “light” opera.
6. Della Fox (13 Oct 1870—15 Jun 1913) was a performer mostly known for singing comedic and light opera and was described by Lewis Clinton Strang as “provoking in her coquetry, a tantalizing atom of femininity.” By the turn of the century she began to suffer the effects of drug and alcohol abuse. In 1904 she was committed to an institution and died of peritonitis in 1913.
7. Sadie Martinot, a stage name for Sarah Martin (1861—1923), was an actress and singer. She is perhaps best known for her leading role in the operetta Nanon (1895), where she shocked patrons by wearing the first strapless gown seen on the New York stage. Married and divorced at least twice, she was known for her temperament and penchant for clothes.
8. Clara Lipman (1869—1962), playwright and stage ingénue, later starred along side her husband Louis Mann. As a New York reporter stated in 1903; “Miss Lipman...is indeed one of the beauties of today’s stage.” A prominent early Jewish actress, she later became involved in the Woman’s Suffrage movement.
30 May 2009, updated 24 Nov 2010 ‧ Photography