Monday, September 21, 2015

1977 Cramer Pacific Coast League Baseball #5, Bob Knepper

Do you like orange? Here's future big leaguer Bob Knepper, modeling a Dutch-orange hat against orange trim and orange borders. His card background shows a Southwestern staple, well-watered grass that ends at a fence line. This hints at an interesting question: do water costs pinch the ability of desert teams to compete with those in temperate cities?

Water issues didn't slow Phoenix in 1977, who finished with the PCL's best record, if by foggy statistical means. On one hand, the Giants' 732 BB and .382 OBP led the league. On the other, second place Salt Lake City (150) more than doubled Phoenix's league-worst homer total (67). Despite posting also-ran ratings in both hitting (.796 OPS) and pitching (6.02 runs/game), Phoenix overachieved with a .579 winning %, perhaps due to superlative work by manager Rocky Bridges.

Teams who get on base but can't hit homers usually blame the ballpark. Phoenix's 345-410-345 dimensions back that up, as do their league-leading triples (84), where long flies bounced off walls instead of over them. Bridges could've adapted his team's performance for the surroundings, working free bases where he couldn't expect big flies and turning them into enough runs to win more games than the average roster, but that remains speculative until we can enjoy fuller season-by-season histories for teams like the AAA Giants.

The MLB version of Knepper went on to become Houston's top lefty, winning 93 games as an Astro (1981-89) and garnering two All-Star selections. He also sparked 1988 controversy with a Sports Illustrated interview that criticized one of pro baseball's few female umpires, earning blowback of his own. Beyond those particular comments, S.I.'s piece dives deeper into the flip sides of loneliness and family, something all traveling athletes must deal with. It's worth a read for its "pre-Internet-ness," compared to today's always-on, media-aware careers.

Value: This #5 cost $2 at the 2015 National, unburied from stacks of fellow minor leaguers.

Fakes / reprints: I doubt you'd make money reprinting minor leaguers like Knepper, but future HOFers from similar sets could be replicated, given its thin stock and today's scanning technology. If you have the means, stick to established dealers for top "pre-rookie" minor league type cards.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

1886 N48 Allen & Ginter "Dixie Cigarettes" Lady Baseball Players #5

I recently came across my second 19th century type card, a woman in hazy sepia pretending to catch a ball dangling on a string. While unusual in style, I didn't realize they created un scandal in their time, likely because women weren't socially accepted as "athletic."

Those pants! So form-fitting! Her black stockings and shoes cut quite a figure, and passersby responded, for good or ill, when cigarette sellers hung Allen & Ginter's promotional cabinet cards (below) in their sidewalk windows.

Despite the quality difference, a close look shows both photos are the same woman, who herself appears in most of their 1886 studio photos, occasionally with an "opponent" in matching uniform.

Compare the "cabinet" (above) and cigarette card (below) to see how Allen & Ginter rendered the same picture with varying print quality. Their flashy "real photo" cabinet would draw attention to shop windows and in-pack cards would adapt the image for non-photo printing, this one with a branded "Sub Rosa Cigarettes" foil stamp.

While 19th century women's teams played ball in many cities, it's no accident that Allen & Ginter used these uniformed women to promote Dixie, Sub Rosa, and Virginia Brights, as these were A&G's female-targeted brands. Some kept a blank obverse to save print costs, but others continued their "unexceptionably fine" quality pitch onto card backs.

For some history of a real 1890s women's team, see Baseball History Daily's post sub-titled A Riot in Cuba.

In 1886, Allen & Ginter covered a range of topics on tobacco cards, but when competitor Goodwin & Co. used their Old Judge brand to show off almost every ballplayer of the day starting in 1887 (OJ details at PSA), other brands followed suit and got the base-ball rolling for a nearly uninterrupted run of sports-first sets that continues to the present day.

Value: While more affordable than 19th century male stars of the same vintage, low grade Allen & Ginter cards are always pricy and this #5 cost $130. Larger cabinet cards run much more, especially when the photo presents well.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any fakes or reprints of the women's ballplayers, but they're of an era always vulnerable to counterfeiting. If you're looking for a 19th century type, stick to experienced dealers who know their cards or get something already graded.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

1922 W503 Baseball #5, Bill "Rosy" Ryan

As a fan of baseball eras long past, it's fun to think every player has their own piece of history. The one thing they did that few others have. Lou Gehrig played 2130 straight games. Roger Clemens struck out 20 guys twice. Jamie Quirk hit a walk-off homer in his only at-bat as a Cleveland Indian. Legendary stuff.

