Welcome to the T206 Society
***Click HERE to order your copy of the hit book “The T206 Collection – The Players & Their Stories” by Tom & Ellen Zappala (Signed by Tom & Ellen!)***
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The timelessly beautiful T206 set was issued from 1909-11 by the American Tobacco Co. (ATC). Long ago these cards were likely an afterthought for a great many who at one moment in time possessed them in their very fingertips, nothing more than the likes of a quality advertisement or coupon contained within their preferred brand of tobacco … although the children adored them from day one. Time of course has a way of changing the “importance” of some things, and the T206 issue has proven to fall well into that category, attracting truly die hard collectors from all walks of life. There are over 524 cards required to complete the most basic set irregardless of the thousands of different front and back combinations which are possible – with Piedmont and Sweet Caporal being by far the most common and readily available to the community, with roughly 40 different back variations in all. Some collectors have been known to pay MASSIVE premiums for some of the toughest tobacco backs (Drum, Uzit, Lenox, Hindu, Broad Leaf, and Carolina Brights, just to name a few). The combinations appear endless, with no shortage of unique, exciting, and extremely challenging ways to collect the set. To this very day the T206 issue and its counterparts are quite possibly the only positive thing ever produced by “Big Tobacco”.
The set features a plethora of Hall of Fame players (4 Ty Cobb, 3 Christy Mathewson, 3 Cy Young, 3 Napolean Lajoie, 3 Johnny Evers, 4 Joe Tinker and so many more …). A mighty yet tragic subject being “Prince” Hal Chase – a wonderful first baseman for the New York Highlanders (modern day Yankees) who was so highly regarded at the time the T206 set was being printed, he had more T206 cards released (5) than any other player (Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Napolean Lajoie, John McGraw, Chief Bender, and on and on and on … surely you get the picture). Sadly, this great talent was not enshrined into the Hall of Fame with the other great players of his era. He was banished, accused of gambling and throwing games for profit. He was a great hitter and is regarded as one of the slickest fielding first basemen of his day. During prouder times for Hal Chase, he along with Christy Mathewson were truly the darlings of New York city.
This set is no stranger to others who felt they were underpaid and were consumed by controversy. It includes Chick Gandil, the 1919 Chicago “BLACK SOX” supposed ringleader, as well as Eddie “Knuckles” Cicotte, an almost certain Hall of Famer who had the task of hitting the first batter of the first game of the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds … in order to assure the gamblers the “fix” was on.
Around this time old greats were on their way out. “Eagle Eye” Jake Beckley, who at the time he retired was second in all time hits trailing only the great “Cap” Anson; “Sir” Hugh Duffy, whose glorious .440 batting average in a single season stands as the best ever to this very day and was in fact a triple crown winner; “Happy” Jack Chesbro, who as a starting pitcher won an astounding 41 ball games in one season, a record which surely is never to be matched; ”Wee” Willie Keeler, inventor of the “Baltimore Chop” and the man who lost his amazing 44 game hitting streak to none other than the great Joe Dimaggio, who hit in 56 straight. One of the absolutely most interesting men to ever play professional baseball, Rube Waddell, who was one of the nastiest left handed pitchers of his time and a true celebrity during his playing days due not only to his ability on the mound, but for his personality as well. There is a great deal of speculation that Waddell suffered from some sort of mental illness resulting in more than erratic behavior. Waddell, Keeler, as well as Jake Beckley, would all pass away shortly after retiring from the game. Let us not forget the great and forever relevant Addie Joss, who passed away tragically due to illness in April of 1911, which would create the butterfly effect for what we know today as the beloved All Star Game.
In passing, there comes new life. With a great rookie class comes a great class of rookie cards: The “Big Train” Walter Johnson, Frank “Home Run” Baker, Rube Marquard, Tris Speaker, Zack Wheat. All legends in the making.
The stories are truly incredible. The stories behind some of the cards might be even more incredible. Honus Wagner, Hall of Fame shortstop for the Pittsburg Pirates (there was no “h” in Pittsburgh at the time these cards were being printed) was an epic player and would be a World Champion in 1909, besting Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers. However, he is possibly more famous today for his unique role in the T206 set and the entire hobby of sports and card collecting than he is for being such a dominating and powerful force for so many years.
