In the pre-war era, cigarette cards were all the rage. They not only featured baseball players but plenty of other subjects as well. These cards were highly collected around the world and were mostly included inside packages of cigarettes.
Cigarette cards continued to be produced at high levels in Europe and around the world well into the 1930s. However, American baseball cards ‘evolved’ mostly to candy and gum cards by that decade here in the states. American cards were largely collected by kids and the shift to candy and gum products just made good business sense for companies in those industries.
While cigarette cards had mostly died out in the U.S. by then, a few issues were produced after that time. One of those was a rare two-card set featuring the legendary Jackie Robinson.
Old Gold Jackie Robinson Cards
Old Gold cigarettes have been around for a very long time. Introduced in the 1920s, many people would be surprised to find they are still being produced in somewhat limited quantities. Old Gold was a brand manufactured by the Lorillard Tobacco Company. The Lorillard name might sound familiar to some collectors as they produced some 19th century boxing and non-sports sets, among other collectibles.
In the late 1940s, Lorillard issued a two-card set featuring Jackie Robinson. Robinson, of course, had become an instant sensation and was one of baseball’s brightest stars by that time. In 1947, he won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. He enjoyed another stellar year in 1948 and in 1949, won the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award.
The two cards issued by for Old Gold feature black and white images of Robinson. At approximately 3 1/2″ wide x 5 1/2″ tall, they are more like a postcard size than they are a traditional baseball card size. Fronts include a replica inscription from Robinson along with his signature while the backs have a long biography about his life. There are two different backs found with these cards. How they were distributed is not clear but their large size means they would not have been pack inserts.
One of the backs discusses Robinson’s collegiate achievements and even mentions that he broke 100 in his first ever round of golf. Another discusses his stint in the Army and the minor leagues before joining the Dodgers.
With regards to the images, one pose features Robinson in a dugout while the other shows him in the field with a glove. The dugout card is commonly called a ‘kneeling’ picture but he’s actually standing up on dugout steps while merely hunched over a little, resting his arm on his knee. Both include the inscription, ‘For a treat instead of a treatment I recommend Old Gold Cigarettes.’
Old Gold issued these unique cards at some point in the late 1940s. The exact date, though, seems to be unknown. The cards are commonly listed as 1948 or 1949 issues. However, that does not seem correct.
Robinson was born in January of 1919 and the back of one of the cards states he is 28 years old. That would place the production, seemingly, at some point in 1947. when he would have been 28. Despite that, these cards are almost always listed as 1948 or 1949 cards.
Another interesting fact is that one of the backs indicates he is a star for the Brooklyn Dodgers but curiously does not mention the Rookie of the Year award. That achievement was worthy of being listed given that the two backs talk about a number of oddball Robinson facts instead. It is quite possible that his Rookie of the Year award was likely not listed because it hadn’t happened yet. And that could mean these are actually rookie cards of Robinson from 1947, making them even more special.
Regardless of whether they can be considered rookie cards or not, they still represent two of the earliest known cards of the man recognized as breaking baseball’s color barrier. That’s enough to make them extremely collectable.
The fielding pose of Robinson is the much tougher card to find based on PSA’s pop report. Of the 72 they have graded, only 14 have been of that card. However, both are still very difficult cards to locate and are, as a result, a little on the pricey end.
A modest pair of PSA 3.5 issues for both cards was sold by Heritage in 2015 for nearly $1,100. Additionally, a PSA 6 of the card featuring Robinson in the dugout (the highest graded example) sold for $1,560 in an REA auction last year. Authentic examples of the card have popped up on eBay on occasion but often, none are for sale at any given moment.