Friday, April 29, 2011


Here's an email I received through my website recently:

Q:  "I have an autographed 1954 Wilson's card of Ray Jablonski. Is it of any value?"

(The image here is not mine...and probably a reprinted card. I grabbed this image from an old file I had. It shows the set design so my answer makes a little bit of sense.)

A:  All the 1954 Wilson cards have facsimile autographs across the front, so that part doesn't add value.

However, Jablonski is one of the harder to find cards in the set. Assuming it's the real thing and not a reprint, then yes, there's quite a bit of value there. Depending on condition (I need a scan to know for sure) it could be worth up to $1000.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Number 1

The New York Yankees have retired a bunch of uniform numbers, and #1 was for Billy Martin. He also wore the number while he played and managed elsewhere. In this 1972 Topps card, Martin is shown as the manager of the Detroit Tigers:

Card #33 -- Billy Martin

Billy seemed to really enjoy his uniform number. Looking at the way he's holding the knob of the bat, it appears he's showing the photographer that he's #1 in his heart as well:

I read somewhere in an interview that Martin said he just posed for the picture naturally and nobody realized until much later about the finger. However, he seemed to always have an excuse ready whenever trouble arose (and it did fairly often), so we'll never know for sure now that he's no longer around to talk about it.

But that isn't the only Billy Martin card in the '72 Topps set. He's the only manager to have his own "In Action" card that year. A manager in action is going to be a limited range of events: signaling to a batter, calling in a reliever, talking with a player on the bench...

Card #34 -- Billy Martin In Action

Or...having a friendly discussion about the nuances of the rules with an umpire. Personally, I'd rather see the picture show Billy kicking dirt. I also wish they could have fit an Earl Weaver In Action card in the set as well.

And look, you see the Number 1 on this card, too.

Monday, April 25, 2011

"On-the-Fly" Design

Recently, I did a post about the 1948/'49 Bowman set and mentioned how its design was better than Bowman's since it actually named the player on the front. That's true for the '48 Bowman and the first series of '49 Bowman cards, but it appears they noticed what the competition was doing and made a few changes as they added new cards in '49.

Here's what the first '49 Bowman cards looked like:

Card #5 -- Hank Sauer

In short, it's an improvement in design over what they issued in 1948:

Card #15 -- Eddie Joost

They took a player photo, added color to it and placed a solid color in the background. However, the designers weren't content to simply leave the design alone, not when another company was selling cards as well. So, beginning with card #109, a box was added to the front:

Card #113 -- Ray Lamanno

However, there are a handful of cards from earlier series that were given the new design since they were printed and included in later series. Therefore, they can be found either with or without the name on the front...a complete set checklist on my site tells which ones have that variation.

Bowman also changed the design on the backs in 1949. Here's that back of Sauer's card:

One nice feature Bowman used was the addition of a second ink color (the '48 cards were printed entirely in black). Having the name in red, as well as the send-in offer at the bottom, makes the text stand out better. The back of the Lamanno card shows some differences:

Now, the name is written out in script form, rather than in solid block. Presumably, since the name is in block form on the front in case the kids owning the card hasn't yet learned how to read in cursive, the script gives it a nice flourish. The two backs also show a difference in card stock. Cards 1-3 and 5-73 can be found with either white or gray stock, while the rest of the cards are found in gray only.

As for that last sentence, you might be wondering: why not card #4? When Bowman issued their first card series in 1949, they left card #4 out of that printing. It's been suggested that the intent was to keep kids buying packs to get it, which is underhanded in a way but not nearly as bad as the skip-numbering Leaf did that year. In any case, card #4 would appear later, in the form of Jerry Priddy.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Another Book Review

Take a look at this classic card from 1912:

The player sliding into third base in the center panel of the card is a man who changed the way that baseball was played. He was also a complex individual, shaped as much by geography as the times he lived in. Before he died, he told his story to a young writer named Al Stump. However, Stump wrote the rest of the story later:

Cobb by Al Stump (1994)

Those who've seen the movie (with Tommy Lee Jones as the "Georgia Peach") are already familiar with the story of how Cobb wrote his autobiography with a young writer late in his life. In this book, Stump goes back to the notes he took in 1960 and tells a more complete tale of Tyrus R. Cobb than the one his publishers let him give the first time around.

Many of our sports heroes turn out to be bad role models. That was as true a century ago as it is today. Babe Ruth was legendary for chasing women and was rumored to have several venereal diseases. Near the end of his life, Mickey Mantle regretted that he wasted time drinking and carousing. Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden destroyed promising futures because of drug addiction. Pete Rose's story is still being played out, but it seems safe to say that he wasted what should have been a certain place in baseball immortality. For every Lou Gehrig, Christy Mathewson or Cal Ripken -- men who lived by example -- there are several guys like Bo Belinsky or Ty Cobb.

