Tuesday, November 3, 2020

1974 Bra-Mac 1931 Philadelphia Athletics baseball #5, Al Simmons

George Brace spent sixty-five years of his life behind the camera lens at Chicago ballparks. He shot players at almost every Cubs and White Sox home series, often visiting each park on the same day. His work, both before and after colleague George Burke died in 1951, built an archive of a million-plus baseball photos that continue offering insight to many eras of our national game.

1930s George Burke/Brace photo, Lou Gehrig

That the same guy photographed Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken is jaw-dropping in baseball scale.

1980s George Brace photo, Cal Ripken Sr.

Oh and also the other Cal Ripken. This was the one I could tie to Brace. :-)

While MLB teams and players purchased many of Brace's photos for their own use, evolving technology allowed Brace himself to create direct-to-collector sets in 1974. He and Bill McAlister formed The Card Collector Company to sell batches of colorized photos from his extensive archive of negatives under the name Bra-Mac.

Ad for first series of 1930s Bra-Mac cards

This first group of eight grew into 288 total, all with a design that's unique to Bra-Mac. Note these colorized photos are distinct from the black-and-white Bra-Mac NL All-Stars set, which profiled National League players from 1933's All-Star Game.

1974 Bra-Mac 1933 NL All-Stars #5, Tony Cuccinello

After releasing their largest set of 288 colorized 1930s photos, Bra-Mac made several smaller, team-specific sets. Today's #5 hails from their "1931 Philadelphia Athletics" series.

1974 Bra-Mac "1931 Philadelphia A's" #5, Al Simmons (3"x5")

Each of Bra-Mac's colorized cards use photo paper and show what appear to be Dymo label nameplates and two pinholes.

Everyone else remember Dymo labels? If you don't, see this retro write-up.

That's not a real Dymo label on my Al Simmons, it's a photo of a Dymo label. I believe Bra-Mac followed this process creating each card.
  1. Develop a source photo from its original negative
  2. Add color to the developed photo, using the "new color technique" George mentions in his ad
  3. Let the source photo dry (I think those two pinholes are the hanging points)
  4. Create a Dymo label with name and number and stick it to the photo
  5. Take a new photo of this marked-up photo
  6. Develop the new photo for inclusion in the 8-card set & print sets to meet demand

All this handwork explains why he charged $3 for eight photos when Topps sold packs for a nickel. If Bra-Mac moved enough sets, they'd make a profit at some point. You just need patience, developing materials, and sufficient collector demand.

George Brace wrote a short article in The Collector Talks newsletter about these colorized Bra-Mac sets and some of his history working with George Burke and MLB players.

I found these ad and article scans in a Net54 discussion of Brace and his Bra-Mac work. As mentioned in that thread, nailing down a checklist for these cards proves tough, even today. I know of these via catalogs and other collectors.
  • 1974 Bra-Mac "Players of the 1930s" (numbered to 288 + several "bonus" multiplayer cards)
  • 1974 Bra-Mac "Players of the 1940s" (unnumbered, perhaps 50 total?)
  • 1974 Bra-Mac 1931 St. Louis Cardinals (20 cards)
  • 1974 Bra-Mac 1931 Philadelphia A's (20? cards)
  • 1974 Bra-Mac 1939-40 Cincinnati Reds (48 cards)
  • 1974 Bra-Mac 1938 Pittsburgh Pirates (26 cards)
  • 1974 Bra-Mac 1938 Chicago Cubs (29 cards)
  • 1974 Bra-Mac 1930s-40s Browns (? cards)
  • 1974 (?) Hall of Famers (37 cards, 3"x5" or 5"x7")
  • 1974 (?) team photos: 1889 Boston, 1889 Philadelphia, 1898 New York, 1898 Louisville, 1914 Braves and 1915 Red Sox (all 5"x7")
  • 1974 (?) multiplayer cards in postcard or 5"x7" format (30 cards)

Max Lanier shows relative size for some of Brace's formats and his large photos appear to be scarcer.

As of this writing, I own about 20 of the 3"x5" "Players of the 1930s" and type cards from a couple of other sets. When (and if) in-person card shows come back from COVID, I look forward to hunting oddball and photo dealers for more.

Has anyone made a serious run at completing these sets in the 21st century? Let me know if you have! Check out George Brace's obituary for a bit more on his life.

UPDATE: Found a card of George Brace himself! He caps the 149-card, 2003 set of Jewish Major Leaguers, a comprehensive direct-to-collector issue of Jewish baseball players and figures important to the game. Brace's daughter contributed a number of its images from their archive.

Value: You can find common players for under $10 on eBay and other card sites. I bought #5 Al Simmons for $40 and another #5 type for $10 from Larry Fritsch Cards, who I believe purchased Bra-Mac leftovers from George Brace decades ago and continue to sell them one-by-one. Search their downloadable catalog for "Bra-Mac" to see those listings.

Fakes/reprints: Bra-Mac photos are so unusual and little-known that it would be tough to find willing buyers for reprints. That said, there's always a chance where Gehrig or Ruth are concerned. Based on the cards I own, look for real photo paper and glossy finish. I haven't seen any Bra-Macs that used card stock.


Fuji said...

When I was a kid, I asked for a label maker and labeled everything... including my card boxes.

Matthew Glidden said...

They were darn cool things to have around the house and I can't blame George Brace for his enthusiasm.

Unknown said...

I have made (am making) a run at the Bra-Mac sets. I have a few complete and partials of many others. Milt Herbert (milt.herbert@gmail.com)