With the hobby’s most famous image generating headlines again, it’s probably a good time for a short column on authenticating the often reprinted T206 cards. Of course, how to spot a fake Honus Wagner is a skill a LOT of people could use, so with that, here are some tips.
1) Read my past two columns on black light and direct comparison of cards. These two columns alone will help you identify reprints of T206s and all other cards, especially Pre-WWII cards.
2) T206s are on thin, off-white card stock. The stock is thinner than a 1950s-80s Topps cards. If you hold them up to a light, light will shine through.
3) The fronts and the backs of T206s have different textures and gloss, and the front white borders are whiter than the backs.
T206 backs have a fibrous feel of raw card stock and are off-white or toned.
To make the front graphics more colorful and crisp, before printing the front of the card stock was coated in a white substance. It gives the front borders a sort of white washed or enameled appearance and feel. The white borders have a distinctly smoother and whiter appearance and feel than the off-white, fibrous backs. The fronts are not glossy, but have more of a gloss than the matte backs.
If the front and back of a T206 has the same gloss and texture, assume that it’s a reprint.
4) T206 reprints will have a fine multi-color dot pattern in the player image area, and often throughout the entire card.
Modern lithography and computer prints reprint an image by translating it into a fine multi-color dot pattern. This dot pattern is seen through strong magnification. To see what this dot pattern looks like examine a magazine picture or modern baseball card. If the player image area has a dot pattern like this, it’s a modern reprint.
With some professionally made reprints, only the player image area has the dot pattern and the front black border line around the player image and front and back text will be solid ink. However, most cheapo home computer reprints will have the dot pattern throughout the whole card, front and back.
Realize that some forgeries paste a computer reprint front to a real common back, so make sure you focus on the front. Clearly, these forgers are trying to make a common card into a valuable card, so the front will be an expensive subject such as Honus Wagner or Eddie Plank.
5) Under the microscope, the original T206 printing and ink is distinctly different.
The original cards were made with early color lithography. Unlike with the fine dot patterns of a reprint, the ink patterns in the player image will be irregular, transparent in areas and overall resemble a watercolor painting. There will be splotches of ink here, irregular dots there, large areas of color. As I said it will resemble a watercolor painting. Quite simply, there is no mistaking the original T206 printing and ink for the modern fine dot pattern. Examine a real T206 and you will see for yourself.
Under the microscope, the ink on a real T206 often has a distinct irregular dark rim around the edge of the ink. This typical irregular dark rim will also appear on much of the black borders and text below the player’s picture. As the back of the card usually has a rough texture, there is usually no detectable rim there. It’s best to examine the printing on the smooth front.
5) Off registration of colors.
A common problem in the printing of early 1900s color lithograph cards was registration. The printers had a tough time lining up the colors during the printing process. It is not uncommon for a T206 card to have the colors at the border or edge of the player’s body or head to overlap. Sometimes the overlapping is obvious in an online picture.
If the overlapping ink is solid, that’s a strong sign that your card is genuine. In a cheap home computer reprint, where someone prints out a digital scan of card, it will have the tell-tale dot reproduction of the registration. From afar it may appear like genuine overlapping colors. However, upon close examination you will see the tell-tale multi-color dot pattern.
6) Use common sense. This column isn’t a ‘Collecting 101’ article, but I will remind readers, in particular beginners, to buy expensive cards from reputable and experienced sellers who guarantee what they sell, ask for second opinions, use the services of the reputable graders and know that if a deal sounds too good to be true it probably is.
You can see which T206 cards are generating the most interest on eBay via this live most watched T206 list.