Those little works of art in the T206 baseball card set were included within 15 different packs of cigarettes over a three-year period. They were offered as a premium in products issued by the American Tobacco Company between 1909 and 1911. Included in this set were players from both major and minor league baseball. Today, it's one of the most collected and most valuable sets on the market. The quality of these cards is excellent, especially once you account for the limited technology during the time frame in which they were distributed.
Many of the biggest names of the day have several different cards in the T206 set. Ty Cobb, for instance, has cards with his bat on shoulder, bat held away from shoulder as well as two portraits with different backgrounds.
The cards were small and rectangular to fit inside the dimensions of a pack of cigarettes from the era. Packs in the early 20th century differed from those today in that they were smaller and thinner. Most of the front of a tobacco card was taken up with the picture of the player in brilliant color. A thin white border encircles the T206 card and on the bottom of each card was the last name of the player in a very small font along with an often-abbreviated version of the team name.
Collecting T206 cards is certainly a challenge. With over 500 cards, including some rarities, it is often a long process to complete a set, even without the famous T206 Honus Wagner, the rare Eddie Plank or the Sherry Magie error. From a price standpoint they are expensive but not as high as one might think. Collecting them became a favorite pastime for adults, some of whom no doubt gave the cards to their children. Millions were produced and they are still quite available from vintage card dealers if a collector is willing to bend a bit on the overall condition of the cards. Lower grade examples, especially of common cards, are well within the budget of an average collector.
When collecting baseball cards from this era you can collect more than just one card of each player. Unlike modern cards these cards did not post players biographies or statistics on the backs. These cards had a number of different advertisements for the brand of cigarettes in which they were found. Many collectors hoard these cards as much for the advertisements as they do the players themselves.
This of course is the set that contains the Holy Grail of card collecting, the Honus Wagner card which generates hundreds of thousands of dollars when offered at auction, even in poor condition. Fewer than 100 are believed to exist, perhaps significantly less. However, focusing on this one card does a great disservice to the complexity and true value of the T206 set as a whole.
This is the only set of cards you will find that represents the first formative decade of the sport of baseball. It is a snapshot of the game in an era when baseball truly was becoming our national game. Players like Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker and many others are included. For some players, the T206 is the only major card on which they were featured.
This set is perhaps the most important baseball card set ever created. For 22 years after this set was distributed, many companies like Cracker Jack and others tried to generate the same level of interest but none really succeeded. It was not until 1933 when the Goudey Gum Company created their first major baseball card set that this was achieved.
The T206 baseball card set was the original icon in an industry that has grown to epic proportions as the decades have passed. It will always be the first major baseball card set and the standard all subsequent sets will be measured against.
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