Tuesday, January 20, 2015

1976 Indianapolis Indians Baseball #5, Joe Henderson

After 100-plus years of MLB card sets from tobacco and candy companies, one forgets how few releases exist for teams that played in America's minor league zip codes. Prior to the 1970s, those cities rarely turned local interest into collectible cards, thanks to the prohibitive cost of small-scale photo printing.


Indianapolis represents a bright spot from this period, as creator of 1970s cards replete with high stirrups and sweet mustachios. I've covered three of their team sets prior to today's post.

For modern collectors, the downside of these 1970s sets remains small print runs. Even an established minor league franchise like the Indians would run out of reasons to print cards after ten thousand or so, just drips and drabs compared to the millions of Topps gum cards. I borrowed today's #5 scans from TradingCardBB's set gallery because I've yet to locate a type card of my own in the public market.


I love the back of this Joe (nickname: "Fred") Henderson because of the story it tells. He briefly gave up pitching in 1967 and baseball itself in 1969. Born on the 4th of July, Joe still put in time as a Mexican Leaguer with Union Laguna in 1971. He was 1975 MVP for Indy, despite being a reliever, paralleling the era's emergence of star firemen like Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter.


While not reflected on this card, "Fred" also played parts of three big-league seasons, even winning a pair of mid-season games for the 1976 champion Cincinnati Reds. Joe's nephew Dave Henderson made some World Series noise himself in 1986, figuring in the game Peter Gammons called his top World Series moment.

The 1976 Indianapolis set comprises 26 cards: 22 players, 3 team staff, and a checklist.
  1. Jim Snyder (Manager)
  2. Larry Payne
  3. Ray Knight
  4. Arturo Defreites
  5. Joe Henderson
  6. Tom Spencer
  7. Dave Revering
  8. Jeff Sovern
  9. Tom Hume
  10. Rudy Meoli
  11. Sonny Ruberto (Coach)
  12. Tom Carroll
  13. Junior Kennedy
  14. Lorin Grow
  15. Dave Schneck
  16. Manny Sarmiento
  17. Don Werner
  18. Mike Thompson
  19. Keith Marshall
  20. Rich Hinton
  21. John Knox
  22. Carlos Alfonso
  23. Tony Franklin
  24. Mac Scarce
  25. Ron McClain (Trainer)
  26. Checklist (unnumbered)

I've bolded all players with MLB experience. As the Reds AAA affiliate in those days, most players got at least a September call-up during their careers.

Value: Ray Knight's the best-known Indianapolis emeritus from 1976, but several of its players appeared for the Big Red Machine, pushing collector demand above your average 1970s team set. I'd expect $25-35 as the set cost and most singles would be a few dollars.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

1967 Kabaya-Leaf Japanese Pro Baseball #5, Minoru Nakamura

I don't often get to write about pros who never played the American game, so Minoru Nakamura's arrival was my first big hit for 2015. After 15 years of working on this type collection, it's no surprise I'm down to the rarest of the rare for both domestic and foreign sets.

1967 Kabaya-Leaf #5 (design from 1959 Topps)

1967 is a watershed of sorts for Japanese collectors, as this marked their first comprehensive "American-style" card set. Prior to Kabaya-Leaf's effort, Japanese companies highlighted specific teams or star players in more traditional designs, like the rounded Menko game chip.

1948 Flower Edge Menko

If you Google for "Kabaya-Leaf," this single 1967 baseball set is their company's legacy, as collectors and auction houses post about its famous and obscure players. Their set, in turn, tapped into American tastes by mixing the Topps designs from 1959 (like my #5) and 1963 (below).

1967 Kabaya Leaf #11 Sadaharu Oh (design from 1963 Topps)

According to Japanese specialist Rob Fitts, American collectors have more access to Kabaya-Leaf cards because stateside importer Mel Bailey purchased a significant amount of the Japanese print run and resold them via collector newsletters in the 1970s. This also explains the higher grades found in what exists in the hobby, as collectors would be less likely to handle and mangle them than kids at a candy counter.


