Reprints are Cheap, Popular … but Should They Exist?
There is clearly demand for reprinted baseball cards — but should they be stopped?
Reprinted baseball cards have been around the hobby for a long time. The idea of replicating the styles of old cards dates back to at least the 50s and possibly earlier than that. Pretty soon, I’ll have a look at what was ‘kind of’ an early reprint of sorts, even if not technically one by the definition.
First things first — reprinted cards are not the same as fake/counterfeited cards. You will often hear those terms used interchangeably but they are not the same. Reprints are licensed, fully allowable reprintings of a particular card. Fake and counterfeit cards are ones that are produced illegally, often with an attempt to dupe a buyer into believing a particular card is an original. If you want more on that particular discussion, you’ll find it here.
With that straight, what about those reprints? Well, this article is not meant to debate the legality of the cards or refute their popularity. Technically, they’re 100% legal. Someone either paid money for the rights to reproduce the cards or, at the very least, obtained the necessary permission to do so. And there is undeniable demand for the cards, too. If there was not, manufacturers of reprinted cards would not go through the hassle and expense to make them. Regardless of what you personally think about reprints, they are legal and they are popular.
Rather, the question is should reprints exist?
The benefits of reprints are clear. They give collectors an opportunity to possess a copy of a valuable card that they might not otherwise own. Few collectors, after all, can afford a six-figure or seven-figure Honus Wagner T206 card. But most can afford the $5 or $10 for a reprint of one.
It’s also worth pointing out that reprints were first created in a much simpler time in card collecting. Reprints are often cited as taking off in the 1970s. But even though the hobby was really starting to gain popularity in that decade, cards were still worth only a fraction of what they are now. As I outlined here, one such article identified the Honus Wagner T206 card as the most expensive one in the hobby — at only $1,500. Today most examples cost more than a million dollars.
While that was a lot of money, I’d argue that reprints were often created to help collectors have a tough card as opposed to one that was inherently expensive. The Wagner back then was expensive but not out of reach for virtually everyone as it is today. Few just had the interest in plunking down so much money for a baseball card even if they technically had it.
However, the biggest issue with reprints is that they are often used as a way to fool buyers into thinking they are getting an original card. And while a card may have been reprinted with good intentions, these types of cards are often used for nefarious purposes.
So, which is the more important factor — that collectors be able to purchase these affordable copies or that we rid the market of them and remove the opportunity for devious sellers to profit off of unsuspecting buyers? Your personal preference is likely to weigh into your decision but I can appreciate both sides. And since reprints are here, I’ve got a few guidelines I’d suggest for them.
In the end, I am fine with the existence of reprints. One very cool thing I did was to buy a T207 reprint set and then put those cards in binder pages. I then replaced the reprints with originals as I bought them. That allowed me to see all of the cards in the set while still working towards a goal of completion. And it was a lot of fun replacing the reprinted cards with the real ones.
Other than that, I don’t really ‘do’ reprints for a variety of reasons. The biggest is based on what I collect. Part of the reason I collect pre-war cards is because I like the tangible feel of old cards. I don’t need a picture of an old card on new cardboard. It just would sort of make it less special for me.
None of that is a shot at collectors that enjoy them even in the slightest. People should 100% always collect what they enjoy and it’s not up to me to dictate what that is. They’re just not personally for me. That said, I do think all reprints need to follow some sort of guidelines.
For one thing, the word ‘Reprint’ needs to be somewhere on the card. That will not solve all problems as sellers will often remove that part of a card, creating a bit of paper los intentionally. Specifically, I have seen this done with the old National Game game cards, which were authorized for reprint and have the word ‘Reprint’ on the back. Still, savvy collectors will know to look for paper loss or wear in a particular part of a card if they know the word reprint should be there. That would be better than nothing.
Second, backs of the card should be distinguishable from a card’s real back. For example, a popular 1980s reprinted version of the Honus Wagner T206 card had a short writeup of the card’s history as opposed to the standard tobacco advertisement. That was an excellent way to deter those selling reprints as originals. That won’t solve the problem, entirely. Some people are known to attach authentic backs of cards to inauthentic card fronts in an effort to create a real looking card. But again, we’re looking for ways to combat fraud, understanding that it can’t be entirely eliminated.
Another way to distinguish reprints is by making the images intentionally grainy. The popular Dover reprints (an Eddie Plank example is shown above) did a good job of this. Any person even vaguely familiar with T206 cards would be able to distinguish those reprints from the originals. Part of that is because the image quality on them is not nearly as sharp as is found on the original cards.
Finally, all reprints should be printed on card stock that is noticeably different than the paper used to print the originals. This will irk some reprint collectors, obviously. After all, a Wagner T206 reprint would look and feel better if it was on a more basic cardboard stock as opposed to having something like a glossy finish. But I’d argue that reprinted cards should in no way, shape, or form be able to be viewed as an original card.
I’m not naive enough to think this will ‘fix’ collectors getting ripped off by reprints. I’ve got zero data to back this up offhand but it seems like there are more fakes than legitimately reprinted cards. And the fakes are clearly the bigger issue.
Still, I’d be in favor of making reprinted cards even more obvious, similar to what Topps and other major card companies have done, using them as inserts, etc. In many of those cases, the card’s dimensions are different from old time cards, also making them easy to distinguish from originals.
I think there’s a place in this hobby for reprints. Even if people like me don’t necessarily collect them, they’re so popular that they won’t be going away anytime soon. But the more that can be done to distinguish them from original cards, the better.