Monday, May 30, 2011

Remember Those Who Sacrificed

Today is Memorial Day, a day where we should stop for a moment and reflect upon the sacrifices others made for us. Others who went overseas to do a job and never made it back home.

Last year, I showed off this card from my collection here:

If you look closely at the holes punched into the corners, you'll notice they are in the shape of baseball fields. A long-time collector explained that they allowed the card to have a string run through them, and the card could be worn around the neck. That seems rather odd to do with a card, but there are others who will say that using them to make noise in bicycle spokes is odd as well, so to each his own...

This is an E90-1 American Caramels card. It was issued during the same 1909-'11 era as the vaunted T206 set. The big difference between the sets was that one was issued inside tobacco products and the others were sold with candy. Though T206 cards are better known and more widely collected, it's believed that most E cards are much scarcer. For more info about the set, my website has a page devoted to the set.

But that's not why I love this card. It's not even the fact that it is now more than 100 years old (even though that certainly adds to its mystique). I love this card because of a very real and constant reminder. The player is Eddie Grant, who was the 3rd baseman for the Phillies here but also played with three other teams before leaving the game and starting a law practice. In 1917, Eddie Grant volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army when the nation entered World War One. He was given a commission as a captain in the Infantry and sent to France. The right is a photo of Capt. Grant in his other uniform:

On October 5, 1918 Capt. Grant was participating in a patrol to help rescue the famed "Lost Battalion" in the Argonne Forest. During that operation, he was killed by shrapnel from German artillery. This made him the first former major league baseball player to be killed in action during wartime. To me, the fact that I have a card from his playing days makes it a special part of my collection.

Today is Memorial Day. It's a day where we should stop for a moment and remember the sacrifices our fellow Americans have given to help us enjoy our Freedoms. Some, like Captain Eddie Grant of Massachusetts, gave their lives for the cause. And they should never be forgotten.

Friday, May 27, 2011


I was posed this one a while back by a hobby friend named Richard:


"I have a question and maybe you are just the guy to have an answer:

I am seeing a lot these days on ebay of '52 Topps cards that are reprints but virtually impossible to tell from the real thing.  This is scary - how can we collectors know if we are getting the real thing unless the seller is knowledgeable and honest?"

(Judging from the condition of my own 1952 Topps cards, reprints are the least of my worries. I'm usually glad when they're all in one piece.)


The "reprints" seen on eBay are usually the high-dollar ones like Mantle. Since even a beat-up Mantle can fetch a considerable sum, an unscrupulous seller may feel it's worth the effort.

My answer is going to be different, since I've stopped doing eBay (I haven't quit, I just don't find myself there all that often). I buy my '52 Topps cards in person and have seen and felt enough of them that reprints can be fairly easy to identify. Dealing with sellers I trust probably tilts the scales in my favor as well. However, if I were buying them online and didn't know the seller, I'd look for some things:

1. If the scans appear fuzzy or out-of-focus, I'll assume it's not good or that something is being hidden. Maybe asking for a larger, clearer scan can help. Many fakes have different fonts that will show up in a scan. Of course, if a seller either doesn't respond to your request or refuses to produce a better scan...he's either hiding something or just doesn't want your business.

2. For some higher-dollar cards (or high numbers), it may be a good idea to buy them graded. While many of my own cards won't grade all that highly, there are '52 Topps cards out there that are graded anywhere from A (authentic) to 5-6 that in some cases are less expensive than buying them raw. If you see a good deal, you can always -- carefully -- break them out of their holders if you don't want them.

3. Again, deal with sellers you know and trust. If you have questions about anybody, ask your friends, especially the ones who buy similar items. Online trading groups are good places to start, as are online forums such as Net54 and CU. If somebody's been treated badly, they'll jump up and say so.

Good question.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A New Addition

Last week, I picked up what is now the oldest item in my Steelers collection:

 Actually, it's not really a "Steelers" item, considering the Pittsburgh NFL franchise was known as the Pirates until 1940.

This is a Diamond Matchbook cover from 1935. You can see where it was once stapled together, but the matches that were once inside are long gone now. They came in several series, featuring several different subjects. Football players were released each year from 1933-'38. From 1934-'36 they issued series of baseball players with four different background colors (200 players, 800 different variations). As far as I know, the football series weren't available in different colors (but I definitely could be wrong on that).

