T206 may get the publicity but there’s another popular pre-War baseball card set that’s turning 100 years old this baseball season.
If you bought Ramly cigarettes in the spring of 1909, chances are you had the opportunity to start a baseball card collection. The Ramly and TTT brand Turkish tobacco smokes came ten to a package and included some of the most ornate cards ever produced. The brands were produced by Mentor of Boston and the set is heavy on Red Sox personnel or those players who lived in nearby Worcester.
Also known by its catalog designation of T204, the popular set has become known simply as "Ramly". The cards are essentially square, measuring 2"x2 1/2" with black and white player portrait photos surrounded by gold embossed borders. The front of the cards contain the player’s last name, position and team. The backs are an advertisement for the cigarette brand.
121 different cards are known and the set includes 15 Hall of Famers and some other memorable players from early 20th century baseball. There is no Ty Cobb, Nap Lajoie, Cy Young or Christy Mathewson. No Honus Wagner either, saving the hobby, perhaps, from another ‘holy grail’ card. In fact, there is not one member of the Pittsburgh Pirates included, just one Philadelphia Phillie (a Worcester native), and no player from the Chicago White Sox. You will find Tinker, Evers and Chance, Walter Johnson, Eddie Plank and Eddie Collins.
While most of the subjects in the set were players, there are exceptions. Cincinnati manager Frank Bancroft, Tim Murnane, a New Englander who turned from player to promoter/sportswriter, Browns’ manager Jimmy McAleer and Clark Griffith, manager of the Cincinnati Red Stockings are all included in the set.
There are also a few extremely scarce variations. At least seven players have been produced with square shaped photos rather than oval. The border on the rare cards is a sold gold color rather than a design. On the rare occasions they’re offered for sale, the variations often sell for thousands of dollars. Interestingly, all have a connection to the area where the cards were produced and it’s believed the set may have been a regional issue. Many of the ‘finds’ have come from New England over the years.
Several players’ names are misspelled and some photos don’t match. The Bill O’Hara card is actually Tom O’Hara, the Roy Hartzell actually pictures Topsy Hartsel and Jack Powell’s pcture appears on Harry Howell’s card and vice versa.
T204s are among the most sought-after cards of the century. Expect to pay $150 and up for a mid-grade common. Tom Reilly and Ira Thomas are listed as commons but appear to be among the most difficult cards to find in the set.