Saturday, August 12, 2017

2017 Post-National Dollar Box Giveaway

Following my luck with dollar boxes during the 2017 National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago, I'm trying a new kind of blog giveaway. If you guess it, you get it.

Lots of interesting stuff shows up in show bargain boxes and I gravitate to the HOFers, oddballs, and oddball HOFers. Here's three more from this year:

WHAT: I have two 800-count boxes of duplicates from the 1950s to 1970s. Many are bargain box finds, including high numbers and stars, not just your run-of-the-mill guys.

HOW: Add a comment with five cards you'd like to get, if they're in my boxes. They can be from the same set or multiple sets. For example:
  • "My guess: 1957 Topps 52, 1964 Topps 105 / 299 / 350, 1972 Topps 600"

One five-card entry per person! I already gave away the bargains pictured from 2017 National Sports Collectors Convention recap, so don't count on those! Your best bet's to pick cards you need for your own sets that reasonably show up in 50c/$1 boxes. :-)

WHEN: Contest runs through end of Wednesday, August 16. After the contest closes, I'll check each of the posts and if you guessed a card that's in my dupes box, it's yours! As a helping start, I don't have any duplicate Mantles or 1952 high numbers. Beyond that, you might get lucky!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

2017 National Sports Collectors Convention recap

2017 set my new high water mark for hours on the National floor. Most years, I duck out for city sights at least one day, even at shows in Atlantic City. I skipped that tradition this year, as my "Chicago brother" moved west to Seattle earlier this year and I no longer have that connection to his Wrigley Field side of town. To keep a long story short, more hours on the National floor meant more cards came home with me!

Each National show occupies a full week, Monday to Sunday. Monday's "set up day" for most dealers, as they bring trucks and cases full of products onto the floor through massive loading docks. Dealers spend a lot of Tuesday deep in buy/sell/trade negotiations with each other and I'm sure the corporate sponsors like Topps and PSA do a bunch of face-to-face business. Wednesday afternoon's the first day open to the public and I flew in midday from Boston to start shopping and catch up with fellow OBC collectors. Early highlights included these $1 box finds.

National show floors comprise hundreds of tables and millions of things to throw money at. Single-minded collectors stick to their planned wantlists and budgets, despite temptations galore from all sports and eras. I am not that single-minded and wander within The Rules. I did OK this year.

The Rules (...are more what you call, 'guidelines')
  1. Buy more cards for yourself than to trade with other collectors - MOSTLY YES
  2. Take the show row-by-row and table-by-table - SORTA YES
  3. Don't yield to the haze of shiny baubles, buying stuff you don't want - MOSTLY YES

Number two's a problem because you need to stop for restrooms every now and then. (Heh heh, "number two" heh heh.) Despite my bladder's best wishes, there are not restrooms neatly placed at the end of every row.

Number three's a problem when you see tables with OMG is that a great deal prices on them. Those $1 cards were great deals, BUT not on my wantlists, violating number one. (They're all in the hands of other OBC collectors now, so friends did benefit.)

Show surprise #1: Cheap 1952 Topps

Not sure why, but you could find commons for under $5 at a bunch of tables. Over the past few years, eBay tilted closer to $7+ per card, so this was a pleasant surprise and enough reason to start a low-number 1952 set. I swung a pair of larger deals and bought 100+ cards for ~$3/card.

1952 Topps #5 black and red backs

Show surprise #2: Unreasonable 1930s prices

Banged up 1930s appear to have jumped from $8/card to $12-20/card when I wasn't looking. Would've come up well short of my National goals if I hadn't been willing to pay more. Landed about two dozen hits in that "new price range" during the week. Biggest hit, 1933 World Wide Gum #84 of backup catcher & occasional spy Moe Berg for $70.

Show surprise #3: I bought football cards

A football-only dealer sold me a near-set (20/24) of the 1933 Sport Kings Varsity Football game for $400, $20/card.

The card-flipping Varsity Football game remains hard to find at any show anywhere. Now I only need four cards to complete the game card set. Unfortunately, playing the game also required "score charts" I've never, ever seen. They'd bring to life the game situations described on card backs, probably by tracking down, distance, and time remaining. I'll make one up from scratch, if the authentic score chart search continues to prove futile.

Show surprise #4: Boy Scouts

As exception to my 1930s woes, I made five hits to this 1933 Goudey 48-card set about the Scouts themselves and a variety of nature topics. Love the art style.

