Usually when collectors think about the earliest tobacco cards, the popular N172 Old Judge set comes to mind. However, another N-card release that fans should consider is the 1887 N284 Buchner Gold Coin card set.
Despite the somewhat confusing name, these are standard cardboard trading cards and not coins. The name stems from the cards’ inclusion in packages of Gold Coin tobacco, distributed by D. Buchner and Company.
But while you might be willing, keep in mind that this rare issue isn’t generally that easy to find.
Between the pose variations, there are believed to be 143 different baseball cards in the set. Note that there are also other non-baseball cards such as police cards with the same N284 designation in the American Card Catalog. These cards were a little unique in that they measured larger than some of the other more popular nineteenth century tobacco cards such as the Old Judge, N28, N29, N162, or N184 sets. At approximately 1 3/4″ x 3″, it can be argued that these actually more closely resembled modern day cards than they did some of their smaller tobacco brethren.
The cards are also a little thicker than some of the later 20th century tobacco issues such as T205 and T206. Now well over 100 years old, the thickness of the cards has probably helped their durability over the years. You will often find these in reasonably good condition and without some of the problems that have plagued some of those other tobacco cards such as tears or rips.
There are three distinct Gold Coin advertising back types to be found leading collectors to believe these were printed in separate series.
One problem area of the set for some collectors is the images. Most were much nicer than other issues, such as the strip cards, that would come after them. However, in some cases, the color images are actually only generic depictions of baseball players – not so much the actual player named at the bottom. While some may slightly resemble a particular player, that is not always the case. That can make it a tough sell.
However, if that issue doesn’t bother collectors, they will be rewarded with some nice artwork which, as a whole, is visually appealing to some degree.
Part of the set’s appeal is that, despite the image problems, the biggest stars of the game were included. There’s Cap Anson and Dan Brouthers. There’s also John Clarkson and Buck Ewing. There’s an early card of famed Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey. Hall of Famers Tim Keefe and King Kelly are there, too. More Hall of Famers such as John Ward, Sam Thompson, Jim O’Rourke, Roger Connor, and Old Hoss Radbourn surface as well. This is a Who’s Who of sorts when it comes to 19th century baseball.
However, just as the big names might draw some collectors, they can also be a deterrent to set collectors. The set is already nearly impossible to collect due to its rarity, but that problem is compounded considering the pure volume of Hall of Famers when one takes the various poses into account. Like the famous T-206 set, many Hall of Famers have several cards. Anson, Brouthers, Clarkson, Connor, Ewing, Keefe, Kelly, O’Rourke, Radbourn, and Thompson all have not one, but two cards. Ward has three. When you add it all up, it’s easy to see that collecting a set can be a pricey endeavor.
In January, Lelands offered an original tin advertising sign that details Buchner’s promotion, in which cards pulled from tobacco packages could be traded for “handsome products” like pocket knives, umbrellas and watches if you were ambitious enough (or addicted enough) to redeem hundreds of them.
While it could be argued Buchner cards are undervalued based on age and scarcity, they aren’t cheap. Commons in any usable shape rarely sell for much below $100 and their rarity helps drive strong asking prices. As of this writing there were fewer than a dozen listed on eBay. When available, the bigger stars and Hall of Famers can approach $1,000 even only in low to mid-grade condition.
In May, Goldin Auctions sold an SGC 40 Deacon White for over $1,464 and a few low-to-mid-grade singles for $150-$300 each.
In terms of finding an entire set, you’ll need quite a bit of luck. Sotheby’s offered a large lot of approximately 1/4 of the set that sold for a little more than $8,000 way back in 2005, but there haven’t been many similar lots such as that one sold recently. Large collections such as that simply don’t come up for auction very often.
This can be a very rewarding pursuit but an extremely difficult one at the same time.