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.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

1962 LIFE Magazine (and Post Cereal) Baseball #5, Mickey Mantle

After Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris's spell-binding race to break Ruth's single-season HR record in 1961, Post Cereal went all-out promoting the Yankee teammates in their 1962 set. They published another set of on-box cereal cards, pushed those cards via print, radio, and TV spots, and even added a French-translated version for Canadian baseball fans.

Today's entry highlights the advertising that coincided with 1962's Opening Day, when Maris & Mantle appeared on 2-card inserts in LIFE magazine. Although originally part of a larger ad, most collectors trimmed Mickey down to the size that's part of my type collection.

1962 LIFE Magazine

At first glance, this Mantle looks similar to his 1962 Post Cereal box card, but lacks the blue grid lines around his stats. Close inspection also shows his photo's re-cropped along the bottom-left edges.

1962 Post Cereal

Also compare my trimmed version to this full-bordered LIFE promo, which linked Mantle and Maris on side-to-side perforations. The scan's from an Aug 2014 Mantle/Maris auction that closed for $40.


While it could be from either insert, my LIFE type card's probably trimmed from the unperforated mail-in subscription panel below. (Mantle's on one side and Maris is on the other, so this scan shows both sides of the same panel.)


CenturyOldCards.com "misc" listings includes a complete April 13, 1962 LIFE magazine with this insert positioned opposite a full-page Post ad starring Whitey Ford. Mantle's facing toward the reader, with the back of Maris's card to his right.


All LIFE panels used thin, papery stock, and advertise Post Cereal on the backs. (Post's on-box cards came on sturdier cardboard and held up better over the years, in my experience.)


Post gave Mantle himself a spoken line in this 60-second spot targeting (surprise!) both boys and girls as collectors.


Today's LIFE type card profile completes a quartet of very similar 1962 issues featuring Mantle as #5. Note that Post's Canadian set includes French on every card and must've taken a lot of extra work. (All that effort might've proved unprofitable, as Post chose not to make a French version for 1963.)

Value: Due to tight trimming and a torn corner, my #5 Mantle cost only $5 plus postage on eBay. Expect to pay more for well-trimmed singles, a full Mantle-and-Maris page, or complete magazines with the insert.

Fakes / Reprints: I haven't heard of any LIFE counterfeits, probably because they're valued far below his regular Topps cards. This two-sided printing would take more "work" than faking a Post cereal card and probably isn't worth the time, unless you copied the full-page ad sheet.

Monday, August 18, 2014

1933 Goudey Sport Kings Varsity Football Game #5

As we near the start of 2014's college football season, I've been looking back several decades to the leatherheads era, when "face mask" was a thing people wore for ski slopes and Halloween. (I haven't looked back to that era by watching the movie Leatherheads, although I did see it back in 2008 and it was...OK, I guess.)

While best-known today for their baseball cards, Goudey introduced several successful gum-and-card sets in 1933, including the multi-sport Sport Kings Gum.

1933 Goudey "Sport Kings Gum" #5, Ed Wachter

This 48-card set covered a remarkable 20 different sports, an amalgam spurred by the massive promotional success of 1933's baseball All-Star Game, which raised sports fan interest across the board.

To put yourself in the shoes of a 1930s gum buyer, "baseball cards" had nowhere near the significance we attach to them now, but trading cards in general were popular, so almost any topic was open for co-marketing. As the school year began, Goudey created this card-flipping college football game as an in-store promotion to keep sales moving for Sport Kings Gum itself.

1933 Goudey Varsity Football #5 (pennant side)

The lack of specific players makes this set more about the colleges themselves. As of 2014, 119 NCAA schools compete at the I-A level. Compare that to 1933's list of school pennants on each Goudey card, which number fewer than 20.
  1. Army
  2. Duke
  3. Ohio State
  4. Colgate
  5. Harvard
  6. Penn State
  7. Nebraska
  8. Cornell
  9. Iowa
  10. Rutgers
  11. Holy Cross
  12. Stanford
  13. Wisconsin
  14. Alabama
  15. Columbia
  16. Boston College
  17. Centre (College)
  18. Yale

While I'm a native of Wisconsin and resident of Harvard's hometown (Cambridge, MA), consider me most partial to Centre College as the place my parents met. That august institution also holds the relevant distinction of winning "one of the greatest college football upsets in history," by beating then-mighty Harvard on their home turf in 1921.

