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]

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]

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]

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]

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]

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]

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]

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 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    

1909 T206 Baseball Tobacco Card Lot 26 Cards *great Lot*1880s Antique Lot Of 4 Victorian Tobacco Trade Cards Pollywogs Old Dog Tray RareSaddleback Leather, Business / Credit Card Wallet, TobaccoT206 Tobacco Cards Lot (8) No ReserveOld Vintage - Sandow - Cigar Advertising Price Card - Store Display Sign Ogdens Cigarette Cards,flags & Funnels Of Leading Steamship Lines,1906,set Of 50Old Vintage - Blue Knight Cigar - Advertising Card / Store Display Sign Origina Baseball Series Sovereign Cigarette Card Chance Chicago Nat'l1911 T 205 Frank Chance (hall Of Famer!) Very Rare Vintage Tobacco Baseball Card1911 T205 Christy Mathewson Hof Baseball Card Cigarette Old Vintage Tobacco1890s Antique Victorian Mixed Lot Of 9 Color Trade Cards Tobacco Agricultural NrSet Of 4 Duke & Sons Chewing Tobacco Trade Cards Depicting Ladies SmokingCigarette Cards Gallaher: 1939 Aeroplanes (full Set).1934 Player's Cricket Cigarette Cards Complete Set Of 50 - Old Vintage - Cameo Havana Filled Cigar - Advertising Card / Store Display Sign T205 Tobacco Cards Lot (6) No Reserve1912 T207 Brown Background Recruit Tex Erwin Brooklyn Dodgers Tobacco Card1912 C46 Card, #27 Imperial Tobacco Joe Kelley (kelly) Toronto Psa 51909 T206 Marquard (new York Nat'l) Very Rare Vintage Tobacco Baseball Card!1880's - Jackson's Chewing Tobacco Victorian Trade Card - Stanley - Hippos Indian Chiefs - 20 Original 1930 British American Tobacco Cards1909 T 206 Gandil (chicago Amer.) Very Rare Vintage Tobacco Baseball Card!1909 T 206 Graham (st. Louis-amer.) Very Rare Vintage Tobacco Baseball Card!1909 T 206 Dineen (st. Louis-amer.) Very Rare Vintage Tobacco Baseball Card!C. 1910 Flags Of Nations T59 Tobacco Card Lot (43) Recruit Sub Rosa Scrap Iron1880's Lorilard's Tiger Cut Tobacco Trade Card - Moon Goddess - Butterfly Wings1909-11 T206 Jimmy Sheckard Chicago Cubs Tobacco Card Piedmont Good No Glove1887 Old Judge Tobacco Cards/others--also 1948-graded Buffalo Bill1909 T 206 Graham (boston Nat'l.) Very Rare Vintage Tobacco Baseball Card!C. 1910 Flags Of Nations T59 Tobacco Card Lot (26) Recruit Sub Rosa Scrap Iron1909 T206 Willis (st. Louis Nat'l) Very Rare Vintage Tobacco Baseball Card!Job Lot- Well Over 500 Cigarette Cards- No Rubbish -many High ValueVintage 1888 Duke Cowboy Scenes Tobacco Card Called "saddling Up" Seven Sets Of Cigarette Cards,all Military Related,players,phillips,gallaher++1909 T 206 Becker (boston Nat'l.) Very Rare Vintage Tobacco Baseball Card!1953 Red Man Tobacco Card Lot (10) W/stars Spahn Schoendienst Wynn 14815Wills Arms Of Companies 1913. A Full Set Of 50 Antique Cigarette Cards G/vgVintage Bat Cigarette Cards -beauties In Hats Type Cards--lot 2Vintage Bat Cigarette Cards -beauties In Hats Type Cards--lot 3Vintage Bat Cigarette Cards -beauties In Hats Type Cards--lot 4Vintage Bat Cigarette Cards -beauties In Hats Type Cards--lot 1Wills Australia Cigarette Cards 1933 Footballers - Carlton1909 T 206 Scott (chicago Amer.) Very Rare Vintage Tobacco Baseball Card!1911 T3 Tobacco Baseball Card #104 Lennox Brooklyn VgexSgc Graded 60 Excellent 1955 Redman Tobacco Larry Yogi Berra Card #16 With StubFour Sets Of Players Cigarette Cards In Packets,all Military Related,200 Cards.1930s Vintage Overseas Cigarette Cards Stuck In Album-birds -interesting AlbumOriginal Rube Geyer 1909-11 T206 Piedmont Back Tobacco Baseball Card 350-460 25Free Post * 10 Rarelyseen Mixed Odds Ogdens 105yrs Cigarette Cards Mxx26Various Cigarette Cards,sets & Part Sets,millhoff,phillips,wills,approx 1200+Cigarette Cards Players:1926 Footballers, Caricatures By Rip (full Set)1911 T3 Tobacco Baseball Card #113 Raymond ExBritish Tobacco Card Set - Wwii Nazi MedalsVintage 3d Viewer 1940's Photographic Images Stereosope Cigarette Cards Folds Up1909 T 206 Smith (chicago Amer.) Very Rare Vintage Tobacco Baseball Card!1909 T 206 Burns (chicago Amer.) Very Rare Vintage Tobacco Baseball Card!Arthur Morris Autographed Cigarette Card Wild Woodbine Cigarette Cards - Household Hints, Football, Locomotives, NavyWills Australia Cigarette Cards 1933 Footballers - St. KildaWills Cigarette Cards 1933 Footballers-complete Sets Of Yarraville & Sandringham

Recent News: Tobacco Cards

Source: Google News

Take Your Dad To A Baseball Card Show For Father's Day
Forbes, June 16th

His prized piece is a Cy Young 1910 T206 tobacco card. “I bet 99 percent of people think of the award,” he says. “But he had 511 wins and 312 loses, the most of anyone in history.” Costing him $350, his card in a SGC holder was graded “Authentic...Read more

For Sale On eBay: One Of The World's Rarest Baseball Cards
Forbes, June 10th

This past Spring Jonathan Celona of the Boston-based Champion Sports Cards and Collectibles called me with exciting news. He had just acquired a card far rarer than the iconic Honus Wagner, which has sold for as much as $2.8 million a 1903 E107 ...Read more

Rare Honus Wagner baseball card sells for $1.32 million
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 29th

2008 -- Just over six months after it was sold for $2.35 million, an unidentified collector pays a record $2.8 million for this 1909 Honus Wagner tobacco card. The previous owner paid a record $1,265,000 when he bought it in 2000. Previous owners have ...Read more

Maybe A $1 Million Honus Wagner Baseball Card Isn't A Holy Grail, After All
Forbes, April 16th

While talking to Russ Galen, a veteran New York literary agent and old friend, I referred to the iconic Honus Wagner tobacco card from the early 1900s as the holy grail of baseball card collecting. I wasn't alluding to the most valuable, $2.8 million...Read more

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

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

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

At the very bottom of the card are the words "Baseball Stars" and the card number. 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...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