The T206 baseball card set is known for many things. There are the dozens of cards of Hall of Famers, the tough Southern League cards, and of course, the Big Four — shortprints of Honus Wagner and Eddie Plank, and hard-to-find error cards of Sherry Magee and Joe Doyle. There’s essentially something for everybody in this massive 524-card release.
The Big Four cards are well documented. But beyond those is another pair of tough variations — St. Louis cards of Ray Demmitt and Bill O’Hara.
Both players landed in St. Louis after moves from New York. When the T206 series began production, Demmitt and O’Hara were players for the New York clubs in 1909. Demmitt, an outfielder, was coming off of his rookie campaign with the American League Highlanders, which would become the Yankees. O’Hara, too, was a rookie that year — but he played for the Giants. While Demmitt would have a lengthier career, lasting in the majors until 1919, 1910 was the final season as a major leaguer for O’Hara.
The pair would not become teammates, though. Demmitt remained in the American League, joining the St. Louis Browns in 1910. O’Hara, meanwhile, stayed in the National League and became a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. Another interesting fact is that, while both were regulars in 1909, each appearing in more than 100 games, neither played very much in 1910. Demmitt played in only ten games with the Browns that year while O’Hara managed only nine with the Cardinals. Demmitt, in fact, spent the majority of 1910 playing in the minor leagues in Toronto — a club he’d remain with until 1914 before getting back to the majors.
Their T206 Cards
The first T206 cards of Demmitt and O’Hara depict them with their New York clubs in 1909. Demmitt’s cards picture him standing against an orange background while O’Hara is seen wielding a bat — a somewhat ironic pose considering his meager .232 career batting average.
Those early cards picture them in New York uniforms of course. Those are the more commonly seen of the Demmitt and O’Hara cards and are generally considered to be commons in the set.
After their moves, the American Tobacco Company altered their cards to reflect their appearances with their new teams in St. Louis. The pair didn’t get entirely new cards, though. Instead, their new cards simply included slight modifications. Demmitt’s jersey had the New York replaced with an “ST L”.
The jersey on O’Hara’s new card was simply blank, removing the large NY on the front. And of course, the New York team names at the bottom were changed to St. Louis.
Prices for both of the rare St. Louis versions have long been significantly more expensive than their New York cards. But prices for the exclusive pair have really taken off in the past couple of years.
Today, low-grade examples of the players’ New York cards can be found, typically starting around $40-$50 for low-grade examples. The St. Louis cards are a different story. An SGC 1 O’Hara St. Louis card sold last week on eBay for just over $4,000. And as you creep out of the lower-grade examples, the numbers quickly increase dramatically. An SGC 2 sold in October on eBay for more than $13,000. Prior to 2020, graded 1 examples of both cards typically sold for around $1,000.
Since the 2020 price boom, some things were starting to come back down to earth. That is not really true of the big name Hall of Famers. But cards of lesser players, particularly in T206, have been selling for a little less.
That clearly is not the case here. Prices have gone up on the pair of St. Louis variations and have simply continued to climb. Just last year, a PSA 2 offered by Heritage Auctions sold for $3,360. The recent eBay sale from this fall is nearly four times that amount.
I find the price increases on these two cards fascinating for several reasons.
I have always believed the cards were underrated given their rarity. They have historically not been on the same level as the Sherry Magee (Magie) error card, which have always sold for much more. That is despite population reports suggesting a closer-than-you-think survival rate between the two (To date, PSA, for example, has graded about 140 Magie cards to about 180 O’Hara and 200 Demmitt cards). While the Magie cards are almost certainly rarer, the gap in pricing has always seemed larger than what it probably should have been, which was something I wrote several years ago. The gap still, of course, exists, with Magie cards also rising in value. But it has shrunk — considerably.
Second, the staying power of the Demmitt and O’Hara cards speaks to the fact that folks are still pursuing 520-card T206 sets. As I mentioned recently, I think the number of people doing that may have shrunk, based on the declining prices of commons. But the Demmitt and O’Hara issues also tell me that set builders are still looking for them. Sure, some collectors will look to buy these cards because they are rare and unique variations in a popular tobacco card set. But I also suspect that more of the folks pursuing these cards are motivated by set building than seeking them as standalone issues. Admittedly, that theory is not fully vetted. But if I’m going to spend $5,000 or $10,000 on a card, it’s likely going to be on Ruth, Cobb, Shoeless Joe, or another big name — not a difficult team variation of a common player. More times than not, I would suspect that is the case with other collectors, too.
Another thing to watch here is that, over the long term, some collectors are going to have to make tough decisions if prices do not yield. Everything is relative, obviously. I’m stating the obvious here, but the number of collectors willing to pay $5,000 for a card is much less than the number that can afford a $1,000 or $2,000 card. The card is approaching limits that even dedicated collectors building the set may scoff at. It’s one thing to pay $5,000 for a green portrait card of Ty Cobb, the biggest name and most valuable card of the non-rarities in the set. It’s quite another to pay that much for a common player. There have always been T206 set builders willing to call it quits at 518. I wonder if we’ll see more of that with these prices on Demmitt and O’Hara.
A final thought is that, these prices may be here to stay. More collectors are appreciating the rarity of these cards and, while they are not part of the T206 Big Four, they’re next in line in terms of rarity. A T206 524-card set is a pipe dream to most, given the prices and rarity of the Wagner and Doyle cards, in particular. But 520 cards is very much a goal for some collectors and you can’t get there without Demmitt and O’Hara.
It is worth pointing out that some short prints have, in fact, lost value over time. Rare variations of lesser players in obscure sets is not always a great recipe for financial viability. However, with the large number of collectors pursuing T206 cards, I would be surprised to see the St. Louis variations of Demmitt and O’Hara falling back to their pre-2020 values.