Thursday, July 18th, 2019

The T206 Collection — The Players and Their Stories

May 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Baseball History, Book Review

When you pick up a baseball card, do you wonder about the player whose picture is staring back at you?  What was he like?  What did he do after baseball?  This curiosity is especially true with the famous T206, or tobacco, card set, at its 100th year anniversary. The T206 set is arguably the most sought after baseball card set in history.

The T206 cards were inserted into cigarette packs between 1909 and 1911 and amongst those distributed were a limited number of the legendary player Honus Wagner.  The Wagner card, because of its scarcity and mystique, has sold for over $1 million. Beyond Wagner, the T206 set also contains many other Hall of Fame members including  Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Tris Speaker as well as more obscure players–over 500 cards in all.

The T206 card set  is the subject of a stunningly beautiful and informative new book, called The T206 Collection, The Players and Their Stories by Tom and Ellen Zappala and Lou Blasi. 

The book has taken the card series and put together thematic chapters linking together similar cards.  For instance, there are separate chapters on the Hall of Famers, Overlooked by Cooperstown, The Bad Boys of Baseball, The Minor Leaguers and the Uncommons.   The book’s graphics are beautifully laid out and contain exhaustively-researched stories about many of the players in the set.

A story within the Uncommons chapter brings us to an unlikely connection.  Similar to the famous T206 triumvirate  Tinker to Evers to Chance, we now have the Lena Blackburne to “Mud Man” Jim Bintliff to Books on Baseball combination.  Jim Bintliff was friend #600 to the Books on Baseball Facebook page and currently runs a “unique” baseball-related business originally started by T206 player Lena Blackburne. 

No baseball can go into a Major League game without being rubbed with Lena Blackburne mud. Lena, a player from the T206 set (see his T206 card to the right), was a unremarkable Major Leaguer and, during the 1930s, was the third-base coach for the Philadelphia Athletics.  At this time, baseballs came from the factory with a gloss. Pitchers couldn’t grip them, so they applied shoe polish, tobacco juice, and dirt. Lena brought some mud from his home in Palmyra, N.J., and soon all of the American League was using it.

The mud farm is in south Jersey–that’s all anyone will reveal.  According to Bintliff, you more or less skim the sediment off the top of the riverbank with a shovel. The Army Corps of Engineers did a study and found a high content of feldspar, which is just fine enough to remove the gloss without scratching the leather at all.  Apparently, Rawlings once tried to replicate the mud but couldn’t do it.  (Source: 8/22/05)

Now the farm is being run by Jim Bintliff, the “Mud Man”.   You can find out more about the current mud farm at  and in the video at the bottom of this article.

This coffee table book is a beautiful tribute to this great card series.  In addition to Blackburne, T206 has uncovered many of the players’ stories and brought both the stories and players of this era back to life. I can’t recommend this book more highly.

BoB Rating:  Home Run (this book is a “must have” for any serious baseball fan or card collector)

Lena Blackburne between two Hall of Famers Eddie Collins (on left)  and Ty Cobb (on right)





Watch Jim Bintliff the “Mud Man” and the secret harvesting of the baseball mud


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