Today when many collectors hear the words “tobacco cards,” they think of the T205 and T206 baseball-card sets from the early 20th century. They aren’t wrong to make that connection—those were tobacco cards—but the history of tobacco (cigarette) cards includes more than just baseball.

Cigarette cards were first produced in the 1870s as a means to stiffen flimsy cigarette packs. Initially they were blank until an American businessman thought advertisements should be placed on them. Soon, companies began putting everyone from kings and queens to actresses and baseball players on cards. By the mid-1880s, manufacturers decided to make sets of cards with pithy advertisements on the backs. It was a good way to build customer loyalty since many customers felt compelled to complete their sets!

The craze was not confined to the United States. In England, cigarette companies such as W.D. & H.O. Willis and Three Castles also released tobacco cards. The first Willis set was issued in 1895 and was called “Ships and Soldiers.” Taddy & Co also produced an early collectible set entitled “Clowns and Circus Artistes.”

Back in the United States, the novelty of pictures on cards captivated the general public—newspapers still tended to be picture-less. They also appealed to the large portion of the population that was illiterate. The list of American companies that manufactured tobacco cards ballooned, as the giveaway quickly became the norm.

The year 1887 was an important one for tobacco cards as both Allen & Ginter and Old Judge released sets that are extremely collectible today. Both featured baseball’s best player at the time, Cap Anson—Old Judge cards showed him in a suit and tie while Allen & Ginter’s had him in full uniform, bat in hand. Another memorable card from the Allen & Ginter set is the one of John L. Sullivan. The first heavyweight champion of gloved boxing, Sullivan is shown shirtless and appears ready for a fight.

Sets at this time weren’t necessarily limited to a single sport. For example, other tobacco cards of the era featured Boy Scouts, billiards players, and Native Americans, which were issued by a host of companies, including Goodwin, Ogden, and Ramly.

As a group, tobacco cards are extremely difficult to find in decent condition—a requirement for many serious card collectors—as they have been weathered for more than 120 years a...

The most famous tobacco cards, of course, are the T-sets. There were five T-sets issued: T201s, which featured Mecca Cigarette cards; T202s, which were packed with Hassan cigarettes and had multi-player cards; T204s, which came in Ramly and T.T.T. tobacco packs; T205s, which were known as the “gold border” cards and were issued by various brands; and, finally, the famed T206 set.

The T206 set was released between 1909 and 1911 and had 525 cards (389 Major Leaguers, the rest depicting players from the Minors) in packs of cigarettes put out by 16 different companies. These cards were known as the “white border” cards, and they remain highly collectible today.

In the T206 set is the famous Honus Wagner card, which is considered the pinnacle of card collecting. According to some historians, Wagner did not want his name on cigarette ads going to kids, so he requested his cards be pulled from the set. Consequently, very few Wagner cards made it into circulation, which makes the T206 Wagner extremely rare. There are other uncommon cards in the set, such as the Eddie Plank, but nothing compares to the scarcity of the Wagner.

Sadly, this legendary set was one of the last tobacco-card sets made. World War I brought paper rationing in the United States and across the world, causing cards of all kinds to disappear for quite a while. There was a brief revival by companies like Player’s Cigarettes in the early 1930s featuring cricket players and airplanes, but that was short-lived. Some companies, especially the British manufacturers Allman and Black Cat, attempted to reintroduce tobacco cards in the 1950s, but by then gum and candy companies were the biggest publishers of cards.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Non Sports Cards: Tobacco, Gum and Candy

Non Sports Cards: Tobacco, Gum and Candy

Tom Boblitt moderates this extremely deep, collaborative site dedicated to non-sports cards (tobacco, gum and candy… [read review or visit site]

Match World

Match World

This ambitious site showcases the 20,000-item Rankei Library matchbook collection, owned by the Japan Match Manufac… [read review or visit site]

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]

Kensitas Silk Flowers

Kensitas Silk Flowers

Don Wearmouth and his wife showcase the 230 beautiful silk designs that were distributed free with Kensitas cigaret… [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]

Matchbox Labels

Matchbox Labels

Jane McDevitt's huge Flickr photoset of matchbox labels, primarily Eastern European, from the 1950s and 60s. These … [read review or visit site]

