Revisiting the T207’s Big Three: Lewis, Lowdermilk, and Miller
Are the T207’s ‘Big Three’ cards really the keys to the set?
The 1912 T207 Brown Background set is certainly unique. Believed to have been issued by the American Tobacco Company, it is generally the least pursued of the sets in their T205, T206, and T207 run.
There are any number of reasons for that, including a weak checklist and a funeral-like style of imagery. But fans of the set (like myself) have come to appreciate it for its differences that make it stand out from the steady stream of white border sets produced around the same time. I recently wrote about the set in Beckett Vintage Collector’s magazine and it’s one of my favorites.
The set has any number of difficult cards — another major attraction in building it. Of the basic 200 cards in the set, a total of 50 are from the rare subset containing Broadleaf/Cycle backs. Given that 1/4 of the set is comprised of those cards and has some other expensive cards, it’s not a set that is pursued by your everyday collector.
Among those 50 toughies, three have generally earned the distinction of being the toughest – cards of little-known players Irving Lewis, Louis Lowdermilk, and Ward Miller. Those cards have been long desired not for the careers of the players on them. Rather, they have generally been viewed as the rarest in the set. That has shot up their values and has helped make this already expensive set even more pricey.
The three are rare, no doubt. But are they really the rarest cards in the set?
A Closer Look at the Big Three
It should be pointed out that there can be some debate among the set’s true big three if only looking at the rarity. After all, several cards appear as rare (or perhaps even rarer) as some of these subjects.
First, let’s take a look at the rarity of the Big Three, based on the population reports. As we know, population reports aren’t always great for trying determine specific rarity of a card. However, they are helpful and as close as we have in most cases to judging rarity.
To date, here are the combined number of the Big Three’s cards that have been graded:
- Irving Lewis – 43
- Louis Lowdermilk – 44
- Ward Miller – 33
Of note, of course, is that Lewis has both a version with an emblem on his sleeve and one without. His No Emblem version is the rarer of the two but could not be fully determined as SGC’s total pops have them combined. I’ll have more on that card in a bit. Another Lewis note is that Beckett claims to have graded two Broadleaf cards of Duffy Lewis. But only Irving Lewis has the Broadleaf backs. Thus, the real number of Irving Lewis cards graded could actually be 45.
Another thing that is important to point out here is that these numbers might seem to suggest that Ward Miller’s card is the rarest. But because of the prestige given to the Lewis and Lowdermilk cards over decades, I would expect those cards to be graded more.
Big Three? More Like Big One.
Essentially all three are basically on equal footing in my estimation with one caveat — the No Emblem cards of Lewis. Those are significantly rarer than the version of Lewis’ cards with the emblem and if there’s any card that is head and shoulders in the set above the others, it’s that one.
Here’s the thing. The cards of Lowdermilk and Miller are very tough to find. But so are many of the other cards.
Again, we can’t judge this purely on population reports. These three cards, particularly the cards of Lewis and Lowdermilk, have gained a reputation as being the real tough ones in the set. And that reputation means, as I said earlier, that they will be graded more often.
Still, what we can do is compare the cards of others together. And if you do that, you see some cards that look extremely rare.
I remain shocked that a card like Mike Donlin’s does not get more credit. To date, only 25 total of his cards have been graded — far below most others in the set. I told the story before but it’s a card I just have not seen available. Like, ever. Some have surely traded hands in the last several years but they are extremely rare.
Paddy Baumann and his 27 graded cards are up there, too. Same with J.F. Bushelman (27). And Fred Blanding and his 29. Heck, those are just the B’s. You can find similar low numbers with others in the set like Ben Houser (24) and Don Ragan (24). And George Mogridge (21) appears to be a very underrated card.
In about three years of closely following the set and tracking the rarities, I would suggest that many from the rarer Broadleaf/Cycle grouping cannot be considered any rarer than others. A few have seemed quite easy to find, including the likes of a like Otto Miller. But in general, almost all are fairly tough.
In short, I believe there is one card (the Irving Lewis No Emblem version) that is head and shoulders above the rest, followed by a sizable group of very tough cards. I am not ready, for example, to declare cards like Lowdermilk definitively rarer than the others. There just isn’t much real evidence to support that other than it’s been hobby lore for so long.
There are many tough cards in the T207 set. And while it’s been suggested for a very long time that three are rarest, I’m not sure that’s necessarily true.
In fact, evidence suggests it is likely not.
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