A lot of men have been known to cringe when they recall the childhood games they played with their baseball cards. One of the most popular required players to take turns tossing their cards against a wall. Bam! There goes the sharp corner of a 1955 Sandy Koufax rookie card. Ouch! That 1951 Bowman Willie Mays is never going to be the same. If your Bob Gibson landed on your friend’s Carl Yastrzemski, you got to keep the Yaz. But if his Roberto Clemente landed on your Mickey Mantle, tough luck, pal.

Unbeknownst to those kids, who kept their cards loose in shoeboxes or wrapped tightly with rubber bands, a fair number of adults were collecting many of those same baseball cards, as well as ones that dated to the end of the 19th century. Today, a lot of those cards are worth hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars, thus the cringe.

The first baseball cards were distributed in 1886 in packs of Old Judge and Gypsy Queen cigarettes, both of which were manufactured by Goodwin and Company. Measuring 1 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches, these early black-and-white cards from the late 1880s depicted players posing in front of scenic backdrops set up in the Joseph Hall Studio of Brooklyn. Other cards were reproduced in color as portraits. In all, some 2,000 Old Judge cards featuring some 700 players from the National League and American Association were produced. In 1887, Old Judge smokers got an added bonus: cards featuring the previous year’s champions, the St. Louis Browns and the New York Mets.

Other tobacco companies that used baseball cards to promote their products included Allen & Ginter, which packaged cards in packs of Virginia Bright cigarettes. D. Buchner Company offered its customers a card with each purchase of Gold Coin Chewing Tobacco, and Charles Gross & Co. published cards for two tobacco brands, Kalamazoo Bats (a small cigar) and Mayo’s Cut Plug Tobacco.

At the turn of the century, baseball cards in tobacco products fell out of favor, but in 1910, American Tobacco released its legendary line of T cards, so designated by Jefferson Burdick, a noted card enthusiast of the day. Unlike earlier cards, which were rather small, these lithographed cards measured 5 3/4 by 8 inches. The T cards featured all the famous players of the era, from Ty Cobb to John McGraw to Christy Mathewson.

Honus Wagner was also included in that first set of 561 cards, but the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop did not approve of tobacco and sued American Tobacco to stop them from using his image on their cards. Wagner won and the cards were recalled, but a few made it to market. Today only a few dozen of these cards are thought to exist, making the 1910 Honus Wagner perhaps the rarest and most expensive collectible baseball card in the world.

In 1911, one of American Tobacco’s brands, Mecca, issued double folding cards. Fifty vertical cards were issued featuring 100 players. When the card of, say, a pitcher was folded...

Ten brands of American Tobacco cigarettes issued baseball cards with gold borders between 1911 and 1912—in all, some 186 major leaguers, plus 12 players from the minors, were featured. The National League gold borders had facsimile signatures at the bottom of each card, along with a portrait of each player, his team’s name, and his team’s logo. Cards for American Leaguers had no signature but placed each player’s portrait within a scrunched baseball diamond.

Tobacco cards disappeared again in 1914; they wouldn’t resurface until the 1950s in packs of Red Man Tobacco. Candy companies such as American Caramel had been producing baseball cards since 1908, but suddenly they had the field to themselves. Some of their cards were similar to those packed with cigarettes, but others were diecut, so that the player could be made to stand up, supported on either side by flaps of paper that could be folded back for stability.

Cracker Jack cards from 1914 and 1915 are among the most collectible so-called candy cards, thanks to their hand-colored photographs, distinctive red backgrounds, and handsome graphics. Finding one in good shape is difficult, though, because the cards were packed unwrapped in the box with the caramel corn, so most cards from this era are sugar stained. Ty Cobb Cracker Jack cards are the most desirable, followed by cards depicting Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Frank Chance.

The first baseball cards packed with bubble gum came along in 1933, when the Goudy Gum Company of Boston issued its Big League Gum series. George Herman (Babe) Ruth, as he was named on the card, was part of that first series (in fact, Goudy printed four different Babe Ruth cards that year), as was Lou Gehrig. Unfortunately, the company neglected to print a card for one of the stars of the day, Napoleon Lajoie. A small number of 1933 Lajoie cards were printed in 1934, making these among the rarest cards in baseball.

Even though 1933 was the first year for Goudy cards, the ones from 1934 are often more expensive. Another highly collectible Goudy series was called Heads Up, named for the way photos of ballplayer’s heads were collaged onto cartoon bodies. Two cards were issued for each of the 24 players in this small set, including Joe DiMaggio. Goudy had a good run, but 1941 was the last year it printed baseball cards.

