This three-part series will take a look at the early history of tobacco cards from the pre-war era.
In Part I of this series, I reviewed the earliest tobacco cards from the 1800s. Part II will take a look at the height of the tobacco card era. More specifically, we’ll cover the sets from the 1909-11 time period.
At the turn of the century, it took a while for tobacco cards to jumpstart again. But issues eventually started to trickle out. Actually, when it began, it was more like a flood.
ATC’s T205, T206, and T207 Sets
The tobacco card boom began in 1909. And one of the first issues was the American Tobacco Company’s popular T206 set.
The white-bordered cards were, seemingly, everywhere. Its massive size of 524 cards has made it arguably the top baseball card set of all time. The T206 set has just about everything — major leaguers, minor leaguers, busts, Hall of Famers, and the shortprinted Honus Wagner card, which is, pound for pound, the most valuable card in history.
That series was printed starting in 1909 and ending in 1911. But it was just the tip of the iceberg. The American Tobacco Company continued producing other sets, too.
As the production on the landmark T206 set wound down, the company issued the gold border T205 set in 1911. At 208 cards, this set wasn’t nearly as big as the T206 issue. But it is also considered to be one of the prime tobacco sets and is sometimes preferred by collectors. Its smaller size makes it a much easier set to complete.
The American Tobacco Company then produced the T207 set in 1912. The cards look nothing like the earlier T205 and T206 sets, which has led some collectors to even question if they were an American Tobacco Company release. But while this 200-card set is not as popular as the other two, it also included several key stars from the era.
Pictured here from left to right are cards from the T205, T206, and T207 sets.
More Tobacco Sets
While the T205, T206, and T207 sets are often targeted by collectors, there are many other tobacco sets from the same time period.
Another popular set from 1909 was the T204 Ramly release. These cards featured a decorative gold frame and, at 121 cards, is a fairly large issue. The set is missing many stars but includes what many collectors consider to be the rookie card of Walter Johnson. Johnson did have earlier issues, mind you, including postcards and cabinet cards. But his T204 Ramly is probably the closest to a traditional baseball card. Even in lower grade, it’s often a five-figure card.
One of the more unique sets was the T201 Mecca Double Folders issue. These were printed with an intentional fold with one player pictured on one side and a second on the other. This 50-card set is actually one of the easier 20th century tobacco issues to complete with prices mostly moderate. Several other notable sets were also printed during the 1909-11 time period, including the 1910-12 Plow Boy Tobacco set, as well as the 1910-11 T3 Turkey Reds cabinets, which featured both baseball players and boxers.
Some sets served as tributes, too. The 1911 T208 Cullivan Fireside set, for example, honored the Philadelphia Athletics’ 1910 championship team. And, some tobacco issues weren’t cards at all. Instead, they were different types of collectibles. One of those is the 1911 T332 Helmar Stamps set, small stamps of various players.
Finally, no discussion on tobacco cards from the 1909-11 era would be complete without a mention of the Ty Cobb advertising back tobacco cards. We’re still learning more about this unique card picturing Ty Cobb but it is one of the most valuable baseball cards on the planet. The card has the same front as Cobb’s red background T206 card but has a unique back advertising Ty Cobb branded tobacco. A few have been found in recent years but the card is still incredible scarce and sells for six figures, even in lesser condition.
Minor leaguers were featured during this time period, too. Some minor leaguers were featured as part of other sets, such as T205 and T206. However, there were also some sets composed entirely of minor leaguers.
The massive T212 Obak series was printed in 1909-11 and, in 1910, Old Mill released its red border T210 minor league set. Both sets were massive issues featuring minor league players from all over the country. On top of their large card sets, both Obak and Old Mill also created cabinet photo sets of players, which are significantly rarer than the cards.
While the T212 sets (there are three of them) have some key players, such as Buck Weaver and Chick Gandil, none come close to Joe Jackson card found in the T210 set. Jackson’s T210 minor league card is one of the most sought after pre-war cards of all time and often sells for six figures.
Finally, some minor league sets are even rarer. One of those is the T217 Mono Cigarettes set. While 200 cards are in the complete Mono set, only 25 of them are minor league baseball players — the rest are actresses. Another tough one is the 1910 Red Sun minor league set, distinctive for its olive green borders. Ditto for the rare T209 Contentnea set.