The 1921 E121-style cards are found with a variety of different back advertisements, some more difficult to obtain than others. Among the most difficult, however, are the cards advertising the Herpolsheimer’s Boys Fashion Shop. The reason for this is that until recently, just 69 or 70 cards from the issue were known to exist, with no more than one example of each subject. The cards were discovered all together in late 2004 and auctioned individually on eBay, and had previously been unknown to the hobby. Such a discovery is an earth-shattering piece of hobby news, for sure – a newly-discovered prewar set with very little additional information available. Were the cards ever actually issued? Were they “prototype” cards presented to the Herpolsheimer’s store by the manufacturer, in hopes that they might issue a card set? Were the Herpolsheimer ads on the reverse simply “crash printed” on the back of a sheet and distributed as a promotion to Herpolsheimer customers? Each card in the discovery was found with a dollar sign and numeral written in pencil on the reverse – was this writing part of some retail promotion, or were they just a price that a subsequent paper dealer was asking for the cards? Nobody knows for certain, though the existence of just one example of each card lent credence to the theory that the cards were never actually issued, and that the 2004 discovery was some type of prototype or “proof” set presented to the Michigan retailer.
We have long been fascinated with the 1921 Herpolsheimer’s issue, and were stunned when, in early 2019, a person posted on the Net54 Baseball message board about a new find of 1921 Herpolsheimer cards. The cards were discovered stored away in an old Band-Aid box as part of an estate just miles from Grand Rapids, the location of the Herpolsheimer department store. Over the years we stayed close to the owner of the cards, astonished at the fact that while much of the hobby continued to be under the impression that the 1921 Herpolsheimer cards were one-of-a-kind, possible “prototype” cards, we knew otherwise – that there were more, including a number of cards that became the second known examples. In our opinion, this discovery dramatically increases the likelihood that the cards were actually distributed to the public somehow through the Grand Rapids store, and are simply unbelievably rare.
While each of the 1921 Herpolsheimer cards from the original find were marked in pencil with a dollar sign and a number, these 39 cards were marked differently: what appeared to be a card number was written faintly in pencil on the reverse, outside the bottom border. Further, the collection included six of what we believe to be newly-discovered subjects: Dave Bancroft, Johnny Evers, Harry Hooper, Stuffy McGinnis, Art Nehf and George Sisler.
Voight, Herpolsheiper & Co. was a dry goods store founded in Michigan City, Indiana, just after the Civil War, by William G. Herpolsheimer (and Charles G. A. Voight). Herpolsheimer opened a second store in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1870. Around 1903, he turned the store over to his son, Henry. The younger Herpolsheimer became a leader in the Grand Rapids business community, but died suddenly of a stroke in 1920 at just 51 years old. Upon his passing, his wife Caroline became president of the company, and in 1921, their son, Arthur B, took over. The company was eventually sold in 1928. The early 1920s was clearly a time of upheaval for the retailer, and there is not much history readily available that might help us to better understand the company’s marketing strategy in the 1921-22 time frame. However, it seems clear that at least at some level, at some point, baseball cards factored into the equation.
After four years of research and working with the owner of the cards, we are thrilled to bring them to the hobby – a newly-discovered collection of 39 1921 Herpolsheimer’s cards, including what we believe to be six never-before-seen subjects. The find changes what we know about the set, and makes it entirely possible that the 1921 Herpolsheimer’s are the most rare E121-style cards that were actually distributed to the public.