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    

(14) Wwii Ww2 German Germany Hitler & Nazi Leaders Cigarette Tobacco Cards1910 T68 Men Heroes Of History Tobacco Card - Davy Crockett Nice!1909-1911 T206 Willetts Detroit Tolstoi Back Russian Mouth Piece Tobacco CardAntique Dealers Massive Job Box Lot Mixed Cigarette / Tea / Sweets Trade CardsAllen & Ginter Indian Chief Tobacco Cards Sitting Bull, Iron Bull, Spotted Tail(14) Wwii Ww2 German Germany Army Nazi Swastika Berlin Cigarette Tobacco Cards19th Century Mayo Tobacco Actress Card - Lillian Russell1910 T68 Men Heroes Of History Tobacco Card - William Tecumseh Sherman Nice!Tobacco Card Set, Bat Nz, Lighthouses, Needles, Portland Bill Etc, 1926Rms Queen Mary- Complete Set Of 50 Churchman Cigarette Cards-full Color-lookFree World Post "40 Motor Cycles Cigarette Cards 1923 Cards, Lambert ButlerPaddy Moran C59 1910-11 Imperial Tobacco Lacrosse Card Hockey Hof GoalieJoseph Cattarinich C59 1910-11 Imperial Tobacco Lacrosse Card Hockey Hof Goalie1911 T205 Hassan Batch Minor League Tobacco Card NmTobacco Card Set, Wd & Ho Wills, First Aid, Vintage Tips, 19131910 T68 Men Of History Royal Bengals Tobacco Cards (5) Ex+1909-1911 T206 Charley Carr Indianapolis Piedmont Baseball 350 Cigarette CardTobacco Card Set, Wd & Ho Wills, Naval Dress & Badges, Royal Navy, 19091888 Allen & Ginter Celebrated American Indian Chiefs Tobacco Card Album A2Metropolitan Cigar Manufactory New York, N.y. Victorian Trade Card1910 T68 Men Heroes Of History Tobacco Card - Edwin Booth Nice!1910 T68 Men Heroes Of History Tobacco Card - Molly Pitcher Nice!George Moriarity 1911 T205 Gold Border Tobacco CardOlympic Games 1936 Cigarette Card Photo Album Nazi Winter Summer Jesse OwensGeorge Paskert 1911 T205 Gold Border Tobacco Card #1532 - 1800s World's Smokers Cigarette Cards From Allen & Ginter1910 T68 Men Of History Royal Bengals Tobacco Cards (3) NmTobacco Card Set, Anstie, Racing Scenes, Horse Racing, 1st Series, 19222 -1800s Wild Animals Of The World Cigarette Cards From Allen & GinterFree Post * Full Set 50 Railway Engines 78 Yrs Old Cigarette CardsAntique Dealers Lot 150+ Mixed Kensitas Silk Cigarette Cards Flags Of Empire EtcLot Of 47 Asst Vintage Non-sport And Cigarette Cards 1910 T68 Men Heroes Of History Tobacco Card - Henry Irving Nice!Free Post * 88 Yrs Full Set 50 Cricketers Caricatures By "rip" Cigarette CardsOlympic Games 1936 Cigarette Card Photo Album Volume 1 Nazi Winter Box Skiing1914 T51 Murad College Series Tobacco Cards (8) Nm1880 N344 Panghott Pedestrian Between The Acts Tobacco Card1910 T68 Men Of History Royal Bengals Tobacco Cards (5)Cigarette Card / Trade 25/25 Edward Ringer+bigg Abbeys+castles 19121911 T205 Piedmont Reulbach Tobacco Baseball Card NmTobacco Card Set, Abdulla, Feathered Friend, Tropical Bird, 1935Olympic Games 1936 Cigarette Card Photo Album Volume 2 Jesse Owens Nazi Summer1880's Saegertown Pa Trade Card J Saeger Dry Goods Tobacco Clothing Woman Hat1910 T206 Piedmont Jack Hayden Vintage Tobacco Card - Graded Vg 32 N33 World's Smokers 1800s Tobacco Cards Allen & Ginter Pole & PersianFree Post * 50 Mixed Odds Over Cigarette Cards 74 Yr Old Cig Cards DwqNice 1800s Kimball Fancy Bathers Cigarette Card1909 T206 Polar Bear Back Al Mattern Baseball Tobacco Card - Professional GradedCigarette Card / Trade 3 Suburban Footballers1895 N264 Red Cross Tobacco Actress Card - Linda VernerFendi Tobacco Wallet Card & Change Vintage 1909-10 Hassan Cork Tip Cigarette Cards Animal Series Lot Of 26 CardsMecca Boxing Cigarette Cards Lot Of 10 Different No Reserve!1909 T206 Piedmont Huggins Baseball Tobacco CardRare Late 1800s Trade Card Folder - Wellman & Dwire Tobacco CoTobacco Card Set, Wd & Ho Wills, British Birds, Ornithology, Twitcher, 19152 N33 World's Smokers 1800s Tobacco Cards Allen & Ginter Albanian & Cossack2 N33 World's Smokers 1800s Tobacco Cards Allen & Ginter Greek & Hungarian2 N33 World's Smokers 1800s Allen & Ginter Tobacco Cards Turk & English Naval1880's Mayo Navy Tobacco Trade Card, Richmond Va

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