The T206 Set Has Everything … Almost
The Monster is nearly perfect but could use a few more things
The famed T206 set is, as I’ve said on many occasions, the best baseball card set of all time. There are a number of reasons that I believe that and while some post-war collectors might not agree, nothing else tops it in my mind.
I thought about a different title for this along the lines of ‘Fixing T206.’ But let’s be clear — the set doesn’t need fixing. Not by me, not by anyone. That would be like writing a garbage article trying to break down fixes for Michael Jordan’s game. The T206 set is a great one and doesn’t need my help.
But for as iconic as the set is, a few things could have made it even better.
A Few More Players
Now, the last thing the T206 set needs is more cards. With 524 (or however you may want to personally count) of them, there are plenty already. But while the set has most of the key players of the era, it’s missing a few.
Most notably is probably Shoeless Joe Jackson. Now, at the time the set was being produced, Jackson was only just getting started as a player. But he is found in other sets from the same time period, including the 1909-11 E90-1 American Caramel set and the 1910 T210 Old Mill Minor League set. It would have been great if he made his way into here as well, though truthfully, it also would have made the set more expensive.
Sticking with the Black Sox theme, another notable missing is Buck Weaver. Weaver is a tougher add since he hadn’t even reached the majors yet. But he was a minor leaguer and the set included those. A minor league card of Weaver would have been great.
And as I wrote here, Connie Mack and Smoky Joe Wood would have been nice additions, too.
A Non-Shortprinted Honus Wagner
Now, Wagner is in the set, of course. His card is, pound for pound, the most expensive one in the entire hobby.
The problem is that the card is unattainable to 99.9% of collectors. With even low-grade examples well into six figures, the card has been out of reach to almost everyone for quite some time now.
And here’s the thing — Wagner was far too important of a player to have only one card (a shortprinted one, at that) in the set. Ty Cobb has four cards. Christy Mathewson has three. Cy Young has three. Many other players have multiple cards and Hal Chase even has five (the most of any player in the set).
A player of Wagner’s caliber not only should have a card that wasn’t shortprinted but should probably have a few cards in total.
For now, though, I’d be willing to settle for only one Wagner. Part of the prestige of the Wagner card is because he was such a great player. But it’s also a downright shame that the card of such a great player simply can’t be collected because it wasn’t really supposed to exist.
A Distinguishable Front Design
While the backs of the T206 cards are varied and include all kinds of great advertisements, the fronts are not quite as unique.
Now, hear me out. The actual design of the card is pretty appealing to me. Very appealing, actually. It’s basic and I’m a big fan of what it looks like. The style is your classic cigarette card look and there’s absolutely nothing inherently wrong with that. However, what we can deduce is that it isn’t different from many other similar sets of the same era.
See, many sets used the exact same layout. White borders, name and team at the bottom. Not even just cards here. Most of the international sets from the UK produced in the 1920s and 1930s.
The T206 set, from that vantage point, doesn’t stick out from other tobacco and candy sets. Sets like the T205 (gold borders), T207 (brown background), T210 Old Mill (red borders), T211 Red Sun (olive borders), for example, all had distinguishing traits that made them different from others.
And while T206’s frontal design is perfectly fine, it doesn’t really have that.
The T206 set has risen steadily in value over the years and is getting more and more expensive. That’s, in part, due to the popularity of more collectors pursuing it.
But while the cards are becoming less affordable, the set is really not that rare. At least not compared to other American Tobacco Company sets like T205 and T207. As I’ve pointed out before, rarity is not the only driver in a card’s value and there is, perhaps, no better example of that than T206 where cards are not difficult to find.
Part of that is because there are so many cards in the set. After all, a card with 500 cards in it is often going to have more cards available than one with, say 25 cards from the same era. And let’s be clear. The cards are rare compared to more modern post-war vintage Topps sets. Even the early, famed 1952 Topps set, for example, has significantly fewer cards in the set, is less apt to be graded (since the cards are not worth as much), and still has more cards graded by PSA. Comparing it to other pre-war sets, however, T206 is not very rare at all.
Demand has still somehow managed to keep up with the large population. But if the cards were tougher to come by, the set would be even more special.
One final note on the rarity factor that could easily get overlooked. The T206 set, as we know from old newspaper articles, was incredibly popular. Part of that was because of its mass printing. If the set wasn’t printed in the large quantities as it was, perhaps it wouldn’t have grown to the mythical portions it has. After all, plenty of other rarer sets can’t come anywhere close to the prestige that the T206 set has.
The Stats and Bios Footnote
I’m sure many people are wondering why I haven’t yet mentioned statistics and biographies. After all, those are two typical staples for modern baseball cards.
In the case of T206, though, I don’t need them.
Don’t get me wrong. In a perfect world, stats and bios are almost always an essential in baseball cards. But with the varied back advertisements in T206, there’s simply no room for that. The many different backs are one of the things that make the set special and I’d much rather have those than a canned statement about a player ‘enjoying a successful season’ or his batting average.
Now, T205 tried to solve this by offering both of those elements along with the back advertisement. But the ad is crammed all the way at the bottom and the ads are just really lackluster by comparison. You do that to T206 and it just wouldn’t be as special, in my opinion.
It sounds strange but I’ll pass on the bios and stats in the case of T206.