Even in a convention hall full of thousands of different types of colorful, cool and historic memorabilia, the 1911 T3 Turkey Red baseball cards stand out. More than 100 years after they arrived in envelopes as part of a mail-in offer, they are among the most collectible, sought after and aesthetically striking pieces of baseball history ever produced.
They can also be very expensive.
Many of the more than 20 Hall of Famers and nicer condition commons from the set are among the most expensive pre-World War II issues you’ll find.
The 5-3/4” x 8” cabinet cards were printed on sturdy card stock– a reward for smokers who used enough Turkey Red, Fez and products to send in ‘coupons’, early proofs of purchase, in exchange for a collectible item that was probably pretty popular then and has stood the test of time. However, because they were a ‘premium’ item, relatively few exist compared to other cards of the day and those that do often show significant wear. The set, part of a promotion that actually began in 1910, consists of 126 cards (100 baseball players and the rest boxers or other athletes), small enough to attract the interest of many advanced collectors who are more than happy to attack it one or two cards at a time.
Still, collectors who are on a budget and willing to accept lower grade Turkey Reds can still find some great cards in the set. We’ve picked out five great ones you should be able to purchase for a relatively modest investment.
1. Fred Merkle
He was not a star, but Fred Merkle was a solid player who spent 19 seasons in the major leagues but made a mistake that would prove difficult to live down.
He was still just 19 years old when he failed to touch second base after a game-winning hit by Al Bridwell (who is also in the T3 set) in the heat of the 1908 pennant race. The run was disallowed, the game would be suspended by darkness and the Cubs wound up winning it later–along with the pennant. From then on, he was ‘Bonehead’ Merkle, even though he was not the first to leave the field in an effort to avoid onrushing fans.
Merkle is such an important player in the game’s history and owning his Turkey Red card can be done for less than $250 if you’re OK with a low grade copy.
2. Tommy Leach
History and a great photo make for a great card.
Leach got the first hit in World Series history and scored the first run. His four triples in that 1903 Fall Classic remain a big league record.
Just as cool as his career accomplishments are the great stripes on his Pittsburgh uniform socks. It’s a colorful, striking image of the 1902 home run champion who played for 20 years. You can often find his Turkey Red card for around $150-$175 in low-grade.
3. Gabby Street
From Cy Young to Harry Caray, Gabby Street had quite a ride in and around baseball. Not a great hitter, he hung around based on his defense and later became manager of the 1931 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals and eventually a broadcast partner of a youthful Caray in St. Louis.
In 1908, he gained fame for catching a baseball tossed down from the top of the Washington Monument and in a stroke of pure genius, the creators of his Turkey Red card put the Monument and the U.S. Capitol in the background of his card. Does it get any better than that if you’re a collector who appreciates history? It’s a desirable card and snaring one for $200-$250 is doable.
4. Fred Clarke
Our list should have at least one Hall of Famer you can own at a reasonable level and why not Clarke? While not as famous as Honus Wagner, Clarke was a huge part of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ success during the early 1900s, winning four pennants while serving as the club’s player/manager.
He went 5-for-5 in his first game as a player in 1894, still a record. Clarke accumulated over 2,600 hits and was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1945.
Expect to pay around $300-400 for something a little better than Poor.
5. Safe at Third
Since T3s were a premium and smokers requested the cards they wanted to receive for their coupons, it’s safe to assume most chose players rather than the generic image that adorns this card. Or did they? The ‘Safe at Third’ card isn’t really scarce and can often be found in low-grade for $350-$400 at most.
What it has going for it, besides the low price, is that it’s based on an actual photo and perfectly captures the spirit of the time. The dirt flies around the flimsy bag with a working smokestack in the background of a many hued sky (late afternoon action or just smoky haze from an industrial city?).
There’s a version with a checklist back so you can get a read on all of the players in this phenomenal set while owning a great piece of baseball art.
You can find 1911 T3 Turkey Red cards in many major auction catalogs and you can also see what’s available on eBay by clicking here.