About Bible Cards
I have known of the existence of these turn-of-the-last-century Sunday School trading cards for quite a few years, but I never collected them with any zeal until 2016. What I found out about them both delighted and dismayed me, for reasons I will explain below. The era that produced these cards ran for over fifty years, from before 1890 to 1941, and they were published under many different banners. At this time I'm not going to list all the publishing companies, but rather the titles of the series (the large print of the back of the cards).
Here is a list of all the different set titles that are represented here at BibleCards.online. I am fairly certain that there are more sets to be discovered; I'll add information about them as I add them to this collection. The dates are only representative of cards I have in this collection, not necessarily the only dates these sets were produced.
Berean Lesson Pictures: 1889-1941; during World War II, they used very thin paper stock, and apparently disappeared altogether before the war was done; some of these cards from 1891 were slightly larger, 4⅛" tall instead of 4"
Bible Picture Card: 1941
Bible Pictures for Our Little Ones: 1896
Heidelberg Picture Cards: 1898-1912
Lesson Picture Card(s): 1895-1926; the larger-format (4½" tall) cards from the 1920s, though printed on very thin paper, are particularly eye-catching, and they also feature some of the better theology available in this forum
Light and Life Lesson Pictures: 1934
Little Bible Lesson Pictures: 1899-1931
Little People's Lesson Pictures: 1914-1915
Little Pilgrim Lesson Pictures: 1899-1903
Our Bible Picture Talks: 1940
Picture Lessons: 1895-1902
Primary Lesson Picture Card: 1935-1939; a relatively huge 4¾" tall
Standard Picture Lesson Cards: 1916-1934; many were 4⅛" instead of 4"
Sunday School Lesson Picture Cards: 1915-1921; almost 4¾" tall
Union Lesson Pictures: 1917-1918
Westminster Lesson Card(s): 1897-1916; the 1897 card was also 4⅛", slightly larger than the standard 4-inch height for these cards
The cards I have seen from the 1890s surpass the more modern cards in thickness of card stock, in brightness of colors and glossy finish. Don't know why; it might have something to do with the availability of materials during the two World Wars.
How The Cards are Displayed on This Site
With the intention of honoring the Holy Bible rather than just these ephemeral lithographs on cardboard, I determined to place them in order of the scriptural narrative as closely as possible. This did not always work. Some of the cards had pictures that could have been successfully integrated into such a scheme, but contained scripture verses that were from a different part of the Bible. Some of them showed Old Testament subjects with New Testament scriptures, and vice versa. Some showed no scripture whatsoever; in those cases I filled in the blanks as well as I could and separated the scripture references with parentheses. In short, I did the best I could.
Every card on display is shown front and back, in all of their well-loved glory, courtesy of the children of a century ago. The main scripture passage in the title frame is hyperlinked to the actual scripture so you can read it in context for yourselves.
There was a fairly strong missionary appeal on many of these old Sunday School cards; enough so that I have afforded them their own section on the "miscellaneous" page. These mission cards are almost all directed toward African and Oriental themes; perhaps that's natural; in any case, the pictures usually don't show a Biblical theme, but a depiction of native children at play.
It's kind of sad, but it seems that temperance (that is, the abolition of alcoholic drinks) seems to be just about the key issue of the church of the last century. Instead of preaching about the gospel of Jesus Christ, these cards seem to be overly concerned with the legalistic observance of an unwritten law: Thou shalt not drink. While drunkenness was and is an issue that needs occasional correction, any form of legalism is an affront to the free grace of God. Messy though it may sometimes be, God created us for freedom; our acts of righteousness must be a response to grace, not a plea based on our own merit.
Because children's pictures do not lend themselves well to issues of doctrine, being naturally more suited to stories and action, the theology on many of the cards is sorely lacking. The texts refer to "good" and "bad" people, and say things like "Jesus came to help people be better." The soaring theologies of Romans, Hebrews, and the other epistles are barely represented at all, while the more narrative works of the gospels, histories, Genesis, and Acts are very strongly portrayed.
What They Left Out of the Stories
In the story of Jonah, the facts about the great fish created by God are completely ignored on the 1915 Westminster I have displayed. I should have thought that with a name like "Westminster," the publisher would have been more careful to report the story as the Scriptures declare it, but apparently they were concerned about offending the skeptics of the day.
On the 1897 Berean picture of the giving of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, the apostles are rightly shown with tongues of fire on their heads. By 1901, though, the Heidelberg card using exactly the same picture had expunged those tongues of fire from the scene. At first I thought that it may have been due to a reaction against the Azusa Street Revival, but then I realized that that event did not occur until 1906. Makes you wonder.
The Blood. Any picture regarding Christ and the crucifixion are white-robed, spotless, and blood-free. I suppose it was too much to ask young Sunday-Schoolers of a gentler age to view such torture … but still.