Thursday, April 10, 2014

1922 T85 Strollers Tobacco Actors & Actresses #5, Barbara La Marr

Hollywood writer and actress. Six movie roles per year in the Roaring Twenties. Touted as The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, capital letters. That's one way to find yourself on a trading card.

Those winsome eyes belong to Hollywood's silent film star Barbara LaMarr. First employed as a writer and soon encouraged to perform, she burned through silver screen stardom in just six years (1920-25). Her candle-burning schedule included almost no sleep, at least one drug habit, five marriages, and death by tuberculosis at age 29, one of the hardest of hard-lived starlet lives.

A decade later, actress Hedy Lamarr "inherited" her screen name from this La Marr via studio head Louis B. Mayer, who considered Barbara one of his favorites.

Some T85 backs show a Strollers Tobacco ad instead of the personal bio. I'm not certain if all subjects have multiple backs or certain cards always show the ad instead of a bio; this might vary by type of issue.

Strollers Cigarettes ad for T85 movie stars

A terrific 1922 T85 gallery supplied my #5 scans and includes luminaries like Gloria Swanson, Rodolph (Rudolph) Valentino, Jackie Coogan, Norma Talmadge, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Lionel Barrymore. It's a who's-who of early Hollywoodland and the set's a great one for movie fans to attempt, in any of its three permutations: Type 1 (100 cards, sepia), Type 2 (220 cards, black-and-white, numbered), or Type 3 (220 cards, oval portrait). Per the full checklist, #201-220 are labeled "© Mack Sennett" and don't identify the actresses shown.

Strollers also marketed this series via the Montreal-based Tobacco Products Corp. and collectors catalog it as C142 ("Strollers Canada").

Value: Non-sport type cards cost a lot less than 1920s tobacco equivalents and this #5 can be had for $10 or less in low-grade.

Fakes / reprints: Don't know the non-sports market well enough to say for sure, but I imagine the set's most famous names might have been reprinted or faked. I doubt that a lesser start like La Marr would be vulnerable to it.

Monday, April 7, 2014

1975 TCMA Larry French Baseball #5, Brooklyn Dodgers years (1941-42)

Collector and dealer Mike Aronstein's publishing company (TCMA) spent the early 1970s making retrospective looks at baseball, temporarily bringing past players and teams to the fore as simple black-and-white designs with a common theme. As with their other "focused" sets, today's biography of pitcher Larry French started with a handful of contemporary photos (six total), found an interesting "baseball-plus-war" story to tell, and sold them via mail order to collectors for a few dollars each.

In baseball, Larry French was a classic 1930s innings-eating pitcher, one of those guys who made 30 starts every year and won often enough to keep management happy. He pitched often enough and long enough, in fact, that he's one of only 90 pitchers to allow 3000 hits from the mound. It's a much rarer feat for batters to achieve, but also says something about your longevity and effectiveness as a hurler to hit the same mark. (HOF Phil Niekro holds the top spot and is the only pitcher to give up over 5000 hits.)

French's back text story ("The Porkchop Pitcher") covers his baseball and personal life and reads much like TCMA's companion set about ballplayers stationed in Guam. Their brief biography, partially told in his voice, was co-written by Harrington "Kit" Crissey, who later published a WWII baseball book called Teenagers, Graybeards, and 4-Fs.

UPDATE: Wrigley Wax scanned some TCMA ads from 1984 that show how the company marketed their sets (and several made by others) via hobby publications.

So that's how TCMA did it

Value: I bought this #5 on eBay for $6, which isn't beyond the pale. They're hard cards to track down, perhaps because TCMA collectors rarely break their sets into singles. As of April 2014, there's an autographed #5 on eBay for $14.

Autographed TCMA #5 on eBay

Fakes / reprints: I doubt anyone would make money faking obscure TCMA sets, even if it'd be easy to do with modern equipment.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

1975-76 Calbee All Star Game Baseball #5, Tsutomu Wakamatsu & Katsuya Nomura

This is my latest "one that got away," a scarce Japanese type card that ended with me as runner-up bidder on eBay.

