Friday, April 30, 2010

Card Prices

My most frequent question sent to me through my vintage cards website is also the question I least like to answer: How much is my card worth? At first, I tried to be really polite in my response about why I really can't be the one to arbitrarily assign a dollar value to somebody's cards. There's too much to consider (condition, etc.), and usually, I don't have enough information in an email to reach a definitive value. However, as time went on, my replies to these questions grew shorter, and I have made a point of sometimes refusing to answer questions about value.

My reason is simple: A card's value is based on several factors, including its condition; ultimately, if you try to sell it, your card will only go for whatever somebody is willing to pay for it.

For example, let's say you have a 1955 Topps card of "Rip" Repulski (#55). He's a common player, so he's grouped with the rest of the "commons." Say, for example, High Beckett on this card is $12, low Beckett is $6. But those prices are for a card in Near Mint condition; your card is maybe in Excellent condition. So realistically, when adjusted for condition the card price is somewhere around $4. Then, try to sell it to a card dealer...if he even bothers to take it, he may give you a $1 in-store credit or 75 cents. If you put it up on eBay, most bidders won't touch it at $3 unless they really need the card. And even then, you're out whatever final fees eBay and PayPal take.

Result: a card that is listed at $12, that may fetch anywhere between $1 and $4. And you would be upset if I told you your card was worth $12 if you ended up selling it for $2. That's why I don't mess around with card prices.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tipton Mint

There's a group out in cyberspace called Old Baseball Cards (OBC). I have been a member of that group since 2002 and have become well immersed over the years in the lingo used among members to describe cards. For example, 1970 Topps are called "Cool Greys," 1971 Topps are known as "Black Beauties" and 1972 Topps cards are called "Psychos." Likewise, "Woodies" are 1962 Topps cards and 1955 Bowman cards (which also have woodgrain borders) are called "TV sets." "Moof" is the distinctive musty smell of some old cardboard, and when an OBC member says something about "Dealer Scum" it's not an insult to card sellers but a method of explaining that they're selling a card rather than trading it.

Perhaps the most celebrated term is "Tipton" or "Tipton Mint." This is a tip of the hat to one of the earliest members of OBC Larry Tipton (still a member after nearly 20 years). Back in OBC's earlier days Larry made a name for himself for having some really worn-out cards and the term was coined.

Here's my own example of a Tipton from my collection. And this is a true Tipton, not because it fits the official OBC description...but because it was Larry himself who gave me this card:

Of course, there's a story behind this. Larry and I were attending a card show together and he found a Morgan RC at a really great price. Telling me that the Morgan he owned was one of the "really beat-up" cards in his collection, he thought about buying it. As he stood there deciding whether to take it, I was quietly holding the money in my pocket, ready to spring on it if he turned it down. Finally, he agreed to buy it. Later, I explained that I was ready to take the card if he didn't, so he just sent me his old one.

Whether you cringe at the sight of this card or not (and you may not, considering what some have said about Joe Morgan as an announcer lately), I think it's a keeper with a superb provenance.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Another Blog

I may be crazy, but I've started another blog.

Since I was planning on showing off cards from my collection here, I was thinking of commenting on some of the cards from the 1973 Topps baseball set whose photos were often terrible. Then, while searching through my binder for examples, I realized I could simply devote an entire blog to the set.

1973 Topps Photography is now live, with 3 cards being featured per week. While this post is likely going to be buried soon under my upcoming posts, I'll have the link kept in the blog list to the left. At the rate of 3-4 each week, I can do the blog for a few years. It'll be fun, check it out. While there are only a couple of cards to be seen there now, here's an example for this blog:

I always liked this Joe Rudi card. It shows a plate celebration after what was likely a Gene Tenace home run. Tenace is flanked by two teammates. That looks like Johnny Oates of the Orioles looking away from the crowd, while an umpire waits to resume play. That makes five people on the card (not counting the crowd) and none of them is Joe Rudi.

On the other hand, this is a nice picture. It shows Crowley heading home and bracing for impact, with Thurman Munson waiting for the throw and the ball shown on the right side of the picture. You know there's about to be a collision, but want to know which player won the showdown.