The first stat column isn't age, as Minoru was in his late 20s in 1967. It reflects Japan's traditional, Imperial dating system and 1966 marked year 41 of Showa, under the long-lived Emperor Hirohito.

The second stat column, mostly as quote marks, tracks Nakamura's one-team career with the Yomiuri Giants. He pitched there for 13 years (career stats) and for five straight title-winners (1965-69), a nice entry on any pitcher's resume.

It's possible Kabaya-Leaf prepped a larger set for the entire league, but printed just the most successful teams for financial reasons. Their complete 1967 checklist includes players from six of the 12 Japanese pro teams and skips whole swaths of numbers, with just 105 total cards despite numbering to #410. Several players catalog as "short prints," probably because the American importer couldn't obtain those cards in the same quantity.

For a wealth of individual 1967 card scans, check out PSA collector Mark927's near-set. For a further wealth of classic Japanese card designs, see Sayonara Home Run! by John Gall and Gary Engel. Amazon sellers ask $180+ for a physical book, so I flipped through Amazon's "Look inside" preview and checked my local library system. (The Boston-area system has a single copy.)

Value: I bought this EX #5 for $30 on eBay. A top-tier set auctioned for $17K in 2010, so you'll have to compete with deep pockets if you go after high-grade cards.

Fakes / reprints: It'd be pretty easy to fake this cheaply made set, but advanced collectors might see right through them, so I doubt many exist. If you're purchasing Japanese HOFers, stick to dealers who know foreign sets well.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

1973 Topps "1953 Baseball Stars" (aka 1953 Reprints) #5, Hal Newhouser

I'll start today's entry by saying farewell to Sy Berger, whose guiding hand in what "baseball cards" mean today reached well beyond the Topps Chewing Gum (T.C.G.) offices. Keith Olbermann did a nice job saluting our modern hobby's most influential creator, in matching bubble gum pink blazer.


My own post dives into similar "retro" ground via a long-awaited show find, the #5 type card from a Topps test printing created on the 20th anniversary of their own elegant, hand-painted 1953 set. Sy Berger might've created the 1952 cards on his dining table, but the follow-ups showed real artistry.

I'd been hunting this #5, a clean-cut Hal Newhouser, for more than a decade, so imagine my surprise seeing him behind an innocuous glass case on a Massachusetts show table. No protective lucite slab? No trumpet calls or wings of angels? (Catalogs speculate that Topps printed just 300 of each card, hence the challenge in finding them today.)

1973 Topps "1953 Baseball Stars" #5, Hal Newhouser

Hobby catalogs sometimes call this 1973 set a "1953 reprint," but even a cursory inspection shows it's a repurposing (and improvement) of 1953's original painting, with no other reference to the earlier design. Newhouser's 1973 card restores significant details, like the ads on the outfield fence and additional "depth" in his uniform.

1953 Topps #228, Hal Newhouser

No 1950s or 1970s Topps base set used the full-text back style seen below, which more closely resembles a 1950s Bowman card.

1973 Topps "1953 Baseball Stars" #5 (back)

In fact, these 1973 fronts and backs nearly match 1951 Bowman. Topps bought Bowman's player contracts and art assets in 1957 after the former competitor's bankruptcy, so this design re-use could've been an intentional choice and well-known within the Topps offices.

1951 Bowman front & back style

The 1973 set's 8 players include both HOFers and lesser-known players, without an obvious theme that connects them all.
  1. Satchel Paige
  2. Jackie Robinson
  3. Carl Furillo (picture is Bill Antonello)
  4. Al Rosen (picture is Jim Fridley)
  5. Hal Newhouser
  6. Clyde McCollough (picture is Vic Janowicz)
  7. Peanuts Lowrey
  8. Johnny Mize

Might this set have honored a group of actual guests for a Topps special event? Probably not, given its three mislabeled players, and, if the 1973 date's correct, any intended event would've been undone by Jackie Robinson's passing in late 1972. This set might've come together just because those eight paintings from 1953 were the easiest to find in their company archives.

