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    

N150 Duke Honest Long Cut Tobacco Cards (45)Rare Dukes Honest Long Cut Tobacco Magic Trick Trade Card-"caught On The Fly"Divine Batch 25 Antique Floral Cigarette Card Silks Borders For Projects C1910Rare 1800s Dukes Honest Long Cut Tobacco Magic Trick Trade Card-"clairvoyance"Royal Air Force Raf Cigarette Business Card Holder Ww2 1939 To 1945 World War 2 Cigarette Card / Trade 17 Allens Cricketers Single Swap Playing Card Joker #154 La Toco Cigar Ad Lady Tampa Fla Old VintageJack Johnson,boxer,hassan Cigarettes Tobacco Card,1910Cigarette Card / Trade 17/48 Sweetacres Series Of Sport ChampionsCigarette Card / Trade 36/36 Allens Fighting PlanesCat £190.00 Mint 1965 Cadet - Doctor Who & Daleks Set 50 Cigarette / Trade CardsCigarette Card / Trade A.t.c. 12 Mixed BeautiesCigarette Card / Trade 36/48 Sniders+abrahams Medals+decorationsCigarette Card / Trade 3 S+a Football [flags] N157 Sunny South Series Tobacco Advertising CardCigarette Card / Trade S+a Football Mix [flags]Cigar Box Full Of Old Football Cards 1955 1956 Topps Bowman Lot VintageOriginal German Cigarette Card Book Zigarettenbilderalbum Die Deutsche WehrmachtCigarette Card / Trade 5 Gallahers Beauties 1899/1905Cigarette Card / Trade 8 Kornies FootyT206 Tobacco Baseball Card Berger Cleveland Polar Bear Back Topps 206Cigarette Card / Trade 100 + Trade CardsCigarette Card / Trade 10 Tobacco Leaf BeautiesAntique Wills Cigarette Cards 1912 Birds Of Australasia 22 Cards - Yellow BackCigarette Card / Trade22/25 Wills United States WarshipsCigarette Card / Trade 10 Fountain British Aero + PilotsT206 Tobacco Baseball Card Paskert Cincinnati Piedmont Back Nice Card Boxing Personalities 1938 Cigarette Cards Set Dempsey.johnson.louisCigarette Card / Trade 12 Giant Licorice Shirley Temple FilmCigarette Card / Trade 21/25 L+b Motor Car RadiatorsCigarette Card / Trade4/8 Happy Ade BeatlesRare Venables Red Tag Tobacco Advertising Trade Card 1887 N28 Allen & Ginter Cigarette Card4 Rare Original 1909-1911 T206 Tobacco Baseball Cards Vg+ Or BetterCigarette Card / Trade 20/25 Wills Conundrums 18984 Rare 1909-1911 T206 Tobacco Baseball Cards All In Vg+ Or Better Condition1910 T212 Obak Tobacco Card Brown, Vancouver N.w.l. AuthenticT206 Tobacco Baseball Card Mullin Detroit Piedmont BackCigarette Card / Trade 41/50 Sanitarium Aboriginal Tribes4 Red Man Tobacco Baseball Cards - "four Great Cards / One Low Price" *33*1909 - 1911 T206 Tobacco Baseball Card Barry Piedmont OriginalCigarette Card / Trade 85 James Flood Car SeriesCigarette Card / Trade 48/48 Gallaher Champions [2] 1935Cigarette Card / Trade 15 Kensitas [silk] Flowers 1933/34Dukes Tobacco Trading Card "presence Of Mnd"4 Rare 1909-1911 T206 Original Tobacco Baseball Cards In Vg+ Or Better Condition1909-1911 W Alperman T206 Tobacco Card 2002 Topps T206 Buyback Framed OriginalImperial Tobacco Lacrosse Series Joseph Cattarinich National Montreal Great Card4 Red Man Tobacco Baseball Cards - "four Great Cards / One Low Price" *35*Vintage Josephine Baker Two German Tobacco/cigarette Card's 1930's Lovely1921-22 Ty Cobb Queen City Cigar Store Card In Screw Holder Selling As ReprintVictorian Trade Card Rare 1800's John P. Hier Syracuse Ny Zamora Cigar Box 70 Cigarette Card / Trade 13 Ardath Real Photoes Beauties 4 Red Man Tobacco Baseball Cards - "four Great Cards / One Low Price" *26*Cigarette Card / Trade 41/50 Walters Cap Badges Lot Of 27 Lower Grade Tobacco CardsCigarette Card / Trade 31/36 B.a.t. Modern Beauties 4 Red Man Tobacco Baseball Cards - "four Great Cards / One Low Price" *28*4 Red Man Tobacco Baseball Cards - "four Great Cards / One Low Price" *31*Vintage 1909-1911 Izzy Hoffman (providence) Piedmont Cigarette Baseball Card