Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Uncatalogued 'Gay Cowboy' Card Identified

By Jon Hanley

Photo by Dean's Cards
Although summer is drawing to a close, the discovery of another one-hundred-year-old gem keeps excitement in the air at Dean’s Cards. Only several weeks after discovering a rare Ty Cobb promo card, one of three in known existence, another item in our possession featuring the likes of the once famous actor J. Warren Kerrigan has proven even more scarce. According to a feed on Net54’s Vintage Non-Sports Forum, the card, identified as a 1914 T222 Fatima, was not thought to have existed until less than one year ago, when the first of its kind surfaced and sold on eBay. This discovery here at Dean’s Cards is the first since then, making ours only the second known example of this uncataloged relic.

Better yet, this item’s background does not fail to live up to its rarity, as the stories behind Kerrigan, whose immense fame was followed by a sharp decline, and the 1914 T222 Fatima set combine to pack a fascinating punch.

The silent film star you have never heard of grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, splitting his time between hunting and reading Shakespeare. Although making his start on Broadway, Kerrigan did not obtain fame until appearing on the big screen and quickly experienced immense fandom. By 1910, he was believed to have over 40 million followers, and a few years later the film magazine, Photoplay, wrote an article titled, The Great God Kerrigan, (see page 41) which discussed the star’s preference of the great outdoors over the Hollywood party scene as well as his love for his mother. When asked why the twenty-six-year-old, widely known for his good looks, was not yet married, Kerrigan was quoting as saying, “I don’t think I would ever be very likely to find a woman as good as my mother.” Years later it became known that the mama’s boy was in fact homosexual.

Photo by Old Magazine Articles

Despite this quick rise to stardom, one poorly thought out statement brought everything crashing down in May of 1917, only one month after the United States formally entered World War I. Kerrigan, upon being asked whether or not he would enlist in the military, stated he would not serve since the army should first take, “the great mass of men who aren’t good for anything else.” The American public proved to be unforgivable in a time of war, and the golden boy of the silent film era was immediately ostracized. Although he eventually managed to star in a few popular films in the 1920’s, Kerrigan never again experienced his former popularity and lived out a private life with his mother and partner. If the usually charming Kerrigan had refrained from making this statement more of us would probably know his name today.

Not to be outdone, the circumstances of Kerrigan’s inclusion in the 1914 Fatima set are compelling in their own right, as T222 is mostly known as a baseball card set. The sixty-three card set, now sixty-four with the addition of Kerrigan, features fifty-two baseball players, with the remainder of the seemingly misplaced cards depicting other athletes and movie stars. The set is considered complete amongst most collectors with only the fifty-two ball players, leading many to wonder why twelve random celebrities appeared alongside the likes of baseball legends Walter Johnson and Rube Marquard.

Photo by Dean's Cards
The answer to that question begins with the Liggett & Meyers Tobacco Company of Huntington, West Virginia, now a subsidiary of Liggett Vector Brands, one of the largest tobacco companies in the United States, and their decision to print glossy paper cards for distribution with packs of their Fatima Blend Cigarettes. The 1914 set was a follow up to the company's apparent experimentation with baseball cards in 1913, as three different sets of baseball photographs were included with their tobacco products over the course of the year. Of these three products, two featured team pictures of professional clubs, the 1913 Fatima Team Cards (T200) and the Fatima Premiums. However, the 1913-1915 Fatima Posters depicted a single player, and seem to have been the most popular product, as they continued to print them for two more years. This may have urged Liggett & Meyers to combine the convenient size of the team cards with the depiction of a single player, resulting in the birth of the 2 ½” x 4 ½” images in 1914. The company apparently felt a need to step up their game to an even greater level, as the decision was made to include other athletes and movie stars in addition to baseball players. The back of each card describes the set as a “Collection of 100 photographs of famous Baseball players, American Athletic champions and Photoplay stars”. You can see the checklists for all of the Fatima sets on pages 166-67 in the 6th edition of the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards.

Although Liggett & Meyers planned to print one hundred different cards, the West Virginian tobacco boys must have made a last minute realization that baseball cards were the most popular product, as it appears they ordered a halt to the production of the non-baseball cards before the set was completed. According to The Cardboard Connection, there is a reason to believe more photoplay star photographs from 1914 Fatima will emerge in the years to follow. Regardless, we’re lucky the production of these photographs was terminated just late enough for a few Kerrigan cards to slip their way into cigarette packs. Who knows, there are probably a few more out there waiting to be discovered.