Ty Cobb was driven to succeed. To borrow a couple of cliches, he was his own worst critic...and his own worst enemy. Like many great players, he constantly looked for ways to make himself better. Cobb drove himself to win eleven batting titles in thirteen seasons (he was runner-up both of those other years), to finish with more hits, more stolen bases and more times on base than any other player before him. Nothing pleased Cobb more than winning, but nothing burned him worse than losing. His fiery nature and aggressive playing style gained him respect; however, those same things made him feared and hated.

Stump gives a lengthy account of Cobb's life, career and battles with the Detroit front office. He goes into great detail about the way baseball was played while Cobb learned it. He tells about Cobb's upbringing and family, tries to explain his relationship with his father, the hard facts about his father's death at the hands of his mother and the small-town innuendo that followed the tragedy. Cobb's successful business dealings and less successful marriages are also laid out for the reader.

Most of all, Stump tries to explain who Cobb was, how he saw himself and how he played the game. Cobb personified baseball's "dead ball" era and was an innovative tactician unwilling to adapt when a livelier ball changed the way the game was played. Stump tells of Cobb's friendships with Tris Speaker and Christy Mathewson, his "feud" with Babe Ruth and often-sour relationships with his teammates.

"Cobb" will be a fascinating read for a baseball fan or anybody who'd like to understand how the game has changed. It sometimes paints a disturbing picture of the man, but does its best to paint the full picture.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In Honor of Today...

Today is April 20, which we show as 4/20. In some circles, that number has a significance that goes far beyond what gets covered in this blog. I'm only mentioning this in case it sends extra hits to the blog from search engines.

(I suppose pictures of hot Russian women would help the hit rate, but I haven't found any that have shown up on a vintage baseball card. But I digress...)

In honor of the day, here's a card I recently received from the 1934-'36 Diamond Stars set that looks to be "smoked out":

Card #8 -- Joe Vosmik, Cleveland Indians

While the actual year of issue for particular Diamond Stars can often be identified by the color of ink used on the back, that's a little bit tough in this instance:

It's hard to tell whether this card has blue or green ink, but fortunately, it mentions in the stat line that Vosmik led the league in hits in 1935 (Clicking on the picture allows you to read it a little better). Therefore, we know it is a 1936 card.

The card is actually not smoky. It appears to have been dipped in paraffin, which some kids used to give an advantage for flipping against a wall. The substance may have allowed the card to get more distance, but it sure didn't protect the poor thing's corners when it was tossed.

That said, I'm not picky about condition when I can cross a 75 year-old card off my wantlist.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fleer History

From 1933 through the 1980s, baseball cards were widely associated with bubble gum.  For much of this time, cards of all types (sport and non-sport alike) were called "gum cards." The list of gum manufacturers who tried selling cards by the 1950s has been long: Goudey, Tattoo Orbit, National Chicle, Delong, Gum Inc. (later known as Bowman), Leaf, and Topps. One prominent gum maker had resisted getting into the card business but decided to give it a try in 1959. The company was Fleer.

Frank H. Fleer was born in 1860 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but the roots of his company go back to 1849 when his father in-law Otto Holstein started a business that produced flavoring extracts. After marrying into the family, Frank Fleer was running the company by 1885 and continued until selling it in 1909.  During this period, Fleer's company developed the first bubble gum. Premiering in 1906, it was called "Blibber Blubber" and wasn't a tremendous seller because it was known to stick to the chewer's face. Also during this period, Fleer's brother Henry invented "Chicklets," a gum that is still sold today.

The Frank H. Fleer Corporation was founded in 1914. Frank Fleer died in 1921 but his namesake company became an industry leader in 1928 when it started selling a new bubble gum called "Dubble Bubble." According to the story, Dubble Bubble was formulated when an employee with no chemistry training stumbled onto an effective mix of ingredients that kept the gum from sticking to the chewer's face. At the time that Dubble Bubble was first made, the only food coloring available in sufficient quantities at the Fleer plant was pink. Because of that, most bubble gum since -- by any number of companies -- has also been pink.

When Frank Fleer passed away, control of the company was passed to two brothers, "Bud" and Frank Mustin. The Fleer family was devoutly Quaker -- not uncommon in Philadelphia, where Quakers were among the leaders of most industries -- and their bedrock values and principles translated to a very conservative work ethic. They didn't like to take unnecessary gambles. By the dawn of the "gum card" era, Fleer very well may have been able to been a force in the market. With the success of Dubble Bubble, however, Fleer did not feel they needed to follow its competitors into the baseball card business when the first gum cards were issued in 1933. The company had flirted with cards in 1923 when it made a set of 120 "Famous Pictures" and distributed them along with five-cent packages of Bobs and Fruit Hearts. 60 of the cards featured baseball players, and the set has been catalogued as W515. In 1935, Fleer issued a non-sports card set called "Cops and Robbers" along with gum and sporadically issued non-sport sets afterward, but would not print another baseball card set until 1959.

