History of Japanese Baseball Cards
Pre-War Japanese Baseball Cards
The earliest known Japanese baseball card is a round menko from 1897 depicting a generic player. The card was part of a larger set containing numerous subjects. Menko are the oldest and perhaps most common vintage type of Japanese baseball card. Usually printed on heavy cardboard, they can be round, rectan- gular, or die-cut. Although all three types have colorful pictures of players on their fronts, rectangular and die-cut menko often have a variety of games printed on their backs while the round ones usually have blank backs. Japanese boys commonly flipped menko in the same way as pogs are flipped today. As a result, menko are often found in off-condition. Al- though no pre-War menko set has been completely cataloged, surviving cards suggest that most sets contained no more than a dozen cards.
Early Baseball Menko
Baseball Menko late 1920s to early 1930s
Postcards are the most commonly encountered pre-War baseball card. Postcards were issued depicting famous matches, popular college players, and the games between visiting foreign and local Japanese teams. Many of the postcards show scenes from actual games making individual players difficult to identify, but a careful eye can sometimes identify hard-to-find Hall of Famers. Luckily, postcards of team pictures and portraits of individual players were also produced.
Early 20th C Postcards
Less common than postcards were pre- war bromides. Bromides were mass- produced collectible photographs printed on photo paper with a dull backs. They varied in size from small 1 by 1 1/ 2 inch cards to postcard-size cards. Pre-war bromides were usually printed in black and white, or sepia tone, rather than color. Bromide backs were usually blank and like most vintage Japanese cards are unnumbered. As bromides were often pasted into scrapbooks, slight glue residue or paper remains are commonly found on the cards’ backs.
In 1931 and 1934, the Yomiuri newspaper sponsored tours of Major League all-star teams that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Lefty Grove and other American Hall of Famers. Several bromide sets were issued depicting these American stars.