When it Comes to T206 Poses, Portraits are King
Collectors flock towards portraits over action shots in the popular set
The T206 is widely collected, that much is clear. Despite a large number of them still in population, prices continue to rise as demand is high.
All of the card are popular, frankly, and with many collectors pursuing sets, that helps ensure that prices have remained high across the board. But when it comes to collectors only dabbling in the set, it’s clear that premium prices are paid for portrait cards as opposed to action shots.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. If you take a look at older price guides, you’ll see that prices for them were higher than the action poses. In those old guides, some of which I reviewed prior to this article, the difference, while there, was often insignificant. But these days especially, it seems that there’s an even greater premium for the portraits.
Take, for example, this PSA 3 of Cy Young’s card with the glove showing. This is a nice-looking card but an action shot that ultimately sold for $1,000. Meanwhile, a portrait of Young in the same grade selling only about ten days earlier topped $1,500.
Or, look at this Christy Mathewson dark cap action shot (personally, my favorite card in the entire set) vs. this Matty portrait. Both are also graded a PSA 3 and were sold as straight auctions, both ending the same day. The portrait sold for more than $150 more.
That’s to say nothing of the green background Cobb portrait card, which is valued at significantly more than his other three cards, despite the fact that the level of rarity compared with those isn’t commensurate with the pricing.
I could go on and on but it’s really not necessary. Portraits, very clearly, are in more demand than action shots. But why? To me, it’s about the artwork.
Portraits vs. Action Shots
The portraits, almost to a card, are done very well. The action shots are, too — don’t get me wrong. But there are some dogs there and the portraits are just consistently better pictures.
We know that the artwork was done by different artists. And with the action shots, particularly, you can see that.
For example, look at the Mathewson white cap vs. dark cap card. The pose is the same but the dark cap is clearly a better piece of work. Mathewson just looks more like Mathewson in that picture.
The thing here is that the Mathewson white cap isn’t even terrible. I’m not personally much of a fan of it but other action shots have far more questionable imagery than that one.
Even some action shots that don’t have particularly bad artwork have obscured pictures of players or, at best, don’t require the same amount of detail required in the portraits.
Given that, there’s plenty of reason for collectors that are only chasing a few of these card to pursue the nicest-looking card … and those are generally the portraits. By comparison, the portraits just present images that are well done and give collectors a great glimpse into what these players actually looked like.
Pursuit of Subsets
Another reason the portraits could be desired more is because they are often collected as a subset.
Many collectors only pursue the portraits and when piecing together the portrait subset, the card present a more unified look in a collection as opposed to the action shots, which are generally all over the place. I’ve heard of many people collecting the portraits but don’t know of a single person collecting only the action poses. Not to say that such a collector doesn’t exist — it’s just not all that common.
The pursuit of a portraits subset really offers buyers the chance to put together a set of sorts. And while you can collect the T206 set in all kinds of ways, there’s no good way to collect an ‘action card’ subset, save for narrowing it down to something like the six horizontal cards.
Carl Horner Factor
Finally, many of the portraits were created using pictures from famous photographer Carl Horner. Here is Horner’s famous picture of Hall of Famer Honus Wagner that was used for so many of his cards, including the legendary T206 card.
While I do think that’s a lesser reason they are popular (many collectors couldn’t even tell you who Horner was or identify his work, to be honest), I do believe some pursue the portraits for that reason.
Horner’s photographs were incredible and that T206 used them as the basis for so much of the artwork makes the set that much better.