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    

1949 Bowman Jackie Robinson Rookie Rc #50 Bvg 8 Nm-mt (pwcc)1954 Topps Setbreak Jackie Robinson #10 Psa 8 Nm-mt (pwcc)1948 Leaf Dodgers Jackie Robinson #79 Baseball Card..graded Psa 2 Dead Centered 1956 Topps Jackie Robinson White Back #30 Bvg 8 Nm-mt (pwcc)April 17 1947 Jackie Robinson's First Hit -historic Baseball Program-at BrooklynVintage Original 1947 Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Baseball Pin & Ribbon1937 Signed Jackie Robinson Jack Pasadena Junior College Campus Yearbook Dodgers1956 Topps Jackie Robinson Psa 7 Brooklyn Dodgers Baseball Card N258 Fh1953 Topps ~ Jackie Robinson # 1 ~ Fair/good ~ Nice Card But Creased In Center ~1955 Topps #50 Jackie Robinson Hof Brooklyn Dodgers Psa 6 Ex-mt1948 R346 Jackie Robinson "rookie Baseball Card Psa Authentic Super Rare Card"1954 Topps #10 Jackie Robinson Psa 6 Ex-mt Brooklyn Dodgers1953 Topps #1 Jackie Robinson (mk) Poor-vg (creased) E25690ˆ1955 Topps #50 Jackie Robinson Hof Brooklyn Dodgers Psa 4 Vg-exRare Mitchell And Ness 1955 Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Jersey Size 56 3xl Custom Hartland Baseball Figures Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers 19561950 Bowman Jackie Robinson #22 (psa 4-vg/ex)1953 Topps Baseball Card Jackie Robinson #1 Psa 2 Brooklyn Dodgers 1954 Topps Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Psa 5R319-helmar Big League #153 Robinson, Jackie 10 Yrs, .311 Brooklyn Dodgers Hof1956 Topps Sgc-30 Hofer Lot W/ #33 Roberto Clemente - #30 Jackie RobinsonBrooklyn Dodgers Authentic 1955 Jackie Robinson Jersey 2xl Usa Mitchell And Ness1997-s Jackie Robinson $1 Silver Commemorative Pcgs Ms68Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Vintage H&b Louisville Slugger BatJackie Robinson 1948 Sport Thrills ** Psa Authentic ** Rookie Year Card4/19/1954 Brooklyn Dodgers @ Phil. Phillies Ticket Stub - Jackie Robinson Hr#1051956 Topps Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers #30 Baseball CardNgc Pf 69 Ultra Cameo, 1997-w Jackie Robinson $5 Gold Commemorative1997-s Jackie Robinson $1 Silver Commemorative Pcgs Pr68 Dcam2014 Immaculate Jackie Robinson Accolades Gw Jersey Patch Card 82/99Blu Ray Lot..the Hobbit An Unexpected Journey, Bad Grandpa & 42 Jackie Robinson 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers Team Signed Baseball W/ Jackie Robinson Plus 25 1956 Topps White Back #30 Jackie Robinson Hof Brooklyn Dodgers Psa 4 Vg-ex1976 Laughlin Jackie Robinson Diamond Jubilee #26 Graded Psa 91955 Topps #50 Jackie Robinson Psa Graded Vg 3 (mk)1955 Topps Jackie Robinson Psa Graded 32011 Topps Triple Threads Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Bat Relic 14/36 1956 Topps White Back #30 Jackie Robinson Hof Brooklyn Dodgers Psa 4 Vg-ex2013 Topps Five Star Jackie Robinson Relic 04/25Jackie Robinson Hillerich Bradsby Louisville Slugger Vintage Bat Jr4 Not BrokeJackie Robinson Lot Of 20 Diff Baseball CardsJackie Robinson /75, Mike Schmidt Gu Jersey /99 Lot 2005 Ud Baseball Heroes 2014 Topps Jackie Robinson Rookie Class Ring 19471954 Topps Card#10 Of Jackie Robinson - Psa 5 ExJackie Robinson #42 Brooklyn Dodgers New Era 59fifty Fitted Hat/cap Sz 7-3/4 NwtMcfarlane Sportspick Mlb Jackie Robinson Variant Brooklyn Dodgers2002 Ud Ws Heroes Don Larsen Game Used Pants Jackie RobinsonReal Fact Comics 14 Vg/f Jackie Robinson Will Rogers Dc Golden Age Barry 1948 Nr1947-66 Baseball Exhibit Card Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers1956 Topps #30 Jackie Robinson Brooklynd Dogers Third Base1997-s Jackie Robinson $1 Pcgs Pr69 Dcam Modern Commem Silver Dollar No Reserve!1950 Bowman Baseball -- Jackie Robinson #22Jackie Robinson West Little League Baseball T Shirts (xl)Jackie Robinson - 2004 Topps Tribute, Game-used Bat Card, Brooklyn Dodgers42 Jackie Robinson 5ft Subway Movie Poster Harrison Ford Brooklyn Dodgers 20131997-s Jackie Robinson "proof Coin" Hall Of Fame One Dollar Liberty ProofJackie Robinson 2011 Topps Hertitage Bgs 9 Game Used Relic /42 Dodgers !!1997 S Proof Jackie Robinson Silver Dollar Ngc Pf 69 Ultra Cameo Pr691955 Brooklyn Dodgers Souvenir Stamped Baseball W/ Jackie Robinson Facsimile