Sunday, August 24, 2014

1962 LIFE Magazine (and Post Cereal) Baseball #5, Mickey Mantle

After Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris's spell-binding race to break Ruth's single-season HR record in 1961, Post Cereal went all-out promoting the Yankee teammates in their 1962 set. They published another set of on-box cereal cards, pushed those cards via print, radio, and TV spots, and even added a French-translated version for Canadian baseball fans.

Today's entry highlights the advertising that coincided with 1962's Opening Day, when Maris & Mantle appeared on 2-card inserts in LIFE magazine. Although originally part of a larger ad, most collectors trimmed Mickey down to the size that's part of my type collection.

1962 LIFE Magazine

At first glance, this Mantle looks similar to his 1962 Post Cereal box card, but lacks the blue grid lines around his stats. Close inspection also shows his photo's re-cropped along the bottom edge, where we can now see his whole elbow.

1962 Post Cereal

Also compare my trimmed version to this full-bordered LIFE promo, which linked Mantle and Maris on side-to-side perforations. The scan's from an Aug 2014 Mantle/Maris auction that closed for $40.

While it could be from either insert, my LIFE type card's probably trimmed from the unperforated mail-in subscription panel below. (Mantle's on one side and Maris is on the other, so this scan shows both sides of the same panel.) "misc" listings includes a complete April 13, 1962 LIFE magazine with this insert positioned opposite a full-page Post ad starring Whitey Ford. Mantle's facing toward the reader, with the back of Maris's card to his right.

All LIFE panels used thin, papery stock, and advertise Post Cereal on the backs. (The box cards came on sturdier cardboard and held up better over the years, in my experience.)

Post gave Mantle and Maris 60-second spots promoting this set to kids.

Today's LIFE type card profile completes a quartet of very similar 1962 issues featuring Mantle as #5. Note that Post's Canadian set includes French on every card and must've taken a lot of extra work. (All that effort might've proved unprofitable, as Post chose not to make a French version for 1963.)

UPDATE: Thanks to this Net54 thread on 1962 Post, I learned LIFE magazine inserts vary slightly from US to Canada. While both cards are the same, its addressing changed to fit the Canadian mold.

Value: Due to tight trimming and a torn corner, my #5 Mantle cost only $5 plus postage on eBay. Expect to pay more for well-trimmed singles, a full Mantle-and-Maris page, or complete magazines with the insert.

Fakes / Reprints: I haven't heard of any LIFE counterfeits, probably because they're valued far below his regular Topps cards. This two-sided printing would take more "work" than faking a Post cereal card and probably isn't worth the time, unless you copied the full-page ad sheet.

Monday, August 18, 2014

1933 Goudey Sport Kings Varsity Football Game #5

As we near the start of 2014's college football season, I've been looking back several decades to the leatherheads era, when "face mask" was a thing people wore for ski slopes and Halloween. (I haven't looked back to that era by watching the movie Leatherheads, although I did see it back in 2008 and it was...OK, I guess.)

While best-known today for their baseball cards, Goudey introduced several successful gum-and-card sets in 1933, including the multi-sport Sport Kings Gum.

1933 Goudey "Sport Kings Gum" #5, Ed Wachter

This 48-card set covered a remarkable 20 different sports, an amalgam spurred by the massive promotional success of 1933's baseball All-Star Game, which raised sports fan interest across the board.

To put yourself in the shoes of a 1930s gum buyer, "baseball cards" had nowhere near the significance we attach to them now, but trading cards in general were popular, so almost any topic was open for co-marketing. As the school year began, Goudey created this card-flipping college football game as an in-store promotion to keep sales moving for Sport Kings Gum itself.

1933 Goudey Varsity Football #5 (pennant side)

The lack of specific players makes this set more about the colleges themselves. As of 2014, 119 NCAA schools compete at the I-A level. Compare that to 1933's list of school pennants on each Goudey card, which number fewer than 20.
  1. Army
  2. Duke
  3. Ohio State
  4. Colgate
  5. Harvard
  6. Penn State
  7. Nebraska
  8. Cornell
  9. Iowa
  10. Rutgers
  11. Holy Cross
  12. Stanford
  13. Wisconsin
  14. Alabama
  15. Columbia
  16. Boston College
  17. Centre (College)
  18. Yale

While I'm a native of Wisconsin and resident of Harvard's hometown (Cambridge, MA), consider me most partial to Centre College as the place my parents met. That august institution also holds the relevant distinction of winning "one of the greatest college football upsets in history," by beating then-mighty Harvard on their home turf in 1921.