W515 card of Bob Shawkey

During the 1950s, a significant change took place around the country. The second World War had virtually shut down the baseball card business and the gum business was affected by sugar rationing, but when the soldiers came home and began having children they were so productive that the nation saw its highest percentage of young people ever. The "baby boom" brought in a tremendous number of new customers that would benefit both the gum and card makers. As the 1950s progressed and Topps and Bowman -- both major competitors of Fleer -- publicly fought for dominance in the baseball card market, both companies gained a sizeable market share from Fleer. Topps was a formidable gum maker when it started selling Bazooka gum and only gained customers when it eventually bought Bowman. By the end of the decade, Fleer had lost its position as the top gum maker and was forced to fight Topps for its market share.

In 1959, Fleer signed Ted Williams away from Topps and issued an 80-card set chronicling his life and career. While the contract might have shocked Topps, it shouldn't have surprised them; in 1954, Topps began the downfall of Bowman by signing the same Ted Williams away. Fleer's deal with Williams didn't impact Topps nearly as badly, but Topps did object to the picture on card #68 of the '59 Fleer set. The picture showed Williams signing his 1959 Red Sox player contract while sitting next to Boston GM Bucky Harris, who was still under an exclusive Topps contract of his own. Fleer pulled the card from its set and created one of the scarcest cards of the 1950s.

This card was puled from the 1959 Fleer set. It's available, but costly.

Fleer wanted to directly compete with Topps, but was hamstrung by Topps' exclusive player contracts. For 1960, Fleer decided to try a new concept: "old-timer" cards. There were a few notable exceptions (some of the 1940 Play Ball cards, the Callahan Hall of Fame sets), but the idea of featuring some of baseball's past stars in a card set was one that had been seldom used. The 1960 Fleer set was a 79-card issue featuring most of the great past players of major league baseball and one who was still active (Ted Williams). It appears the set was meant to have 80 cards, as a #80 back of Pepper Martin has surfaced on a few of Joe Tinker and Lefty Grove's cards. 

Some of the players in the '60 set were familiar to the kids who bought the cards, since guys like Bob Feller, Hal Newhouser, Marty Marion and Johnny Mize were still playing in the 1950s. Even non-fans recognize the names of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. When the cards arrived they weren't incredibly attractive, featured a lot of pictures of old men and even had a few in street clothes, and didn't appeal to kids at all. In 1960, cards of Mickey Mantle and Eddie Mathews were preferred over those of Mickey Cochrane and Eddie Walsh.

Here's an example of an "old man" card. Bender is obviously shown playing after he retired.

Despite the poor sales of the 1960 Baseball Greats cards, Fleer issued a new set of Greats in 1961. This time, there were more stars and a more elaborate design. According to hobby references, the '61 set was actually issued over a two-year period, with the cards numbered 89-154 issued in '62. The larger set and improved design didn't change the minds of collectors who had resisted collecting cards of players their fathers and grandfathers had followed. Despite the lack of success at the time, Fleer's use of retired stars on cards had pioneered a concept that is in wide use today.

The design was spruced up for 1961, even if the players weren't.

While Fleer was issuing its baseball sets, it was delving into other professional sports as well. Fleer issued football cards from 1960-'63, and focused primarily on the new AFL. In 1961, Fleer featured NFL players for the only time during that era (Topps also issued both AFL and NFL cards in its '61 set). Fleer issued a basketball set through the 1961/'62 NBA season and gave the hobby a lot of key rookie cards (Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor). The NBA set was significant because it was the third set of pro basketball players in as many different decades by as many different companies, and would be the last NBA set issued until 1969. 

Fleer may have decided to continue its '61 Baseball Greats set into '62 to devote its time toward signing active baseball players to non-exclusive contracts. Among the players Fleer signed early was Maury Wills, one of the few major leaguers who had not signed with Topps. According to the story, the Topps scouts who went to the Dodgers' 1958 spring training camp felt Wills didn't stand much of a chance of ever making the big leagues and offered a contract to all the minor leaguers there but him. Wills eventually made the Dodgers roster in 1959 and was an immediate base-stealing success. Wills felt that Topps had snubbed him and refused to appear on any of their cards. When Fleer approached Wills and asked him to be a player representative, he agreed. Another player who helped Fleer was Jimmy Piersall; eventually, Fleer had enough players signed to begin the first series of 1963 baseball cards.

