The History of Baseball Cards

It is not necessary to be a diehard baseball fan to know about the baseball cards. The baseball cards generally fall under the category of trading cards that are enthusiastically collected by people following this sport. A baseball card or a trading card is made out of a thick cardboard paper containing a picture of a baseball star, a popular team, or a celebrated event in the sport.

Only people living out of the U.S. might not know about the baseball cards, as they are trendy among the baseball fans in the U.S. The baseball cards are religiously collected and traded by the baseball fanatics. They are considered quite cool collectables by the fans.

Baseball cards have an immense following around the mainland U.S. and in some countries where people devotedly follow the leagues, such as Canada and Puerto Rico. However, have you ever wondered how baseball cards got so popular in the first place and who actually came up with the idea? Although a true baseball fan would probably know a lot about the history of most popular and sought-after baseball cards, this article comprehensively summarizes the history of all the baseball and sports cards.

How Did The Baseball Cards Originate?

The baseball cards of the earliest days (1840s-1860s) were quite big than the current ones. They were more of a cabinet memoir for the baseball fans as this sport became immensely popular during and after the American Civil War. These earliest forms of baseball cards had a picture of a baseball player, or a team stuck on a cardboard. At that time, the baseball cards served no commercial purposes and were only collected for the sake of collection.

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The Initial Attempt to Commercializing the Baseball Cards (1860s – 1880s)

When you dig up this particular era with reference to baseball cards, a name, “Peck and Snyder,” pops up. Peck and Snyder was a sporting goods company that printed the baseball cards in bulk amounts for advertisement. This was the first time when baseball cards were treated as trading cards – given away with various products rather than being sold.

However, the baseball cards did not gain much popularity among the other trading cards already being used for commercial purposes at that time.

The Time When Tobacco Took Over (The 1880s – 1890s)

The period from the 1880s to 1890s saw massive production and distribution of the baseball cards as Goodwin & Co. – a tobacco company in the U.S. initiated with the release of the Old Judge cards. Though still not being used as trading cards in their true essence, the baseball cards in this era were only used as stiffeners for tobacco packets.

The use of baseball cards as stiffeners in the tobacco packets did provide a boost in the sales but was unable to get much hype at that time. Nonetheless, the baseball cards were made more interesting, and new designs began coming out in more cigarette brands such as Allen &Ginter, Mayo & Co., etc.

The baseball cards from this era are now considered rare collectables and have high market value today. They mostly featured Charles Radbourn (aka “Old Hoss”), Cap Anson, etc.

The last decade of 1800 witnessed a serious decline in the baseball cards as an Alliance was formed, and all the tobacco companies were united under the umbrella, “American Tobacco Company’ – rendering competition of using baseball cards as advertisement useless.

The Golden Age

The American Tobacco Company split soon after, and the competition again soared with numerous tobacco companies producing baseball cards for advertising. If you investigate a little deeper, you will find that the most expensive and rare collectable cards belong to this era.

This ruling era, however, came to an end when tobacco companies withdrew themselves out of the baseball cards during World War I.

The Silver Era

With the tobacco companies out of the competition, the candy companies took their chance with the baseball cards. Goudey Gum Company of Boston is considered to be one of the most popular and leading companies that produced baseball cards during that time. Some other leading companies handling the fate of baseball cards were National Chicle Company and the Delong Gum Company.

The Relatively Modern Era for the Baseball Cards

The time and era of the mid-1900s witnessed a significant shift in the baseball cards production. Bowman Gum came with the brilliant idea of introducing the ‘Rookie’ cards that gained relatively more popularity than the previous cards.

The years 1948 to 1949 produced one of the most celebrated sets in the history of baseball cards – the Leafs. These sets included a shorter version of baseball cards of the rookie years of the greatest baseball players, such as the baseball cards of the renowned pitcher Satchel Page.

When Topps Ruled the Baseball Cards Industry (1950s – 1980s)

Right when the baseball cards business was thriving, the Topps Chewing Gum Company of New York came in and produced one of the most notable card sets of all times. The year 1952 saw large colored baseball cards – that are highly sought-after even today – featuring legends like Mickey Mantle. However, they were released so late that the enthusiasm had died, and hundreds of cards had to be destroyed.

This era is known as the Topps dynasty for a reason. The Bowman Gum Company was bought by Topps, which continued production of most valuable baseball cards. Topps made it a habit to issue new sets of baseball cards every year from 1952 to 1981. These cards were sold with the gums and were known as Topps Cards.

As if having a knack of the modern-day pilot testing, Topps issued test cards besides their regular ones to observe how famous they would get. These experimental cards became very popular because of their rarity.

The Conception of the Modern Day Baseball Cards

The 1952 sets of baseball cards by Topps are the ones that gave birth to the idea of modern-day baseball cards. With the front side of the card printed with the picture of the baseball player, these cards had all the relevant information about the player at the backside.

The 1980s To This Day

Since the 1980s, a lot has happened with the baseball trading cards. The Topps monopoly was challenged and ended by the Fleer Corporation, which right away started marketing the baseball cards. The early 1980s witnessed a tremendous rise in the popularity of the Rookie cards.

Following the massively rising demands of the baseball cards, the companies started to produce bulk amounts of baseball trading cards. The Major League Baseball (MLB) finally decided to choose Topps and Upper Deck as the only licensed card producers in the year 2009. However, although Upper Deck was allowed to market cards bearing player likeliness, they weren’t permitted to use team logos.

Final Words

The hobby of collecting and trading of the baseball cards has all but died out. It is still there – maintaining itself in this digital era where paper holds less value. The baseball fanatics are still out there hunting for rare collectables and using them in ingenious trading ways.

The baseball fans from the 1980s can relate to this hobby the most. Those were the times when the baseball cards gained booming fame that never died down in the hearts of a true fan. To this day, the baseball cards are amongst the most popular trading cards. It is more like a tradition passing on from generation to generation.