Obak Cards are a Set Collector’s Nightmare

The Obak cards are great — unfortunately, building an entire set is extremely challenging

T212 Obak BacksThe T212 Obak cards are probably among my favorite tobacco card issues. Produced from 1909-11, the cards have great images and really nice looking back advertisements. The imagery and the unique poses found in it, I would argue, certainly rivals any other tobacco card set out there. The backs, as shown here, also help collectors to differentiate which year their particular card is from.

Personally, I don’t have too many of them because, as a minor league set, most of the players are pretty obscure ones. But I do have the three keys to the set, including minor league cards of Buck Weaver, Chick Gandil, and some guy named Ten Million.

Now, I’d really love to pursue this set. I’m a set guy and this would be right up my alley. Even the fact that a bunch of the players are unknowns doesn’t bother me. Unfortunately, trying to complete it is a very difficult task for a few reasons.

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First, there’s the enormity of the set as a whole. With 426 total cards, it’s one of the largest pre-war sets around. It’s not quite as big as the 520 found in the T206 set, but you get the picture. While many sets topped out around 100 or 200 cards, this one far exceeded that.

Second, there’s the rarity. See, the T206 set has about 100 more cards but those cards are much easier to find. You can hop on eBay and find several examples of just about every card of the set at any given time. Obak? Not so much.

At any given time, you’re liable to find only a few hundred Obak cards on eBay as opposed to maybe 8,000-10,000 T206 cards. PSA’s population reports give us a good idea of the rarity of the two sets. They’ve graded more than 243,000 T206 cards but only about 4,000 Obaks. Simply put, the Obak cards are much harder to find.

Prices for the cards don’t help, either.

Now, to be fair, there aren’t the crazy high-dollar cards here that are found in other sets. The most expensive cards, Weaver, Million, and Gandil can run quite high if in high-grade condition. But in low-grade, all three can be bought for well under $1,000 each.

No, the problem isn’t with expensive individual cards, per se. The problem is that, combining the asking prices for them with the large amount of cards, it just gets very expensive.

Low-grade Obak cards can sell for as little as $15-$20. But sellers often don’t want to let go of them at those kinds of prices with some asking more than double that for very low-grade examples. Paying $30, $40, or $50 per card in a 50 or even 100-card set might not be too bad over time. But doing it for a set that has more than 400 cards? Do the math.

Finally, the Obak cards are not nearly as popular as T206. Why is that important?

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Because of that, even collectors that have them may be less inclined to list them for sale because the demand for them isn’t there. And collectors that understand just how rare they are do not want to roll the dice by listing them in an open auction and seeing low returns. That, like I mentioned above, can lead to high asking prices for even low-grade cards. T206 cards, by contrast, sell like hotcakes and are virtually as liquid as cash with buyers aplenty.

Dealers, too, will be less likely to carry them. Moving tough minor league sets is not the same thing as trying to convince a collector to buy a T205 or T206. Not many dealers, particularly ones that don’t specialize in pre-war, don’t want that kind of headache. And as a result, you might to go a modest show and find hardly any examples of the card to buy. There are collectors of these cards but finding dealers with large numbers of them or sellers that will willingly part with them is another thing.

Obak cards are great to collect and if you can focus on a specific team or just want to pick up a few players, those are manageable tasks. Building an entire set, however, is an entirely different story.

Now, if you’ve got your heart set on this, far be it from me to stop you. After all, complete sets have undoubtedly been built and if you’re willing to sacrifice other projects for it, over time, it can certainly be done. But for most set collectors, the challenge is simply too great.

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