1963 Fleer...A short-lived issue.

The '63 Fleer cards were not a huge success at first, but were nicely done. The player picture was nice and large, the photography was tasteful, and having Maury Wills (the '62 National League MVP) in the set was a major boost. Joining Wills in the 66-card set were stars like Roberto Clemente, Carl Yastrzemski, Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn, Bob Gibson, Brooks Robinson and Willie Mays. Attempting to get around Topps' claim of exclusive use of cards sold with confectionary products, Fleer placed a low-sugar cookie in each pack that was roundly drubbed as tasteless. 

Fleer planned to release more series, but was stopped when Topps sued Fleer for violation of its exclusive player contracts. The courts ruled in Topps' favor, stating that Fleer's cookie -- Topps' lawyers referred to it as a "dog biscuit" -- was still an infringement, even if it wasn't a confectionary item. After the ruling, Topps stood as the sole manufacturer of cards that could be released in inexpensive wrapped packages. 

As a result, the 66 cards released by Fleer in '63 would constitute a complete set. Towards the end of the printing run, Fleer would issue an unnumbered checklist to distribute in packs. To make room on the printing sheet, Fleer replaced the card of Joe Adcock. Both the checklist card and the Adcock card have higher values because of their relative scarcity.

(Discussion on this card was not allowed on PSA's message boards because the censor flagged the last name as offensive.)

After the '63 Fleer AFL football set, Topps gave Fleer another headache. When their rights to issue NFL cards were lost to the Philadelphia Gum Company, Topps secured the right to make cards of AFL players and left Fleer out in the cold as far as football cards went. Fleer missed out on printing the rookie cards of guys like Joe Namath, Len Dawson, Daryle Lamonica and Fred Biletnikoff. They got back into the football card market again in 1976 when they started a 13-year run of "Fleer Action" football cards that showed an entire team in both offensive and defensive formation. Despite being shut out of the card market, Fleer still issued non-sports sets through the 1960s, including "Gomer Pyle, USMC," "McHale's Navy" and "The Three Stooges."

Fleer also continued signing baseball players to nonexclusive contracts. Most of the players were minor leaguers, but Fleer's hope was to have those deals in place in the future if they could have the 1963 ruling overturned. In 1965, an examiner for the Federal Trade Commission found Topps in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act but had that ruling reversed by the full FTC. In 1966, Fleer gave up and sold its contracts (including Maury Wills') to Topps for $395 thousand.

Another event in 1966 was significant for the baseball card industry. The players formed a union called the Players' Association and named Marvin Miller as their executive director. One of Miller's first duties was to try and renegotiate the way Topps signed players. During the long, drawn-out process, Miller got frustrated with Topps and offered Fleer the rights to print cards after 1973 with a product besides gum. Fleer declined, saying that they were a gum company, and 1973 was too long to wait. Miller eventually reached a deal with Topps in 1968.

In 1971, Don Peck was named president of Fleer. He had joined the company in 1952 and was one of the designers of the 1960-'63 baseball sets. Peck regretted Fleer's refusal to accommodate Miller and hoped that his company could eventually get a foot in the card market. The Mustin brothers were still running the business and tried to dissuade Peck because they didn't see any way to get around Topps' monopoly. Peck wasn't discouraged, however. By then, Topps and the union had a deal running through 1981, and Peck tried to figure out how to get into the market by then.

1970 Fleer World Series card, featuring Babe Ruth before "The Curse"

Through the early to mid 1970s, Fleer issued some oddball baseball sets. Many of theses sets featured the artwork of Robert Laughlin rather than photos, and others were sized differently than the 2 1/2 by 3 1/2 inch standard. 1970 and '71 saw sets that showcased each year's World Series that emphasized the teams instead of individual players. In 1973 a set marked baseball's all-time feats. 1974 and '75 saw oversized sets of baseball and football legends (with photos instead of Laughlin artwork). By '75 the Mustin brothers were hoping to persuade Don Peck to give up the hope of selling baseball cards, but Peck insisted on one final try in the courtroom.

(An example of a Fleer card with Robert McLaughlin's artwork from 1972. The scan doesn't show it, but it's larger than a standard card.)

In July 1975, Fleer filed suit in the Federal Court of Philadelphia (its home city), claiming that Topps' monopolistic practices had violated sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, the same claim that the FTC had dismissed ten years before. In that decade, the card business had changed; in 1965, cards were still regarded as promotional items to sell gum, but by '75 there was a growing secondary market (what is now called "The Hobby"). The suit took five years to wind its way through the court system, but nobody expected the result.

On June 30, 1980, Judge Clarence Newcomer ruled in favor of Fleer and allowed them to enter the market. In the years since the ruling was handed down, it has been noted as one of the few moments that permanently changed the hobby. The decision also gave Fleer enough time to start making a full set of baseball cards for Peck's 1981 target date. 

