Population reports from grading companies can tell us quite a bit about baseball cards. While they are not perfect, they certainly give us an inside look on things like perceived rarity of certain issues compared to others.
T206 is arguably the most famous baseball card set of all time. The set’s popularity is such that it is even collected to some degree by those that do not typically pursue older cards. And while a lot of emphasis is on the Big Four cards in the set (Honus Wagner shortprint, Sherry Magie Error, Joe Doyle Error, and Eddie Plank shortprint), many collectors choose to pursue cards of the numerous Hall of Famers in the set.
Tracking down all of the Hall of Famers, mind you, can be a pricey endeavor. Not only are there about two dozen of them, most of them have more than one card. Ty Cobb, for instance, has four.
But while collectors have a decent idea of the Hall of Famers in the set, the population reports give us a bit of insight into them. Here are some notable points based on PSA’s population report of the set.
Portraits vs. Action Poses
Many collectors opt for the portrait cards in the set as opposed to players’ action poses. Both types generally include artwork that is exceptional. But pound for pound, the portraits typically sell for a bit more money.
Interestingly enough, though, there’s no evidence to really suggest that most of those cards are necessarily rarer. The population report suggests that for most players, the amount of portrait cards submitted for grading are on par with the amount of a player’s action pose cards.
Take Nap Lajoie, for example. Approximately 800 Lajoie portrait cards have been graded by PSA to date. But Lajoie has two other action cards, a fielding pose and a batting pose. The throwing pose has about 800 cards graded as well and the batting pose is actually rarer with only about 700 cards submitted. Most of the others tell a similar tale. For example, Walter Johnson’s portrait card has been graded more than 1,000 times by PSA. Meanwhile, the company has graded significantly fewer than 1,000 of his side pose with glove.
Some of this could be attributed to the fact that collectors prefer to have the portraits graded above the action poses. After all, collectors typically have the most valuable cards graded over less valuable cards. But we’re also not talking a comparison of Hall of Famers (which are heavily graded) vs. commons (which would be less graded). These are all cards of Hall of Famers and all somewhat valuable and likely to be graded.
In short, while portraits may be desired by more collectors, they don’t really seem to be any rarer. That isn’t the case for every player but, as a whole, portraits and action poses have been submitted in roughly the same quantities.
Ty Cobb Green Background Anomaly
The green background card of Ty Cobb has been a focal point of mine for some time. I once studied the population report numbers of Cobb’s four T206 cards and while this one sells for the most, it doesn’t seem to be considerably rarer than at least one of his other cards.
I last looked at the subject a few years ago and not much has changed since then. The green background Cobb still blows away the others in terms of price but the population reports aren’t much different. To date, PSA has graded nearly 900 of the green background card and that is the fewest of the four Cobb in the set. But the company has graded only a handful more of Cobb’s bat on shoulder card.
While we can’t speak definitively to the rarity of any specific card solely on a population report, the two are really neck and neck in terms of the number that have been submitted. Thus, even though rarity is never the be all, end all, for a card’s value, the large price disparity between these two cards is somewhat puzzling. A PSA 4 of the Cobb bat on shoulder card, for example, recently sold at auction for just over $5,000. By comparison, a PSA 2.5 of Cobb’s green background card sold for a little bit more despite the fact that its condition was not nearly as strong.
A Johnny Evers Gem?
Hall of Famer Johnny Evers has three cards in the set. In addition to a portrait and an action pose, he also has a card with a ‘Cubs’ jersey. Evers’ card with the ‘Cubs’ print on his jersey has sometimes been valued more than his other cards. But that is often not the case.
In fact, recent sales of Evers’ T206 cards show the card selling on par with his other action pose, which has him in a ‘Chicago’ jersey.
Many collectors may believe the two are about equally as common. However, the Evers ‘Cubs’ card seems significantly rarer than his other cards. Evers’ portrait has been graded by PSA more than 600 times and his Chicago jersey card has been graded about 1,100 times. But Evers’ Cubs jersey card appears to be significantly rarer and has been graded fewer than 500 times.
Christy Mathewson Cap Cards
Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson is found in the set three times. While he has three different cards, he technically only has two different poses. One of his cards is a portrait pose and the other is a pose with him and his glove.
While the artwork for the two glove cards appears to have been created from the same picture, they are not identical card images, apparently having been done by different artists. They are mostly distinguished by the ‘dark cap’ and ‘white cap’ names, reflecting the different colors of hat he is wearing.
But while these two cards look similar, their rarity does not appear to be. Mathewson’s dark cap card has been graded by PSA nearly 1,500 times, making it one of the most-graded cards in the entire set. His white cap card is another story. It is not exactly rare but, having been graded nearly 800 times, it is tougher than the dark cap version. Both are readily available on eBay, however.