Football has been a national mania since the beginning of the 20th century. It was first played in the 1860s and when souvenir postcards came along 30 to 35 years later, football had become a deeply entrenched college sport. While professional leagues have always ruled the world of baseball, football was exclusively a collegiate affair until recent times. Small wonder that when publishers looked around for new ideas that would sell well, they quickly picked up on the College Girls theme.
"College Girls" Postcard Sets
Sweethearts Of The Gridiron
Dozens of sets were produced by a score of printers in the prime years from 1905 to 1910. Such postcards soon became as much a part of the college and gridiron scene as spirited cheerleaders and colorful pennants.
The girls adorning such sets were boosters of the school and its football team; symbols of the panorama along with the mascots and marching bands. Most of them were Gibson Girls, reflecting the upper classs cool, detached attitude that supposedly was the persona of the lovely young ladies from Vassar and other girls schools. Such women were destined one day to marry the sons of Eli and Harvard.
College Girls Sets
The largest numbers of College Girls postcard sets represented Eastern colleges, especially the Ivy League. A few publishers, notably Raphael Tuck & Sons and Ullman Manufacturing Company, did move further west, and among others, included Michigan; and south to pick up teams like Tulane, Virginia and Louisiana. Albert Hahn Companys roster boasted Northwestern, Texas, and Illinois. Hahns sets were the only ones to showcase these teams.
The reason for Eastern dominance on College Girls postcards is because that section of the nation ruled college football in the early years of the 20th century. College Girls and Boys postcards were published to be sold by vendors and at souvenir stands at games played between Eastern powerhouses.
The University of Michigan and the University of Chicago, and a few other schools, challenged the Eastern supremacy from time to time. And for that reason, these schools were part of some sets. It is also true that during these years, Americas elite colleges were mostly all located in the Northeast.
More than a dozen publishers commissioned important artists of the day, as well as many unknowns, to design appealing and colorful illustrations of College Girls for souvenir sets. These companies included J. Bergman, Julius Bien, National Art Company, Rotograph Company, Souvenir Post Card Company, and the previously mentioned Albert Hahn, Raphael Tuck, and Ullman.
College Men Sets
Besides College Girls, some College Men will also be found. Ullman Manufacturing Company, located in New York City, and London-based Raphael Tuck and Sons, through its New York Branch office, were the major marketers of this style.
Usually the men portrayed were football players in uniform, while the girls tended to be dressed in fashionable Saturday outing clothing done in he colors of the school. A few sets can also be found with footballs on them and, indeed, one set is actually titled Football (Tucks oilette series number 2344).
Some of the sets in this category have the college yell or cheer inscribed. Others also carried the official seal or, occasionally, an artists fanciful conception of the teams mascot, such as Yales bulldog. An extremely interesting series, and probably the best of the topical, is Tucks sets numbered 2766 and 2767 in which the postcards are printed as playing cards with the Kings being College Men and the Queens being College girls.
In all, Tuck published at least 11 sets of College Girls and College Men. Most had the artwork of famous American illustrators. As noted earlier, Tuck was one of the very few firms to include schools other than the rich Eastern colleges. In some cases, only the Tuck sets offered Vanderbilt and the University of Wisconsin.
Tucks postcards rank among the best to be found. Their College Kings (series number 2766) and College Queens (series number 2767), both drawn by F. Earl Christy, are the most innovative of all. These eight postcards (four per set) are eagerly sought by todays collectors. Quite likely, Tuck sold them as complete sets rather than as singles.
Besides the Kings and Queens, Tucks production output included series number 2344 (Football); series number 2514 (The New England College Series); series no. 2794 (College Kings); and six sets titled University Girls - series numbers 2453, 2590, 2593, 2625, 2626, and 2627.
Most of the Tuck sets had six postcards, some four, and one, number 2627, contained 12. Tucks famous oilette process was used in the printing of all of them.
Like most other publishers, but to a greater degree, Tuck employed a compatibility theme. With rare exception, all of the colleges represented in a set either played against each other (especially against all others), or were located relatively close together.
Nowhere is this more evident than with the different University Girls sets. One consists entirely of Ivy League schools; another is made up of The Big Ten of Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Chicago. Yet another is of all Southern colleges. Quite likely these sets were made up for a specific year with the schools gridiron schedules used as a guide. Thus series number 2766, where Chicago University and the University of Michigan mesh with Columbia and Cornell, may have been printed in the year when the upstarts from the Midwest came to the Eastern bastion to prove their mettle.
Long after the goal posts are torn down, the last fan leaves the giant stadium after the final game of the season and the pigskins, helmets and shoulder pads are put away for another year, collectors will still have a gridiron full of College Girls to keep giving out the old college cheer and continue waving the school pennant.
Hooray for our team!