There is a myth in baseball that Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was the first African American to set foot on a Major League field. In fact, African Americans played in the Majors in the late 19th century until an unofficial ban by league owners was given political cover by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which championed a curious principle known as separate-but-equal. Still, the myth does have a factual basis—Robinson was the first African American to play in the Major Leagues in fifty years, and he did so bravely in Jim Crow America.

Because of Robinson’s significance as both a baseball star and a racial pioneer, his vintage artifacts are doubly collectible.

After excelling at Pasadena Junior College and UCLA in four sports, Robinson served in the U.S. Army during World War II before being signed by the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues in 1945. He would not be in the Negro Leagues for long, however, as Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey decided Robinson was the perfect candidate to be the first player to jump from the Negro Leagues to Major League Baseball.

Collectibles from Robinson’s brief stint in the Negro Leagues are almost impossible to find outside of photographs, which are prized by avid collectors.

After a year in the Minors, Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Even though he made an immediate impact in the Majors—he was the National League's Rookie of the Year—there is no mainstream Robinson baseball card from 1947. Fortunately Bond Bread, which had an endorsement deal with Robinson, printed a 13-card set—all of Robinson—that year. The fronts of these cards show Robinson hitting, running, and fielding, while the backs feature his comments about the bread. Not surprisingly, Bond Bread cards are highly collectible.

Robinson’s only recognized rookie card is the 1948-49 card published by Leaf. It shows a bust of Robinson wearing a Dodgers cap against a yellow background. The card is difficult to find in high-grade because of the contrast between the black printing and the yellow background.

Whatever its condition, the card is one of the keys to one of the most desired sets ever printed. In addition to Robinson’s rookie card, this set includes the last major issue of...

In addition to his rookie card, other collectibles from Robinson’s early years include advertising blotters in defense of Robinson playing in the Major Leagues, as well as copies of magazines and periodicals that covered his entry into the Majors. Game-day programs from his early games with the Dodgers are also sought after.

Robinson won the National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in 1949—by the early 1950s, Robinson was a full-fledged baseball star. He had quickly gained the respect of his peers, as well as the affection of the public, as seen in a 1951 board game released by Arrow Toy & Novelty Co. called "Jackie Robinson Batter Up." This rare find featured movable plastic baseball figures and is desired by Robinson and Dodgers collectors alike.

Despite Robinson’s early successes in the Majors, the biggest card company of the era, Topps, did not release a Robinson card until 1952. When they did, however, they produced a gem. In fact, the entire 1952 Topps set is one of the most important issues ever printed, and the Robinson card is its cornerstone. On the front, Robinson’s head is held high, with his favorite Hillerich & Bradsby Louisville Slugger bat resting on his shoulder. The bat was no mere prop; as a hitter, Robinson had superior control, striking out only 291 times in his career.

In 1953, Topps decided to lead off its set with the Dodgers leadoff hitter, Jackie Robinson. The eye-catching card shows Robinson’s sweat-glistened face up close. It's an arresting portrait, but it is also almost impossible to find in high-grade condition as it was subject to the usual problems with #1 cards—rubber band damage and over-handling. In addition, the black border that bore Robinson’s name was easily chipped, and the entire set was plagued by centering and paper-wrinkling woes.

Robinson retired after the 1956 season, but his legacy in baseball has been everlasting. In 1997, 50 years after Robinson’s entry into Major League Baseball, the league retired his #42 for every team. Game-worn Robinson jerseys became even more popular after that.

Other artifacts commemorating Robinson in 1997, such as pins and coins, are also collectible. Vintage Robinson collectibles from his playing days include watch fobs, drinking glasses, stadium pins, and dime banks. As with other sports stars, anything autographed by Robinson—photos, balls, bats, programs—is also desired.

Even after his retirement from sports, Robinson continued to make a name for himself as a Civil Rights activist. Ephemera such as Civil Rights letters written to Presidents Kennedy and Nixon, as well as activists like Malcolm X, are also collectible, though they are nearly impossible to come by, as most reside in archives.

In 1949, Robinson made a number of enemies in the African American community by testifying against actor Paul Robeson in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), so newspaper and magazine clippings of those events are often of interest. Robinson ultimately regretted his testimony, and today he stands as one of the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement.

