Baseball cards have been around since before the 1900s. This was when both photography and baseball were gaining popularity. Baseball clubs started to pose for individual and group photos. Some of the photographs were printed and pasted on the cardboard backing. They were made to serve as mementoes and not for commercial purposes.
Baseball Cards: A Visual History
Early commercial sports cards
In the late 1860s, sporting good company Peck and Snyder printed baseball cards to serve as advertisements for their products. One side of the cards had a photo of a baseball team while the back was the ads. They were known as trade cards that were given away instead of being sold.
Trade cards were popular during the 1870s to the 1890s. Baseball cards made up only a small portion of the trade cards during that era. They had various subjects, such as comics, animals and presidents. Collecting trade cards became one of the popular hobbies in the United States, and they were pasted into scrapbooks. That’s why it is hard to find old trade cards that have undamaged backs.
Tobacco sports cards
In the mid-1880s, baseball cards were mass produced and distributed across the nation. Cards from this era are still popular among trading card collectors today. The Old Judge cards were issued by the Goodwin & Co. tobacco company as a stiffener for their cigarette packs. Other tobacco companies created their own cards, which were smaller compared to modern day cards.
Golden Age of baseball cards
The golden age of baseball cards arrived when the US government broke up the American Tobacco Company into smaller companies. They saw sports cards as a way to promote their products. 1909 to 1915 was regarded as the golden age because it was the time when companies came up with most original and expensive sports cards of all time. The golden age ended during the start of World War I and tobacco companies stopped issuing baseball cards.
Silver Age of baseball cards
The 1930s saw the revival of sports cards when the Goudey Gum Company released its cards that featured Babe Ruth Jimmie Foxx, and Lou Gehrig. From 1939 to 1941, Gum Inc. released the Play Ball cards that included Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. It ended in 1941 because of World War II.
Modern Age baseball cards
After the WWII, Topps Chewing Gum Company was the leader. Its 1952 release was considered as one of the best sets in history and one of the most sought after cards by collectors. It included #311 Mickey Mantle cards, the most expensive one from the Post-War era. Topps had a monopoly in the baseball card market until 1980, when a court ruled that other companies can also release their own baseball cards.