Step By Step Guide To Spotting a Fake T206 Card
While the majority of present-day card scams relate to more modern era cards that are easier to reproduce, there are most certainly counterfeit cards dating back to the Pre-War era.
We have covered the evaluation of old counterfeit cards before, yet this piece will focus on detecting some of the more common fakes from the infamous T206 White Borders set.
Hopefully, this guide will arm you with all of the knowledge you need in order to avoid buying any fake T206 cards.
As always if you come across a good fake or if you need any help in authenticating a T206 card, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Which T206 Cards Have Been Counterfeited?
The answer to this question is not a simple one. For any of the more valuable cards in the set - Wagner Cobb, Mathewson, Young et al (along with the expensive error cards), multiple variations and attempts have been created over the years.
Usually, the fakes are just low production copies that are printed in the hundreds of thousands and sold on eBay as 'unknown authenticity'. Sometimes they are labeled as actual reprints. (be sure to see our guide to safely buying cards on eBay).
Many of the T206 scammers will take older reproduction copies (that say 'Reprint' on the back of the card) and artificially age the card. Note here is a good post of a fake T206 card where the word 'Reprint' was removed from the bottom of the back of the card.
There have been several full T206 reproduction sets produced over the years (Dover and Galasso the most common), but most are of such low quality that all of the points we lay out below would be able to help you easily distinguish between the fake and the real card.
The last thing I will note is that many fake T206 cards end up in bootleg holders from a basement grading company or in holders designed to look like a PSA or SGC holder.
Again, focus on the card and the steps below should help you avoid buying any fakes like this. (Also, see our guide on defunct and basement card graders here)
Examining Font In Player's Name On Front Of T206 Card
One of the first areas to examine when authenticating a T206 card is the front text area where the player's last name and team name are located on the bottom of the card.
Most fakes have not been able to reproduce the correct font and color of the text on the front of authentic T206 cards. On an authentic card, the text is actually a dark brown color, whereas most fakes actually use a black ink.
This might be harder to differentiate if you haven't handled a real T206 card, thus I always recommend having a few common cards nearby to help compare.
Here's a close up look at the text on an authentic T206 Honus Wagner card:
It should be quite clear that the text on the authentic card has a brown color, whereas the fake Wagner card has a darker, black text. There are many variations of fake T206 cards, but I would say that 9 times out of 10 you should be able to figure out authenticity just based on text color alone.
And some fakes are just blatantly obvious. It should hopefully be clear the issues with this one--totally wrong font--narrower and a different size along with very black text.
No Factory Designation Number On The Back
One other common thing I've noticed on some fake T206 cards is a missing factory designation on the back of the card. For those not familiar, aside from having various tobacco back advertisements, T206 cards also have small print on the bottom back of the card--notating the factory that the card was produced in.
Here's an example on an authentic Sweet Caporal back:
Note that I will again reiterate the great Scot Reader 'Inside T206' piece for more information on this, but here is a look at the different factories and the advertising backs. Your card should lineup with this factory/back combination:
A card's factory designation might have somehow been scuffed out due to excessive wear or maybe if the back of the card was glued to a scrapbook and removed, but if you find one without it, be very skeptical.
Here is a fake T206 Christy Mathewson card I saw for sale on eBay recently that had a missing factory number. This card has many issues that indicate it is a fake, but that missing factory number might have helped you if you were a bit more novice to collecting T206 cards.
Look For Artificial Signs of Aging
Most experienced vintage collectors can spot the signs of artificial aging from a mile away. So what exactly is artificial aging?
Artificial aging involves the process of making a reprint or other sort of counterfeit card look old and consistent with the year of original production.
Common methods of artificial aging include soaking cards, burning cards, bending or creasing cards and artificially rounding corners.
For more novice collectors, this guide should help identify artificially aged fakes.
First, let's take a look at that Mathewson from above again.
This card has many, many problems (wrong card stock, wrong fonts, wrong colors) but there is one thing that caught my eye when I first looked at the card. See the dark browning along the edges?
