The prices of pre-war cards continue to rise. In particular, Hall of Famers and stars are getting expensive enough that some collectors have been priced out of the market for some sets. Despite that, the hobby continues to see collectors eagerly getting into the market for these decades old issues. That is evident for mainstream sets like T206, which continue to attract a healthy collection of auction action.
While a good number of cards are undoubtedly expensive, a great many are also very affordable. For an amount less the cost of some brand new boxes of cards, collectors can assemble a small collection of pre-war goodness. If I were just starting out as a pre-war baseball card collector with $300, here’s a pretty good way to spend your money.
(2) T206 cards – $60
There’s no way to adequately start a pre-war collection without adding at least a couple of T206 cards.
T206 is the most popular baseball card set of all time and even if you don’t acquire many of them, every pre-war collection should have at least one or two in my humble opinion. It may be best known for the famous Honus Wagner but there are plenty of affordable cards in “the monster.”
T206s are getting more expensive but are still very easy to find. For around 30 bucks apiece on eBay, you can easily get a pair of half-decent copies of common players–even graded examples.
(2) T205 cards – $55
Much in the same way that you need a few T206 cards, I’d also argue that every collection should have at least a couple of T205 cards.
Like the T206 set, the T205 gold border cards were also distributed by the American Tobacco Company. The cards have a distinctly different look but are also one of the more popular pre-war issues.
They aren’t quite as plentiful as T206 but there are still many of them around. And you’ll be able to find commons from the set for about the same price despite the fact that they are considerably rarer.
1913 Nap Lajoie Game Card – $15
Fewer collectors are as familiar with these cards than they are the first two issues. But for a game card that features a Hall of Fame player, these are some of my favorite ‘bargain’ cards.
The Nap Lajoie game included a deck of cards and each one included a picture of Lajoie batting – one was printed with a red tint and the other with a blue tint. But both are incredibly affordable.
(3) 1936 S&S Game Cards – $25
Speaking of game cards, the 1936 S&S Game set is arguably the most affordable one of its kind.
The cards included different players on them and commons are extremely affordable. You can get them raw for under $10 each and decent cards have gone for as little as $5 at times.
For $25, finding three of these isn’t too difficult. Or if you prefer, take that money and put it towards a single card of a bigger name player. Even most of the stars in the set can be bought for that amount. Jimmie Foxx, shown here, is one of the few players that can not usually be bought at that price.
1933 Goudey Card – $15
If we’re trying to cover the bases here, we certainly need to add at least one gum card to the mix.
The gum card era really got underway in the 1930s and there was no bigger company for those types of cards than Goudey. The company’s 240-card set from 1933 is by far the most iconic and commons from it are very affordable.
For as little as $15, you can add a common in modest condition.
Ted Williams Salutation Exhibit – $30
Every collection needs at least one big name and Ted Williams certainly qualifies there.
The Salutation Exhibits are slightly oversized cards (postcard-sized) and were issued from 1939-46. The set includes many big names and is known for being very affordable.
Commons in the set in decent shape aren’t too hard to find for $5-$10 and even the stars aren’t overpriced. Ted Williams has two variations in the set but his more common version (with the No. 9 on his jersey not showing) is very affordable with decent copies starting around $30.
Or, if you want to maximize the number of cards in your new collection, you can opt for several cards of lesser name players.
(2) W560 Strip Cards – $25
Strip cards are among the more popular cards for collectors looking to save some cash. In decent condition, you can get many commons for as little as $10 and in lesser shape, even cheaper than that.
The W560 strip cards from the 1920s are one of the more unique strip issues. Instead of poor drawings of players, these actually used real images of players printed in either red or black ink. Collectors vary on the type of strip cards they prefer but these are among the ‘cleaner’ issues. They are unique because they were issued on sheets to comprise a deck of playing cards.
Today, these are relatively easy to find and for $10-15, you can add a common to your collection. We’ll throw two in for good measure.
Merchants Gargling Oil Trade Card – $15
All of these cards are already pretty old, right? Well, let’s add a really old one to our list.
Trade cards were mostly issued in the late 1800s. These cards were generally printed on pretty thin paper and used as advertisements for businesses, products, or services.
While many were ‘stock’ cards that were later used by many businesses that added their own name to them, some were exclusive to a particular product like the Merchants Gargling Oil cards of the 1880s. This set of five cards features a generic overweight baseball player in a variety of humorous pictures. Despite their age and fragile nature, they are quite common today and decent ones can be bought for around $15.
Be sure to watch out for these. Many collectors trimmed the bottom advertising portion off (the light blue box shown on this one here), which significantly decreases the value. If paying $15 for one, make sure it is the entire card and not a trimmed version.
T201 Mecca Double Folders – $20
The T201 Mecca Double Folders set is probably the least expensive tobacco baseball card set that exists. With only 50 cards in the set, it is also relatively easy to assemble.
Each card features two players with one on the front and a portion of one on the back. The player on the back folds down, using the legs from the full-body picture of the other player.
These are legitimate early 20th century tobacco issues and a great way to add a cheap card. You might need some patience, but keep an eye on eBay and you can buy a raw common for around $20.
1932 Sanella Japanese Catcher – $10
One of the more unique cards on this list is that of a Japanese catcher from the 1932 Sanella set. Sanella was actually a German margarine company that produced this set.
While the cards are from Germany, they are fairly easy to find in the states thanks to eBay and other sites. The set’s most famous card is one of Babe Ruth but this one is also quite popular. While the catcher is not named on the card, I believe it to be Japanese Hall of Famer Jiro Kuji.
Today, finding the card for about $10-$15 is pretty doable.
E90-1 American Caramel Card – $30
Rounding our list, we’ve got to include at least one caramel card. The caramel card (E-Card) era preceded the gum cards I referenced above.
Of those cards, the American Caramel Company was the ‘go to’ for baseball sets. They issued many of them and the E90-1 set is one of the most popular. The company’s later black and white issues are just as good, but I’m a sucker for the smaller-sized cards.
Offered from 1909-11, the set includes numerous stars. Keep in mind, these are much rarer than most tobacco cards. But they are also one of the more common caramel issues and not too difficult to track down. For about $30, you can find pick up a nice common.