Other baseball-card producers from this period included National Chicle Company, whose Batter Up cards were printed from 1934 to 1936, and Tattoo Orbit Gum (a division of Wrigley), whose 1933 set included silhouetted photos of players like Dizzy Dean and Pepper Martin against yellow-and-red stylized stadium backgrounds. Gum Inc,’s Play Ball Sports Hall of Fame set from 1941 is also notable because that was the last year gum cards were produced (World War II had created severe paper shortages). Gum Inc. would become Bowman, a major baseball-card producer in the early 1950s.

Bowman got a jump on the competition in 1948, when it released 48 black-and-white cards—each sold for a penny with a single stick of gum. That same year, Leaf Gum Company of Chicago launched a color set, whose graphics bear a more-than-passing resemblance to the famous Shepard Fairey campaign poster for Barack Obama. Naturally Bowman didn’t like the idea of a competitor, so, after some legal wrangling, Leaf dropped out of the card business. For one full year Bowman had the baseball-card world to itself but in 1951 a tougher competitor arrived on the scene, Topps.

The upstart Topps Chewing Gum Company of Brooklyn was seemingly unfazed by its more seasoned rival. Bowman published 324 cards in 1951 (including rookie cards for Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle), to which Topps responded with no less than five sets of cards—a pair of 52-card sets, a pair of diecut sets featuring past and present All Stars, and a nine-card set of teams. Today the 1951 Topps All Stars, especially the ones of the former players, collectively known as the Connie Mack All Stars, are highly collectible.

Topps issued 407 cards in 1952 and increased the size of its cards. Cards from this year include Bob Feller, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Jackie Robinson, and Roy Campanella. Rival Bowman tried its best to keep up, and some consider its cards from 1953 to be the best-looking cards produced by any card company after World War II. In 1954, Bowman issued its so-called "television set" cards, named for the border on the outside of the cards, but the end was at hand. In 1956, Topps bought its venerable rival.

Fleer tentatively entered the fray in 1959, with the first of four small sets of Hall of Famers. In 1963, when it sold its first series of cards featuring contemporary players, Fleer attempted to avoid the scrutiny of Topps lawyers by advertising the gum in its packaging as a "cookie." The ruse didn’t work, Fleer was forced out of the business, and Topps was able to maintain a card-gum monopoly until 1981.

One of the most sought-after cards from that 1963 Fleer set features Maury Wills. Even though Wills had been with the Dodgers since 1959, he felt he’d been dissed by Topps early in his career, so he did not grant Topps the rights to use his likeness until 1967. This helped Fleer in 1963 because the year before, 1962, Wills had stolen 104 bases and had been named the National League’s Most Valuable Player. You wanted a Wills card? Fleer was the only company that had it. Also collectible from that set is the checklist card, which many kids simply threw away.

Three other Topps cards from the 1960s deserve special mention. First up, Pete Rose’s rookie card from 1963, which features the faces of Charlie Hustle and three other players on a card labeled "1963 Rookie Stars." Then there’s the 1967 Roger Maris New York Yankees card. Maris was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals before the start of the season, but some cards managed to find their way into the hands of a few dealers. Topps made a Maris Cardinals card right away, but the ones of the slugger in a Yankees uniform are worth about 500 times as much.

Finally, in 1968, Topps decided to shake up the staid look of its cards by producing a 3-D series. Only a dozen cards were in the set, and the cost of producing them was high, so very few sets were printed. Players in the set included Curt Flood and Boog Powell, as well as Mel Stottlemyre, Tony Perez, and Rusty Staub. But the crown jewel of the set was, and is, the Roberto Clemente card, which routinely sells at auction for tens of thousands of dollars.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Old Cardboard

Old Cardboard

Check out this well-organized collection of 500 sets of baseball cards, each over 50 years old. Browsable by type a… [read review or visit site]

Non Sports Cards: Tobacco, Gum and Candy

Non Sports Cards: Tobacco, Gum and Candy

Tom Boblitt moderates this extremely deep, collaborative site dedicated to non-sports cards (tobacco, gum and candy… [read review or visit site]

The Baseball Card Blog

The Baseball Card Blog

Ben Henry's lively vintage baseball card blog, started in January 2006, offers hundreds of great posts on (and pict… [read review or visit site]

Cardboard Junkie

Cardboard Junkie

Dave Campbell's in-depth blog on old baseball (and some football) cards lives up to it's motto: 'do cards, not drug… [read review or visit site]

Baseball Cards 1887-1914

Baseball Cards 1887-1914

Roll up your socks for this Library of Congress collection showcasing hundreds of players on colorful early basebal… [read review or visit site]

Baseball Hall of Fame

Baseball Hall of Fame

A home run for baseball collectors, this site features special online exhibits, ranging from a baseball-uniforms da… [read review or visit site]