1981 was a great time to start releasing baseball cards. Throughout the 1970s the baseball card hobby began to shape when the Baby Boomers who had collected cards in the 1950s and 1960s began to spend some of their disposable income on cards again. Some had kept collecting all along, while others wanted to reacquire the cards that their mothers tossed out years before. Card shops began to open, publications started, and people had begun to see that "gum cards" weren't just for kids anymore. In the summer of '80, a 1952 Topps card of Mickey Mantle sold for three thousand dollars in an auction, and a lot of excitement was beginning to swell in the burgeoning hobby.

I'm going to stop the story at this point, since I don't usually go into territory beyond 1980. However, there is a blog called The Fleer Sticker Project that features a lot of the oddball Fleer cards mentioned here. It's well worth getting lost for a couple of hours.

Friday, April 15, 2011

First Anniversary Post

Today is the one-year anniversary of when I started writing a blog dedicated to vintage sportscards. Over the span of 178 posts, I've helped share my love and passion about my hobby, shown off some of the cards in my collection, pimped my own website and helped answer some questions.

I've managed to keep this a regular blog, with 3 (and sometimes 4) posts every week, and hopefully I can keep up the pace with quality information. Here are some of the highlights of my first year:

 This Mickey Mantle card introduced my sometimes low-key collection.

I added this card to my Steelers collection after more than 10 years of it being on my wantlist.

I wrote two articles for hobby magazines. One on beaters, and the other on stadium memorabilia.

I began writing another blog covering the 1973 Topps baseball set.

A new variation was discovered in the 1965 Topps Transfers set.

I shared my recollections of the progress of my oldest card (Night Owl gave me that idea).

I got to write about what I call "The Book."

In the meantime, I've shared some new additions into my collection, I've provided glimpses into a number of classic vintage sets and have met some great hobbyists who share my passion -- some may call it "sickness" -- and even managed to share tips on storing 1951/'52 Bowman cards in a binder.

I was going to share my "Top 5" posts in popularity, but the numbers have been skewed by my method of giving generic names for the headlines. My most-read post is still racking up the hits, but it's not due to the subject matter...titled Pre-"Big Game" Post, it showed some 1952 Bowman football cards as a pre-Super Bowl entry, but the search engines sent me traffic from both fans looking for Super Bowl info and players of something called Game Post (I'm still getting several hits a week with that keyword). Likewise, another post mentioned eBay in the title and got 4 times the traffic I normally get in one day.

I can't close this entry without mentioning my regular readers. Some have given me topics (keep 'em coming), others have added valuable comments to fill in the many areas i am still unclear about, and still others have let me know via email that they learned something they never knew. You guys have no idea how much that means to a writer when he's told he's given a reader insight. I thank every one of you who've been along for the ride. Hopefully, it won't stop for a long time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An Aura

Here's one of the 1934-'36 Batter Ups I have in my collection:

Card #74 -- Chick Fullis, Philadelphia Phillies

While some collectors have issues collecting these cards if they've been removed by their perforation, long-time readers know that I have no such aversion. However, it's interesting to point out that all six of the cards I own from this set are intact. Yes, they have scuffs (such as this one) and writing, but they're complete cards otherwise.

However, this card may pose a dilemma to collectors. It's intact, but it isn't for the condition-sensitive collector. There's a liquid stain on the back -- soda, perhaps -- that has seeped through the die-cut area to create a unique "aura" around the player.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Word About Condition

One of the best things about having a blog and a hobby-based Web site is being able to help out other collectors. I enjoy getting email from somebody who has a card, but can't find any information about it. Recently, I have been able to identify 1961 Fleer, 1950-56 Callahan and 1939 Goudey premiums to collectors who were unable to figure out what they had.

On the other end of the spectrum are the more numerous emails from visitors who ask, "I have a 1954 Yogi Berra card. What is it worth?" or "I just found a Ray Sadecki Topps card. Could you give me a ballpark value on it?" Since I don't place values on my site and don't subscribe to any price guides, I'm not highly qualified to appraise anybody's cards; however, this type of email doesn't give me all the information I need to make an accurate guess in the first place.

There are a number of things that affect a card's value. The first and foremost is its condition. Common sense would indicate that a card with no flaws is desirable over one that has a crease or a bumped corner, but some collectors don't bother to read the condition guide found in all major price guides. It's safe to say that if your cards look like this:

(Actual scan sent from a Website visitor)

They aren't always going to fetch the prices that appear in the price guides.

