Tobacco card expert Keith Olbermann e-mailed me the other day with some thoughts about the column I did recently about a 100-year-old article in the Charlotte Observer talking about youngsters in 1909 clamoring for “pictures” that came in the various American Tobacco Co. cigarette packs sold at local drugstores.
Alluding to the two most prominent theories that would seek to explain why the T206 Honus Wagner card is so rare (a – he didn’t approve of smoking; or b – he wanted to be paid for the use of his image with a commercial product), the MSNBC news anchor toyed with a third option. “What if both theories about the T206 Wagner are wrong? Not just the ‘didn’t want to encourage kids to smoke’ one, but my theory that Wagner hit them up for money for his likeness?” Olbermann asked.
With that he cited fragments from the news story: “Greatest desire to procure Cobb and Wagner ... no reference to Wagners ... kids in North Carolina desperate for the Dutchman from Pittsburgh ... buying pack after pack."
"To hell with Admiral Schlei," he muttered at the end, assuming you can mutter in an e-mail.
Still, he’s not ready to abandon his original theory just yet. “Although, as I think I pointed out in an article on T207 that I did 20 years ago, if you look at the progression of the American Tobacco sets, there is a definite “star drain” – T206 has Plank and Wagner, evidently withdrawn. The T205 issue has neither player (pretty much busting the Plank ‘broken plate’ theory) and is missing a few lesser stars.
“T207 has no Plank, Wagner, Cobb, Mathewson, etc., and is filled with obscure rookies who wouldn’t get their own card in any set today. That certainly fits the idea that there might have a growing money issue."
So what’s your verdict, either about Wagner specifically or some of the other tobacco card rarities in general? And your choices don’t have to be limited to anti-tobacco bias, royalty compensation or deliberate chase card. We are willing to listen to other suggestions as well, just don’t blame it on the guy on the grassy knoll. He’s got enough on his conscience already.