History of Collecting Baseball Cards

Collecting baseball cards has become an American tradition. In fact, it’s hard to believe that there was ever a time when baseball cards were not collected. But, there was.

It is generally believed that the first baseball cards were issued in 1887 by several tobacco companies. Goodwin & Company issued the N172 series in their Old Judge and Gypsy Queen cigarette packs from 1887-1890, with over 3,500 variations generated. Other companies that issued sets around this time period include Allen & Ginter and Green & Blackwell of New York, which also included gum with their cards.

Not much happened with baseball card collecting until 1909. With the growing popularity of collecting baseball cards, other companies caught on to the idea and started producing their own cards. The famous T206 set from the American Tobacco Company was issued from 1909-1911, and a number of other tobacco, candy and bread companies were also adding baseball cards to their products.

Although tobacco and candy companies dominated the baseball card market early on, it was gum companies that really hit a homerun in the 1930s and 40s. Some of the biggest manufacturers were the Goudey Gum Company and the Bowman Gum Company. Exhibit cards were some of the most distinct, with black and white printing on thick cardstock. Gum companies continued to be the biggest producers of baseball cards well into the 40s and 50s, but when Bowman was bought out by the Topps Company, they took over.

Topps made such an impression on baseball card history, they were the only company issuing major league baseball cards from 1956 to 1980. They were successful in signing almost every major league player to an exclusive contract. Topps offered unique cards that featured baseball coins, inserts and posters. It wasn’t until the Fleer Corporation came along that Topps had some real competition to worry about.

Today, collecting baseball cards isn’t nearly as popular as it once was, but the cards from decades ago haven’t lost their value, and we’re talking more than just monetary value. The number of card shops has dropped from 5,000 to 500 in the last 20 years, but everything goes in cycles. You never know just when baseball card collecting will surface again.