Show goal success: stocked up on 1970s Laughlin sets in earnest, including World Series, Famous Feats, and Wildest Days & Plays. Robert Laughlin's standout art almost defines "oddball baseball" in its breadth of subject matter and card stock size. Happy to find his cards for 50c and $1 throughout the show. (See my past Laughlin posts for details.)

1970s Laughlin/Fleer Famous Feats & World Series cards

Show non-surprise: Price-grousing

If there's one enduring complaint I have about the National, it's that many dealers do most of their business buying & selling large lots with other National dealers, so grading and pricing for collectors becomes an afterthought. Other than Varsity Football, a $400 lot buy, my prewar sets saw limited action because things under EX had 30-50% NM book asking prices, even if tradition anchors poor ~5% and VG ~20%. I found myself back on eBay a few times during the show itself, buying cards on "real" condition pricing after seeing cloud-level show prices.

This poor-fair 1951 Topps Teams card proved an exception at $10. (I saw several other fair-good examples at the show for $30+.)

There's not a true solution to my complaint, other than being willing to shop online instead of the booths in front of you. I assume that's why sponsors bring so many autograph guests to the show: you can't replicate that in-person experience online the way you can for cards, so you don't lose those buyers to eBay.

Back to the bargain boxes

$1 box Laughlin World Series with Babe Ruth

$1 box 1971 Willie Mays

50c trimmed 1963 Topps with 2892 career HRs

Speaking of 50c/$1 finds like the three above, watch for a bargain box themed blog giveaway later this week! It's been too long since I held one. Anyone else make it to the National and have finds to share?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

1948 Sommer & Kaufmann San Francisco Seals Baseball #5, Kenneth Gables

"Regional issues" remain an interesting, and often elusive, aspect of type collecting. Most often, regional sets start with a local business trying to expand in their market. They'd license some photos of the local players, print a modest number of sets, and add those baseball players to, for example, packs of lunch meat or post-purchase shopping bags. Today's set hails from the SF-based Sommer & Kaufmann boy's clothing store. We can assume stores gave away these cards or team sets with in-store purchases, or at least dangled them as freebies to encourage kids to shop there.

The Seals were SF's Pacific Coast League team and this black & white design closely resembles a handful of other late 40s SF Bay area sets. I suspect one local print shop arranged underwriting for all six of them. (Links go to my #5 type profiles for each set.)

Remar cards remain the easiest to find in today's market and Smith's not much harder. You'll grow old and die waiting for specific Sommer & Kaufmann singles to turn up, though. Be ready to spend $$$ on them when they do.

Note those stats are career totals. Kenneth did not pitch in 148 games with 81 decisions in just the previous season, but rather in 1942-47 combined (career stats). Going 40-41 in one year would be a scary amount of overuse.

My favorite regional issue? That's the 1954 Johnston's Cookies #5 of Hank Aaron (set profile), which also happen to be a Hammerin' Hank rookie card.

Value: I paid $80 for this Sommer & Kaufmann #5 in 2017 and might've gone as high as $100. Don't wait on this set to "come around again" when deciding whether to buy. It's rare with ice cream on top.

Fakes / reprints: Back in the 1970s, one or more complete set counterfeits entered the market. The real set's so rare, you might need a handful of them to evaluate and distinguish in person, and the counterfeits have now been around long enough to age on their own. I caution people against buying singles without good comparables. Read "The fake-card scandal of 1972" on for more info and discussion of a range of 1970s counterfeits.

2015 Carl Aldana "1950 Sommer & Kaufmann" #5, Manuel Perez

At least one modern direct-to-collectors set replicates this look-and-feel under the name "1950 Sommer & Kaufmann." There was no vintage 1950 set. Longtime collector and publisher Carl Aldana created the "1950" set in 2015 as a modern retro version, priced at a few dollars each.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

1928 Ice Cream & Candy Baseball (F50, W502) #5, Gabby Hartnett

This post earns its catch-all "ice cream" title because several mid-Atlantic food makers shared one 60-player checklist and design for multiple promotional sets distributed with ice cream or candy products. Hall of Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett's full-length warm-up shot got #5.

W502 card front in graded holder

The "ice cream or candy + baseball" combo would've been big news for kids in those days, but its ho-hum design underwhelms as a collectable. These hazy photos on white stock resemble photocopies when held in real life, so need close examination to authenticate. Few collectors attempt to build sets without sticking to graded cards.

Each food company customized their card backs with promotional info, a brief player bio, or trade-in contests that encouraged kids to swap Babe Ruth or complete sets for ice cream. I profiled TCMA's reprint of one such set in 2010.

1972 TCMA Tharp's Ice Cream reprint (back)

Here are the backs of my two Hartnett type cards, one with ONE BAGGER...