Huggins & Scott complete set

Topps tested a lot of set concepts in the early 1970s and I think Woody Gelman or another Topps editor mocked up this design to consider inserting into current products. For whatever reason, 1953's "reprints" didn't make the cut and remain treasures found in auctions and (very occasionally) show tables. For decent front and back scans, check out this set auction from Huggins and Scott.

Value: I bought this EX-MT Newhouser for $35 at a 2014 show table, a decent price in my opinion. Bigger names like Robinson and Paige naturally command bigger prices and the few cards I've seen were all in nicer grades.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any reprints of these "reprints" and they're likely too obscure to profitably fake. Finding a type card won't be cheap, but keep your eye on eBay for one of the lesser-known singles to get at least a decent deal.

Friday, November 28, 2014

1926 W512 Strip Card Baseball #5, Glen (Glenn) Wright

I want to think Mr. Wright looks mean here. Someone threw a pitch at his head, called his puppy an insulting name, or said his nose looked like a handful of raspberries. (In this set, it does.)


On the field, Glenn's cannon arm earned him the awesome nickname "Buckshot." You picture someone like that as all glove and no bat, but Wright regularly cleared .300, first for Pittsburgh and later in Brooklyn. Like Joe Sewell, another top 1920s shortstop, he rarely struck out. SABR wrote a nice profile for Glenn, starting with his unassisted triple play in 1925.

Buckshot earned a minor level of support for the Hall of Fame in the 50s, though eventually dropped off the ballot, probably for lack of overall production. Of all things, a 1929 handball accident ruined his throwing arm and cut his fielding ability from great to average. It's not on the level of some bizarre player injuries, but it's not something you'd expect from a baseballer today.

1926 W512 #6-10 uncut strip

What you see on the card is what you get with the W512s: hand-drawn players, paper strips sold from machines, and fruit-like facial features. The set does have a distinct advantage over others from the 1920s. Its total baseball checklist is ten (10) cards, with names like Cobb, Ruth, Hornsby, and Alexander. If you want to finish an early set full of "legends" for smaller money, this is the one for you. You can even expand into the multi-sport sections, should two handfuls of cards prove unsatisfying.

1926 W512 uncut "left" sheet

This "lefthand" sheet shows Glenn at one top corner and the "righthand" sheet completes the set of 50. You might recognize Hollywood actors, aviators, and other athletes following the initial 10 baseball players.

1926 W512 uncut "right" sheet

Speaking of things that derailed a career, former Boston and Seattle shortstop Rey Quinones had my favorite reason not to play every day: he was too good.

Value: Low-grade W512 singles cost a few dollars, unless they're one of the big baseball stars or a notable name like Charlie Chaplin or Charles Lindbergh.

Fakes / reprints: It'd be easy to fake these, thanks to the crude art and paper stock. Be wary of buying Ruth, Cobb, and other stars without confidence in the dealer.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

1920 W516 and W529 Boxing #5, Lou (Lew) Tendler

Despite the low-grade condition of most strip cards, a repeated appearance of Babe Ruth in the #5 slot made those type acquisitions more costly than most.

1920 W519 #5 (correct image)
1921 W521 #5 (image reversed)

With those big hitters out of the way, you can imagine I'm happy to find lower-cost sluggers like slim Mr. Tendler, even if it means stepping off the diamond and into the ring.

1920 W529 #5, "Lou" (Lew) Tendler

Quickly-issued (some might say slapdash) strip card sets like W516 generated several variations and I compared some Ty Cobbs and Tris Speakers several years ago in the post 1920 W516-1-1 & W516-2-1.

The variations continued for their boxers, as W516s are just flipped versions of my W529.

