Hugo Ibscher Trading Cards

When I was a kid, I enjoyed collecting sports cards. In those days (early 1980s), the cards came in wax-paper wrappers with a flat rectangular piece of so-called “chewing gum” that was so stale and hardened that it would shatter almost like glass (but I always chewed it nevertheless). Because child-Brent was not entirely different from adult-Brent, even then I looked into the history of sports cards and became aware that early cards came not with gum but with cigarettes. For collectors, the most sought-after baseball card was (and, to the best of my knowledge, still is) a tobacco card, the so-called T206 Honus Wagner, produced from 1909 to 1911:

What child-Brent didn’t know and what adult-Brent just recently learned was that cigarette cards of the early twentieth century were made depicting all sorts of things…including famed book conservator Hugo Ibscher! Regular readers will know that Hugo Ibscher (1874-1943) was an esteemed conservator of ancient books who was based in Berlin. Many of the most important ancient codices discovered in the early twentieth century passed through Ibscher’s hands, and his descriptions of them are often our only evidence for the construction of these codices (here, for instance, are some of his notes on the Berlin Coptic Proverbs codex).

The Ibscher cards came with packages of Churchman’s Cigarettes in 1937. Here are the cards, in all their glory (front side on the left, reverse on the right):

The cards depict Ibscher working on mummy cartonnage (card number 29) and on what appears to be one of the Manichaean codices from Medinet Madi (card number 30). The images on these cards seem to be derived from a photo shoot that took place a couple years earlier. They are very similar to photographs published in The Sphere (an illustrated newspaper published in the UK) in 1934:

The rest of the series of cards (50 in all) are equally interesting. They depict various archaeological topics that were current in the 1930s. Some show contemporary excavations in Italy carried out under Mussolini:

And of course there is a card relating to the British Museum’s acquisition of Codex Sinaiticus:

I’m almost certain that child-Brent would have been bitterly disappointed to open a pack of cards and find Hugo Ibscher and Codex Sinaiticus, but adult-Brent is pretty delighted (and in any event, child-Brent should not have been buying packs of cigarettes).

This entry was posted in Codicology, Mummy cartonnage. Bookmark the permalink.

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