T204’s were issued in 1909 by the short-lived Mentor Co. of Boston with their Ramly and T.T.T. Turkish cigarette brands. The cards display photographic portraits surrounded by a filigree-like gold design that was probably meant to look ‘Turkish’. They’re also embossed (meaning that some of the card surface is raised) which is quite unusual and which makes it very easy to spot reprints and fakes since those will have uniformly flat surfaces.
There are 121 cards in the set, with a good representative overview of major leaguers from 1909. 15 Hall of Famers are included, but notable stars like Mathewson and Cobb were omitted. A few players, like Pelty (supposedly the only Jewish player in the set) and Cicotte (infamous for his Black Sox participation) are in greater demand than others commons. There are 4 non-players included in T204: Frank Bancroft, Cincinnati’s manager in 1902; Tim Murnane, a prominent Boston baseball promoter and President of the N.E. League; Jimmy McAleer, manager of the Browns; and Clark Griffith, Cincinnati’s manager in 1909 and a future HOFer. Murnane likely got in because of his New England connection, while Griffith and McAleer were both popular managers. Bancroft’s inclusion is seems odd, but there’s a good explanation: see the info below on the Worcester, MA angle with the square bordered cards.
13 of the 16 major league teams are represented; Pittsburgh, Philadelphia NL, and Chicago AL have no players. The two Boston teams are, not surprisingly, those with the most players.
Photos used for the T204 set were taken at the Carl Horner Studios in downtown Boston, often several seasons prior to 1909. Horner was the de facto official photographer for major league baseball during the first decade of the 1900’s and his photographs were used in many sets of the same era. One of his most famous photographs is of Eddie Plank, which is the same one that was used for his T206 card.
The April 2007 Mastro Auction (now defunct) contained more than 40 Horner cabinets with several showing the same photos used for T204 cards. The cabinets demonstrate that, in many cases, T204 photos were altered to remove team designations from the uniforms.
The last names of 17 players are misspelled: Arrelanes (should be Arellanes), Byrnes (Byrne), Cicolte (Cicotte), Dineen (Dinneen), Elberfield (Elberfeld), Hoblitzel (Hoblitzell), Hummell (Hummel), Kargar (Karger), Kleinon (Kleinow), Konetchey (Konetchy), Loebert (Lobert), Nichols (Nicholls), O’Hare (O’Hara), Ruelbach (Reulbach), Schekard (Sheckard), Stienfeldt (Steinfeldt), and Unclane (Unglaub). Also, several cards have an image of a different player than the one intended. This includes
- Roy Hartzell (StL AL) is actually Topsy Hartsel (Phi AL).
- Bill O’Hara (NY NL) is actually Tom O’Hara (StL NL).
- Joe Dunn (Brooklyn) is actually Jack Dunn (retired in 1904).
- The images of Harry Howell and Jack Powell (both StL AL) are reversed.
T204’s can sometimes be found with a “T.T.T. Natural Turkish Cigarettes” advertising back. These were the initials of the Mentor Co.’s controversial Greek-American owner, Thomas Telemachus Timayenis. Examples of cards with this brand are much scarcer than those with the Ramly back. Only about half of the players have been found with the T.T.T. back (see the complete checklist), so it’s unlikely that completing a full 121-card set is possible.
I have a dedicated T.T.T. Turkish Cigarettes page with multiple images.
Square Bordered cards
There are six blank-backed square-bordered Ramly cards that were issued separately from the regular set. These were possibly either proofs or some type of promotional issue. My assumption is that they were issued prior to the full set, possibly even a year or two beforehand.
Square borders are exceptionally rare and will cost many multiples of a common T204’s price. The six square-border players are Anderson, Bancroft, Bransfield, Burkett, Dineen [sic], and Moran. Geo. Howard used to be cited in the Standard Catalog as having a square border card, but this was eventually corrected as that card’s existence had never been verified.
All six players had a connection with Worcester, MA where the Mentor factory was located and it’s that location that explains why they were included in this group. Bancroft, Bransfield, Anderson, and Moran were all born in or near Worcester, Burkett managed the local team, and Dinneen had been a star Red Sox player.
Values & Scarcity
In 2017, T204’s are no more expensive than they were 10 or more years ago. There are currently few set collectors competing for the cards, which makes this a good time to start on the set if you’ve ever wanted to try it. VG commons are usually $100-$150 at the moment. T.T.T.’s have been selling for two or three times that.
The longer I collect this set, the more I think that there are 2 groups of cards where one is noticeably easier to find than the other. The T.T.T. checklist is a good scarcity guideline: if a player can be found with that back, they’re also much easier to find with a Ramly back. Another generalization that seems true is that Boston players from both teams and New York NL players are harder to find than those of other teams. And the 6 square border players are by far the easiest: for every Lindaman or McConnell card, you’ll see Frank Bancroft or Jesse Burkett many times.
Other T204 Info
Classic Baseball Cards : The Golden Years, 1886-1956 by Frank Slocum, published in 1990, has beautiful, full color pictures of the entire T204 set and many others. This book is long out of print, but used copies can sometimes be found on eBay (search on “Slocum classic baseball cards”) or on Amazon.
10 of the 121 T204 players have their first name or initials in their captions: Ed. Collins, T.H. Murname, Thos. Jones, John Anderson, Geo. Howard, Jesse C. Burkett, Wm. H. Dineen, Wm. Bransfield, Frank C. Bancroft, and P.J. Moran. It’s probably not a coincidence that 6 of these players make up the entire square border group, but we don’t know why.
Some T204’s also exist with blank backs. These are sometimes referred to as “proofs”, but they’re more likely part of another early test set. They’re scarce, but the prices are usually not much higher than for other T204’s. A blank back card is almost always one of the same 6 players in the square border group.
The famous collector Frank Nagy once owned a sheet of Ramly cards. Someone (probably his protégé and budding hobby villain, Bill Mastro) later cut the sheet up. These bogus cards were submitted and slabbed by SGC in the late 90’s when that grading service was just starting out. These “fat borders” are easy to recognize because they’re larger than normal Ramlys and many of their grades are extremely high. Most collectors stay away from them because they don’t look right. Now, twenty years later, SGC has been re-slabbing them as “Frank Nagy sheet” cards to describe them more accurately.
A trivia item about Nagy is that he used to believe that the T204 set contained 120 cards and printed that on his business card with Mordecai Brown’s image on the front. He didn’t know that Cy Morgan’s card made 121.
My special thanks to Scott Brockelman and to Peter Thomas for sharing their knowledge about this great set with so many collectors.