I've always enjoyed 1973 Topps cards so this should be another great blog.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Few Collecting "Rules of Thumb"

Writer's note: I originally wrote this for a newsletter article back in June 2002. It's been reworked somewhat, since my outlook has changed over the past eight years. However, the main points in bold are the exact same as they were when I first wrote this.

Something that bothers me about some collectors is a fixation on turning a collection into a big pile of money. While I'm not averse to honest and fair-dealing hobby people, there are some collectors who seem to assume they're somehow "better" because they are under the impression they have bricks of gold sitting in their 5000-ct. boxes and push themselves in an arrogant manner. Personally, I never got into collecting because of potential profit, and when I sold cards at a few card shows between 1989 and 1992 I spent my profits at the tables of other dealers. I kept the money in the hobby and improved my own collection in the process.

I started collecting cards when I was six years old, and have continued the hobby into my adulthood because I enjoy it. I'm not motivated by making money. If I ever find myself treating my cards as properties or investments, I'll be the first to say it's time for me to get out of the hobby and get into something else. 

This is not to say that I'm against dealers or anybody else who wants to make money by selling cards; in fact, dealers are essential to keeping the hobby going, and I have a good rapport with many dealers. In this article, I'm focusing on maintaining a collection rather than concerning myself with value.

I have come up with a short list of guidelines I use to aid in my collecting.  The list isn't complete (nor is it mandatory), but I think these basic guidelines could be helpful in building a nice collection of vintage baseball cards (though it's not supposed to be era-specific, it would work just as well for a 12 year-old collecting modern issues).

1.  Price guides are merely guidelines.

A lot of sellers appear to rely on prices found in price guides. Some offer cards in lower condition, but still give the Beckett high book value (which is meant to be a value for a top-condition card). If you take the time to read the disclaimer printed in every price guide, you'll see that the prices listed aren't intended to be absolute.

There are many factors that affect a card's value: its condition, who's pictured, your geographical location (since Tigers cards are more popular in Michigan than they are in Boston), scarcity...or lack thereof, and age are all important. The most important factor, however, is the buyer. If a seller offers a card for $100 and nobody wants to pay more than $20 to have it, the seller must make concessions on the price or the card won't sell...regardless of whatever price "experts" assign to it.

2.  Know your seller

A lot of dealers understand that the key to repeat business is treating customers fairly. In my own experience, I find that if I talk with a dealer for a while about cards and the hobby, we both feel more at ease about what I'm looking for. Often, once a rapport is built I occasionally end up getting a nice deal when I'm ready to pay. That's a nice tactic, because I'll be happy to give that seller more business, and also to refer my collector friends.

There's a flip side to that, however. As a buyer, I also realize that a seller isn't going to be able to just deal with me when there are others at a show table or in a store. Something a simple as a polite "go ahead and deal with your other customer, I'll still be here" can go a long way towards showing that you value that seller's time and business.

Another idea is to seek out trading partners. There are several online groups of traders, and membership isn't necessary to trade. With an online trading club, members often have to make a few deals before joining, so you can rest assured that the collector you're trading with is trustworthy. Trading gives you a great opportunity to improve your collection and divesting yourself of duplicate cards at a low cost.

3.  Avoid the hype

Many dealers and eBay sellers are collectors as well, and will give you a fair deal. Occasionally, you may come across a dealer that talks like a used car salesman, or you'll see an online auction with a lot of slick hype. If you have to do business with these sellers, stick to your guns. If you can't make a reasonable deal, know when to walk away.

4.  It's a collection, not an investment

I've known hundreds of collectors, but very few have ever made a great deal of money by selling their cards. That's not to say that you shouldn't become a dealer if you are so inclined; in fact, dealers are essential to the hobby. It's just that turning piles of cards into piles of cash isn't always a quick or easy process. If you are holding onto cards solely because of a potential rise in value, it's important to realize that you may have to hold onto them for several years.

As for speculators, ask a person who's been sitting on 200-card lots of Gregg Jefferies and Sam Horn rookie cards for 22 years about how well that went. While in 1988 it was easy to see the value of holding on to a Jim Palmer rookie from 1966, the collecting landscape was different then: the cards were issued in series and even though 1960s material was produced in great numbers, they were dwarfed by what flew off the presses in the late 1980s. Add to that the increased sensitivity to condition and centering...and you have an entire generation of collectors who dutifully held on to their cards and took care of them and still lost their shirts when they tried to sell them.