Though Wagner was an avid tobacco chewer, he despised cigarettes and he did not want children to buy them in order to get his picture (children buying packs of cigarettes for these cards would become epidemic and has been said to have been a contributing factor in the ATC disbanding in 1911 amongst many other issues). It is said that Wagner insisted his card be pulled from production at once. Over the course of several major wars and over 100 years and counting, very, very few examples have survived, with even fewer of quality condition. One example which is truly striking and of course extremely famous would be the PSA 8 graded Wagner, which was once owned by the Bambino of Hockey, “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky. This particular Wagner has had an interesting transaction history on its journey to the cards current owner, who paid $2.8 million dollars for the piece via auction. Every Wagner has a special story, and it is truly done sweet justice with its designation as “The Holy Grail” of Baseball Card Collecting. The “Mona Lisa”.
There are other rarities which will sell for a major premium as well. A common player by the name of Sherry Magee, whose portrait card can be found relatively cost effective, had roughly several hundred or so printed wherein his name reads “MAGIE” instead of “MAGEE”. And with that small difference, this “common” player, who batted a very respectable .291 for his career, goes from being a $45+ card, to $10,000-$15,000 for low-mid grade examples. If that does not drop your jaw, try this one: Joe Doyle from the New York Highlanders of the American League is amongst the most valuable cards in the entire T206 set, trailing only Wagner … on one tiny condition: you are one of literally a handful of known individuals who own the variation which reads “National League” as opposed to being left blank where the league is typically noted. Examples of this card have sold in excess of $300,000+ at auction.
We of course cannot forget Mr. Eddie Plank, the gold standard of lefty pitchers in his day, followed by the likes of “Dizzy” Dean, Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax, Steve Carlton, and Tom Glavine. It is yet another unsolved mystery of the T206 set in regards to the rarity of the Plank card. There are very few examples available and they are always in VERY high demand, a true gem within this already magnificent issue typically selling anywhere from $25,000-$300,000+ depending on condition, as well as the advertising reverse. Like Wagner, the very large majority of surviving Plank’s have the Sweet Caporal advertising reverse with Piedmont being extremely rare.
Some of you reading this may think these monetary figures are outrageous and border on insanity. Some people wake up at 4:00 AM everyday and play the stock markets. Others who are more brave make their way to their local Casino to play a different brand of cards. For some it is the finest art. Then there are card collectors. It is a true passion for some, and even borders on obsession for others. The T206 issue truly lives up to its rather affectionate nickname of “The MONSTER”, an extraordinarily appropriate title given by the great T206 pioneer, the Father of “The Monster”, William Heitman.
Not only do these cards hold a considerable monetary value, they are truly works of art, capturing another time with such elegance – from the facial details to the use of color to make the perfect sunset, or that very obscure stadium in the background – if the 1909-11 T206 issue can be summed up as one particular thing, it would be true artistic beauty. During the printing process, the colors were laid down onto the card in a particular order, with the brown ink used to note the player name, team, city, and league, as well as the name printed across the jersey of the player. Upon close inspection, it almost appears as if the name was written with a fine tipped paint brush and a very steady hand.
In addition to the breathtaking beauty of the T206 set it is also near impossible to complete when considering the “Big Four” (Wagner, Plank, Magie – error, Doyle – National League) as well as the endless error cards, the tough variations, the extremely obscure and evasive tobacco brands, and of course the numerous Hall of Famers which are always in high demand as people become more educated about these great players who changed the game that we love, but have not yet received their status as “household names”. The set covered not only the stars of the game, it also covered the minor leagues as well as 48 players from the Southern League, which have proven to not only be somewhat pesky when trying to acquire all 48, but demand strong premiums for quality examples and collections. Simply put, even if you cannot finish a complete set, there are numerous and exciting ways to collect these little beauties.
For all of these reasons and so many more, this particular set, issued Pre – World War I, issued Pre – Titanic, remains and will more than likely always remain amongst the most sought after, most studied, and most beloved sets ever issued.
Enjoy The Hunt!