Vintage Collectibles: The T-206 White Border Baseball Tobacco Cards
The T206 Honus Wagner
The Thrill of Finding a Hot Rookie Card
I grew up in the 1980s and early 1990s, the heyday of sports card collecting. I collected all sorts of cards related to all sorts of sports. I collected baseball cards, football cards, basketball cards, golf cards, and, yes, even hockey cards (in spite of my affinity for watching paint dry in opposition to hockey--sorry hockey fans.
When I began collecting cards, a wax pack of 15 to 17 cards and a stick of a very hard, somewhat sticky substance that attempted to pass as gum sold for a whopping 35 cents. A rack pack of 45 cards cost a buck. I can remember when the 1985 Eric Davis Topps rookie card ran up to $20 when he was the hottest thing going around 1987. The 1986 Jose Canseco Donruss rookie card got up above $100 before the whole steroid thing.
I can remember the thrill of cracking open a wax pack and finding one of these superstars. These cards were hot for a time as people started hoarding the stars. The problem with cards from the 1980s and the 1990s is the massive number of cards produced. There was no scarcity involved, so the cards produced in this era are pretty worthless. Today, companies hold down production by charging a much higher price for fewer cards. A pack of Topps Chrome will run around $3 for a 4-card pack
Where is the Real Money?
Cards like the Canseco rookie run much lower than the price they commanded just 25 years ago. This drop in the market could be deemed a sports card bubble. However, that is not to say that there are not cards out there that have value. Pre-1980 cards can have some value, even for common players.
The real money, however, is found in cards that go back even earlier. If someone were to happen across their dad's collection from the 1950s and 1960s, they may have some serious bank on their hands. One of the most expensive cards around today is the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle Rookie. This is one of the rarer and expensive cards out there, and it can command a price of five figures (that's over $10,000 for those who may be uninitiated). This is not the most expensive card around, however.
Vintage Tobacco Cards: The T-206 White Border
The Mantle Rookie is definitely a piece of history, but it is out of the reach of all but the most avid (and rich) collectors. There is one option for those who may be short on cash to get into the vintage card game for less than $20. The T206 edition of cards is probably the most famous of all baseball card collections. T-206 cards are also fairly easy to get, even today.
The T206 cards measure 1 7/16" by 2 5/8" and appear quite small in comparison to today's 2 1/2" x 3 1/2" standard. The cards are renowned for their white borders. The T in the T206 refers to the fact that these are "tobacco cards" that came in packages of cigarettes put out by the American Tobacco Company.
Today, sports cards include statistics on their back. In 1909-1911 when the white borders were distributed, an ad for a variety of tobacco products appeared on the back. Included were ads for Sweet Caporal, Piedmont, Hindoo, Polar Bear, and others. The various ads could appear on the same player, giving a large variety in the player and ad combinations. Those cards with rarer ads, like Polar Bear, command a premium on the market because of their scarcity.
The complete set included 524 cards, including what is probably the most famous famous card of all-time, the T-206 Honus Wagner. According to legend, Wagner had his card removed from the series because he disliked tobacco. That's up for debate because he participated in previous editions with apparently little problem. Recently, a T206 Wagner went for a whopping $3.12 million--that's 3.12 with 4 zeroes after it. There are about 60 of these cards thought to be in existence today, hence the big markup.
Regular folks can get their own piece of history by buying their very own T-206. For those who are just looking to have a vintage card to show off to their friends, there are always Ebay auctions going on for vintage baseball cards, and one of the sets with the most availability is the T206. Ungraded cards in poor shape can go for less than $10 (without adding in shipping costs). The same card that has been professionally graded will usually command a bit of a premium, because there are abundant reprints that can sucker people.
If you are wondering about the estimated value of your T-206 choice, you can get an even get a quick estimated market value before bidding on Ebay. This set of cards is considered very attractive with their superior artwork and white borders, and they are a fairly available piece of Americana. Happy collecting.