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]

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]

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]

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]

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]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Ca1890 Deck Of N458 Hard-a-port Tobacco Advertising Playing Cards Pin-up GirlsAntique Allen Ginter Tobacco Cards N3 And N12 Arms Of All Nations And Fruits Job Lots 3000 Cards 2.5kg Trade Tea Cigarette Some Sets Rare Photo + 58 SilksBabe Ruth Baseball Player 1929 Gb Churchman Cigarette Tobacco Card Usa Sports1910 T230 Pan Handle Scrap Tobacco - World's Champion Athletes - Lot Of 8 Cards!Antique Early 1900's Non Sport Tobacco Card Lot (65) Piedmont Fatima Hassan Etc.A Vintage Anglo Indian Hand Carved Sandalwood Wooden Box For Cigarette Or Cards1911 Piedmont Cigarettes T205 Chief Meyers Sgc 6.5 - Hi Grade Tobacco Card Vintage Wagner Pet Cigarette Tobacco Litho Advertising Trade Card Sign Allen Us1909 T206 Elmer Flick Cleveland Baseball Tobacco CardZippo Cigarette Lighter Card Player In Original Box1911 T206 Sweet Caporal 350/460tobacco Baseball Card Schlei VgAnthropomorphic Frogs Rare 1876 Philadelphia Expo Kimball Tobacco Trade Card #50Shoeless Joe Jackson Liberty Cigar Old Liberty Art Card W/1916 Dime 1 Of 5 MadeNew Fendi Zuccha Wallet Tobacco And Red Color W/ 8 Card Slots + CoinsAntique Vintage Old Swap Playing Card Joker With Negro Man Smoking A Cigar1890 The Banner Tobacco Co. N453 Night Watch Gypsy Girl Card Authentic44 Old Vintage 1940s Aeroplanes Cigarette Trading Cards ~ Ww2 Airplanes Aviation1909-11 T206 Harry Howell Hand At Waist Psa 1 ~ Rare Tolstoi Tobacco Back Card1910 T205 Gold Border John Jd Miller Psa 4.5 Vg-ex+~ Pirates Honest Tobacco Card1909-11 T206 Howie Camnitz Hands Over Head Psa 3.5 ~ Sweet Caporal Tobacco Card1888 Scrapps Tobacco Baseball Card Of Wm Gleason Ss Of The St LouisNoblespirit No Reserve 8159/43 Better Germany Glassine&102 Card Cigar Box1909-11 T206 Fred Merkle Throwing Psa 3 Vg ~ Sweet Caporal Tobacco Card1909 T206 Sovereign Tobacco Baseball Card Lindeman1909 T206 Rhoades Cleveland Baseball Tobacco CardWilliams Tobacco - John Bull - Russian Bear - American Turkey - Trade CardLot Of 100 Assorted W.d. & H. O. Wills And Player & Sons Tobacco Cards1909-11 T206 Fred Snodgrass Catching Psa 4 Vg-ex~ New York Piedmont Tobacco Card1909/1911 T206 Tolstoi Tobacco Baseball Card Mcquillan1912 Will's Musical Celebrities -first Series - Complete Set -50 Cigarette Cards1912 T205 Birmingham Cleveland Baseball Tobacco CardGroup Of Vintage Aviation Cigarette Cards - Early 20th Century - Great GraphicsWills Silk Cigarette Cards - Birds & Animals Of Australia 1915, Part Set 22 / 50Cigarette Cards. Ogden's O/s. 23/25 Famous Railway Trains. Part Set.1909 T206 Chief Bender & Sam Crawford Tobacco CardsOld Rip, Richmond Gem, Allen & Ginter, Va, Tobacco Trade Card Circa 1880's1910 T73 Hassan Tobacco Indian Life In The 1860's Lot Of 10 Trading CardsWills Australia Cigarette Cards 1912 British Empire Capstan Backs-full Set Of 501893 N119 Lighthouses Die Cut Tobacco Card Duke - Stepping Stones1911 T205 Sweet Caporal Tobacco Baseball Card Hofer Joe Tinker1910 Obak Cigarettes Tobacco Card T212 Baum P.c.l Poor 1911 T205 Tobacco Card John Lush Rare Red Back Near Mint Card Book Value $1500Large Framed Cigarette Cards Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee & His 25 Generals Coa1909-11 T206 Jj Nig Clarke Psa 3 Vg ~ Cleveland Sweet Caporal Tobacco Card1863 Segars & Tobacco Jac Grube Bowery Ny Store Card 1 Cent Cwt Cigars L Roloff1954 Red Man Tobacco Al-7 Orestes Minnie Minoso Card With Tab - Sgc 86 Nm+ 7.5Wills Australia Cigarette Cards 1911 U.s. Warships - Mixed Backs, Full Set Of 25Wills Australia Cigarette Cards 1908 Time & Money - Part Set 49 Of 501893 N119 Lighthouses Die Cut Tobacco Card Duke - Race Rock1893 N119 Lighthouses Die Cut Tobacco Card Duke - Sanibel Island - FloridaTobacco Card Set, Castella, Tank Story, Sherman, Chieftan, Challenger, Etc1909-11 T206 Doc White Chicago Portrait Psa 2.5 Good~ Sweet Caporal Tobacco CardRare Lot 1914-16 War Portraits Lot 5 Cigarette Cards St Georges Hall Churchill1910 Obak Cigarettes Tobacco Card T212 Brooks N.w.l Poor 1910 T221 Pan Handle Scrap Tobacco - Champion Women Swimmers, Lot Of 32 Cards!1893 N119 Lighthouses Die Cut Tobacco Card Duke - Bartlett Reef Light VesselN224- Military Series- Kinney Tobacco Card - State Seal - Virginia1893 N119 Lighthouses Die Cut Tobacco Card Duke - Atlantic City, Nj1893 N119 Lighthouses Die Cut Tobacco Card Duke - Boston Lighthouse

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

Among Horner's many masterpieces was his portrait of Honus Wagner that appeared on his 1910 T-206 tobacco card, the hobby's most celebrated and valuable baseball card. (Horner's photo of Young also showed up in the same set, as well.) I consulted ...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

How Can A $1 Million Honus Wagner Baseball Card Now Up For Auction Be ...
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

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

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

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