I almost felt kind of dirty typing that headline.
My feelings towards the T206 set are well-documented. In short, it’s not only the most popular baseball card set of all time, but the best one ever created. In terms of pure collectability, T205 (at least right now) isn’t anywhere near T206’s level. Despite a good amount of T206 cards available, it remains widely collected and, along with the 1933 Goudey set, is often the first thing new pre-war collectors are drawn to.
But I’ve often wondered if T205 has a higher ceiling.
The T205 set was the American Tobacco Company’s follow-up to T206. While second releases from music artists can sometimes fall flat, T205 certainly did not. It was produced in 1911 when production on the T206 set was ending and went in a completely different direction in terms of look.
Instead of the trademark white borders of T206, the T205 set sported golden borders. Today, most of these cards show chipping and wear to the borders, which is kind of a shame since any small amount of damage easily shows. But when flawless and in perfect order, they are a sight to behold. And instead of including action shots, the T205s are only portraits with the exception of the minor leaguers.
That might sound a little dull but the portrait quality of most pictures actually outdid the quality on the portraits in the T206 set. In particular, the National League portraits have more detail than you can shake a stick at. The National Leaguers had larger heads because they were close-ups as compared to the American League cards, which had smaller heads but were presented in a diamond-framed background.
One of the biggest changes from T206 to T205 was the size of the set. Instead of being printed over three-years, T205 was a one-year issue and, at 208 base cards, less than half the size of the 520-card T206 release.
So what’s the better investment over the long-term? I’m not inclined to say it’s T205, necessarily. But T205 has several things working in its favor that at least raise some eyebrows.
The most glaring is its rarity compared to T206. While PSA has graded more than 220,000 T206 cards, it has graded only a little more than 35,000 T205s to date. The PSA population reports can’t be the only barometer used to determine actual rarity but it’s a usually a pretty good indicator. And based on that, there is only about one T205 card for every six T206 cards.
Another thing (and sort of along those lines) that makes the set a potentially good investment is its numerous short prints. Those cards are getting more and more recognition as being rare.
The Magie T206 error card has, at the time of this writing, been graded 123 times by PSA. The Joss SP card in the T205 set has been graded only 114. Now, we can’t look at all shortprints in the T205 set and compare them to the Magie because many of the lesser players are far less likely to be graded. However, looking at the shortprints of Hall of Famers, we see a similar situation. The Roger Bresnahan open mouth variation, Eddie Collins open mouth variation, and Bobby Wallace no cap variations (both of them – one has a typo on the back) all have been graded less or about the same as the Magie.
The difference in value is alarming, though. A Magie card graded a PSA 5.5 sold for more than $70,000. Of those T205 cards in that grade, the Joss might be worth the most and wouldn’t even be one-tenth of that.
In terms of popularity, while T205 is not on the level of T206, it is for a lot of pre-war collectors – many of which prefer the artwork and the set in general. The T205 set isn’t quite as collected as T206 but many collectors that start with T206 find themselves in the T205 hunt soon after. It’s a set that doesn’t boast the popularity of T206 but probably isn’t too far behind among collectors of pre-war cards.
The popularity thing is big because it’s really what has propelled T206 to the prices we see today. Not out of hand but probably far more than they deserve to be looking only at the rarity part of the equation. Everything is supply and demand and while there are a lot of T206 cards, there’s a lot of demand for them because even collectors of mostly newer cards like to add them to their collection. If T205 can become even more popular among collectors, it will have a chance at being the better long-term investment.
T205 doesn’t have the legendary card like the T206 Wagner. It doesn’t have the appeal of numerous cards for many of the Hall of Famers that T206 has. And it doesn’t have the street cred currently owned by T206 in that, even collectors of modern cards will often be able to tell you something about it.
But it does have rarity on its side and in addition to great artwork and the fact that there are a decent amount of collectors interested in them, I could potentially see it as a better long-term value.
The rarity thing is interesting because it’s not so much that the cards are ultra rare. Many other pre-war sets, of course, are much more tougher to find. Rather, it’s that T206 is so overpopulated. T205 may not necessarily make large gains so much as T206 suffers a little and loses some of its value. For now, it hasn’t because of so much interest in the hobby for it. But it’s something that could conceivably happen once (or perhaps more accurate, if) more collectors catch on to the fact that it isn’t all that rare compared to other sets.
One thing that may help T205’s long-term prospects is that a T205 set is much easier to assemble. Collectors often look at T206 (even a 520-card set minus the four rarities) as being utterly unattainable. While not cheap, a T205 set is much easier to deal with – one Ty Cobb card as opposed to four, fewer Hall of Famers, etc. If collectors start turning to that set as a reasonable alternative, that could shift some of the focus away from T206 and, in theory, lower prices if it’s less in demand.
Where this ends is anybody’s guess. Trying to predict which cards will get hot isn’t easy – otherwise, more non-collectors would be jumping in as a means of investing. But, if nothing else, the long-term prospects of T205 appear bright.