5.  Stay within your budget

Face it: you won't be able to own every card ever made.  You may not even be able to own every different card ever printed of your favorite team (I'm a Yankee fan, but cards of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle are a bit elusive for my budget). There's no good reason for a collector to declare bankruptcy because of his hobby.

Personally, I'm fairly cheap. It doesn't make sense to pay ten dollars for a card when I can get it somewhere else for two. If dealers employ the "hot card" sales pitch, it's good to know when to walk away from a bad deal. If somebody else is willing to spend more money than you to buy a card, then let it go; with patience, another one can be acquired later for your asking price.

6. Remember why you collect

Almost every collector started as a kid, because baseball cards were as much a part of many childhoods as school. However, when those kids grow up and decide to keep collecting, there is a reason. Since I'm not a psychologist, I'm not going to get any deeper into those reasons, but every collector has a motivation.

From time to time, it's important to think about what motivates you as a collector and perhaps re-evaluate your collecting goals. Once you've had time to think about it, the answer can help you determine what you want to collect.

7. Keep it fun

This is the most important rule. A hobby is supposed to be enjoyable. Sometimes the best part of collecting is in the chase.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

New T206 Book Coming Soon

There's a new book available at for pre-order. A 100th anniversary celebration of sorts for the landmark T206 card set, this book is scheduled to arrive on June 16th. The link below will take you to Amazon...and any proceeds from orders through this link will be used to enhance my Vintage Baseball Cards website.

From Amazon's product page:

A coffee table reference, which includes personal and professional stats along with a brief biographical narrative for each of the 393 players of the T206 collection, plus over 500, actual size, full color images of the cards. This volume celebrates the 100th anniversary of the cards which were printed between 1909 and 1911, when the popularity of baseball really exploded. From that era came Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, and Cy Young. 

 This looks to be a great hobby book.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Recent Pickup

I'm a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I do realize that it's not exactly a brave thing to admit, but I became a fan of the team when I watched them win Super Bowl XIII and stuck with them ever since. Yes, they've won a lot of championships, but there were some years in the 1980s and late '90s that weren't exactly fun for the team's fans.

Here's a couple of cards I picked up recently. First, a 1968 Topps Test card of the Steelers:

Here's what the back looks like:

The second card was this 1968 Topps Test patch card:

The '68 Test cards were on my wantlist for an awful long time, and I'm glad to cross them off.

There's a lot about these two sets that isn't known. As a test issue, it appears the two types were packaged together as there is some unopened material still existing. They may have been tested in the Washington, DC area but it's not known for certain. The team cards showed 25 AFL and NFL teams, with only the Cincinnati Bengals (an expansion team in '68 so no team photo was available) missing. The patch cards had 42 designs: each of the 26 teams' logos and 18 cards that had two letters or numbers.

I don't see a whole lot of these popping up. In fact, the first time I saw the patch card in person is when I opened the envelope this one came in.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Another Card From My Collection

As I'm adding to this blog, I'd like to share some of the gems I have sitting in my collection. While some bloggers will show you their top-condition, big-name star cards, I like to show off some of the cards that can tell stories. I guess I'm just different that way.

Here's one:

This card was evidently pulled out of a fire (look at that burn mark in the upper left corner). Someone was also kind enough to let us know exactly which team Mick played with. Sadly, the scan doesn't show the vertical crease in the card very well, or else I could toss out something about how it's no wonder that he was so often injured later on.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Ken writes:


I am a Topps-only, collector-only and have built a fair collection, and through ebay I am working on a '68 regular issue set (my first year of collecting at age 8).  For some reason I recently began comparing '68 cards against one of this year's cards that measures exactly 2.5 by 3.5 and have discovered a significant number and variety of size variations. While most of the cards measure 2.5 by 3.5, I have found many that are 1/128th of an inch short left to right (I have actually bought a precision ruler for measuring), some as much as 1/64th, and a few as much as 1/32nd.  I find very few that are short top to bottom, although I have a good many that are slightly longer than 3.5. I find a few that are longer both l/r and t/b, and rarely, if ever, find cards that are short both ways.  I also have a few cards that have a hump or dip of about 1/64th and this always is on the 3.5 edge.  I have since checked my all-star rookies, WS cards, and stand ups, which have been acquired from many sources over the last 13 years, and found similar variations.  Many of these cards are commons and almost all of them show no sign that I can see of being altered, i.e. generally the edges are worn, dull and grey and consistent on all sides.

