There were no top loaders. No plastic pages. Certainly no plastic slabs. Then again, baseball cards weren’t really thought of as a “valuable” collectible in 1950.
They were, though, occasionally worth writing about.
In June of 1950, a newspaper in Newport News, VA took a photo of Norman B. Good, a local collector who had just acquired the last card he needed for what was then considered a complete set of 522 T206 cards.
Of course, the missing player was Honus Wagner. The photo shows Honus and some of the other cards Mr. Good had in his collection.
Wouldn’t it be fun to know where that Wagner is now?
Then there’s s a newspaper column in the Sunday, June 25 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal. Not far from the ads for $3 dresses and $10 pairs of glasses, out in front of the Lil’ Abner comic strip, was a piece by Earl Ruby on collecting baseball cards. This one, though, wasn’t about youngsters chasing bubble gum packs containing Yogi Berra, Stan Musial or Gil Hodges. It was kind of a nostalgic look back at collecting as it was in the T206 era. In fact, the accompanying photo pictures a local man casually browsing through his rather sizeable stack of them. This was a collector who acquired them at the time. Not many first person accounts of collecting 100+ years ago are within easy reach, so while it’s not full of valuable information, the column makes for a pretty fascinating read.
The collector’s name was Roy E. Fisher, apparently a young boy in the years leading up to World War II. Jaw seemingly agape, Ruby tells readers that Fisher once paid “the sum of $1” for a single card–Honus Wagner. Whether the card was a T206 we’ll probably never know as it’s more of a discussion of collecting as a whole during the 1909-1914 era, but it certainly sounds plausible. There’s no Wagner pictured in the photo that goes with the story–nor is it in a group of cards the Courier-Journal featured in a spread on a separate page.
There’s a theory tossed out by Fisher and Ruby that American Tobacco may have short printed the Wagner to keep people buying cigarettes. We know now that the scarcity of the card likely had more to do with Wagner not wanting kids to have to spend money to get his picture, especially not since the product was meant for adults.
Interestingly, the column seems to indicate that card collecting was at that point, pretty much dead. Apparently, Ruby didn’t quite grasp the post-War bubble gum card market was alive and growing thanks to Bowman. Topps would make its big splash a couple of springs later and card collecting would continue thrive.
You just didn’t have to buy smokes to participate.