The inception of baseball cards started with tobacco companies, more specifically Allen & Ginter in the late 1800's. Adding sets of cards to collect offered more of an incentive for cigarette smokers to chose their products over others. These cards featured boxers, animals, actresses, and baseball players.
In 1887, the first popular set labeled N28, brandished with "The World's Champions", celebrated 50 different athletes from several different sports. Those sports were billiards, oarsman, pool players, pugilists (boxing), rifle shooting, wrestlers, and baseball. Because these were featured on tobacco products, most of these were thrown away, making the set more popular.
There were only ten baseball players, with six of them being Hall Of Famers:
Adrian "Cap" Anson
Chas W. Bennet
Capt. Jack Glasscock
John M. Ward
After a quick eBay search, I found that you can get a lot of the non baseball cards for under $50 ungraded. Considering the 133 year difference, this would certainly be a cool addition to any card collection. The baseball cards do run a tad pricey, and for good reason given their age. Recent sold listings include a Cap Anson PSA'd at 2.5 for $2,399.40 and a John M Ward SGC 7 for $2,079.
Allen & Ginter produced the next years set and labeled them the N29's. Featuring the same layout, this set featured more sports within the same 50 card limit. These new sports were runners, cyclists, pedestrians (lol), hammer throwers, pole vaulters, high jumpers, and weight lifters. Only six baseball players were featured, one making it to the Hall of Fame; Buck Ewing.
This set was more scarce, but even the most recent Buck Ewing PSA 4 only drew a $970.03 purchase price. There's not much more to these sets as the backs feature the checklist of each set. I'll be picking up one of the non-baseball cards soon!
Next up, 1890's!