BB-Series Bromide

Since color photographs were still a novelty when sumo menko and cards were first being mass produced in the 1930s, many photos were printed in black and white using a printing process involving silver bromide.  The Japanese used silver bromide to make some very beautiful black and white photo cards and referred to these cards as bromide (pronounced Bu-ro-ma-i-do in Japanese) cards or bromides for short.  Bromides were meant to be collected and displayed in childrens’ rooms or in scrap books.  The silver bromide process was used in the 1930s and 1940s, but didn’t lend itself for use in menko as the photographic paper that was needed for the process was very thin.  Consequently, a new printing technique was needed to print photographs on thicker cardboard so they could be played in menko.  Black and white and color printing switched to the halftoning printing process to print photographs and were typically printed on the standardized 1.75” by 3.0” card stock.  Click this link to learn more about halftoning.  This type of printing was used heavily in the late 1940s and was used exclusively in the early 1950s on sumo menko.  However, the Japanese still referred to these photograph halftone printed menko on the 1.75” by 3.0” card stock as bromide menko or bromides as verified on numerous prizes sheets, taba packs and advertising displays.  So this switching of printing techniques, but not the switching of terminology has led to some confusion and different approaches to cataloging Japanese cards and menko.  My approach is to catalog all bromide cards and bromide menko, regardless of intended use, under the BB and BC series identifiers to keep consistent with the Japanese terminology.  The Japanese baseball card community, on the other hand, refers to the black/white and color halftone printed cards and menko on the 1.75” by 3.0” card stock as tobacco menko and the silver bromide printed cards as bromides.
1930s BB-series cards are hard to find and are quite rare.  Many of these menko were destroyed in the war or were turned in for the paper drives in support of the Japanese war effort.  However, a few sets exist such as the 1938 Mini Bromide Set (BB381).  See Picture 1.  There are only two confirmed cards in this set and many cards probably didn’t survive because of their small size which is a tiny 1” X 1.75”.

Picture 1 (BB381 Set) – Yokozuna Tamanishiki – 1938 Mini Bromide

The 1940s saw the most sets of the silver bromide BB-series cards printed and there were probably upwards of 50 different sets made during this decade.  Although not too difficult to find, they are very tough to catalog because of the lack of printing on the back on the card and very few distinguishing marks on the front.  Typical silver bromide BB-series cards have the rikishi’s shikona on the front with other various statistics such as birthplace, height, weight, heya, favorite technique and birthplace.  Below is a circa 1946 silver bromide BB-series card of future Yokozuna Maedayama.

Picture 2 (BB401) –Yokozuna Futabayam - 1940 Black Shikona Bromide

      The start of the switch to halftone printing for BB-series cards/menko happened in the late 1940s.  These “new” BB-series cards/menko are printed on a heavier paper stock, typically have a standard printing size of 1.75” x 3.0” and many are found with standard menko markings on the back for easy cataloging.  These halftone printed BB-series cards were meant for playing in menko games and most have only the rikishi’s shikona on the front.  Additionally, BB-series menko from the 1950s usually have a color bromide counterpart set, or a BC-series set, that would share the same back design and were printed at the same time (See Pictures 3 & 4).  It was probably cheaper to design and print card stock with the same back instead of two different backs for each of the series.

Picture 3 (BB574-1) – Maegashira Otachi - 1957 Marushou Sensou Bromide 5: Type 1


Picture 4 (BC574-3) – Maegashira Tokitsuyama - 1957 Marushou Sensou 5: Type 3

      The last BB-series set used for playing menko was printed in 1960 by Marusan Gangu.  The BB609 is a great set and the great Yokozuna Taiho held the rank of sekiwake in this set.  This set was issued in taba packs and children would have the opportunity to pull winner cards and get large bromide cards as a prize.  It is unknown which prize bromide cards were issued with this set, but more than likely contained there were three levels of winner cards with the #1 prize being a very large bromide card of which there was probably only one #1 winner card in the entire taba pack.

Picture 5 (BB609) – Sekiwake Taiho - 1960 Marusan Jyunishi Bromide 5-6

The BB-series of cards and menko are quite unique and easy to find on the online auction market today, but unfortunately they aren’t that popular with collectors.  This is partly due to the massive amounts of them from the 1940s and no real catalogued information to distinguish what sets each bromide belongs too.


  1. Merry Xmas. I am trying to identify 2 vintage Japanese cards. They have sumo wrestlers on the front without colors and baseball players on the back with a red border and blue backgrounds. They appear to be hand cut and I believe they are from the 1950s. I can't attach photos here but will send scans if you have any info. Thank you. Laurie LSMLAW92@GMAIL.COM

    1. Hi Laurie, they are from the 1958 Baseball/Sumo Karuta Set. Which two do you have?