From 1909-1911 the American Tobacco Company issued, throughout its sixteen different brands of cigarette and loose tobacco products, a tobacco card set that became known as the T206 set.
The set appealed to collectors for several factors other than the obvious historical significance and the inclusion of many Hall of Famers such as Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Cy Young, Walter Johnson and the famous Honus Wagner card, the most valuable baseball card in existence.
A unique feature of the T206 set was the many different advertising variations found on the backs of the cards. These advertisements were featured on cards throughout the set, before trading cards were produced with a player's biographical information and statistics like those we know today.
In addition, some T206 backs contained notations identifying the factory where they were printed, making the collecting of a "master set" extremely challenging for collectors.
There have been sixteen identified products in the T206, all of them cigarettes except the Polar Bear brand, which was loose tobacco. The backs are designated by various methods; the estimated number of cards known to exist within the hobby (Sovereign 150 and Cycle 460); the card back's color (Sovereign 350 apple green, Hindu brown), or other distinguishing characteristics (American Beauty 350 no frame, American Beauty 350 frame).
An estimated 40 different T206 back variations are thought to exist, although there are four "blank" backs known. The blank backs however, are so rare that they are generally excluded from the "master" list.
The most common brand were the Sweet Caporal and Piedmont, while the most sought after T206 back rarity is the Broadleaf 460 series. The 460 refers to the 460 "subjects" or players depicted. It is estimated that fewer than 40 Broadleaf 460 backs exist, among them Cobb, Mathewson and Young. The T206 Drum back variations are also extremely scarce, as are the Old Mill brown backs and Lenox brown backs. Baseball legend Ty Cobb had his own cigarette brand, named, appropriately enough,"Ty Cobb." It's believed that a dozen or fewer of these extremely rare Ty Cobb tobacco backs are thought to exist, making them among the scarcest of all cards in the hobby.
Among the Broadleaf 460 card back subset, some of the most desirable to collectors are Christy Mathewson, whose card can easily command five figures. Another Hall of Famer featured in the rare Broadleaf 460 set is Frank "Home Run" Baker, listing for between $3,000-5,000. One of the scarcest of the set is the Red Kleinow card. The Kleinow commands a premium due to not only being in the Broadleaf 460 group, but also because the Kleinow card front is uncommon, making it doubly desirable.
T206 backs are a lesson in the history of early 20th century tobacco companies, advertising and are an important component to recognize in the famous and highly sought after tobacco card set.
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