The year 1923 was a pivotal one in the history of baseball cards. It was during this year that production and distribution of baseball cards started to become more widespread and organized. Several key factors contributed to the emerging baseball card market in 1923.

The Sweet Caporal cigarette company issued its first baseball card set in 1923 as an advertising promotion. This set featured cards of individual players from the American and National Leagues. Each pack of Sweet Caporal cigarettes now came with a baseball card insert, introducing cards to a much larger potential audience of smokers. The cards measured approximately 2.5 x 3 inches and featured a color portrait photo of the player on the front with baseball statistics and details on the back.

Other tobacco companies like Murad and Iranian followed suit in 1923 by also inserting baseball cards in their cigarette packs. This helped popularize the idea of using baseball cards as premiums and incentives to drive cigarette sales. More kids and adults were now exposed to these new cardboard collectibles of their favorite ballplayers through the cigarette promotions.


1923 also saw the rise of bubble gum manufacturers distributing baseball cards as part of their gum packages. Topps Chewing Gum began its long history of baseball cards in 1923 by giving a single card with selected players in each pack of gum. Bazooka Bubble Gum also distributed cards that year. Gum companies realized including cards was an effective marketing tool to entice more children to purchase their products.

Another development in 1923 was the emergence of regional sets produced by printers for distribution in local tobacco shops, drug stores, and candy stores. These sets focused on players from specific major and minor league teams. Examples include the 1923 Baltimore News baseball card set of Orioles players and the 1923 St. Louis Post-Dispatch Stars and Browns set. Regional sets expanded the reach of baseball cards beyond just cigarettes and gum.

In terms of player photography, the 1923 cards showed continued improvements in image quality over the very early baseball cards from the late 19th century. Photos were sharper and larger thanks to advances in printing technology. The 1923 images still varied in size and were not always centered or trimmed consistently. Some players also had more than one photo used on their cards from different years.

When it comes to the monetary value of 1923 baseball cards today, the premium brands from the major cigarette companies in excellent condition can be quite valuable. A near mint condition Babe Ruth card from the 1923 Iranian set recently sold at auction for over $25,000. Other stars of the era like Rogers Hornsby, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Walter Johnson also command high prices. Most common players from the cigarette issues can be acquired for $100-$500 depending on condition.

The regional sets from 1923 have increased greatly in collector interest and valuation in recent years. A pristine condition card of Baltimore Orioles legend Babe Ruth from the 1923 Baltimore News set sold for $68,000. High grade examples of the St. Louis Stars and Browns players can reach $1,000-$5,000 each. Still, there are many lesser known names that can often be found quite reasonably for collectors on a budget.


1923 was a breakthrough year that helped transform baseball cards from a novelty into a mainstream collectible. The integration of cards into tobacco and gum products spread them to a much wider audience. Proliferation of regional sets additionally expanded their reach at the local level. While rarer premium cards from 1923 cigarette brands carry lofty price tags, there are still many affordable collecting opportunities from this important year in the early development of the baseball card industry. Today’s collectors have a wide variety of iconic early 20th century players to choose from the 1923 issues to build their vintage collections.

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