I have written to Topps to see what kind of size variations or tolerances came out of their factory in the '60s and '70s, but no response yet. I emailed PSA an inquiry and their response was predictable--"we would have to see the cards to tell if they have been altered."  Interestingly, my '68 Mantle PSA 7 (oc) seems to measure 2 and 63/128ths left to right (its hard to measure through the holder), yet I feel comfortable that PSA can tell that the card is not altered.

Here is my concern.  I do not want my prized collections to have altered cards in them; but, a card that measures 2 and 31/64ths by 3 1/2 inches (or similar minor variations) because it came from the factory that way is perfectly acceptable to me.

What do you know about size variations and tolerances in cards of that era?  Are cards that are 1/64th or 1/128th short considered non-standard sized? If such size variations were a  common result of the manufacturing process, how would you make a judgment, what would you look for, to decide if the card was manufactured that way or has been altered?  Do you know of any good reading or other sources on this subject?

A:  Great question, Ken.  I can see why you are concerned, with the current emphasis on grading in the hobby and condition-critical collectors. Despite your great detail, I don't think you need to be worried about your cards.

If you can remember the days when you bought cards in packs of gum, back when it was common to get gum residue and wax stains on brand-new cards, you may have noticed that a card or two would be slightly larger than the others from the same pack. Similarly, there would be some cards that may be a fraction of an inch short.

Throughout its long history, Topps has printed billions of cards. Despite hiring people to look for defective cards, many large, small and miscut cards have found their way into packs. Even with better automation and quality control, I'm certain that even today they don't cut every card at the precise measurement. 

The most important thing you had to say was that you are happy with a not-quite perfect Mantle card.  Factory defects happen -- even with mass production -- and they're going to find their way into our collections.

Monday, April 19, 2010

1951: Topps' "Red-Headed Stepchildren"

It's hard to believe now, but there was a time when Topps was at the bottom of the baseball card heap. In fact, there was a time when Topps issued sets that weren't intended to compete with other baseball cards.

The year was 1951, and Topps was a new name in baseball cards. By that time, Topps was successful as a gum manufacturer, whose penny pieces of gum were a popular "change maker" at candy counters. Founded in 1936, the company followed the lead of several other gum companies and started producing cards shortly after the second World War. In 1948, a few retired baseball players were found in a set of novelty cards called "Hocus Pocus," and Topps also issued some college football cards with felt backs in 1950. Until 1951, the rest of Topps' card sets weren't sports-related (One set -- called "Freedom's War" -- showed scenes from the war in Korea).

Topps' long wait to start producing baseball cards was a good business move. The company was founded during the Great Depression and very few companies were able to do well in the market. Then, as the card business picked up again in 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked. Many players volunteered for military service. Wartime rationing of paper and gum materials kept baseball cards from being produced. After World War Two ended, it took a couple of years to start the baseball card market again. By the late 1940s, there were two main gum companies: Bowman (known as Gum, Inc. before the war) and Leaf.  Bowman quickly won the competition and was the only national distributor of baseball cards in 1950. 

There were two newcomers to the baseball card market in 1951. Berk Ross was only a minor competitor and would stop issuing cards after 1952. Topps didn't look like it was going to be a major competitor either.  It issued five small novelty sets of baseball cards that year and even issued them without gum in order to avoid any direct competition with Bowman. Despite being the company's first baseball card sets, they've been deemed inferior by many and sadly relegated to obscurity by those who tout the 1952 Topps set as its debut series.

Three of the sets Topps issued in 1951 had cards that were much larger than most collectors had ever seen. One set featured team cards; however, only nine of the sixteen major league teams were represented. Two other sets featured "All Star" players. One was made up of all-time greats (the "Connie Mack All-Stars") and the other was made up of current players (collectors refer to it as the "Current All-Stars" set). The cards in all three of these sets were the same size (2 1/16" by 5 1/4"), and hobby experts have debated for years about how the cards were distributed. The excellent Topps Archives blog has a great deal of info about these sets and their packaging.

