Anyone who knows anything about baseball cards knows that the Honus Wagner T206 card is the most valued in the hobby. It has, on more than one occasion, fetched as much as $1 million at auction.
But there is another card from that set that’s also sought after by collectors, and it depicts the greatest player of that era. The greatest ballplayer of the deadball era, the greatest player in Tigers history. Possibly the greatest player in the history of baseball.
Unlike Honus Wagner, who was upset that his image was used in a card set that was sold with tobacco, Ty Cobb had no such reservations. His T206 card, which was issued in 1909 with the first of the cards by the American Tobacco Company, was one of the most popular at the time. Already in 1909, though he was just 22 years old, Cobb was a two-time batting champion, an exciting baserunner, and the star player on the best team in the American League.
While Wagner’s card became scarce because he pressured American Tobacco Company to remove it from their products, Cobb’s was unusual because it had several variations. While the front of the card showed a youthful Cobb with his collar turned up in typical fashion, the reverse of the card had as many as five different designs. Some of the Cobb cards actually had a different player’s name on the back, in what would be known as an “error card”. But the rarest card, ironically, was the card that had Ty’s name on the reverse branded under the name Ty Cobb Tobacco. During the three-year run of the T206 cards, from 1909 to 1911, there were fewer Cobb cards printed under this brand than any other type. No one is really sure how many were printed and sold (most of them in the deep south).
For decades, only 12 examples of the Ty Cobb card with a Ty Cobb back were known to exist. Then, in what was in the card collecting hobby like the discovery of plutonium, a man found five nearly perfect specimens of the Ty Cobb with a Ty Cobb pack in Georgia, nearly in Cobb’s pown back yard. The cards sold for more than $25,000 a piece. Not Wagner territory, but still a pretty price for a piece of csrdboard that could have been had for a few pennies in the years before the Titianic went down.
The man who found the rare Ty Cobb cards located them in an old photo book that belonged to his grandfather, a man known for his taste for tobacco. Maybe there’s someone in your family who was known for smoking a pipe or chewing some “tobacky”? If so, you may want to revisit those dusty trunks in the attic to see if you’ll find the Georgia Peach staring at you from a scrapbook.