Buy & Sell Vintage Baseball Cards: Collecting baseball cards can be a more than just a fun hobby, as the cards preserved by children decades ago can actually make a great investment today. While you may not own the famous Honus Wanger card, the gems in any serious baseball card collection would likely be from the pre-war period. These cards were issued in cigarette packs, tobacco cases, and packages of gum during the years from the later 19th century through the early 1940s. So how were baseball cards first introduced in American culture?
The very first baseball cards were printed in the later 1800s and are known today as N-cards. In fact, every baseball card which was printed prior to 1900 is referred to as a N-card. Though a good deal of these cards were inserted into cigarette packs or packages of loose tobacco, most N-cards were actually not tobacco cards. In fact, the very first baseball card, the 1868-70 Peck & Snyder trading card, was actually issued by a sporting goods store in New York City. Harper’s Weekly and other magazine which issued pictures of baseball players and baseball teams are known as Woodcuts. These woodcuts are considered N-cards, as well as a cabinet card. Cabinet cards are much larger and thicker than the baseball cards we know today. These cabinet cards were not issued with packs of tobacco like those in later years, instead people wishing to receive a cabinet card had to collect 35 proofs of purchase from cigarette packs and mail them to the company. Many of the cards did not make it through the years, as they were played with and not preserved properly.
While the tobacco companies did not invent baseball cards, they are widely considered the reason baseball cards are popular today. The tobacco company cards, often referred to an T-cards, are some of the most recognizable and valuable baseball cards ever printed. For example, the holy grail of baseball cards, the 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner card was printed during this period. The T206 is a reference to the catalog designation found in the The American Card Catalog. The T206 series of tobacco cards were issued from 1909 to 1911 and made available in cigarette and loose tobacco packs by 16 different tobacco brands. This series of baseball cards is often considered the most valuable and is highly sought after by collectors due to both the rarity and the quality of the cards. The T206 series is also referred to as the “White Border” cards due to the distinctive white borders surrounding each card. Of the 524 T206 cards issued, over 100 feature minor league players. There are also multiple prints of the same player in different poses, as well as the same player after any given trade. This series features many famous baseball players, as well as members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, such as Ty Cobb and Cy Young.
The E-card series are not as well known as the T-cards, however they can still make a great addition to any collection. Like the T-card, the E-card gets its name from its American Card Catalog designation. These E-cards were primarily issued with candy products such as those distributed by the American Caramel Company. These E-cards have seen a higher percentage increase in value in recent years when compared to those designated as T-cards. The reason for this is likely because the T-cards which are highly sought after already have a large dollar value assigned to them. As this is the case, these E-cards and the cards issued by the Cracker Jack company should continue to increase in value more quickly when compared to T-card in the years to come. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Honus Wagner are only a few of the famous players to be included in this series. As the sets which were issued were small in number, it is possible for a collector to obtain an entire set which would make an excellent investment in future years. Further, as the E-cards are often cheaper than their T-card counterparts, they will likely continue to increase in price and see strong growth in future years.
The Cracker Jack company issued their own set of baseball cards during the years of 1914 and 1915. These cards make a wonderful investment, as Baseball Hall of Fame members have consistently shown a strong return over the last couple decades. These cards were wider than the T and E-card, and as such, the manufacturers had more room for the player pictures. Similar to the E-card, as these cards are generally more reasonably priced, they have much more room to grow as a future investment.
The Goudey Gum Company issued baseball cards from 1933 through 1941. These cards were produced on a large scale and included in many bubble gum packages during that time. This series included many of the famous baseball players of the time from Babe Ruth to Lou Gehrig. In the American Card Catalog, the Goudey cards are indexed with either an “R” or “V” prefix. Though these cards were issued on a large scale, over the years they have become rarer in nature. As such, cards which feature players like Dizzy Dean, Babe Ruth, or Jimmie Foxx consistently sell for a high price at auction.
The last distinctive brand of pre-war baseball cards were those distributed by Play Ball. Issued in 1939, Play Ball printed a series of three sets which also enjoy a steady following from collectors today. These square cards are black and white in color and feature a glossy photo on the front. Additionally, Play Ball also issued cards during 1941 and 1942, though these are less highly sought after.
Collecting baseball cards is more than just a popular American pastime, as it can also be a fun way to invest your money. Though they are typically higher in price, cards issued during the pre-war period are generally considered a safe bet for investors. So whether you are a serious collector, a curious enthusiast, or well on your way to owning a 1909-1911 Honus Wagner, remember to have fun and appreciate these relics from an earlier time in our nation’s history.