The packaging of the last two Topps sets of 1951 isn't such a mystery to collectors today, thanks to a large warehouse find in the Philadelphia area during the mid-80s. As their names suggest, the cards are pretty easy to distinguish by the color of the ink on the back. Red Backs look like this:

Blue backs look like this:

If you're looking for these cards online and the backs aren't shown, there's another way to know which set the cards belong short of emailing the seller ...look at the card number on Mel Parnell's card:

It says "No. 10 IN A SERIES OF 52" and while it seems to make sense as a sentence...look at this Red Schoendienst card:

This time it says "No. 6 IN B SERIES OF 52." With the two sets, Red Backs are the A Series and Blue Backs are the B Series.

1951 Topps Red Back and Blue Back cards were issued in penny packs, with two cards joined together at one edge and perforated for easy separation. The top of Schoendienst's card above has four little nubs showing where it had been attached to another card at some point. In the warehouse find, a few Blue Backs were included in the packaging, suggesting either that the two sets were printed, wrapped and distributed together, or -- more likely -- that they used leftover Red Back wrappers before continuing with the new design. Generally, the wrappers that have been associated with Blue Backs makes mention of a piece of candy inside the wrapper, while the Red Back wrappers make no mention of any candy or gum.

Here's a wrapper used for Red Back cards, which clearly shows Blue Backs inside:

Display boxes that held these packs in the candy stores looked like this:

As the box mentions, the Red Back and Blue Back sets were designed as a card game. Each card had a baseball term (strike, single, out, etc.), and each set had 52 cards. While the biggest difference between the two sets is the back color that gives each set its name, the main difference between collecting the two sets is the Blue Backs' relative scarcity to the Red Backs. The Red Back set features Hall of Fame members Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Ralph Kiner, Bob Feller, Duke Snider, Warren Spahn, Early Wynn and Monte Irvin (his rookie card), as well as variation cards of Gus Zernial and Tommy Holmes. The Blue Back set features fewer Hall of Famers (Richie Ashburn, Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst, Bobby Doerr and Johnny Mize). 

It has been often stated in hobby circles that the 1951 Topps cards aren't really difficult to locate because the 1980s warehouse find flooded the market; however, you never see many available. Many modern price guides that list older cards fail to list them, and a growing number of collectors don't even know that Topps put out any sets before 1952. Whatever reason anybody uses to avoid it, the fact remains that the 1951 Topps Red Back set is one of the few sets from the 1950s that can be completed by a collector without laying out a whole lot of money.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

1933 Sport Kings

Since this blog is going to cover a wide range of sports cards -- even though baseball will likely dominate the topics -- here's a set that can help add some additional sports to the discussion here. Much of this has been taken directly from my website:

Even though only three of the cards out of 48 feature baseball players, the 1933 Sport Kings is among the most important hobby sets of all time. In all, 18 sports are showcased in the set and many of the athletes outside of the baseball players are legends. The set is significant for a number of reasons: it has the first individual cards of basketball players, it is one of a few vintage sets to feature women athletes and might be the first set to have separate cards of a father and son.

The Sport Kings set was a Goudey issue. In many ways, they resemble the 1933 Goudey baseball set. Measuring the same 2 3/8" by 2 7/8" as all Goudey baseball and non-sports sets, each front features a color painting of the pictured athlete against a solid-colored background. Above the athlete is a red "Sports King Gum" banner. Below the picture is a black strip with the athlete's name and a silhouetted representation of the sport he or she plays. A circular 1933 Goudey copyright also appears on the card. A white border surrounds all of these elements. Here is what Carl Hubbell's card looks like:

Backs will be familiar to collectors of Goudey's 1933 baseball and Indian Gum sets: most of the info on the reverse side is in the form of a biography of the athlete. Above the paragraph are the card number, player's name and sport, and a Goudey Sport Kings gum advertisement appears below it. For example, here is the back of that Hubbell card:

The three baseball players are Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Carl Hubbell (Jim Thorpe appears in the set as a football player). At the time, Ruth was winding down his career and Cobb was retired, but Hubbell was on his way to an MVP season and helping his New York Giants win the World Series. Football is represented by legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne, Thorpe and Red Grange. Four subjects are members of the Boston Celtics basketball club, making them the first individual basketball cards (some college teams were shown on Murad tobacco cards in 1910, but the first mainstream basketball card set wouldn't arrive until 1948). Howie Morenz of the Montreal Canadiens is one of four hockey players in the set.

