John Alexander Baines of Barnsley and Bradford was one of the main suppliers of "football" cards in the U.K. While called cards, they weren't really cards are we think of them. They were primarily in the shape of a shield. J. Baines was an apparel company. This European manufacturer of jerseys, shirts and sweaters produced a "Net Ball" shield card and a "School Girls" shield card, each, 3 1/8" tall and 2 3/4" wide, of girls playing net ball. It is believed that the issuance of these cards occurred in 1904 as part of a regular series of sports cards and were distributed in promotional packets in association with the Cartwright Memorial Hall and the Great Bradford Exhibition of 1904. The exhibition ran from April-October of 1904, and research indicates that many souvenirs were distributed at the event. It is speculated that Baines received the Gold Medal Award (referenced on cards and packets) at this event, but this couldn't be confirmed. Each packet contained 6 shield cards. There are variations to the cards: #1A - A woman with a closed collar/hair Up/Net Ball with a Bradford back; #1B - The same as #1A with a more realistic image of the woman and no initials above the image, plus a different font style on the back; #2 - A woman with a closed collar/hair up/Net Ball; Gillingham back; and #3 - A younger woman with an open collar/parted hair/Net Ball; Bradford back. Honestly, there are probably more variations we don't know about. While we have no knowledge of distribution numbers, it does seem like the School Girls shield is more difficult to find, as is the Gillingham-backed card version The most common variations I have seen are - #1A for the Net Ball card and #3 for the School Girls card. While not shaped like cards, they share a common thread with older american sports cards in that there was an offer on the back for an equipment giveaway, in this case, 50 jerseys, shirts and sweaters. If you believe Net Ball is basketball, this "might" be the first card ever. Basketball was brought to England in 1895 by a colleague of James Naismith. Variations of the game developed, with official rules for Net Ball coming out in 1901. One last item - most variations show an abbreviation E.S.B. above the image of the women. The women were members of the Baines family, believe to be a wife or daughter. Hopefully, we will find out more in the future on these great cards.
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