In response to increasing collector interest in the various back combinations for cards, beginning in the May 2015 issue of the SMR we started publishing base "commons" prices for the 16 different back variations in the set. Keep in mind, when you tally all the players and all the back combinations, there are over 5,200 different cards! The following is the second in a multi-part series of articles in which the various aspects of this challenging set of cards will be analyzed. A special thank you goes out to experts Pete Gustafson, David Hall, Scot Reader and Ted Zanidakis for sharing their knowledge and extensive research.
Joe Orlando, PSA President
T206 Brand Backs and All Variations: Rarity and Pricing
Part One of this series focused on the rarity and pricing of the 16 different back brands in the T206 set. In this second research article, we examine the rarity and pricing of all of the collectible back brands and variations. To review, there are 16 different T206 cigarette brand backs. In alphabetical order: American Beauty, Broad Leaf, Carolina Brights, Cycle, Drum, El Principe De Gales, Hindu, Lenox, Old Mill, Piedmont, Polar Bear, Sovereign, Sweet Caporal, Tolstoi, Ty Cobb and Uzit. And they range from very common to ultra-rare. But there are also different Series, factory and color combinations, and these back variations are among the most avidly collected varieties in the entire hobby. In fact, there are even websites devoted entirely to the T206 set and all of its back varieties. The focus of this research article will be the pricing and rarity of the 38 different T206 back combinations. Combinations can include:
Four Different "Series": T206 cards are found with four different "Series" indicated on their backs. So if you see a "Piedmont 150" listing, it's a Piedmont back from the 150 Series. Here are the four series:
150 Series which states "150 Subjects"
350 Series which states "350 Subjects"
460 Series which states "460 Subjects"
350-460 Series (for Piedmont and Sweet Caporal backs) which states "350-460 Subjects"
Different Factories: In addition to Series, Piedmont and Sweet Caporal backs are also collected by factory. All T206 cards were printed at American Litho in New York but were then sent to different locations for packing and distribution. Factories are indicated after the Series number, so if you see "Sweet Caporal 350/25" this indicates that it's a 350 Series card that was packed and distributed from factory 25. Here are the factory variations:
Piedmont 150, 350, & 350-460 Series were packed at factory 25 (in Virginia).
Piedmont 350-460 Series were also packed at factory 42 (in North Carolina).
Sweet Caporal 150 Series were packed at both factory 25 and factory 30 (in New York). In addition, there is an overprint for factory 649 (also in New York) which is indicated as "Sweet Caporal 150/649op."
Sweet Caporal 350 Series were packed at both factory 25 and 30.
Sweet Caporal 350-460 Series were packed at factory 25, factory 30 and factory 42; and there is also a factory 42 overprint.
Different Colors: Four T206 brands come with different colors.
Hindu backs come in both brown and red colors. The red Hindus are rarer than the browns and there are no player subjects that appear as both red and brown Hindus.
Lenox backs come with both black and brown backs. The brown back Lenox is one of the rarest T206 backs, though it is not as cut and dry as red and brown Hindus. Some Lenox backs are obviously black and some are obviously brown, but a few specimens seem like they are somewhat in the middle shades. Obviously PSA certification is a big plus for brown Lenox backs. Some player subjects appear as both black and brown Lenox backs.
Old Mill Southern Leaguers come with both black and brown backs. Brown Old Mills are extreme rarities and some experts feel they are "scrap" and not really "official" backs as they all appear to be sheet cut. The same could be said for the prohibitively rare brown Old Mill overprints as there are only two known genuine examples. All brown Old Mills also appear as black (there are only 11 player subjects that have been confirmed with brown backs).
Sovereign 350 series backs have two shades: "Apple Green" and "Forest Green", with the Apple Green being scarcer. Some experts do not consider these separate backs; and while PSA does not currently indicate the shade of these cards, and there is no market premium for Apple Green at present, they are distinct enough to probably warrant separation. Player subjects are either Apple Green or Forest Green, and no player subject exists with both shades.
T206 Back Variations Rarity Comparison
In Part One, we presented three significant data groups for the 16 different T206 back brands, including all of the back brands PSA has graded. We also had two other significant back brand data sets to present. From 2009 to 2014, T206 collector David Hall made a study of every T206 card he has seen for sale in any auction, on eBay and at several National sports conventions, a total of 90,314 cards. This survey includes not only PSA-graded cards, but also cards graded by other grading services and "ungraded" (i.e., raw) cards. From 2008 to 2013, T206 expert and author Scot Reader collected data on 101,962 T206 cards for sale, similar to the Hall survey. Like the Hall survey, the Reader survey includes back brands for PSA, other grading services and raw cards, with a heavy focus on eBay offerings.
The PSA Hall and Reader T206 back brand surveys are somewhat different samples in terms of focus but are of similar sample size. The Reader survey shows the rarer backs as being somewhat less frequently seen than the Hall Survey. But considering Reader focused on eBay a little more than Hall, this seems understandable. These two surveys are, of course, not the be-all and end-all of T206 back rarity research, but the Hall and Reader surveys give what we feel is quite significant insight into the relative rarity of the T206 back brands. See chart below for the actual numbers of cards and the relative percentages.
This is exciting research, and we feel these two data bases shed much light on the rarity and potentially the survival rates for the various T206 back brand variations. Now let's take a look at the rarity of individual back brands and their variations, using the two surveys above and the research conducted by many T206 enthusiasts and experts over the years.
T206 Back Variation Rarity
The following is a listing of the rarity rankings of the 38 different back brand variations. However, note that this is definitely a work in progress, with the relative rarity rankings still open to much debate. Our four authors don't even quite agree with one another. Fortunately, as the PSA Population Report, which now lists all back brand variations, fills out over the next few years, we'll have a lot more solid data on the relative rarity of the back brand variations and eventually all of the player/back combinations. And there's even controversy as to what exactly constitutes a T206 back variation. For example, some people think that blank backs are a separate back variation, while other think they are properly oddities. Same can be said about proofs. There is also controversy over the brown Old Mills, which many consider "scrap" and not back brand variations per se. That said, here's our opinion of back brand variation rarity, sorted by rarity and including the Hall and Reader survey numbers.
This concludes our brief discussion of T206 brand backs and their rarity. We are listing this as the "Part Two" article. We plan on presenting more detailed discussions of the various backs and back variations in future articles. Now let's talk about pricing.
Pricing T206 Back Brands
PSA has recently begun designating all of the series, factory and color variations for the T206 back brands (see the PSA Population Report). And the SMR is now pricing the "commons" for the 16 different T206 back brands. In future issues we will present pricing for all 38 back brand variations, and eventually the online SMR will present prices for all 5200+ different T206 player/back combinations. Note that these are prices for the non-Hall of Famers. Obviously Hall of Famers and stars sell for premiums. And note that within back brand variations, there are also individual rarities, such as the "Elite 12" Piedmont 350s (more about that in an upcoming article).
Future plans include enhancing the pricing for back variations (a big task, but we're working on it), and of course, we'll add the popular back brand "sets" to the PSA Set Registry. The following T206 back brand variation prices are based on auction results and input from T206 experts. We hope you enjoy your T206 collecting, and as always, we welcome your comments, suggestions and questions.