Truth in Advertising

Truth in Advertising

This gallery of cigarette magazine advertising from the 1940s and 50s contains no surgeon general's warning, just p… [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]

Matchbook Museum

Matchbook Museum

James Lileks' gallery of 400 matchbooks from coffee shops, hotels, motels, bars, banks, restaurants and more. Lilek… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1880 Headlight Cigar Victorian Baseball Trade Card At Our Picnic, Gd (pwcc)1911 T205 & T206 Gold Border Piedmont Tobacco Baseball Cards With Cobb Lot Of 20Lot Of (10) 1910 T205 Gold Border Tobacco Cards **exmt** Estate FindGenuine Ogdens Tabs Guinea Gold J Morris Tom Golf Golfer Cigarette Card C1902Cy Young 1909 T-206 Piedmont Cigarette Tobacco Baseball CardT206 T 206 Ty Cobb Portrait Red Background Tobacco Card Early Baseball CardChina-hong Kong Tram Trolley Shau-ki Wan Tobacco Store 1920s Post Card Un-usedEloi Pernet Credit Card Cigar Cutter Guillotine Style - Dunhill Davidoff DupontTobacco Card, N162, Old Judge/gypsy Queen Champions, Beecher, Yale Football1887 N172 Old Judge Tobacco Card Sidney Douglas Farrar 1st Base PhiladelphiaTobacco Card, N184, Champions Of Games And Sports, John L Sullivan, PugilistN41, 1800s Quadruped Armadillo Cigarette Card From Allen & GinterGenuine Ogdens Pugilists & Wrestlers Jack Johnson #55 Cigarette Card C1909Athletics Tobacco Card: Jesse Owens, Muratti Cigarettes., 1935. Rare!1930"s Film Stars Album Free Australia Post , Old Cigarette Cards In AlbumAustralian Race Horses 1920 Cigarette Cards 18 CardsCigarette Card Albums 1930"s Card Album, 4- Part Sets ,raf-cars-soccar-kingOld Commercial Seal Wood Ohio Cigar Box Steamship Post Cards & A Dog Named RexGenuine Ogdens Guinea Gold Base I J Ball Junior Golf Golfer Cigarette Card C1901 N578 "actresses" (smoke Jack & Jill Cigars) "edith Maynard" Tobacco Card300 Film Movie Stars Embossed Garbaty Tobacco Cards 1934 Complete Set In AlbumWings Cigarette Tobacco Cards Planes Aircraft Us Airplanes210 Film Movie Stars Tobacco Cards 1932 Complete Set In Album Buster KeatonPresidential Cigarette Cards, Rare Uncut Sheet Of 4, Circa 1888Allen & Ginter A-22 Our Navy Tobacco Card Album-1889N 37, 1800s Birds Of America Cigarette Card From Allen & Ginter, Scarlet TanagerT206 T 206 Hugh Duffy Tobacco Card Early Baseball CardVintage, Ganzel, Rochester, Piedmont, Cigarette Baseball CardTobacco Card Set, Wd & Ho Wills, Famous Inventions, 1763 To 1915Don Bradman Card -cigarette Card,australia Test Cricketers 1928-29Tobacco Card, N162, Old Judge/gypsy Queen Champions, Steintz, ChessTobacco Card Set, Notaras, National Type Of Beauty, Pinup, 19251900 Australian Recruiting Posters,cigarette Cards Australia.7-cards/100 YearsMagpie Cigarette Cards - Ww1 Scenes X 10 War Memorial Fund N150 "actors & Actresses" (gail & Ax Navy) "lillian Russell" Tobacco CardCigarette Cards Wills: 1934 Animalloys (full Set).300 Film Movie Stars Embossed Garbaty Tobacco Cards 1934 Complete Set Excellent1910-11 C56 Imperial Tobacco ~ #14 ~ Tom Dunderdale ~ Rookie Card ~ Hof T206 T 206 Ed Walsh Tobacco Card Early Baseball CardN 196 Pretty Athletes- Kimball Tobacco Card- Parallel Bar ExercisesN 196 Pretty Athletes - Kimball Tobacco Card- Weight Pulling1891 Mayo Tobacco Card N306 Iceland National Flower & Beautiful Woman 1930"s Radio Celebrities Album Set , Old Cigarette Card Set In Album,radio Stars1910 American Caramel Co. Osee Schreckengost - Baseball Tobacco Card Athletics($300+) Patch & T-206 Lot Vintage Porcelain Tobacco Card & Hat Logo RelicCigarette Cards Players:1939 Cycling (full Set)1911 T205 Gold Border Sovereign Tobacco Card - Charles Herzog - Boston Nat'ls1800's Rose Cigars Cigarettes Ny Advertising Tobacco Card Lillian Russell Vg4970C46 Joe Kelley Toronto Maple Leafs Hof Baseball Imperial Tobacco Cigarette CardProof Set Ogdens Poultry 1915 1916 Set Of 25 . 2 Printer' Cards Cigarette CardsT206 T 206 John Mcgraw Glove At Hip Tobacco Card Early Baseball CardN246 Kinney Tobacco Card - Sporting Extra - Large Format - Belle Bilton1887 Gold Coin Chewing Tobacco Non Sport Card Kyrle BellewTobacco Card Set, John Player, Civil Aircraft, Passanger Plane, 1935C46 Ed Fitzpatrick Toronto Maple Leafs Baseball Imperial Tobacco Cigarette CardN189 Kimball Tobacco Card - Savage Barbarous Chiefs & Rulers - Taloukdar IndiaTobacco Card Set, Godfrey Phillips,ships That Have Made History,titanic Etc,1938Free Post* 50 Mixed Odds Fair To Good 76yrs Old Cigarette Cards HdxTobacco Card Set, John Player & Sons, Rugby, Football Caricatures Rip, 1926Vintage Marchen Der Volker 1933 German Cigarette Cards Book Complete

