Posted on 31 May 2010 by Wanna Be Sports Guy
Throughout the years, generations of young men have grown up with a singular passion for sports cards. Whether filled with gum, such as in the middle and late portions of the century, or chocked full of memorabilia scraps and autographs as in modern times, the tiny slices of cardboard have caused more joy than almost any collectable in the history of our nation.
But before they were packaged for children, sports cards came in a very different form. Cigarette manufacturers, in an effort to brand their product, decided to include them in their packs. This would come with an added practical bonus, giving them a solid object which would stiffen the packs and protect the cigarettes themselves.
Unveiled in 1875 by the Allen & Ginter company, these card sets featured popular actresses, Indian chiefs, boxers, and baseball players. They would grow in reach and popularity, making them into an industry all their own.
One of the most widely sought after sets came from the American Tobacco Company, known nowadays as the T206 series. Produced over a period of three years from 1909-1911, theses cards feature a striking white border surrounding lithographs of various baseball players. There are 523 cards in each set, more than 100 of which belong to minor league players.
The most well known card in the T206 line that featuring Honus Wagner, a legendary shortstop hailing from the Deadball Era. One fair-condition example of this particular card has changed hands several times in recent years, last going for $1.6 million. Higher quality versions have sold for as much as $2.8 million. All in all, it is estimated that only 50 to 200 of this card where ever made. There are several theories as to why so few made it into production, but that is a story for another day.
For now, tobacco cards have been featured on several nostalgia themed modern sports releases. Among these are the Topps 206, Allen & Ginter, and Mayo Cut Plug sets. These century-old treasures continue to dazzle collectors the world over, giving us a glimpse into the days of our sporting past.
- Taylor Maxwell
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