Certainly a sign that someone took a lighter to this card or even baked in in the oven (yep that's a thing) to try and burn and age the edges of the card.
Sure, a card can get burnt, but it's not really all that common. So if see that sort of burnt look around the edges (more so on the bottom left), it is very likely to be a fake.
One of the most common methods of artificially aging a card involves soaking the card to give it the appearance of a very old card. Often cards are soaked in tea or even coffee grounds to make the cards look really old.
Here's a scrap-booker doing what a card scammer might to do artificially age a card. Note the burning she does to the paper as well. I'm sure many card doctors have probably watched this video or ones like it (thanks YouTube).
The good thing is that it's quite easy to detect a card that has been soaked. Here's an artificially aged T206 Cobb Red Portrait that recently fooled some unsuspecting buyers on eBay.
First, let's just note some things on the front of the card.
Look at all that scratching; definitely a sign that someone probably took some sandpaper to the card--it would be very unusual for a 120+ year old card to have this sort of scratching...especially scratches that are that white!!
Clearly a sign that the paper the card was printed on is not that of a card produced in the early 1900s.
Plus, the corners have a very unusual blackness and rounding to them--often we see fakes that have very obvious rounded corners---but these ones, especially that bottom right corner looks specifically forced to look old, maybe with dirt, but not quite sure.
Now, back to the soaking. The key to identifying a soaked card is those little tiny spider wrinkles---you can notice some of it on the front, but it is very obvious on the back of the card. That crackling appearance on the back of the card is not what an typical authentic T206 card should look like.
Artificial Rounding of Corners
As a part of artificially aging a card, scammers will work to intentionally round the corners of a card. One of the important things to understand in regards to how T206 cards were printed and that a white coating was actually applied to the fronts of the cards to give them a brightness. From Cycleback's excellent work:
The cards were printed on a thin cardboard with the fronts only (where the players appear) coated in a smooth white substance. This front layer, which was used on cards throughout the 19th and 20th century, created a smooth bright white surface that helped the images look their best. There was no white ink used, so the white areas on a T206 were created by a lack of ink against the white coating.
Thus, on a normally aged authentic T206 card, any wear on the corners will actually provide a clear difference between the white coating on the top of the card and the underlying paper stock.
Here's a fake Cobb someone sold on eBay. Note the corners and how they feel forced and sharp and lacking any of that fibrous wear from underneath the top coating of the card. This one just so happens to have the wrong font on the front of the card.
Give It The Old Black Light Test
We've spoken about how a black light can help detect counterfeit cards before, but let's revisit in terms of working with T206 cards. Just as a reminder, there were optical brighteners added to paper, starting in the late 1940's. Paper that includes these optical brighteners will fluoresce under a black light. If the paper does not include a brightener, it will look dull under black light and not fluoresce.
T206 cards were produced from 1909 through 1911 and do not include any sort of brighteners. Thus, under black light there should be no fluorescence. You don't need a real T206 card to run the test against any suspect T206 card (although it would help to have an old card to get an idea of how it should appear under black light).
Here's an example of a test we ran on some old 1920's strip cards that we were evaluating for authenticity. This should give you a better idea of what to look for.
If you need a black light, you can grab on eBay for less than $10. Go into a room, shut all the shades and get it as dark as possible. Shine the black light on the card in question and have some newer cards that will fluoresce under the light. If the card fluoresces, it's a fake...if not, you have an authentic T206 card in your possession.
Get a Loupe and Look For Dots
This is where you will need a strong magnifying glass or a jeweler's loupe. Once you understand how T206 cards were printed, you should be able to easily identify a counterfeit card.
Here's a 45x magnification loupe that I have--I like it because it actually has a light and a black light on it. It can be found on eBay for less than $10.
If we refer back to the excellent work of Scott Reader, he outlines in detail how various inks were used in several steps to create the beautiful color lithographs on T206 cards.
