The Billiken Cigarettes set of 1923-24 were a Cuban-issued set that featured 2×2 5/8″ cards depicting 60 players from the Cuban Professional League. Each black and white glossy photo has an ad on the reverse, either for Billiken or La Moda Cigarettes. One of the more popular Cuban league sets, this set includes many stars of the American Negro Leagues, including Oscar Charleston (perhaps the key card in the set), Pop Lloyd, Jose Mendez, Marianao Torriente, and this card of Andy Cooper.
Cooper was a well-known left-handed pitcher who played for the Detroit Stars in the Negro Leagues when this card was issued. In 1928, Cooper was traded to the famed Kansas City Monarchs, where he played until 1929. As manager of the Monarchs between 1937 and 40, he won his league title three times before suffering a stroke early in the 1941 season, prematurely ending his managerial career and, shortly after, his life. Negro League scholars generally rank Cooper among the top two or three left-handed pitchers in the history of the Negro Leagues, and while he sadly was never given the chance to compete in the Major Leagues, his greatness was finally recognized in 2006, when the Committee of African-American Baseball elected him to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
This example, likely Cooper’s first card, is also his most desirable. Despite this, very few public transactions involving this card exist on record in the last few years. In 2012, an SGC 30 example sold at auction for $5,400, while in a 2011 eBay transaction, a severely off-center SGC VG 40 example of the card traded hands for $6,800.
This example is the finest known, and very likely the highest-grade example in existence. The supply of Cuban baseball cards that survived and subsequently made it to the American hobby is very limited, and Billikens have attracted the attention of many prewar and Negro Leagues collectors due to their attractive photographs. This is the finest known example of the first card of one of the greatest players of the American Negro Leagues.