Monday, April 25, 2016

Wilmington MA Show Report, April 16, 2016

My biggest local card show's also the largest in New England, held semi-annually at the Shriner's Auditorium in Wilmington, MA, about 15 miles north of Boston. It's a Fri-Sun show with lots of vendors and lots of vintage and is almost always worth the trip. I went to their spring 2016 show on April 16.

My show strategy follows a recurring script of "what I say I'll do" versus "what I do instead."

WHAT I SAY: "I'll walk the whole show first and a get a lay of the land before buying anything."

WHAT I DO: "Oh, is that a 25c box near the door? Let's stop there right now."

Table one: Twenty-five Cent Box

I couldn't resist a Twitter crack about "swapping" for this 1971 Fritz Peterson. He and NYY teammate Mike Kekich famously swapped wives (permanently) on March 4, 1973. I'm not the first to think about that day in card terms. As Peterson put it recently, "it was a husband trade -- Mike for me and me for Mike."

A prior collector took the time to hand-update this 1965 Colavito/Horton/Oliva AL leader card with their 1966 numbers. Only Detroit slugger Willie Horton was able to crack 100 RBIs in both seasons.

The winner of this 25c box, a Concepcion RC. One of my OBC friends collects all the Concepcion cards he can get his hands on, so Davey will head his way.

I carried my small stack of 25c and $1 cards further onto the show floor, finding...

Table two: oddballs and postcards

Many sets in my #5 collection are rare or obscure direct-to-collector issues, including a number of postcards, so I always watch for those specialists at vintage shows. One guy had a half-dozen photo binders and boxes of odd sizes.

This 1976 photo of Cubbie Darold Knowles at Dodgers Stadium shows everything I remember about the 70s. Pillbox hats, horn-rimmed glasses, shaggy kid hair, and Kodak black-and-white. It's the classics, man, the classics.

Vintage collectors might know J.D. McCarthy as the maker of an ongoing and comprehensive series of baseball (and other sport) postcards. This marked the first time I've seen J.D.'s own face in that same format.

Want to know more about J.D.? See Bob Lemke's article on acquiring McCarthy's photographic "estate."

While McCarthy's passed on, baseball photographer Bob Bartosz continues to trade and talk baseball as of 2016. I found a handwritten postcard from one Bob to another, swapping cards the old school way. For much more on Bartosz, read this March 2015 article at Baseball Cards Come To Life!

No big finds at the postcard table, so I switched to stopping at tables with visible pre-war cards in low grade. Not long after, I picked up this 1933 Sport Kings of Hubbell for $35, filling one of my many Hall of Famer holes in that set. (Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb still lie ahead of me, ouch.)

April 16 was also National Record Shop Day, so I was primed to enjoy this spread of 1960s Auravision records.

If you can't find that Koufax record in a shop, it's now on YouTube!

Some dealers aren't great at knowing what they have, or maybe just can't spell "Hillenbrand."

Last year, I dipped my toe into 1930s non-sport cards, which includes Goudey's very successful Indian Gum cards. I've thumbed through several hundred of them in the last year, but this was the first time I've seen a wrapper. Kids could trade 50 of them for "premiums" (larger pictures) of famous Indians, whose names would've been very entertaining to young me.

One reason wrappers are rare: those 1933 Indian Gum trade-ins (catalogued R74) are beautiful.

Robert Edwards Auctions sold this group of 4 premiums for $1410 in 2009. I can only imagine what they'd fetch today.

Another rarity: this 1982 Fleer test card, which shows Reds C Joe Nolan crouching over Rangers P Rick Honeycutt's nameplate.

That photo's very "spring training" without his mask and Nolan's own card used a batting pose.

Another (pricy) photo find from a 19th century table, some Boston Reds.

The modern baseball uniform evolved in fits and starts from 19th century woolens and this photo captures a Boston team (but not the 1890-91 Reds) that wore their name on their sleeves.