Card back with promo text

...the other with THREE BAGGER, a straight in-store promo exchange. This tells us baseballs and perhaps other giveaways accompanied the card shipments. (Rewards weren't always ice cream or candy.)

It's not clear if kids got to keep their cards after getting a freebie, but I suspect not. Companies might've reclaimed and recirculated redemption cards to save on further printing costs.

At least five companies share this same front design and checklist with varying backs, linked below by catalog number to their Old Cardboard set profiles, which show checklist and back variations.

UPDATE: Here's the rarely-seen Babe Ruth card, scarce thanks to the ice cream bar trade-in offer.

UPDATE #2: Here's a #5 back with Yuengling's ice cream offer, Babe Ruth for a bar or the whole set for a gallon.

Value: Each graded #5 type cost me $40 on eBay. Sellers want to believe singles are worth hundreds of dollars, but dozens of dollars is more likely. Bigger superstars legitimately run $100 and up, with Ruth cards netting $1000s.

Fakes / reprints: Reprints and fakes exist, so buy from reputable dealers if you're looking for a type card and aren't familiar with the sets themselves.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Goudey's many "Babe" Hermans and George Herman "Babes"

If you wrote a book about Goudey Gum's 1930s trading card sets, at least one chapter would talk about the many, many times they squeezed multiple cards from a single photo. Here's a quick look at the guy who got that treatment more than any other, George Herman (Babe) Ruth.

Goudey reworked this on-deck photo four times in 1933 alone, from the above R309-1 Premiums stand-up to three different cards in the main set.

1933 Goudey #53 (yellow)

1933 Goudey #144 (full-length)

1933 Goudey #149 (red)

Ruth changed to a dugout pose later in 1933, perhaps after collectors complained they'd seen the same Babe three times.

1933 Goudey #181 (green)

That's five Babes from two photos in 1933 alone, but Goudey wasn't done. They got another card out of this pose for their 1935 4-in-1s. As with all players in that set, they're re-cropped from earlier Goudey cards. Babe's only meaningful change is "Braves."

1935 Goudey 4-in-1, Braves (Ruth)

Close to my heart is the "other" Babe Herman, #5 in Goudey's 1933 set. It's not clear if this Babe, who was also a phenomenal hitter in the 20s and 30s, picked up the nickname from his Ruthian exploits.

1933 Goudey #5

Why stop there? Herman got the same cropped treatment for 1935 4-in-1.

1935 Goudey 4-in-1, Pirates (Herman)

I'm surprised they didn't blot out Herman's C(hicago) cap, given the move to Pittsburgh, but it was The Great Depression and selling gum packs meant more than minor details like "current team."

Babe's earlier days in Brooklyn included his infamous "double into a double play," explained well by the Parker Pioneer in "Three Men on Third Base."

Monday, June 5, 2017

1934-36 National Chicle "Diamond Stars Gum" Baseball #5, Tom Bridges

This stylish card of Detroit righty Tom Bridges overlays a realistic, posed follow-through on top of an Art Deco outfield and horizon. It shows off the set's typical intense color (more pictures here), with vibrant red and green fighting for your visual attention. It's believed prewar sets show such colorful skies because the coal soot of urban industry transformed late afternoon sun into red, orange, and purplish clouds.

Tiger Stadium (aka Briggs Stadium in those days) might not allow for this exact shot, but the artist appears to have placed actual Detroit skyline highlights behind Tom. Boxes show the relative position of Tommy in black and two prominent "New Center" buildings in grey, as they were in the 1930s. I'm told our leftmost building's the Fisher Building, home to live performance at the Fisher Theater. Its steeple is broadcast tower for WJR. Our rightmost building appears in many skyline photos, but can't find a name so far.

Bridges' long, slender fingers enabled him to throw a highly effective curve. Toss in a decent fastball, adequate control, and you get plenty of strikeouts. Tom broke the Tigers team record for Ks in 1941, which stood until Hal Newhouser came along. This #5 Diamond Star Gum card discusses how pitchers grip the ball, appropriate for his talents.

"Pitching Tips - How to Grip the Ball. Most major league pitchers grip the ball with the fingers across the seams, to obtain a firm purchase. Tom Bridges of the Detroit Tigers, one of the most effective pitchers in the game, holds the ball thus. Yet a few well-known moundsmen hold the ball with the fingers between the seams. This is a matter of choice. But always be sure to hold the ball the same way, both for your curve and fast ball. Do not curl your thumb back when about to throw your curve, a familiar habit among schoolboy pitchers. Smart batters notice such habits. Hold the ball with medium firmness, keeping the fingers and wrist flexible."

