Description1909-11 T206 Ty Cobb Portrait Red Background with Ty Cobb Back PSA Fair 1.5. 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 full century. And 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.
Today it is estimated that just twelve to fifteen examples of the Cobb with Cobb back exist in the world, compared with fifty to seventy-five Wagners from the T206 set. While properly assessed at a grade of Fair 1.5, it is crucial to note that the visual strength of the card belies its humble grade, as points are lost mainly to minor surface discoloration and corner rounding typical of centegenarian cardboard, as opposed to unsightly creasing or paper loss which would more profoundly harm aesthetics.
As the few remaining examples of this elusive early twentieth century artifact are absorbed into permanent private collections, we may soon have to content ourselves with old auction catalog photography should we wish to visit one. But here a devoted collector will have the opportunity to become the curator of a special piece that one hopes and trusts shall survive for centuries to come. Originally sold in the famous Barry Halper Auction of 1999.
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