Back stamps have added to the intrigue of the T206 baseball card for years
The T206 set is the most famous baseball card set of all time. But while it’s popular for its artwork on the front, its backs have also drawn a lot of notice from collectors.
As the cards were distributed with various American Tobacco Company products, they include back advertisements for those specific brands. In a separate article last year, I ranked my favorite back designs.
But even beyond the advertisements, the backs have intrigued collectors. That’s because some of them are found with curious stamps that have been added by collectors over the years. Most of the stamps found on them are from collectors that placed them there many years ago when the cards didn’t hold much value.
Interestingly enough, the addition of the stamps has not hurt most of the cards much as you might think it would. For one thing, they are often found on lower grade cards. While technically a flaw, many collectors have found them to be appealing and will even pay more for these types of cards. A stamp found on a card that is otherwise in very good condition, of course, is generally not going to be ideal. But in the case of lower-grade cards, the presence of the stamps really isn’t harming anything.
Collector Andy Huntoon created the Great T206 Back Stamp Project website where he has attempted to catalog as many of these unique stamps as possible. If you’ve never been there, it’s worth checking out. To date, he has cataloged more than 30 different stamps. Andy has graciously supplied the images for this article.
Here’s a look at some of the various types of stamps you’ll find on T206 cards. It is worth pointing out that several of these are also found on other types of pre-war cards, too.
Names and Initials
Among the most common types of stamps found are those with names of collectors. Collectors enjoyed marking their cards with their stamps to indicate they belonged to them. The reasons they did that likely varied but today, you’ll find cards with a variety of these types of stamps. Some are only initials, others are full names, and others still include names and addresses.
While there are a bunch of different ones, a few are noteworthy and should be mentioned. One of the more valuable ones include a stamp of Jefferson Burdick, the author of the American Card Catalog. Burdick is arguably the most famous collector of all time and his categorization methods to classify cards are still used to this day. Burdick-stamped cards typically include a premium over what the card would be worth without his stamp on it. Burdick had a few stamps, some that said ‘Jeff B.’ (shown here on left) and others with his name of ‘Jeff Burdick.’ Having a card that was once owned by the person often viewed as the father of card collecting is a really cool thing.
Another popular stamp featuring a decorative ‘F’ has also caused a stir. These cards are believed by some to have been owned by noted writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. That opinion, however, is not held by everyone. But while it isn’t conclusive if the cards have been definitively owned by him, they have also sold for a premium. One is shown here on the right.
Even some lesser-known name stamps have gained notoriety. In particular, one collector named Ed McCollum pursues cards that have been stamped by an old collector named Howe McCormick. As of 2016, McCollum had found nearly 300 cards stamped by McCormick.
In addition to the names of individuals, several other stamps include the names of businesses. Those are, in general, less common.
Another popular type of stamped T206 cards are those that feature various star shapes.
Some of these are solid, traditional looking stars with five points. Others are a little more complex. But stars are certainly one of the more common types of back stamps when it comes to symbols.
Just as different types can be seen, there are also different sizes of them and different ink colors as well. Purple, however, is the most commonly seen.
What a star was supposed to accomplish is really anybody’s guess. Perhaps they were a way to identify a certain collector’s cards but as the symbol could be used by anyone a means of identification may not have been the true motive. These cards, like others that featured basic symbols, may have simply been stamped out of boredom or even as a means to test a stamp’s effectiveness.
Pictured here are a few examples of these types of back stamps.
The Toy Town stamps have been a source of confusion for collectors for many years. But as I covered here in a separate article, they’re really not quite as mysterious as they seem.
The stamps were previously believed to be the work of a business, similar to how some companies stamped their name on early caramel cards, distributing them as their own (i.e. the Henry A. Johnson cards). However, that was determined to be false.
In actuality, the stamps were from an old game called the Toy Town Post Office. The game was produced by Milton Bradley (advertised as only Bradley’s, at the time) and included the rubber stamp as well as faux postcards, telegrams, and postal supplies. It was for a make believe post office game where children could stamp letters and postcards.
Some collectors, for whatever reason, used the Toy Town stamps on the backs of these cards. I have seen the Toy Town stamps more frequently on candy cards, which makes sense as those were marketed directly to children, as opposed to the tobacco cards. However, several T206 cards have been stamped with them, too. While these once sold for a premium, that is not really the case anymore.
While names and stars are very common in back stamps, there are plenty of other types of symbols, too.
One of the more common ones is one with a pointing finger. As with the stars, a few different sizes and types are known.
In addition to those, there are a few others that have been spotted as well with various images. A few of those have included pictures of things such as police officers, carriages, angels, and castles, according to Andy’s site.
Finally, in addition to the stamped images of objects, backs were also used for other things, such as transfers. Like some of the images, things like transfers were probably added more out of fun than any sort of identifying mark for a person’s specific collection.
What about the rarity for these particular stamps? Well, I have seen and owned some of the cards with a pointing finger on them. Those are the ones I have come across the most and I am convinced they are among the more common ones seen. On the others, though, it’s too hard to tell. I haven’t personally owned any of those and haven’t seen them in person, either.
Values for these stamps really fluctuate. While some, like the Burdick and F. Scott Fitzgerald cards certainly sell for more money, others don’t typically have large premiums associated with them.
The back stamps are often seen on lower-grade cards and certainly don’t hurt the price. But most don’t sell for a ton more, either. A few with interesting stamps or ones that are collected by others (i.e. the McCormick cards) will usually sell for a premium. But the majority with less interesting symbols and initials won’t typically sell for big bucks. Small premium? Sure. But few dramatically add to the price of a card.