The word “scarce” is thrown around a lot in the sports memorabilia world. Everything from 1 of 1 modern era autographed cards certain regionally produced card sets are tagged with it. T206 cards aren’t particularly rare. Millions were made between 1909 and 1911, satisfying American lusts for cigarettes and baseball. Most, however, display the effects of time and the unsanctimonious way they were treated in the first half of the 20th century. High grade examples are scarce enough that some commons sell for thousands of dollars. Try to buy one at auction and you’ll have plenty of company.
How scarce are they? Of the 139,784 T206 cards listed in PSA’s Population Report as of this morning, just 2,652 rate PSA 8 or higher with no qualifiers. That’s less than two percent–a remarkable statistic, even if you consider that, yes, it’s logical that century-old cards will be hard to find in ‘out of the pack’ type condition. If you have even a Near Mint (7) graded card from the T206 set, it’s almost always safe to say you have one of a very limited number that exist, often one of less than ten when Near Mint-Mint (8) is the standard.
Here’s the breakdown of PSA 8’s or better, again without qualifiers:
- 139,784 total T206 cards graded
- 13 PSA 10’s
- 266 PSA 9’s
- 35 PSA 8.5’s
- 2,338 PSA 8’s
The number of PSA 9’s and 10’s is .001 percent of the total cards graded. One could reasonably expect the numbers from other grading companies to square up along those same lines.
In the last year, the number of 9’s graded by PSA increased by a grand total of one.
When they come available for sale or auction, there is tremendous interest from collectors piecing together high level sets. There are always folks looking for the “best of the best”.
Just Collect Inc. recently sold a T206 Heinie Wagner, graded 8 .
Many slightly more plentiful 8’s sell in the $1200-2000 range, depending on scarcity and it could be argued that they are bargains at that level considering their scarcity.
PSA 9 sales by others have included a Bull Durham at $11, 382 and a Vive Linderman (1 of 3) at $4.993. A PSA 10 Howie Camnitz was offered on eBay in February for $8,999.
High grade pre-World War II cards are attractive to bargain hunters and the value investor—even if they’re not working on these particular sets.
Over the long haul, it’s highly unlikely that significant quantities of near mint cards from the early 20th century will come out of hiding and so while some of these cigarette-pack fresh type cards may be labeled “common”, they really aren’t common at all.