Impossibly rare first card of Hall of Fame shortstop John Henry "Pop" Lloyd, one of what we believe to be just two known examples. One of the most important of all Negro League cards, this is one of the key cards from one of the most elusive and highly prized of all Cuban issues. Ranked #27 on Bill James' list of all-time greats, Lloyd is credited with a .343 batting average across a 27-year career, a lightning-fast baserunner and elite defender. Considered the greatest shortstop in Negro League history, Babe Ruth was thought to believe Lloyd to be the greatest player ever. Lloyd was called the "Black Wagner" by some, a nickname to which Honus Wagner himself famously replied "It's an honor to be compared with him."
The Punch Cigarros issue is among the most rare and desirable of all Cuban card sets, with very few surviving examples known. Many of the most advanced prewar and Negro League collections are without a Punch Cigarros card, simply due to their extreme rarity. The cards were issued conjunction with a Cuban visit by the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Athletics, the set consisting of players from those two teams as well as the Almendares and Havana ballclubs. The current known checklist is considered incomplete, with only one or two surviving examples of many of the known subjects. Complete sets of the cards could be exchanged for an album; it is speculated that this contributed to the rarity of the set today.
The cards were produced on photographic paper glued to a cardboard backing measuring approximately 1 1/4" x 1 7/8". Of the surviving cards, very few (a half dozen or so) have been found with the backing, the remaining examples - such as this - are all graded AUTHENTIC as a result. As is the case with all Cuban issues, the Punch Cigarros cards are extremely condition-sensitive; this example presents extremely well, save for a small insect hole to the left of Lloyd's image. Such flaws are common to Cuban cards; the climate is conducive to such paper damage. Some additional surface and edge wear is evident.
Major League Baseball's 2020 announcement that it would recognize seven Negro Leagues as major leagues and adopt their statistics into the official record has had a profound impact on baseball fans; as curiosity and interest in Negro League stars begins to pique, its elite players are beginning to establish their place in the hobby. In our Summer, 2023 auction, a 1923 Aguilitas Oscar Charleston card sold for more than $140,000, the highest price ever paid for a Charleston card in any grade. As the Negro Leagues' greatest players begin to become household names, hobbyists and investors are becoming aware of the extreme rarity and historical significance of those players' collectibles. Demand has never been higher.
One of the most important of all Negro League cards, from one of the most rare and desirable of all Cuban sets. One of just two examples known of the first card to picture one of the greatest players of all-time, John Henry "Pop" Lloyd.
Please note: the reserve on this lot has been met.