Sunday, November 5, 2017

Collecting Joe DiMaggio in Yankee pinstripes

Back in 2013, on the occasion of Joe Dimaggio's 99th birthday, I looked at the "rookie" cards stemming from his November 1934 trade and move from San Francisco's Seals to the Yankees. Those of a certain age will remember the hobby once considered 1938 Goudey the "definitive example." (1938 has since proved not so definite.)

Two years after the 1934 trade, Goudey used the above snap (itself a SF Seals photo from 1934) as both his 1936 "wide pen premium" and (head only) for 1938 Goudey #250 & #274, cards with identical design apart from the surrounding cartoons.

1938 Goudey #250 & 274, Joe DiMaggio

By 1938, that crop-top made it impossible to know you're looking at a 1934 Pacific Coast League photo. Between those years, some sets did show Joe as a "real" Yankee.

First issue: 1935 National Chicle fine pen photo premium ("Joe DiMaggio slams it") shows Joe's first spring training with New York, debuting as #18 before adopting his famous #5.

Second issue: Canada's 1936 World Wide Gum #51, which serves as Joe's first bubblegum card. It's seldom seen outside elite collections today, given comparative rarity to American sets and baseball's enduring demand for the Clipper.

1939 Play Ball #26

1939 Play Ball was the first American company to pack Joe D with slabs of gum and they gave him a nice, sharp photo for our patience. But no pinstripes.

Play Ball followed up by giving Joe their #1 spot for 1940. That on-card "1939 Pennant" hints that their card fronts wrapped up before the conclusion of 1939's World Series, while the back text wrapped up after the Yankees won their 4th consecutive title. Printing cards must've been a time-consuming business circa 1939-40.

1941 Play Ball repeated 1940 Play Ball's road gray jersey in hand-tinted color.

1941 Play Ball #71

In fact, Play Ball never showed Joe in pinstripes, perhaps because the Gum, Inc. photographers only saw him when the Yankees played the A's in Philly, as AL opponents of that era.

Chicago-based Leaf hit a similar obstacle in 1948: DiMaggio's wearing road gray again. By this point, it occurred to me that without a New York-based Topps card, which Joe never had, there'd be almost no "playing career" cards showing him in home field pinstripes. And then...

...there it was, the 1948 R346 "Blue Tint" (set profile) a checklist heavy with New York teams and stars. Given the prohibitive rookie price of 1936 World Wide Gum cards, this deadpan DiMaggio's your best shot of getting a home pinstripes Joe from his 1936-1951 career span. If only he'd played 3 or 4 years longer, imagine all the classic Topps cards you'd have to choose from!

Value: Based on eBay results, R346 DiMaggio sells for $200, pushing Gehrig for top billing in that humble two-color set.

Fakes / reprints: DiMaggio's counterfeited in almost all of his vintage sets, so know your dealers if you're collecting type cards or go for graded examples to minimize risk of fakery.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

1949 Sommer & Kaufmann PCL Baseball #5, Al Lien

A decade-plus into my type collection, subsets of it are close to complete, if challenging to close out entirely. I'm almost done with 1940-49, made closer still by this latest Pacific Coast League pickup. With Al Lien's card in my pocket, I'm done with 1940s domestic issues! All remaining 1940-49 #5s are from Latin America and Japan.

Smilin' Al's sporting the Seals pinstripe uniform, a typical choice when playing at home, compared to a team's plainer "road grays." I'm not convinced it's San Francisco's home stadium, though.

So where's Al throwing that ball around? The high left field fence over his shoulder doesn't look like SF Seals Stadium, which featured ads along that wall. Based on a look through available PCL outfields, I think that's Sicks Stadium in Seattle. Built in 1938 and short on MLB-class amenities like "water pressure" and "reliable toilets," Sicks still managed to host the Pilots in their ignominious 1969 season after three decades of Seattle Rainers PCL teams.

I wrote about Sommer & Kaufman once before, well before I owned the actual card. This scan shows its auburn tint better than that post's black & white scans.

What of the card itself? "Norwegian-Danish descent" describes a lot of my family, so perhaps we're distant cousins! Sommer & Kaufmann, on the other hand, sounds as German as "Ich bin ein Berliner." (German via American, that is.) Their store's shoes covered more than boys' feet, as evinced by these brand label pumps.

I think a single card printer created all of the Bay Area's minor league team sets and then branded backs with sponsor info. S&K's card design mimics contemporary PCL sets like Remar Bread (1947 set profile) and Smith's Clothing (1947 set profile), but Sommer & Kaufmann singles prove much tougher to come by. I'd seen just a handful prior to one of my favorite dealers breaking up a complete set in mid-2017. That kind of thing won't happen every day, so don't wait if you get a good shot at a type card from a dealer you trust.

Value: This EX card cost me $80, at the high end for commons, and my price paid reflects its scarcity and the hole in my wantlist. If I go hunting for another, it'll be for something closer to $40-50.

Fakes / reprints: With no stars in the set itself, there's low risk of one faked card. You're more likely to see counterfeit sets priced for big money. Authentic singles feature a shiny finish on white stock that's thinner than your average Topps card. The Smith's and Remar PCL sets prove easier to come by, so you can start with those and then add Sommer & Kaufmann once you're familiar with the style.

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."