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New Metropolitan Museum Installation of Historical Trade Cards Celebrates Women and Sport
Through July 14, 2013

Location: The Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art, American Wing, mezzanine

Beginning in the late 1870s, tobacco producers used inventive imagery to advertise their brands. The exhibition "A Sport for Every Girl": Women and Sports in the Collection of Jefferson R. Burdick, on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art through July 14, features approximately 100 historical trade cards that show women involved in sports and other occupations. The installation includes cards from the late 1880s through 1914.

A highlight of the display, which is drawn entirely from the renowned holdings of the Metropolitan Museum, is a trade card of the celebrated sharpshooter Annie Oakley (1860–1924). In contrast to other cards of the same period, in which women are shown as pretty or provocative props, the card focuses on her unique skills as an athlete.

Although less frequently represented than actresses and beauties, "sporting girls" were a viable and even a lucrative category of trading cards. Included were female baseball players, cyclists, swimmers, and gymnasts; one tobacco company offered a series with "a sport for every girl." Although these cards claimed to be about women in sports, the women represented were in most cases not the actual athletes but coquettish models, who often posed for more than one series. In these early days of female athleticism, the figures shown remained types rather than individuals, engaged in exercises and training but without the recognition given to their male counterparts in competitive and professional leagues.

All of the cards on display are drawn from the Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, the largest and most comprehensive collection of American trade cards ever assembled privately in the United States. Burdick (1900–1963), an electrician by profession, deposited more than 300,000 items at the Metropolitan between 1943 and 1963, including more than 30,000 baseball cards, for which he developed a cataloguing system that remains in use today.

The installation was organized by Freyda Spira, Assistant Curator in the Museum’s Department of Drawings and Prints.

Since 1993, in response to the overwhelming enthusiasm of young collectors and fans, the Metropolitan Museum has put on display groupings of several dozen baseball cards at a time, rotating them at six-month intervals. This installation is part of a new effort to create installations that focus on other aspects of Burdick’s collection as well. The Burdick installations recently moved to a more prominent location in the Museum’s newly renovated Luce Center.

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February 22, 2013

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