Sunday, December 28, 2014

1973 Topps "1953 Baseball Stars" (aka 1953 Reprints) #5, Hal Newhouser

I'll start today's entry by saying farewell to Sy Berger, whose guiding hand in what "baseball cards" mean today reached well beyond the Topps Chewing Gum (T.C.G.) offices. Keith Olbermann did a nice job saluting our modern hobby's most influential creator, in matching bubble gum pink blazer.

My own post dives into similar "retro" ground via a long-awaited show find, the #5 type card from a Topps test printing created on the 20th anniversary of their own elegant, hand-painted 1953 set. Sy Berger might've created the 1952 cards on his dining table, but the follow-ups showed real artistry.

I'd been hunting this #5, a clean-cut Hal Newhouser, for more than a decade, so imagine my surprise seeing him behind an innocuous glass case on a Massachusetts show table. No protective lucite slab? No trumpet calls or wings of angels? (Catalogs speculate that Topps printed just 300 of each card, hence the challenge in finding them today.)

1973 Topps "1953 Baseball Stars" #5, Hal Newhouser

Hobby catalogs sometimes call this 1973 set a "1953 reprint," but even a cursory inspection shows it's a repurposing (and improvement) of 1953's original painting, with no other reference to the earlier design. Newhouser's 1973 card restores significant details, like the ads on the outfield fence and additional "depth" in his uniform.

1953 Topps #228, Hal Newhouser

No 1950s or 1970s Topps base set used the full-text back style seen below, which more closely resembles a 1950s Bowman card.

1973 Topps "1953 Baseball Stars" #5 (back)

In fact, these 1973 fronts and backs nearly match 1951 Bowman. Topps bought Bowman's player contracts and art assets in 1957 after the former competitor's bankruptcy, so this design re-use could've been an intentional choice and well-known within the Topps offices.

1951 Bowman front & back style

The 1973 set's 8 players include both HOFers and lesser-known players, without an obvious theme that connects them all.
  1. Satchel Paige
  2. Jackie Robinson
  3. Carl Furillo (picture is Bill Antonello)
  4. Al Rosen (picture is Jim Fridley)
  5. Hal Newhouser
  6. Clyde McCollough (picture is Vic Janowicz)
  7. Peanuts Lowrey
  8. Johnny Mize

Might this set have honored a group of actual guests for a Topps special event? Probably not, given its three mislabeled players, and, if the 1973 date's correct, any intended event would've been undone by Jackie Robinson's passing in late 1972. This set might've come together just because those eight paintings from 1953 were the easiest to find in their company archives.

Huggins & Scott complete set

Topps tested a lot of set concepts in the early 1970s and I think Woody Gelman or another Topps editor mocked up this design to consider inserting into current products. For whatever reason, 1953's "reprints" didn't make the cut and remain treasures found in auctions and (very occasionally) show tables. For decent front and back scans, check out this set auction from Huggins and Scott.

Value: I bought this EX-MT Newhouser for $35 at a 2014 show table, a decent price in my opinion. Bigger names like Robinson and Paige naturally command bigger prices and the few cards I've seen were all in nicer grades.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any reprints of these "reprints" and they're likely too obscure to profitably fake. Finding a type card won't be cheap, but keep your eye on eBay for one of the lesser-known singles to get at least a decent deal.