I love this phrase: "Tom Bridges...holds the ball thus." That's old school sportswriting. Boston American columnist Austen Lake supplied the set's text and received a byline on each card. Also note those 1933 stats after his bio, because they're our key clue to tracking yearly variations.

National Chicle printed #5 Tom Bridges all three years of their 1934-36 run, revising his short bio paragraph with the previous year's stats. This 1935 series reflects Tom's 1934 win/loss record and World Series success. The copyright date remained the same across all of Tom's cards, even as the stats changed.

1936's printing switched to blue ink and include Tom's 1935 win/loss record. Detroit reached the World Series again in 1935 and this time Tom won twice.

VALUE: I was lucky to receive this card gratis from a collecting friend. Diamond Star Gum "commons" run about $10 on eBay, but players like Bridges, a key part of the first Tigers championship in 1935, could cost more if a team collector's on the hunt.

FAKES / REPRINTS: Many reprints and counterfeits exist for the full set and individual stars of this Diamond Stars set, so familiarize yourself with prewar's thicker card stock and other aspects of similar sets to avoid buying a reprint as the real thing. Bright white borders and thin paper are the easiest way to know for sure you have a postwar reprint.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

1935 Diamond Stars uncut test sheet and the rarity of #68 Sam Leslie

In 2013, a collector shared this photo of an uncut test sheet from the middle of National Chicle's 1934-36 "Diamond Stars Gum" set. You can't tell from this side, but it's a classic of both baseball and Art Deco design.

Backs comprise #61 to 72. This is the flip of that test sheet, with no printed fronts.

Chicle printed their 108-card Diamond Stars Gum set across three years and this sheet is from 1935. This PSA-created graphic breaks down cards printed in each series.

PSA Diamond Stars 1934-36 variations

That group of 12 "reprints" in 1936 of earlier numbers supports the notion that each sheet comprised a dozen different players at a time. 1934 started with two sheets, #1-12 and #13-24. 1935 included the next four sheets, #25-36, #37-48, #49-60, and #61-72. Theoretically, test sheets could exist for any 12-player printing, but few paper artifacts survived the Great Depression.

The Net54 owner reported this breakdown of his 12-player, 35-card test sheet.
  • #61 Bill Werber x2
  • #62 Fred Frankhouse x2
  • #63 Travis Jackson x4
  • #64 Jimmie Foxx x2
  • #65 Zeke Bonura x4
  • #66 Ducky Medwick x4
  • #67 Marvin Owen x4
  • #68 Sam Leslie x1 (apparent short print)
  • #69 Earl Grace x4
  • #70 Hal Trosky x2
  • #71 Ossie Bluege x2
  • #72 Tony Piet x4

It's not known if other sheets with different layouts "balanced" the staggered 1/2/4 numbering for #61-72, but one can argue that limiting some numbers would keep kids buying packs, hunting for numbers not easily found. No law mandated they fill in the gaps or make it easy to finish sets. National Chicle's crosstown rivals Goudey Gum teased collectors in 1933 by leaving #106 out entirely. Buyers eventually realized it didn't exist and complained to Goudey. They created #106 Nap Lajoie in 1934 to fill this gap and "complete" the 1933 set.

1935 Diamond Stars #68, Sam Leslie (short print?)

Today's #61-72 test sheet might not be the final (or only) card arrangement, so we don't know for certain Sam Leslie made it into packs at 1/4 the rate of guys like Ducky Medwick. But it sure seems possible.

If so, is Sam more valuable? Not necessarily. Sam's a common, so proves most valuable for Dodger collectors or as part of a complete set. Price pressure on one 80+ year-old card's controlled by the small number of people working on prewar sets in the first place. Even if Sam's "rarer," modern collectors can find #68 without much hassle on eBay.

VALUE: Uncut prewar sheets are nearly unheard of, so value is speculative. Low grade #68 Sam Leslie ranks with the Diamond Stars commons at $5-10.

FAKES / REPRINTS: Lots of Diamond Stars reprints exist and I always recommend buying prewar type cards from dealers you trust. If you plan to make prewar part of your collection, familiarize yourself with the various ways people faked them in the past.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bobby Doerr

Sometimes when I'm down, I remember Bobby Doerr (our oldest living HOFer, now 99) started his pro career in 1934.

...when this guy still wore pinstripes.

1934 Quaker Oats premium, Babe Ruth

...and then I feel better. Here's to those long-term guys.

Hope you all have a good week.