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 C56 Imperial Tobacco #26 Lester Patrick Psa 5 Rookie Card Rc 1900 J H Taylor #22 Cope's Cope Golfers Tobacco Card Psa 7 Nm1932 Babe Ruth Bulgaria Cigarettes Tobacco Mini Cards Sport Photos Set 272 CardsT206 The Monster Baseball Tobacco Card Reprint Set In Original BoxLot Of 10 T206 Baseball Tobacco Cards Including Mcgraw HofLot Of 206 Antique Victorian Tobacco Trading Cards Wow!Tobacco Card Set, Gallaher, Votaries Of The Weed, 19161800s Arms Of All Nations Cigarette Card From Allen & GinterRare Gold Pfeil Handmade In Germany Leather Pouch For Coins, Cards, Tobacco, Etc3 Rare Framed Sets Player's Cigarette Cards Film Stars 1934, 1936, 1938, HollywoCkstamps Ebay : Massive British Gb Cigarette Cards Stamps Collection In 2 Albums1910 Mecca Cigarettes Tobacco T220 Boxing 9 Card Lot Old Prize Fighters BoxersLot Of 10 T206 Tobacco Baseball Cards Including Hal ChaseLot Of 11 T206 Tobacco Baseball Cards With 2 Southern Leaguers1888 Gold Coin Chewing Tobacco Police Card Of Captain Donald Grant N.y.Original Wwi Patch Insignia Cigarette Cards Set Of 5 Unusual Patches1910 T206 Piedmont 350 Tobacco Baseball Card Hal Chase Throwing Black CapJohn Player & Sons Vintage Cigarette Cards: 'victoria Cross' 1914 Full Set Vgc Tobacco Card Set, John Player & Sons, Cycling History,vintage Bike, Cycle, 1939Tobacco Card Set, Boguslavsky, Mythological Gods & Goddesses, 1938Tobacco Card Set, Wd & Ho Wills, Aviation, Aeroplane, Plane, Aircraft, 1910Free Post* Bodyline Bradman Incl In Set 50 Cricketers 1934 Cigarette Cards2 1800s Dukes Fishers & Fish Cigarette Cards With GirlsTobacco Card Set, Wd & Ho Wills, First Aid, Vintage Tips, 1913Tobacco Card Set, Cope Bros, The Worlds Police, Policeman, 1937Tobacco Card Set,edward Ringer & Bigg,cinema Stars,actor,actress,chaplin Etc1923Tobacco Card Set, Wd & Ho Wills, Portraits Of European Royalty, 2nd Series, 1908Cigarette Card Set, Uk Tobacco, Orders Of Chivalry & Valour, Medal, 1936Free Post * 53 Mixed Odds Size Cigarette Cards Cigarette Cards BgoHonus Wagner T206 Tobacco Card Vintage Reprint Tobacco Card Set, Boguslavsky, Turf, Sports Records,2nd Series,baseball Etc,1925(7) N184 Kimballs Sports Champions Tobacco Cards In This One LotTobacco Card Set,edward Ringer & Bigg,cinema Stars,actor,actress,chaplin Etc1923Tobacco Card Set, Teofani, Movie Stars & Cinema Celebrities, Actor, Actress,19341938 Wa&ac Churchman Joe Louis Cigarette Card Graded Psa 5Tobacco Card Set, International Code Of Signals, Flag Signals, 1934Free World Post "50 Mixed Odds Cigarette Cards ,over 74 Yr Old , Cigarette CardsTobacco Card Set, Wd & Ho Wills, Portraits Of European Royalty, 1st Series, 1908Cigarette Cards Wills’s War Incidents Series 2 25/50 Cards #13Nice 1800s Kinney Surf Beauties Girl Cigarette CardTopps Allen And Ginter 2014 Rare Yogi Berra Tobacco Card Only 1/25!!Joseph Pulitzer American Editors #38 Allen & Ginters Cigarettes Tobacco Card Wills Vintage Cigarette Cards. 'dogs' (home Issue)1937. Full Set. Vg+ Condition.Tobacco Advertising Lot Of 25 Assorted Items-silks-cards-etcGiant Pile Of 450 Cigarette Cards (all Different) Allen And Ginter 2014 Cigarette Card United States Navy Flag 1 In 6,660 Packs1/1Tobacco Card Set, Wa & Ac Churchman, Sports & Games In Many Lands, 19291911 T205 Rebel Oakes Piedmont Tobacco Card St. Louis Cardinals AuthenticWills Australia Cigarette Cards 1916 Animal Cutouts - Full Set Of 601926 John Player Footballers Caricatures By Rip 42 Tobacco Cards Lot Wow !Tobacco Card Set, Churchman, Famous Railway Train, Railroad, Locomotive, 1929Tobacco Card Set, Wa & Ac Churchman, Cricketers, Cricket, 1936Cigarette Cards Wills: 1905 Borough Arms (4th Series) Full Set.Wills Vintage Cigarette Cards Historic Events 1912 Full Set Of 50 Vg Cat £60.00Tobacco Card Set, Rj Lea, Chairman, Freshwater Fish, 19261910 Conroy Piedmont Tobacco CardRare Original German 1936 Cigarette Card Album Die Deutsche Wehrmacht Pre Ww2 Tobacco Card Set, Wa & Ac Churchman, Musical Instruments, 1924Tobacco Card Set, Wa & Ac Churchman, Army Badges Of Rank, Military, 1916Pan Am Airline Cigarette Lighter,stock Certificate,and Playing Cards

Recent News: Tobacco Cards

Source: Google News

Newly unearthed 'Chesapeake Wagner' T-206 to be auctioned in fall
Tbo.com, August 5th

“And to have it be a part of such an immense and diverse find of previously unknown T206s, makes this one of the most exciting tobacco card finds in recent years.” Larry Tipton, a collector from Hilliard in north Florida, can attest to that excitement...Read more

Observer meets baseball's 'Spaceman,' Bill Lee
Rio Rancho Observer, July 26th

The back of his business card, which looks like a T-206 tobacco card, says it all: Bill “Spaceman” Lee, co-conspirator & left hander,” with his address in Vermont, followed by “EARTH.” Yes, this is the zany left-hander — he's really not so zany, folks...Read more