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    

1954 Topps Jackie Robinson #10 Psa 8 Nm-mt (pwcc)Jackie Robinson Psa/dna Hall Of Fame Team Signed Baseball Rube Marquard 19 Autos∎ 1949 Bowman Baseball Card Jackie Robinson Rc #50 **outstanding**1949 Bowman #50 Jackie Robinson Vg-3 300183681949 Bowman Jackie Robinson Rookie Card #50 Psa 6 Ex-mt1953 Topps Jackie Robinson #1 ... Graded Bvg 1.5 Fair1953 Topps Jackie Robinson #1 Psa 4 Vgex (pwcc)2012 National Treasures All Decade Hof Jackie Robinson Jersey 1/991952 Berk Ross Jackie Robinson Psa 6 Exmt (pwcc)1953 Topps Jackie Robinson #1 Psa 2 Gd (pwcc)1956 Topps Jackie Robinson White Back #30 Psa 7 Nrmt (pwcc)Late 1950's Jackie Robinson & Warren Spahn Original Novelty Watch..very Scarce!!1956 Topps #30 Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Card Psa 2 Jackie Robinson 1953 Topps #1 - Brooklyn Dodgers - No Creases!!! Wonderful!!!1953 Topps Jackie Robinson #1 Psa Ex 5 1955 Topps Jackie Robinson #50 ... Graded Bvg 5.5 Ex+∎ 1956 Topps Baseball Card Jackie Robinson #30 **awesome**Jackie Robinson 1956 Topps #30 - Brooklyn Dodgers - Phenomenal!!! Sharp!!!1955 Topps Jackie Robinson #50 Psa Nm-mt 81955 Topps Jackie Robinson #50 Sgc 7/84 Nrmt (pwcc)2008 Topps Sterling Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Hof Triple Bat 01/101956 Topps Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers #30 Baseball Card Bv 250.001956 Topps Jackie Robinson #30 Psa Nm-mt 81956 Topps Baseball #30 Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Hof Psa 4 Gray Back1955 Topps Jackie Robinson #50 Psa 5 Ex (pwcc)1947-66 Exhibits Jackie Robinson Psa 6.5 Exmt+ (pwcc)1956 Topps #30 Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers Hof Psa 4 Vg-ex White Back1947 Original Bond Bread Hof-jackie Robinson (r) Sgc 10/1, Vg/ex Front-rare!1955 Topps Jackie Robinson #50 Sgc 3/40 Vg (pwcc)1956 Topps Baseball #30 Jackie Robinson Gray Back Sgc Grade 5Jackie Robinson 2005 Sweet Spot Classic Materials Game Jersey Brooklyn Dodgers 1997-w $5 Us Jackie Robinson Ngc Pf70 Ultra Cameo1955 Topps Jackie Robinson #50 Psa 5 Ex (pwcc)1954 Topps Jackie Robinson #10 Psa Graded 4 Vg-ex Excellent Baseball Card1962 Mlb Hall Of Fame Cooperstown Induction Baseball Bat Jackie Robinson Feller1949 Bowman # 50 Jackie Robinson Fair2015 Topps National Convention Vip Set 1953 Bowman Color W/ Mays Jackie Robinson1953 Topps #1 Jackie Robinson Bvg 51955 Topps #50 Jackie Robinson Psa Ex-mt 61954 Topps Baseball Card #10 Jackie Robinson Psa 5 Awesome1947-66 Exhibits Jackie Robinson Sgc 5/60 Ex (pwcc)Dodgers Greats Multi Signed 16x20 Jackie Robinson Photo 26 Auto 's Psa/dna Loa2012 Playoff Prime Cuts Jackie Robinson Timeline Jersey /25 Brooklyn Dodgers Rare 2011 Prime Cuts Jackie Robinson Timeline Mvp Jerseys #1/5 1st One Made!!!1997 W Jackie Robinson Commem. 50th Anniversary $5 Gold Legacy Proof Set OgpJackie Robinson 5oth Anniv Commemorative Coins Silver & Gold Proof Box And Coa1956 Topps Jackie Robinson (hof) #30 Gb Psa 2 Good Brooklyn Dodgers Single Card1955 Topps Baseball-#50 Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers Hof, Sgc 60/5 Sharp!1955 Topps Jackie Robinson #50 Baseball Card, Brooklyn Dodgers, Near Mint, Nr!1955 Topps #50 Jackie Robinson Broklyn Dodgersa Psa 2Sporting Life Chewing Gum Series 2 #21 - Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn DodgersB Of A Medium Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers # 42 Jersey1997 S Jackie Robinson Ngc Ms69 Silver $1 Bu Coin Ms 691955 Golden Stamps Jackie Robinson Psa 41961 Nu-card Scoops Jackie Robinson Saves Dodgers #428 Psa 7 Nrmt (pwcc)1997 Jackie Robinson Commemorative Silver DollarJackie Robinson #11 Sketch Card Limited 17/25 Edward Vela Signed1956 Topps Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers #30 Baseball CardMen's Jackie Robinson Replica Jersey Dodgers Dated 1997 For 50th AnniversaryTime Magazine, Jackie Robinson, Sept 22, 1947