In any case, it's nice to add this one to my Steelers collection.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Multi-Player Cards

Many collectors who busted packs open in the 1950s and 60s will remember cards like this one:

(Kuenn looks like he's about to spit that tobacco into Fox's glove...perhaps it helped with the grip.)

Every year between 1957 and '69 (except for '65) saw some of these cards inserted into the sets. They sometimes had names that looked neat on the checklists, like "Fence Busters" and "Sophomore Stalwarts." Sometimes they featured teammates, others had stars meeting up during All-Star festivities or showed a coach giving wisdom to a young player.

The first Topps card featuring multiple players appeared in 1954, when two brothers from the Pirates shared the spotlight together:

(Makes you wonder if Topps's print setter forgot which one was which.)

But -- despite the worship by hobbyists over all things Topps -- they weren't the first company to come up with the concept of placing multiple players on a single card. Yes, there were sets like 1941 Double Play that used a two-player design on all their cards, but those don't count. One set that was almost entirely devoted to single-player cards but featured a few dual-player cards was 1934-'36 Batter Up.

When National Chicle issued the Batter Up sets between 1934 and '36, they included three cards featuring two players:

Card #98 -- Wally Moses and Billy Webb

Card #111 -- Minter Hayes and Ted Lyons

 Card #115 -- Ivy Andrews and Jim Bottomley

 Yes, these cards were die cut to accommodate both players. 

 Another set of the era was a premium issue known by hobbyists as R313. They came out in 1936 as wrapper redemptions from National Chicle (the same company that made the Batter Up cards above). Since they were glossy-style photos and came in larger sizes, they could also show more players:

("Big Jim" Weaver and both Hall of Famer Waner brothers)

R313 cards are known as "Fine Pens" due to the way the facsimile signatures appear; there are also "Wide Pen" cards from the same era, from a set cataloged as R314. They were a product of rival company Goudey.

These cards from the 1930s weren't the first multi-player cards, either. The concept has been around as long as baseball cards have. In fact, even Old Judge cards of the 1880s have some examples:

N172 -- Ned Williamson and Mascot

It just goes to prove that old saying that everything comes back around eventually.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Today's question comes from Marvin, who asks:


"I have an American Caramel Company card with name of player in the white border. Is that E-121?  The name is ELMER SMITH ?"

(A different Smith -- I don't have an image of Elmer -- to illustrate what an e121 looks like.)


Elmer Smith did appear in the E121 set.

Here's a page that gives a quick description of the set...they mention two different sets based on the back caption, a "Series of 80" and a "Series of 120." While some players appeared in both series, Elmer Smith did not appear in the "Series of 80."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Another Sad Passing...RIP "Killer"

Yesterday, the news arrived that Hall of Fame slugger Harmon Killebrew lost his battle with cancer.

Among hobbyists, there was an immediate outpouring of memories of a man who was not only able to crush a baseball, but a man who was a gentleman off the field, truly a class act.

(My own copy of his 1955 Topps rookie card)

He'll definitely be missed.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Music of Baseball

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it here before, but I write four regular blogs. Two are related to the baseball card hobby, but the others are music blogs devoted to songs from the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, I'm quite interested in music as well. Today, I'd like to juxtapose those two passions by bringing out three songs from the past related to baseball.

The first one might be the most famous song connected to the game:

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game"

Listen (and download) the 1908 recording by Edward Meeker here

1908 was a momentous year for baseball. Thanks to a contentious Chicago/New York pennant race and a controversial play by Fred Merkle that essentially handed the National League title to the Cubs, the newspapers gave more attention to baseball than they had before. As the demographics of the United States were shifting from an agrarian society to a more industrial one, the larger population living in the cities began to pay more attention to the game. It was no coincidence that the next wave of baseball card issues appeared beginning in 1909.

One other event that happened that year was that a songwriter named Jack Norworth was riding on a subway and saw a posted sign advertising a Giants game at the Polo Grounds. Seizing on to that, he came up with the inspiration for a story where a young lady named Katie Casey agreed to go on a date with her gentleman caller on the condition that he take her to the ballpark. Many have forgotten that part of the song. Albert Von Tilzer wrote the melody to go with the words.