One of the reasons vintage cards are so valuable today is because there are few that can be found in top condition (which is how they are valued in Beckett or the now-defunct Tuff Stuff). Once upon a time, kids pulled cards out of gum packs and tortured them to death. Cards were stored in back pockets, wrapped with rubber bands and tossed into shoeboxes, or were subjected to bicycle spokes and card-flipping contests, and many of those cards were roughed up. Over the past 30 years, however, more mature collectors have stored away new cards to protect against damage, and cards from 1980 or so are more likely to be found in higher grade. 

That's not to suggest that condition has only been important since around 1980. In 1939, Jefferson Burdick issued the first comprehensive guide to collectible cards, which we now know as the American Card Catalog. The ACC was more than a guide for baseball card collectors; in fact, cards of all subjects were listed, from baseball players to cards of birds, actors and flags.

On the subject of condition, Burdick wrote the following:

"Condition must be considered in pricing cards. Many are found with creases, tears, stains, tack holes, and other defacings to such an extent that they are almost valueless. The prices in this catalog are for specimens in good to perfect condition. As in all collecting, this is often a matter of personal opinion. Consequently, most collectors insist on seeing before valuing unless they are quite familiar with the seller's opinions on this point."

Remember, at that time, there were no dealers, card shops or monthly price guides. Serious collectors did most of their business through the U.S. mail and rarely met their fellow collectors in person. In that environment, trust was a key factor.

By 1983, Burdicks's concise wording had become somewhat skewed as the values grew with the hobby. Here's how a hobby guide from that era tackles the subject of grading:

"Each hobby has its own grading terminology...sports cards are no exception. The one invariable criterion for determining the value of a card is its condition: the better the condition of the card, the more valuable it is. However, condition grading is very subjective. Individual card dealers and collectors differ in the strictness of their grading, but the stated condition of a card should be determined without regard to whether it is being bought or sold.

"The physical defects which an individual places of a card are usually quite apparent, but each individual places his own estimate (negative value in this case) on these defects."

Somewhere along the way, some enterprising collector thought of making a grading standard. A third-party group could examine the card and determine its condition, and then place the card in a protective holder to keep that condition. By doing that, buyers and sellers no longer had to disagree over a card's condition (especially for cards where the difference in price between EX and NrMT could mean fifty dollars or more).  The idea caught on, and professionally-graded card services like PSA and SCG became established in the hobby.

Today's guides have a much more thorough definition of condition. One element that has become a large factor has been centering. When I began to follow the hobby in the 1980s, centering was mentioned only in regards to miscut or poorly cut cards. Today, Beckett specifies that a card must have no worse than 45/55 centering to qualify as Mint. As a result, you will notice that the card dealers who have been selling since the 1970s and 1980s have had a tendency to "overgrade" cards, because the requirements are so much more stringent.

On discussion boards, I have seen a number of collectors who only buy graded cards, and some have mentioned that they no longer buy raw cards because some sellers don't grade well. Personally, I welcome their decision; that means I won't have to compete with them on eBay when I bid on vintage lots. In my collection, the only time condition matters is when I have two cards and have to determine which one goes in the duplicates box.

P.S. In case you were wondering, here are some of the card values from the 1939 guide I mentioned earlier in the article:

2¢ Old Judge and 25¢ cabinets
10¢ Turkey Reds
3¢ Triple Folders
2¢ T205 and T206's
(With no mention of Honus Wagner)
3¢ Cracker Jacks
2¢ Goudeys

Friday, April 8, 2011

Cool Vintage Card Videos

Occasionally on Fridays, I feature a "Q&A" section where I answer questions sent to me through my Vintage Baseball Cards website. Today's email is a little bit different:

"I came across your blog about the Topps '73 baseball cards. That's my favorite year.

Love your blog and appreciate the time that goes into it. I started using my old cards to do video blogs.  I've attached 2 of them, I thought you might enjoy them. I just wanted to drop you a line and tell you how much I dig what you're doing.  Keep up the good work.

The two videos he made show me he's a man after my own heart. First, here's the one he did with 1973 Topps cards:

Some of the cards he pointed out are also mentioned in my blog. I will eventually get to them all.

Here's the other one, which shows off more cards of Cliff Johnson than I realized he had (warning: one word may be considered offensive. So keep your speaker volume down if you're at work):

Great stuff.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Some More Info About 1948/'49 Leaf...

On Monday, I explained a little bit of detail about the 1948/'49 Leaf set and was quickly corrected on this point:

"In terms of scarcity, the short prints in the 1948/'49 Leaf set are almost as tough as 1952 Topps High numbers."

A buddy of mine named Ken let me know that it was his observation -- gleaned over 35 years of attending shows and trading with others -- that they short prints were much tougher than '52 Topps high numbers. So, I asked a bunch of other hobby friends what they thought. Almost everybody who responded agreed with Ken's assessment.

