All vintage and modern sports card collectors know about the prized 1909 – 1911 American Tobacco T206 baseball card set. This tobacco card issue may be among the most famous sets of all. You should also know that there is also nearly an endless number of graded T206 baseball cards already, as well as a massive phantom population of the cards that have never been graded. So, what about 100-plus-year tobacco issued baseball card sets that are very scarce?
The T216 baseball card set is one of these scarce tobacco sets. Many vintage collectors have never even heard of nor seen a single card from this set. These cards were issued from 1911 to 1916 by the People’s Tobacco Company of New Orleans, Louisiana. The front of the baseball cards will look familiar to many vintage collectors because many of the players’ pictures were the same as the prior E90-1 and E92 sets.
If you are puzzled about not hearing of this set, it’s not just the current scarcity that has to be considered. Had it not been for a large “find” (see below) most collectors would have never seen or heard of this set. And because of issues like regionally issuance in the New Orleans area and the poor paper quality, these are almost always found in very low grades. And for disclosure purposes, collecting cards from this rare set has been an on and off personal passion for nearly a decade!
Here is how scarce they are on a relative basis in the PSA registry alone. There are more than 257,000 PSA graded T206 cards in total from all of the backs, but PSA currently counts only 280 graded examples cards from the T216 set. The T206 set has 16 different backs, but there are only 3 brand variations for the T216 set (Kotton, Mino and Virginia Extra). SGC’s population reports count more than 500 different graded examples of this scarce set, but it is unknown whether there are repeat counts, crossover grades and the like considering that their grades include the old and new scoring.
Most of the T216 cards that have been discovered over the years would be described as being in “trainwreck condition.” Here is the proof — the highest grade of all T216 cards that are known to have survived is merely a PSA 6! And all but 55 of the PSA graded examples have grades with qualifiers or “+” grades varying from Authentic up to PSA 2 (37 “A”; 87 PSA 1 (+7 “Q”); 21 at 1.5 and 61 at PSA 2. Despite this, all auction houses and collectors will overlook the poor grading.
The T206 is made up of 524 cards (390 major leaguers and 134 minor/regional players). PSA counts just 117 cards in the T216 set, made up of 73 players. Perhaps the best news about the T216 cards, despite how scarce they are in any condition, is that the set is loaded full of Hall of Fame and well-known players of the Deadball Era. Here are just some HOF players from the T216 set — Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Eddie Plank, Tris Speaker, Cy Young… AND three variations of Honus Wagner.
Yes, this is another Honus Wagner tobacco card — and there are fewer known examples than the T206 Honus Wagner!
The issue that helps to make the T206 set’s Honus Wagner cards so valuable is the scarcity. This was due to 1) a disagreement over terms for using Wagner’s image or 2) the legend that old Honus didn’t want his image promoting tobacco to kids. We have done research and had multiple discussions with baseball card industry sources and historians alike, and the ultimate ruling for now is that Honus probably changed his mind or was being difficult to agree with at the time.
And while PSA counts a total of 4 different Honus Wagner card variations in the T216 set (batting and throwing, and shortstop and second base), the PSA population is only 22 graded cards in any condition. SGC’s grading has a total of 21 cards Honus Wagner cards graded, but the six different lines here leaves the notion that there may be double-counts and unknown variations included in that number. So instead of 50-something, or 60 or 70 of the estimated T206 Honus Wagner cards, there may be only 43 or so total known graded examples of the T216 Honus Wagner when tallying up PSA and SGC combined.
While storms in the New Orleans area may account for a low surviving population, the reality is that the T216 People’s Tobacco baseball cards should have never even been made. The People’s Tobacco company was against “Big Tobacco” and it was a very short-lived company before it failed. It is unknown if the People’s Tobacco ever even had any license or permission from the leagues or with the players. Some sources refer to the set as issued in 1914. Some sites count the set from 1914 to 1916 and PSA and Louisiana Cards show 1911 to 1916. The players were from the American League, the National League, and they also included the doomed Federal League from 1914 to 1915.
While the PSA CardFacts site notes that the “Kotton Cigarettes” brand is far more scarce than Mino and Virginia Extra, many of the ones that come up for auction from time to time seem to have Kotton backs more often than not. PSA also notes that Kotton had two variations, one with glossy image front and the other with very thin stock paper.
Goldin Auctions previously confirmed that there are fewer T216 Honus Wagner cards than there are T206 cards, but they also noted the issue that these may have been made without knowledge or permission. A PSA 3 example sold for $12,250 several years ago and here is what Goldin had to say at the time:
Of additional significance, this tobacco card silently disputes the idea that the T206 Wagner card’s rarity derives from the great player’s objection to his likeness accompanying a tobacco product. (On the other side of the coin, Peoples Tobacco was a tiny company and the cards were issued solely in and around Louisiana; Wagner’s permission may not have been obtained prior to the cards’ production, and it’s possible that he was completely unaware of their existence.)
Heritage Auctions has something similar to say about T216 cards. Heritage has noted in some of its auctions that these cards are so rare that the poor condition of the cards is a moot point — and they have noted that accumulating T216 Hall of Famers “could possibly rank as a one, maybe two in-a-life time possibilities.”
In the July 2022 auction, Heritage has 4 Hall of Fame players up for grabs in the T216 set. These were low-grade yet incredibly scarce examples of players like Napoleon Lajoie, Johnny Evers, Roger Bresnahan, and Chief Bender.
Back in July of 2021, Heritage Auctions sold off a T216 Ty Cobb card graded a mere 1.5 (MK) from the John Esch collection (image below by Heritage Auctions) and it fetched $13,200.00 after the buyer’s premium despite such a low grade. Another example graded merely “Authentic” by BVG fetched $1,440.00 (image below by Heritage Auctions) despite the encapsulated card had been in two (or more) pieces and was suffering from mold and paper “powdering” inside the case.
Their description of the PSA 1.5 said:
This southern rarity is one of only six examples known in PSA holders. With an extremely limited geographical distribution to their benefit, collectors within the southern region had access to cards bearing the “Kotton Cigarettes” brand. A century later, when found at all, they are typically in pretty rough shape. Our offered card features Ty Cobb, his “Standing” pose with a fully worded “Detroit Americans” caption. The depiction may be more familiar to “E” hobbyists than tobacco fans but this is a prize tobacco entry we feel will see spirited bidding. This is an attractive example despite condition detriments which should put off no one.
Heritage Auctions sold a SGC 2.5 grade of a Kotton back Honus Wagner (Batting-2b) for $14,400.00 in May of 2020 and it sold a SGC 1.5 Kotton back (Throwing-2b) for $13,800.00 in the same auction.
If there is one particular “find” that helped to keep the T216 set from never being seen it would be what was dubbed as “The Chattanooga Tennessee Find” which was featured by Dave Levin of Dave’s Vintage Cards back in 2011. His 10-minute video discusses finding 350 tobacco era cards (not all T216 examples). There were 17 Mino backs and more Kotton cards from the T216 set. That find also consisted of 23 cards from General Baking set from the same era and other cards from the T207 set. An e98 card was present, as were more than 200 of the rare T213 Coupon cards.
If there is one aspect that collectors love in vintage cards it has to be scarcity and high demand. We now know that the T216 set is perhaps a prime example of “scarcity” even for rare tobacco-era cards. And everyone knows that tobacco era Hall of Fame players, particularly Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb, always have more demand than there is supply.