The T206 ‘White Borders’ set is most indeed a ‘Monster’. The set features 524 cards, which for most collectors is a rather expensive and time consuming adventure.
A lot of vintage collectors I know forgo the actual Monster and head right to building out the T206 Hall of Fame subset.
While it’s still a pricey proposition, it’s a lot easier to hunt down 74 different cards (or 76 including Plank and Wagner) as opposed to the 524 that make up the entire set.
In this piece we examine the nuances of building a Hall of Famers only T206 set while also speaking to someone that’s one card away from completing the challenge.
Hopefully this piece provides the motivation to some of you on the fence!
The T206 Hall of Fame Checklist
There are 76 cards in the complete T206 Hall of Fame subset. However, most will not attain the full 76, for two big reasons; Honus Wagner and Eddie Plank. The elusive Wagner card is a tough find, as less than 60 are known to exist. The Eddie Plank card is almost as scarce as Wagner with less than 100 believed to exist. A poor condition Plank card would likely run into the $40K-$50K range.
So, if you’re being realistic with yourself, the truly attainable number is 74 cards. Here’s the full list (including the Plank and the Wagner) with current pricing for cards in Good condition (aka PSA 2 grade).
Note for pricing, I used PSA’s SMR pricing. I will tell you for certain that many of the values presented here are WAY under the current market value. For instance, the odds of finding a PSA 2 Walter Johnson portrait for $400 are slim to none; try more like triple that, at the very least.
So, I was tempted to change prices to reflect recent sales, but decided to leave it. Here’s why; treat this pricing as the target number you want to pay. It might make your challenge that much harder, but it also might help you save a thousand or a few thousand bucks along the way. Print it out, study it, browse sold listings on eBay and then you will we well informed with how you want to tackle this pursuit.
Player Checklist and Pricing
|Name||Details||Current Value (PSA 2)|
|Home Run Baker||$75|
|Chief Bender||pitching, no trees||$70|
|Chief Bender||pitching, trees in back||$70|
|Roger Bresnahan||with bat||$70|
|Mordecai Brown||chicago on shirt||$80|
|Mordecai Brown||cubs on shirt||$85|
|Frank Chance||portrait (yellow back)||$95|
|Frank Chance||portrait (red back)||$85|
|Fred Clarke||holding bat||$70|
|Ty Cobb||portrait (green back)||$4,000|
|Ty Cobb||portrait (red back)||$1,300|
|Ty Cobb||portrait (bat on shoulder)||$1,300|
|Ty Cobb||potrait (bat off shoulder)||$1,200|
|Sam Crawford||with bat||$70|
|Johnny Evers||w/bat, chicago on shirt||$85|
|Johnny Evers||w/bat, cubs on shirt||$95|
|Miller Huggins||hand on mouth||$60|
|Hughie Jennings||one hand showing||$70|
|Hughie Jennings||two hands showing||$70|
|Rube Marquard||hands on thighs||$85|
|Christy Mathewson||black cap||$275|
|Christy Mathewson||white cap||$290|
|Iron Man McGinnity||$70|
|John McGraw||finger in air||$85|
|John McGraw||glove at hip||$95|
|John McGraw||portrait with cap||$95|
|Joe Tinker||hands on knees||$110|
|Joe Tinker||bat on shoulder||$85|
|Joe Tinker||bat off shoulder||$85|
|Cy Young||glove shows||$275|
|Cy Young||bare hand shows||$290|
Game Plan(s) For Building the HOF Set
Depending on budget, there are a few ways to build the set. If you have an ENORMOUS budget and you want to get this done as quickly and as efficiently as possible, you could probably have it done today. Look at the checklist above, click into the eBay links we provided and you could probably be staring down a 75 card graded HOF T206 subset by next week.
Unfortunately, for the most of us, we don’t exactly have the big bucks lying around to knock off this HOF subset in a couple of hours. Thus, if you’re in this more ‘cost-conscious’ mindset, I think there are a few ways to play this.
Build A Raw T206 Binder Set
When I’m talking ‘raw’, I mean not graded by one of the third party authentication companies (such as PSA or SGC). Buying raw typically results in getting a bit of a better price, but also comes with it’s own risks. There are many sellers online selling non-graded T206 cards. One place I’ve found that has a great group of tobacco card collectors is the Net54 Forums, which has their own Buy/Sell/Trading forum specifically designed for T206 collectors. You can look at a user’s past posts to see how long they’ve been around and how active they are in the forums. I haven’t had any problems with Net54 sellers and would recommend it to anyone.
Lookout For Trimming
When buying raw cards, especially with T206 cards, you have have to be careful about one important thing: trimming. T206 cards are notorious for having been trimmed at some point during their 110+ year existence. Thus if purchasing raw T206 cards online, it comes down to buying from a very trustworthy seller. The first question you must always ask “Do they measure up?”. It’s a simple question, as anyone selling the cards should know the story.
A T206 card must normally measure 1 7⁄16 by 2 5⁄8 inches. Note there are MOST definitely some variations to this; cards with an ‘American Beauty’ back have smaller measurements. According to Scot Reader the American Beauty cards were cut thinner in order to fit in the smaller cigarette packs.
Aside from this, any T206 card should have the standard measurements. If it doesn’t, when you get it back from one of the grading companies, it will most definitely be returned to you flagged as ‘Altered’. You definitely don’t want that, as the value is seriously deflated with altered cards. Here’s a trimmed version of a T206 Harry Hinchman card, which for most long time T206 collectors would be very obvious.
