Jackie Robinson baseball cards have always been popular and what few game worn jerseys, bats and other items have survived always sell for significant amounts of money. While no mainstream card company really existed in the aftermath of World War II, there were cards issued of him in 1947 and by ’48, bubble gum and cards were back together again and Robinson helped usher in the golden era of cards that began in the early 1950’s.
Much of the trading card focus is usually on the 1948 Leaf Robinson. It’s his first mainstream issue, having been distributed with Leaf’s gum card set which despite the “1948” date was actually issued in 1949. The series is often plagued with poor centering, ghosting and other problems so while the card itself isn’t that hard to find on eBay or a major show, high grade cards are hard to find. In 2016, two PSA 7 Robinsons sold for over $20,000 while a 6 sold for $7,887.
Robinson’s ‘true’ rookie cards, however, were issued by Bond Bread in 1947. There were 13 cards issued—all of Robinson and all aimed at selling loaves of bread with one card per pack (see right).
Long-time collectors and dealers still talk about a New York sports card convention in the 1970s when a man walked in with a stack of 75 virtually mint examples of one of the cards in the Bond Robinson set. The man explained that he’d been handed the stack by a Bond Bread delivery driver that year but wasn’t able to obtain any other cards. Most of those were distributed years ago but the original owner saved a few, consigning one to Robert Edward Auctions, which sold it in 2013 for $1,896.
There was a separate set of players from New York teams that were borderless and have rounded corners (see left). If you see one of those with square corners, it’s not likely the real thing.
“Because of this long-ago find and accompanying story, we have always thought that this uniquely designed card in the set may have been produced to be given out at stores directly by grocers at the checkout counter, as a special advertising vehicle when the set was announced,”explained the auction house in its write-up for last year’s catalog. The other cards were issued one card per loaf and carried only the advertising on the back.
Other 1947 Bond Bread Robinson cards rarely come up for auction, are rarely in higher graded when they do because of having been in bread packages, yet still sell for a few thousand dollars each. PSA’s Set Registry shows only three current complete sets that have been graded. You can check availability on eBay here.
Exhibits and Blue Tints
Early, cheap Jackie Robinson cards collectors should consider would include the 1947-1966 Exhibit card, which shows an vintage photo of Robinson. The size of a postcard, Exhibits were sold as part of a huge set distributed through arcade machines over that 20-year span. Fairly good quality examples of the Robinson can be readily found for less than $100. It’s hard to imagine at least some appreciation over time for these colorless, oversized cards.
Also targeted by collectors and investors is the 1948 R346 ‘Blue Tint’ Robinson cards, which are quite scarce. Originally issued in strips, they are usually found hand cut, often crudely. Part of a larger set of major leaguers, they measure only about 2” by 2 5/8” and are a bit of a mystery. Likely produced in the New York area utilizing photos provided by the teams, there were 50 cards in all. PSA has graded fewer than 20 with only four carrying a numerical grade. The others are listed as ‘authentic’ because of the hand cut.
Other Jackie Robinson cards
Robinson also appears on a promotional card issued by Old Gold Cigarettes in 1948 and in the Swell Sport Thrills issue from that season. Both are excellent options that cost far less than the mainstream Robinson rookie cards.
He wasn’t in the 1948 set, but the 1949 Bowman Jackie Robinson is also popular, although it’s a stretch to call it a rookie card. Robinson’s card is valued at $1100 in EX conditiion but can sell for five figures at the higher end.
You can find vintage throughout the 1950’s as well, with the ’52 Topps issue far and away the most expensive because of its placement in the high number series. Robinson did not appear in Bowman’s 1951 set, however. The last card from his playing days was the 1956 Topps issue.