The St. Louis Cardinals are one of the most historic franchises in Major League Baseball. Founded in 1882, the “Cardinals” have won 11 World Series championships and 24 National League pennants. Their rich history and tradition has been captured through baseball cards for over 100 years.
Some of the earliest St. Louis baseball cards date back to the late 19th century when cigarette companies like Allen & Ginter and Old Judge began inserting cards into their packs. These early tobacco cards featured some of the stars from the St. Louis Browns and Cardinals teams of that era. The cards were quite small and featured basic black and white artwork. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that larger and more detailed cards began to emerge.
In 1909, the American Tobacco Company launched the most iconic set of the early 20th century – T206. This set featured full color portraits of over 500 players. Many of the stars of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns teams of that time period were featured in the set, including Hall of Famers like Rogers Hornsby and Billy Southworth. The T206 set helped popularize baseball cards across America in the pre-World War I period.
In the 1920s and 1930s, several major card companies like Goudey, Play Ball, and Diamond Stars produced sets that featured Cardinals greats like Hornsby, Jim Bottomley, and Pepper Martin. The Goudey Gum Company released several high quality and highly collectible sets in the 1930s that showcased stars of that era like Dizzy Dean, Joe Medwick, and Frankie Frisch. These sets helped fuel the growing baseball card collecting craze during the Depression era.
Topps had a monopoly on baseball cards from the 1950s through 1980. Their flagship set each year always included the biggest names on the Cardinals. Stars of the 1950s like Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, and Red Schoendienst were featured in their rookie cards. The 1960s saw Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Julian Javier represented. The 1970s highlighted Bob Forsch, Ted Simmons, and Garry Templeton in their prime.
In 1981, Donruss broke Topps’ stranglehold by launching the first major competitor set since the 1950s. Their cards brought back multi-player photo cards which had disappeared from Topps sets. Donruss featured Cardinals like Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, and John Tudor throughout the 1980s. Fleer also entered the market in 1981 with their own innovative card designs that highlighted Whitey Herzog’s “Whiteyball” teams of that era.
The late 1980s and 1990s saw the rise of ultra-premium sets. Upper Deck debuted in 1989 with state-of-the-art cardboard and photography. Their cards of Ozzie Smith, Todd Worrell, and Ray Lankford became some of the most coveted in the hobby. In 1991, Finest was launched by Score, featuring refractors and on-card autographs that highlighted stars like Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Dizzy Dean.
Into the 2000s and 2010s, the hobby has continued to evolve. Modern stars like Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright have graced the cardboard in sets from brands like Leaf, Panini, Topps Chrome, and Bowman. Autograph and memorabilia cards have become highly sought after parallel and short-print variations add to the chase. New technology has also allowed for innovative card designs on apps like Topps Bunt.
Through over 100 years of baseball cards, the storied history of the St. Louis Cardinals franchise has been well-documented on cardboard. Future Hall of Famers like Pujols and Molina will undoubtedly join the ranks of past Cardinals greats that have been immortalized and collected by baseball fans around the world through the enduring tradition of baseball cards. The Cardinals franchise and its stars continue to captivate collectors both young and old.