Jackie Robinson baseball cards have always been popular and what few game worn jerseys, bats and other items have survived always sell for significant amounts of money. While no mainstream card company really existed in the aftermath of World War II, there were cards issued of him in 1947 and by ’48, bubble gum and cards were back together again and Robinson helped usher in the golden era of cards that began in the early 1950’s.
Much of the trading card focus is usually on the 1948 Leaf Robinson. It’s his first mainstream issue, having been distributed with Leaf’s gum card set which despite the “1948” date nearly always attached to it, was actually issued in 1949. The series is often plagued with poor centering, ghosting and other problems so while the card itself isn’t that hard to find on eBay or a major show, high grade cards are rare and currently among the hobby’s hottest cards of any kind.
Robinson’s ‘true’ rookie cards, however, were issued by Bond Bread in 1947. There were 13 cards issued—all of Robinson and all aimed at selling loaves of bread with one card per pack (see right).
Long-time collectors and dealers still talk about a New York sports card convention in the 1970s when a man walked in with a stack of 75 virtually mint examples of one of the cards in the Bond Robinson set. The man explained that he’d been handed the stack by a Bond Bread delivery driver that year but wasn’t able to obtain any other cards. Most of those were distributed years ago but the original owner saved a few, consigning one to Robert Edward Auctions, which sold it in 2013 for $1,896. That price seems quaint considering what they go for today.
“Because of this long-ago find and accompanying story, we have always thought that this uniquely designed card in the set may have been produced to be given out at stores directly by grocers at the checkout counter, as a special advertising vehicle when the set was announced,” the auction house explained in its write-up. The other cards were issued one card per loaf and carried only the advertising on the back. Those don’t often come up for auction and are rarely in high grade when they do. The singles typically sell for thousands of dollars each, even in lower grade. PSA’s Set Registry shows only three current complete sets that have been graded. You can check availability on eBay here.
Robinson was also part of a set of 48 athletes (44 baseball players and four boxers) distributed by Bond Bread.
These cards have rounded corners and are very desirable. Not “official” rookie cards, but clearly from the same time not long after Robinson first stepped on a major league diamond.
Exhibits and Blue Tints
Early, cheap Jackie Robinson cards collectors should consider would include the 1947-1966 Exhibit card, which shows an vintage photo of him on the basepaths. The size of a postcard, Exhibits were sold as part of a huge set distributed through arcade machines over that 20-year span. Fairly good quality examples of the Robinson can be readily found for a modest investment. It’s hard to imagine at least some appreciation over time for these colorless, oversized cards.
1948 Blue Tint Robinson cards are quite scarce. Originally issued in strips, they are usually found hand cut, often crudely. Part of a larger set of major leaguers, they measure only about 2” by 2 5/8” and are a bit of a mystery. Likely produced in the New York area utilizing photos provided by the teams, there were 50 cards in all. PSA has graded fewer than 25 with only a small number carrying a numerical grade. The others are listed as ‘authentic’ because of the hand cut.
Other Important Jackie Robinson Cards
in 1948 and in the Swell Sport Thrills issue from that season. Both are excellent options that cost far less than the mainstream Robinson rookie cards. The Sport Thrills card is especially interesting because it was part of a 20-card set focused on great moments and was issued as a promotion with bubble gum (Swell was distributed by Philadelphia Gum). Two pieces of gum earned the collector one of the 20 cards.
The back of the card mentions Robinson becoming “the first of his race” to play in the major leagues, something you won’t find on the backs of his other early cards.
The 1948 Swell Jackie Robinson is far more scarce than the ’48-49 Leaf issue and have become even more of a challenge to find in the current market. A few are usually on eBay. It should hold up very well over time.
He wasn’t in the 1948 set, but the 1949 Bowman Robinson is also popular. Also some say it’s a stretch to call it a rookie card, we disagree based on the belief from collectors who grew up buying ’49 Bowmans and ’48 Leafs and remember that the Leaf cards were actually not widely available in stores until 1949 . The ’49 Bowman Jackie should really have equal status. It’s also a great looking photo of the young Dodgers star. Prices have been on the rise.
You can find vintage throughout the 1950’s as well, with the ’52 Topps issue far and away the most expensive because of its placement in the high number series. Robinson’s first Topps card is one we’d expect to climb significantly in value as well. Robinson did not appear in Bowman’s 1951 set. The last card from his playing days was the 1956 Topps issue.
You can check out a live list of the most watched Jackie Robinson card auctions on eBay below.