In addition to the N172 Old Judge set, the Champions tobacco card sets produced by Allen and Ginter (N28 and N29), Goodwin (N162), and Kimball (N184) are among the most popular cards of the 19th century. Those multi-sport sets were a stark change from the earlier Old Judge cards since they boasted colorful, strong lithography that paved the way for the tobacco and caramel cards of the 20th Century.
All three sets included many sports, including baseball, helping to ensure their popularity today. But which are rarer and which are easier to find? Let’s take a look at the rarity of all four sets by studying the population reports. We know that the ‘pops’ can only tell us so much. But there’s enough data present to at least get a general idea of the rarity. Plus, considering each set contains exactly 50 cards, we’ve got a somewhat even playing field. Here’s a look at the sets from least rare to the rarest.
1888 Allen & Ginter (N28)
The N28 Allen & Ginter cards are wildly popular. Unfortunately for collectors hoping to see them skyrocket in value, they are the least rare of the four Champions sets.
The good news is that, even despite that, there are plenty of valuable cards here, topped by Hall of Famer Cap Anson whose card is almost always over $1,000, even in lesser condition. PSA, SGC, and Beckett have graded a little more than 8,100 of these cards and they are somewhat plentiful compared to the others. Commons of the lesser known athletes in decent shape usually start around $30-$40 with the big names running much higher.
In addition to the baseball players, there are also lots of other key athletes here, in addition to wild west figure Buffalo Bill and trick shooter Annie Oakley — both of whom have popular cards in the set.
1888 Goodwin Champions (N162)
In terms of the population reports, the N162 Goodwin cards are the ones that have been graded the most after the N28 Allen & Ginter set. But that might not mean the cards are less rare than the next set on this list — and I’ll explain that in a while.
A total of about 2,900 of these cards have been graded by PSA, SGC, and Beckett. Of all of the cards on this list, I’d probably say the N162 Goodwins are the most popular among collectors. They certainly are the most valuable.
While all of the cards on this list were printed in color, the colors really pop off of these cards and combined with bold backgrounds, they are easily distinguishable from the other three sets. And in addition to baseball players, it is the only set of the four to contain a football card as Yale’s Harry Beecher is featured. Beecher’s card, in fact, is widely heralded as the first mainstream football card to depict a real player. Even in low-grade condition, that card usually starts in the $1,500 – $2,000 range.
You can usually find a few dozen N162s for sale on eBay.
1889 Allen & Ginter (N29)
By comparison to the earlier 1888 Allen & Ginter cards, the follow up N29 set is much rarer. To date, only about 2,200 cards have been graded by the three main grading companies.
Now, that number could certainly be a bit deceiving. Almost all of the athletes in N28 were not used in N29 and that first set was star heavy. That left the N29 set, especially the baseball subset, lacking quite a bit. As a result, with fewer stars, collectors simply do not grade these cards as frequently. Hall of Famer Buck Ewing leads a mostly underwhelming cast of baseball players.
Despite having significantly fewer cards graded than N162, I think the two sets are somewhat close in actual rarity. That’s in large part due to the fact that the N162 includes may more valuable cards and is likely to be graded more often. The cards, though, certainly are rarer than Allen & Ginter’s N28 set as anyone who has tried to build both sets (yes, my hand is raised) can attest.
1887 Kimball (N184)
The rarest set on this list is also the least appealing to most collectors.
The N184 Kimball Champions set is exactly like the other three issues in that it was a multi-sport set that included some baseball players. But it’s generally the one that is viewed as the least attractive of the bunch. Only about 1,500 of these cards have been graded by PSA, SGC, and Beckett.
The concept for the cards is not a bad one. And, truth be told, the portraits on the cards are generally quite appealing. But small, crudely drawn action scenes that were added to each card detract a bit from the overall aesthetics. The set also suffers a bit in the same way that the N29 set does as it does not include big name baseball players. Tip O’Neill, a stellar early hitter, was included. But none of the four baseball players in the release were Hall of Famers.
Like the N29 Allen & Ginter issue, the rarity here may be overstated a bit. Apologies to early boxers John Sullivan and Jack Dempsey, the checklist simply doesn’t include much to get excited about, meaning cards will tend to be graded less. But these cards are certainly the most difficult ones to find. Of the four sets, eBay will often have the fewest of these available.