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1990 Topps Frank Thomas Rookie Rc, Error No Name #414 Psa 8 Nm-mt (pwcc)1975 Topps George Brett Rookie Rc #228 Psa 9 Mint (pwcc)1978 Topps #36 Eddie Murray Orioles Rc Rookie Hof Psa 10 Gem Mint " Flawless "1915 Cracker Jack #88 Christy Mathewson Ny *lopop Psa 81975 Topps Ultra Hi-grade Complete Psa Set Aaron Ryan Rose Yount Brett Rc (pwcc)1963 Topps #537 Pete Rose Cincinnati Reds Rc Rookie Psa 8 Nm-mt " High End "1957 Topps #95 Mickey Mantle Psa 8 Nm-mt "centered"1974 Topps Mike Schmidt #283 Psa 10 Gem Mint (pwcc)2015 Panini Immaculate Colletion Babe Ruth & Lou Gehrig Patch 3/3 #2 (pwcc)1956 Topps Baseball Set Complete All Psa Graded Minus Mantle1954 Topps #128 Henry Hank Aaron Milwaukee Braves Rc Rookie Hof Psa 2 Good2004 Sp Legendary Cuts Ted Williams Cut Autograph Auto #/28 Psa 82013 Bowman Chrome Bgs 9.5 10 Carlos Correa Auto Autograph Rookie Rc Astros Stud1985 Topps Tiffany Factory Sealed Complete Set Clemens Puckett Gooden Rc (pwcc)1972 Topps Hi-grade Complete Set Mays Rose Bench Clemente Aaron Fisk Rc (pwcc)2010 Bowman Chrome Gold Refractor Manny Machado Rc Rookie Auto 20/50 Bgs 9.51985 Topps Tiffany Kirby Puckett Rookie Rc #536 Psa 10 Gem Mint (pwcc)1956 T Hank Aaron #31 Psa 9 Mint Pop. 1/3 Gray Back!! Hof'er None Graded Higher!1993 Finest Refractor Ken Griffey Jr. All-star #110 Psa 9 Mint (pwcc)2009 Bowman Chrome Mike Trout Refractor Draft Prospect Auto /500 - No Reserve! 1999 Ud Legends Ted Williams Auto /100 Century Epic Signatures Sp Autograph Gold2007 Ultimate Collection Materials Derek Jeter Auto Patch /10 Bgs 9.5 Gem (pwcc)2004 Leaf Limited Babe Ruth Game Used Jersey 14/252012 Topps Tier One Ty Cobb Tigers Hof Bat Knob Barrel 1/1 Bgs 9 W/ (3) 9.5`s1975 Topps Nolan Ryan #500 Psa 9 Mint (pwcc)2013 Kris Bryant Bowman Chrome Gold Refractor Rc Auto #25/50 Bgs 9.51980 Wbtv Charlotte O's Cal Ripken Jr. Rookie Rc #16 Psa 7 Nrmt (pwcc)1985 Topps Tiffany Factory Sealed Complete Set Clemens Puckett Gooden Rc (pwcc)1978 Topps Rack Box, 24ct Packs, Molitor Trammell Murray Rc? Bbce Auth (pwcc)2011 Bryce Harper Bowman Chrome Auto Rookie Refractor 500/500 Bgs 10 *pristine*Bgs 10 Kris Bryant 2015 Topps Chrome Orange Refractor Rookie Auto Card #8/251987 Auburn Tigers Great Frank Thomas Rookie Rc Psa 10 Gem Mint (pwcc)Carlos Correa 2013 Bowman Chrome Rc Blue Refractor Auto Sp #/150 Bgs 9.5 Gem 102015 Topps Chrome Black Printing Plate Dual Auto Mike Trout Clayton Kershaw 1/12013 Bowman Sterling Bgs 9.5 Carlos Correa #/99 Ruby Refractor Auto Rc Autograph1975 Topps Mini Wax Box, 36ct Wax Packs, Yount George Brett Rc? Bbce Auth (pwcc)1948 Bowman Stan Musial Psa 7 Rc Cardinals HofBgs 9.5/10 Gem Mint Carlos Correa 2013 Bowman Chrome Auto Rc1955 Topps #123 Sandy Koufax Rc Brooklyn Dodgers2015 Bowman Chrome Michael Conforto Auto Bgs 10 10 2014 Draft Pristine RcMike Trout Bgs 9 Mint 09 Bowman Chrome Auto Rc Rookie Hi Subs Mvp 10au Sp Gem1960 Topps #350 Mickey Mantle Psa 8 Nm-mt2008 Bowman Chrome Gold Refractor Buster Posey Rc Rookie Auto 42/50 Bgs 8.51996 Kirby Puckett Leaf Authentic Signature Autographed Card. Beautiful Auto!!1989 Fleer Bill Ripken Rookie Rc, White Out Vulgarity #616 Psa 10 Gem Mt (pwcc)1993 Finest Refractor Nolan Ryan All-star #107 Psa 9 Mint (pwcc)1972 Topps Hi-grade Complete Set Jackson Bench Rose Ryan Clemente Mays (pwcc)2009 Bowman Sterling Mike Trout Refractor Rc Auto Autograph /199Mickey Mantle 2001 Sp Legendary Cuts #c-mm Cut Signature Auto #8/8 Psa Nm-mt 81989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Rc #1 Psa 10 Gem Mint (pwcc)2013 Bowman Chrome Carlos Correa Gold Refractor Auto Bgs 9.5/10au Gem Mint!1965 Topps #350 Mickey Mantle Psa 8 Nicely Centered *gb00661977 Topps Pete Rose #450 Psa 10 Gem Mint (pwcc)1954 Topps #128 Henry Hank Aaron Milwaukee Braves Rc Rookie Hof Psa 4 Vg-ex 2013 Bowman Chrome Superfractor Corey Seager Los Angeles Dodgers Rc Rookie 1/11968 Topps #177 Nolan Ryan Rookie Psa 6 50/50 Blazer! Ny Mets Psa6. Nm-mt Rc1993 Finest Refractor Greg Maddux All-star #85 Psa 10 Gem Mint (pwcc)2011 Bowman Chrome Mike Trout Blue Refractor Rookie Card Rc #d /150E95 1909 Philadelphia Caramels-ed Cicotte, Boston Red Sox, (r) Sgc 50/4 CenteredKyle Schwarber 2014 Bowman Chrome 89 Is Back Black Refractor Auto #04/25 C5162

