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 HOF Red Portrait Sovereign 350 RARE BACK SGC 35 GOOD+ 2.5
29 bids - Price: $1,976.00 - Watchers: 87
Item #372624666519
1909 T206 PSA 5 EX Cy Young Green Portrait HOF Boston Cleveland
27 bids - Price: $3,600.00 - Watchers: 56
Item #143168854078
T206 Ty Cobb HOF Bat On Shoulder Sweet Caporal 150 Subjects PSA 1.5 FAIR
22 bids - Price: $1,125.00 - Watchers: 40
Item #382840591348
T206 Walter Johnson HOF Hands At Chest Piedmont 350 Subjects PSA 1
20 bids - Price: $202.50 - Watchers: 37
Item #362585138970
T206 Elmer Flick HOF Hindu Brown RARE BACK PSA 2 GOOD
31 bids - Price: $306.00 - Watchers: 31
Item #382836637371
1909-11 T206 Johnny Evers Portrait SGC 2
19 bids - Price: $90.00 - Watchers: 30
Item #333109873392
1909-11 T206 Johnny Evers with bat, Chicago on shirt SGC 3
8 bids - Price: $79.57 - Watchers: 27
Item #333109876006
T206 Joe Tinker HOF Bat On Shoulder Lenox Black RARE BACK PSA 1 " ULTRA RARE "
16 bids - Price: $760.00 - Watchers: 27
Item #372625805934
1909-11 T206 John Titus Sweet Caporal 350 (#25) SGC 5 EX *GMCARDS*
15 bids - Price: $68.00 - Watchers: 26
Item #132985237718
T206 Mordecai Brown Chicago Shirt Sweet Caporal 350/30 HOF PSA 1
6 bids - Price: $56.00 - Watchers: 26
Item #132989159878
1995 IMT T-206 Reprint Honus Wagner PSA 10 GEM MINT (PWCC)
20 bids - Price: $29.00 - Watchers: 25
Item #401725052530
1909-11 T206 Chick Gandil Polar Bear PSA 4 VG-EX *GMCARDS*
34 bids - Price: $213.50 - Watchers: 22
Item #312525267796
T206 Tris Speaker HOF RC Rookie Boston Piedmont 350 Subjects SGC 3.5 VG+
13 bids - Price: $700.00 - Watchers: 20
Item #372625764580
T206 John McGraw Sweet Caporal 350-460/30 HOF PSA 2
6 bids - Price: $56.00 - Watchers: 17
Item #132989161697
1909-11 T206 Hal Chase holding trophy Piedmont 350-460 SGC 2.5 GD+ *GMCARDS*
12 bids - Price: $29.00 - Watchers: 17
Item #312525275589
1909-11 T206 Willie Keeler batting SGC 3
12 bids - Price: $132.50 - Watchers: 17
Item #333109866754
1909 T206 GEORGE DAVIS Piedmont Baseball Card PSA 4 VG-EX-Antique Tobacciana
6 bids - Price: $10.50 - Watchers: 17
Item #362583413611
T206 Hal Chase Pink Portrait Sweet Caporal 150 Subjects SGC 35 GOOD+ 2.5
10 bids - Price: $52.00 - Watchers: 17
Item #372625765121
1909-11 T206 SWEET CAPORAL 150/30 TY COBB BAT ON SHOULDER PSA 2.5 HOF
10 bids - Price: $1,475.00 - Watchers: 17
Item #382847960059
1909-11 T206 Red Kleinow Boston Tolstoi SGC 3 VG *GMCARDS*
8 bids - Price: $111.33 - Watchers: 16
Item #312525285237
1909-11 T206 Roger Bresnahan Portrait HOF St Louis Piedmont 350/25 PSA 5 EX
4 bids - Price: $113.50 - Watchers: 15
Item #283420508819
1909 T206 John McGraw Portrait Piedmont Back PSA 2.5 Good++
4 bids - Price: $45.00 - Watchers: 14
Item #123690760751
T206 Jake Beckley Piedmont HOF PSA 1
7 bids - Price: $10.50 - Watchers: 14
Item #132989156283
T206 Joe Tinker Bat on Shoulder Piedmont 350-460/25 HOF PSA 1
8 bids - Price: $56.00 - Watchers: 14
Item #132989163664
1909-11 T206 Jack Chesbro NY Amer HOF Piedmont 150/25 PSA 5 EX
6 bids - Price: $162.50 - Watchers: 14
Item #283420517669
