MINI BACK VARIATIONS
Yep, it's all about the tobacco ads on the mini backs. Nothing else at all, those jokers on the front of the cards are just eye candy. Topps did a good job of ganking original ad backs from the 1909 set for their 2002-2003 Topps206 set. If you want to check out all the original T206 backs, it appears that the T206 museum is back online for your back checking-out needs. Here's the different brands, scarcity of the backs and a gallery.
Topps originally did their T206 tribute set in 2002 to capitalize on the great Topps Heritage Retro Freakout of 2001. It sold well enough to bring about two more series of the cards. Topps used seven different backs for the minis in the set (and maybe an eighth with Bazooka, but I can't remember if they did that or not and I don't have one and it's not a tobacco ad anyway) with ten total back variations. Here's a look at the the old-school backs.
Topps206 Series 1
Common - Polar Bear
There were three different levels of scarcity for the mini backs in the set andTopps chose the Polar Bear design for the common version of their minis. This is the only back that was used in all three series so if you went mad and decided you had to have a complete mini set of Topps206 but you are too anal to mix and match backs, you can still build a complete Polar Bear back set. Polar Bear is one of the more distinctive T206 backs as it is the only one that uses the black background. Other than the Piedmont and Sweet Caporal backs that are extremely common, Polar Bear is one of the easier back variations to find on an original T206 card.
Uncommon - Tolstoi Black
Tolstoi is the first series uncommon back which is apporopriate since the original Tolstois are failry uncommon themselves. The design is almost identical to the Piedmont backs, with only the brand and text being different. I had always strongly associated T206 cards with Piedmont backs and was pretty disappointed to not see the Piedmont back used when I first came across some minis in 2002. This is the next best thing, I guess.
Uncommon Variation - Tolstoi Red
The uncommon backs in all three series had a second, slightly more difficult color variation. There is no such thing as a 1909 T206 card with a red Tolstoi back, but Topps loves its mini parallels.
Rare - CycleThe Cycle ad is a pretty good looking choice for the rare version of the minis. The original T206 Cycles are actually a little more common than the Tolstois. I've actually seen a Cycle back in person, not so with the Tolstoi. Notice the 180 subjects on the card. The originals can be found with 350 and 460 subjects on the back. Since Topps206 series 1 was 180 cards, they changed that little detail to fit the set, which is nice.
I don't have any exact ratios on the different level of rarity for these cards. I used the common, uncoomon and rare designation seen in collectible card games because that seemed like a good analogy to me. Basically there are a whole ton of common Polar Backs out there, Tolstois are harder to find than the Polar Bears but not too tough to find and the rares are pretty tough. Not numbered to 50 tough or anything, but not entirely easy to find. I want to say they were on in a box or maybe every other box. You can find 'em though if you look.
Topps206 Series 2
Common - Polar Bear
Polar Bear's back. Get used to this design. Topps used the Polar Bear ad for their common cards in Topps205 also, so someone in Duryea is obviously a Polar Bear fan. Or they're getting a kickback from the black ink manufacturer (see also: 2008 Mayo Football).
Uncommon - Piedmont Black
Good 'ol Piedmont finally in the set. As you can see it's pretty much the same as the Tolstoi design. A nice touch is the Ne Baseball Series 181-307 line up top which mirrors the original Piedmont New Series 350-460 subjects text on the 1909 version. The little hand is even therepointing to New. Note this for later... you'll see it again. I was somewhat disappointed that Topps used black ink instead of the traditional Piedmont blue, but I was disappointed that Piedmont wasn't the common back as well. I sure am persnickety about my ad backs.
Uncommon Variation - Piedmont Red
Again, the uncommon version has a red back variation. If you thought Topps just recently overloaded their retro sets with parallels you are mistaken. I don't have any hard data on this, but as I recall the black variety was about twice as easy to get as the red version.
Rare - Carolina Brights
This was probably the coolest back they used in the set. Carolina Brights are a legitimately tough back in the 1909 set and along with the Hindu back are one of the most striking designs. The banner in front of the wreath was changed from "Cigarettes" to "Second Series" for obvious reasons.
Topps206 Series 3
Common - Polar Bear
Seriously, get used to these things. You're gonna see 'em again very soon.
Uncommon - Sweet Caporal Red
After Piedmont, Sweet Caporal backs are the next most common of the original backs. Topps threw us a curveball by printing the basic version of the uncommon cards in red ink, but the 1909s were printed in red as well. Nice authenticity by Topps here.
Uncommon Variation - Sweet Caporal Blue
No idea why Topps decided to use the blue ink here, but it looks nifty.
Rare - UZIT
This is a really tough back in the '09 set. It's a pretty striking design too, big bold UZIT yelling at you to try their New Mouth-Piece Cigarettes. Nice choice for the New series three.
Topps Promo Back
Topps used this back on a promo card that was inserted into issues of Beckett Vintage magazine. It's kind of like the Ty Cobb back from the '09 series. Like Ty, the subject on the front of the Topps206 promo is also known for being grouchy, shouty and generally angry at the world. Without the horrific racism and beating up handicapped people thing of course.
2009 Topps206 BacksI yoinked these backs from Beckett as placeholders until I can get my hands on some of these cards and scan them properly. I don't know at this time which will be the common, uncommon or rare, but Trader Crack has some very good info on the set including mini variations.
Gotta think that these will be the common backs again. One I get more info, I'll update this post. If you readers have any tips for me just leave 'em in the comments.
My beloved Piedmont is back and is that... blue ink?? Joooooooooooy........
Also note the series numbering at the top of the card. Heh. Look familiar?
Old Mill is a reasonably commonly found back from the original series, but is notable for the variation promoting the Texas, South Atlantic , Virginia and Southern Leagues. I'm glad Topps put in a new card back in this series, but I'm still waiting for my Hindu back cards.
Also included are Cycle backs numbered to 99 and a 1 of 1 Carolina Brights back among newfangled silks and chromes. There's your Topps206 backs, now it's just a waiting game for the local card shop to get in a box or two so I can get my hands on some.