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.

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