Ty Cobb’s four cards in the popular T206 set are among the most desirable pre-war baseball cards out there. Sure, there are plenty more expensive (and rarer) issues. But Cobb’s T206 cards are a heavily desired in the marketplace.
The cards, much like other issues of Cobb’s in recent years, have skyrocketed in value. It wasn’t too long ago that low-grade Cobb T206 cards could be bought for under $1,000. Even Cobb’s prized green variation could be purchased for less than that amount if you were paying attention. I paid roughly $800 for my modest PSA 1 about five years ago.
You can’t find prices like that in this market, of course. The cheapest of the non-beater Cobb T206 cards don’t sell for much less than $2,000 these days. But it’s his green background variation that is the big deal. Cobb’s green background T206 cards start about twice that amount with better low-grade examples easily topping $5,000. Safe to say, the cards are expensive enough that they are indeed a holy grail of sorts for many collectors.
That has predictably sent collectors in search of bargain Cobb cards. And while Cobb admittedly has much cheaper cards, one card that always struck me as undervalued was his T205 card.
T205 vs. T206
That T205 card, rightfully, has mostly caught up to Cobb’s ‘lesser’ T206 cards. Starting at about $2,000 for anything in decent, low-grade condition, it’s priced comparably to Cobb’s non-green T206 issues. But when you compare it to the famous green background card, Cobb’s T205 suddenly looks like a great buy.
This isn’t to suggest the card is not expensive. Even for relatively advanced collectors, it’s still a pricey addition. But given that it’s roughly half the price of the desirable green background T206, its affordability begins to show.
Sure, there’s the side-by-side price comparison. But another reason it looks like somewhat of a bargain is its rarity. What many collectors don’t realize is that the T205 card is actually rarer than Cobb’s green T206.
T205 cards, in general, are tougher finds than T206 cards. Part of the reason for that, of course, is that the 524-card T206 set is more than twice as large as the more modest 208-card T205 release. That explains the overall disparity in total cards out there. As a point of comparison, PSA, for example, has graded approximately six times the amount of T206 cards. To date, they have graded approximately 261,000 T206 cards and about 43,000 T205 cards. Other grading companies have similar disparities.
But even comparing the populations of individual cards, we see that there are just much fewer T205s to go around. The rarest of the four Cobb T206 cards is the green background variation. To date, PSA has graded more than 1,000 of those cards. By contrast, the company has graded fewer than 700 of Cobb’s T205 cards. Simply put, it’s a tougher card.
As I’ve said before, it is not possible to always take population reports at face value — meaning, they are not always indicative of true rarity. Some cards are simply not valuable enough to warrant being graded. But high-dollar cards, like Cobb issues, are certainly targets for grading. Sure, many raw examples exist that are not accounted for. But in terms of comparing two Cobb cards, the population reports generally allow us to at least produce somewhat of an apples-to-apples comparison.
Those population reports of the Cobb cards show that approximately 30% more T206 green background cards have been graded than his T205 cards. The T205 cards are decidedly more rare and when you consider that you can get one for about half the price as the green background T206, it seems like a solid buy.
Why the Disparity?
The question some collectors will have, of course, is why is the T205 card much less expensive if it is rarer?
The answer lies, at least somewhat, in the overwhelming popularity of the T206 set. Many collectors have taken an interest in the set and it is arguably the most famous baseball card set of all time. Even collectors not taking on the mammoth task of building a complete set have tried to add a few cards from it to their collections. Even if the cards are not terribly rare compared to other pre-war issues, the massive demand has always kept prices up.
Thus, it is difficult to say that the green background T206 Cobb issue is overpriced. Like other cards, its worth is measured in what collectors will pay or it.
It’s a case that is similar, though not identical, to the Mickey Mantle 1951 Bowman and 1952 Topps cards. Mantle’s Bowman card, of course, is his true rookie issue, but sells for much less money. While the Bowman card is not quite as rare as the later Topps issue, it is surprising that such a price disparity exists between the two, given the rarity of the two is not on par with the price difference. A PSA 1 Mantle 1951 Bowman starts around $5,000 while that same grade of a 1952 Topps card is closer to $25,000-$30,000. Part of the reason for the massive disparity in price is surely the interest and mystique surrounding the 1952 Topps set, considered among the most popular issues in card collecting, vintage or modern.
Along those lines, an important point to remember is that rarity alone does not determine a card’s value. There are many cards that are technically quite rare but worth little due to a general lack of interest by collectors. But the reason why I like Cobb’s T205 card as a ‘bargain’ of sorts is that it comes from a very popular release.
Even if it is preferred by a pocket of collectors, the T205 set does not generate quite the interest that T206 does. Nevertheless, it is not far behind and remains one of the most desirable pre-war issues. That immense popularity coupled with the rarity of the card makes me believe that it could be undervalued — at least when compared to the green background T206 Cobb. Again, demand for a card will typically dictate its value. But it is easy to wonder if Cobb’s T205 card will continue to climb.
There’s no telling if the T205 card can reach the heights that Cobb’s green background T206 card has. But it is a somewhat rare card that features one of the biggest names in the hobby and is in a set that is extremely desirable. That’s a pretty good recipe for success.