Friday, July 31, 2015

National Sports Collectors Show 2015, day two (Thursday) highlights

As time and tide wait for no man, neither do your feet adjust to hours of pounding around the robust concrete floors of Rosemont's convention center. Oy vey. But onto the cards!

I spent two hours sifting through variety boxes at one of my favorite National dealers, Kurt Tourdot. Thanks to John and Len, I also spent awhile thinking about a new haircut. Unitas has a classic gridiron look, but Dawson's closer to what will actually happen on my head.

Speaking of haircuts, here's another guy with a buzz.

Despite finishing my own 1976 SSPC baseball set a few years ago, I'd completely forgotten about its #589 George Brett / Al Cowans Cowens masterpiece of no-budget photography. SSPC showcased several great goofball photos in the "high numbers," but I think this is the best.

It's hard to find subtle, excellent design like the colors and script used for 1962 Post Cereal's CFL set. Would've loved this photo design for Post's baseball sets, which feel cramped in comparison.

Other than last year's Allen & Ginter barbed wire card, Dan Gladden is as close as I'll get to seeing "Glidden" on a trading card.

The barbed wire card, with mention of my great-great-great-uncle Joseph.

I spent an hour-plus sifting through a table of oddball postcards and photos, including this snapshot of Joe DiMaggio looking down at something. He also has a good haircut.

One table featured an 800-count box of autographed 1970s minor league cards. This TCMA manager card from Dubuque's Packers, an Astros farm team, was my favorite for many reasons. They are all cornball and exaggerated reasons.

Nice Yankees patch and perfect companion to this Brooklyn patch from day one.

Longtime blog readers might recall the National Poster Stamp Society's "Eureka Sportstamps" article about their Yankees promotional set. Here's another of their products, a booklet of stick-ons to liven up any kids' binder or desk or what have you.

None of these seals had been sealed to anything, so I suspect it was found in storage rather than purchased for 19c by a sports or seals enthusiast.

At one point, I tried to collect the 1936 S&S Game, one of the hobby's easier 1930s sets to finish. While available primarily as singles into today's vintage market, this was the source for all such cards: a boxed board game called The National Game.

This game came complete with lineups, multiple rule cards, and even a "CASH AWARDS" promo that asked players to write 100 essays on why they liked the game itself. That last bit's some cunning work by S&S itself, since customer-written essays would give them a ready supply of marketing research and ideas. In this shape it fetches four figures, well above what I can afford on a collectible.

I found a few more type cards, including these from 1927-29 W560, a multi-sport set with one #5 for each card suit.

In order to better understand the explosion of the 1930s trading card market, I've also picked up more Goudey and National Chicle cards from that era, including some of Goudey's "Indian Chewing Gum," a large set about the American West.

My first two Indian Gum cards ($3 each) feature a settler and a "border patrol leader," spiritual forerunner of today's Texas Rangers law enforcement unit. Clearly a good set for fans of beards.

#49: "[Gen. Ben McCulloch] introduced into the West that death-dealing instrument, the six shooter..."

Speaking of six-shooters and "Indians," here's Sonny Sixkiller, Cherokee and former star QB for the University of Washington, my alma mater. He reprised this role, kind of sort of, as a player in 1974's "The Longest Yard."

Sonny's the true-life QB in this promo photo, instead of leading man Burt Reynolds, who played halfback for FSU. Sonny's career continued briefly as a pro for the 1970s WFL (which itself played but briefly) and he remains in football today as a TV analyst.

In addition to the earlier pair of W560 type cards, I also scored this 1968 Tipps from the Topps #5 panel on turning the double play for $25, starring the Cardinals' Julian Javier. While I'd written about that set based on scans back in 2012 (set profile), it's great to finally own the real deal.

Total #5 type cards owned now stands at 550 for both major and minor leagues! I know that's far more than I thought existed when this project started. Maybe there's another handful to locate before the show's over...? Day three tomorrow!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

National Sports Collectors Show 2015 : Day one highlights

"I just spent all morning flying to Chicago and boy are my jokes tired."

Welcome to suburban Chicago (aka, Rosemont), home of the 2015 National Sports Collectors Show! Just about everything that's a sports collectible can be found here, including this sweet Brooklyn Dodgers patch.