The issue isn't so much whether they're expensive as how hard they are to find. At major card shows, '52 Topps high numbers can be found easily if your pockets are deep enough. At the same time, collectors of Leaf cards must be more patient. They're just not there. In the major auction houses, there are almost always lots featuring high number '52 Topps cards, but that's not always the case with Leaf SPs.

In my own collection, I have two '52 Hi numbers, including this one I showed here last year:

Yes, it looks great. However, I picked it up cheaply because the back has major paper loss, so the number wasn't visible.

However, I have zero Leaf SPs. While that would lend credence to Ken's argument, I should also say I've never been crazy enough to try and chase Leaf SPs due to their prohibitive cost and none have somehow managed to find their way inside despite that. 

Unlike others, I'm definitely willing to admit when I've been wrong (just don't tell my wife. Seriously.). After all, this blog is devoted to informing hobbyists about older cards and I want it to be as accurate as I can make it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Set That Defied Conventions

Although World War Two ended before the 1945 World Series and most of the major leaguers who has been fighting the war were back on the field in '46, it took a couple of years for any national baseball card sets to appear. In 1946 and '47, there were many regional sets issued with loaves of bread, like Sunbeam, Homogenized and Tip Top. The period was a heyday for the Pacific Coast League; sets of its players showed up in loaves of bread (Remar), clothing stores (Smith's Clothing) and gas stations (Signal Oil). By 1948, the wartime restrictions on paper and printing had eased, supplies had built back up and the time had come to start printing baseball cards again for nationwide distribution.

During the 1948 season, Bowman issued a small set of black-and-white cards. Philadelphia Gum Company (better known for its mid-60s football sets) issued "Sports Thrills" cards along with its Swell brand gum, also a black-and-white set. By the end of the season, a new set was issued by the Leaf Company of Chicago (set description and checklist here). There were 98 cards in this new set.

Leaf's timing was unusual, because kids didn't tend to collect baseball cards after the season ended. Late fall is a time for football (in fact, both Leaf and Bowman were issuing football card sets at the same time as the baseball set). The set continued to be sold through the 1949 baseball season; this has led the set to be called "1948 Leaf" or "1949 Leaf," but most (myself included) refer to it as "1948/49 Leaf."

Leaf's was the first national baseball card set after the second World War to include color, by using black-and-white pictures and adding color by machine. The result isn't high-quality, however. The color on some cards is poorly done. Players' hats have too much color, their faces don't always match where the features are painted in, and many of the cards just look blurry. Likewise, the cards are printed on lesser-quality paper and cardboard, which makes collecting a high-grade set tough.

Cards have a couple of different background styles. This is found with a solid color background:

Card #73 -- Pat Seerey

This card, on the other hand uses two different background colors:

Card #47 -- George Vico

 There are a few cards that can be found with variations on their back colors, due to the haphazard print process Leaf used.

The 1948-49 Leaf set has been confounding collectors since the days they could still be purchased in gum packs. Despite the fact that the cards were issued at an unusual time, they were skip-numbered as well. The card numbers run between 1 and 168, and some card backs advertised an album that would hold 168 cards.  Adding to the frustration was the fact that exactly half of the 98 cards were severely short-printed. This was most likely designed to cause kids to spend a lot more pennies to get the non-existent cards. By the time the hobby was developing in the 1960s and 70s, collectors were still looking to find out whether Leaf had issued any more cards than 98.

Here's one of those second-series cards:

Card #63 -- Barney McCosky
For all its faults and shortcomings, the Leaf set had some things that Bowman didn't. Leaf actually had players' names on the front of its cards; Bowman copied the idea and added names to the cards in later series of its own 1949 set. Leaf also had cards of Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson, as well as Joe DiMaggio (who never appeared on a Bowman card at all). Babe Ruth has a card as well, probably as a tribute to him after his death in August, 1948. Another old-timer was then-coach of the Pirates, John (Honus) Wagner:

 Card #70 -- John (Honus) Wagner

The Wagner card is one that I like to show off because it raises a great question. Wagner is famous even to non-collectors as the subject of the most valuable baseball card in existence, and the story behind why that T206 card was limited is legendary. The legend states that Honus Wagner was anti-tobacco and didn't want the kids of America thinking he was endorsing cigarettes, so he had his card pulled from the set. I heard that story several times as a kid, but one day I saw his card from the Leaf set. It shows Wagner with a mouth full of chewing tobacco, which led me to the belief that Wagner wasn't as sensitive about kids' morals as he was about getting paid.

There are a couple of variations found in the Leaf set.  Most copies of card #102 show Gene Hermanski of the Brooklyn Dodgers, while a few spell his name as "Hermansk." Card #136 of Cliff Aberson shows the shortcomings of the machine-added coloring process. Most of Aberson's cards show him with a blue sleeve that is painted halfway down his arm:

Car #139 -- Cliff Aberson (short sleeve)

A scarcer variation features Aberson with a long sleeve.