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was a huge hit in 1908. Back then, Billboard magazine tracked sales of sheet music rather than the records themselves. As a result, there were several issued records of the day's singers and vocal groups doing versions of the song. The first recording was done by Edward Meeker, whose version is the one accompanying this post (and is available for download there as well, since the song is now in the public domain). I have four versions of this song on MP3; all have been recorded from cylinders and Meeker's is the one that has the fewest audible scratches on it.

Interestingly, neither Norworth nor Van Tilzer ever attended a baseball game in person until many years after writing their song.

The original sheet music, 1908

A generation and change later, one of the biggest players in the game was the son of Italian immigrants from San Francisco and wore a Yankee uniform. He was so big, he eventually got his own song:

"Joltin' Joe DiMaggio"

The Les Brown Orchestra - "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio" (1941)

The 78 RPM record of "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio, 1941

In 1941, Joe DiMaggio set the record for hitting safely in 56 consecutive games. As of today, it is still a record and has been considered to be "untouchable" even though several players have neared it over the years. Again, the media buzz surrounding his streak led to a popular song. "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio" specifically mentions the date he tied the previous record (set in 1898 by Willie Keeler) and the fact that it ended in Cleveland.

The words were composed by Alan Courtney and the music by Ben Homer. As far as I know, the rights are still in force so the song is not available for download.

A generation later, Joe D. had retired and handed his centerfield spot to a new Yankee legend, and history repeated itself when he also had a song written for him:

"I Love Mickey"

Teresa Brewer with Mickey Mantle - "I Love Mickey" (1956)

Mickey Mantle called 1956 his "favorite summer." He won the Triple Crown (leading the majors in all three categories), got another World Series ring at the expense of the Brooklyn Dodgers and even found his voice on the Hit Parade.

Teresa Brewer had been a pop singer who notched two #1 singles before Rock & Roll rushed the stage. In 1956, she was watching a game in Yankee Stadium with a friend and commented that somebody needed to write a song about the star. Soon, she had worked out some lyrics and set them to music (arranged by Bill Katz). Mantle was brought in to add his voice, asking "Mickey who?" as a response to the title. The lyrics read like a love letter from a high school girl, but that was what sold records then.

The original sheet music, 1956

Having read about how Mantle was, I could add something to the picture above...but this blog has always stayed on the high road, so I'll just keep the comments to myself.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Like This Blog? You'll Enjoy This Book

Last week, I featured a "heads-up" reminder about this book from Dean Hanley, the proprietor of Dean's Cards:

(I really need to come out and say that he did the book with Allyson Hamlin as well. I forgot to say that last time.)

I went ahead, got myself a copy and read it since then.

For a 50-page eBook, it certainly is packed with a lot of info. The text describes a lot of sets that you'll find on my own web site (T206, N28/N29 Allen & Ginter, Cracker Jack, etc.) as well as a few I haven't gotten around to adding yet (E92, B14 Blankets) and even tosses in one Boxing set (T225). The boxing set is neat because so few baseball card references even mention it.

For long-time collectors, the information is rather basic. However, the book seems to be written as a primer for those who are really interested in finding out more about the hobby's early days. Many of the readers of this blog have indicated to me that they appreciate the way I toss out info about early cards; with this book, the information is right there to read wherever. If you have an iPad or another device that reads PDF files and eBooks, it's something that can be carried to shows as a way of checking out what you see.

For six dollars (and almost immediate delivery), it's a great value. Even new hobby books made of paper cost more that that. You can check out the book (and buy it as well) at the following Amazon link:

Please help out Dean. He's a good hobby guy and if this is successful he says he'll be doing a follow-up book about gum issues.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

More 1970s Hoops Cards

Back in February, I featured an article showing some of the 1970s Topps basketball cards I was sent by a collector who'd been reading my posts. Last week, it happened again, and I'd be neglectful if I didn't squeeze an entry out of this somehow. With that in mind, here is a look at the 1975-'76 Topps basketball set.