...and this 1923 Independent Baseball League schedule. (P.S. smoke Chesterfield, "they satisfy.")

At the National, "sports" isn't even a requirement. I've started collecting a set of 1930s aviators that includes Amelia Earhart. What should I find but the same card's original art for sale at a cool $15K?

Not every card is super cool and respectful of its star. I can't stop chuckling at this masked Hal Smith and his fastball signal, for example.

A couple buddies at OBC ( went the extra mile to create our card packs this year by sealing a pack of member photos inside a collectible wrapper, with gum. Here's the cover:

The wrapper's back text is worth reading, for sure; "Tipton" means a low-grade, well-loved card.

There's our Chicago Cubs style "floating head" team card on top of the pack.

What makes for a great first day at the show? Unexpected finds like these two foreign issues, 1956-57 Chicle (Cuban) #5 Silvio Garcia and 1931 Diana Cigarrillos (Venezuelan) #5, Luis Carratu.

It's a double pleasure to find Carratu, as I both learned about the set and knocked off its #5 type in the same visit; OldCardboard's profile has a little more info on this rare Venezuelan issue.

Silvio Garcia was rumored to be the first choice of Branch Rickey to break Brooklyn's color barrier, but reputedly proved to have the wrong temperament, with more details at the 1956-57 set profile. By this point, he'd switched to coaching and would've moved beyond such trifles...maybe.

Can't wait for day 2, so look for more updates tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, and Goudey's Knot Hole League membership kit

How's baseball going for you this year? As we creep closer to the 2015 All-Star Game, I'm stalking the water cooler for trade deadline rumors and flashing back to that year Cliff Lee was a Seattle Mariner for...three months.


To escape bad memories, check out this fine piece of prewar collecting history, an original mailing envelope and welcome letter for Goudey's Knot Hole League collectors club, complete with faux Lou Gehrig sig.

If you were lucky enough in 1934 to have a candy store that stocked Goudey products and patient enough to save up their wrappers, you'd exchange them for a Knot Hole League membership kit, what we'd call today a loyalty program for their gum cards.

This collectors club came on the heels of 1933, a huge year financially for both baseball and Goudey. Gehrig's business manager (Christy Walsh, "baseball's first agent") spun Larrapin' Lou's popularity into a splashy Knot Hole League President endorsement and likely ghost-wrote this welcome letter, though it could've been PR work from Goudey itself.

Once in the club, you could trade further batches of Big League Gum wrappers for further promotional baseball goods. The 4 cards shown on that flier are catalogued for the hobby as 1934 R309-1 Goudey Premiums, all based around Babe Ruth and the hugely successful 1933 All-Star Game. This card's a store display version from the same promo.

Babe's "November 1st, 1933" expiration date shows our catalogued 1934 date is a year off, as Goudey likely created these premiums immediately after the 1933 All-Star Game and used them to drive sales through the World Series. For 1934 (and beyond), they continued to offer remaining cards as a Knot Hole League mail-in offer. This labeled version sold for $1100+ at a 2012 Legendary Auction.

I covered the Knot Hole League and its place in Goudey's history in this lengthy post, but today's membership kit adds some context to just how they approached new collectors with a personal touch. Getting something like that in the mail would've been exciting for any fan to pop open and pore over.

Very little Knot Hole League ephemera exists in any shape these days, so you'll need a little luck to snag something like Lou's letter or this framed membership kit, which sold for $533 in a 2014 Robert Edwards auction.

Knock wood I can locate one of these badges at the 2015 National in Chicago!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

1963 Sport Hobbyist Famous Baseball Cards #5, Jack Barry

In the mid-60s, advanced collector and sometimes-dealer Frank Nagy published one of the first collecting magazines, Sport Hobbyist. It fit the mold of today's Old Cardboard and Net54 Baseball message boards, printing research articles, describing unusual finds, and connecting vintage collectors. Frank also printed several oddball sets and his "Famous Card Series" might be the first to specifically reprint existing baseball cards for collectors.

Most Sport Hobbyist cards depict players active before WWII, an era largely out-of-reach to modern set builders. The "Famous Cards" checklist goes a step further by replicating actual cards released many years earlier, including this 1916 Sporting News (a.k.a. M101-5) Jack Barry.