While very rare today, we know a few things about how Varsity Sports was distributed. Sport Kings Gum buyers could swap their wrappers at the candy store for individual cards and "score charts," which Varsity Sports players used to track game progress.

Goudey sales letter for Varsity Football & its score charts

The high grade of most Varsity Football cards in today's market implies that most sat undisturbed in storage and were later rediscovered. (Like most vintage cards, I assume a large percentage ended up in trash cans.)

1933 Goudey Varsity Football #5 (play side)

All 24 Varsity Football cards feature a different collection of play outcomes, which you'd match to a given situation and track on the score chart. I've never seen score charts in the marketplace, so it's up to us to imagine exactly how it'd be played.

My guess is that players make the choice to rush/pass or punt/place kick from different spots on the field and flip cards face up to see what happened. You'd need a way to track down and distance and some sort of timer or allowed number of possessions. If you've ever seen a Varsity Football score chart, rules, or relevant scan, let me know! I'd love to know more about how such a set came to be.

1936 Goudey Big League Gum, Oral Hildebrand

If the concept of this "flip to play" game sounds familiar, it might be because Goudey repurposed this concept on a larger scale for their 1936 Big League Gum baseball set. While scarce, they're much easier to find today than Varsity Football. Read my profile of Goudey's 1930s Customer Loyalty Programs for a deeper look at how their sets fit together.

Value: Haven't put my hands on a #5 type, but eBay singles open at $20-50 for Buy-It-Now. That BIN price feels high, considering a complete 24-card, mid-to-nice condition set auctioned for $200 in 2013 and another near-set (21/24) also finished at $200 in 2012. I suspect auctioned singles would finish at $10-20.

2012 Sporting Life Varsity Football Game #9, Jim Thorpe

Fakes / reprints: The modern-retro Sporting Life company published this Varsity Football homage in 2012, adding player portraits to an otherwise similar layout. As with other Sporting Life sets, modern collectors should not mistake them for 1930s originals. (I don't expect the original Varsity Football cards were reprinted, given their lack of name players.)

Friday, August 15, 2014

1934 R304 Al Demaree Die-Cut Baseball #5, Sam Byrd

Who was Al Demaree? Why does his name appear first, like some kind of superstar insert? And if he proved successful for years as pro ballplayer and sports artist, why did he die penniless?

Just the name of former pitcher Albert Wentworth Demaree evokes gentility, a character from F. Scott Fitzgerald dabbling on the mound between fox hunts. Perhaps a vintage version of Michael Jordan, stepping away from dominance in one arena to try his luck with another.

In a sense, that's correct: Al's skills with horsehide paralleled similar art talents with a brush, a sports profession he ultimately extended far beyond his 8 years as a serviceable pitcher (career stats).

1934 R304 #5, Sam Byrd

Demaree gets top billing for this set because his cartooning skills supplied the bodies for its unusual stand-up "cards." Black-and-white photo busts top Al's hand-drawn bodies and collectors would fold the curved base of each player's cut-out in two places to form a vertical stand-up about 4" tall.


Ernie Orsatti's card (borrowed from R304's OldCardboard.com profile) shows those horizontal fold lines more clearly. Player names and origin appear below the fold lines; a close look at #5's base shows Al's handwritten Samuel Dewey (Sam) Byrd and Born Breham, GA.


Each team in this set got a starting roster of 9 fielders + 1 pitcher for 10 cards total. Multiply that team total by 16 franchises, plus 4 umpires each for AL/NL, and you reach the estimated checklist of 168.

Modern catalogs guess at the set's exact composition because no one's seen all 168 players with their numbered tabs. A collection discovered in 2010 added 30 new entries to the "known" list, but question marks remain on the best version I've seen (also at OldCardboard.com).


It's believed the Dietz Gum Co. of Chicago packaged these cards in 1934-35 with "Ball Players In Action" chewing gum. Amass enough cards and you could play a board game with full defense and league umpires officiating. Gum vendors could trade the game board for 10 wrappers, a similar promotion to the 1933-36 Goudey Premiums. Without player stats or known instructions, though, it's anyone's best guess how such a game would be played and I've never seen the board itself.

1948 Signal Oil, "Kewpie" Barrett (art by Al Demaree)

Demaree himself served as The Sporting News cartoonist for decades and contributed to baseball products like 1947 PCL Signal Gasoline. Unfortunately, it's reported Al was robbed of significant savings near the end of his life and died without a cent to his name. May we all fare better when that time comes!

