Who wouldn’t want to own a real piece of collectible card history? We’re taking a deep dive into one of the most popular sets from the earliest stages of the hobby, in the form of the vintage 1888 Goodwin Champions set.
Of course, it’s now over 130 years old, while it’s a key collection featuring a range of popular sports from the era.
Inserted in packages of Old Judge and Gypsy Queen cigarettes, the cards feature vivid full colour artistic renders of the athletes with a white border.
If you’re interested in some of the oldest cards in existence, we’ve put together a guide focusing on the famous 1888 Goodwin Champions set.
1888 Goodwin Champions: Key Stats
The 1888 Goodwin Champions (N162) set consists of 50 cards, each measuring 1-1/2” x 2-5/8”. They were designed to slot into old cigarette packets.
In total, 18 sports were represented in the set which was dominated by eight baseball players, listed below along with their place in the original collection.
# 1 Ed Andrews
# 2 Cap Anson
# 3 Dan Brouthers
# 4 Bob Caruthers
# 5 Fred Dunlap
# 6 Jack Glasscock
# 7 Tim Keefe
# 8 King Kelly
The cards were produced on thicker stock, so a number have made it to the present relatively unscathed.
Despite their age, the majority of the cards are impressively detailed, with rich colours and a range of different designs.
1888 Goodwin Champions: Best Cards
With 50 to choose from, we’ve narrowed it down to five of the best cards from the 1888 Goodwin Champions set.
We’ve mixed in a couple of the most expensive cards along with a few attainable options.
5. 1888 Goodwin Champions N162 Pugilist John Sullivan (eBay)
First up is a legendary card, and an image heavily associated with pugilism.
John Sullivan won more than 450 fights in his career, and is considered to be the first heavyweight champion of gloved boxing, as well as being the last heavyweight champion of bare-knuckle boxing under the London Prize Ring Rules.
As such, his card is one of the key items from the collection, featuring the boxer in a ring with a deep red background.
4. 1888 Goodwin Champions N162 Baseball Jack Glasscock (eBay)
The unfortunately named Jack Glasscock was considered to be the top player at his position in the 1880s during the sport’s bare-handed era.
Glasscock led the National League in fielding percentage seven times and in assists six times, with both remaining league records until being surpassed by Ozzie Smith the 1980s.
This time, the player is featured on the field, crouched over in a fielding position. Once again, there’s lots of lavish detail paid to the background, and it’s tough to locate on the open market.
3. 1888 Goodwin Champions N162 Baseball King Kelly (eBay)
Sticking with the baseball contingent, ‘King’ Kelly is another baseball legend. He spent the majority of his 16-season playing career with the Chicago White Stockings and the Boston Beaneaters, and was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1945.
Once again, the card itself is a sight to behold, featuring Kelly in his Beaneaters uniform against a cloudy backdrop.
2. 1888 Goodwin Champions N162 Pugilist Jack Dempsey (eBay)
Most boxing fans will have heard of Jack Dempsey, although this isn’t the cultural icon from the 1920s.
Instead, this card features an Irish-American boxer, better known as Nonpareil Jack Dempsey.
Dempsey was the first holder of the World Middleweight Championship (1884–1891). He was known as “Nonpareil” because of his reputation of being unbeatable.
Once again, the pugilist is depicted in a traditional boxing pose, with a lot of detail paid to the ring making up the background.
Dempsey sadly passed away following a bout of tuberculosis at the age of 32.
1. 1888 Goodwin Champions N162 Football Harry Beecher (eBay)
Harry Beecher, then captain of the Yale University football team, is the subject of the card which takes the top spot on our list.
It’s considered the first football card ever issued, which makes for a collectible piece with a unique story to tell.
Beecher led the team to a duo of National championships in 1886 and 1887, before graduating in 1888.
There’s a large red Yale logo behind a simple image of the player, clutching a retro football in hand.
1888 Goodwin Champions: Investment Advice
The 1888 Goodwin Champions set is an important historical collection, released before the invention of the stop sign (1890), or the first ferris wheel (1891). In other words, they’re some of the best conversational pieces in existence, with an interesting provenance.
Whether it be graded or ungraded, it’s often tough to find cards from the set on the open market, even if you’re willing to pay over the asking price.
As such, we’d recommend setting up a Google alert if you’re interested in a specific card and you can’t find it for sale on the likes of eBay.