Sunday, November 5, 2017

Collecting Joe DiMaggio in Yankee pinstripes

Back in 2013, on the occasion of Joe Dimaggio's 99th birthday, I looked at the "rookie" cards stemming from his November 1934 trade and move from San Francisco's Seals to the Yankees. Those of a certain age will remember the hobby once considered 1938 Goudey the "definitive example." (1938 has since proved not so definite.)

Two years after the 1934 trade, Goudey used the above snap (itself a SF Seals photo from 1934) as both his 1936 "wide pen premium" and (head only) for 1938 Goudey #250 & #274, cards with identical design apart from the surrounding cartoons.

1938 Goudey #250 & 274, Joe DiMaggio

By 1938, that crop-top made it impossible to know you're looking at a 1934 Pacific Coast League photo. Between those years, some sets did show Joe as a "real" Yankee.

First issue: 1935 National Chicle fine pen photo premium ("Joe DiMaggio slams it") shows Joe's first spring training with New York, debuting as #18 before adopting his famous #5.

Second issue: Canada's 1936 World Wide Gum #51, which serves as Joe's first bubblegum card. It's seldom seen outside elite collections today, given comparative rarity to American sets and baseball's enduring demand for the Clipper.

1939 Play Ball #26

1939 Play Ball was the first American company to pack Joe D with slabs of gum and they gave him a nice, sharp photo for our patience. But no pinstripes.

Play Ball followed up by giving Joe their #1 spot for 1940. That on-card "1939 Pennant" hints that their card fronts wrapped up before the conclusion of 1939's World Series, while the back text wrapped up after the Yankees won their 4th consecutive title. Printing cards must've been a time-consuming business circa 1939-40.

1941 Play Ball repeated 1940 Play Ball's road gray jersey in hand-tinted color.

1941 Play Ball #71

In fact, Play Ball never showed Joe in pinstripes, perhaps because the Gum, Inc. photographers only saw him when the Yankees played the A's in Philly, as AL opponents of that era.

Chicago-based Leaf hit a similar obstacle in 1948: DiMaggio's wearing road gray again. By this point, it occurred to me that without a New York-based Topps card, which Joe never had, there'd be almost no "playing career" cards showing him in home field pinstripes. And then...

...there it was, the 1948 R346 "Blue Tint" (set profile) a checklist heavy with New York teams and stars. Given the prohibitive rookie price of 1936 World Wide Gum cards, this deadpan DiMaggio's your best shot of getting a home pinstripes Joe from his 1936-1951 career span. If only he'd played 3 or 4 years longer, imagine all the classic Topps cards you'd have to choose from!

Value: Based on eBay results, R346 DiMaggio sells for $200, pushing Gehrig for top billing in that humble two-color set.

Fakes / reprints: DiMaggio's counterfeited in almost all of his vintage sets, so know your dealers if you're collecting type cards or go for graded examples to minimize risk of fakery.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

1949 Sommer & Kaufmann PCL Baseball #5, Al Lien

A decade-plus into my type collection, subsets of it are close to complete, if challenging to close out entirely. I'm almost done with 1940-49, made closer still by this latest Pacific Coast League pickup. With Al Lien's card in my pocket, I'm done with 1940s domestic issues! All remaining 1940-49 #5s are from Latin America and Japan.

Smilin' Al's sporting the Seals pinstripe uniform, a typical choice when playing at home, compared to a team's plainer "road grays." I'm not convinced it's San Francisco's home stadium, though.

So where's Al throwing that ball around? The high left field fence over his shoulder doesn't look like SF Seals Stadium, which featured ads along that wall. Based on a look through available PCL outfields, I think that's Sicks Stadium in Seattle. Built in 1938 and short on MLB-class amenities like "water pressure" and "reliable toilets," Sicks still managed to host the Pilots in their ignominious 1969 season after three decades of Seattle Rainers PCL teams.

I wrote about Sommer & Kaufman once before, well before I owned the actual card. This scan shows its auburn tint better than that post's black & white scans.

What of the card itself? "Norwegian-Danish descent" describes a lot of my family, so perhaps we're distant cousins! Sommer & Kaufmann, on the other hand, sounds as German as "Ich bin ein Berliner." (German via American, that is.) Their store's shoes covered more than boys' feet, as evinced by these brand label pumps.

I think a single card printer created all of the Bay Area's minor league team sets and then branded backs with sponsor info. S&K's card design mimics contemporary PCL sets like Remar Bread (1947 set profile) and Smith's Clothing (1947 set profile), but Sommer & Kaufmann singles prove much tougher to come by. I'd seen just a handful prior to one of my favorite dealers breaking up a complete set in mid-2017. That kind of thing won't happen every day, so don't wait if you get a good shot at a type card from a dealer you trust.

Value: This EX card cost me $80, at the high end for commons, and my price paid reflects its scarcity and the hole in my wantlist. If I go hunting for another, it'll be for something closer to $40-50.

Fakes / reprints: With no stars in the set itself, there's low risk of one faked card. You're more likely to see counterfeit sets priced for big money. Authentic singles feature a shiny finish on white stock that's thinner than your average Topps card. The Smith's and Remar PCL sets prove easier to come by, so you can start with those and then add Sommer & Kaufmann once you're familiar with the style.