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    

1910 Mecca Cigarettes Tobacco Card # T218-boxing Great Jack Johnson1910 Hassan Cigarettes Tobacco Card # T218-boxing Great Jack JohnsonAntique 1888 N172 Old Judge Pickett Ss Kansas Citys Tobacco Baseball Card1910 C56 Hockey Series Tobacco Card - No. 15 Fred Taylor Rookie OttawaCat £175.00 Mint 1965 Cadet - Doctor Who & Daleks Set 50 Cigarette / Trade CardsLot 8 1800's Orphan Boy Tobacco Advertising Cards Beautiful Woman Fantasy Vg3941Mass Collection Vintage Cigarette Tobacco Cards All Pre War 1939 Issue Nice Cond1911-1912 C55 Imperial Hockey Tobacco Card - No. 2 Joe Hall Quebec Hitler Photo Album Cigarette Card BookOriginal 1936 Cigarette Card Collecting Book With 300 B/w Photos Of Hitler1910 C56 Hockey Series Tobacco Card - Pud Glass No. 5 Montreal Wanderers Club(23) Hassan Oriental Smoke Famous Explorers Series Tobacco Card Lot @ ELot Of 8 1888 N76 Duke & Sons Great Americans Tobacco Cigarette Trading Cards$500 Mickey Mantle Tobacco Card Error Victory Back Graded 10 Non Auto2 1800s Indian Cigarette Cards From Allen & Ginter1889 N87 Dukes Cigarettes Shadows Tobacco Card Lot Rabbit Tiger Rooster Hen....Dick Butkus, Chicago Bears - Rare Alta Loma Cigar Card #104, Serial #25/501890 N99 Sheridan’s Ride Battle Scenes Gail Tobacco Card Nm1911 Piedmont Tobacco Card T206 Eddie Collins (hof)1919 Chicago Black Sox Team.(12) 1910 T205 T206 Tobacco Baseball Cards 1800s Fans Of The Period Girl Cigarette Card From Allen & Ginters*3* 1910-1911 Hassan "lighthouse Series" Cigarette CardsZippo Xii ** Cigarette Lighter "camel" Card Suit Symbols - New - Made In U.s.a.*Rare Wills's Cigarette Cinema Stars 1931 Tobacco Card Walt Disney Mickey MouseCigarette Cards Sportsman Lot 34 Cards Diferente Original Mint Tobacco Card Set, Kensitas, J Wix, Henry, Carl Anderson, Comic, 2nd Series, 1936Vintagew.d & H.o Wills Silk Cigarette Cards Australian Birds & Animals, FlowersLot 17 1800's Fish Series Piedmont Cigarettes Advertising Tobacco Cards Vg3939Lot Of 52 Wings Cigarette Vintage Tobacco Trading CardsFree World Post "9-mixed Odds Cigarette Cards ,over 100 Yrs Old , Ogdens TabSteve Carlton, St Louis Cardinals - Alta Loma Cigar Card #85, Serial #43/50Tobacco Card Set, Kensitas, J Wix, Henry, Carl Anderson, Comic, 5th Series, 1937Tobacco Card Set, Kensitas, J Wix, Henry, Carl Anderson, Comic, 1st Series, 19351880’s Kalamazoo Bats Tobacco Card N657 Printed Back Chas Gross PhiladelphiaTobacco Card Set, Kensitas, J Wix, Henry, Carl Anderson, Comic, 4th Series, 1936Tobacco Card Set, Kensitas, J Wix, Henry, Carl Anderson, Comic, 3rd Series, 19361909-11 T206 Sweet Caporal Billy Campbell Psa Vg 3 Tobacco CardCigarette Cards. Atc Of Victoria. 15/100 Beauties. Part Set.Tobacco Card Set, Cavanders, Ancient China, Chinese Pictures, 19261909-11 T206 Piedmont Ed Abbaticchio Psa Vg 3 Tobacco Card1909-11 T206 Polar Bear Fred Beck Psa Good 2 Tobacco Card1887 N28 Allen & Ginter Tobacco Jimmy Carroll Pugilists Boxing Card5 1952 Red Man Tobacco Baseball CardsTobacco Card Set, Kensitas Wix, Coronation Of George Vi, 6th, 19372 - 1800s Birds Of America Cigarette Cards From - Allen & GinterGail & Ax’s Civil War Tobacco Card €Tobacco Card Set, John Player, Dickens Characters, Fagin Etc, 1st Series, 191212 Vintage 1920's-30's Film Stars Strip & Tobacco Cards: Pickford, Fairbanks....Tobacco Card Set, Mills, The Wild West, Cowboy, Indian Life, 1960Ginger Rogers, Actress - Rare Alta Loma Cigar Card #374, Serial #46/50Cigarette Cards. Wills Aust. 68+1/68 Crests & Colours Of Schools Etc. Set1888 Aug Beck Tobacco Card Yum Yum Actress N488 Rare Type Card Victorian Pin Up1909-11 T206 Sweet Caporal Ed Killian Psa Vg 3 Tobacco Card1909-11 T206 Sweet Caporal Harry Davis Psa Vg 3 Tobacco Card1909-11 T206 Piedmont Charlie Starr Psa Vg 3 Tobacco Card1909-11 T206 Piedmont George Perring Psa Vg 3 Tobacco Card1909-11 T206 Sweet Caporal Orval Overall Psa Vg 3 Tobacco CardHuge Military Cigarette Card Collection Including Nazi LeadersLot Of 173 Jazmatzi Hansom Tobacco Trading Cards 1930's Al Jolson Harold LloydFree Post * Full Set 50 Chicken Set Poultry Poultry 81 Yrs Cigarette Cards

Recent News: Tobacco Cards

Source: Google News

A Visit to Historic Cooperstown
ithaca.com, September 10th

It features artifacts and memorabilia from all aspects of the storied history, things like Barry Bonds' record-setting and branded 756th home run ball, Babe Ruth's notched bat from the 1927 season and Honus Wagner's famed tobacco card. The museum ...Read more

More than 1400 rare baseball cards to be auctioned off
WCSH-TV, September 2nd

T206 cards came with every pack of the cigarettes in the early 1900s. They are very popular with collectors. Loading… Post to Facebook. More than 1400 rare baseball cards to be auctioned off T206 cards came with every pack of the cigarettes in the...Read more