A thrilling component from "The Find of the Century!"1909-11 T206 Ty Cobb Portrait Red Background with Ty Cobb Back (Lucky 7 Find) PSA Good+ 2.5. Soon after his Detroit Tigers fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1909 World Series, the only meeting between these two Dead Ball era legends, Cobb lamented of Honus Wagner, "That god damned Dutchman is the only man in the game I can't scare." It was around that time that two of the most famous baseball cards in the collecting hobby were born, each a member of the fabled T206 set that has fascinated hobbyists for a century and beyond. Today, over one hundred years after Cobb and Wagner battled for supremacy in the sixth edition of the Fall Classic, their rivalry continues.
While there's little dispute that the Wagner T206 inhabits the throne as king of the card collecting world, the presented Cobb variety makes the Dutchman seem downright common by comparison. Though the red background portrait is the most plentiful of the four Cobb variants within the set, it is the extraordinarily scarce "Ty Cobb, King of the Smoking Tobacco World" advertising back that elevates the presented specimen into the most rarified of collecting air.
The prominent position of these two inaugural class Hall of Famers atop the T206 endangered species list results from very limited original print runs, though the reasons for the shortages differ. The most popular theory for Wagner, perhaps tainted by folklore, is that the superstar shortstop believed tobacco cards effectively encouraged children to smoke and as such he wished to play no role. Inability to come to a contractual agreement over use of his likeness is the more likely reason for the quick removal of Wagner from the set. The scarcity of Cobb with a Cobb back, however, has a simpler explanation. Cards featuring the rare back we find here were included only within tins of Ty Cobb brand smoking tobacco, a product enjoying just a fraction of the distribution of such titans of the industry as Piedmont, Sweet Caporal and Old Mill.
The PSA slab identifies this important rarity as having derived from "The Lucky 7 Find," a small but historic archive of early cardboard unearthed in a rural southern town by a family tending to the clearance of deceased relatives' belongings from their home in early 2016. These seven cards each celebrated the long-reigning Hit King, and represent the most significant trading card discovery since Heritage Auctions presented The Black Swamp Find to the hobby in 2012. The special pedigree further augments both its exclusive rarity and, by extension, its monetary value.
Today it is estimated that just over twenty examples of the Cobb with Cobb back exist in the world, compared with fifty to seventy-five Wagners from the T206 set. The offered example of the former carries an accurate PSA assessment of Good+ 2.5, but the bulk of points lost relate to a horizontal crease that hovers just over Cobb's head, and a light spot beyond his right ear. Color, registration and centering are spectacular, and corner wear is minimal relative to the bulk of entries from this most popular tobacco issue, and the best of the find. In short, the marvelous aesthetics of the card far exceed the technical rating.
This superior eye appeal is a common trait among the contents of "The Lucky 7 Find," which are more brightly colored and more precisely registered than the average T206 fare. The blood-red ink of the background is shades deeper than average, again amplifying the extraordinary visuals of the historic relic. The advertising text on the verso, arguably even more important than the obverse image, is likewise applied with pinpoint accuracy.
A fascinating treatise by PSA president Joe Orlando in the June 2016 issue of Sports Market Report perfectly contextualizes the significance of the Cobb/Cobb Back, and those examples deriving from "The Lucky 7 Find" specifically. Remember that Heritage recently auctioned a PSA 2 Wagner for $776,750 while reading his market assessment:
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...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.
Here's your opportunity to heed that advice, and compete for the highest-graded "Lucky 7" to take a turn on the hobby's auction block.
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