Recent News: Tobacco Cards

Source: Google News

Rare Honus Wagner eBay Photo Debunks His Baseball Card Myth
Forbes, December 26th

Controversy has clung to Honus Wagner like the moist tobacco it was packed with almost since the day it was first issued. No one is absolutely sure why the American Tobacco Company (ATC) pulled it from production sometime from 1909 through 1911...Read more

Financial speculation
The Economist, December 17th

The vintage tobacco card was made particularly scarce by its limited production run (due, according to rumour, to Wagner's objection to the use of his image to sell cigarettes). Only three of the cards that survive are in decent condition. One changed...Read more

Billy Crystal's $239000 Mickey Mantle Glove Gets Boost From Rare Note
Forbes, December 12th

In SCP's recent auction the big news was a T206 Honus Wagner tobacco card which sold for $403,666 and a Near Mint 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card which fetched $268,664, twice the previous record for a card in that condition.(Prices include ...Read more

The Honus Wagner Baseball Card I Wish I Had Bought Could Have Made Me A ...
Forbes, November 25th

At the time, Aronstein owned the world's most valuable baseball cards, chief among them Honus Wagner T206 tobacco card, the king of the hobby. The T206s (the set's original catalog designation) from 1909-1911 are the mother of all sets due to their...Read more

Five Affordable Vintage Autographs Of All-Time Baseball Greats
Forbes, October 20th

Phil Marks, a prominent dealer who has 25 of experience in sports autographs, put together for me a list of five members of the baseball Hall Fame spanning the 1890s, through the early 1900s tobacco card and “dead-ball” era, up till the 1930s. Besides...Read more

A $1 Million Honus Wagner Baseball Card May Be A Steal
Forbes, January 5th

The big-ticket sports cards and memorabilia season officially opens with one of top auction houses, Lelands, putting a spectacular array of pieces in all sports on the block, including a Honus Wagner T206 tobacco card, circa 1910, in good condition...Read more

1912 C46 Imperial Tobacco Baseball Cards
The Cardboard Connection, August 3rd

One of the biggest differences from almost every other tobacco card set is the lack of any advertising for the company that issued them. This lack of identity not only gives newer collectors trouble trying to figure out what they are but also has...Read more

My addiction to T206 baseball cards
ESPN, December 22nd

Amar Shah The newest addition to the T206 tobacco card collection. My wife asked me how much I paid. I told her $30. She threatened to feed the card to the evil dog that lived downstairs. I confessed and told her it cost $350. She left without even...Read more