So what has Rosy Ryan done? To date, he's the only reliever to go deep in a World Series game, taking fellow Senators pitcher Allen Russell out in 1924's game three on October 6 (box score). Many champions have come and gone, many relievers have swung the splinter, but only Rosy got to circle the bases at a leisurely pace.

Ryan earned this opportunity in part from his versatility. No fainting flower on the mound, Rosy also led the NL in ERA (1922) and games played (1923) as a key part of three straight Giants pennant winners, 1922-24 (career stats). He even pitched half of that "relief homer game," nearly five innings in all.

Why include the PSA tag? Because "Gaints."

As for W503 itself, its 64 black-and-white photos are technically strip cards, as they were hand-cut from a multi-card sheet and perhaps distributed with food or candy. They prove so hard to come by that I assume both a small print run and some kind of trade-in promotion. To quote a 2015 Heritage Auctions listing, "Still unknown is exactly who produced and how this scarce set of 64-cards were circulated. The cards are hand-cut...and there is some speculation they may have been issued as a bonus with the purchase of candy or gum."

While finishing a set would be like catching ghosts, you can enjoy a complete 1922 W503 gallery for free at

Value: I've yet to find a W503 #5 to call my own, but Old Carboard predicts it'll cost about $35 when I do.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace, but the HOFers are certainly at risk for fakery. Any deal that seems too good to be true goes double for this kind of set.

Monday, September 7, 2015

1951 Bowman Baseball #5, Dale Mitchell

Have you seen this man? Last spotted rounding second at full speed?

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If baseball fans mention Dale Mitchell in conversation, it’s usually as the trivia answer for “who did Don Larsen catch looking to end his World Series perfect game?” (Video and highlights at

And yet! For that one-game notoriety, Dale was no choke artist. He ranks #17 in OPS+ (115) for all MLB hitters in the decade following WWII and was even harder to punch out, ranking #14 on MLB’s career list at 33.48 AB/K. An all-time contact hitter getting caught looking to end a World Series perfect game says a lot about Larsen’s performance that day. (Better men than I question the ump’s eyes, but it’s now inseparable from history.)


For all the clean lines of 1951’s hand-colored front, that back design shows a conceit common to the Bowman era : "text, text, and more text." Read me, said the cardboard. Numbers must be described and put in the context of history! Statistical grids are for college professors, not kids in a candy store!

195 Minoso, Orestes.jpeg

Topps successfully moved many of those stats “south” for their 1952 debut and discovered how readily kids responded to the “grid.” Now, it’s hard to find a card that doesn’t do stats this way, other than intentionally retro versions like Allen & Ginter.

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Furthermore, when the self-proclaimed GIANT SIZED (2 ⅝” x 3 ¾”) 1952 Topps set arrived, kids bought so many palm-filling Mega Minosos that Bowman had no choice but to relegate Mini Minoso’s card size (2 1/16” by 3 ⅛”) to the dustbin of competition. By 1953, they closely followed the Topps example, as seen below.

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The added expense of keeping pace with design innovations proved key to Bowman’s eventual 1956 bankruptcy. In short order, Topps owned the whole MLB market and collectors wouldn't see a similar paradigm shift until Upper Deck's high-quality photography arrived in 1989.


Back to Mitchell, who figures into some interesting baseball footnotes. When Roy Halladay (nearly) matched Larsen with a 2010 postseason no-hitter, Mitchell’s son noted that Brandon Phillips got the unenviable “last out” credit shared by his dad; see “Was No Goat” by Dave McKenna. (That’s the younger Mitchell above, with his dad’s 1953 Topps card.)

Dale notched a singular achievement in 1949, tallying 23 triples and just 11 strikeouts. No one before or since hit 20+ triples at twice the pace of their strike outs. Not Stan Musial, not Willie Mays, not Joe Shlabotnik. Only dead ball star Wee Willie Keeler came close with 12 triples and 5 strikeouts in 1901.


As a career comparable, Dale’s like Manny Mota, who could always make contact and hit for average. Mota spun his pinch-hit skills into a 20-year career and Mitchell might’ve done the same, if he’d played during an era of expansion and specialization.

Value: Low-grade 1951 singles cost a dollar or two and I acquired this #5 while building that Bowman set. Those hand-colored fronts are still one of my all-time favorite designs.


Fakes / reprints: You can buy 1951 Bowman as a complete reprint set, so look for differences between vintage and modern cards when seeking type cards. Most legitimate reprints use brighter card stock, higher gloss, and include REPRINT somewhere on the card itself.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

1933 Goudey "World War Gum" (R174, military) #5, Practice At Camp

Today (August 23) in 1914, over 35,000 British troops encountered Germany's 1st army in Belgium, following similar engagements by France earlier that week. It was Britain's first continental battle of WWI, and while at numerical disadvantage, their forces withstood extended artillery bombardment before choosing retreat over potential envelopment and capture. The German army proceeded into Belgium, pushing Allied forces back to the Marne, where...(Wikipedia can take it from here).