This Hobbyist type card shows Jack Barry's picture with no frame or text, possibly to avoid confusion with an authentic example from 1916. Most "Famous Cards" measure larger than the originals; compare this scan with Jack Barry as M101-5 #11.

I believe the Hobbyist printed 6 cards per year from 1963 to 1967, for a complete set of 30, and probably sent (or sold) them to subscribers. (A back scan of #7 from SCD's annual price guide is dated 1964, so the first "series" ends at #5 or #6.) Their full set also includes several E-series candy cards, a handful of the rarely-seen Tango Eggs, and the first known reprint of T206's Wagner.

Frank Nagy pulled double-duty on set backs by including both vintage set details and his Sport Hobbyist business address. He got card dimensions and set count right, but 1960s collectors probably didn't have a complete list of set variations; Old Cardboard's M101-4/5 checklist details those differences. (See also my profile of 1916 Sporting News #5, Leon Ames.)

Just for fun, I searched Google Maps for 12795 Wade St in Detroit, but didn't find anything more inspiring than a locksmith. Anyone out there know more about the Sport Hobbyist's fate?

Value: Vintage reprint sets vary in demand and price, but you might find singles for under $5 and the whole set for $100-150.

Fakes / reprints: It's already a low-value reprint, so I doubt anyone went to the further trouble of counterfeiting them.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

1968 Venezuelan Baseball #5, NL Home Run Leaders (Hank Aaron, Jim Wynn,Ron Santo, Willie McCovey)

A while back, I broke down the 1950-70s Venezuelan sets that started as Topps partnerships and evolved into local knockoffs of American issues (full list of set profiles). After years of hunting, my collection includes all those 1959-77 types except this white whale, a 1968 league leaders card starring 3 HOFers and the Toy Cannon in a black hat.

Jim Wynn's airbrushed portrait encapsulates multiple elements of the 1968 zeitgeist. First, Topps ran into union issues with the new MLBPA, denying access to new uniform photos usually taken in spring training. On the other side of the boardroom table, the revenue heyday of America's Space Race purportedly led the owner of the Astros to ask too high a price for his franchise name and logos. Those business snafus wouldn't have made sense to candy store collectors, so Topps did their best to retouch old pictures and went with "Houston" for a couple of years. All four photos on this #5, in fact, are cropped from earlier 60s Topps sets.

The white Spanish footer text identifies this as printed in Venezuela and those familiar with 1968 backs can tell the set uses darker yellow ink than American cards.

"Hecho en Venezuela, C.A. Litoven" is courtesy of the Caracas-based publisher that printed these cards. All Venezuelan-made sets are much rarer than real Topps, but some still turn up in large lots of 1960s vintage. I've found a half-dozen singles in low-grade show boxes over the last decade and you can generally flip quickly through backs looking for the darker ink.

Value: An eBay seller listed this for over $300, hoping to net a big fish. I'd probably buy one for $50 or under.

Fakes / reprints: This whole set is sort of a reprint and can be mistaken as American-made. It's more important not to overpay for real Topps as if they were Venezuelan.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

1976 Caruso Sacramento Solons Baseball #5, Bob Jones

Bob Jones the ball player or Bob Jones, your dad's bowling friend? Bob Jones could be anyone at first glance, so it's worth reading more about Bob's backstory on 1986 Topps #142 post. He was drafted by Washington twice, first by the Senators in 1967 and then by the military brass for Vietnam service in 1969. The combat left him deaf in one ear, but not dissuaded from his baseball career. Even a surfeit of sea foam green in Caruso's PCL team set couldn't hold him back.

This bicentennial-themed Sacramento Solons #5 came after Bob's 1974 MLB debut, but before his 1977 Topps #16 rookie card. Bob swung a good stick in just 26 games for Sacramento in 1976, slugging 10 homers and notching a 1.193 OPS, so they must've missed him when California called him up for half a season in halos.

Good penmanship & sweet shades

Bob flashed occasional power but low average in several seasons as a reserve outfielder, so didn't enjoy everyday duty until he switched to coaching. He's served that capacity in the Texas organization since 1988, with more than 1500 wins under his managerial belt and several tours as MLB base or position coach.

