Beginning in the late 1870s, tobacco producers used inventive imagery of actresses, athletes, politicians, animals, flags, and world capitals—to name only a few of the hundreds of categories—to advertise their brands. The first to use printed images was the New York–based company Allen & Ginter, whose 1887 series The World's Champions was so popular that it was reproduced almost immediately in expanded editions. Included in the first series of fifty cards representing baseball players, pugilists, billiards players, and oarsmen are a group of sharpshooters, among them Annie Oakley and her patron for many years, Buffalo Bill Cody. As the only woman represented, Oakley not only is unique as an athlete but also distinguishes herself from other women shown in the same period, who are used as pretty and often provocative props in series such as Parasol Drills, Fans of the Period, Racing Colors of the World, and The World's Beauties.
"Sporting girls," as they were often called in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, emerged as a viable and even a lucrative category, despite being less frequently represented than actresses and beauties. Allen & Ginter followed up The World's Champions with female baseball players and cyclists, and other companies such as W. Duke and Sons, Liggett & Myers, and Pan Handle Scrap produced swimmers, gymnasts, and series that offered "a sport for every girl." Although these cards claimed to be about women in sports, those represented were not 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.
Also on view are works by Currier & Ives, and other New York publishers, who issued prints that showed women enjoying outdoor leisure activities such as skating, riding, boating, walking, and sleighing before organized sports for women became popular in late nineteenth-century America.
Card No. 8, from the advertising card series "Cabinet Photos, Allen & Ginter" (H807, Type 2), issued by Allen & Ginter to promote Virginia Brights Cigarettes, 1884-85. Albumen print, cabinet card, Sheet: 6 1/2 x 4 3/16 in. (16.5 x 10.6 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick (Burdick 5, H807.3)