While some areas use solid inks -- namely the player and team name on the front, the black border on the front of the card (and any black outline in the player image) and the tobacco advertisement on the back of the card--the remainder uses an early form of half-tone printing.
It can however be considered a very crude form of 'half-tone' printing'. As a reminder, the invention of half-tone printing allowed for the creation of printed images using a series of dots. Today's modern half-tone printing uses a very consistent pattern--whereas the printing on a T206 card or any early pre-war tobacco card shows as a much more irregular pattern of colored dots--or more like splotches of ink. David Cycleback puts it best:
Anyone who uses a microscope of at least 30X power will see that the printing on T206 image is just plain different than the image on a modern trading card. It’s as simple as that. A modern image is relatively neat and ordered, with a fine and rigid dot pattern that Mussolini would be proud of. At 30X or more power the T206 image suggests that the printers should’ve kept off the sauce.
Let's take a closer look at a T206 card under magnification. This is a common card--Wilbur Goode from the set.
If you've read Scott Reader's piece, you know that the first layer of color used on the cards was yellow, and on this Goode card, there is a yellow background to examine. We can see a very messy set of ink dots, with very little consistency, aimed at producing a solid yellow color. Although this attempt to produce a solid color doesn't have the same sort of dot separation as black dots, which you will see on later images.
Reader also notes that black was the second color used in the print process--partially for the black border and then for adding any dark colors to the player image. Thus, on all T206 cards, you will fine various collections of black print dots throughout.
Here's another example on the Goode card where we can see that the black dots help provide definition to what is the surrounding yellow of his bat and his uniform. Again, notice especially
We can see more black printing dots used in providing more texture in the uniform. Note that an additional blue was added to provide more color to his uniform.
By now we can see with the printing used on a T206 card, it's basically a symphony of different inks. Now let's look at a modern card and a counterfeit pre-war card.
Here's a mid 80's Darryl Strawberry card. It is quite clear of the difference--notice the uniformity in print.
And here a fake 1909 E98 Honus Wagner card (note an original would use the same printing process as a T206 card)---we should first notice that this card has been soaked---see the spider wrinkles in the border on the second image?
That enough should alert us to the fact that this card is fake. But otherwise, there is also a much more uniform print on this card, informing us that this is indeed a modern era reprint.
Check For Registration on T206 Card
One common distinguishing characteristic on T206 cards and other cards produced during the early 1900's involves the registration of the card. Simply put, this means any variation in the alignment of colors used in printing the card.
A card that is off-register was printed with its colors out of place, leading to colors outside or inside of borders or sometimes overlapping colors on the card. Registration problems are quite common on T206 cards.
Here's a clear example on a T206 card:
The key thing to understand in regards to registration is that many fake T206 cards will also have registration problems, mostly designed to fool an unsuspecting buyer.
However the ink outside of any border should look mostly solid and not have the half-tone dots of a modern card that I outlined above.
Here's the same example of that fake E98 Cobb I showed from above.
See the red below the bottom border? See how the red has separated dots--this is modern half-tone printing and again, a clear sign of a fake.
Here on the real Goode T206 card below, there are some minor registration issues--note the blue outside the border and how it is just a bunch of splotchy inconsistent blue dots--this is what an early T206 print would look like.
I will note that on many common T206 fakes, you can sometimes identify fakes by noticing similar registration issues on common reprints.
Buy Some T206 Commons To Prepare
For anyone serious about collecting and thinking of buying any high priced raw T206 cards, I always recommend buying some inexpensive T206 commons in order to practice some of the steps I've outlined above.
We have some raw, ungraded commons available for sale for starting at $27. While you're at it, head over to eBay and grab any reprint/counterfeit T206 cards that you can use to compare to an original.
Once you have your cards, and the needed equipment (black light and a loupe), you should be well on your way to become an expert at authenticating T206 cards.
If you see any cards at auction that look suspect, feel free to let us know at email@example.com