Comparing Ty Cobb’s 1907 Dietsche Postcard ‘Rookies’

Baseball cards of the legendary Ty Cobb are on fire these days and Cobb’s 1907 Dietsche postcards are no exception.

The Dietsche postcards, if you’re unfamiliar with them, were Detroit Tigers team sets issued from 1907 through 1909. A set for the Chicago Cubs was also issued in 1907, likely as a World Series issue since those two teams met in the event that year. But these are primarily seen as a Tigers issue.

Ty Cobb Postcards — Batting and Fielding Variations

While there are several stars in the sets, the key cards are, without a doubt, Cobb’s 1907 cards. Cobb is also found in the 1908 set but, even though those cards are rarer, his 1907 cards are the ones that are desired more as some collectors consider those to be Cobb’s rookie cards.

Are these really true rookie cards? It depends who you ask and those with one of them in their possession will almost certainly conclude that they are. I’m not sure I’m personally in that camp simply because a postcard isn’t a baseball card. It’s a postcard designed to send a message through the mail. But hey, you could almost make the same argument for things like cigarette cards, which were initially used as stiffeners for cigarette packages. Plenty of collectors do consider these to be Cobb ‘rookies’ and whichever way you lean, the cards are popular — rookie cards or not.

There are two of them in the set but the two are not equals by any means.

One is probably the one you’ve seen the most — it’s a batting pose. The other is much rarer, featuring Cobb as a fielder instead. While we don’t have exact surviving populations, of course, PSA’s population report makes it pretty clear that the fielding card is a much tougher find. While PSA has graded more than 60 of the batting cards, they’ve graded only 12 fielding cards at the time of this article. Both have identical backs, using the same layout and even the same biography.

That difference is seen in the prices, too. Low-grade batting postcards of Cobb have, like most Cobb cards, shot up in value in the last couple of years. Today, those low-grade cards start around $2,500-$3,000 as a floor. But the fielding card is harder to price, simply because it is not sold nearly as much. One does pop up every now and then for sale. Love of the Game Auctions, for example, sold a modest PSA 2 for 18,000 last year.

Are Both Part of the Set?

The reason the fielding pose was apparently shortprinted isn’t clear. The linked LOTG writeup theorizes that the fielding card was initially printed then ‘replaced’ with the batting card. That seems quite possible and, more than 100 years later, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to confirm or deny that theory. The question I’ve had is why would they change pictures in the middle of production? Did someone not like the fielding pose? Did they not have legal right to use that image? One could think of numerous things that would have made the replacement necessary.

But I’ve also got another thought.

Curiously, the long held belief is that there are the two Cobb cards in the set. But maybe one was printed as a standalone instead. After all, if there was a player that Dietsche was going to feature individually, it would probably have been Cobb, who was the team’s new attraction and seen as the best player in baseball.

Now, think of the time they were printed. By the end of 1907, Cobb was a major star. He batted .316 the year before and, in 1907, he led the league in hits, RBI, batting average, stolen bases, OPS, slugging percentage, and total bases. He was a machine. And this card, as we know from the writeup on the back was printed near the end of the season as his biography indicates that he was ‘almost sure of leading the American League in batting for the season of 1907.’

We know that the other 1907 postcards were almost certainly printed near or at the end of the season since they were World Series sets with both the Tigers and Cubs being printed by Dietsche. And by the end of the season, there was arguably no bigger star than Cobb, who had dominated as an offensive star. Having a card individually for him and then including him in a team set would have made a lot of sense.

A reasonable counter to that argument, I suppose, would be that both fit the same format as the others. However, that’s hardly a concern. Look at the lithographs/same formats that were ultimately used in numerous tobacco card or candy card sets. Layouts and even pictures were reused over and over in different sets. Creating one card aside from the others here with the same exact format would not be unheard of.

If There is a Standalone Cobb, Which is it?

Let me be clear — there’s no definitive proof that one of these cards was a standalone issue. But if one was indeed separate from the rest of the set, which one of the two cards is it?

If I were to guess, I’d lean towards the idea that the fielding card was the standalone issue. That’s because it simply isn’t in line with the PSA grading population with the rest of the cards in the set.

We know that collectors grade the cards of stars much more than they grade commons, simply because the stars are worth more. As stated, there are 12 graded Cobb fielding cards. But even many of the commons in the set have been graded more times. The Cobb card would certainly be graded much more and that’s what we see with the batting card, which has been graded 64 times. That is much more in line with a grading population you would expect to see for this card. If one of these was a standalone card, I think it would be the fielding pose.

Either way, these are two great cards that are even more in the spotlight with pre-war prices climbing fast.

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