While smokers in the country’s eastern third were pulling what is now called T205 and T206 cards from cigarette packages, tobacco users in the west found Obak baseball cards. In fact, they were produced by the California-based outlet of the giant American Tobacco Company.
Obak, which were later labeled T212 and issued as separate sets in 1909, 1910 and 1911, featured mainly players from west coast minor league teams. Like the other tobacco cards of the era printed across the country, Obak cards measure 1-1/2 X 2-5/8 and features the same white border and same lithographic artwork look.
You may perhaps not identify some names within this set, but they have the respect of experienced collectors. Putting their age into consideration, the quality of production of the Obak cards is off the charts. The portraits are prominent and the design is artistically pleasing, presenting a marvelous vision of the game just as it was on the west coast over a hundred years ago. They offer more shots of action postures and also seemingly have more elaborate backgrounds than T206 which often shows off grandstands.
Because the population out west was a lot smaller at the time, it’s correct to say that the number of the existing Obak cards pales when compared to “the monster” that is T206. Yet, prices are low and give a very great opportunity for collectors to, at the very least, possess a good quality ‘type card’ from this special series.
In 1909, Obak cards featured players from the Pacific Coast League. The backs contained advertising text and an Obak logo printed in an Old English style. The set consists of 76 cards and features a pre-rookie card of future Black Sox player Chick Gandil, which is by far the most valuable card in the set. Most fans wouldn’t likely recognize the other names in any of the Obak sets.
In 1910, Obak included players from the Northwest League along with the PCL standouts. There are 40 cards that feature advertising on the back indicating “150 subjects” (even though that part of the set has only 40 cards) and 175 cards in the set that references “175 subjects”. In addition, and somewhat curiously, the backs of the 1910 Obaks show a total of 35 different advertising slogans in the middle. It makes them stand out and fortunately for collectors who appreciate such quirks, the 1910 issue is the most common.
In 1911, Obak again included PCL and NWL players in a 175-card set. Back east, the T205 issue separated itself from the T206 by including a short write-up and line of statistics on the backs of the cards. Obak did the same thing for its minor leaguers. Amazingly, the 1911 set includes another Black Sox player. Buck Weaver's card commands thousands of dollars in higher grades.
There is also a 1911 Obak Cabinet set. Exceptionally rare, the larger cards were issued as premiums for users who sent in 50 coupons from cigarette packages. It was a lot of cigarettes to buy just to obtain one card. A coupon found in each box of Obak cigarettes shows the checklist of cards available through the mail-in offer.
A lot is still there to learn about the 1909-1911 Obak baseball sets. Although their appreciation is growing, they are not as popular as T206s, likely because most of the players’ fame has been lost to time. Most were career minor leaguers. However, that also means you won’t fork over huge amounts of money for Hall of Famers such as the case with the big league sets produced in the eastern half of the nation more than a century ago and your chances of completing these ‘mini monsters’ is a little better. You can click here to see original, vintage Obak cards on eBay now.