The 1923-24 Billiken set is one of the most desirable of all Cuban baseball card issues. Most collectors are familiar with it. But how many collectors are familiar with Matanzas Billikens? This is a set of 9 cards, likely produced in 1923. We don't know for sure how or why these card were issued, but the theory is that
they were done before the 1923-24 Billiken set was produced, perhaps as a
test run to see how popular they were. All players are on one of two
teams. Either "Matanzas" or "Piratas." There are 9 cards
total. Two or three have another example known, the rest are all one of a kind. There are several Negro Leaguers in the set including Recurvon Teran, Francisco Cardenas and Pablo Pita. It also includes several long-time Cuban League players in Ricardo Torres and Jose "Lopito" Lopez, as well as Abraham Tolosa, Tata, Marcelo, and Gonzalez.
It's likely that there was some kind
of series between the two teams and these cards were made to commemorate
it. We don't know where the Piratas were from, but it's particularly interesting
that there is a team from Matanzas, the home town of the greatest Cuban
player of all time, Martin Dihigo. Advanced collectors are familiar with the fact that the images on Billiken
cards were taken from photographs that each featured 3 players. It's odd that not one of the original photos ever turned up.
So that makes the following even more amazing. Take a look at the cards of Pablo Pita and Recurvon Teran, and then take a look at the photograph below (not included in this lot).In the middle is none other than a very young Martin Dihigo. This means that at one time, there probably was a
Billiken card of Martin Dihigo! Dihigo
didn't turn 19 until after the 1923-24 season was over. So he is either
17 or 18 here. Both Dihigo and Teran are wearing Cuban Stars jerseys.
Dihigo's first year with the Cuban stars was 1923. Teran's last year
with the Cuban Stars was 1924. So we can say with certainty that these
are from either 1923 or 1924. Pretty crazy that the only Billiken
3-player photo ever to turn up happens to be from the Matanzas and it happens to feature Dihigo in the center, meaning someone in
Cuba back in 1923 or 1924 probably had a Martin Dihigo Billiken card. It is extremely unlikely that cards exists today, but somtimes in my dreams I can picture it.