The cards were sold in one-cent wax packages, which looked like this one:

There can't be many unopened packages left from this set.

Collectors who simply stick with baseball or football players are missing out on some of the other great athletes featured here. Bicyclists Bobby Walthour Jr. and Sr. make up the father-and-son subjects. Babe Didrickson is among the best-known women athletes in history, which makes her card in this set significant. Among the boxers are Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney and Max Baer. Immortal golfers Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen show up, as does Hawaiian surf legend Duke Kahanamoku (who is shown as a swimmer). Two Sport Kings went on to gain even more fame after the set's release: Swimmer Johnny Weissmuller is best known for starring in a series of Tarzan films and aviator Jimmy Doolittle will be forever linked with the bombing raid he led over Tokyo during World War Two.

For collectors, this set offers a little of everything. Not only does it offer cards of many of the biggest names of the time, it also gives collectors a chance to better understand a time when athletes were better-known for their skills than for the money they landed. It was a time when hotshot aviators, bobsledders, ice skaters, billiard players and dogsled racers could be considered peers to baseball, football, basketball and hockey players and the ladies -- okay, one lady -- were given recognition as well. The only thing that could have made the set more inclusive would've been to give a couple of nods to African-American athletes, but that was a moment whose time was still yet to come. In a way, the 1933 Sport Kings set shows sports in a way that hasn't been seen in America since Wide World of Sports fell out of favor, except during the Olympics.

Hobby Magazine Article

I've recently had an article published in a new hobby magazine.

Titled "Collecting the Beater," it appears in the very first issue of a magazine called Collector. It was formerly SGC Collector but the control has been turned over from SGC (the 3rd party grading company) to Novocent Partners, who had been handling the printing.

If you'd like to subscribe, click here. It costs $20 for one year (4 issues). I may run my article in this blog later, but here's one of my scans provided to the magazine. I'll add a few more between articles as a way of lightening the mood.

This card is an E92 Dockman card of Al Bridwell. The card is supposed to show a dark cap on Bridwell's head, but paper loss has made it seem like he's laying around with his head in the clouds. Despite what some condition-sensitive collectors might say, it's still a card that's more than 100 years old and I'm proud to claim it as part of my collection.


In this entry, I will try to address a subject that has popped up a lot in my email inbox over the years.

Corky from Washington State writes:

"Hi Chris!
I think I have a Napoleon (Larry) LaJoie #106 Goudey Gum Baseball Card with the Goudey design on the front!
How do I find out its worth and who would buy it?

The 1933 Goudey card of Napoleon Lajoie is legendary among collectors of vintage baseball cards. It is one of the most valuable cards in the hobby as a result of its scarcity, and most collectors of 1933 Goudeys do not consider the card as part of a complete set. Because of that notoriety, the card has also been reprinted quite a lot.

During the 1980s, the Hygrade Sport Card Co. of New York issued a kit for baseball card collectors. It was designed to help younger collectors become acquainted with the hobby (I got mine at a school book sale in 1983, when I was in the 6th grade).  The kit featured a 20-page guide to the hobby, an annotated price guide, a semi-rigid top loader, a nine-pocket plastic page, five cards commemorating great ballplayers of the past (Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Mickey Mantle and Jackie Robinson) and five reprints of rare cards.

The five reprinted cards included a trio of T206 cards: Honus Wagner, Eddie Plank and Sherry "Magie."  Also featured were the T207 card of Irving Lewis (Boston, no patch) and the 1933 Lajoie. Each card was identified on the back and had a value listed (in 1982 dollars). There was also a short description of why the card pictured was so scarce.

When looking at the backs of these cards, common sense should dictate that no original card would explain why it is so scarce or give a listed value; however, in today's lottery-type, "1 of 1" insert-happy hobby, common sense seems to have gone the way of the St. Louis Browns. Novice collectors (who I often refer to as "the uninitiated") often come to the realization that they may have found something quite valuable.

