One of the more distinctive things about the incredible T206 set is the large collection of back advertisements. The many brands that sponsored the set make collecting a master set a virtual impossibility as each card front has numerous different versions of advertising backs.
In all, there are a total of 15 different brands on the backs, though many more backs exist. That’s because some brands were printed with more than one color of ink. Other backs include different factory numbers for some brands. But taking rarity out of the equation, how do the backs stack up aesthetically against one another? Which are the more attractive looking ones?
I wanted to take a stab at ranking my 15 favorites. Backs not here are the Ty Cobb-backed cards (not universally accepted as T206s), blank backs, or the T213-1 Coupon backs, which I believe to be T206s but have a different designation.
Going purely by how appealing they are to look at, here’s my list.
15. Sweet Caporal
14. Old Mill
13. (tie) Broad Leaf and American Beauty
The Sweet Caporal backs are probably my least favorite of the bunch. I don’t think they’re particularly bad, per se, but the overall look is a little much. I’m not a big fan of the font of the Sweet Caporal name with the double lettering and the backs are just a little busy compared to others. Between the various fonts and the odd border, there’s a lot going on.
Also here are both Broad Leaf and Old Mill. Broad Leaf cards, especially, are hard to come by but aesthetically, they’re only average in my book. Old Mill is equally banal and there’s not too much to get excited about here. Finally, American Beauty is tied with Broad Leaf here. They’re virtually the same back utilizing the same design. The real difference between American Beauty cards and others, of course, is that the American Beauty issues were cut more narrow and aren’t as wide in order to fit into their cigarette packages.
About the only thing these backs have going for them are some of the variations. Old Mill has a brown version (most are printed in black) that is exceedingly rare and one of the most expensive backs in the set. And Sweet Caporal has several different versions, including overprints which have a line or scroll through an existing factory number. Some American Beauty cards are also borderless.
As I said, none of these are really that bad. But they’re just not as nice looking as others in the set, in my book.
A Little More Interesting
The next four backs stand out a little bit more to me. The Lenox back is certainly unique with its cursive style and could be higher on other lists. I like it, but just think there are other better ones.
Sovereign has always stood out to me as a unique look with a different frame and the green ink. There are also two shades of green used in the backs, known as forest green and apple green. The border is unique as is the tall, narrow lettering in the Sovereign name.
Drum, one of the absolute rarest backs in the set is the same design as both the Broad Leaf and American Beauty cards. However, it gets a slight bump up because of the unique purple ink used on the backs.
Uzit was a back I really expected would be higher on my list. The lighter blue ink and the big, bold Uzit name makes it stand out. And the fact that it’s among the rarer backs means you don’t see it all that often. I do like it but compared to others, I’m not sure it’s necessarily better.
No. 7 (tie) Piedmont, Tolstoi
No. 5 Cycle
No. 4 Carolina Brights
I really like a lot about each of these backs.
Piedmont and Tolstoi sneak into the top half here. Compared to others, the backs aren’t all that rare. But the diagonal spelling of the brand names makes for a really classic and unique look as does the frame shaped like a large vertical banner or a shield. I could see these backs being bumped up higher on the list. They’re the only backs in the set that have their names presented as such and the font used on both is an added bonus.
Cycle utilizes a similar design as several others. But the way the first ‘C’ in that name wraps down and underneath several letters is just really cool. That alone really bumps it up on my list. I love the way those cards look.Of the many cards out there with those designs, the Cycle ones are my favorite.
Carolina Brights backs are among the rarest in the set and are also spectacular to look at. The Carolina Brights name is printed in large lettering with an antique style. The first letters are really what make the name as the ‘C’ engulfs the ‘ar’ in Carolina and the ‘B’ in Brights, ends with a loop of sorts. We have the ‘cigarettes’ word presented in a scroll as well as the popular ‘Base Ball Subjects’ text, which was on others as well. Another nice twist is the unique border as well as a wreath decoration in the background.
1. Polar Bear
Finally, EPDG’s back is spectacular and as El Principe de Gales, it’s clearly got the best name. Seeing that Spanish name sprawled out all over the back just gives it an added cool factor. The mention of rice paper and pectoral paper mentioned is a nice bonus as well.
The Hindu cards come in both red ink and brown ink and the red ones, in particular, are spectacular. Hindu has one of the most unique looks with a decorative frame twisting and turning all over the back of the card with the Hindu name spread out as if it were on a banner. A scroll at the bottom is also a different look from other cards. These are among my favorite backs in the set.
That brings us to No. 1.
Now, Polar Bear cards are pretty common by comparison but their backs are still spectacular every time you see one. The scan here really doesn’t do these cards justice as the dark blue ink really pops off the card when you see one in person.
The cards often have tobacco stains on them because they were inserted with scrap tobacco products and not cigarettes like the others. But while that may hurt the look, a lot of collectors really enjoy seeing them that way. The tobacco stains, to me, are a great reminder of where these cards came from. And let’s be honest – the slogan ‘Is Now, Always Has Been, Always Will Be’ is another great addition to the card.
Finally, the backs have a few other interesting quirks. A special variation is know with the ‘ie’ in ‘Series’ missing on some cards. This variation is rare and likely due to a printing plate error of some kind. Similarly, some cards are found with part of the frame ink missing, creating an interesting variation. Those two factors add to the allure of the Polar Bear back, which is probably my favorite in the entire set.