The holidays are here and if you’re still looking for some last-minute gift ideas for fellow collectors–or give yourself a well-earned present for a challenging year– I’ve got you covered.
Just about all of these are easily attainable and while most are inexpensive, we’ve broken them down by the price ranges you can probably expect to pay.
1880s Baseball Comics Merchant’s Gargling Oil Trade Cards
These trade cards were likely issued at some point in the 1880s, though I’ve never seen an exact date attributed to them. Like other trade issues, these were advertising cards that were printed on thinner stock somewhere in between a sheet of paper and a traditional trading card.
This is a series of five comical cards that featured an overweight baseball player. The subject is generic and no specific player is referenced. For that reason, some collectors tend to stay away from these cards. But the good news is that their generic nature, along with the availability of these cards, has kept them very affordable. In fact, these are quite possibly the most inexpensive baseball trade cards from the 19th century that you will find. And there’s always something pretty cool about holding a baseball related object that was made in the 1800s.
Many of these cards have the advertisement for Merchant’s Gargling Oil cut off from the bottom. But fully intact cards in nice mid-grade condition are very inexpensive, typically starting in the $10-$20 range. For that price, it’s an incredible value for what would be the oldest card in many collections. And with only five cards in a basic set (variations do exist, however), this set can be purchased for as little as $50-$100.
If you’re looking to break into baseball-related trade cards from the 19th century, this is about the best place to start.
Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams Salutations Exhibit
These cards are more like a wartime issue, starting in 1939 and continuing through 1946. But for Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, two of the most popular players of their generation, we can make an exception to our pre-war claim.
The 1939-46 Salutations Exhibit set featured postcard-sized, blank-backed cards of baseball players from around the majors. They get their name from the assortment of greetings that are found in addition to a player’s name printed in cursive font, giving the card the look of an autographed collectible.
There are some incredibly rare variations in this set that can cost hundreds of dollars. Admittedly, one of those is a tougher variation of Williams with the back of his jersey showing. But the more common Williams, along with the card of Joe DiMaggio, are remarkably cheap compared to gum cards of the two players. Their cards in this set typically start around $25 in low grade condition but decent raw examples can be found for around $50.
Nice pictures, a reasonably-sized card, two all-time greats? Sounds like a win to me.
T206 Horizontal Card
T206 cards are currently the hottest things in the pre-war market. These cards have always been popular but they’ve soared to new heights in the past couple of years.
The days of finding cheap ‘beater’ commons in the set for under $10 are gone. But half-decent, lower end commons are plentiful in the $25-$50 range and if you’re willing to spend a little more, you can get something nicer.
Not sure where to start? Aim for one of the six horizontal cards found in the set.
Decent lower-end horizontals start around $50 and plenty are found in this price price. The names (Barney Pelty, Danny Murphy, George Mullin, Harry Pattee, Jack Powell, and Joe Birmingham) are not impressive. But in a set consisting of more than 500 cards printed with a vertical layout, these six oddities are quite popular and most do not cost much more than a regular common. The lone exception to that is the card of Pelty, which had been somewhat rare thanks to a hoard of his cards. But even those have come back to earth a bit.
Ty Cobb 1913 National Game / Barker Game
Ty Cobb’s cards have been on fire and finding low-cost ones from his playing days is getting more difficult. But one of Cobb’s cheaper cards is in the 1913 National Game and 1913 Barker Game sets.
These are virtually parallel sets, featuring baseball players on game card. Cobb has a base card in each set that bears his name but the cheaper option is an action card of Cobb sliding into a base. This one doesn’t have Cobb’s name on it but it has been identified by hobbyists as the Hall of Famer.
Like other Cobb cards, the prices for these cards have risen. Decent versions of the card could be bought for under $100 not too long ago but now it is difficult to find even low-grade ones under that amount. But a nice looking example can be found in the $100-$150 range with a bit of luck. Even high-grade examples recently sold for around $300 on eBay.
The biggest problem with this card? Finding it. It’s not incredibly rare but is not bought and sold with the same frequency as Cobb’s tobacco and caramel cards. Finding one in this price range is not always the easiest thing to do.
Babe Ruth 1932 Sanella
Using the Babe Ruth 1932 Sanella card here almost seems like a cop out. The card is not nearly the secret it once was and it’s a card commonly presented on bargain lists. But given the skyrocketing price of Ruth cards, it remains arguably his best buy.
Other Ruth bargains have disappeared. But his 1932 Sanella card, while rising in value, can often still be purchased for under $500 — something almost unheard of these days for a Ruth card from his playing era.
There are some disclaimers here. The card is an international issue from Germany, not one of his more popular American-made cards. And the card is in the Food category, distributed by Sanella margarine, along with other cards focusing on mostly less popular sports. Finally, and probably most importantly, the ‘card’ is printed on thin paper stock as it was intended to be pasted into albums.
Still, it’s a very nice image of the slugger and the back bears Ruth’s name in a wonderful calligraphic font. If you’re looking for a nice, affordable Babe Ruth issue, this one is about as good as it gets. You can sometimes find raw, mid-grade copies starting in the $150-$250 range.