Recent News: Baseball Cards

Source: Google News

Police In Paducah Ready To Unveil Officer Baseball Cards
LEX18 Lexington KY News, October 10th

In the past, the baseball cards were used as a way to encourage the community to get to know PPD's officers, said Gretchen Morgan, the department's community resource officer. The cards gave people a reason to approach officers, chat with them and ask ...Read more

Baseball: Cards' John Lackey shuts down Cubs in NLDS opener
NorthJersey.com, October 9th

Baseball: Cards' John Lackey shuts down Cubs in NLDS opener. October 10, 2015 Last updated: Saturday, October 10, 2015, 1:21 AM. By R.B. FALLSTROM. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS |. The Record. Print. Cards starter John Lackey keeps the Cubs ...Read more

Paducah Police Department Reintroduces Officer Baseball Cards
WKMS, October 6th

They may not hold the same value as your ultra-rare 1952 Mickey Mantle, but the Paducah Police Department's bringing back its officer baseball card program. The first run launched in the nineties before a round of budget cuts. Following a brief...Read more

Paducah police ready to unveil officer baseball cards
Hopkinsville Kentucky New Era, October 5th

Paducah police ready to unveil officer baseball cards. By Kat Russell, The Paducah Sun; Updated Oct 6, 2015; 0. PADUCAH, Ky. — Get ready to start collecting and trading because the Paducah Police Department has teamed up with Head Start to bring back ...Read more

How I Missed The Mark On Today's Baseball Card Investment Boom
Forbes, October 5th

In a recent post I took a break from my unpbeat coverage of the bullish market in baseball cards and memorabilia to step back, play the devil's advocate, and give the bears their day. My column provoked more reaction than any other I have written for...Read more

Iconic Photographers Posed for These Baseball Cards in 1974
PetaPixel (blog), September 18th

Back in 1974, photographer Mike Mandel traveled across the United States and photographed 134 top photographers and curators as baseball players. Mandel then used those portraits to create Baseball-Photographer Trading Cards, an unusual set of ...Read more

Is The Baseball Card & Memorabilia Market Still Bullish?
Forbes, September 17th

The speculative frenzy of buying and selling baseball cards and memorabilia made Gutterman nervous. “It's akin to day trading or gambling,” he said. “There are more dealers trading with each other than collectors.” I, too, noticed a lot of dealers...Read more

You can get a Pope Francis rookie baseball card, but you have to watch the ...
Washington Post, September 16th

The Philadelphia Phillies are going all in on Pope Francis's visit to the United States. There's only one place to get a @Pontifex Rookie Baseball Card! Tomorrow at CBP. http://t.co/MBQXHTWpv5 pic.twitter.com/ObdXJD0p1F. — Phillies (@Phillies...Read more