1920 W516 Boxers (uncut strip, #5 Tendler at center)

The properly-named Lew Tendler received enshrinement in several sports Hall of Fames and boxing experts have called him "one of the best boxers to never have won a world title."

UPDATE: In a Net54 post on W516 variations, the well-named boxingcardman identified six designs collectors can find in this W516/W529 set.

Type 1: IFC symbol correct, numbered starting at 1, handwritten legend
Type 2: IFC symbol reversed (i.e., image flipped), numbered same as Type 1, handwritten legend
Type 3: IFC symbol reversed, numbers reversed (i.e, card #1 is now card #10), handwritten legend
Type 4: IFC Symbol correct, numbered starting at 50, typeset legend
Type 5: IFC symbol reversed, numbering same, typset legend
Type 6: IFC Symbol reversed, numbering reversed, typset legend

There are also a ton of color variations, shading variations, etc. It is by far the most complex set of boxing strips and I have no reason to believe that the baseball cards aren't just as confusing and complex.

It's like Pokemon!

Value: Mr. Tendler cost me just $2 at a 2014 card show, a fair sight better than $100+ for Babe Ruth!

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace, but they'd be cheap to fake, so know your dealer when purchasing any big names.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

1957 Topps Baseball Wantlist (COMPLETED Oct 23, 2014)

This post tracked progress on a Good-to-VG set of 1957 Topps. Like many OBC members, I started with a low-grade, Poor-Fair set, and later upgraded to "intact," with no paper loss, trimming, writing. eBay supplied my last upgrade hit in #295, Joe Collins, a Yankee from the scarce mid-series.

Want to know more about the set itself? 1957 marked several formative steps for Topps, who continued to set standards for what "baseball card" means today.

1. The modern card size

Prior to 1957, Topps printed baseball sets on 2-5/8" x 3-3/4" cardboard, visibly larger than today's 2-1/2" x 3-1/2". Once top competitor Bowman went out of business in 1956, Topps lowered production costs by trimming a bit off both dimensions. This smaller size debuted in late 1956 for their 66-card Elvis Presley set.


Topps also resized their baseball cards to 2-1/2" x 3-1/2" for 1957 and it remains there to the present day.

2. Color photos here to stay

Full-color photos from the Elvis set also made their way to Topps baseball in 1957.

Full-color and full-strength, Topps #165 Ted Kluszewski

Bowman attempted a full set of photo-color cards in 1953, but reverted to hand-tinted sets for 1954 due to high printing costs. Topps stuck with hand-tinted player images through 1956, then switched to color photos from 1957 on.

3. Scarce middle series

Many Topps issues from the 1950s and 60s have a run of lesser-printed cards, typically the "high numbers" released near the end of each season. They expected lower sales during this period, as many fans would switch to non-baseball interests, or at least buy different trading cards with their gum money.

1957 scarce series uncut sheet

1957, on the other hand, is sparse in its next-to-last series (#265-352). I assume that either A) earlier series undersold Topps' expectations, leaving less money to print this run, or B) mid-series printing problems required removal of a bunch of sheets prior to packaging. Either way, you'll spend more tracking down those 88 cards than any others in the set.

4. Last look at Dem Bums

1957 Topps #400, Dodgers Sluggers

Brooklyn said goodbye to its Dodgers after 1957. My favorite parting shot is this multi-player card starring four of their biggest names.

5. Dated contest cards & the "lucky penny"

Topps took the novel step of adding a date-specific contest to packs shipped from May to July, offering prizes in exchange for correct game score predictions.

1957 Topps contest card for May 25

The dated contest cards (May 4, May 25, June 22, July 19) aren't well-known to the average collector, but hint at how often Topps shipped new products to their distributors and retailers. Many kids must've mailed in these promos, because few remain in the hobby today.


