Taking My Hacks

T206 Baseball Card Face-Off:
Honus Wagner vs. Ty Cobb with Cobb Back

Joe Orlando

Unless you have been living under a rock somewhere, I'm sure you've heard about the amazing discovery of T206 Ty Cobb cards earlier this year, now dubbed The Lucky 7 Find. The media coverage was tremendous, but finding seven of these extreme rarities in one place is just remarkable. All the talk about the find, and the importance of this great card, really had me thinking about how the Cobb compares to the famed Honus Wagner.

While both cards are in the top tier of the most desirable cards in the hobby, let the games begin.

In this corner ...

1) The Wagner - It has long been referred to as the Mona Lisa or the "holy grail" of the baseball card world, and along with the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, it is arguably the most recognizable image in our hobby. Wagner was an elite player, one of the best of his generation at any position. The numbers don't lie when it comes to Wagner. There has never been any doubt as to the importance of this card and its relationship to what many collectors consider the most desirable baseball card set of all time. If the 1909-11 T206 set is "The Monster," then the Wagner is Godzilla.

With only about 60-75 examples known, this is a truly scarce card. The reason, allegedly, behind its rarity is just as intriguing. Still a subject of debate, it has been said that Wagner had the manufacturer pull the card early because he didn't want to promote tobacco use to children. Some documents have surfaced over time that seemingly support this claim. It has become a big part of the story, especially knowing what we now know about the dangers associated with tobacco use.

Perhaps the best thing the Wagner card has going for it is the head of steam from decades of momentum as THE card. The Wagner card benefits from years of branding as the collecting pinnacle. That lore, by itself, is hard to contend with.

In this corner ...

2) The Cobb - Even though Jefferson Burdick, one of our hobby's forefathers, cataloged this elusive card as a T206, for years hobbyists have debated whether or not the card should officially be part of the set. In my opinion, I believe it should be. To be fair, I realize the debate goes far deeper than what I will cover in this short editorial.

Despite using the exact same image found on the "regular" Red Portrait Cobb, the card does possess two distinct features. The card exhibits a slightly glossy coating along the face of the card and, of course, it's the only card that has "TY COBB - KING OF THE SMOKING TOBACCO WORLD" on the reverse. While those differences are real, in my opinion, they don't disconnect the card from the set.

First, Cobb was the marquee player of the era. Wagner was great, but he wasn't Cobb. Knowing that, wouldn't it make sense that a special card, one with subtle distinguishing features, would have been created with his likeness on it? Second, even if the card was not distributed in the exact same manner as the rest of the set, that doesn't break its relationship to T206. Would anyone in their right mind say that the 1933 Goudey Napoleon Lajoie shouldn't be part of that set because of the different way you had to obtain it? Of course not. Cobb was the premier player in baseball; the card exhibits special treatment and it was allegedly distributed with premium tobacco products.

If everyone can agree that Wagner and Cobb were both legendary players and each card does have at least some connection to the iconic T206 set no matter how each card was distributed, then the one clear advantage the Cobb card has is rarity. Even after the recent find, the estimated total was only brought to a mere 22 known examples, a fraction of the surviving Wagners. In fact, the card is so tough that many collectors seemed to push this great rarity aside in the past, almost out of frustration. In other words, for some it was better to leave it off the checklist altogether than to have that hole staring them in the face all the time.

Wagner vs. Cobb

We go to the judges' scorecards ...

The bottom line is that they are both topflight cards featuring special players, with interesting stories behind each historic collectible. To me, the point here isn't to diminish the status of the Wagner by any means. I just think an even greater appreciation of the Cobb is justified. I really think it's one to watch in the coming years.

Opinions change as we digest more information over time. There was a time when people thought the world was flat you know.

Never get cheated,

Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando
Editor In Chief