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.

T206 Ty Cobb Piedmont Factory 42 HOF Red Portrait RARE BACK PSA 5.5 POP 1
22 bids - Price: $6,200.00 - Watchers: 131
Item #382659085211
T206 1909 Old Mill Tobacco-Ty Cobb, red portrait, Detroit Tigers HOF, SGC 4.5
18 bids - Price: $2,275.00 - Watchers: 55
Item #372528174547
T206 1909 Sweet Caporal 150-Ty Cobb, Detroit Tigers green portrait SGC 2.5
15 bids - Price: $3,123.00 - Watchers: 54
Item #223275361721
T206 Christy Mathewson Dark Cap HOF Sweet Caporal 350 SGC 4 VG-EX
21 bids - Price: $565.00 - Watchers: 51
Item #372524197773
T206 1909 Sovereign 150-Cy Young, Portrait, Cleveland Indians HOF, SGC 4
17 bids - Price: $1,285.00 - Watchers: 49
Item #223275318350
T206 Addie Joss Hindu Brown HOF Portrait RARE BACK PSA 4 POP 2 ONLY 1 HIGHER
20 bids - Price: $1,150.00 - Watchers: 47
Item #362502583960
T206 1909 Polar Bear Tobacco-Tris Speaker, Boston Red Sox HOF, PSA 4 nice color
6 bids - Price: $585.00 - Watchers: 42
Item #223275315713
T206 1911 Sovereign 350-Cy Young, glove shows, Cleveland Indians HOF, SGC 5
21 bids - Price: $1,125.00 - Watchers: 41
Item #223275346179
T206 Nap Lajoie Piedmont Tobacco Baseball Card PSA VG-EX 4
11 bids - Price: $521.00 - Watchers: 39
Item #113420335514
T206 1909 Piedmont 150 Tobacco-Christy Mathewson, Giants white cap HOF, SGC 5
7 bids - Price: $530.00 - Watchers: 38
Item #332933716531
T206 1910 Piedmont 350-Walter Johnson, portrait, Washington Senators HOF SGC 2.5
10 bids - Price: $695.00 - Watchers: 37
Item #372528180753
T206 1909 Polar Bear Tobacco-Walter Johnson, hands at chest, Senators HOF, SGC 3
14 bids - Price: $595.00 - Watchers: 32
Item #223275336901
T206 1909 Carolina Brights-Jake Atz, Chicago White Sox, portrait, SGC 6.5 POP 1
14 bids - Price: $925.00 - Watchers: 32
Item #223275367351
T206 Hooks Wiltse Lenox Black New York Portrait w/Cap RARE BACK SGC 40 3 POP 2
18 bids - Price: $1,386.00 - Watchers: 32
Item #382659090685
T206 1909 Polar Bear Tobacco-Christy Mathewson, NY Giants, dark cap, SGC 2.5
10 bids - Price: $365.00 - Watchers: 29
Item #223275373777
T206 1911 Piedmont Factory 42-Cy Young, Cleveland HOF, glove shows, SGC 1 NICER
18 bids - Price: $311.00 - Watchers: 29
Item #332938606716
T206 1909-11 Carolina Brights-Deacon Phillippe, Pittsburgh Pirates SGC 4.5 NICER
7 bids - Price: $677.00 - Watchers: 28
Item #372528207834
T206 Ed Walsh Piedmont Tobacco Baseball Card PSA VG-EX 4
11 bids - Price: $220.50 - Watchers: 26
Item #113420335521
T206 1909 LENOX Tobacco-scarce reverse-Ed Willetts, Tigers HIGHEST GRADED, SGC 3
11 bids - Price: $1,135.00 - Watchers: 26
Item #372528189425
T206 1909 Hindu Tobacco-Sherry Magee, portrait, Philadelphia Phillies, SGC 1.5
11 bids - Price: $333.37 - Watchers: 26
Item #372530008444
T206 1909 Piedmont 150 Tobacco-Cy Young, throwing, Cleveland Indians HOF SGC 3
7 bids - Price: $560.00 - Watchers: 24
Item #223275347548
T206 Cy Young HOF Glove Shows Old Mill RARE BACK SGC 4 VG-EX
9 bids - Price: $305.00 - Watchers: 23
Item #123536443041
1909-11 T206 SWEET COPORAL - NAP LAJOIE THROWING = PSA 2 - RARE CARD VERY NICE
23 bids - Price: $147.17 - Watchers: 23
Item #283292670241
T206 1909 Piedmont 150-Nap Lajoie, portrait, Cleveland Indians, SGC 3
14 bids - Price: $202.50 - Watchers: 23
Item #332937663804
