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.) "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 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

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.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

1980 TCMA Wisconsin Rapids Baseball #5, Manuel Lunar

Hunting for vintage minor league singles is tricky for modern collectors. No man is an island, and as with Manuel Lunar, it's the guys around you that make the difference.

The story of Manuel Lunar the Pitcher is straight-forward: he spent 3 years in Rookie League and single-A ball, walking more guys than he struck out and compiling a 8.78 ERA in 82 innings (career stats). In any 1980s major league set, he'd be easy to find for a nickel.

The story of Manuel Lunar the #5 Baseball Card is complicated by being teammates with these guys.

Almost any Twins fan would love to add the Olivo / Gaetti / Hrbek trio to their collection. Demand remains high enough for this team set that finding Manuel Lunar would mean ponying up $70+ for all 27 Rapids pictured by TCMA that year.
  1. Sam Arrington
  2. Luis Santos
  3. Robert Mulligan
  4. Larry May
  5. Manuel Lunar
  6. William Lamkey
  7. Bob Konopa
  8. Hal Jackson
  9. Ken Francingues
  10. Conrad Everett
  11. Chris Thomas
  12. Paul Voight
  13. Richard Ray Austin
  14. Glenn Ballard
  15. James Christensen
  16. Manuel Colletti
  17. Gary Gaetti
  18. Kent Hrbek
  19. Kevin Miller
  20. Norberto Molina
  21. Brad Carlson
  22. Matt Henderson
  23. Joe Kubit
  24. Bruce Stocker
  25. Ray Stein
  26. Rich Stelmaszek
  27. Tony Oliva

It stands out (in bold) that Gary Gaetti and Kent Hrbek were the only two from 1980's squad to reach the majors. Gaetti went on play for 20 years and Kent posted a 128 career OPS+. There was also this play:

It's been 20+ years, so I'll just say "LOL" and stop there.

Value: Singles could cost a few dollars, but rarely separate from their pricier team; as of this post, there's a set on eBay for $75.

Fakes / reprints: TCMA reprinted several teams with stars (which might've included Gaetti and Hrbek) as "Collectors Kits" in the late 1980s. Those have black ink backs and originals have blue ink backs.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Well, We're Pitching Here in Allentown"

"And it's hard to keep my fastball down..."

"Out in Lehigh Valley, Rob's Kellin' time..."

"Warning Track Cards and standing in line..."

This #5 card of Rob Kell comes officially from the 2000 Allentown Ambassadors team set by Warning Track Cards. While not a source of notable stars, Allentown's franchise does feature one of my favorite mascots, Uncle Baseball.

It must've been tempting to use baseball jargon and go "Uncle Charlie" here, so I admire their restraint and those striped pants.

Rob Kell hung up his pro spikes after 2000 and the Ambassadors folded prior to 2004, following years of dropping attendance. Their highest-attended event was, in fact, John Mayer's post-game concert in 2003, a curious "achievement" given the state's long baseball history. I prefer to remember PA for its more workmanlike performers.

Hat tip to Billy Joel fans who followed my earlier lyrical hacks; here's an "Allentown" original for you.

Friday, July 4, 2014

1976 TCMA Shreveport Captains Baseball #5, Luke Wrenn

I have complicated emotions surrounding Luke Wrenn, former OF farmhand and longtime scout for the Boston Red Sox.

On the upside, Wrenn sent several talented players to MLB success, including Tino Martinez, Mike Hampton, and more. His scouting work "stars" in the article, Can we tell a good scout from a bad one? (via

2003 Donruss World Series Champs #5, David Eckstein

If you like those celebrations of scouting, Rob Neyer also included Luke's evaluation of David Eckstein in Eight scouting reports that really nailed it.

One of the names on Wrenn's Boston scout resume: Nomar Garciaparra. Most fans know No-mah's long, successful career for the Red Sox, Cubs, and Dodgers. Along the way, he met and married Mia Hamm, pictured with their twin daughters.

So why the emotional conflict? I was this 8 year-old soccer forward in 1980, about the same time 8 year-old Mia took up the game in Italy, where her military father and their family was stationed.

I continued to play through my teens, as did she. Mia proved so good, she made the USA women's national team at age 15 and helped them win the World Cup at age 19, the first of her several trips to the Cup.

1991 World Cup Champions! USA! USA! USA!

I remained active in soccer and continued to moon after Mia for........ever.  Still play. Still moon. Still wish Mia and I had to run into each other at a shopping mall or fundraising event. Still wish Nomar had picked another line of work.

And I know I'm not the only member of the mooning-after-Mia generation. My younger brother asked why I was writing about Nomar and I said it was because this scout had found him for Boston, later enabling him to star on the national stage and get married to Mia Hamm.

His response: "Oh yeah, heck with that guy."

So heck with you, Luke Wrenn. Heck with you all to heck.

Value: Mia is a national treasure.

