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The T206 set was issued from 1909-11 by the American Tobacco Co. (ATC), and were printed in New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and Ohio (Ohio being exclusive to Polar Bear brand backs which was a chewing tobacco, often resulting in noticeable staining on the card from the day it was packaged). There are over 524 cards required to complete the set regardless of the thousands of different back combinations which are possible. There are over 35 different variations possible in regards to the tobacco backs, with Piedmont and Sweet Caporal being by far the most common and readily available, with the freak exception being a Piedmont back which was printed for a short stint in factory 42 (North Carolina) as opposed to factory 25 (Virginia), with factory 25 being epidemic in the T206 set. Collectors do in fact pay a considerable premium to acquire this tougher Piedmont factory 42  back. These collectors have also been known to pay MASSIVE premiums for some of the toughest tobacco backs (Drum, Uzit, Lenox, Hindu, Broad Leaf, Carolina Brights, and American Beauty, 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 set 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 etc.). A funny yet unfortunate note being 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 anyone (Cobb, Young, Matty, Lajoie, John McGraw, Chief Bender, and on and on and on…you get the picture). Sadly, this great talent did not make it to the Hall of Fame. He was banished, accused of gambling and throwing games for profit. He was a great hitter and is regarded as one of the greatest fielding first basemen of his generation. During prouder times for Hal Chase, he along with Christy Mathewson or “Big 6”, were considered the true darlings of New York. 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. Jake Beckley, who at the time he retired was second in all time hits, trailing only the great “Cap” Anson. “Sir” Hugh Duffy, whose .440 batting average in a single season stands as the best ever to this very day. “Happy” Jack Chesbro, who as a starting pitcher won an astounding 41 ball games in one season.”Wee” Willie Keeler, inventor of the “Baltimore Chop” and the man who lost his amazing 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.

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 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 a great player and would be a World Champion in 1909. However, he is more famous today for his role in the T206 set than he is for being a dominating force for so many years. Though Wagner was an avid tobacco chewer, he despised cigarettes and 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 would be a contributing factor in the ATC disbanding in 1911). Wagner insisted his card be pulled from production at once. Over the course of four major wars and 102 years, very few have survived. One example which is truly striking and of course famous, would be the PSA 8 graded Wagner, which was once owned by the Bambino of Hockey, 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.

There are other freak 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 and at leisure, 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 is not a laugher, 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 Honus 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. This card has sold in excess of $300,000+ at auction. We 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, typically selling anywhere from $25,000-$300,000+ depending on condition, as well as the advertising back.

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. 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, William Heitman.

These cards not only hold great monetary value, they are true works of art. From the facial details to the use of color to make the perfect sunset, or that very obscure stadium in the background, if the T206 series 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 and more educated on the epic players who changed the game that we love, but have not yet received their proper status as Baseball Legends.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 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 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!

 

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Derek Hogue

T206 SOCIETY