Card #139 -- Cliff Aberson (long sleeve)

The last card of the set misspelled Phil Cavarretta's name as "Cavaretta," but this mistake was never corrected.

Inaccuracies can also be found on the backs of many players' cards. The card backs in the Leaf set follow a similar format of the 1948 and 1949 Bowman sets (which themselves were modeled after the backs of 1939-41 Play Ball cards). Along with a card number, the advertisement and the player's vital information (height, weight, etc.) was a paragraph outlining career highlights. The back of Ted Williams's card gave his age as 31, despite his being 30 until late in the '49 season and lists him as a right fielder instead of the left field position he actually played. Any inaccurate statements on the backs are made up by the sense of humor that comes from the writer. Phil Rizzuto's card states that he's "not much of a hitter," which was true; however, statements like that one just don't show up on cards today.

The short-printed cards make this one of the toughest postwar sets to complete, and few collectors even try to start on it. The high cost per card (especially for the short prints) are quite prohibitive for the budgets of some collectors. In terms of scarcity, the short prints in the 1948-49 Leaf set are almost as tough as much tougher than 1952 Topps high numbers. Short prints include the rookie cards of Hall of Famers Satchell Paige and Larry Doby, as well as key cards of Bob Feller, Hal Newhouser, George Kell and Enos Slaughter. Thanks to the skip-numbering and the fact that the short-prints aren't consecutively numbered, a collector almost needs a detailed checklist to determine which cards are scarce.

For the record, here are the short prints: 5, 8, 13, 19, 20, 30, 33, 36, 43, 45, 48, 51, 54, 55, 62, 63, 66, 68, 75, 78, 81, 85, 88, 93, 98, 104, 108, 113, 120, 121, 123, 127, 129, 131, 133, 137, 138, 142, 143, 144, 146, 149, 153, 158, 160, 161, 163, 165, 168.

One of the web sites I often recommend to visitors of my Vintage Baseball Cards site is the Virtual card Collection, where cards for dozens of sets are featured. If you are interested in seeing the cards of the 1948-49 set, images of most can be found here. The print registration problems really show up on some of the cards there.

(Edited to add: a hobby buddy of mine has informed me that what I said about the scarcity of the SPs is erroneous. A little more dialogue with other collectors has confirmed it. I've fixed it and will explain the discussion in a future post.)

Friday, April 1, 2011


Here's an email I received through my Website:


"Was Andy Pafko such a great ballplayer?  He's not in the Hall of Fame, so why is his 1952 Topps card so expensive?"


Pafko was a capable fielder and dependable outfielder who played in the National League between 1943 and 1959. He was a five-time All-Star (1945, 47-50) and a lifetime .285 hitter. He came up to the majors and excelled at a time when many of the game's stars were serving in the military, but unlike many 4-F players of that era, he was good enough to stay in the majors once the stars returned from wartime duty. His career numbers aren't particularly impressive, and he has absolutely no chance of induction into the Hall of Fame. Cubs fans will point out that Pafko was one of the guys that took to the diamond the last time the Cubbies appeared in the World Series (in 1945). While the Cubs never returned to the Fall Classic, Pafko did three times -- with the Brooklyn Dodgers in '52 and in back-to-back seasons with the Milwaukee Braves ('57-'58).

The reason Pafko's '52 Topps card is so valuable is because of its position as the #1 card in the set. Back in the days before price guides and professional grading, most collectors really didn't pay attention to taking care of their cards. Many set builders would simply wrap their collections with a rubber band or two, and whatever card was at the top of the stack would get the most damage (the card at the bottom of the stack received most of its damage on the card back, so the damage wasn't as severe). Invariably, the card at the top was most likely card #1 of the set.

Another factor that affects the price of Pafko's card is the Brooklyn Dodgers logo. Collectors of 1948-57 baseball cards generally accept a higher price tag on player cards for all three New York City teams of the era, because those three teams (but especially the Yankees and Dodgers). In the realm of 1950s baseball cards, players like Charlie Silvera, Billy Cox and Clint Hartung have slightly higher card values simply because they played on New York City teams.

In terms of availability, Pafko's 1952 Topps card isn't any scarcer than any other card the the first series. Like all cards numbered 1-80 in the 1952 set, it can be found with either a black or red back. Its high price is not a result of scarcity.

The Pafko card isn't scarce; it's simply hard to find in top condition. It's commonly found with edge and corner wear, and if you don't have a problem with card condition, it won't cost you all that much to get.You just may have to be patient to find it at the right price, however.