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    

Rare 1900's Derby Cigarettes Tobacco Tin Sign Pack Canada Hockey Card C-56 Cat £175.00 Mint 1965 Cadet - Doctor Who & Daleks Set 50 Cigarette / Trade Cards(20) Raw T206 Tobacco Card Lot With Lots Of Hof Plus Sl Mixed Backs Low Grade Rare Version 1899 Advertising Poker Cut Plug Cigarette Tobacco Tin Playing Card 1909 T206 Dahlen Brooklyn Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card 7293aj Cigarette Cards Collection 'john Player' Miscellaneous - Lots To Sort ???1887 Gold Coin Chewing Tobacco Card Of Police Capt W.p. Daly From N.j.14 Honest Long Cut Tobacco..civil War Battle Scene Cards..w.duke & Sons !!7290aj Cigarette Cards Collection Misc Including Churchman/gallagher/ogden/wills7275aj Cigarette Cards Collection - A Good Selection Worth A Consideration- See1948 Jackie Robinson Old Gold Cigarette Card Vg Strong Image And Fac. AutographPedro Cut Plug Waterberry's Tobacco Advertising Sign Black Americana Trade CardLot Of T206 25 Old Cigarette And Tobacco ,graded Cards. Late 1800 - Sitting Bull Cigarette Card From Allen & Ginter2 Late 1800 - Indian Cigarette Cards From - Allen & GinterDixie Dean Everton Efc Soccer Football Cigarette Card Set (16 Items) 1927-19901927 Ogdens Jockeys & Owners Colours Full Set Of 50 Cigarette Cards Exc - MintAntique Full Set Of Cowans Noted Cats Cigarette Or Tea Cards French / English. Lake St Louis 1909 T206 Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card 1909 T206 Ames New York Nat'l Tolstoi Tobacco Baseball Card1909 T206 Elberfeld New York Amer Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card 1909 T206 Schaefer Washington Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card 1909 T206 Hummel Brooklyn Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card Awesome Vintage Superstar Hof Lot W/ T206 Tobacco Cards - No Commons Huge Bv #11909 T206 Ford New York Amer Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card T206 1909 Tannehill Chicago Amer Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card 1900's Cigar Store Cast Iron Mills Jockey Coin Op Trade Stimulator Post Card T206 Reprint Set The Monster Tobacco Cards 523 Cards 1909 T206 Crandall New York Nat'l Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card1909 T206 St. Louis Amer. Lake Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card 7284aj Cigarette Cards Collection 'wills' - Plenty To Sort - Some Duplication ??1952 Red Man Tobacco Card #15 Willie Mays Psa 5 Ex Giants 732Scarce Original 1880s Tobacco Trade Card - Snag Cigars - Coldwater Mi1960's Football,baseball Old Silver Coins In A Cigar Box. Cards Ex!!Awesome Vintage Superstar Hof Lot W/ T206 Tobacco Cards - No Commons Huge Bv #31889 Wizard Cigar Box Clip Poker Card Holder Gambler Magician Cheating Device1909 T206 Doyle New York Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card1909 T206 Krause Philadelphia Amer Sovereign Tobacco Baseball CardTobacco Card Set, Wa & Ac Churchman, The Queen Mary, Building, 19363 Late 1800 - Allen & Ginter Worlds Smokers Cigarette Cards1909 T206 Tenney New York Nat'l Sovereign Tobacco Baseball CardCharlie Querrie 1911 C60 Lacrosse Imperial Tobacco Rare Vintage Card Tecumseh1909 T206 Reulbach Chicago Nat'l Tolstoi Tobacco Baseball Card1909 T206 Steinfeldt Chicago Nat'l Tolstoi Tobacco Baseball Card1909 T206 Steinfeldt Chicago Nat'l Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card 1909 T206 Rucker Brooklyn Tolstoi Tobacco Baseball CardTobacco Card Set, Godfrey Phillips, Lawn Tennis, How To Play, 19301920s George Washington Weber Bread Card D117 Like Royal Bengals Tobacco T68 Rare 1909-11 T206 Bud Sharpe Polar Bear Tobacco Card ~ Graded Sgc 2 - Good 307281aj Cigarette Cards Collection Wills - Ideal For Specialist - Plenty To Sort?T209 1909 Lumley Brooklyn Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card Awesome Vintage Superstar Hof Lot W/ T206 Tobacco Cards - No Commons Huge Bv #41909 T206 Pelty St. Louis Amer Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card1909 T206 "happy" Smith Brooklyn Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card 1909 T206 Pfeister Chicago Nat'l Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card1909 T206 Kron Chicago Nat'l Sovereign Tobacco Baseball CardTobacco Card Set, Wd & Ho Wills, First Aid, Vintage Tips, 1913Cigarette Card. Wills - Aust. 100/100 Famous Film Stars. Complete Set.Tobacco Card Set, Wd & Ho Wills, British Birds, Ornithology, Twitcher, 19151909 T206 Murphy Philadelphia Amer Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card