Friday, February 4, 2011

1976 SSPC Baseball #5, Phil Niekro

"Tell me, son. Have you ever danced with the devil by the pale moonlight? Some say they want to learn the floating sassafras that is a knuckleball--and believe me, I can teach it--but this ain't no Sunday afternoon walk in the park. Better put on your best wingtips, button up our closet's bluest collared shirt, and fluff out that hair."

Card front

This blog pictured the knuckleballing Niekro brothers, HOFer Phil and still-pretty-good Joe, just over a year ago, as 1988 Topps #5 celebrated their surpassing of the Perrys in "wins by brothers," a record they still hold at 539. (Is there anyone alive who could pass them in the foreseeable future? I don't see it happening.) Joe also appeared solo on a 1978 Burger King Astros #5 card.

Card back

SSPC offered this 630-card set for $10 (+ $1 postage) via mail order in 1976, which company founder Mike Aronstein advertised in his Collectors Quarterly magazine. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for Topps to send a cease-and-desist order, as they claimed an exclusive right to print photos of active players with team logos. While SSPC did comply with this demand to stop printing new sets, they could clear out remaining stock, so a limited number made it into buyers hands and remain in the hobby.

Aronstein modeled this design after 1953 Bowman, so they're clean and relatively attractive, but modern collectors value them below other 1970s sets from Topps, due to lower name recognition. I have to wonder, what kind of financial threat did this comparatively small company actually pose? Is it reasonable to think their product offered a competitive option to buyers, assuming they'd spend money on one but not both sets? Let's take a look.

Topps sold their set in packs of 10 and charged 15 cents each, so $9.90 would get you a 660-card stack of cardboard similar to what SSPC wanted $11 for. With typical pack distribution, you probably need another 50% of that number to get a nearly complete set. That's still just $14.85, not far above its mail order competition, and Topps offered a more polished and familiar product. Hard to see their legal actions as anything other than turf protection, with an eye toward keeping bigger candy competitors like Fleer out of the arena.

Value: SSPC stars and HOFers cost a few dollars at most, with Phil at $2.89 on CheckOutMyCards as of this writing.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any SSPC reprints in the market.

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