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    

Early 1950's Jackie Robinson Actually Signed Album Page..very Nice..full Jsa Loa1948 Leaf Jackie Robinson Rookie Rc #79 Psa 3 Vg (pwcc)1956 Topps #30 Jackie Robinson Grey Back Psa 8 Nm-mt Brooklyn Dodgers Card1952 Jackie Robinson Dogers Topps #312 Baseball Card Ex-mint1947 Bond Bread 10 Jackie Robinson Rare Sliding Psa 3 RookieJackie Robinson Autographed Index Card "best Wishes" Framed Jsa Coa1953 Topps Baseball Jackie Robinson #1 Psa 5 Dodgers Ex Hof 1948 Swell Sports Thrills Gum-#3 Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers (r) Psa 4Dontrelle Willis Detroit Tigers Jackie Robinson Game Used Worn Jersey MarlinsBrooklyn Dodgers Jackie Robinson Cream Throwback Jersey Sz 2xl 54 Xxl1947 Bond Bread 2 Jackie Robinson Rare Batting White Sleeves Psa 1.5 Rookie2012 Panini National Treasures Jackie Robinson Game Used Jersey # 51/99 Bgs 9.51955 Topps #50 Jackie Robinson Dodgers Psa 61947 Bond Bread 8 Jackie Robinson Rare Running Down Baseline Psa Auth Rookie1956 Topps Jackie Robinson #30 Dodgers Hof Psa 5 White Back Sharp! 1 Card1955 Topps 3-card Sgc/hofer Lot W/ #50 Jackie Robinson - #47 Hank Aaron1952 Star-cal Decal Jackie RobinsonJackie Robinson 1955 Topps #50 - Brooklyn Dodgers - Phenomenal!!! Sharp!!!1956 Topps Set Break # 30 - Jackie Robinson Vg-vgex H9936Jackie Robinson 2007 Ud Premier Remnants 3 Triple Game Used Jersey #68/75 B71582008 Topps Sterling Moments Booklet Jackie Robinson Jersey Bat 8/10 Dodgers1948 Old Gold Kneeling In Dugout Jackie Robinson Rookie Rc Psa 4 Vgex (pwcc)1997 Jackie Robinson 50th Anniversary Commemorative Proof Silver Dollar Box CoaJackie Robinson 1956 Topps #30 - Brooklyn Dodgers - Must See!!! L@@k!!!Jackie Robinson 2014 Panini Classics Game Used Jersey Patch #35/42 Dodgers Hof1997 U.s. Mint Jackie Robinson 2-coin Gold/silver Commemorative Proof Set1950 Bowman Jackie Robinson #22 Psa 4.5 Vgex+ (pwcc)1997 Proof Jackie Robinson Dollar [90% Silver] (low Combined Shipping)!Brooklyn Dodgers Jackie Robinson Grey Throwback Jersey Sz 2xl 54 XxlTopps Triple Threads Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Roy Capanella G/u #17/362003 Topps Tribute World Series 1955 Dual Bat Jackie Robinson 264/42521955 Topps #50 Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Hof Bvg 5 Ex Jackie Robinson, Sliding, Danbury Mint Figurine1956 Topps Jackie Robinson Psa 4 DodgersYogi Berra Signed 8x10 Photo Auto W/ Jackie Robinson Jsa Sticker Only HofJackie Robinson 1954 Topps #10 - Brooklyn Dodgers - No Creases!!! Fantastic!!!1953 Topps Set Break G #1 Jackie Robinson Hof 329281997 Proof Jackie Robinson Dollar [90% Silver] (low Combined Shipping)!2013 Topps Tribute Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Bat Card 97/991955 Jackie Robinson Golden Stamps Psa 8 Brooklyn Dodgers2002 Ud World Series Heroes Classic Matchups Jersey Jackie RobinsonJacob Degrom Rookie Of The Year Jackie Robinson New York Mets Game Issued Jersey1953 Topps #1 Jackie Robinson Dodgers " G-vg " Lr530012013 Jackie Robinson Don Newcombe Roy Campanella StatueJackie Robinson #12 Sketch Card Limited 2/5 Edward Vela SignedTopps Bunt 2014 Jackie Robinson Allen & Ginter/ 3001954 Topps #10 Jackie Robinson Dodgers " Vg " Lr54010Usa, United States, Silver Proof Dollar $1, Jackie Robinson, 1997-s Coin1956 Topps Jackie Robinson #30 Baseball Card Psa Graded 5 Ex-cond "bright Wow"1997-s Jackie Robinson Silver Dollar Pcgs Ms69*graded Virtually Perfect*90% 2013 Topps Tribute Jackie Robinson Bat Relic 10/25Rare 1956 Topps #30 Jackie Robinson Baseball Card Brooklyn Dodgers Graded Ex2015 Topps Jackie Robinson Story 10 Card Set1954 Topps #10 Jackie Robinson Psa 2 Vg-ex New Label Brooklyn Dodgers Major1956 Topps #30 Jackie Robinson Card White Back2013 Topps Tribute Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Bat Card 98/99Jackie Robinson Bat Relic 2009 Topps T206 PiedmontBrooklyn Dodgers 1940's Collection Of 6 Picture Pack Photos Inc. Jackie RobinsonL.a. Dodgers 2015 Topps Pp&f Oversized 5 X 7" 98/99 Jackie Robinson Yasiel PuigJackie Robinson Lot 2010 Topps Turkey Red 2011 Lineage Brooklyn La Dodgers Hof