Playing in the major leagues with the Washington Senators from 1907 to 1927, Walter Johnson is widely considered as one of the game’s best pitchers of all time. As a player in the pre-war era, his cards might not seem all that attainable for the everyday collector at first glance. However, the Big Train’s contemporary items may be a little more accessible than you think.
Finding post-playing day issues of this Hall of Famer is a relatively easy task. Even vintage cards such as his 1940 Play Ball issue aren’t too pricey. But even if you’re sticking to solely contemporary items, affordable ones can still be obtained with some digging. Here are five Walter Johnson baseball cards from his playing days that many collectors can make work on a tight budget.
Ah, the strip cards. Often hated for their outlandish designs, when you’re looking for affordable pre-war cards of Hall of Famers, you thinking a little outside the box is usually a necessity. Johnson’s W551 strip card isn’t the prettiest one out there, but we’ve seen worse … far worse. The Big Train appears to be throwing the ball here in this simplistic design and if you’re looking for some of his inexpensive cards, they just don’t come much cheaper than this. The W551 is pretty scarce with only a few examples being offered at any time, so it’s not always an easy find. However, when low-grade examples sell, they often do for under $100. This SGC-graded example, for instance, sold for under $50 in April.
2. Walter Johnson 1914 B18 Blanket
One little known set to some collectors is the B18 Blanket issue. These tobacco issue felt squares are roughly a little more than 5″ long on all four sides and will even be encapsulated by some grading companies. This issue features Johnson with a white background and red trim around the edges. Despite its rarity, it is generally affordable in lower-grade condition. Since this spring, at least three have been sold on eBay under $100 and there are some nice examples you can own now for under $200.
Another non-baseball card (but still able to be slabbed by third-party graders) for the budget-conscious collector is WaJo’s famous 1910 Sweet Caporal Pin, designated as P2 by Jefferson Burdick in his American Card Catalog. These collectible pins are a great substitution for collectors that have to avoid the more expensive pursuits such as cigarette or caramel cards.
Measuring only a little less than 1″ in diameter, these circular collectibles feature a player image, name, and team. In higher grade condition, you can see these pins selling for several hundred dollars. But if you’re willing to settle on one that shows some wear, it can often be had in the $60-$80 range. When looking for these, also note there are two variations. Some have smaller letters and some have larger ones with the larger ones seemingly more scarce.
Along with strip cards, playing game cards are usually one of the most inexpensive routes a collector can take when trying to assemble a pre-war card collection featuring star players. Fortunately for Johnson fans, he has one in the 1913 National Game set and another in the nearly identical Tom Barker game of the same year. Because of his vast popularity, these aren’t as affordable as some other stars from that set. Also hurting the wallet is that these cards were naturally protected inside a game box and are found in better condition more often than not.
The Johnson card, which features a nice image of him in the stretch position with a stadium background, is still available for a price that’s friendly to most collector budgets.
5. Walter Johnson 1912-13 T202 Hassan Triple Folder Card
As you might imagine, if you’ve got a little more money to spend you have a few more options at your disposal. Outside of Johnson’s more popular T205, T206, or T207 issues, a nice issue that’s still relatively affordable is his T202 Hassan Triple Folder.
The Hall of Famer is featured with two different players in the set. Interestingly enough, they were traded for each other in 1912 (Gabby Street and Jack Knight) and the card backs mention the deal. The Street version is often priced a bit higher.
In mid-grade condition, it isn’t uncommon to see these top $300. However, if you’re willing to sacrifice a little condition for the sake of your wallet, lower grade examples of the Johnson-Knight card can be found quite a bit cheaper.