The Improbable Story of Seven Remarkable T206 Ty Cobb Rarities That Somehow Stayed Together
By Joe Orlando
Over 100 years ago, Ty Cobb was considered the marquee player of baseball. In fact, a fair number of people actually felt that Cobb was the best player of the pre-1950 era, even better than the legendary Babe Ruth.
So, when American Tobacco Company created what is now called the T206 baseball card set in 1909-11, it was fitting that Cobb was one of the centerpieces of the set. Appearing on four different cards in the issue, including a host of back/factory/series combinations, Cobb is a star that shines bright. The four main Cobb cards include the Bat off Shoulder, Bat on Shoulder, Red Portrait and Green Portrait, which is the toughest and most valuable of the core four.
There is, however, another card of "The Georgia Peach" that is far tougher than any of the aforementioned Cobb cards. It's an even greater rarity than the famed T206 Honus Wagner, a card that has always received much of the attention and one that is believed to exist in the range of 60-75 examples.
The T206 Ty Cobb with Ty Cobb back.
As of February 2016, there were about 15 of these great rarities known. Even in PSA PR (Poor) 1, these cards have sold in excess of $150,000 in the past, making the card one of the most valuable cards – pound-for-pound – in the entire hobby.
The card, while it appears to be identical to the classic Red Portrait Cobb on the front, is slightly different. Most of the known copies of this elusive card were manufactured with a slightly glossy coating, which was presumably used to distinguish the card as a premium item and help protect it from the pitfalls of being distributed with tobacco products. While the manufacturer did try to prevent this potential damage from occurring, several of the known examples exhibit some measure of staining from tobacco.
In addition, instead of showcasing one of the other 15 tobacco brands found on the reverse of each card, these special Cobb cards have "TY COBB– KING OF THE SMOKING TOBACCO WORLD" on the reverse in green ink.
There remains some minor debate as to whether the card should be linked directly to the T206 set since it does exhibit slightly different characteristics, but the vast majority of experts feel there is simply no doubt about its connection to "The Monster." In fact, even noted hobby historian Jefferson Burdick did document this specific Cobb card as a T206 in The American Card Catalog (1960).
The rarity of the card today is most likely a result of limited release, which appears to have included a very short window when they were distributed to the public.
The hobby knew about the 15 confirmed examples; then came a discovery now referred to as The Lucky 7 Find.
So, why is it called The Lucky 7 Find?
A remarkable seven examples of this great rarity were all found together, after more than 100 years had passed.
Prior to this find, several of the existing examples were attributed to the stunning John W. Hudson find of 1997 in Georgia, where five total copies were discovered and subsequently auctioned. These cards were allegedly found resting between the pages of a book for decades.
The cards discovered in 2016 were unearthed in a rural town after a southern family was combing through the possessions of their great grandparents. The cards were found inside a torn paper bag on the floor. Initially, the family thought the bag was merely filled with trash and planned to discard it. One of the family members decided to sift through the contents, which included a number of postcards and other paper products. Beneath this small pile of items were the Cobb cards lying face down at the bottom of the bag.
The family did not know much about baseball cards, but they did recognize the name "Ty Cobb" which gave them some hope that the cards might actually have some value. In fact, some members of the family were familiar with the 2012 Black Swamp Find story, which aired on Fox Business Network's Strange Inheritance a few years ago.
While they didn't know if their great grandfather and his family ever collected baseball cards, they did believe that he enjoyed using tobacco for rolling his own cigarettes and pipe smoking, which helps explain the logical connection to the tobacco cards. Ultimately, they contacted a regional dealer by the name of Rick Snyder of MINT State. Rick has been a fixture in the hobby for many years and has handled some very high-end material.
Despite his experience, Rick had never seen anything like this, which is completely understandable. After the family shared some digital images of the cards with him, Rick was intrigued yet skeptical. After spending many hours researching the issue and studying the attributes of the card, Rick was ready to take this to the next step, which was to meet the family and review the cards in person.
In the meantime, Rick shared the images with me via email. I had the same reaction Rick did upon seeing the images. While the images weren't great in terms of quality, the cards themselves did not seem to possess any telltale signs of being counterfeits or reprints of any kind. In fact, the images seemed to support the exact opposite.
You could see evidence of that light, glossy coating that is normally present on these special cards. In addition, the card images varied within the small group. The facial features, the Detroit Tigers jersey and coloration had enough variance to indicate that these were not simply a cluster of reproductions or imitations. Usually, you see a consistent pattern in appearance when fraud is being committed because they are making copies from a parent image. That was not the case here.
On February 20, a Saturday afternoon, I spoke to Rick and the family on the phone. At this point, Rick had just seen the cards for the first time in person. I could tell, from the tone of his voice, that he was genuinely excited by the prospect in front of him. As unlikely as this could possibly be, Rick was convinced the cards were the real deal.
Ultimately, the cards were delivered to PSA on Friday, February 26. I have to admit that working at PSA for nearly 17 years can make it hard to get overly excited about anything. I have the privilege of seeing the best the hobby has to offer, each and every year.
After you see so many beautiful Mickey Mantle cards and authentic Babe Ruth autographs, it takes something very special to really grab your attention. At PSA, we process thousands of items per day and nearly 2,000,000 items per year. A portion of these items, albeit small, are amongst the best of the very best in our hobby. Yes, as much as I love the hobby, even I can get desensitized to most collectibles after a while.
That day, when the cards arrived, I went downstairs at our facility to witness the package being opened. No matter what the cards looked like in the digital images, I remained extremely skeptical. Once one of our receivers opened the box and revealed the cards inside, I brought myself closer to the cards. My initial impression was the same as Rick's. To my amazement, they looked – all seven of them – authentic.
I then proceeded to bring them to the PSA grading room to have our senior staff examine the cards. I even had an outside expert come to our office to examine the cards as well, due to the magnitude of the find. They all shared the same assessment. No matter how improbable, each of the seven cards were undoubtedly authentic.
After verifying their authenticity, the graders proceeded to render the numerical grades for each of the seven newly-discovered Cobb cards. Like many of the other known Ty Cobb rarities, these cards possessed the kind of defects that placed them into a certain PSA grade range from a technical standpoint. They exhibited the expected corner wear, creasing and surface wear typically found on the issue, often as a result of handling.
That said, the combined eye appeal of the group is sensational on the face of the cards, far exceeding the numerical grades assigned. This included the backs, which are considered very clean for the issue in question. Each card was absent any eyesore-like stains, which plague at least a decent portion of the previously-discovered examples.
As a result, each of the seven cards received a half-point grade ranging from PSA FR (Fair) 1.5 to VG-EX + 4.5. There were also four PSA Good + 2.5s and one PSA VG + 3.5. The PSA 3.5 and 4.5 now represent the two highest grades received in the marketplace.
Seven cards worth well into seven figures…all found at the bottom of great grandpa's old paper bag.
It takes something truly special to make me feel like a kid again, but this was one of those moments. This is what the hobby is all about. Even though we live in the information age, the Internet age, undiscovered treasure is still buried out there. There is no question that these types of finds are few and far between. They are becoming more and more uncommon as time goes on, but until every attic is searched and every old box or bag examined, these finds represent the hope that all collectors dream about.