Baseball cards have been popular for more than a century, since the early 1900s when photography and baseball were becoming popular. Back then, different baseball clubs were posing for photos, and some were printed out and pasted onto cardboard. People kept them as mementos.
The Beginning of Commercial Baseball Cards
Back in the 1860s, there was a company called Peck and Snyder, and they printed baseball cards as advertisements for their products. They were considered trade cards, and they were given away rather than being sold.
They were popular from the 1870s to the 1890s, and they also had comics, animals, and presidents on their cards. It became a popular hobby to collect all kinds of trade cards. Back then, they pasted them into scrapbooks.
Tobacco Sports Cards
By the mid-1880s, baseball cards were being mass produced all over the country. Goodwin & Co was a tobacco company that offered Old Judge cards to keep their cigarette packs stiff. Then other tobacco companies started making their own cards. All of these were smaller than cards today.
The Golden Age of Baseball Cards: 1909 to 1915
After the US government broke up the American Tobacco Company, they used sports cards to promote their products. They called this period of time the Golden Age because companies came up with original cards as well as expensive cards. The Golden Age ended with the start of World War I.
The Silver Age of Baseball Cards: 1930s
In the 1930s, there was a revival of sports cards. The Goudey Gum Company released cards with Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and Lou Gehrig. Then from 1939 to 1941, Gum Inc had the Play Ball cards with Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. The Silver Age ended when World War II started.
Modern Baseball Cards
Once World War II ended, the Topps Chewing Gum Company became the leader for baseball cards. In 1952, they released what was considered one of the best baseball card sets in history. They are sought after by collectors.
This set included #311, Mickey Mantle, which is the most expensive card since the war. Topps was the only company to sell cards until 1980, when a court handed down a ruling allowing other companies to make their own baseball cards.