CROSSOVER ALERT! L’eclisse has been kind enough to invite me to blog about a topic near and dear to me… Trading cards! Particularly this dandy card of the It Girl, Clara Bow.
Anyway, this is part of the 2009 Topps American Heritage series. Topps has used some of their classic baseball card designs to present a variety of American icons, including Civil Rights leaders, Inventors, Statesmen, Entertainers, etc. Miss Bow is one of the Entertainers in the series, along side Buster Keaton, Joe Namath, Will Rogers, and others. Topps issued a similar sets in 2001 and 2002, called “American Pie” (sorry, no Stifler), although both sets featured baseball-heavy checklists, with a few baby boomer heroes (JFK, Marilyn Monroe) thrown at the end. The American Heritage set, however, is one of the first major sets to feature only historical figures.
This can not properly be considered Clara’s rookie card. Cigarette companies had been offering baseball cards as premiums as early as the 1880s (there were also used to prevent the filter-free smoke from being damaged), and would soon begin to issue cards featuring a wide range of images, from world flags to animals. The first movie-related cards showed up by 1910 and in 1913, the first card series featuring Movie Stars was issued by Major Drapkin Tobacco. By this time American companies had largely stopped issuing trading cards, leaving the vast majority of movie star cards to be issued in Europe. By the mid-twenties, there were over a dozen cigarette makers offering sets of Movie Star cards. The earliest Clara Bow card I was able to find was a 1928 issue, released in England. Bow had several other cards issued throughout the 20’s and 30’s, the majority of which actually were released after the collapse of her career and her 1931 mental break-down that resulted in her being briefly institutionalized.
The great thing about the movie star tobacco cards is their affordability. You can easily find one for less than $10 on eBay, while baseball cards from the same period run about five times higher, even for minor stars. The American Heritage Bow will run you about 50 cents, with the rarer chrome foil version (individually numbered to 1776) for about two bucks.