I'll give credit to those collectors who see my website and email me to ask about these cards. The fact that they are doing the necessary research into their discovery should be commended; they are doing the right thing. Unfortunately, many of these cards find their way onto eBay and are put up for auction as the genuine article. Despite the fact that the card backs are often shown, people still bid on these cards and pay good money for worthless reprints.

I tried to notify some of these sellers that they were offering reprints, but most never responded (except for one who told me he'd have me thrown off eBay if I bothered him again). Since that approach didn't work, I'll keep writing about these reprints. Hopefully, my words can help keep an unsuspecting collector from throwing good money after a bad card. Which brings me back to my opening question.

When Corky sent me the message above, I explained that there are a lot of Lajoie reprints floating around. I simply asked him if he could describe the back of his card for me. Sure enough, it was one of the reprints; however, when my email reached him, he had already come across a post I made on a message board and had determined that the card wasn't authentic.

Don't get me wrong. Reprints are great for those collectors who realize that Honus Wagner is never going to make a home inside their T206 collections. I just don't like seeing other collectors get tricked into thinking that they will be getting a rare or valuable card and forking over good money to have it.


Those who stopped buying packs of baseball cards years ago may be surprised to learn that neither wax nor gum are part of the package. Topps quit placing gum in its packs in '92, when it started "modernizing" its cards in order to compete with Upper Deck and its other competitors. The UV coating and higher-quality cards meant that not only would wax packaging be discontinued, but the wax and gum stains would no longer be a cold hard fact of life for collectors.

The ironic part of gum's eviction from Topps' packs is that the company had spent a lot of money over the years on lawyers who argued before a number of courts that only Topps should be allowed to have it in their packs in the first place. Then, once the hobby began to argue they didn't need the gum anyway, Topps unceremoniously dumped it.

Topps wasn't the first to sell cards along with gum. The practice began long before Topps was founded. Cards were being sold along with candy products since at least 1903, even as they were still appearing in tobacco packages. By the time Topps came on the scene in 1951, baseball cards were widely known as "gum cards." When Topps drove Bowman out of business in 1956, it became the only major manufacturer of baseball cards. Topps signed all major leaguers to a contract and prohibited them from appearing on cards made by any other gum company.

During the next 25 years, Topps enjoyed a virtual monopoly. Some competition did show up on occasion. Another gum manufacturer -- Fleer -- issued some minor "old-timers" sets in the early 60s and began to issue a contemporary set in 1963 (without the gum) before Topps went to court and halted it. Post issued some cards on cereal boxes for a few years in the 1960s, and Kellogg's distributed cards inside cereal boxes from 1970-83. Jell-O also placed cards on their boxes of gelatin mix. Hostess printed cards on boxes of Twinkies and cupcakes through the late 1970s. For baby boomers, collecting baseball cards meant buying sugary cereal, snack cakes and a lot of gum. Dentists across America must have been happy with all the extra business.

In my own youth (late 70s-mid 80s), I didn't chew a lot of gum for a different reason. I wasn't so concerned about cavities as I was in breaking my teeth, because the slab of gum was so hard. Instead of chewing the gum that came in the packs, I either gave them to my sister or tossed them away with the wax packaging and that contest card Topps included in each pack.

In 1990, I read an amusing article about Topps' gum by Jim McLaughlin ("proud possessor of eight Topps-induced cavities") in the old Baseball Cards Monthly magazine. He related his theory that Topps bought a stockpile of gum back in 1954, stored it in an underground vault and was still giving it out. It seemed to be a reasonable explanation of why the gum was getting harder and more stale with each passing year. I'm certain he was kidding, but at the time I wasn't so sure.

Has it really been that long ago? New collectors have no recollection of gum residue sticking to the back of Dave Winfield's card, nor of wax stains that ruin Carlton Fisk's picture. Back then, inserts were contest cards, stickers or puzzle pieces often thrown away, rather than a "chase" card that may be worth the extra money you have to spend on a pack now.

In Topps and Bowman Heritage packs today, the gum is soft, larger and wrapped inside cellophane to keep the residue off the cards. The wrappers aren't wax, the gum isn't hard enough to sculpt diamonds with, and they cost three or four dollars a pack. It just isn't the same.

Which brings me to my lament: instead of gum, I really wish they could bring back the old prices I paid for a pack of cards.