Vintage photos reveal rare cards in Army barracks

Here’s one that will probably sound unbelievable for younger collectors who can’t imagine what it was like in the old days of the hobby before the convergence of collecting/investing seemed to give it an aura of respectability.

The various Veterans Day ceremonies have prompted me to dig out the photo shown here of a 1911 barracks. It’s a wonderful photo for a number of reasons, not the least of which, from a hobbyist’s perspective, would include the T206 White Border cards that are displayed on the bulletin board bottom and sides along the back wall.

The T206 set (produced 1909-11) is one of only a handful that is recognizable to those outside the “hobby,” as it contains the most valuable of all cards: the legendary Honus Wagner.

T205 and T206 Baseball Cards
T205 and T206 cards in old photograph
Photo courtesy T.S. O’Connell

This photo of a 1911 U.S. Army barracks is captivating for a number of reasons, not the least of which, from a hobbyist’s perspective, and the rows upon rows of T206 White Border cards that are displayed on the bulletin board bottom and sides along the back wall.

Baseball cards in a military barracks! Who knew such a thing was possible? Fast forward 58 years to the Navy barracks in the Philippines where I had to grease a fellow sailor to get him to buy me three or four packs of 1969 Topps at the Base Exchange. I wanted to get a look at the new issue and I was too embarrassed to buy them myself.

So how come these salty-looking GI’s got to have T206’s posted on their wall and I had to slink about Subic Bay Naval Base trying to surreptitiously purchase 40 cents-worth of Topps cards? The short answer is, I think, that the T206’s came from cigarette packs, while the Topps cards were quite fairly linked to childhood and bubble gum.

In the photo, which I realize is reproduced here essentially too small to make out the T206 cards or even much detail of the cool postcards and advertising pieces nearby, there are lots of other neat details to ponder even aside from baseball cards. Like the antique light over the table itself, or maybe the leather pockets on the corners. I even got a kick out of the “pill” bottle sitting atop the wooden rack on the wall on the right. I don’t know how much “Pill Pool” is played anymore, but I played a bunch of it in the 1960s in New York poolrooms that could have been used as locations for 1940s gangster movies.

If you like that barracks photograph – and I know you do – the accompanying photograph (at right) provides a really nice complement to it. This time it’s a college dorm instead of a military barracks, but the attendant homage to the world of baseball cards is right there, front and center.

Our erstwhile college student appears to be wearing a Nehru jacket, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the 1970s, what with all the T206 White Borders and T205 Gold Borders showing on the wall behind him.

It’s probably not easy to see in the image, but it looks like there are about 75 White Borders pasted up on the wall directly behind his head; there are about a dozen or so T205 Gold Borders in different groupings on the right side of the photo, including one that one appears to be stuck on the side of a jar above his desk.

I didn’t do any better at collecting in college than I did in the service. I started college in 1972, and the baseball card boom of the mid-1970s was still a couple of years away. I don’t think I even bought any packs at all, but I did order the complete sets from 1973-78 from a dealer. For the life of me, I can’t remember why I skipped 1972, which, naturally, turned out to be my favorite set from that decade. I ended up putting the set together card by card maybe 10 years later.

T.S. O’Connell is the editor of Sports Collectors Digest. Reach him by e-mail at: Thomas.O’Connell@fwmedia.com or 715-445-2214, extension 13243.

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Photo courtesy of T.S. O'Connell. Making himself at home away from home, this college student surrounded himself with T206 White Border and T205 Gold Border cards as seen on the wall behind him.

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