Editors were trading card stars.
In 1887, enterprising tobacco barons began placing cards picturing professional baseball players in cigarette packs to encourage sales. It was the start of a collecting boom that continues today, mostly among youngsters with big-league dreams.
Newspaper editors joined the ballplayers that year as advertising icons. For them, it was a moment of glory.
Allen & Ginter's American Editors series contained 50 cards, which included some of the great names in 19th-century journalism: Charles A. Dana, Whitelaw Reid, Joseph Pulitzer, Henry Grady, James Gordon Bennett Jr., and Henry Watterson.
The A&G cards used head-and-shoulder portraits originally done in watercolor and reproduced by state-of-the art color lithography. Printed on cardboard, 1 1/2 by 2 3/4 inches, the format was similar to that used periodically over the next three decades for baseball cards.
Could you expect to trade a Joseph Medill of the Chicago Tribune for a Cap Anson of the Chicago White Sox? Not even if you threw in a Melville Stone of the Daily News. Anson's Allen & Ginter card lists for about $2,500. Most of the editor cards sell in the range of $40 to $100.
Only Pulitzer's name still resonates among 1887's list of renowned editors. But those included in the series were well chosen, though most have since fallen into obscurity--in many instances, like the newspapers for which they toiled.
Murat Halstead, for example, made the Cincinnati Commercial a standout voice against corruption during his 20-plus years as editor. Halstead was nominated by President Benjamin Harrison to be ambassador to Germany in 1891 but his nomination was rejected by the Senate "because of his scathing editorials charging that some senators had bought their seats," according to The New York Times.
Halstead eventually became editor of the Brooklyn Standard-Union and retired in his mid-60s. But when the Spanish-American War commenced, the irrepressible Halstead--then nearly 70--was off to the Philippines as a freelance reporter.
Englishman Francis Dawson of the Charleston News and Courier served in both the Confederate army and navy. He was one of journalism's leading advocates of the New South, and worked to end the corruption and violence that marred the civil and political life of South Carolina following the war. Dawson was knighted by Pope Gregory XVI in 1883 for his editorial campaign that ended dueling in South Carolina.
As the Dawson card below shows, A&G also produced a larger-format card that superimposed the editors' portraits over a familiar scene in the regions served by their publications.
The series featured one woman, Eliza J. Nicholson of the New Orleans Daily Picayune. Nicholson was hired as literary editor for the newspaper and later married the Picayune's owner. Upon his death, she was left with a debt-ridden journal that she restored to financial health and state prominence. She served as the first president of the Women's International Press Association.
Oswald Ottendorfer represented the then-flourishing foreign language press in America, as the editor of the New York Staats-Zeitung. With the newspaper's success, he became a philanthropist among the city's large German-American community, starting the city's first free public library. The Staats-Zeitung survives as a weekly. About half of the newspapers represented in the A&G series are now defunct.
Charles Rowe is the editorial page editor of the Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.