Sunday, December 28, 2014

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

Let's start today's entry by saying farewell to Sy Berger (1923-2014), 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? Never mind the honorifics, I nabbed it straightaway. (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 a "1953 reprint," but even a cursory inspection shows it's repurposing (and improving) 1953's original painting, with no other reference to the earlier design. Newhouser's newer 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 cards from an earlier era.

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

The 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) -- Carl didn't appear in 1953 Topps
  4. Al Rosen (picture is Jim Fridley)
  5. Hal Newhouser
  6. Clyde McCollough (picture is Vic Janowicz) -- Clyde didn't appear in 1953 Topps
  7. Peanuts Lowrey
  8. Johnny Mize

Did this set honor a group of actual players for a Topps event? I doubt it, given those three mislabeled names. These eight cards feel more whimsical or ad hoc -- and sources even differ whether they printed it in 1972 or 1973. (Find that discussion at Net54.)

Perhaps this came together because 1953's original artist (Gary Dvorak) played a more meaningful role than specific players in card selection. I can believe Topps creative man Woody Gelman wanted to highlight Gary's work somehow or printed the set for employees, a la 1970 Topps Teamates, and their editor made a mistake matching names to portraits.

Here's an uncut sheet, auctioned by REA in Spring 2019.

UPDATE: Thanks to Jason Schwartz, who compared these to 1934-36 Diamond Stars, which make a great match. To my eye, there's now a chance you're looking at something created to honor someone who served in both companies, first at 1930s National Chicle and later for Topps.

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.


Matt Runyon said...

Cool -- I learned about a new set today! Thanks!

Mark Hoyle said...

I've been waiting for you to showcase this card. When you showed it to me at the show I had no idea what I was looking at. Great find

Matthew Glidden said...

Thanks guys, it was one worth waiting for! Still hope we'll one day learn how they goofed on 3 out of just 8 names.

Anonymous said...

Matthew, take a look at the back of any "blue ink" Diamond Stars card, and you'll find an even better match for the card backs. What's more, if you look at the design elements Topps removed from the 1953 version you are left exactly with the front design of Diamond Stars as well.

Matthew Glidden said...

Thanks, I've updated the article to reflect that match. I think it also makes an intriguing argument for this as a Topps employee set.