According to collecting expert Rob Fitts and reader Ryan G, this card's from a multi-series set covering Japan's 1975-76 seasons and pictures a 1975 All-Star Game. The batter's future Hall of Famer Tsutomu Wakamatsu, who played, broadcast, and managed for the Yakult Swallows franchise. The catcher's another future Hall of Famer, Katsuya Nomura, who was then player-manager for the Nankai Hawks.

Here's a 1977 trading card of the sharp-hitting Wakamatsu, as found in a tribute to 2009 Japanese Hall of Fame inductees.

The 1975-76 back's titled "Pro Baseball Card 5," followed by what I believe are details about the 1975 All-Star Game pictured on its front. Japan played three such exhibitions that year and this one's dated July 19th (7/19).

Calbee itself is a food company and packed their cards into potato chip bags like the one above. They printed large sets, some numbering over 1000 cards, but proved so discardable (and localized) that few exist in American collections today.

1975 Calbee #329, Sadaharu Oh

Japanese-Taiwanese slugger Sadaharu Oh's the best-known player from 1970s Calbee sets and often appeared on a dozen cards each year, thanks to their generous set sizes.

Former major leaguers played overseas often enough they also pop up in those sets, but I especially enjoyed this custom "1975 Calbee" of Frank Howard by Cards That Never Were. Big Frank barely played thanks to a back injury, but appears on a handful of vintage and retro cards in Japanese gear.

Value: This #5 closed at $20 ( $13 bid + $7 shipping). I'll have to track down more Calbee auctions to know whether this is typical for singles. Mid-1970s Japanese issues are obscure (and specialized) enough that setting a real market price is hard to do, so you might have to pay more than expected for specific cards.

Fakes / reprints: Sadaharu Oh might be famous enough to reprint or fake, but it'd be easier for a counterfeiter to stick with more familiar American cards, so the risk seems low.

Monday, March 31, 2014

1971 O-Pee-Chee Baseball Wantlist (Updated Apr 7, 2014)

This post tracks progress on my Good-to-VG set of 1971 O-Pee-Chee's low series (#1-523). While the set's complete by number, I'm upgrading several of its Poor-Fair cards to "intact," with no paper loss, trimming, writing. (Creases and other handling wear are fine.) Comment here or email if you've got some hits to trade!

NEED # 54 (checklist 1), 100 (Rose), 234, 280, 344, 357, 428, 455

1971 represents O-Pee-Chee's first push for a real Canadian identity. Montreal-based card editors shaped the set to better serve local fans, so several things stand out from past adaptations of Topps' own design.

1. Full 752-card set

1971 Topps / OPC #752, Dick Drago

From 1965 to 1970, O-Pee-Chee collectors saw a subset of American cards, in part because hockey dominated local sports pages prior to 1969's expansion into Montreal. This 1971 set went the full monty, matching Topps card-for-card in total count.

2. Parlez-vous fran├žais?

1971 O-Pee-Chee #202, Claude Raymond

O-Pee-Chee honored Canada's Official Languages Act by adding bilingual French-English to #1-523 card backs. This reinforced local fan identity and gave other collectors a start on Quebecois ice breakers like "Pardon moi, etoile de la L.N. en 1966? Oui?"

I assume OPC ran out of time or money to translate its #524-752 high series into French, so they match Topps apart from that yellow background. This group's many times rarer than #1-523, so I don't even attempt to complete them anymore, low grade or not.

3. Extra Expos

1971 O-Pee-Chee #289, Rusty Staub
1971 O-Pee-Chee #560, Rusty Staub

A handful of Montreal players get extra love for their Canadian roots, displacing World Series highlights, team cards, and others seen stateside. The indispensable Oh My O-Pee-Chee! cataloged every Topps/OPC variation, 1971 included, and OPC collectors should be all over that blog if you missed it up to now.

