Sports Collectors Daily

Despite Strong Population, T206 Prices Keep Rising

The T206 set is more than 100 years old and in terms of pre-war cards, is the most collected issue of all time. There are many reasons for that, of course.

First, many of the cards are, by and large, affordable – especially in low-grade condition, where commons can be found for as little as $10. The set also is home to many of the sport’s biggest early 20th century names and a popular choice among collectors looking for Hall of Famers. There are also many different ways to collect it, which makes it attractive. It’s also the set where the most famous card of all time, the Honus Wagner T206, resides.

But one of the things that has made it so collectible is the fact that, judged against other pre-war issues, it is one of the most populous sets. Despite that, prices for the T206 cards have not only remained steady but continue to rise.

T206 Population is High Compared to Other Pre-War Issues

Scot Reader’s book Inside T206 theorizes that production could have been as high as 370 million cards. Even in the context that the cards were produced over a three-year period from 1909-11, that remains an astounding figure.

Collectors new to T206 may look at the 524-card checklist and wonder why so many were made. But that number would include the assortment of backs available for each card from the various tobacco manufacturers. While there are 524 different card fronts with pictures of players, there are several thousand different actual cards when all of the different backs are considered. Still, 370 million is a lot of cards, folks.

Many cards simply did not survive, of course. Millions were likely discarded by adult cigarette smokers who had no interest in baseball or trading  cards. Millions more may have been kept for a while but ultimately discarded. Many, no doubt, were lost to the paper/scrap drives of the World War II era. Most were lost but some were kept and Reader estimates that approximately 1.5 to 3.0 million T206 cards still exist today.  By comparison, that number is still far greater than most pre-war issues including the popular caramel card sets of the same general era.  It says a lot for the popularity of tobacco use more than a century ago.

The result is a somewhat crowded market, which has brought completing a basic set of 520 cards (minus the four rarities of Wagner, Doyle Nat’l, Magie, and Plank) down to merely one’s level of discretionary income.  Singular examples of most every T206 card are generally available on eBay and not too difficult to find. Even the rare Demmitt and O’Hara St. Louis variations aren’t too tough to secure. If one has the resources and money is no object, a set could theoretically even be pieced together in a day. Even with somewhat careful spending, accumulating a set in a year or two is not an impossible task. The cards, for the most part, can be found at every turn using online resources.

Rising Prices Despite High Availability

Because of the somewhat high volume of T206 cards available and the easy availability online, it might be easy to assume that values would be extremely low. But that isn’t really the case and prices for many cards have continued to rise. Prices are lower compared to many rare issues but they remain relatively high for such a populous set.

“The T206 set seems to be one where the large supply of cards actually works to its benefit,” said Brian Dwyer, President of Robert Edward Auctions.  “While not easy to complete a set, it is easy to obtain a few examples from the set, and it’s the first real taste of prewar-card collecting for many hobbyists. I think that’s why they affectionately call it ‘The Monster’ because you can start off innocently enough and then find yourself immersed in a lifelong collecting pursuit. Many collectors find themselves dabbling in T206s and they get hooked. This large pool of collectors interested in the set at any given time serves to boost prices. There may be nothing in this hobby that is as liquid and stable as a collection of mid-grade T206s.”

As we mentioned earlier, T206 is popular in part because you can own a century-old piece of history for less than you’ll spend the next time you eat at a restaurant, but  commons have slightly crept up in recent years. Finding decent looking low-grade cards in the $10-$20 range has gotten increasingly more difficult. The bigger names, too, continue to increase. Most notably, the four Ty Cobb cards have risen sharply in the past ten years years. The most glaring example of that are the green background Cobbs, the most expensive of the four. Mid-grade ones, such as this PSA 4 that sold in a 2007 REA auction could be previously bought for under $4,000. A card in the same grade sold this year for $6,300 via Huggins & Scott.

Higher-grade cards are seeing even larger exponential jumps in value. A PSA 5 Cobb with the green background sold for less than $5,000 in 2008. This year, SCP sold a PSA 5 for more than $26,000. The other Cobb cards aren’t as valuable but are seeing similar increases in value.

And the Wagner card, which needs no introduction, continues to skyrocket. Many low-grade examples sold for under $100,000 in the early 2000s.  This past year, two sold at auction for six times that amount.  The famous ‘Jumbo’ Wagner broke the all-time record for a baseball card sale, selling for more than $3 million this year.

There are many cards T206 available but collectors aren’t done buying them.

Why?

The reason for the T206 increases in value despite a populated is pretty simple. Right now, demand continues to be high and more and more collectors continue to discover them. While the supply/demand model is the key, there are many factors are at play here as to why demand is still high.

The Wagner, the most famous baseball card of all time, is drawing record prices at auction and remains in the mainstream culture. Even many non-collectors can identify the Wagner card or, at the very least, have heard of it. That’s helped increase the T206 ‘brand,’ so to speak. ‘

Additionally, newer products such as Topps 206 have introduced these cards to younger generations. Younger collectors are getting their hands on T206 cards as a result and becoming interested in them, even if only as a secondary interest to the latest Mike Trout or Aaron Judge insert cards.

