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    

Jackie Robinson 2011 Prime Cuts Timeline Patch 1/11953 Topps Set Break # 1 Jackie Robinson Vg-vgex H346081955 Topps Jackie Robinson Double Headers Psa 6 Ex/mt No Reserve!2015 Topps Museum Collection Jackie Robinson Quad Relic Game Used Bat 21/25Jackie Robinson, 1953 Topps Baseball Card # 1, Brooklyn Dodgers, 2nd BaseJackie Robinson Mitchell & Ness Commemorative Limited Edition Jersey Box Set1997 U.s. Mint Jackie Robinson Commemorative Proof Silver Dollar1956 Topps Set Break # 30 - Jackie Robinson Ex-exmint H349781956 Topps Jackie Robinson #30 Baseball Card Bvg Graded 4 Vg-ex Cond "a Classic"1953 Topps Baseball Card Set Break #1 Jackie Robinson (exmt) Altered $800.001953 Topps #1 Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Hof Sgc 40 Vg 31956 Topps #30 Jackie Robinson Hof Brooklyn Dodgers1955 Topps Jackie Robinson Dodgers Psa Authenticated Altered Baseball Card1947 World Series Program Brooklyn Dodgers @ Ny Yankees Jackie Robinson's First!1955 Topps #50 Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Hof Sgc 55 Vg-ex+ 4.5Jackie Robinson 2001 Upper Deck Tribute Game Used Bat Relic Jackie Robinson Signed Typed Letter / May 7th 1963 - Jsa Authenticated - Rare!!!2012 Prime Cuts Jackie Robinson Timeline Jackie Jumbo Jersey #/25Jackie Robinson Dodgers Brooklyn La #42 Baseball JerseyJackie Robinson 1954 Topps #10 ** Psa 3 ** Baseball Icon2005 Sweet Spot Classic Jackie Robinson Game Used Jersey Card Dodgers *m861997-s Jackie Robinson Commemorative Proof Silver Dollar W/ Box & Coa | 000585Jackie Robinson Autographed Bank Check 1972 Coa Signed By Rachel Robinson2014 P $1 Ngc Pf70 Silver Dollar Baseball Hall Of Fame Jackie Robinson Label1954 Topps Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers #10 Baseball Card Psa GradedUs 1997-s Rookie Of The Year Jackie Robinson Silver One Dollar Coin .900 1947 New York Giants Vs Brooklyn Dodgers Ticket Stub Jackie Robinson 1948 Leaf #79 Jackie Robinson Rookie Must See All Scans Amazing No Reserve! 1954 Topps Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers #10 Baseball Card1997 Jackie Robinson 50th Anniversary Proof Silver One DollarLos Angeles Dodgers Jackie Robinson (#42) Jersey Sga Xl Brand New In Packaging1997 Jackie Robinson Proof Baseball 90% Silver Dollar Coin W/ Us Mint Box & Coa1954 Topps #10 Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Hof Sgc 60 Ex 5Los Angeles Dodgers Jackie Robinson Replica Adult Jersey Size Medium Sga 4/151997-s $1 Jackie Robinson Commemorative Proof Silver Dollar Pcgs Pr69 Dcam1997-s Jackie Robinson Silver Dollar Pcgs Ms69*graded Virtually Perfect*90% 1955 Topps Baseball #50 Jackie Robinson Fair-good Brooklyn Dodgers Hofer1997w Jackie Robinson 50th Anniversary $5 Gold Commemorative Legacy Set CompleteJackie Robinson Replica Jersey (dodger Stadium Giveaway 4/15) Xl Sga2015 Topps 5x7 Pp&f (#d 95/99) Jackie Robinson/yasiel Puig/joc Pederson DodgersJackie Robinson Replica Jersey By Mitcell Ness Cooperstown Colloection #42 1960s Jackie Robinson Oval Head Premium From Cereal Box #h44272012 National Treasures Jackie Robinson Duke Snider Dual Jersey Bat 48/99Jackie Robinson Statue Dodgers 4-15-2005 Sga Action Statue 2015 Topps Jackie Robinson Story Set 1-10 Dodgers Target Exclusive Jackie Robinson_brooklyn Dodgers_sketch Card Print_17/2442 The Jackie Robinson Story Dvd1997-w Jackie Robinson $5.00 Gold Piece W/coa In Original Package - Unc / Scarce2015 La Dodgers Adult Jackie Robinson Replica Jersey Sga Adult-xl2014 National Treasures Booklet Game-used Jersey Jackie Robinson /5 Dodgers 5/5Jackie Robinson 1949 Eureka Stamp Nm Rookie #49Jackie Robinson 1955 Tops1954 Topps Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers #10 Baseball Card1977 Tcma Renata Galasso #20 Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Hof Psa 10 Gem Mt2001 Upper Deck Jackie Robinson Tribute To 42 Relic Bat Brooklyn Dodgers1997 Jackie Robinson .999 Silver Commemorative Silver Proof DollarGame Used Mlb Bat Louisville Slugger Jackie Robinson 35"Brand New! Los Angeles Dodgers Jackie Robinson Replica Jersey *sga MediumLa Dodgers Jackie Robinson Jersey #42 Xl 4/15/15 Dodger Game Jersey Give AwayLa Los Angeles Dodgers 2015 Jackie Robinson Replica Adult Jersey Size M Sga.