BC-series cards are very hard to find from the 1930s and 1940s because of the process involved of transferring real color photographs onto paper was expensive. Postcard manufacturers had been doing it for years in the early 20th century, but postcards were popular and relatively expensive when you compared them to menko and bromides so the costs could be recouped much easier. The only way to print color pictures onto paper at the time was by using the halftoning process or actually hand-tinting black and white bromides by adding color. Hand-tinting was extremely time-consuming and expensive and halftoned BC-series sets from the 1930s and 1940s were vastly overshadowed by the very popular R-series menko and for some reason the square BC-series never took off.
The very first BC-series menko set was made in 1938 and depicts 3 yokozuna: Futabayama, Musashiyama and Tamanishiki along with a dozen or so other rikishi. This set was halftoned, but the quality for the late 1930s is exceptional. Some colors, like orange and yellow, are very vibrant, while the rest have a washed out feeling. However, the registration on the set is absolutely phenomenal and easily the highest quality of any BC-series sumo set ever made.
Picture 1 (BC381 Set) – Sekiwake Taikyuzan – 1938 Color Bromide 4-5
There are a few known hand-tinted BC-series sets from the 1930s, but so few of these cards survive today that it is hard to tell exactly how many different sets there actually are. I’ve temporarily lumped them all into one set from 1939 until more show up.
Picture 2 (c1939) – Hand-tinted Color Bromide of Yokozuna Futabyama
BC-series cards really took off in the mid 1950s as the M-series sets with cartoon drawings started to be phased out by the more popular BC-series sets with actual rikishi photographs. This was due in part to kids starting to collect menko rather than destoy them in battle. Additionally, BC-series sets were cheaper to make because actual photographs could be used instead of paying an artist to design a whole set of cards. The first BC-series sets printed in the 1950s weren’t even printed until 1956; a full 16 years after the last one was printed in the early 1940s!
Picture 3 (BC562-2) – Maegashira Dewaminato – 1956 Marukami Hoshi 6: Type 2
The last BC-series set was printed in 1964. 1964 was also the year that almost all other series of menko and cards were stopped being printed as well and really marked the end of the menko era. The last know BC-series set was the 1964 Marusho Tawara 5 set. This set has some nice menko of Yokozuna Taiho and Kashiwado along with up-and-coming Yokozuna Sadanoyama.
Picture 4 (BC641-3) – Yokozuna Taiho – 1964 Marusho Tawara 5 Set: Type 3
1950s BC-series of cards are easy to find on the market today and so the price tends to be fairly cheap when buying them. Some of the hardest menko to find, in fact, are the ones produced in the 1960s because there weren’t as many made and menko popularity was nearing an end.