Another factor is the influx of collectors who were immersed in the boom of the 1980s and 1990s as youngsters are starting to grow up. These collectors are now entering their late 30s and 40s and now have more discretionary income. Many collectors from that era left the hobby entirely, disenfranchised by the plummeting prices of cards they once collected that held significant value. However, some remained or have returned and now have more money to spend, looking for a more firm investment, such as vintage cards.

“The T206 set is one of the most well-known and widely-collected sets in our hobby, so it’s always being talked about and there are always lots of T206s in auctions,” Dwyer stated. “This helps boost the prominence of the set and the prices of the cards in my opinion.” 

Supply of T206 cards remains high but demand, for now, keeps prices on a steady incline.

Value Hunting

There is value to be found even more collectors who can’t see themselves ever having the ability to chase down all 524– or even 520–subjects.

“I’ve always felt that some of the second and third tier Hall of Famers within the T206 set represent a great value,” Dwyer said. “You can get some great looking cards of Hall of Famers like Crawford, Duffy, or Keeler for very reasonable prices in VG condition. I’ve also thought that advertising backs like Polar Bear, Sovereign, and Tolstoi add a small challenge to collecting and many times sell for just a slight premium over the much more common Piedmont or Sweet Caporal backs. There’s also always something to be said for picking up a nice foundation of 100 cards in an auction lot and kicking off from there. You can hit the ground running, eliminate individual shipping charges on 100 cards if you bought them one by one, and maybe end up with some duplicates to give trading a try.”

Check out eBay’s current ‘most watched’ T206 auctions below.