While very rare today, we know a few things about how Varsity Sports was distributed. Sport Kings Gum buyers could swap their wrappers at the candy store for individual cards and "score charts," which Varsity Sports players used to track game progress.

Goudey sales letter for Varsity Football & its score charts

The high grade of most Varsity Football cards in today's market implies that most sat undisturbed in storage and were later rediscovered. (Like most vintage cards, I assume a large percentage ended up in trash cans.)

1933 Goudey Varsity Football #5 (play side)

All 24 Varsity Football cards feature a different collection of play outcomes, which you'd match to a given situation and track on the score chart. I've never seen score charts in the marketplace, so it's up to us to imagine exactly how it'd be played.

My guess is that players make the choice to rush/pass or punt/place kick from different spots on the field and flip cards face up to see what happened. You'd need a way to track down and distance and some sort of timer or allowed number of possessions. If you've ever seen a Varsity Football score chart, rules, or relevant scan, let me know! I'd love to know more about how such a set came to be.

1936 Goudey Big League Gum, Oral Hildebrand

If the concept of this "flip to play" game sounds familiar, it might be because Goudey repurposed this concept on a larger scale for their 1936 Big League Gum baseball set. While scarce, they're much easier to find today than Varsity Football. Read my profile of Goudey's 1930s Customer Loyalty Programs for a deeper look at how their sets fit together.

Value: Haven't put my hands on a #5 type, but eBay singles open at $20-50 for Buy-It-Now. That BIN price feels high, considering a complete 24-card, mid-to-nice condition set auctioned for $200 in 2013 and another near-set (21/24) also finished at $200 in 2012. I suspect auctioned singles would finish at $10-20.

2012 Sporting Life Varsity Football Game #9, Jim Thorpe

Fakes / reprints: The modern-retro Sporting Life company published this Varsity Football homage in 2012, adding player portraits to an otherwise similar layout. As with other Sporting Life sets, modern collectors should not mistake them for 1930s originals. (I don't expect the original Varsity Football cards were reprinted, given their lack of name players.)

Friday, August 15, 2014

1934 R304 Al Demaree Die-Cut Baseball #5, Sam Byrd

Who was Al Demaree? Why does his name appear first, like some kind of superstar insert? And if he proved successful for years as pro ballplayer and sports artist, why did he die penniless?

Just the name of former pitcher Albert Wentworth Demaree evokes gentility, a character from F. Scott Fitzgerald dabbling on the mound between fox hunts. Perhaps a vintage version of Michael Jordan, stepping away from dominance in one arena to try his luck with another.

In a sense, that's correct: Al's skills with horsehide paralleled similar art talents with a brush, a sports profession he ultimately extended far beyond his 8 years as a serviceable pitcher (career stats).

1934 R304 #5, Sam Byrd

Demaree gets top billing for this set because his cartooning skills supplied the bodies for its unusual stand-up "cards." Black-and-white photo busts top Al's hand-drawn bodies and collectors would fold the curved base of each player's cut-out in two places to form a vertical stand-up about 4" tall.

Ernie Orsatti's card (borrowed from R304's profile) shows those horizontal fold lines more clearly. Player names and origin appear below the fold lines; a close look at #5's base shows Al's handwritten Samuel Dewey (Sam) Byrd and Born Breham, GA.

Each team in this set got a starting roster of 9 fielders + 1 pitcher for 10 cards total. Multiply that team total by 16 franchises, plus 4 umpires each for AL/NL, and you reach the estimated checklist of 168.

Modern catalogs guess at the set's exact composition because no one's seen all 168 players with their numbered tabs. A collection discovered in 2010 added 30 new entries to the "known" list, but question marks remain on the best version I've seen (also at

It's believed the Dietz Gum Co. of Chicago packaged these cards in 1934-35 with "Ball Players In Action" chewing gum. Amass enough cards and you could play a board game with full defense and league umpires officiating. Gum vendors could trade the game board for 10 wrappers, a similar promotion to the 1933-36 Goudey Premiums. Without player stats or known instructions, though, it's anyone's best guess how such a game would be played and I've never seen the board itself.