Last Table: One-dollar Upgrades

I met up with friend-of-the-blog Mark Hoyle about halfway through my walk around. We chatted for awhile about the state of local collecting and he made introductions to good dealers he knew from other Boston-area shows. Mark was nearby for my "find" of the show, a nice chunk of vintage VG-EX singles loosely displayed in a case.

"Those aren't in great shape," their young dealer said, "let's say a buck each." "Yes," I said, "here is my money."

First was this 1934-36 Diamond Stars, which still had its die-cut back. $1 pre-war, helllooooo.

Above, "Big Klu" from my favorite set, 1956 Topps. Wrinkled, but an upgrade.

Below, several Bowman upgrades, including Dodger skipper Chuck Dressen, who guided Brooklyn to pennants in 1952 and 1953.

One 1950 Bowman upgrade, and a horizontal one at that: #36 Eddie Kazak.

Throw in a 1950s Mantle Exhibit card ($5), 1940 Play Ball of Joe Cronin ($10), and you've got an OK day at the show.

Those two at lower left, a Red Man of Chuck Dressen and 1958 Topps Frank Sullivan, came not from a card table, but from my dad's own childhood collection! He'd last sent me cards years ago, but somehow synched their arrival with show day. Nothing like a bit of good luck to go with an afternoon of walking through history.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How and Why Topps Created The All-Star Set

My last post, Comparing 1959 & 1960 Topps All-Star Rookie Teams, implied something important about how Topps approached innovation. When rookie subsets first appeared in 1959, they didn't happen by accident. Baseball events, customer insight, and a desire to outsell competitors led Topps down that road. Rookies also weren't the first dedicated subset, as that honor belongs to 1958's All-Stars.

1958 Topps #486, Willie Mays AS

To better understand rookies and their special billing, let's investigate that 1958 All-Star team. First of all, since MLB's All-Star Game started in 1933 and proved popular from the get-go, why no All-Star sets before 1958?

Time served as one key reason to avoid these rosters. It took months to create and distribute new cards. Topps knew baseball sales would dry up by September, discouraging cards based on a game played in July. Seasonal sales matter because baseball itself jockeyed for calendar space at Topps, who printed sets for various sports, military themes, and "whatever pop culture kids found interesting."

Two years earlier, in 1956, kids found 21 year-old rockabilly sensation Elvis Presley very interesting, and so Topps went to work.

1956 Topps Elvis #7, front and back

In late 1956, Topps published this Elvis set under their Bubbles, Inc. brand and used a near-photo quality color process that proved so popular, they repurposed it for 1957 baseball. Their 1956 baseball set had used hand-painted photos on big stock (3-3/4" by 2-5/8"), but Topps didn't stick with it for the sake of tradition. The Elvis card size (2-1/2" x 3-1/2") and focus on color photography became sports industry standards.

Smaller cards need bigger biceps

While All-Star Games drew a lot of fan interest, another factor in leaving them off cardboard was the ongoing struggle between Bowman and Topps over player contracts. It'd be risky to plan and print All-Star rosters, only to learn you'd lost players to a competitor. Stan Musial, for example, never signed for Topps prior to 1958. All-Star sets missing major names would be unsatisfying for collectors.

1953 Bowman Color #32, Stan Musial

Bowman's bankruptcy in early 1956 (and sale of all player contracts to Topps) removed one competitive obstacle, but I think the public kerfuffle over 1957's All-Star Game proved just as important to the genesis of 1958's cardboard All-Star team.

This controversy started with the Reds (née Redlegs for the 1950s). Cincinnati fans spent the first half of 1957 avidly stuffing All-Star ballot boxes and elected most of their starters to the NL's lineup. Commissioner Ford Frick investigated Cincinnati's shenanigans, called the overall voting process "a joke," and on Jan 30, 1958, removed fans' voting rights for future games. Starting in 1958, players, coaches and managers chose All-Star Game lineups, a practice that continued through 1969. (Just imagine the decade-long fan angst directed at Cincy by other cities.)