I looked up this engagement (the Battle of Mons) thanks to another of Goudey's 1933 sets, World War Gum. It's largely what you see, as a set of 96 black-and-white photos from a war almost 20 years old by that point. Goudey released it as a pair of 48-card series, likely using sales of the first (and other products, like my favorite: Big League Gum) to finance printing of the second series, later that year.

1933 Goudey World War Gum #55, Surprise Attack

The second series used red borders and enlarged its photo space with a "World War Gum" stamp instead of the bottom edge tagline.

While WWI forces weren't immobile, the European ground war went slowly, and as "practice at camp" describes, soldiers commonly met enemies hand-to-hand with rifle butt and bayonet. Moving from trench to trench by foot meant surging into harsh, open terrain that left you open to enemy fire. A line of soldiers going over the lip of a trench remains an enduring image of WWI combat and one that future armies strove to replace with more nimble, mechanized units.

Why did Goudey produce this set in 1933? Hitler had just come to power that January, and it's likely the roiling European political climate appeared regularly in American headlines. While wide-scale conflict was still years away, Goudey could've guessed that kids would snap up the excitement of wartime events, even those from their parents' generation.

For this set, Goudey used the same dimensions and card stock as their better-known 1933 Big League Gum (baseball) and Indian Gum. These World War Gum set galleries seem drab today, but with 30s cinemas showing mostly black-and-white movies and newsreels, collectors of the day might've accepted it as readily as color.

Value: I bought this low grade #5 at the 2015 National in Chicago for $3. With no special "stars," scarcity and context drive prices for individual cards. A graded set auctioned in 2013 for ~$3000.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace, but my knowledge of non-sports (and its potential shenanigans or pitfalls) is far behind that of baseball sets.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

1960 Topps #389, World Series Game 5 (and the baseball peccadilloes of LA's Memorial Coliseum)

This card's always intrigued me, as it could show Maury Wills making a play at second long before he worked out his unusual contract kerfuffles with Topps (who'd passed on signing him for $5 at a minor league tryout) and first appeared "officially" as a Pirate in their 1967 set. So is this really an unnamed Wills covering second? Yes.

While this is Maury Wills taking a throw as Aparicio steals, it's from game 4 instead. Fellow card blog Horizontal Heroes even found the original press photo that Topps repurposed in its post about 1960 Topps #389; Topps just repurposed it incorrectly as "Game 5."

If that's not good enough for you, the official gallery also includes this card between Maury's 1960 and 1961 Bell Brand potato chip cards.

No more mystery, then, 1960 Topps #389 shows Luis Aparicio and Maury Wills, Hall of Famer and 1962 NL MVP, respectively.

1986 TCMA MVPs

So what actually happened in game 5? A piƱata of White Sox pitchers combined to beat Sandy Koufax 1-0, so you can imagine why Topps card editors didn't find a lot of great photos to work with. No "SUPER SANDY" or "NELLIE OUTFOXES LA" really fit. I almost wouldn't blame them for intentionally putting Aparicio's steal on the wrong day, as it's a simpler "story" than explaining how Chicago's pitching changes and outfield positioning kept the Dodgers in check. Check out the series highlight reel to see what I mean and wind to 21:21 for Game 5.

Those highlights aptly demonstrate the "every animal in the barnyard" feel of playing in LA's Memorial Coliseum for 1958-59, the franchise's first two post-Brooklyn seasons. Outfielders had to account for lots of unusual features and not just the ghosted NFL yardage lines. Their left field wall stood a scant 250 feet away, only moderating easy homers with an unusual 40-foot screen.

LA Coliseum : "O'Malley's 3AM Plan" from

That 90,000+ fans went through LA's turnstiles for game after game on an oval "diamond" says a lot about California's hunger for Major League Baseball. That Walter O'Malley's Dodgers proved a dominant force for its first decade out west did a lot to maintain Dodgers / Yankees as baseball's Golden Age rivalry. Maybe Topps should've titled the Game 5 card as "O'MALLEY WINS AGAIN!"

UPDATE: Thanks to the Internet, you can relive the whole Game 5 radio broadcast at (and Game 1 as well).

Monday, August 10, 2015

2015 National Sports Collectors Convention Recap

"It's somewhere in this room. Somewhere. I just need to use my good spyglass and find it."