4. 40+ year-old pack break videos

People still open packs older than me! Note that 1971 OPC wax includes Baseball Story booklets first seen in 1970 Topps.

5. Thurman Munson

1971 Topps/OPC #5 shows Munson tagging out A's pitcher Chuck Dobson in one of my favorite vintage action photos. And how about that trophy? And that elegant autograph? A+.

The Hall of Thanks

Feb 13: friend and OPC collector Gord Ellis said he didn't know which #123 Checklist I needed, so sent both variations!

1971 O-Pee-Chee #123A/B (centered and right-aligned)

Thanks also to fellow friends Mark Talbot and Richard Dingman for help with past 1971 upgrades!

Mar 14: Found three hits via the Beckett marketplace, including HOF Billy Williams.

Mar 31: Won this $13 Thurman Munson on eBay! Might break it out of the holder just to get a better scan and put it in the binder.

Also found another dozen cards that could use replacements, so the list grows. Have I started down the slippery slope of upgrading?

Apr 6: More upgrades from the marketplace!

One card stood out, as I'd never heard of Angel Mangual, despite completing every 1970s set over the years and, as it turns out, his significant role for Oakland's back-to-back-to-back Series wins.

The meat of Angel Mangual's career spanned Oakland's 1972-74 title run and he even singled home the game-winner in 1972's game 4, their last of four straight pinch-hits. Here's the at-bat as it happened, via

Won't forget you again, Angel!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

1917 Boston Store (H801-8) Baseball #5, Fred Anderson

In 1917, New York spitballer Fred Anderson led the National League in ERA (1.44) and WHIP (0.93), great numbers even for the Dead Ball Era. What's more amazing under the circumstances is that those numbers earned him just an 8-8 record, despite the Giants winning 98 times as a team and taking home the pennant.

Five other Giant pitchers reached double-digits in 1917 and "ace" Ferdie Schupp won 21, so how did Fred fare so poorly in comparison? First, he was already a 31 year-old journeyman, so not likely to compete for a regular turn in New York's strong rotation. It's also possible Anderson showed nerves in relief situations that gave HOF manager John McGraw pause when considering who to start every four days; I won't be the guy to label McGraw as a "poor evaluator of skills."

1917 ERA champ Fred Anderson fell back to league-average in 1918, enlisted for WWI duty, and retired to his dental practice following the war. SABR's bio covers his postwar life in more detail, just one example of their breadth of ballplayer research.

That "Boston Store" (a midwestern department store chain) got its name on the back of Fred Anderson's baseball card says more about the growth of baseball marketing than any particular effort on their part. It's one of multiple advertisers that used this 200-player, 1917 set to attract customers, likely by arrangement with Chicago printer Felix Mendelsohn. A family department store ad targeting boys via baseball does reflect the growing success of marketing through children, not a common strategy prior to the 20th century.

Felix Mendelsohn's company debuted this basic design in 1916 via The Sporting News, itself a two-stage release that vintage collectors know as M101-4 and M101-5. Read the PSA profile for lots more about its variations, then see Old Cardboard's comprehensive checklist and gallery of advertiser backs. The complete 1917 Boston Store checklist includes several variations, for a 210-card master set.

By 1917, Boston Stores served several Midwestern metro areas; reader Mark Aubrey ID'd the stated "State, Madison, and Dearborn" as streets bordering their block-sized store in Chicago. If you're wondering what the "boys hosiery" mentioned on card backs looked like, think knickers and knee-socks.

Knee stockings ad by Norman Rockwell, circa 1924

Mendelsohn printed sets from 1915 to at least 1920, and they include Babe Ruth's RC, Jim Thorpe's only MLB card, and a handful of Joe Jacksons. A rare, postcard-sized M101-6 release also contains the Babe's first professed Yankees card, issued just after his 1919 sale from Boston to NY.

If this era's style of card promotion had succeeded, collectors might consider Felix Mendelsohn on par with 1950s Topps for innovation. As it was, he gave early fans lots to enjoy in the WWI era and modern collectors plenty to hunt for today.

