How Many T206 Cards Survive Today?

The baseball card set issued by the American Tobacco Company between 1909 and 1911, today commonly referred to as T206, has been produced in a quantity larger than most other sports card sets that have ever appeared in America. But despite this, only a very small percentage of the cards have survived, the common estimate being around 1%. While for collectors this is a sad figure, the truth is that if we consider the age of the set and the social conditions prevailing at its launch, it is remarkable that even 1% of them have survived.

Interest At Their Initial Release

T206 groupAt the time of the launch of the T206 set there were not many collectors around. The cards, being distributed with cigarette packs coming from 16 different brands under the American Tobacco Company, were considered a bonus, not a standalone product. And we have to remember that it was primarily grown men who purchased the cigarette packs, mainly for the smoke, and that not all of them had an interest in collecting colored cardboard with baseball players on the front. In other words, as sad as this may seem for collectors today, many of the little cards were easily discarded, sometimes without even receiving a single view. Millions of cards must have been lost in this way.  In some cities, kids went wild over them...sometimes buying the cigarettes themselves when they were allowed to (it was a much different time!), but after the fad died, so did the collection of many youngsters.

 

Cigarettes Not Bubblegum

Unlike sports card sets that were to be launched in the next decades, the T206 card set was released with cigarette packs, and so they were distributed to adults, who are not as interested in novelty items as kids. The popular sports card sets of the 1950s or 60s all came with bubblegum, and so they were mostly bought by children. Since this was not the case with the T206 set, it's easy to understand how come many, many cards have been lost.

 

Little Value

In the early 20th century baseball was still young, and card collectors were few. It's reasonable to assume that when the set was first released only those people who had began to have a liking for baseball collected the cards. There should have also been those who saved them because their friends liked the game, or because their children liked the colored cardboards. But these well-wishers were relatively few. So the value of the cards was not worth considering, and only few buyers actually kept them.

 

It's More Than 100 Years Since The Set Was Released

We have to keep in mind that it has been a long, long time since the T206 card set was first released. In time it had to face many threats to its survival, far worse thaCobbn the lack of interest of cigarette buyers. Many things can happen in a century. Some of the big challenges the cards had to face include bad storage conditions, the shortage of paper during WWII, and the moving of the cards from one owner to the next, over at least 2 or 3 generations. So it's indeed remarkable that cards do survive to this day.

 

Survival Figures

An estimative analysis would suggest that from the T206 card set there should be surviving about 1.6 million pieces. The analysis, however, is based more on speculation than on facts. The number is inferred from the figure of existing cards of two rare subjects from the set, O'Hara and Demmitt, both from St. Louis. The two cards exist today only with the Polar Bear back, though other cards with the same possible back are almost just as available. What's more, it is a fact that one tenth of cards from the set with a possible Polar Bear have actually that backside. So it is assumed that about 300 rare cards still survive, and that their survival rate matches that of the rest of cards. Hence the estimation of 3,000 surviving cards for a common card in the set. The 1.6 million estimate is based on this figure.

In the end we should remember that though it's sad that only relatively few cards have survived, considering that the set is over 100 years old, things could have been worse. And besides, it's this apparent rarity that makes the T206 card set one of the most coveted.

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