T206 Piedmont 150 Rube Maurquard Hands By Thighs PSA-2 Good Graded
8 bids - Price: $30.66 - Watchers: 22
Item #132877766515
T206 1910 Carolina Brights-VERY RARE-Bob Groom, Washington SGC 3.5 name top/bott
12 bids - Price: $425.00 - Watchers: 22
Item #332937621337
T206 Joe Tinker Old Mill Tobacco Baseball Card PSA VG-EX 4
9 bids - Price: $165.00 - Watchers: 20
Item #113420338372
T206 1911 Sweet Caporal 350/460-Joe Tinker, Cubs bat on shoulder, SGC 5 centered
10 bids - Price: $260.99 - Watchers: 20
Item #223275392324
T206 1909 Piedmont 150-Johnny Evers, HOF, Chicago Cubs blue background, SGC 4
7 bids - Price: $114.50 - Watchers: 20
Item #223277711669
1909-1911 T206 Kid Elberfeld WASHINGTON Variation, Portrait SGC 2.5 Piedmont PSA
13 bids - Price: $56.20 - Watchers: 20
Item #273594796421
T206 1909 Hindu Tobacco-scarce reverse-Bill Hinchman, Cleveland Indians, SGC 3.5
9 bids - Price: $161.50 - Watchers: 20
Item #332933768200
T206 1909-11 American Beauty-Chief Bender, A's, HOF, no trees, pitching SGC 4
5 bids - Price: $82.00 - Watchers: 20
Item #372530340200
T206 Zach Wheat Sweet Caporal Tobacco Baseball Card PSA VG 3
10 bids - Price: $77.00 - Watchers: 19
Item #113420404682
1909-11 T206 Addie Joss Portrait Sovereign Back Rare SGC 1.5 Fair HOF
12 bids - Price: $93.00 - Watchers: 19
Item #192747580321
T206 1911 Sovereign 350-Joe Tinker, Cubs hands on knees, SGC 4.5 crease free
12 bids - Price: $169.50 - Watchers: 19
Item #223275395196
T206 1909 Piedmont 150-Hal Chase, NY Yankees Portrait, SGC 4, well centered
8 bids - Price: $82.00 - Watchers: 19
Item #223278169448
T206 Addie Joss HOF Pitching Sweet Caporal 350-460 Fac 25 RARE BACK PSA 7 POP 1
17 bids - Price: $530.00 - Watchers: 19
Item #362503286694
T206 Willie Keeler Sweet Caporal Tobacco Baseball Card PSA VG-EX 4
13 bids - Price: $242.50 - Watchers: 18
Item #113420404684
1909-11 T206 Rube Marquard Portrait HOF PSA 3 VG Piedmont
19 bids - Price: $46.00 - Watchers: 18
Item #192747583405
T206 1910 Broadleaf Cigarettes-VERY RARE-Danny Hoffman, St. Louis AL, SGC 1
5 bids - Price: $152.50 - Watchers: 18
Item #223277598336
T206 Chief Bender Piedmont Tobacco Baseball Card PSA Good 2
7 bids - Price: $30.00 - Watchers: 17
Item #113420335516
T206 Rube Waddell Piedmont Tobacco Baseball Card PSA VG-EX 4
12 bids - Price: $224.50 - Watchers: 17
Item #113420335519
T206 Frank Chance Sweet Caporal Tobacco Baseball Card PSA Good 2
5 bids - Price: $67.00 - Watchers: 17
Item #113420404674
T206 Mordecai Brown Sweet Caporal Tobacco Baseball Card PSA Good+ 2.5
6 bids - Price: $66.00 - Watchers: 17
Item #113420404680
1909-11 T206 Hughie Jennings Portrait HOF PSA 3 VG Piedmont
13 bids - Price: $67.66 - Watchers: 17
Item #192747578682
T206 1911 Piedmont-Shag Shaughnessy, portrait, Roanoke Southern League SGC 4.5
4 bids - Price: $131.50 - Watchers: 17
Item #332937676823
T206 Sam Crawford Sweet Caporal Tobacco Baseball Card PSA FR 1.5
9 bids - Price: $33.00 - Watchers: 16
Item #113420404670
1909-11 T206 Fred Clarke HOF Portrait PSA 3 VG Piedmont 150
20 bids - Price: $76.00 - Watchers: 16
Item #192747568444
1910 T206 Cy Young (Glove Shows) Sovereign 350, SGC 20 (PSA=1.5)
4 bids - Price: $160.50 - Watchers: 16
Item #332936447480
T206 1909-11 American Beauty-Gabby Street, Washington Senators, SGC 4 stunning
5 bids - Price: $82.00 - Watchers: 16
Item #332938333141