A trip to the Met…………

I spent spring break with the family in NYC and called ahead to see if I could get a viewing of the Burdick collection. It has become increasingly difficult to such an audience unless you’re a serious researcher or someone who has a particular reason to see the collection. In the past, a friend viewed the “E” cards in the collection and took photos of the pages in those Albums–Albums 315 and 316. Since I had those images, I thought I’d seek out some different ones. My initial request to the contact in the Prints and Drawings Room (the home of the Burdick collection) was to view the following books on the following days:

April 4th
Book #314 – E1-E137 cards
Book #315 – E137 – E286 cards
Book #537 – Album Cards W600, etc.

April 8th or 9th 
2pm – 430pm
Book #215 Goodwin – N172,171,174 cards
Book #227 – Book #230 Unclassified “N” Cards
Book #250 – T400-T499 cards

So after paring down my request to just the books she’d let me view, we settled on April 4th in the afternoon session from 2-4:30. I coaxed my wife and daughters to go to the Met and look around at the artwork–something they weren’t super jazzed about–while I spent 2.5 hours looking at cards. Something I WAS super jazzed about.

Throughout this process, I’d mentioned the visit on the BB board and Barry Sloate contacted me privately and told me he and his wife were planning to go to the Met to view a daguerrotype collection and he’d like to meet there. So we got to the Met early–around noon or so and met Barry and his wife Judy and walked through the Egyptian exhibits with them. It was great meeting Barry as I’d bought baseball cards from him 25-30 years ago and messaged back and forth on the BB board and posted in the same threads but had not met. That’s one of the interesting things about this hobby is how you can spend tons of money with someone or correspond with them and never meet. More on that subject in another post.

After our visit with Barry and Judy, Barry directed me upstairs to where the Prints and Drawings room would lead me to my quest…….

The unassuming door in the wall to where the largest card and ephemera collection on the face of the earth are housed…………

I knocked on the door about 20 minutes early and was buzzed in by my contact in the room. I was told that the appointment would begin promptly at 2pm, but I could fill out the paperwork I needed and then browse outside the room until that time. I did so on the paperwork and then hit the art galleries near the room to see some of the big dollar paintings I remembered from previous visits to the Met………Picasso, Monet and Cezanne…..in that order below………..

After a 10-15 minute viewing, I made my way back to my appointment and was re-buzzed into the inner sanctum of ephemera collecting…..

The five Albums I’d been approved to view were already loaded on a cart and ready for viewing. The room was probably a couple thousand square feet lined on all walls with reference books and other volumes. There were maybe 3-4 other people in the room looking through other collections and three workers. I met the main curator for the room, my contact, and another helper who switched out the books when I was looking at them.

I was allowed to take pictures of the book pages and of the room but not of any of the other patrons nor of the workers in the room. So I complied. The books were put on these foam wedges and the large piece of posterboard type paper was used to keep any of the cards from falling when the pages were turned. Most of the cards are completely adhered to the albums (UGH), but some are put in with a cloth tape that allows the back to be viewed. Generally one per type that has some type of back printing.

Having rekindled my collecting of the albumen-sepia actress cards, I settled on books 227-230 and book 250 which was the T400-T499 Tobacco War / American Tobacco book. I have a couple hundred photos from the albums that I took but am not allowed to really show them to anyone on any commercial type site, so it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to show them. You can see what a sample page of the N150 cards looked like in the picture above from the album shot.

In albums 227-230, there were some wonderful rarities in some of both the small and large actress cards. In addition, there were some very interesting chromolithographed cards like the Weissenger Our Flake Musical Instruments and Pilkington Flowers, etc. One of the more interesting things is that, although Burdick cataloged these cards in his American Card Catalog (ACC), in some cases, he didn’t even have a sample card of set’s he’d cataloged. In some cases he had 1-2 cards from a given set and in other cases, he had a good amount of cards. Generally, it ran with scarcity–meaning, he had a LOT of N245 Sweet Caporal cards but very few Alfred Pets cards.

I got through the four albums pretty quickly. Probably about an hour to hour and a half for those four. Then album 250 took about a half hour to view. It was the T400-T499 cards issued by American Tobacco, British American Tobacco (B.A.T.) and the overseas issues by Murai in Japan. These cards were mostly issued in the 1905-1910 (ish) timeframe and were used in advertising U.S. issues sold overseas. Many of the sets borrow images from U.S. 19th century sets and are highly colorful. Still other issues are completely different artwork and are very collectible. Most often, cards from these classifications are found overseas in the UK, Australia and Japan.

I was texting the family as I was in the room and the kids were getting a little restless, so my visit ended around 4pm as I wrapped up. The people governing this room are very professional and take the utmost care with what they’re entrusted with protecting. There are also likely other valuable collections there, but I’m not entirely sure they have a full understanding on the true value of Burdick’s collection–from a dollar perspective or from a perspective of how important to many of us this collection is. I find it a shame that it can’t be viewed by more people as Burdick likely intended when he put these cards into these albums.

I’ve read stories about trips to Burdick’s collection and have been fortunate to receive photos from the collection and can now view many of them on the Met’s website where they have digitized over 60,000 of the cards from the collection. In discussing the collection with the head curator, she told me that they would like to do the next phase of scanning but it would cost about $150,000 to get that done. The first phase of scanning was completed through a grant that was given specifically for digitizing the Burdick collection. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to view what I did get to view and hope that some day, I get another opportunity to see some more.

As a reminder, the Burdick collection outline of all the albums and their contents is located on this site at the following link:


I politely asked the assistant who was switching out albums for me if I could view the room that held all the albums and she smiled and quickly said “no”. My visit complete, I packed up my phone full of pictures and my backpack and headed back down to the main lobby to find my family……….