Fakes / reprints: There can be only one.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

World Champion of Baseball, Sir Hensley Meulens

Born on June 23, one of the hottest names of the rookie card explosion and future World Champion, Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens.

1989 Upper Deck #746, Hensley Meulens

According to's checklist, the late 80s presumptive Yankees star appeared on 108 different baseball cards, few more treasured than this Upper Deck RC. New York media loved the prospect of Hensley anchoring their left field spot, which pumped his collector interest to equal that of Ken Griffey, Jr., at least until Bam Bam proved underwhelming in just a half-season of work in 1991.

Once pinstripes management decided Hensley couldn't play above AAA, the market lost interest as well. As years passed, the "MEULENS" name even became a metric for evaluating show dealers. Through 1990, Hensley had his own display section and then 1991 marked his plateau. By 1993, any dealer with that divider still in their table boxes communicated laziness, as they long since should've replaced it with someone newer. The card market had moved on from Hensley Meulens.

Hensley Meulens, Order of Orange-Nassau

Meanwhile, Bam Bam himself resurfaced in Japan, where he slugged the Yakult Swallows to a Japanese national title. Since 2010, his work as Giants hitting coach contributed to a pair of World Series wins. The Netherlands even knighted him in 2012, an honor unique among Major Leaguers. He's become the success story one can't predict with baseball cards.

No long ago, SBNation published a solid profile of Hensley's life, coaching style, and decent odds of becoming a big leaguer manager, a job he's performed capably at other pro levels. Happy 47th birthday to the once and future prospect!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

1925 Holland Creameries World's Champions Baseball #5, Sam Rice

I've already written about the 1924 World Series, thanks to the 1951 Packard Sports Library series of car dealership sports magazines. Reportedly a candidate for "best-ever" Series, it's one of a handful to end in game seven's extra innings, as Muddy Ruel scored the winning run on a bad-hop single in the bottom of the 12th. For HOFers Sam Rice and Walter Johnson (and many of their Washington Senators teammates), it'd be their only year as "World's Champions."

Beyond the Series and players, what do we know about the card set? First off, "Holland" is Holland Creameries, a Winnipeg-based milk and ice cream distributor. Their small set, similar in size and design to 1920s candy issues, is that entity's most enduring creation and its PSA collection registry comes in at the top of their Google results. It's hard to imagine any other way you'd discover that kind of defunct corporation, unless you're a fan of Canadian ice storage journals.

If you did want to find the company, the earliest mention I came across refers to Holland Creameries executives exploring expansion into new facilities in and around Winnipeg.

Refrigerating World, April 1921

Prospective expansion gives an air of corporate health, but by mid-1928, fellow dairy Canada Pure Milk took over Holland's in-city deliveries, probably as a new owner of its assets and customers. Thanks to Google, I even found their transition notice in local papers.
"STARTING FRIDAY, JUNE 1st, a fleet of 15 wagons will commence delivering to customers in Winnipeg and St. Boniface. This service will be extended, as development warrants, to cover the city and suburbs. Pure Milk is the product of Canada Pure Milk Ltd., a new Winnipeg firm which has taken over the plant of the Holland Creameries Co., Ltd., which includes up-to-date pasteurization and homogenizing equipment...We will continue to serve all former patrons of the Holland Creameries, and as soon as conditions warrant, will extend our service to all parts of the city." - ad from Winnipeg Tribune, May 31, 1928

Prior to its demise, I imagine kids obtained cards from Holland delivery drivers or stores that carried their products. On-card promotions invited local collectors to redeem all 18 for a selection of ice creams, but Holland limited giveaways by short-printing #16, Roger Pickinpaugh, and stamping all redeemed cards to prevent "re-use." This #5 shows no redemption marks, so never made it to the factory.

That a Manitoba dairy saw money to be made from an American team says a lot about the reach of pro baseball in those days, but it wasn't their only dalliance with sports promotions. Earlier in the 1920s, Holland first printed what you'd expect of a Canadian company, a collection of hockey stars.

Based on the careers of its 10-player checklist, Holland distributed this set in or after 1920, as pictured players had Winnipeg connections beginning at that time. Most catalogs and grading companies date Holland's hockey set to 1924. I think sports ephemera was less "seasonal" in those days, so it's entirely possible they started printing cards in 1920 and just didn't stop, even after players like Frank Frederickson left town; he skated for Victoria by 1925, but was likely still remembered by local fans.

Here's an apparent full-set redemption, with hole punches as evidence that a kid got their ice cream.

Value: Heritage Auctions listed a 32-card collection of these hockey cards in 2008, but they didn't sell, likely due to a high reserve price. Clean Sweep Auctions offers baseball singles for $400+. Holland Creameries baseball and hockey sets are rare and valuable, so expect to pay $100+ for cards in any condition.

Fakes / reprints: I imagine fakes and reprints exist, with the caveat that only advanced collectors are likely to seek out this set, so hopefully wouldn't be taken in by a forgery.