You can hit three limits at a National Sports Collectors Convention: time, energy, money. If you're there for 3 days, you say: I can't see all these hundreds of tables! If you're there for 4: my feet are dead! If you're there for 5: where'd all my money go!

"Unopened packs. So hot right now."

I lasted 4 days at the 2015 National, arriving for Wednesday's sneak preview, but departing prior to Sunday's unofficial discount day. There's plenty of vintage on display, but personal expectations are always tempered knowing my 1930s and 1940s wantlists aren't easy to hit from $1 card boxes. Low-grade Goudeys have drifted upwards of $5 each and oddball sets remain unpredictable in both location and quantity. But if you've read my Day One Highlights and Day Two Highlights posts, you already know I needn't have worried!


It's easy to summarize these two days as "revisit all those areas that didn't stand out on Wednesday and Thursday." National show floors spread out across a large grid, with large central booths for card companies, publications, web communities, and grading. It's like a Salt Lake City of collecting, a progression of criss-crossed streets expanding out from the massive downtown temple. I visited the "place of worship" (Topps booth) once to get an Allen & Ginter redemption pack.


I caught up and swapped cardboard with each of the 20+ friends from who traveled to the National. We schedule group events like the White Sox game on Friday (Yankees won big) and a full squad meet-and-greet on Saturday. Here we are in full swing, 1960 team card style.

I also made some Twitter connections, including Stephan of @JunkWaxTwins and @YanxChick, who now works for Topps.

Signed card for @JunkWaxTwins 


I bought a lot of cards at the show for the type collection and set building. I felt like this guy, but more smiling.

Let's look at some all of them!

The complete, barely organized haul


(Links go to blog set profiles, where posted and the others will come soon.)

1900s Stollwerck's Chocolade, OBC gift

1914 T222 Fatima: Reulbach SGC 20, $115

1927 W560 strip cards: Wilson (spades), Sewell (hearts), Uhle (diamonds), $5-15 each

1931 Diana Cigarreras (Venezuelan tobacco), Carratu $150

1935 National Chicle Football Stars, Presnell $12

1955 Robert Gould All Stars, Hegan $24

1956-57 Cuban Chicle, Garcia $100

1967-68 Coke Red Sox crown, Brandon $1

1968 Bazooka Tipps From The Topps, Javier $25

1978 Post Cereal Steve Garvey fielding tips, Not shown in scan, OBC gift

#5 binder feeling the effects
Issue #5, a freebie at one table

If you start to work backward as a collector and talk vintage at Nationals, you soon pick up how much focus the dealers of "old stuff" put on buying from each other instead of just selling to attendees. Many well-heeled collectors around the world don't attend this kind of show, making dealers their proxies to acquire items for long-distance resale or auction house consignment. It feels extra-fortunate to find a key hit when you know a number of monied, educated hands already had their shot.


New sets, exciting! Most are from the 1930s to better understand when new card designs and innovations took hold after 1933's explosion of sports interest. Baseball was just a fraction of total card output in that era, so I've added several non-sport sets by Goudey and its close gum card competitors. All sets now appear on my Baseball and non-sport wantlist.

1930 World Wide Gum's Jungle Action Gum

1933 DeLong Play Ball! Gum (2 for $20-40)

1933 Goudey Boy Scouts ($5 each)

1933 Goudey Indian Gum ($1-3 each)

1933 Goudey Sport Kings ($10-40 each)

1933-34 National Chicle Sky Birds, as part of Goudey overview: large lot for $275

1935 Goudey Big League Gum (one for $10)

1936 Goudey Big League Gum, as part of my Goudey overview (several, $5-10 each)

1938 Goudey Big League Gum (several, $10-15 each)

Hobby box of 2015 Allen & Ginter (no notable hits, #bummer)


Low-grade Exhibits make for affordable vintage collecting

1936 Goudey Wide Pen: Freitas, Whitehead, $1 each

1936 Goudey Fine Pen: Swift, $1

1947-66 Exhibits: Six, with HOFs Warren Spahn and Lou Boudreau, $1 each

1967 Sports Cards For Collectors #7 Maranville, $1

1969 Sports Cards For Collectors #38 Lazzeri, $1

1976 Topps Cito Gaston (blank back)


I continue to enjoy the annual National trips, both as an ongoing set-builder and friend to others on similar quests. There are so few opportunities to get 1000s of collectors in a single room and see new things every hour of every day. I'd hate to miss one, even if 2016 means a return to the social and (if you're a gambler) economic vicissitudes of Atlantic City. See you next year!

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 a 100-word essay 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!