Goodwin & Company “Masterpieces and Uncommon Commons XXVI, The T206 Set” will be open for bidding on Wednesday, April 7th and closes on Thursday April 22nd. Baseball’s Most Iconic Collectible Card Set: The American Tobacco Company’s T206 White Border Issue. We invite you to delve into the 500-plus lots contained herein. Comb through the names and the stories. Discover Carlton Molesworth, The Dean of Southern League Baseball and Hans Lobert, who once raced a thoroughbred around the bases to prove his speed to the baseball world. For all of us at Goodwin & Company, it is our distinct pleasure to present this set of baseball’s most significant and historic offering. Many of the cards you will see in this auction are far from perfect — the average grade is a PSA 4 VG-EX. But where a bit of handling seems to condemn newer, larger cards, slightly rounded corners and traces of handling add a touch of character to these tiny, century-old artifacts. The handled cards wear a look of respect and dignity that defy standardized grading and instead serve as reflections of a time long-passed and a century of life well-lived.
In 1885, Buck Duke, son of Duke & Sons Tobacco founder Washington Duke, introduced the mechanical cigarette rolling machine to an industry that still relied on hand-rolling to produce its wares. Within five years, Duke would change the name of the family business to the American Tobacco Company and control 40% of the cigarette market. In an era free from anti-trust legislation, Duke gobbled up competitors Allen & Ginter, Goodwin & Company, Liggett & Myers, Lorillard, Lucky Strikes, Pall Mall and more. By 1904, Duke controlled over 90% of the U.S. tobacco market and 50% of foreign sales, with American Tobacco boasting a capitalization of $500,000,000.
An innovative marketer and huge fan of sports, Duke commissioned the greatest assembly of baseball player images in history to serve as in-pack premiums for 16 of his tobacco brands, including flagship cigarette brands Piedmont and Sweet Caporal. The 524 card set, introduced in 1909, encompassed both major and minor leagues and would give added incentive for smokers to purchase products from the most prolific tobacco manufacturer on the planet.
As with all things, Duke demanded only the finest for his baseball offering, ordering full color lithography for his cards that would rival any of the popular European advertising posters of the day. Duke’s baseball card set would surpass any promotional offering ever attempted by any manufacturer in any industry. This was after all, American Tobacco’s tribute to what was now America’s National Pastime.
The Victorian era had given rise to the hobby of collecting — and for many, American Tobacco’s splendid baseball cards were considered treasured mementos. Each of the cleverly sized 1 7/16” x 2 5/8” cards were full color illustrations based on photos from the most respected photographers of the day, including Carl Horner and Charles Conlon. Beyond conveniently snuggling into packs of cigarettes, the cards were expertly sized to accommodate easy handling, easy storage and easy collecting. Whether tucked away in a prized tobacco box or neatly mounted in a “viewing album,” the diminutive size of each card allowed collectors to accumulate these tiny treasures without worry about space or size.
Over a century after their introduction, a larger percentage of American Tobacco’s baseball cards have survived compared to the countless cards printed after this monumental offering. The reasons why are simple. A mesmerizing product. A size that could be hidden away and protected over time. And a sturdy, high-grade printing stock. Without question, American Tobacco’s White Border, T206 sets the standard for visual imagery, craftsmanship, superior materials and scope of offering. Truly, no other early baseball card set captures America’s love affair with baseball in a fashion that can rival this 524 card masterpiece.
Iconic Images From America’s Golden Age
From America’s great early folk heroes to players virtually forgotten by time, the names and images within this set epitomize baseball as it was coming of age. The roll call of stars housed on these hallowed cardboard relics reads like a “Who’s Who” of Cooperstown. Cobb, Wagner, Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, John McGraw, Tinker, Evers and Chance, Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, Eddie Plank, Three Finger Brown, Wee Willie Keeler, Big Ed Walsh, Home Run Baker, Wahoo Sam Crawford and many, many more.
For the purist and contemporary, the advanced collector and the novice, the beauty of the set lies in the faces and stories of the everyday players within the set. Players like Wildfire Schulte, Kid Elberfeld, Turkey Mike Donlin, Dummy Taylor, Johnny Kling, Jack Quinn and hundreds more. Beyond being a baseball card set, this astounding collection serves as one of the greatest historic records of any segment of society in any era since the beginning of time.
Baseball’s dead ball era was filled with characters, comedians and hard men, who turned to baseball rather than risk death in the mines, factories or the farm fields that dotted America’s countryside. Every splendid image tells a story. A story wrapped in heavy flannel, protected by primitive leather and fueled by hardened ash.
Within the T206 set lies baseball’s most valuable relic, the Holy Grail of collecting, the legendary Honus Wagner portrait. Of particular interest in this auction, may be the rarest of the rare in the T206 set: the Ty Cobb portrait with the Ty Cobb Tobacco back. Known examples of the famed Wagner card outnumber the Cobb Tobacco/Cobb portrait by a margin of nearly 6:1. So while the Wagner may indeed be more valuable, the Cobb is without question more rare. Within the pages of this auction, you’ll also find rarities such as the Maggee (Magie) error card, variations on cards from Demmitt, O’ Hara, Elberfeld, Frank “Piano Mover” Smith, Red Kleinow and others.
Brilliantly printed with blazing colors, the players on the cards of this set brought newspaper headlines to life. In an age when more people read about baseball than actually witnessed games, a tiny tobacco card put a face with a name in the newspaper, The Sporting News or The Sporting Life. It brought the game a little closer to the common fan. And did so with an artistic flair and beauty that made every image a coveted treasure.
The History Of The Game Lies At Your Fingertips
Many of the cards you will see in this auction are far from perfect — the average grade is a PSA 4 VG-EX. But where a bit of handling seems to condemn newer, larger cards, slightly rounded corners and traces of handling add a touch of character to these tiny, century-old artifacts. The handled cards wear a look of respect and dignity that defy standardized grading and instead serve as reflections of a time long-passed and a century of life well-lived.
Look carefully at every name and image. These were men who worked jobs in the off-season, who played for both the love of the game and survival, and who considered themselves “ball players” rather than professional athletes. Marvel at the art, the beauty and the simplicity of style displayed in every card. Study the sweaters and gloves and symbols of the game. Examine the names on every card and consider how they reflect the immigrant character of America as the nation opened its doors to the world. And last but certainly not least, take home a treasured heirloom to be passed down for generations, so that your children and grandchildren will always remember a time when baseball was young.