Those Reds weren't Topps only headache. They still wanted The Man. Bowman didn't hold an active Musial contract at bankruptcy, so Topps didn't acquire one. Prior to 1958, Stan Musial refused to sign a Topps card contract, citing "insufficient compensation." Topps could only show a tiny Musial on Cardinals team photos, something they keenly wanted to change.

1956 Topps #134, St. Louis Cardinals team

When Stan Musial finally did sign a contract partway through 1958--here's one account about why and how--Topps promptly added the #475-495 All-Stars as an end-cap to their set under the SPORT Magazine header, almost certainly to accommodate Musial.

1958 Topps #476, Stan Musial AS

This 1958 Topps final series included a total of twenty-one "SPORT Magazine '58 All Star Selections"--two ten-man AL/NL lineups and one card for both managers. Packs reached candy stores in July and August.

1958 Topps #428, Reds Team with Musial announcement

Topps even proclaimed Stan's debut during series five, #371-440, as a footer to their last "regular" checklist on the back of Cincinnati's team card. They note players are "nominated by Sport Magazine for this year's All Star Teams," which defrays the obligation to get correct lineups.

This sixth (and last) Topps series was just 55 cards, #441-495. So how did Topps work these stars into that final series? PSA on 1958's All-Star subset: "Many believe that the Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle All-Star cards were triple printed and replaced cards #443 Billy Harrell, #446 Carroll Hardy, #450 Preston Ward, and #462 Gary Geiger on the printing sheets, making those four cards short print cards."

1958 Topps #487, Mantle AS

Mickey's extra-printed card features a 1956 spring training photo from Florida.

1958 Topps partial sheet (Aaron AS, Monzant, Musial x3)

Bulwarking PSA's theory about triple- and short-printing, this partial sheet shows 3 Musial All-Stars above what's almost certainly the top border of 3 Mantle All-Stars below. As of writing, the sheet's on eBay for $221.

SPORT Magazine Baseball's All-Stars (1958)

Like The Sporting News and other baseball periodicals, SPORT Magazine editors chose their own All-Star roster independent of the game itself. Being a SPORT Magazine '58 All Star Selection didn't mean you played on Memorial Field that July 8 (box score), it meant their editors thought you were good.

Using SPORT's lineup cut time needed for player selection and photo choice, but I do wonder: who paid whom for this privilege? Topps might've compensated SPORT for their editorial work or SPORT could've paid Topps for the on-card advertising. I bet it was SPORT who wrote a check, since they played second fiddle to The Sporting News for readership, whereas Topps was top dog in baseball cards.

1958 Topps #485, Ted Williams AS

I've one more All-Star theory to throw past you: Ted Williams. The Kid made his final Topps appearance as an active player on 1958 #485, missing both 1959 and 1960 Topps sets thanks to an exclusive (and exorbitant) contract with aspiring baseball competitor Fleer, who produced a one-man set of 80 cards as 1959 Fleer Ted Williams.

1959 Fleer Ted Williams box & packs

Fleer also folded Williams into their 1960 All-Time Greats set as its only active player. (That "only active player" detail frustrated kids who wanted current stars in 1960 Fleer packs; as PSA tells it, "who were these guys?")

1960 Fleer All-Time Greats #72, Ted Williams

Fleer's deal, $5000 annually for four years, essentially bought out Ted's remaining career and Topps might well have known about their negotiations or even bid for Ted's contract at some point. If so, Topps saved a pile of money and squeezed out one more Williams card by creating this 1958 All-Star subset.


Let me know if you have other theories or info on how the All-Star set came to be. To me, it's clearly linked to Frick's 1958 removal of fan voting on All-Star rosters, the end of Musial's "Topps holdout," and the ever-present Topps desire to earn money. Whatever the circumstances, adding SPORT Magazine's '58 All Star Selections inspired a standard feature of baseball sets for decades to come.

Next time, I'll circle back to the topic of rookies and look at how advertising partnerships and further competition from Fleer and Leaf fed the creation of Topps All-Star Rookie teams.