T206 Hustler Back Documented in Early Card Cataloging

A rare back advertisement for Hustler Little Cigars was once believed to exist for T206 baseball cards

T206 512 Cy YoungThere are all sorts of advertisement backs on T206 cards. But while we typically add to checklists as time goes on, there actually fewer different back advertisements for the popular set than was originally believed.

The T206 set, if you’re unfamiliar with it, consists of 524 cards (or thereabouts, depending on your own personal viewpoint). But that’s only the number of different card fronts. There are many different backs for the cards and that means that a master set of them actually contains thousands of cards.

Today, other than cards with blank backs (which are generally believed to be errors and not issued cards) and the rare Ty Cobb Tobacco brand advertisements, known advertisements found on the backs of T206 cards are the following:

  • American Beauty
  • Broadleaf
  • Carolina Brights
  • Cycle
  • Drum
  • El Principe de Gales
  • Hindu
  • Lenox
  • Old Mill
  • Piedmont
  • Polar Bear
  • Sovereign
  • Sweet Caporal
  • Tolstoi
  • Uzit

But one name not on that list is for a brand of cigars called Hustler. Once upon a time, however, that was listed as a T206 back.

The Hustler Backs

T59 Flags of All Nations Hustler Back

Early cataloging of baseball cards was tough. These days, we’ve got the advantage of the internet, email communication, and even more importantly, all of the past research work that’s already been done. But in ‘the old days,’ collectors were the ones that had to lay the ground work for identifying what was out there. Simply put, it wasn’t easy work — especially with no internet and it being much harder to communicate with collectors that weren’t in their own backyard.

Early T206 lists identified Hustler backs as those being found on cards. Now, Hustler was a real brand found on other tobacco cards. Specifically, they were printed on the backs of T59 Flags of All Nations cards. One of those backs is shown here.

These days, however, those backs are not believed to on T206 baseball cards, despite early cataloging efforts mentioning them. Not a single T206 card has been confirmed in recent memory and while rumors of them have been discussed for years, one has not been brought to the spotlight where enough people have seen one to confirm their existence.

Some have theorized that a T206 card could have simply been rebacked with one of these cards. Rebacking, of course, is the process of removing a back from one card and attaching it to the front of another card. I don’t want to get too off track here, but this is done for all sorts of reasons, including to create forgeries of card combinations that do not exist (thus making for a very valuable card). Rebacking is also quite common with the N172 Old Judge cards since those cards were merely pictures attached to blank pieces of cardboard anyway. The rebacking allows collectors to ‘fix’ an Old Judge card that may have a less desirable back, such as paper loss on the back that may have occurred from removing the card from a scrapbook. Another topic for another time.

But rebacking here is unlikely for a couple of reasons. First, these backs have a mention of the Flags of All Nations series and that obviously doesn’t match up to a baseball player. Second, the T59 Flags of All Nations cards are considerably wider than T206 cards. A complete Hustler back from one of those cards simply would not fit on a T206 card.

The Origins and … Possibilities

So where did the idea of a Hustler-backed T206 come from?

A collector recently reached out to me on Twitter and showed me an older list from the early 1970s that mentioned T206 backs believed to exist at that time. The Hustler back was in that list but the idea of those cards was around for much longer than that.

Collector and operator of Net54, Leon Luckey, posted a picture of an old checklist book on his site in 2018. The book includes a section of text that dates the reference of Hustler-backed T206 cards to May of 1938. A collector named Howard Myers is mentioned as the originator of the checklist of assorted T206 backs, which included a mention of Hustler as one of the advertisements found.

T206 028 BeckerHow he came to that conclusion, however, is unknown. It is possible that he legitimately did see a T206 card with a Hustler back. Or maybe he was told by another collector (in error) that one existed. Possibly, he was simply mistaken and made a mistake. Whatever the reason, that is the oldest reference to it that I have seen.

So, what do I think? Could Hustler-backed T206 cards exist? I think it’s possible with one large disclaimer.

First, I do not believe T206 cards were issued with Hustler cigar packages and the reason for that is simple — we cannot find even a single known copy to exist today. Some T206 backs like Drum and Uzit are exceedingly rare. However, even in those cases, we’ve seen many examples of them to be able to confirm their existence. Even if the Hustler backs were quite rare, we’d certainly have seen at least some of them by now.

So why do I say they could exist? Because we’ve seen all kinds of scrap cards with miscut backs and even wrong backs from other sets. It’s possible that a sheet or two of T206 cards was printed intentionally or by mistake with the Hustler backs. Or, perhaps the cards were slated to be printed with those backs and some test cards were printed before the idea was scrapped.

We’ve all seen enough oddball types of cards out there to rule this sort of thing out. And if any Hustler T206 cards are out there, my guess is that they are scraps or ‘errors’ — I do not believe they were ever printed and distributed in packages of their products.

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