Most collectors don't pursue a lucky penny keychain card when building 1957 baseball, but it did come in that year's packs. Topps added this scarce oddity to several sets from that year, including football and non-sports issues. (Based on eBay searches, it sells for several thousand pennies these days!)

The Hall of Thanks

OldBaseball.com friends TJ Valacak, Wes Shepard, and Lynn Miller have all helped with upgrades. Thanks, guys!

Feb 2: Here are a half-dozen recent pickups from eBay. Kaline's off the upgrade list!


Sept 6: Made some upgrade hits at the 2014 National in Cleveland and grabbed this sharp-cornered Art Ditmar off eBay for $1.75.


Ditmar's wearing a KC Athletics cap, reflecting one of the many players shipped between KC and NYY in 1957. The kickoff came on Feb 19 and the teams took until June to tie up its loose ends, quoted from Art's transactions page:

"Traded by Kansas City Athletics with Bobby Shantz, Jack McMahan, Wayne Belardi and 2 players to be named later to New York Yankees in exchange for Irv Noren, Milt Graff, Mickey McDermott, Tom Morgan, Rip Coleman, Billy Hunter and a player to be named later (February 19, 1957); New York Yankees received Curt Roberts (April 4, 1957) and Kansas City Athletics received Jack Urban (April 5, 1957) and New York Yankees received Clete Boyer (June 4, 1957)."

Oct 12: #102 Ray Boone arrives from eBay!


TRIVIA BONUS: Ray's son Bob and grandsons Bret (and later Aaron) became the first 3-generational baseball family when Bret debuted on August 19, 1992.

Oct 16: Two more eBay hits, Frank Sullivan and the Cubs team!



1957's Cubs finished two games better than 1956's Cubs under the first-year tutelage of Bob Scheffing. Despite a gradually improving W/L record, he never broke .500 and Chicago lost patience, parting ways with Bob after 1959. Detroit picked up the still-young skipper for 1961, where Scheffing won 101 (!) games in his AL debut, missing the pennant only because New York won 109.


Joe Collins slugged two homers in game one of the 1955 World Series and here's a great shot of Duke Snider leaping for the second.


New York won the game one battle, but lost the war to Brooklyn in seven games. (It's still amazing to me that the Dodgers left town just two years later.)

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Baseball Connection to 1920s British Cigarette Cards

We're not done looking at my incoming wave of British cigarette type cards, not by a long shot. This time, I'm including recent arrivals from Aaron, another friendly trader in OBC. All five of these #5s come from 1920s tree and flower-based sets.


These artsy sets feature their own hand-drawn horticultural charm, but there's no way I'll ignore the baseball connection from their "biggest" example: Ash.


Sorry, this ash.


Ash timber generated millions of bats over baseball's long history and it remains a popular option because ash's softer fibers break less often than fragile woods like maple. Louisville Slugger offers three finishes for their MLB Grade ash models, including this classic "natural gloss" look.


If you're a fan of our pastime's materials and technology, check out "Maple vs. Ash & More: Which Wood Type for Baseball Bats?" That article's more throught-provoking that the back of this #5, which reads like a Wikipedia page of italicized plant parts.


That linked article also calls out bamboo as a top modern material, one I'd never considered for that purpose. Bamboo's easier to grow and regrow, but must be layered with composite glue to reach the proper thickness, so it isn't the "single piece of wood" mandated by current MLB rules. Our league will need to unravel a ton of regulatory red tape before pro hitters can heft a stick made of bamboo or any other "new" material.


Checklists for today's five #5s, four from 50-card sets and one from a series of 25.

That 1923 Player set calls its #5 a "plant hypocrite," but I think each day is a struggle for existence, so hey, let's give those hard-living plants a break. It's a weed-eat-weed world out there.

Thanks for all the flora, Aaron! Readers can look forward to another round of exotic tobacco cards soon.

Value: British cigarette cards proved so popular that modern supply exceeds popular demand, so prices remain low. You can find complete sets for $25 and singles for $1.

