Baseball cards have existed in one form or another since at least 1863. Baseball cards really picked up steam in the late 19th century. And in the 20th century a large number of baseball card brands emerged.
Here’s a look at the most popular baseball card brands of all time.
Note: Many sets from before 1930 are known by Jefferson Burdick’s alphanumerical classification rather than brand. That’s why you won’t see many pre-1933 brands in this list.
Allen and Ginter
Allen and Ginter was the first company to distribute baseball cards with cigarettes in the 1880s. They issued three sets from 1887 to 1888.
American Tobacco Company
Its name didn’t appear on any of the cards, but the American Tobacco Company produced the venerable T-206 White Border set that features the rare Honus Wagner and Eddie Plank cards, two of the most valuable cards of all time. Its simple design with attractively lithographed portraits give it a timeless look.
In 1951 and 1952, Berk Ross issued baseball card sets that looked a lot like contemporary Bowman sets. They were distributed as two-card panels, sold without gum.
Some of the stars in the 1948 Bowman and Leaf sets actually appeared a year earlier, in the 1947 Bond Bread set.
Bowman Gum issued baseball cards from 1948 to 1955 before selling out to Topps. Competing with Topps from 1952 onward quickly got expensive, and Topps was essentially able to drive them out of the market by settling for lower profit margins than Bowman’s owners could tolerate. Although overshadowed by Topps, Bowman ran off a string of timeless sets from 1951 to 1953.
Topps revived the brand in 1989. Today, it specializes in cards of young players, so many modern rookie cards come from a Bowman set.
In 1914 and 1915, Cracker Jack issued two enormously popular sets that it distributed as prizes in its popular snack food. It also issued a little known set in 1982, featuring retired players.
In 1933, DeLong was one of several gum companies to release baseball card sets alongside Goudey. The 1933 DeLong set featured a black and white baseball player photograph standing on an undersized hand-drawn baseball field. The design was imaginative and although it’s not one of the more enduring baseball card brands, the set is popular with collectors today.
Donruss, maker of Super Bubble gum, entered the baseball card market in 1981 and produced cards until 1998 when its then-parent company went bankrupt. Donruss is somewhat noteworthy in that it was the only company in the mid 1980s to curtail overproduction somewhat. Its 1985 and 1986 cards were much harder to find in stores than Topps and Fleer cards.
Donruss quickly changed hands after 1998 and its new owners revived baseball card production in 2001. Donruss had to stop featuring current players in 2005 due to licensing issues.
In the 1980s, Drake’s issued various sets it called Big Hitters with its snack cakes, sold primarily on the east coast.
Fleer attempted to compete with Topps unsuccessfully from 1959 to 1963. In 1981, it won the right to sell baseball cards and rushed a set to market. Fleer changed hands multiple times in the 1990s and went out of business in 2005. Upper Deck acquired the Fleer name and used it until 2007.
Goodwin was another enduring brand of tobacco card from the late 19th century. In 1888 they were the main competitor to Allen and Ginter. Its large set, distributed with Old Judge cigarettes, featured hundreds of major and minor league players.
While not necessarily the first to distribute cards with gum, Goudey was the first one to be widely successful. Goudey issued cards from 1933 to 1941, although not every year. The 1933 Goudey set is one of the most popular baseball card sets of all time. For collectors of more modest means, the 1934 Goudey set isn’t a bad alternative.
Gum, Inc. was the predecessor to Bowman Gum, and it issued sets under the Play Ball moniker from 1939 to 1941, competing successfully with Goudey.
From 1975 to 1979, Hostess printed baseball cards on its snack cake packages.
From 1970 to 1983, Kellog’s produced baseball card sets it distributed in boxes of cereal. The sets were usually fairly small and consisted mostly of star players, usually with a simulated 3D background.
In 1948-49, Leaf competed with Bowman with a nice 240-card set that featured a large number of stars and future Hall of Famers, but soon left the market. In 1960 it re-entered with a simple black and white set of 144 cards distributed with marbles to avoid violating Topps’ contracts. Corporate consolidation in the 1980s resulted in a merger with Donruss, and Leaf lended its brand name to Donruss’ Canadian-issue sets.
From 1934-1936, National Chicle competed successfully with Goudey with its Diamond Stars and Batter Up sets.
O-Pee-Chee is the most venerable of Canadian baseball card brands. Its first set dates to 1937. But O-Pee-Chee is best known for issuing Topps cards under license in Canada from 1967 to 1994. After O-pee-Chee sold out to Nestle, Topps licensed the name from 1996 to 2004 and Upper Deck licensed it since 2006.
Post Cereal issued cards in panels on the backs of cereal boxes from 1961 to 1963.
Pinnacle was a 1990s brand of baseball card, taking over for Score in 1991 and lasting until 1998, when Pinnacle Brands went out of business due to low sales.
From 1952 to 1955, Red Man issued sets of cards distributed with chewing tobacco. The cards are large and colorful, making them popular with collectors.
Score entered the market in 1988 with impressive-for-its-time color graphics and high resolution printing. The brand lasted until 1991, when its producer started using the Pinnacle brand name.
In 1933, Orbit Gum of Chicago, a Wrigley subsidiary, issued a set of cards with bubble gum.
By all rights, Topps should be first on the list but I’m going in alphabetical order. In 1948, Topps issued a multi-sport set called Magic Photos. Three years later, it tested the market in 1951 with a handful of quirky baseball card sets, then stormed the market in 1952 with a landmark set. Soon, Topps was thoroughly outselling Bowman, and in early 1956, it bought its rival. Topps enjoyed a near-monopoly on baseball cards until 1981, and still produces sets today. Topps is far and away the longest running of all baseball card brands.
After Score proved there was a market for a better baseball card, Upper Deck upped the ante.
World Wide Gum
In 1933 and 1934, World Wide Gum issued sets based on the 1933 and 1934 Goudey sets in Canada.