Taking a look at really old card prices of really old cards
One of my favorite things about the American Card Catalog is the wildly outdated pricing. Many collectors that don’t own a copy of this important book have no idea that, in addition to the categorizations of cards, it also served as a de facto price guide of sorts.
Now, the book wasn’t similar to Beckett or anything. One of the things that author Jefferson Burdick acknowledged was that it wasn’t to include things like full checklists. He felt that was better left to other researchers and books. But he did also want to give collectors an idea of the values of certain types of cards.
Burdick, as you might imagine, was reluctant in this role. While wanting to help, it was clear he didn’t want to claim to be the ‘be all end all’ in terms of pricing cards. Still, his book gave collectors an idea of what their cards might be worth and it’s interesting to look at decades later.
Here’s an idea of how popular types of cards were priced by Burdick in his 1960 publication. The prices reflected were for cards that he called in ‘Good’ condition, free of creases, stains, poor centering, or other major defects. By our standards, we’re talking cards that were in at least VG/EX condition.
T205/T206 Cards – $.10
This obviously wasn’t the price for all T206 cards. Stars would have been worth more and rarities such as the Honus Wagner T206, significantly more. But Burdick priced your good ‘ol standard T205 or T206 card at about a dime.
In addition to commons, Burdick also called out a few specific cards in the T206 set, assigning them different values. Southern Leaguers, which are rarer, were valued at a quarter. In addition, the Bill O’Hara and Ray Demmitt St. Louis variation cards were a full $1.00. He made no such clarifications for more expensive T205 cards.
Burdick didn’t make any clarifications for tougher backs in either set but that is understandable. Remember, his pricing was just of a bare bones sort to give collectors an idea of what a standard card was worth.
The pricing is a little interesting to me only because T205 cards were not as heavily printed as T206 cards. As I’ve covered before, T205s are significantly rarer than T206s. Despite that (and similar to today), Burdick did not cite any difference in price. And as we’re about to see, that price is relatively low compared to other types of cards.
1933/1934 Goudey Cards – $.20
Now, this one I found interesting. Burdick listed many cards at lower prices but assigned a somewhat healthy value of .20 to 1933 and 1934 Goudey cards. The idea that those cards, printed a good 20+ years later than the tobacco cards was unexpected for me.
Really, if nothing else, I think it speaks to the popularity of the gum cards. Not all gum cards, mind you. For example, Goudey’s 1935 cards (.15), 1936 cards (.10), and 1938 cards (.15) were all valued less than the T205s and T206s. But the 1933 Goudey cards (and to a lesser degree, the 1934s), as they are now, were just immensely popular.
The values of these cards also somewhat relates to another topic I’ve covered recently. And that’s about the 1938 Goudey set. That set began its numbering with No. 241 and was clearly a continuation of the 1933 Goudey set, despite the fact that Goudey produced several other sets in between those two years. Part of the reason for that could have been trying to get back to their glory days of the 1933 set, which was, as Burdick’s price guide seems to indicate, extremely popular with collectors, along with the 1934 issue.
One exception to the $.20 price? The shortprinted 1933 card of Nap Lajoie was valued at $1.00.
N172 Old Judge Cards – $.25
This was another one that sort of surprised me. I initially figured that these would be worth a little more. Now, Burdick did value other 1880s tobacco cards higher. N175 Gypsy Queen cards, for example, were a full $1.00 each. But these were pretty cheap at only a quarter.
The Old Judge cards, of course, are the oldest of any cards mentioned so far. From the 1880s, these cards would have been about 75 years old at the release date of this book. However, that didn’t make them super valuable, either.
Burdick’s description for this set was short. He only called them ‘small baseball players,’ likely because it was too numerous an issue to make much sense of. We’re still discovering new Old Judge cards today and this was like a very tough issue for Burdick to account for in the pre-internet days.
Keep in mind, though, that quality Old Judge cards certainly would have been more plentiful than they are today. That’s because, over time, the images have faded dramatically. In Burdick’s day, higher quality cards would have been easier to find and that might be one reason the values were relatively low. Still, I find it somewhat amusing that an Old Judge wasn’t valued at much more than a 1930s Goudey card that was nearly 50 years newer and much more common.
Again, we’re speaking to collectability here on some level. The colorful gum cards of the 1930s were just popular and, even though the Old Judge cards were much older, in Burdick’s day (at least according to him) they weren’t as desirable.
W512/W513 Strip Cards – $0.03
These cards aren’t quite as collected as tobacco or caramel issues but I wanted to include them here for some context. I was interested to see how these stacked up to other types of cards according to Burdick.
Just as strip cards are not heavily desired today by as some collectors, it was a similar case back in Burdick’s day. Strip cards, it seems, have always been sort of the redheaded step child when it comes to pre-war cards.
Burdick did assign a price to these cards but it was much lower than the other issues. Specifically, these cards were valued at only three cents while other strip issues were often in the three or four cent range. The view on strips here seems to be that they were barely cards at all. They were usually sold by vendors, printed on low-quality paper, and easy to get.
It’s interesting that the view on strip cards hasn’t really changed all that much over the years. I do think they’re more desirable now than they were before. But part of that, I believe, is because most strip issues are more affordable and collectors pursue them as they fit within their budget.
E90 American Caramel Cards – $.30/$.50
Another surprise greeted me when I checked out the prices for caramel cards. Arguably the most popular caramel cards are those in the E90 American Caramel set, so I started there.
The E90 set is made up of three subsets. The most popular of those are the E90-1 cards and Burdick valued those at a healthy $.30 a card. The E90-2 and E90-3 cards are rarer and, while only team issues (E90-2 features the Pirates while E90-3 features the Cubs), Burdick still, appropriately, valued them at even more at $.50.
Now, gum cards were priced relatively high by Burdick, so I can also see why the older candy cards would have been valuable, too. But when you compare them to tobacco cards, which are through the roof today, the caramels blow them out of the water.
That, by the way, is what you would probably expect. Caramel cards, as I’ve written, are just much rarer than most tobacco issues. But the reality is that tobacco cards are more popular today and that seems to be a complete reversal of collecting in Burdick’s day.