When it comes to the likes of Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb, and Honus Wagner, collectors can have a difficult time finding affordable cards. One of the more popular options for adding cards of these players and others at low prices is the 1913 Tom Barker Game Card set.
Designed as WCG-6 in the American Card Catalog, many collectors have turned to this issue – and for good reason. The set not only offers some of the biggest names in the pre-war era, but remains one of the most inexpensive options for many players. And unlike strip cards, these are generally much easier on the eyes.
The Tom Barker cards offer a clean design with black and white photos of the player in question on the front. The player’s name is displayed in the middle of these 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ cards with their images and, since they are part of a playing card game, specific plays are displayed around the edges. The backs are printed in red ink and show a generic player with the Tom Barker Baseball Card Game logo displayed prominently along with the patent date of March 25, 1913. As with other playing cards, these have purposefully rounded corners.
When buying these, ensure you have the correct cards. The 1913 National Game cards (designed as WG5) are very similar to the Barker issue with the same size and number of cards (the same players with only a few exceptions), including the nine action cards. The easiest way to spot the difference between the Barker and National Game cards are the backs. While the Barker edition has a generic player with the Barker logo, the National Game backs include the words ‘Base Ball’ printed in large letters over ‘The National Game.’
The Tom Barker set is generally considered to be more scarce than The National Game.
In 1914, the Polo Grounds game, issued by The Card Baseball Co., Inc., of Norfolk, Virginia, was another entry into the tabletop baseball card game arena but the photos and style were different than the 1913 issues.
Tom Barker Game
Forty-three players are included but the set boasts a total of 54 different cards. In addition to the named players, the complete set also includes a rules card and a score card. Rounding out the set is a ‘subset’ of nine action cards, including batters and runners.
The game sold for around 50 cents when it was issued over 100 years ago. Sold in a box, the cards were generally well protected if the game was kept intact, leading to a decent supply of higher quality examples.
Stars, Stars, and … Stars
The appeal of the set is that it allows collectors an opportunity to pick up pre-war Hall of Famers and stars at low prices. The lineup of big names is impressive and the set is headlined by the aforementioned Jackson, Cobb, and Wagner. Also included are the likes of Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Nap Lajoie, Connie Mack, Rube Marquard, John McGraw, Tris Speaker, Joe Tinker, Ed Walsh, Zach Wheat, Joe Wood, Grover Alexander, Home Run Baker, Chief Bender, Roger Bresnahan, Frank Chance, Hal Chase, Fred Clarke, Sam Crawford, Johnny Evers, Clark Griffith, Miller Huggins, Hughie Jennings, and more. The Alexander is considered by some collectors to be his rookie card.
The famous T206 set is often lauded for its impressive lineup of Hall of Famers. But in terms of ratio of Hall of Famers to the total cards in each set, the Tom Barker issue has it beaten by a mile.
Ungraded individual cards of stars and even Hall of Famers often sell for significantly under $100. Exceptions, however, do exist. The Jackson card, for example, usually sells for over $1,000 in mid-high grade condition and the bigger names, such as Cobb, can go for several hundred. A few more, including Johnson and Wagner can easily top that $100 price tag, too. A complete mid-grade set sold at auction a few years ago for about $3,000. While not dirt cheap, there might not be a set offering as much bang for the buck given the more than two dozen Hall of Famers.
If the price for the originals is too steep for you, the reprint set is an option. The popularity of the cards led to their reprinting in the 1980s and these are available at a fraction of the price of the originals.
You can see what’s currently being offered on eBay here.
Tom Barker Card Checklist
Action (Batter Swinging, looking forward)
Action (Batter Swinging, looking backward)
Action (Runner Sliding, fielder at base)
Action (Runner Sliding, with umpire)
Action (Runner Sliding, hugging base)
Action (Sliding at home, umpire on left)
Action (Sliding at home, umpire on right)
Action (Runner standing at home)
Action (Runner looking back)