Fakes / reprints: Many 1920s and 30s cigarette sets went through one or more reprints after 1990. Look for a "reprint" tag or glossy, thinner paper stock on the modern versions.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

More #5s From U.K. Cigarette Packs : Flags, Flora, Fauna, and French-born Kings

Last time in the blog, I thanked OBC trading friend Glenn for an excellent stack of UK cigarette cards that covered a variety of subjects and this post shows another handful from that type card swap. It's hard to replicate this range of cards stateside without a complete run of Topps Allen & Ginter subsets.


My benefactor might be twice-happy to get that regal card (12th Century English monarch Henry II) out of his collection. On Sept 18, Glenn's adopted home of Scotland voted not to leave the UK, shelving their independence for the near future; see arethescotsindependentyet.com for more.

In Scotland's honor, let's take a closer look at that royal ruler hedgehog.


This is a 1939 Player's Cigarettes #5 of "Animals of the Countryside," the insect-eating hedgehog. Very prickly and kinda cute, it's become fashionable to like the spiky mammal in certain corners of the Internet these days. (Many of my friends live in those corners.)


The hedgehog's card text emphasizes their genteel diet and nocturnal nature before closing with a zinger ... "our picture shows [it] in combat with a viper." Was its writer going to ignore that part of the hedgehog canon until he saw their art?

Round the Year Stories: Summer, p16

If you like hedgehog drama, this scene from an illustrated 1938 storybook varies from the Player's Cigarettes card only by using a bigger snake. I suspect the era of British (and European) colonialism made exotic animals fascinating to citizens throughout the Empire, so any fight between a pointy football and poisonous snake gained extra emotional heft.

Finding good scans and checklists for UK cigarette sets is less reliable than for USA baseball, but auction site Delcampe.net offers front and back scans for all 50 Animals of the Countryside.

Value: That Delcampe auction link sold an original set for £21 in 2011, so you won't go broke buying them in lots or singles.

Fakes / reprints: Many cigarette sets, including Animals of the Countryside, went through one or more reprints after 1990, typically with a REPRINT tag and shinier paper stock.

Monday, September 15, 2014

1930s British Cigarette Cards : Models and ships! Limpets and Sharks! Borzois and bad driving!

If you collect modern Allen & Ginter cards, it can seem baffling how Topps finds so many random subjects to turn into one "normal" set. Irresistible cat cards, anyone?

2014 Allen & Ginter "Little Lions" #5, Cornish Rex

For a seminal look at how war machines, natural wonders, technological advances and sea creatures all rate inclusion in a modern set, look no further than the wild and wooly world of British cigarette cards. Throughout the 20th century, companies perked up their packs with hundreds of subjects, from household objects to hammerheads.


These #5s represent a tiny fraction of what's collectible, as catalogues count over 15,500 known sets. My eight type cards came to the USA via a Scottish OBC trading friend (thanks Glenn!) and are easy to learn more about from their textbook backs.


Here's a closer look at my favorite of them, the 1934 "Safety First" series, as packaged with W.D. & H.O. Wills cigarettes.


I bet Boston motorists would treat this like water off a duckling's back. (If you don't want me to "cut in," don't drive like you got nowhere to be!)


This set boils down to "what terrible fates we suffer thanks to The Wheel." Cards, bicycles, and toy hoops all create scenes of danger that the Wills' author then admonishes against.


Safety First's one penny album includes mounting spaces alongside text from each back, since you can't read anything once they're placed. (Card backs are pre-gummed, so you just moisten and stick them right on the page.)


Value: The good news is that British tobacco cards don't cost much compared to American baseball cards from the same 1920s & 30s time period. The Safety First set runs under $40 on eBay.

Fakes / reprints: Many 1930s British sets have reappeared as modern reprints. Look for "reprint" in the card text or glossier, modern paper stock. Even with little money at risk, it's better safe than sorry.