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]

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    

1956 Topps Sgc-20 Hof Lot W/ #30 Jackie Robinson - #130 Willie MaysLos Angeles Dodgers Jackie Robinson Throwback Baseball Jersey Size Medium Nwt Jackie Robinson 1955 Topps #50 - Brooklyn Dodgers - Spectacular!!! Sharp!!!Jackie Robinson #22 1950 Bowman Vintage Brooklyn Dodgers Baseball Card Hof1956 Topps #30 Jackie Robinson Dodgers (vg) *4591881997-w U.s. Mint Jackie Robinson 50th Anniv. Commem. Proof Gold Coin Program Set1955 Topps #50 Jackie Robinson Dodgers Bgs Bvg 4.5 *4587361953 Topps Jackie Robinson #1 Psa 3 Brooklyn Dodgers1954 Topps Jackie Robinson #10 Great Condition Sgc 55 Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella Los Angeles Dodgers Bobblehead Set1956 Topps #30 Jackie Robinson Hof Brooklyn Dodgers2010 Topps Sterling Jackie Robinson Multi Patch Bat Dodgers 6 .300 Seasons 16/251956 Topps Jackie Robinson #30 White Back Graded Sgc 201956 Topps #30a Gray Back Jackie Robinson Bvg 6 Excellent-mint Condition1997-w U.s. Mint Jackie Robinson 50th Anniv. Commem. Proof Gold Coin Program Set1953 Topps # 1 Jackie Robinson Dodgers Psa 5 Excellent Set Break1955 Topps Doubleheader 25/26 Jackie Robinson Psa 7++ Highend Dodgers Hof Rarity1956 Topps #30 Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Graded Psa 8(oc)Washington Nationals Tyler Walker Game Used Worn Jackie Robinson Jersey (giants)1954 Topps #10 Jackie Robinson Psa 503 Donruss Diamond Kings Hof Heroes Jackie Robinson Game Used Worn Jersey 17/50 1954 Topps #10 Jackie Robinson Dodgers Vg-ex2010 Topps Sterling Jackie Robinson Triple Jersey Dodgers Right Man For Job 7/102010 Topps Sterling Jackie Robinson Quad Jersey Dodgers The Revolution 9/251950 Jackie Robinson Bowman Sgc Graded Vg Ex #221997 Jackie Robinson 50th Anniversary Commemorative Proof Coin W/ Coa And Box1947 D305 / W571 Bond Bread Jackie Robinson-sharp1955 Jackie Robinson Topps #50Jackie Robinson Autographed Postcard1947 Homogenized Bond Bread Jackie Robinson Card 2010 Topps Sterling Jackie Robinson Triple Jersey Dodgers Late Worth Wait 13/251956 Topps Jackie Robinson Psa 4.5 Vg-ex+ Brooklyn Dodgers1997 Jackie Robinson 50th Anniversary Proof Silver DollarAugust 1949 Sport Magazine Jackie Robinson With Dodger Radio Schedule InsertLos Angeles Dodgers Jackie Robinson,don Newcombe,roy Campanella Bobble Head($500) Jackie Robinson Original 1978 Vintage Card Graded Gem Mint 10 - Rare Ace42 (blu-ray/dvd, 2013, 2-disc Set) The Jackie Robinson Story Harrison Ford 20131953 Topps #1 Jackie Robinson Psa 4 Vg-excellentLot (2) Commemorative Silver Dollars 1997 S Jackie Robinson 1998 S Black PatriotLos Angeles Dodgers Sga 4/15 Trio Statue Jackie Robinson Newcombe Campanella NrJackie Robinson 2001 Ud Hall Of Famers Cooperstown Collection Gu Bat #b-jr72 Card Mlb Civil Rights Lot - Jackie Robinson Mays Aaron Jackson Gibson GriffeyJackie Robinson La Brooklyn Dodgers Mcfarlane Baseball Figure 6" Loose1956 Topps #166 Dodgers Team W/ Sandy Koufax & Jackie Robinson (poor) *4592925 Tristar Worlds Greatest Card Chase Jackie Robinson Rookie Baseball Card PackBrandon Morrow 2009 Autographed Mariners Game Used Jackie Robinson Jersey1954 Topps Baseball Jackie Robinson #10 Psa 3October 1952 Sport Magazine With Jackie Robinson Cover1980 Exhibit Jackie Robinson Hof ($350) Jackie Robinson Original 1978 Old Vintage Graded Gem Mint 10Hisashi Iwakuma Autographed Team Issued Jackie Robinson Day Jersey Mlb Auth1997 Jackie Robinson Silver Dollar Proof Commemorative W/coa, Mint Box & SleeveJackie Robinson Commemorative Medal Coin .925 Sterling Cameo 1 Troy Oz. # 307Jackie Robinson Allen & Ginters Piece Used Memorabilia Ra-jrbrown Jackie Robinson 2014 Topps Rookie Class Of 1947 Ring Collection Card Nice1995 Heros Of Baseball Jackie Robinson 24kt Gold Baseball Card Screw Down CaseJackie Robinson Super Rare 2014 Topps Gold Framed Reprint Ser #1/5 And #2/5 Dodgers 1997 Jackie Robinson 50th Anniversary Commemorative Jersey 42 - Rare!!!!Derek Jeter 2014 Panini Prizm Blue Jackie Robinson Sp Ser#ed /42 New York Yankee2014 Topps Tribute Jackie Robinson Tribute To The Throne Relic Blue Parallel