1909 T206 Tobacco Christy Mathewson Black Cap SC 350-460 Fac 25 PSA VG 3
12 bids - Price: $446.00 - Watchers: 47
Item #372330459150
1909-11 T206 Nap Lajoie with Bat PSA 1.5 Fair Sweet Caporal Back Napoleon
15 bids - Price: $148.50 - Watchers: 40
Item #192566499691
T206 nap lajoie PSA 2.5 good condition card. Portrait 350 series. Piedmont back
10 bids - Price: $162.50 - Watchers: 39
Item #192568518704
Cy Young HOF 1909-11 T206 - Cleveland, Portrait, Piedmont 350/25 - PSA 1.5
11 bids - Price: $410.00 - Watchers: 34
Item #132668180307
1909-11 T206 Nap Lajoie Throwing PSA 2 Good Sweet Caporal Back Napoleon
7 bids - Price: $140.50 - Watchers: 26
Item #192566497902
1909-11 T206 NAP LAJOIE PORTRAIT Cleveland Naps GRADED SGC
9 bids - Price: $158.50 - Watchers: 24
Item #372339634178
T206 Piedmont 350 Christy Mathewson HOF PSA 1 Looks Undergraded
6 bids - Price: $116.50 - Watchers: 24
Item #173368121586
1909 T206 Nap Lajoie Portrait Naps (Indians) PSA 1
9 bids - Price: $89.89 - Watchers: 23
Item #153065667650
T 206 sweet caporal 150 series Christy Mathewson. PSA 1 due to small hole
12 bids - Price: $280.00 - Watchers: 22
Item #192568517651
1909-11 T206 WILLIE KEELER New York Highlanders WITH BAT Graded SGC
9 bids - Price: $71.38 - Watchers: 21
Item #372336059849
1909-11 T206 Rube Waddell Throwing PSA 2 Good Piedmont Back
8 bids - Price: $46.76 - Watchers: 19
Item #192568481867
1909-11 T206 PIEDMONT 150 JOE TINKER Portrait - HOF - PSA 4 (MC)
19 bids - Price: $117.50 - Watchers: 16
Item #123187830992
T206 Zack Wheat HOF Brooklyn Piedmont 350-460 PSA 1.5 FAIR
5 bids - Price: $46.00 - Watchers: 16
Item #382491351775
T206 Tris Speaker Boston SGC 10 Piedmont Back *681789
5 bids - Price: $107.55 - Watchers: 15
Item #352382825583
1909 T206 PETER CASSIDY Piedmont Baseball Card Antique PSA 2(MC) Good
7 bids - Price: $8.50 - Watchers: 13
Item #362354257572
1909-11 T206 Joe Lake St. Louis No Ball Sweet Caporal 350-460/420P PSA 5
3 bids - Price: $92.11 - Watchers: 12
Item #323303881854
1909-11 T206 Frank Chance Portrait Yellow PSA 3 (MK) VG Piedmont Back
17 bids - Price: $50.99 - Watchers: 12
Item #192568873882
1909-11 T206 Jake Beckley PSA 3 VG
8 bids - Price: $40.00 - Watchers: 11
Item #123189236575
1909-11 T206 RUBE WADDELL St. Louis Browns SOVEREIGN BACK Graded SGC
4 bids - Price: $46.76 - Watchers: 11
Item #372337254589
T206 Orval Overall Portrait Piedmont 150 Subjects PSA 4.5 VG-EX+
3 bids - Price: $20.50 - Watchers: 11
Item #372340350274
T206 Ed Walsh White Sox Gold Border PSA 4 VG-EX (MK) Rare Hassan Back
26 bids - Price: $99.00 - Watchers: 10
Item #362351469966
1909 T206 Sweet Caporal MILLER HUGGINS - HANDS AT MOUTH - Cincinnati - PSA 4
4 bids - Price: $56.89 - Watchers: 10
Item #153065654056
T206 Joe Doyle N.Y. Hands Above Head Sweet Caporal 350 PSA 3 VG
10 bids - Price: $35.00 - Watchers: 10
Item #382495152534
1909-11 T206 DEACON PHILLIPPE Pittsburgh Pirates EL PRINCIPE DE GALES Graded SGC
3 bids - Price: $80.00 - Watchers: 9
Item #142833721254
1909 T206 Christy Mathewson PORTRAIT Piedmont 150 PSA 1 - Nicer
1 bids - Price: $299.00 - Watchers: 9
Item #202343031712
Joe Kelley HOF 1909-11 T206 - Sweet Caporal 350/30 - PSA 2
8 bids - Price: $52.05 - Watchers: 9
Item #312160950573
1909 T206 Sweet Caporal Frank Chance - Cincinnati SGC 3
4 bids - Price: $75.00 - Watchers: 9
Item #153065664398
1909-11 T206 FRED TENNEY New York Giants SOVEREIGN BACK Graded SGC
6 bids - Price: $75.00 - Watchers: 8
Item #372337244290
T 206 JOE TINKER (Hands On Knees) HOF SGC 20
7 bids - Price: $52.00 - Watchers: 8
Item #123193095739
Ginger Beaumont 1909-11 T206 - Piedmont 350/25 - SGC 45
7 bids - Price: $26.00 - Watchers: 8
Item #312163066886
1909-11 T206 Chick Gandil, Peidmont Chicago SGC 1, BLACK SOX
9 bids - Price: $22.00 - Watchers: 7
Item #153065670988
1909-11 T206 Sherry Magee With Bat POLAR BEAR Back PSA 4
2 bids - Price: $61.00 - Watchers: 5
Item #273302250545
T206 Fielder Jones Portrait Piedmont 150 Subjects SGC 50 VG-EX 4
12 bids - Price: $47.00 - Watchers: 5
Item #372336870198
T206 Sweet Caporal Harry Steinfeldt With Bat SGC 40 (3) Chicago Cubs
3 bids - Price: $26.05 - Watchers: 5
Item #163102862957
T206 Ed Willett Detroit Piedmont 350 Subjects SGC 40 VG 3
2 bids - Price: $3.13 - Watchers: 5
Item #362358580212
T206 Bill Bernhard Southern Leaguer Piedmont 350 Subjects PSA 3 VG
3 bids - Price: $7.95 - Watchers: 5
Item #372340380275
T206 Clark Griffith HOF Batting Polar Bear RARE BACK PSA 1.5 FAIR
6 bids - Price: $33.00 - Watchers: 5
Item #382495371651
T206 Ray Demmitt New York Piedmont 350 Subjects PSA 3 VG
2 bids - Price: $9.50 - Watchers: 5
Item #362358529689
1909-11 T206 Old Mill (SL) Dutch Jordan Atlanta PSA 2
2 bids - Price: $60.99 - Watchers: 4
Item #323303076167
1909-11 T206 Old Mill (SL) Southern League Harry Lentz PSA 3.5
2 bids - Price: $85.00 - Watchers: 4
Item #323304443638
1909-11 T206 Old Mill (SL) Southern League Tom Guiheen Portsmouth PSA 3
1 bids - Price: $59.99 - Watchers: 4
Item #323306935790
T206 Piedmont Wildfire Schulte Back View SGC 35 (2.5) Chicago Cubs
2 bids - Price: $21.00 - Watchers: 4
Item #163102862726
T206 Fred Tenney New York Sweet Caporal 150 Subjects PSA 2 GOOD
2 bids - Price: $5.02 - Watchers: 4
Item #362358545695
1909-11 T206 Harry Lord Piedmont 350 Boston PSA 1.5 FAIR Baseball Card
2 bids - Price: $21.50 - Watchers: 3
Item #302770653438
1909-11 T206 JOHN HUMMEL Brooklyn Superbas GRADED SGC
1 bids - Price: $29.44 - Watchers: 3
Item #372339623272
1909-11 T206 Hooks Wiltse Portrait with CAP Sweet Caporal 350-460/30 PSA 2.5
1 bids - Price: $9.99 - Watchers: 3
Item #323309184447
T206 Piedmont 350 Jean Dubuc PSA 1.5
2 bids - Price: $14.50 - Watchers: 3
Item #202343757527
T206 Piedmont 350-460/25 Kaiser Wilhelm With Bat PSA 2
2 bids - Price: $16.50 - Watchers: 3
Item #202343758974