The Incredible Turkey Red Find

September 21, 2016

Turkey Red Mathewson

Turkey Reds have long been recognized as one of the most popular and beautiful of all baseball cards. Their bold colors, strong player selection, and incredible size compared to other tobacco issues of the era make them very highly prized in the minds of collectors. Each cabinet card was available only by mail in exchange for coupons packaged with Turkey Red Cigarettes. Because Turkey Reds are large cards that are easily damaged, they are particularly difficult to find in high grade. Cards from this issue rarely survive without serious condition problems (ranging from major creases, stains, and rounded corners, to pinholes and glue stains relating to their former display, as intended).

Presented in the following fifty lots is an extraordinary collection of T3 Turkey Reds, each available individually, that is unlike any other group of cards from this issue that we have ever offered. Late last year, we received a phone call from a gentleman in Pennsylvania who was preparing to move and discovered what he described to us as likely more than one hundred large tobacco cards. He rattled off a few names--Cobb, Mathewson, Young--that served only to pique our curiosity more. We asked for pictures or information about condition, and he wasn't able to give us many specifics. He was in the thick of moving but wanted to learn about what he might have found. We told him that he undoubtedly had thousands and thousands of dollars worth of cards, but the exact value would be dependent on condition and the players included within. If we needed more information in order to help him, we'd have to wait until he got settled in his new place. Months passed before we were able to reconnect with him. He was moved in and the cards were accessible. We had plans to be in his area, so we arranged a meeting in person. One Friday afternoon, we met up and he put a plastic bin on the table. From the bin he pulled a stack of cards, wrapped in wax paper and stored carefully inside a plastic bag. It was obvious that great care had been taken to get the cards safely to our meeting.

Before opening up the package of cards, we discussed a little history about the man, his family, and the story of the cards. His family had at one time been involved in the general store business dating back to the early part of the 20th century. Generations of the family had lived in the same area from which he had recently moved, and family paperwork and possessions had just passed down the line to the next generation. A recent retiree, he was interested in downsizing and moving, so for the first time in over a century, someone had to address these old baseball cards. After a better understanding of how this stack of cards had come to exist, we peeled back the plastic bag and removed the wax paper. An audible "WOW!" was our only reaction. The color on the top card was the brightest and boldest we'd ever seen. The borders were as perfect as we'd ever imagined. The corners looked strong all the way down the stack. "Are these reprints?" we asked ourselves. They couldn't be. One by one, we browsed the stack. Lajoie. Cobb, Speaker. Evers. Mathewson. Young. The big names were mostly there, and they were all there twice. But, we didn't see Johnson. We didn't see Collins or Wallace or Bender. Intrigued, we turned the cards over to see if we could determine how much of a set was present. That's when we got our next surprise! Sitting in front of us was two complete #1-50 low number sets of T3s (also present were one complete and one near-complete set of T9 Boxers) all of which had checklist backs with "no offer" at the bottom. Our second exclaimed reaction followed!

Turkey Red Cobb

Turkey Reds are available with five different backs, three of which are first series exclusive and two of which are second series exclusive. In the first series, each card has a checklist on the reverse. Two versions of the checklist feature a redemption offer at the bottom (one version lists cards #1-75 while the other lists #1-76, adding Jack Johnson). The third version of the checklist is missing the offer at the bottom. Turkey Red expert Craig Diamond opines on his authoritative site that "these backs were produced without redemption instructions specifically to reduce the requests for first series cards in preparation for the issuance of the second series of cards to come." While no concrete population data is available to help us convey how tough these cards are compared to regular checklist with offer backs, anyone who has spent time collecting T3s will tell you that they very rarely show up! Some collectors have estimated that for every one hundred checklist with offer backs, there is one with no offer. Others have shared with us that they have seen thousands and thousands of T3s and only a handful of no offers, putting the ratio at several hundred with offer to one with no offer. Whatever the exact figures, they are very hard to come by, and this collection is, without a doubt, the largest assembly ever offered.


We submitted all of the cards to SGC for grading and encapsulation, and the results were nothing short of incredible. The collection is highlighted by dozens of cards that take over as the highest-graded examples ever evaluated by SGC. These cards are noteworthy for their condition with any back, but the absence of the offer takes this collection to another level. At the request of the consignor, we have opted to present the higher-graded example of each baseball player in this auction along with the higher-grade complete set of T9 boxers. Depending on the results and the consignor's desire to hold onto part of his family's special collection, we may be able to present additional cards from this collection in a future auction. For now, however, we are pleased to present one of the most special collections of Turkey Reds ever to enter the hobby and one of the most fascinating and surprising discoveries of which we have been a part.