A strange tale of Ty Cobb and an odd boxing tobacco card

These days, Ty Cobb cards are skyrocketing. Everyone is caught up in the fascination of the astronomical climb of his green background T206 card, but really, Cobbs are basically up across the board.

Here’s a fun fact. Cobb’s pre-war cards aren’t really even limited to baseball, either, in a roundabout sort of way. Here’s an interesting story of the Hall of Famer and how he got roped up into a fiasco involving the T225 boxing tobacco card set.

About the T225 set

The T225 set is a fairly well-known pre-war boxing tobacco issue. It covers two series’ that are oddly numbered Series 101 and Series 102. Series 102 is by far the rarer one – more on that in a bit.

Both sets are pretty small by comparison and are similar to other caramel card sets from around the same time. Each one has only 25 cards in it for a grand total of 50 across the board. Printed in 1910, the cards were issued with both Khedivial and Surbrug tobacco products.

They have a unique appearance with the look of a Polaroid. The set is a pretty standard boxing set with the exception of one card in it.

Enter Ty Cobb

Ty Cobb T225 BoxingThe T225 set is mostly full of your famous boxers from that era.

For example, there’s the legendary James Jeffries. There’s Joe Jeannette. And for baseball fans, there’s famous pre-war collecting target Abe Attell, who was a key fixture in the scandal surrounding the 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds. Most of the names seem like they belong here and appeared in other sets around the same time period.

But in Series 102, a strange boxer appears with a quite famous name – Ty Cobb, to be exact.

Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this isn’t our Ty Cobb. You know, the one of baseball fame. I guess some likenesses of players have been worse. Maybe if you squint your eyes a little bit, you can sort of envision this as a young Cobb. But, even if this really was baseball’s Ty Cobb, why is he shirtless, in a fighting stance, and in a boxing card set?

Truth of the matter is that this isn’t Cobb. Not only is it not the Ty Cobb, but it’s not even another guy that was really named Ty Cobb. So what gives?

Well, the fighter’s real name isn’t on the card but an interesting 1922 story sort of sheds light on what is going on here:

In 1922, in a boxing ring on a winter’s night, in a small Philadelphia arena, Ty Cobb won a six-round decision against Babe Ruth.

No, not that Cobb and Ruth, but a pair of Jewish lightweights looking to mask their identities so as not to aggravate their mothers, while pumping up the gate with suckers expecting the real Ruth and Cobb.

The real name of this specific boxer in the story was Sammy Kolb. But interestingly enough, Kolb was hardly the only boxer to pull this trick.

Kids were changing their names all across America. In the record books we found five Ty Cobbs and three Babe Ruths — and four Abe Goldbergs, four Izzy Cohens, two Hymie Cohens, and 164 other Cohens.

Changing one’s name wasn’t happening all over the place but, as we see here, Kolb wasn’t alone in trying to capitalize on the name of Cobb.

Because of the date disparity from the card to the story referenced, I had some doubts if this was Kolb or if it was yet another person doing the same thing he did. But BoxRec gives some insight there.

According to the site’s database, Kolb was known as Young Ty Cobb and was active from 1909 to 1922. While the site mentions five boxers that have gone by the name Ty Cobb, Kolb was by far the most famous one. Three of the five, in fact, used it for only a single fight. Only one other fighter used the name in any meaningful way and he was a recent heavyweight with the birth name Tyson Cobb.

It is pretty clear that Kolb is the Cobb on the card here. In addition to the information above, the real evidence is that he was the only one using that name at the time the cards were printed.

Tracking the Card

I was pretty fortunate to pick up a copy of the card recently. I’d heard about it but never bothered to try to pursue one.

But in researching it, it’s a pretty tough card, indeed. First, you’ve got some baseball collectors after it for the backstory. But beyond that, it is just a rare card in general because it comes from the much tougher Series 102 set.

How much tougher are the Series 102 cards? Well, according to PSA’s population report, almost 1,000 Series 101 cards have been graded compared to fewer than 250 Series 102 cards. In terms of the Cobb, he is not particularly rarer than any of the Series 102 cards. However, with PSA only grading nine total Cobbs to date, you get an idea of just how rare this interesting card is.

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