MLB News

The History of MLB Trading Cards


Baseball cards.

I’m sure we all have some lying around, perhaps stashed away in a shoe box?

Now, for those who didn’t know the U.S. first produced baseball cards the year of 1869 (can be debated) and as time carried on the sport gained greater popularity, resulting in cards being produced in other countries such as Japan (1898), Cuba (1909), and Canada (1912). Initially trading cards were utilized as displayed advertisements for a particular brand or company on the back. Tobacco companies were the most instrumental in the proliferation of baseball cards, and thus were the primary endorser. It even reached the point where the American Tobacco Company decided to introduce baseball advertising cards into their tobacco products, when they issued the T-206 set. As a result, some players (such as Honus Wagner) refused to allow production of their baseball cards to continue, because they didn’t approve of kids buying cigarette packets to receive their card. Soon enough, more and more other non-tobacco companies started producing and distributing baseball trade cards to the public.

However, by 1918 these trading cards began to lack production until the early 1930’s, when cards of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig began to surface with popularity. Then, after 1941 production of cards immediately decreased until 1948 where Bowman, Leaf Candy Company, and Topps began to issue cards with great success.

As the years went on (1950’s-1980’s) Bowman and Topps became the major producers of baseball cards unaware that new competition was on the horizon (Upper Deck and Score). It was during this time that card companies began to notice the influx of card collectors flooding the market, looking to capitalize Upper Deck introduced several innovative production methods including tamper-proof foil packaging, hologram-style logos, and higher quality card stock. Before you knew it the company became the first mainstream baseball card product to have a suggested retail price of .99 cents per pack. Revolutionary enough, they broke a barrier as other card companies began to abandon the previous 50-cent per pack price.

337px-HonusWagnerCard mlb The History of MLB Trading Cards 337px HonusWagnerCard

Fast-forward to 2005, Fleer unfortunately filed for bankruptcy and just a year later Donruss lost their MLB license. Just like that only two companies remained: Topps and Upper Deck. For a period, it stayed that way but soon enough Upper Deck would stop the production of baseball cards after the MLB filed a federal lawsuit in New York against them, accusing the company of trademark infringement and illegally selling cards that feature official team logos and uniforms.

To sum it up only one company remains as of today: Topps. While the market for baseball cards may not be as profitable as it once was,  the cards are still hold value. For example, how can one argue when the T206 Honus Wagner card once sold for $2.8 mm making it the most valuable piece of sports memorabilia ever listed?

About David Morales

David Morales is a CSUMB summer student and a Boston Red Sox fanatic. He's not just a fan but a baseball player as well (for the Soledad Aztecs). His other interests include Lifting,Sneakers, Acting, and Music.

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  • James B. Anama

    You’re just scratching the surface here. There is so much more to the history of baseball cards, but I guess if you were to go into lengthy details, your article would turn into a novel. Nice start though…
    Yes, the Hobby is not what it was twenty to twenty-five years ago, but it has not died. The Hobby has evolved and so long as the game is played, the cards will continue to tell its story.