Value: I've seen just one #5 in the market, currently on eBay for $99 Buy-It-Now. Other Boston Store singles go for less, so keeping my eyes open for a better deal.

Fakes / reprints: Fakes and full-set reprints exist for The Sporting News sets, so might also exist for this Boston Store set. The aforementioned PSA article includes a section on what to look for on known counterfeits.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Springtime and the Three Careers of James P. D. Bunning

Welcome to the first day of spring! Spring means baseball and baseball means more game-winning moments like this.

Dodgers #5 (Nomar) brings it home, by

The coming of spring also means the end of winter and, for some, the end of careers. Fellow collector Steve F. noted (on this Phillies Room post) that he'd recently found the last pro card of thrice-retired James Paul David Bunning, who first called it quits as a moundsman after going 5-12 for Philly in 1971. Jim went right from pitching in 1971 to managing at Reading (PA) in 1972, a leap that foreshadowed his later political progress from city councilor to US Representative and two-term Senator.

Reading Phillies, 1972 (photo from

After that one year in Reading, Bunning spent 1973 helming Eugene (OR), but might not've liked that part of the country and moved back east to manage Toledo's famous Mud Hens for 1974-75.

Oklahoma City's 1976 team set shows Bunning at the wane of that second career and now sporting the glasses he'd continue to wear as a politician. It's tempting to wonder if Jim would've continued in baseball given the MLB reins in Philadelphia, but Danny Ozark was too successful (back-to-back 101 win seasons 1976-77) to push for that job. I suspect that convinced Bunning to try his luck with Kentucky voters.

1976 Oklahoma City 89ers #14, Jim Bunning

For someone with a long political tenure (his third career, for those scoring at home), it's hard to call Bunning an effective representative, as some considered his staunch conservatism a barrier to regular government function. Others likely thought him a necessary antagonist, as some do Rand Paul now. (Jim endorsed Rand as Senate successor after his own period of erratic voting and multiple faux pas led to a falling out with Kentucky's GOP and retirement from public service in 2010.)

Bunning apparently signs through the mail (TTM) and this would be a rare card autograph to land. Good luck to Steve and any others who give it a go!

TRIVIA: Only Cy Young, Jim Bunning, Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan, and Dennis Martinez have won 100 games in both leagues.

BONUS TRIVIA: Bunning's the only MLB pitcher to walk exactly 1000 batters (career stats).

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Poll wrap-up to What Game Set Would You Play Online?

Thanks to everyone who chimed in on last week's poll: which game set I should create for online play?

1960s Milton-Bradley Baseball Card Game (box)

It was an even vote split between 1951 Topps Red / Blue Back, 1968 Topps Game, and 1978 Topps "Regular," so sounds safe to start programming with any of them and update it as time allows for more work. Who knows, maybe we'll even see something as sophisticated as the Milton-Bradley game above one day!

1968 Topps #177, Koosman / Ryan (game or pack?)

And speaking of Milton-Bradley, another of their Topps-licensed products ("Win-a-Card") continues to mystify many modern collectors, who wonder if that white left edge means their Nolan Ryan RC came out of a game box.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

1934 National Chicle "Batter-Up!" Baseball Wantlist (Updated March 5, 2014)

Back in the mid-1930s, National Chicle and Goudey Gum (both Massachusetts-based) competed for dominance in the baseball card market, spreading big-picture sets across multiple years of the Great Depression in an apparent attempt to see which would win by attrition. That "survivor" proved to be Goudey Gum, who acquired a bankrupt National Chicle's assets in 1937. Among them was remaining stock of Batter-Up! Gum cards, this die-cut "set of many colors." (Its #5 is one of my favorites.)

1934 National Chicle Batter-Up! Gum #31, Lefty Grove (all colors)

It's not clear how Goudey dealt with Chicle's various products, but it's doubtful they printed more. Even collectors with deep pockets find Batter-Up hard to complete, given its many scarce high numbers. My current wantlist is heavy with those upper reaches.