Throw It In a Binder
Some collectors are fully aware that the cards they are buying are ‘trimmed’, usually with the seller fully acknowledging the fact. And normally it’s because the set builder doesn’t really care about grading and is more content getting a better deal on the cards. Usually these collectors are building out ‘binder sets’ and are working to build something they can show off to friends without needing those ‘slabs’ from PSA or SGC. In that case, it’s usually just a matter of getting the set finished, without any significant concern about condition or trimming. These Ultra-Pro 15 pocket pages are probably the best bet if building out the set for a binder.
If it’s a graded Hall of Fame T206 set that you’re after, your chase might end up a tad pricier, depending on the condition that satisfies your thirst. There’s also the possibility of buying raw and then submitting to one of the third party graders. Or obviously a combination of buying some raw and buying some graded could work as well. You’ll often find graded T206 cards on eBay or on the Net54 forums, or even on some of the card collecting facebook groups. I personally opt for PSA cards when buying graded T206 cards, but have purchased both SGC and Beckett slabbed cards before. Normally PSA graded cards carry a slight premium to others, but this can vary on a case by case basis.
Planning Out The Costs
If we went according to the rock bottom SMR prices as listed on the checklist above, your all in total for the 75 HOF cards would run you nearly $16,000. Now, as noted, the likely costs would be above this number, so I would probably plan on at a very minimum looking at around a $20,000 total investment over time. Now ask yourself, how long do I want to take to accomplish this? Is this something I need to have finished this year, or am I perfectly content in grabbing a card here and there whenever I get a deal? Most people have different personalities (and budgets) thus it is hard to say that there’s a perfect fit for all collectors.
I will say that some also have differing strategies about how to tackle the actual set. Some think it’s better to get the more expensive cards out of the way just in the case that they keep increasing in value. Some might argue that it’s better to start with the lowest priced cards due to the fact that the big time names such as Cobb, Johnson and Lajoie have increased in value immensely. Doing this would bide some time in the case that there’s some sort of correction in the market.
The problem is understandable but unfortunately so hard to predict. I do believe that vintage cards in general should perform well over the longer term, but at what rate? I’m hard pressed to say that we will see the same appreciation we’ve seen in the past few years, especially if we were to enter a recession or the stock market fell significantly.
So, it’s ultimately up to you and ultimately your direction is quite dependent on the deals that you find. You might be offered a deal on a Walter Johnson Portrait tomorrow that you can’t refuse and that ultimately leads you to knocking off the big guys first. Or you are able to buy a small collection of T206 cards that consists mostly of the $100 to $150 cards. That of course would set you off on the direction that fits you best.
Thus, the only thing that you really can do today is start to learn about the cards themselves. Read the forums, join some facebook groups, go to card shows and just get up to speed on the set. Evaluate your budget and come up with a plan of attack on how you want to go about assembling the set, including what grades you are looking for if going graded. And make sure you buy yourself a ruler so you can measure the cards!
Frank and I go way back. Some of our fondest grade school memories include staring each other down on my kitchen table. We traded a lot of cards together. Frank is a big time vintage collector and even runs his own Bowman group on Facebook. Frank is also one card away from building the T206 HOF set. I asked him for some of his thoughts.
What led you to building the Hall of Fame subset as opposed to the full ‘Monster’?
To be honest, I never really had any intention of building either. I started out about four years ago just grabbing a few cards I thought were cool because I wanted to have a sampling of the t206 set. I always loved the t206 cards as a kid but I never had any.
Now that I had found my way back into collecting I mostly focused on the things I wanted as a kid but either couldn’t afford or couldn’t find. I bought a few cheap beater commons and then decided I wanted to have a few better, HOF cards as well. I picked up a Nap Lajoie Portrait, a Tris Speaker, and a Mordecai Brown Cubs Shirt Hindu Brown. That was supposed to be the end of it, but I kept seeing other cards I wanted so the HOF list started growing and growing.
Soon enough I was close to half way there and it seemed silly to stop. Though I’ve focused on completing the HOF set, I’ve been picking up other commons along the way as well. So despite the fact that I never intended to build either the HOF subset or the whole Monster, I find myself building both.
Any tips for collectors in building out the Hall of Fame set?
My biggest mistake was sort of stumbling into doing the HOF set. What I mean is that because I never really intended to do it I didn’t have a strategic approach to completing it. My build ended up being very top-heavy toward the good cards at the end. The Cobbs, Youngs, and Johnsons ended up looming large – I had 6 or 7 of them in my last 20 or so.
It’s one thing to have 20 or 30 cards left to finish out the set if there are a handful of the more expensive ones. It’s another thing entirely to have 20 or 30 cards left and see ten of the big ones still staring you in the face. The better strategy would have been to tick off five or ten (or more) of those cards early on and then backfill with the easier cards. I ended up doing it backward and it was a harder journey. I also am not as patient as I should be. As these cards continue to grow in popularity there is a degree of ‘buy it when you see it’ mentality. I’ve fallen victim to that more than I should have.
What’s your opinion on some of the big price increases for the popular players in the set? Is the increase sustainable or more of kind of bubble of sorts?
I think I find myself in the middle here a little. The price increases over the last couple of years have been very steep. I don’t think that type of increase is sustainable. There almost has to be at least some kind of leveling off that happens in the relatively near future. I don’t know that I would go so far as to call it a bubble. If I was talking about another set I would be more concerned about the bubble bursting, but this is arguably the most collectable (and collected) set in the history of the hobby. I don’t think that is going to change any time soon. The market for t206 is something I can envision continuing to grow. If that’s the case, then there will always be value to be found in these cards long term. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of these cards coming back to earth in the next year or two, but I’m pretty comfortable that if viewed as a long term investment they will be solid assets to have down the line.