Value: Even lesser-known players cost $300-400 each in low grade. Want a guy like Babe Ruth and don't have thousands to throw around? Fuggedaboutit.

Fakes / reprints: It'd be difficult to pass fakes of a set this rare, but also profitable enough that someone's probably tried doing it. Caveat emptor!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Top 5 Cards from the 2014 National Sports Collectors Convention

I spent last weekend in Cleveland's I-X Center, criss-crossing its vast expanse of concrete and carpet in search of collectibles from ages past at "The National" (Sports Collectors Convention).

This annual show attracts serious enthusiast and casual fan alike. Thousands of attendees come to buy all kinds of ephemera, but most of my time was spent looking for things before the 1950s, an easier task given that this was America's biggest annual gathering of sports dealers. 72 hours of walking, talking, and searching yielded many treasures, and here are on-site pictures of my five favorites.

1 : Exhibit Co. Brooklyn Dodgers postcards


Prior to leaving for LA, the Dodgers regularly finished as also-rans to the crosstown New York Yankees, bringing home just one championship in 1955. These machine-vended postcards show three of the squads that fell short in the Series (1949, 1952, 1956) and came relatively cheap considering Brooklyn's popularity with modern collectors. My dad first started following baseball as a Brooklyn fan, so I plan to write notes on each back and send them along as actual postcards.

If you enjoy unusual phases of baseball history, check out The Brooklyn Dodgers in Jersey City, a story of Brooklyn's two seasons of New Jersey "home" games, all played prior to moving west. It tells a story familiar to small-market teams, as Walter O'Malley balanced offers from several suitors while searching for a more popular, enduring home for his Dodgers.

2 : 1933 U.S. Caramel "Famous Athletes" #5, Earl(e) Combs


Candy makers first packaged cards with chewing gum in the early 1930s, a practice that kicked off what we call "bubblegum cards" today. This set, on the other hand, was one of the last from the previous generation, which came with slabs of caramel instead of gum.

Unfortunately, sticky sweets were more challenging than gum to protect from the cardboard, so kids often found their baseball players fouled with a brown crust of sugar when the wax packaging didn't do its job. All that damage meant fewer such cards survive today, so this rarity for my type collection cost a higher-than-average $200. (Its type card profile talks more about the gum/caramel situation.)

3: 1934 Goudey #84, Paul Derringer


The back of Mr. Derringer's card charitably notes that his 7-25 record in 1933 included a "fair bit of bad luck," which might've been better stated as "lousy teammates," a last-place Reds team that won barely 1/3 of its games.

Six years later but still in the same uniform, Paul reversed his fortune with a 25-7 record for the pennant-winning 1939 squad (career stats). Not many pitchers can claim such a turnaround! #84 was also my next-to-last card for this set; all that remains is #37 Lou Gehrig.


Ha ha, no problem! *dies*

4: 1919 W514 #74, Fred Merkle


As I joked to collecting friends, this 1919 Merkle card (of Merkle's Boner fame) has a removable head to allow both a) new hats and b) checking for brains. At a paltry $3, it was an affordable and entertaining purchase.

5: 1954 Red Heart Dog Food, Stan Musial


Already one of the game's finest players, St. Louis fan favorite Stan Musial went "missing" for most collectors in the mid-1950s. He appeared in one 1953 baseball set (Bowman Color) and then disappeared from gum cards for several years before reappearing on a 1958 Topps All-Star card.

In-between those "major" sets, Musial appeared on this limited-run dog food set, one of very few card makers who met his steep contractual asking price. Their 33-player checklist features rich color and attractive portraits, making it a fun set to build, 60 years after Red Heart first offered them by mail.

Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle are the Red Heart set's priciest cards, given the stature of both players. I paid $90 for this one thanks to minor back damage, but it sure looks nice from the front.

Last But Not Least

Lest it sound like Cleveland was all about conspicuous consumption, no trip to The National would be fun without meeting up with over 20 of my trading friends at OBC. We did everything from swap stories to cook BBQ to flip cards on tables, within acres of dealers that we infiltrated like ants at a picnic.

If you know collectors who keep in touch virtually, I highly recommend meeting face-to-face when possible; the more people you have, the more manageable (and enjoyable) an event like this becomes.