1948 Signal Oil, "Kewpie" Barrett (art by Al Demaree)

Demaree himself served as The Sporting News cartoonist for decades and contributed to baseball products like 1947 PCL Signal Gasoline. Unfortunately, it's reported Al was robbed of significant savings near the end of his life and died without a cent to his name. May we all fare better when that time comes!

Value: Even lesser-known players cost $300-400 each in low grade. Want a guy like Babe Ruth and don't have thousands to throw around? Fuggedaboutit.

Fakes / reprints: It'd be difficult to pass fakes of a set this rare, but also profitable enough that someone's probably tried doing it. Caveat emptor!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Top 5 Cards from the 2014 National Sports Collectors Convention

I spent last weekend in Cleveland's I-X Center, criss-crossing its vast expanse of concrete and carpet in search of collectibles from ages past at "The National" (Sports Collectors Convention).

This annual show attracts serious enthusiast and casual fan alike. Thousands of attendees come to buy all kinds of ephemera, but most of my time was spent looking for things before the 1950s, an easier task given that this was America's biggest annual gathering of sports dealers. 72 hours of walking, talking, and searching yielded many treasures, and here are on-site pictures of my five favorites.

1 : Exhibit Co. Brooklyn Dodgers postcards

Prior to leaving for LA, the Dodgers regularly finished as also-rans to the crosstown New York Yankees, bringing home just one championship in 1955. These machine-vended postcards show three of the squads that fell short in the Series (1949, 1952, 1956) and came relatively cheap considering Brooklyn's popularity with modern collectors. My dad first started following baseball as a Brooklyn fan, so I plan to write notes on each back and send them along as actual postcards.

If you enjoy unusual phases of baseball history, check out The Brooklyn Dodgers in Jersey City, a story of Brooklyn's two seasons of New Jersey "home" games, all played prior to moving west. It tells a story familiar to small-market teams, as Walter O'Malley balanced offers from several suitors while searching for a more popular, enduring home for his Dodgers.

2 : 1933 U.S. Caramel "Famous Athletes" #5, Earl(e) Combs

Candy makers first packaged cards with chewing gum in the early 1930s, a practice that kicked off what we call "bubblegum cards" today. This set, on the other hand, was one of the last from the previous generation, which came with slabs of caramel instead of gum.

Unfortunately, sticky sweets were more challenging than gum to protect from the cardboard, so kids often found their baseball players fouled with a brown crust of sugar when the wax packaging didn't do its job. All that damage meant fewer such cards survive today, so this rarity for my type collection cost a higher-than-average $200. (Its type card profile talks more about the gum/caramel situation.)

3: 1934 Goudey #84, Paul Derringer

The back of Mr. Derringer's card charitably notes that his 7-25 record in 1933 included a "fair bit of bad luck," which might've been better stated as "lousy teammates," a last-place Reds team that won barely 1/3 of its games.

Six years later but still in the same uniform, Paul reversed his fortune with a 25-7 record for the pennant-winning 1939 squad (career stats). Not many pitchers can claim such a turnaround! #84 was also my next-to-last card for this set; all that remains is #37 Lou Gehrig.

Ha ha, no problem! *dies*

4: 1919 W514 #74, Fred Merkle

As I joked to collecting friends, this 1919 Merkle card (of Merkle's Boner fame) has a removable head to allow both a) new hats and b) checking for brains. At a paltry $3, it was an affordable and entertaining purchase.

5: 1954 Red Heart Dog Food, Stan Musial

Already one of the game's finest players, St. Louis fan favorite Stan Musial went "missing" for most collectors in the mid-1950s. He appeared in one 1953 baseball set (Bowman Color) and then disappeared from gum cards for several years before reappearing on a 1958 Topps All-Star card.

In-between those "major" sets, Musial appeared on this limited-run dog food set, one of very few card makers who met his steep contractual asking price. Their 33-player checklist features rich color and attractive portraits, making it a fun set to build, 60 years after Red Heart first offered them by mail.

Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle are the Red Heart set's priciest cards, given the stature of both players. I paid $90 for this one thanks to minor back damage, but it sure looks nice from the front.

Last But Not Least

Lest it sound like Cleveland was all about conspicuous consumption, no trip to The National would be fun without meeting up with over 20 of my trading friends at OBC. We did everything from swap stories to cook BBQ to flip cards on tables, within acres of dealers that we infiltrated like ants at a picnic.

If you know collectors who keep in touch virtually, I highly recommend meeting face-to-face when possible; the more people you have, the more manageable (and enjoyable) an event like this becomes.