As of May 2015, Bob's the assistant hitting instructor for Texas wearing, yup, uniform #5. Above is a cameo with erstwhile Ranger owner (and President) Bush behind a lucky fan. ("Hey George, IS THAT REALLY BOB JONES?")

Value: 1970s Caruso singles cost a few dollars or $15-25 for the team set, assuming no future stars lurk within its checklist. Perfect game hurler Len Barker is the biggest name I recognize from this Solon set's checklist, so it won't break your bank. Guys with big-league experience in bold.
  1. Dave Criscione
  2. Keith Smith
  3. Dave Moharter
  4. Craig Skok
  5. Bob Jones
  6. Mike Bacsik Sr.
  7. Tommy Cruz
  8. Tommy Boggs
  9. Doug Ault
  10. Greg Pryor
  11. Charlie Bordes
  12. Art DeFilippis
  13. John Sutton
  14. Ed Nottle
  15. Jim Gideon
  16. Don Thomas
  17. Bump Wills
  18. Lew Beasley
  19. Jerry Bostic
  20. Len Barker
  21. David Clyde
  22. Rick Donnelly (Manager)
  23. Greg Mahlberg

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any Caruso fakes or reprints in the marketplace, though it'd be easy enough to do.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Happy Pinky May Day!

Welcome a new baseball holiday for 2015: I christened May 5 as Pinky May Day, given its nice confluence of fives.

Pinky played third base, scoring position 5.
Pinky played for five years, 1939-43.
Pinky is the fifth finger and May is the fifth month.

Pinky May Day!

On this year's Pinky May Day, his Phillies welcomed Chad Billingsley back to the majors after a two-year rehab from multiple arm surgeries; that they lost to Atlanta is relatively small potatoes (more details on Chad).

TRIVIA: Pinky appeared in the 1940 All-Star Game and logged a rare hit-by-pitch, taking a Bob Feller bullet for the team. Of the 35 All-Star plunkings since 1934, everyone's tied at 1: each one a different hitter and different pitcher (full list at B-R).

While Pinky's at-bat doesn't appear in the above 1940 All-Star highlights, it's always fun to see game footage from that era and guys like Joe DiMaggio giving 100% on an infield grounder.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

1977 Caruso PCL Hawaii Islanders Baseball #5, Luis Melendez (and more Dave Roberts)

For all the bicentennial bunting used on its 1976 cards (#5 Dave Roberts profile), Caruso returned to a more familiar black and white in 1977 for Hawaii's PCL set. These days, a good designer with a computer can match Topps stroke for stroke in visual presentation, but I suspect 1970s tech meant a real price difference for any kind of color, so most teams opted for bare-bones photos.

That font is interesting.

WhatTheFont identifies Aurora Bold Condensed as a close match, which looks like this.

Close, but no lei, as there's a lot more curve happening in Aurora. The card font might be completely custom work, but add a note if you can ID it for sure!

1977 "Topps Update," Luis Melendez

Luis Melendez and that excellent mustache were on the downslope of an MLB career; his 1977 big league service time was so slight that this custom version's the only card you'll find, courtesy the Padres page of blog 1977 Baseball Cards Update.

1977 "Topps Update," Dave Roberts

That blog's San Diego page also sports a 1977 version of my 1976 Hawaii Islanders #5 type card, none other than Dave Roberts. His feature page ("Mr. Roberts?") goes into some depth on his career path, which started high as 1972's #1 pick, continued well in 1973...followed by a long slide down from there.

One of that blog's readers noted Roberts made a rather sloppy play to end the 1981 Divisional Series as a Houston pinch-hitter. I've linked the game broadcast above and Roberts' at-bat starts at 1:58:10 and the broadcasters give a slo-mo breakdown a couple minutes later, in case you want to know why you should check for dropped third strikes.

Value: This #5 single currently lists high on eBay ($8 + shipping), but Caruso team sets sell for a more reasonable $15-25, with no stars in its checklist to chase. That says as much about the quality of San Diego's farm system as anything, unfortunately.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any fake Caruso minor league cards in the marketplace.