1886-90 Old Judge Set (N172)

‘It’s In The Details’

Title N172 Old Judge
Year 1886-90
Size 1 7/16″ x 2 1/2″
Images Sepia
Type 19th Century Tobacco
Number in Set

N172 Old Judge Overview

N172 Anson 1.jpg

In 1886, Old Judge Cigarettes produced a small set (N167) that is among the scarcest pre-war card collectibles around featuring baseball players, boxers, and women. They followed that up with the largest pre-war card issue ever created in the N172 Old Judge set.

Produced by Goodwin and Company for its Old Judge brand of cigarettes, the N172 set is so large, in fact, that new cards are still being discovered. Currently, more than 500 baseball players exist but there are more than 1,000 cards in all since many players have several different poses.

Other subjects, including boxers and wrestlers, are found, too. Old advertising posters for the cards indicated that there were ‘over 2,000 different subjects.’ Counting all of the subjects, PSA says there are more than 4,500 cards in all. For this reason, while worthy checklists have been assembled, it is likely that none will every be completely confirmed.

The cards have a sepia-tone and are actually two separate pieces – a photograph of a player affixed to a piece of cardboard. And with blank backs, this has led to collectors rebacking cards by removing other more favorable backs from cards and replacing less favorable ones.

Also of note is that the set doesn’t exactly have a uniform design. Some cards have handwritten names on them. Others have the Old Judge Cigarettes name in various shapes, sizes, and parts of the card. The set is sort of all of the place when it comes to design.

The set is absolutely star-studded. It includes many early Hall of Fame players, such as Cap Anson, Dan Brouthers, John Clarkson, Charles Comiskey, Roger Connor, Hugh Duffy, Buck Ewing, Clark Griffith, Tim Keefe, King Kelly, Connie Mack, Jim O’Rourke, Old Hoss Radbourn, John Ward, Mickey Welch, Harry Wright, and several others. And the numerous cards of these players makes the set even more full with big names.


Rarity is a key component to this unique set.

Most cards probably don’t have more than a few dozen in existence and some have only a handful. Collectively, the cards aren’t too rare. For instance, finding any Old Judge card isn’t difficult. However, finding specific ones, particularly of non-stars routinely for sale, is very hard.

In theory, most individual cards, if not all, are likely rarer than any number of exclusive issues, including the Honus Wagner T206 card. Collectors looking for individual players, specifically obscure ones, can have a difficult time.


Similar to other like-designed cards, the biggest problem with the cards is easily fading.

Some issues, particularly those exposed to light, have become barely recognizable by collectors unfamiliar with them. This makes for a premium on cards that have sharp, clear pictures. Even graded cards with a low technical score are heavily-desired if the pictures are clear. Similarly, cards graded well with faded images are not quite as desirable as they otherwise should be.

The best way to store Old Judge cards is out of light, obviously. Dealers displaying them at card shows or collectors displaying them in rooms exposed to light are advised to seek other alternatives.

N172 Old Judge Checklist

PSA has a checklist of nearly 1,100 cards in its master list on the set registry – you can view it here.

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