The T206 baseball card set (aka, the Monster) has always been a popular target for collectors of vintage sports cards. With a grand total of 524 cards, it’s one of the most daunting set builds that collectors can undertake. Many have tried and eventually given up before completion.
These days, most collectors pursuing the set will chase either a 520-card set (the set minus the rare Honus Wagner and Eddie Plank short prints, as well as the expensive error cards of Joe Doyle and Sherry Magee) or a 518-card set (missing those four and the rare St. Louis variations of Ray Demmitt and Bill O’Hara). But 518, 520, 524 — the Monster is a tough challenge no matter how you look at it.
That’s been made even more challenging in this market. You could always expect to pay well for cards of the set’s biggest stars, including Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson. But these days, prices have exploded for that quartet, led by the green background portrait card of Cobb, which starts around $3,000-$4,000 even in low-grade condition.
But it’s not merely the expensive cards that take their toll on collectors wanting to build The Monster. It’s the large amount of Hall of Famers, which, even in low-grade condition, are almost always over $100 each. It’s the hundreds of commons that, at $30-$50, add up quickly. It’s the minor stars and the would-be Hall of Famers. The project gets very expensive, very quickly.
I was wondering how collectors were tackling T206 these days with inflated prices. The cards are still selling quite frequently so folks are buying them. But to what end?
I threw a poll out on Twitter over the weekend and less than a day later, more than 200 collectors pursuing T206 cards weighed in. Here were the results (cut off precisely with 206 votes for dramatic effect).
A T206 Here, A T206 There (45.1%)
The most popular response among collectors was that they were buying random cards from the set as they can. I speak to these sorts of collectors quite often.
These are typically collectors enamored with the beauty and mystique of the set, but have far too many other collecting interests to focus exclusively on them. Nearly half of the collectors that responded put themselves into this basket.
That makes perfect sense. I’ve had a lot of collectors tell me that T206 is just too daunting to try to understand. That said, they’ve wanted to dip their toes into the market and pick out a few random cards. Maybe those are cards that just look great. Maybe they’re cards that they pick up when a good deal presents itself. But the key here is that these collectors just want to pick up a T206 card whenever the opportunity presents itself.
The player doesn’t matter. The team doesn’t matter. Just give me a T206, already.
Certain Individual Players or Images (18.0%)
Along those lines was a separate category. Nearly 20% of respondents reported collecting specific players from the set or certain types of images.
Similar to the first approach, these are collectors that can’t tackle the entire set or even a large part of it. But they are interested in picking up some individual cards of certain players or those with a specific type of picture.
Regarding certain players, a big focal point is on Hall of Fame players. The four Cobb cards are of particular interest. Or maybe the three Mathewsons. These are, of course, generally the most expensive ones. But if you’re only buying a small piece of the set, it becomes a much more manageable project. There are other pursuits besides Hall of Famers, obviously. Hal Chase is a popular target since he’s the player with the most cards in the set (five). Near Hall of Famers, such as Bill Dahlen, are popular. And, as we see in other sets, cards of players associated with the 1919 World Series scandal are sought after, too.
Also in this category were ‘images.’ In the context of T206, I was thinking more of the six horizontal cards and the collectors of portrait cards, another popular grouping. The key here is that these are collectors pursuing only a few individual types of cards as opposed to entire subsets.
Team Sets or Other Complete Subsets (23.8%)
Nearly a quarter of all respondents indicated they were pursuing team sets or entire subsets of some other grouping. This is distinguished by the folks above because these are collectors chasing entire subsets as opposed to just a few cards.
While I included other types of subsets in this response, the real focus was on team set collectors — and those were the ones that enthusiastically left comments about their specific collections the most.
Team set collecting in the T206 set is extremely popular because it has several benefits. It’s far less daunting than building an entire set. Most of the major league team sets are challenging enough because they include a mix of commons, stars, and Hall of Famers. And of course, team sets provide a nice tie to collectors and their favorite franchises.
For some, it’s a simple matter of collecting cards from their favorite teams. But not to be forgotten, some collectors also build team sets of now defunct teams — especially if those teams have a tie to their hometown or the city in which they currently reside.
Finally, other types of subsets deserves a mention and that would include things such as the Southern Leaguers — another special grouping of cards that is chased for their rarity and uniqueness.
The Whole Shootin’ Match (13.1%)
Collectors chasing a 520-card set was, unsurprisingly, the lowest vote total. Only about 13% of respondents have decided to personally build a nearly completed set of The Monster. While it’s the most intriguing, it’s also the least realistic for most.
That number may have been slightly higher a couple of years ago before prices went berserk. But even then, it was still simply an unattainable goal for many collectors. Even those that might have the funds to do it could be inclined to spread that money around to cover other card projects as opposed to putting all of their eggs into one basket, so to speak.
As long as card collecting is a thing, folks will always be pursing a 520-card set. It’s one of the Herculean pre-war sets that can be built where the cards aren’t ridiculously scarce compared to more obscure tobacco and candy issues. That said, it’s an extremely expensive pursuit that most collectors, frankly, can’t be bothered with.