Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Silver Bromide Poisoning - The challenge of 1930s and 1940s BB-Series Black and White Bromide Cards

I'm a completionist when it comes to collecting sumo cards.  I want to get my hands on each and every sumo card made.  I really feel it is the challenge of being able to document and catalog a new set for the first time.  Nothing is more satisfying than reuniting individual cards back into sets which is probably how a good amount of set collectors feel.  This is how I collected back in the 80s and this is how I collect now.  With sumo cards, however, it does present some challenges.  First, my disposable income forces me to pick and choose as I can't have everything, so I have had to prioritize.  Second, the different kinds of sumo menko and cards is vast (believe it or not) and so this economic limitation forced me to get the more common stuff early on in my collecting year.  Now I am left with the "harder" and more expensive stuff.  Alas, if I had them all there would be no need to collect anymore, right?  So I am not complaining.  Lastly, out of all the types of sumo cards out there, the 1930s and 1940s BB-Series Bromide cards are a hot mess.  I say that with fondness for the challenge, but I knew once I seriously dipped my toes in the 1930s and 1940s BB-Series Bromide sumo cards, my sanity would be tested.  Well, now that I am in my second decade of collecting sumo cards, I have come to the realization that the BB-Series sumo cards need some catalog and checklist lovin' and given the respect they really do deserve.  Why the hesitation you ask?  Let me quickly sum up the challenges 1930s and 1940s BB-Series Bromide Cards.

- There are over a hundred different sets (probably, I'm just estimating here) = Lots of auction action = $$$ & ¥¥¥
- Only a small fraction (less than 5) have any company marks = Need to figure out which cards go to which sets

- Blank Backs (see above) = Need to figure out which cards go to which sets based on front design
- Out of a hundred different sets, how many ways can the front design change? = Answer, not a lot in most instances = In-depth study needed to sort them all = time, time, time
- Most were printed prior to WW2 = scarce = beat up = patience for them to come to auction

The 1930s and 1940s BB-series bromides were usually (not always, though) actual photographs.  A few used the halftone printing process.  The term "Bromide" or in Japanese "Buromaido or Puromaido" ”ブロマイド or プロマイド” comes from the term 'silver bromide.'  Silver bromide is a yellowish chemical and when mixed with a gelatin was a photographic emulsifier.  Once exposed to light, the silver bromide darkened into metallic silver.  The areas that weren't exposed to light do not change and stay silver bromide.  That is why these bromide cards have a yellowish tint to them in the light areas and silver metallic on the dark areas.  In fact if you hold these card to the light just right, you can see the shiny silver metal reflect the light.

Here are three cards from the BB391: 1939 Black Shikona Bromide Set (Notice the hand-colored tint on two of them).  These came from three different sources over the years.

The unique things about Bromides, which is different from Menko, is that Bromides were meant to be collected and viewed, not used to play the game menko.  So a lot of times they were glued into scrapebooks or pasted into albums and consequently have a lot of back damage.  Here is one such book called a Puromaido Book プロマイドブック.  You can see the slits in the book to insert the Bromides.

It will not be a quick process, but the 4th edition of my book will have a greatly expanded BB-Series section as I will have added many more sets, corrected numerous cataloguing errors, and refined the research in the area. 


  1. This seems like quite an undertaking!

  2. It will be....hopefully it doesn't wear me down too much.

  3. IIRC Gary Engel had mentioned in his Japanese Baseball Card Checklist and Price Guide that card production had stopped in Japan in the late 1930's due to the war effort so I'm a little surprised to see that there were sumo cards in 1939. I wonder if there are also baseball cards from that time frame - the earliest cataloged cards of professional players aren't until 1946 although there were cards of collegiate players in the 1920's and 30's.

  4. Looking through his guide, it certainly seems to be the case with baseball card production halting in 1939. For sumo cards, there are numerous sets all the way up until 1944 (especially bromides) with a few scattered after that through the end of the decade. After the war, baseball was THE sport in Japan and used to help cement Japan/United States relations so there are lots of baseball sets produced in the late 1940s. For sumo, there are only a few sets right after the war as its popularity was in a slump during this time. It wasn't until 1952/3 when sumo popularity hit a new high that sumo card production took off like wildfire. Baseball cards too.