Low #s: 006 031 039 042 045 057 067 075

High #s: 082 084 087 089 090 091 095 096 097 098 103 105 107 108 109 111 112 113 115 116 117 119 120 122 123 124 125 126 127 129 131 133 134 137 138 141 142 143 144 147 148 149 151 152 153 154 156 157 158 159 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 171 172 175 178 181 182 184 185 186 187 188 189 190 191 192

Common high numbers cost $10+ each in low grade, so considerable investment lies before me, unless I can pull the trigger on more trades like this one. friend Andy C swapped these Batter-Ups for several Goudey extras, making a rare dent in my high numbers. These particular cards stand out because a previous owner added other names to each player. Augie Galen, for example...

...became Tony York, a cup of coffee player for Chicago in 1944 (career stats). Charlie Gehringer... now Jim Honochick, an obscure 1940s minor leaguer (career stats). Here are their other mentions.

It's hard to find rhyme or reason behind most of the name changes, so maybe I'll let the mystery be.

Hall of Thanks

Big thanks to Andy C for his trade! Also props to Peter M, Jim H, Steve R, Bama, and Ed W of for earlier additions to my set.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

1948-49 Topps Baseball Hocus Focus Magic Photos #5, Lou Boudreau

Topps first entered the trading card market with this 1948 Magic Photos set of small white cards that kids developed from "blank" to "sepia photo." I bet the chemical process was exciting for 1940s kids to see unfold, a little like watching Polaroid photos appear in my youth.

This unwrapped penny-candy size is the most common Magic Photo wrapper and includes developing instructions. Many kids used spit to start the process and then held their cards up to the sun.

Topps used "Bubbles, Inc." as a corporate alias several times in its history, so it's no surprise to see it here. While their initial checklist (and album) held 126 cards, Topps released a second series in 1949 for a total set size of 252, and many cards feature variations depending on how they were packaged. (Read "Presto!" at The Topps Archives for much more.)

My #5 type card is HOF Indians player-manager, Lou Boudreau, crossing the plate.

In 1948, Boudreau won 1948 AL MVP for his playing skills and managed Cleveland to the World Series championship over Boston's Braves. Not sure if it played into the set numbering, but Lou wore #5, now retired by Cleveland.

The card front answers this question: Cleveland won the game, 4-1. As noted by Wikipedia, this also marked the first live TV broadcast on a moving train.

"K" is Magic Photo's baseball subset; I borrowed the full list from Topps Archive.
  • A Boxing Champions
  • B All American Basketball
  • C All American Football
  • D Wrestling Champions
  • E Track and Field Champions
  • F Stars of Stage And Screen
  • G American Dogs
  • H General Sports
  • [Series I not used]
  • J Movie Stars
  • K Baseball Hall Of Fame
  • L Aviation Pioneers
  • M Famous Landmarks
  • N American Inventors
  • O American Military Leaders
  • P American Explorers
  • Q Basketball Thrills
  • R Football Thrills
  • S Figures Of The Wild West
  • T General Sports

For subset comparison, here's American Dogs #5.

UPDATE: Topps also created a storage album with checklists for the full series, scans from this eBay listing.

1948-49 Hocus Focus Album (cover) 
1948-49 Hocus Focus Album Checklist (A-G)

Their second checklist is typeset differently as the "New Series of 126 Hocus Focus Photos," so an earlier version with just series A-G might also exist.

1948-49 Hocus Focus Album Checklist (H-T)

Topps would return to this Hocus Focus format for another two-part series in 1955 and 1956; that set's #5 is Ted Williams.

Value: Clear, full images command better prices in the marketplace. I bought this Lou Boudreau for $10 on eBay several years ago and type cards remain in that range. (Bigger names in baseball and football cost several times that.)

Fakes / reprints: It'd be challenging but not impossible to fake this set expertly, so it's worth sticking with well-known dealers if you plan to buy big names.