The was the last year of the ABA's existence, which makes this set the last 300+ card Topps issue before they stopped making basketball cards in 1982. Like the earlier sets I mentioned in that blog entry above, the set is broken up by league. Cards #1-220 featured NBA players, and 221-330 were all from the ABA. League leaders cards start off each section, and playoff games get cards as well.

Like many basketball sets, there were elements taken from other sets. Here's an example of a card from the 1975-'76 set:

Card #21 -- Gary Melchionni, Phoenix Suns
(Love the sun graphics on the shorts.)

The stripe in the corner is reminiscent of the 1966 Topps baseball set. However, the two-color design is very much a 1970s thing. I didn't get any All-Star cards from this set so I can't show any off; the players who were named to the 1st and 2nd team All-Star squads also received a solid color stripe across the bottom of the card, and the stripe in the corner reverts toa  single color, but with five stars in it. One eneat effect, though, is the font Topps used for the player and team names. They don't appear to be borrowed from another set (unless there's a hockey set I missed).

The backs definitely make them look like basketball cards, with several images of game-action play:
Card #7 -- Tom Van Ardsdale, Atlanta Hawks

For players whose careers are shorter, there are additional cartoons below the highlight "ball," which forms a complete circle when it's not being obscured by stat lines. The blue/green design might be one of the best Topps used on its hoops cards during the 1970s.

For the first time, Topps included team photo cards. I only ended up getting two of them, but need to say that one of the others shows the Seattle SuperSonics getting off a 747 (Not a "supersonic" plane, but it's still a neat idea). While most pictures looked like this:
Card #217 -- Phoenix Suns Team Card
With the ususal assortment of unintentionally hilarious bad leisure suits, wide-bottom pants, gym gear and hairstyles, it's a reminder that entire cultures could make silly decisions from time to time.

But take a look at this:

Card #212 -- Los Angeles Lakers Team Card

Floating head cards! Since there are fewer players on a basketball team than baseball, it may not look quite as morbid as many 1970s Chicago Cubs team cards do. That said, it still looks like somebody running the guillotine was bored and decided to waste time rearranging the victims.

Monday, May 9, 2011

I've shown this picture here a few times:

These card are some of what's left of my original collecting days back in the late 1970s. I was six years old and had little care about wantlists, binders and other things that I pay attention to when I pick up new cards today. Back then, if I needed the card and it looked like it was cool, I wanted it. Then I placed it in a box that held my cards and other items.

The other day, I sent an email to Greg over at Night Owl Cards with this line: "most collectors aren't going to start with a '52 Mantle or T206 Wagner; they'll start with a mess and and try to figure out how to organize it."

And that's basically how I became a collector rather than a kid who just happened to have cards. Once I began realizing that I could work toward completing a set and began keeping track of what I needed, it was all downhill from there.

Today, what was once a haphazard pile of baseball cards with the Yankee players sorted out now looks like this:

That '79 set is now complete, but the binder still contains several of those cards I lovingly tortured as a kid. That includes the Thurman Munson card shown in the center, which I pulled from a wax pack a few days after his plane crash.

Now, I'm asking for input...what made you go from a kid who simply owned a few cards to being a more focused collector? Leave a comment, I'd really like to know.

Friday, May 6, 2011

New Vintage Hobby Book

Among the links I feature on my Blogroll on the left side of this blog is from Dean's Cards. Dean Hanley is a Cincinnati-based seller who has had a banner link from my FAQ page for years; he's a seller who "gets it" when it comes to vintage material and realizes that they're more than a simple matter of dollars and cents.
Dean has recently written an eBook about pre-World War One cards. 

(Image snagged from

 Here's an excerpt from his press release about it:

"Before there was Bubble Gum: Our favorite Pre-World War I Baseball Cards discusses a variety of early cards, ranging from tobacco cards, to caramel cards, to cards issued with clothing, and everything in-between.  The book is divided into sections, and each section is devoted to focusing on one type of card.  The T-Card section for example, gives an overview of the T-Card industry as a whole, and then is further broken down by chapters.  Each chapter contains information on one specific set of cards, and features numerous color pictures of the cards being discussed.  The T206 chapter for example, discusses the various rare and common card backs found on the American Tobacco Company’s famed white-border cards.

