Card of the Day: 1887 N284 Buchner Gold Coin Art Whitney

Today’s Card of the Day comes from a set that seems to be gaining some momentum according to recent sale prices. The 1887 N284 Buchner Gold Coin set has never been among the most popular sets of the 19th century because of the generic artwork. It also pales in comparison to the iconic N172 Old Judge set, which was released at the same time. That set used real photos of the same players you find in this set, with very few differences in the checklists that favor the Buchner set.

I personally have one card from the N284 set. That’s because I collect the Old Judge cards, but the Buchner set had the only missing player from the 1887 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. That team used just 16 players all season, and 15 of those players made it into the Old Judge set. I had at least one card of those other 15 players at the time, so I wanted the complete team set. The Old Judge people didn’t include Ed Beecher due to him being a mid-season addition, who didn’t last with the team into 1888, when the Old Judge photographers were getting new photos. No photograph, no Beecher. That didn’t bother the Buchner folks, who didn’t need a photo for their Beecher card.

Today’s Card of the Day features Art Whitney, who was an infielder for the Pirates franchise in both the American Association and the National League.  He played third base and some shortstop for the 1884-87 teams. Whitney has one of the most famous Old Judge cards, which pictures him with a dog. I covered that one extremely early in this series. The Buchner Gold Coin card of Whitney has had three sales recently, which is unusually high for this set. Let’s end this long intro by getting into the card.

Here’s the front:

Part of the reason this set gets away with the lazy artwork is because so many of the 1887 players had mustaches like you see above. It was definitely the style at the time. You have a bunch of athletic players around the same heights/builds, put them in uniform and the generic artwork works for almost everyone.

When I say generic in this instance, the Buchner set really takes it to the extreme. If you played third base, this was your photo. They would add a mustache for the 87.3% of players who had them (that’s a made up percentage that could be close) and change the uniform colors. Those are the uniforms of the 1887 Pittsburgh Alleghenys, though the hat could be off by a little with that red line around the bill of the cap. Old Judge photos seem to show an all-white or all-red hat, but not a combo. You obviously can’t see red specifically in sepia-colored photos, but old newspaper article do mention the team colors as well.

I mentioned this in the last article about this set, but the spelling of Pittsburgh on the card wasn’t correct for the time. The spelling changed from 1890-1911 to no “H” at the end, so this card was ahead of its time.

Here’s the back of the card:

The back here just tells you something you probably already knew if you were getting these cards new, though I guess if you were one of the few people not following baseball at the time, then the card deserved some explanation. Baseball (presented as base-ball here) was extremely popular at the time.

It would be hard to properly explain how popular baseball was back in 1887, but there were things back then that you didn’t see now with 50% more people in Pittsburgh. The town had numerous organized leagues at different age, not just kids growing out of the phase by age 18 if they had no future in the sport. If you were 25 years old back then and you were good at baseball, you could play from March to November. Many had regular jobs during the week and played on the weekends, or even during the week occasionally. Those teams were good enough that they served as a comparable level to the minors now, where the best local players could fill in (not always with the best success) at the big league level in an emergency.

The part-time pitchers back then had an advantage they probably didn’t realize. By pitching on the weekends only, they were getting rest that the big league players weren’t getting. That’s especially true with the brutal travel, as you can imagine. Anyway, Pittsburgh was like every other big city at the time, and every smaller town had the same thing going on too, so they could find their best players to challenge other towns.

I went off on that little tangent just to say that if you got one of these cards, you were either well aware of it including baseball player, or someone in your house really loved baseball.

This Whitney cards has sold three times in the last three months.  A PSA 2 went for $355. A few years ago, it probably would have sold for less than half of that amount. An SGC 1.5 sold for about $245 delivered (plus tax), while an ungraded card in middle grade sold for $233. Those are all higher prices than I would have expected, but they aren’t out of line compared to other sale prices for common players. In fact, three of them selling recently possibly kept the prices down on the last two examples.