One of the best things about the sports card hobby is that you can participate on any level. You can buy common cards for a dime. A current pack for a buck or two. A 1960s Hall of Fame rookie card for a couple hundred. Or, if your budget permits, you can chase the investment quality stuff for a lot more.
For many collectors who would like to chase more vintage cards, finding a name you can recognize--at a price you can afford and a condition you can live with--is a challenge.
Ruth? Generally, four figures is an entry point. Ted Williams rookie card? Save your nickels and dimes. It could be a long wait. Cobb? You'll have competition and a credit card bill.
That doesn't mean the historian in you who wants a tangible piece from the era before World War II has to leaf through the common piles.
T206 Eddie Cicotte: He was quite literally at the center of the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Cicotte took the mound with conflicting emotions. He was heading to the end of what had been a very nice career in the big leagues. We all know what the end result was, but ten years earlier, life was far less complicated. Cicotte appears on precious few cards and his place in history makes this one irresistible.
1933 Goudey Charlie Gehringer: Like the man himself, Charlie Gehringer baseball cards often fly under the radar. He didn't play in a major market. He was often in the shadows of other American League stars of the day. He is, however, one of the greatest players of all time. This card is surprisingly affordable given its place in the popular '33 Goudey set.
1934 Diamond Stars Jim Bottomley: Sunny Jim, they called him. Bottomley is a rarity in 1930s baseball. While most players of the day wore either dour or serious looks on their cards, Bottomley is smiling--just as he is in virtually every photo taken of him. This card is the cheapest of the five. An absolute steal and readily available. A very productive and popular Hall of Famer, the Cardinal great wears his usual upbeat grin on this great art-deco card. Looking at it just makes you feel good about baseball--and old baseball cards. So will the price.
1939 Play Ball Mel Ott: How's this for some trivia. Mel Ott made his big league debut at age 17. Seventeen. That's the kind of talent scouts saw in the player who became a Giants legend. Overshadowed by Babe Ruth, Ott was an awesome power hitter--the first National Leaguer to reach 500 home runs. Some of his Goudey cards are a little pricey, but this black-and-white offering from a little later in his career oozes history.
1941 Play Ball Johnny Vander Meer: Three years before this card came out, Vander Meer had the greatest two-game stretch any pitcher has ever seen. Back-to-back no-hitters. What are the odds? Armed with a fearsome fastball, Vander Meer led the league in strikeouts with 202. His career record floated around .500 and you can debate whether his cards should carry a premium, but if you're looking for a great conversation piece that won't have your wife saying 'no-no', this is the one.