1909-11 T206 Bobby Wallace St Louis HOF Sweet Caporal 150/30 PSA 5 EX
3 bids - Price: $38.00 - Watchers: 13
Item #192860915650
T206 Ray RYAN, PSA 6, PIEDMONT Low Pop Southern Leaguer (GCA)
7 bids - Price: $61.00 - Watchers: 13
Item #254161701627
1909-11 T206 Kid Elberfeld Polar Bear PSA 3 VG *GMCARDS*
7 bids - Price: $31.00 - Watchers: 12
Item #312525281363
T206 Hal Chase Blue Portrait Piedmont 350-460 Fac 42 RARE BACK PSA 1
14 bids - Price: $31.00 - Watchers: 12
Item #362585135028
1909-11 T206 HOF Fred Clarke, Pittsburgh, Portrait - PSA 4 VG-EX - Sweet Cap 350
5 bids - Price: $26.00 - Watchers: 12
Item #372629895864
1909-11 T206 Elmer Flick Cleveland HOF Piedmont 150/25 PSA 5 EX
5 bids - Price: $77.00 - Watchers: 11
Item #192860912058
1909-11 T206 Roger Bresnahan With Bat HOF St Louis Piedmont 350/25 PSA 5 EX
2 bids - Price: $32.00 - Watchers: 11
Item #283420511354
1909-11 T206 Jake Beckley Kansas City HOF Piedmont 350/25 PSA 5.5 EX+
3 bids - Price: $38.00 - Watchers: 11
Item #283420521831
1909-11 T206 Harry Bay Old Mill Black (BBS) SGC 3 VG *GMCARDS*
16 bids - Price: $83.00 - Watchers: 11
Item #312525275953
T206 Hughie Jennings HOF Portrait Piedmont 150 Subjects PSA 1 CENTERED
5 bids - Price: $25.00 - Watchers: 11
Item #372627472938
T206 Cy Seymour Portrait Cycle 460 RARE BACK TOUGH PSA 1.5 " ONLY ONE KNOWN "
5 bids - Price: $103.50 - Watchers: 11
Item #382840595914
1909-11 T206 Bill Burns Piedmont 350 PSA 4 VG-EX *GMCARDS*
17 bids - Price: $86.00 - Watchers: 9
Item #132985213049
1909-11 T206 Hughie Jennings one hand Polar Bear PSA 2 GOOD *GMCARDS*
5 bids - Price: $41.00 - Watchers: 9
Item #132985235755
1909-11 T206 Bill Chappelle Sweet Caporal 350 (#25) PSA 4 VG-EX *GMCARDS*
17 bids - Price: $32.00 - Watchers: 9
Item #312525263956
1909-11 T206 Hal Chase black cap Piedmont 350 SGC 2.5 GD+ *GMCARDS*
4 bids - Price: $15.50 - Watchers: 9
Item #312525275479
1909-11 T206 Mike Mowrey Piedmont 350 PSA 5 EX *GMCARDS*
9 bids - Price: $54.13 - Watchers: 9
Item #312525283301
1909-11 T206 Jerry Freeman Piedmont 350 PSA 5 EX *GMCARDS*
8 bids - Price: $51.00 - Watchers: 9
Item #382834950102
1909-11 T206 Moose Grimshaw Sweet Caporal 350 (#30) PSA 4.5 VG-EX+ *GMCARDS*
6 bids - Price: $41.00 - Watchers: 9
Item #382834954740
1909-11 T206 Spike Shannon Piedmont 350 SGC 2 GD *GMCARDS*
4 bids - Price: $18.50 - Watchers: 9
Item #382834957727
T206 Clark Griffith Sweet Caporal 350-460/42 Overprint OP Scroll HOF PSA 1
7 bids - Price: $41.00 - Watchers: 8
Item #132989157705
1910 Piedmont T206 Johnny Evers with Bat Chicago on Shirt SGC 80 EX-NM
2 bids - Price: $78.77 - Watchers: 8
Item #183733780827
T206 Piedmont Gavvy Cravath PSA 3 VG
9 bids - Price: $43.00 - Watchers: 8
Item #202622179172
1909-11 T206 Bill Lattimore - PSA 4 VG-EX - Piedmont 350
3 bids - Price: $3.99 - Watchers: 8
Item #223451452334
Frank Owen 1909-11 T206 - Piedmont 150/25 - PSA 1
5 bids - Price: $20.50 - Watchers: 8
Item #312521511639
1909-11 T206 Heinie Wagner bat on right shoulder Piedmont 350 SGC 2 GD *GMCARDS*
8 bids - Price: $24.50 - Watchers: 8
Item #312525277119