"We had a lot fun compiling all of the information and images needed for this book.  In conducting our research of some of the lesser known sets, such as the 1916 Tango Egg set, we really had to dig deep to find information.  We are hoping that this book will educate collectors, sellers, and general baseball fans about the various baseball cards sets of a century ago."

To order a copy of the book (and yes, this will give me a small commission if you do...thanks in advance), click the link below.

As an eBook, it can be delivered to your reader (iPad, Kindle, etc.) in moments, without the wait for the mail carrier and without having to spring for shipping and handling costs. Best of all, it only costs $6, which is a great deal.

I always love whenever more information can get into the general hobby, and I look forward to reading it myself.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Playing for the "Bread"

Before major league baseball moved to the West coast, it was argued that the Pacific Coast League was essentially a "third" major league because there were several players who could have been in the big leagues but stayed there to avoid traveling too far from home. This has given the PCL a distinction and respect that many of the other minor leagues haven't received. There are a long line of card sets featuring PCL players, including the long-running Zeenut series of 1911-'39.

There's also several series of these cards:

1950 Remar -- Bob Hofman

This card was issued by the Remar Baking Company, a bakery based in Oakland, California that made Sunbeam bread and whose factory -- circa 1954 -- can be seen here. Due to its location, it issued team sets of players from the Oakland Oaks of the PCL between 1946 and 1950 but skipping a set in '48.

Many of the cards in these sets are seen by collectors as too similar, so the back helps to identify the year of issue:

(Love the Sunbeam bread graphic.)

Note: there was also two sets of Sunbeam cards, issued in 1946 and '47. However, they feature members of the Sacramento Solons of the PCL and are a different set. The "Remar Baking Company" line at the bottom identifies the maker but the Sunbeam tie-in may confuse some collectors.

Many of the Oaks players in these sets eventually made it to the majors, with Casey Stengel (manager '46, '47), Billy Martin ('49) and Jackie Jensen ('49). As for Bobby Hofman, the '49 stat line on his card leaves out a short trial with the New York Giants. He played again for the Giants from 1952-'57 and was a member of that team's '54 World Series champions. This isn't a "rookie card" since he appeared in the high series of Bowman cards in 1949. He also had Topps cards from 1952-'56.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Reading the "Comics"

One "test" set that gets little attention by collectors is the 1979 Topps Comics. Now, there are many reasons for that. They were bought by sellers in great quantities, so they're not that difficult to find unopened. Collectors didn't really care for the artwork, despite being very colorful. And since the comics themselves were wrapped around a piece of gum (similar to the way Topps does for its own Bazooka line; in fact, the wrapper itself is identical to the "Bazooka Joe" comic), they're never found in pristine shape.

Fortunately, I'm not all that interested in "pristine" material, so I managed to get the first 11 examples when a hobby friend busted an unopened box a few years back. With 33 total examples that make up a set, they were issued 11 at a time in boxes...and the box my friend busted contained numbers 1-11 in it. Someday, I'll get the rest of the set, but I'm not in a big hurry to do so.

However, I'd like to share some of these here today for the benefit of those who've never seen them before. Here are four Hall of Famers:

Comic #9 -- George Brett, Kansas City Royals

One of the things each comic has is a blurb in the corner explaining a baseball rule. Of all the players to get this little factoid, it's Brett...the guy who came charging out of the dugout four years later when he was declared out after hitting a home run against the Yankees because Billy Martin claimed he used too much pine tar.

Comic #1 -- Eddie Murray, Baltimore Orioles

As the comic states, Eddie was Rookie of the Year in '77 and a team statistical leader in '78. In '79, he helped his team get to the World Series.

Comic #4 -- Nolan Ryan, California Angels

I really don't need to explain how Ryan's career turned out or even say how many more no-hitters he ended up tossing before he was finished. I will say, however, that the artist really could have done a better job with the Angels logo on the comic. The Orioles logo on Murray's was more of a challenge, and it looks great.

Comic #3, Carl Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox

Yaz did much more than simply win the A.L. MVP award in '67. He won the Triple Crown and is still that last player to have ever done that. He led the "Impossible Dream" team to the World Series and will be forever beloved by the Fenway faithful because of that.