The T206 set of collectible cards are some of the most famous in baseball history. Issued by the American Tobacco Company (ATC) between 1909 and 1911, there are 524 overall, and they’re a great reminder of the pre-war era.
The best T206 baseball cards feature some of the more popular players of the time, and the majority have only increased in value and rarity over the past century.
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Given the history, it’s no surprise that you’ll have to spend a solid chunk of cash to get one at auction, with the majority of cards graded below at 4 or below. After all, it’s a 100-year-old card featuring a Hall of Famer, and they don’t come cheap!
You’ll also have to be wary of buying an ungraded card, as there’s a large market for fakes considering the prices. Here are some of the best to look out for if you want to add a T206 to your collection, with five of the biggest names in baseball.
Honus Wagner’s T206 card shows the icon in his Pittsburgh Pirates jersey, with a warm orange background. It’s the holy grail of the T206 set, meaning that even a lower-grade card will fetch big bucks at auction. But why is it so expensive compared to others?
It’s rumored that Wagner took an ethical stance against the production of his cards, as it would promote buying cigarettes to children. (It was either that or a fallout with the ATC over how much he was supposed to be paid.)
The ATC ceased production after Wagner spoke out, leaving somewhere between 50 and 200 of his cards in existence. A century on, it’s easy to see why it’s one of the most valuable in the set, and even reprints can go for $40.
Ty Cobb has a duo of portrait cards that are highly sought after in the T206 set. There are four overall, and the Green Portrait is the rarest, with Bat on Shoulder, Bat off Shoulder and Red Portrait making up the quartet. The portrait cards are instantly recognizable, with vibrant colors and a strong style.
The action cards aren’t as interesting to look at, but they are a bona fide option if you want to pick up a popular T206 card. In terms of price, a PSA 7 version of the Red Portrait recently sold for over $30,000 at auction, attracting over 70 bids.
Cobb spent 22 seasons with the Detroit Tigers, including six as the team’s player-manager before joining the Philadelphia Athletics. He later went on to get 222 out of 226 votes for the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 1936, which was unmatched until 1992.
Frank Chance played for the Chicago Cubs and the New York Yankees and managed both teams along with the Boston Red Sox. Chance’s popular yellow and red portrait cards are similar, while he also has an action card with a bat in hand.
His batting version is the rarest, with the Red Portrait in second. (The yellow sometimes looks like orange due to the limitations of the post-war printing process, which can cause prices to fluctuate more than the others.)
In terms of pricing, his cards are relatively affordable. A PSA 8 version of his batting card recently went for $3,500, while a PSA 5 version of his Yellow Portrait went for just under $500.
Addie Joss’ “Hands at chest” card sees him looking off into the distance, while he also has a traditional portrait card in the T206 set. A PSA 8 graded version of the latter recently sold for over $6,200 at auction. He pitched for the Cleveland Bronchos for the entirety of his career.
Joss’ portrait card is a strong yellow, and at 6 foot 3, he was a striking character. Sadly, he died of TB at the age of 31, a week after collapsing on the field during an exhibition game in 1911.
He was added to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, after a committee waived the ten-year minimum playing career stipulation Joss needed to be eligible.
Widely regarded as the second most popular card in the set, Eddie Plank’s card features a white border and a blue background, in a similar style to the other in-demand portrait cards.
There’s no real explanation as to why it’s one of the rarer T206 cards, but it’s estimated that there are only 75 to 100 in existence. (Plank was an anti-tobacco advocate, and was never seen smoking.)
The rarity is enough to drive the price up past many of the others in the set, competing with Wagner’s card for top billing overall.
Along with Joe Doyle and Sherry Magie’s Error cards, they make up the T206 quartet known as “The Big Four”.