The Long History of Sports Cards

Sports cards have been around since the 1840s, but how have they become so popular over time?  For a brief comparison of how long sports cards have been around, the MLB, NFL, and NBA  were not even official leagues until almost 1950. The MLB was created in 1869, the NFL in 1920, and the NBA in 1946. 

The first baseball cards were known as cabinet cards and they were made with cardboard. These cards often depicted famous players and teams that existed before  sports was deemed a profession. Cabinet cards lasted into the 1860s before they were officially retired in 1867. When the MLB was created in 1869, the first commercial cards came along with it. In the late 1860s, a sporting goods company named Peck and Snyder printed the first baseball cards as a form of advertisement for their products. These cards were printed in such large amounts that they are considered the first official modern baseball cards. From the 1870s to the 1890s, commercial cards became a very popular form of advertising.  During that period of time, a tobacco company known as Goodwin & Co developed the first baseball cards. These baseball cards were mass-produced as a motivation to buy the company’s cigarette packs.

Following what was known as “The Tobacco Card Era”, was the Golden Era of baseball cards which lasted from 1909 to 1915. During this era, the tobacco companies returned to action. Sports cards began to be included in most cigarette packs across the country. The Golden Era lasted right up to World War 1 when most tobacco card production was shut down due to a lack of materials. For the ten years after World War 1, baseball card production was very slow before picking up again after the Great Depression ended. This brought what was known as the Roaring 30s. 

After the Great Depression, the MLB was very concerned about their potentially low attendance levels. Their concerns were valid and in the seasons of 1931 and 1932, attendance levels were 70% lower than that of 1930. Due to the struggle to draw fans to games, MLB owners began to provide giveaways to fans, which ultimately introduced packs of baseball cards with a piece of gum in them. These giveaways turned out to be very successful and led to the introduction of the Bowman era. The Bowman era began in 1948 when Gum Inc. began producing cards under the “Bowman” brand name. These cards were the first cards to feature colored pictures on the front of them. With the increase in interest directed towards sports cards, the Topps gum company tiptoed into the baseball card business. Since the Topps gum company joined the baseball card industry in 1948,  it has taken over. To this day Topps is still the most popular baseball card company and makes the most in baseball card sales per year. 

Although sports cards were one of the most valued collectibles in the 1800s and 1900s,  they suffered from a massive decline in revenue  after earning 1.2 billion dollars in 1991.  It’s hard to determine what exactly sent the sports card industry spiraling out of control,  but it’s thought that  newer companies were the main cause. In 1992 there were newer sports card companies that started taking over, selling packs of cards for an unprecedented rate of only $1. These cards featured top of the line photography and graphics, but they did not include sticks of gum as many of the packs of the past had. Many companies became more involved in the production of  sports cards in the late 1990s, hurting the industry even more. Despite the packs of cards being only $1,  there were multiple advertisement cards in each pack,  driving customers away very easily.

Coming into the 2000s, many people thought of the sports card industry to be on a rapid decline and soon to be gone. This was not the case.  Over the last 20 years, many companies have begun to purchase smaller companies to minimize the number of packs being sold, as well as to increase the value per card. There are now just a few main sports card companies, although you can often find very valuable cards with smaller dealers.

Throughout my life, I have collected thousands of cards and it has become very fun to look back at all of the different cards that I have. I’ve talked to many different companies to try to determine the value of my cards, but it was hard to find one company that was truly honest about what my cards were worth. I looked around quite a bit but recently found a trustworthy and honest company known as PrimeTime Sports Cards. PrimeTime Sports Cards is a Minnesota-based company that both buys and sells sports cards. I have found PrimeTime Sports Cards to be the best card company that fits all of my needs. They have certainly adjusted to the newer style of the sports card industry and they have some of the best prices around. If you’re looking to buy or sell any sports cards, my recommendation fully goes to PrimeTime Sports Cards. You can find the link to his website at the bottom of this article and please go check it out!

To sum everything up, the sports card industry has quite a history but it looks to be on the rise once again. It began in the early nineteen hundreds with cards made of only cardboard and it has developed into a multibillion-dollar industry. The Topps Gum Company came into the picture in 1948 and has ruled the industry. The future of sports cards is unknown, but if I were you I would invest in some now because the value is definitely rising once again. All in all, there’s quite an interesting past to sports cards and the future looks bright.

The Link to PrimeTime Sports Cards!!!!!

Additonal Shoutout!!

If you enjoyed this read, I 100 percent recommend BB Sports Media. BB Sports Media is a fantastic media group that puts out terrific content on YouTube and Instagram. I will leave the link to the Youtube below and to find them on Instagram, just search bbsportsmedia!


  1. I’ve been looking for a way to sell some cards, I’ll check out Prime Time Sport Cards – nice article, that’s for the


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