Tobacco companies introduced the U.S. to baseball cards in the late 19th century, aiming to link the all-American pastime to the au courant trend of smoking cigarettes. But the cards really caught fire from 1909 to 1911, when the American Tobacco Co. mass-produced the T206 series, tiny cards with tinted lithographs of major- and minor-league players including Honus Wagner, who decorated baseball’s most valuable card. Each T206 was also marked with a tobacconist’s logo. In rare instances, a card would be marked by two brands in error; such was the case with this card for Kid Elberfeld, a slim shortstop nicknamed the Tabasco Kid. Bearing both Tolstoi and Piedmont ads, it is one of more than 1,400 T206s in a collection offered by Saco River Auction Co.
Ed Burke of Rockville Centre, N.Y., took up smoking in 1909 at age 19, and with it another habit: collecting T206s in a shoebox. He eventually gathered his fill and about 30 years later gave the cards to his son, shoebox and all. In 1993 the younger Burke passed the baseball cards along to his three children, who transferred them to plastic-sleeved albums, keeping a great majority in excellent condition.
Estimate: $20,000 to $30,000 for the Kid Elberfeld card. Sale: Saco River Auction Co., January 14, Biddeford, Maine; sacoriverauction.com