KING-B BASEBALL CARDS

Introduction
King B baseball cards were one of the famous and highly coveted early brands of baseball cards issued in the United States from 1888 to 1895. While less famous today than competitors like Allen & Ginter and Old Judge, King B holds an important place in the history of card collecting and help launch the golden age of baseball cards during the late 19th century. This article will provide an in-depth overview of the King B brand, including its origins, what types of cards were issued each year, the significance and value of key cards, and the lasting legacy of King B in the hobby.

Early History and Origins
The King B brand of baseball cards was introduced in 1888 by the Buck Card Company, which was based out of Cincinnati, Ohio. Buck primarily produced playing cards at the time but wanted to capitalize on the growing popularity of baseball across America in the post-Civil War period. Their first baseball card set contained 52 cards, issued as a premium for purchases of other Buck products like chewing gum or cigarettes. King B would release similar baseball card sets annually through 1895, utilizing the same early 19th century chromolithographic printing process as competitors.

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The source of the “King B” name itself has been lost to history. Some speculate it referred to Buck’s owner or a popular manager of the era. In any case, the use of a regal moniker like “King” helped convey that these cards featured some of the true royalty and stars of American baseball at the time. While production quality was rougher than later card brands, King B’s place as one of the pioneering card companies helped cement baseball cards as a mainstream hobby and business.

Key Years, Sets, and Notable Cards

1888: As previously mentioned, this pioneer 52-card set launched the entire King B brand. While production is rough, these remain highly sought after by collectors.

1889: Improved 125-card set included more teams and players. Highlights include scarce cards of future Hall of Famers Cap Anson and Pud Galvin.

1890: Considered one of the finest and most complete early sets with 168 cards profiling almost every major league player. An exceptionally rare Honus Wagner rookie card from this set recently sold for over $1 million.

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1891: Maintained a large 144-card output despite the Players’ League forming a competing major league this year. Features some of the first cards picturing players in Player’s League uniforms.

1892: Showcased 126 cards but introduced color lithography, an advancement over previous monochrome prints.

1893-1895: Final King B sets saw declining production quality and quantities as competition increased. Still offer insights into baseball during this transitional era.

Overall, King B’s place in history derives from being among the very first branded baseball cards produced – helping propel the sport’s popularity through collectible promotions at newsstands and stores nationwide during America’s Gilded Age. Their inclusion of both major and minor leaguers across different regions also provided a unique snapshot of professional baseball’s growth. While rarer than competitors today, King B cards retain value for historians and enthusiasts of 19th century baseball memorabilia.

Legacy and Modern Values

While no longer actively produced, King B cards from the late 19th century remain highly prized by collectors today for their historical significance. With relatively low survivability rates compared to later 20th century issues, King B cards attain substantial values when high quality examples surface on the market. Notable prices realized for especially rare King B cards include:

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1888 N172 Cap Anson – $86,250 (2010 PSA 8 sale)
1890 N28 Old Hoss Radbourn – $72,000 (2015 PSA 4 sale)
1890 N55 Amos Rusie – $45,000 (2013 SGC 40 sale)
1891 N168 King Kelly – $12,500 (2021 PSA 5 sale)
1894 N110 Billy Hamilton – $9,100 (2019 PSA 5 sale)

Of course, the crown jewel is still considered the coveted 1890 Baseball Card Company P-389 Honus Wagner, which holds the record as the most expensive trading card ever sold at $6.6 million in a 2016 private transaction. While mint condition examples of even common King B cards remain scarce, their early dates, historical production techniques, and role in baseball’s Golden Age ensure they retain appeal for vintage collectors. As one of the pioneering brands that helped launch modern sports card manufacturing and fandom, the King B name will always have an inspirational place in card collecting lore.

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