Friday, February 26, 2010

Newest custom card was co-operative project

My most recent custom card creation was more of a co-operative effort than any of my previous projects.

It all started when a long-time hobby colleague, Fred McKie of East-central Pennsylvania, contacted me after he had won a Topps Archives' auction for an original "flexichrome" that Topps had evidently created for use on a 1955 Richie Ashburn card that was never printed, perhaps originally having been intended as one of the four "missing" cards in the '55T high-number series. Cards #175, 186, 203 and 209 were never printed. It is usually believed that these were to have been cards for players that were zealousy protected by Bowman, which exercised exclusive rights to their cards. Ashburn certainly could have fit into that scenario. Ashburn made his "rookie card" debut in 1949 Bowman, and appeared in every Bowman set through their finale in 1955. Along the way he also appeared in 1951 Topps (Blue Backs), 1952, and 1954 Topps.

We know Topps had intended to use Ashburn in its 1953 set, because artwork was created, though it was never made into a card until 50 years later when I used that artwork to create my own 1953-style Ashburn card.

Fred McKie is a die-hard Phillies fan and collector, and for many years was a frequent contributor of Philadelphis regionally issued cards and player memorabilia to the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. When he saw my '53-style Ashburn, he inquired about availability and I sent him one.

When he purchased the 1955 flexichrome, Fred inquired about I'd be interested in doing a 1955 Topps-style card for him. A flexichriome, by the way, is how Topps colorized most of its 1952-1956) baseball card issues. It is a thin black-and-white photographic print to which color was painstaking hand painted. The finished artwork could then be made into the necessary color printing negatives. It's too bad that internet images are so small and low-res. Up close and personal, the Ashburn portrait is stunning, right down to blazing hazel eyes.

Because I had not yet made the decision to cut back on my blogging in favor of putting more time into my custom cards, I quoted Fred a price for the commission that would have made it hard for me refuse.

He demurred, but dang it, he had his hooks in me. for the next severak weeks I kept having flashed about how that portrait would look on the fading blue background that Topps used for virtually all of its 1955 Phillies. I was also somewhat rankled that my first attempt at a 1955 Topps baseball card creation had not turned out so well. In fact, I don't think it has ever been publically viewed . . . and likely never will be. About the same time, I decided that I wanted to do a 1955 Charlie Grimm manager's card, since I found a great portrait photo on the internet. I figured it would greatly ease the workload if I had a temple for the 1955 cards, so I proposed to Fred that we go ahead and do the Ashburn.

I had him send me the portrait scan, and asked him to work up the biography for the back. He accomplished that in short order, and even did the math to fill the stats boxes.

Fred chose #175 for the card number, since not only is it one of the missing 1955s, it was also the number of hits Ashburn had in 1954.

He also sent along a color image of Ashburn at bat. At first glance I thought it would work fine for the smaller "action" picture on the front, but it turned out the wide stance in the photo created some composition problems. If you study original 1955 fronts, you'll notice that with only two or three exceptions, the action photos are cap-to-toe images, filling the horizontal space to one side of the portrait or other.

The problem with the batting photo was that if we used it cap-to-toe, it was too wide, with the vertical bat obscuring too much of the team logo. A few of the "real" '55s have a small piece of the action photo either in front of or behind the logo, but in most cases the two elements do not intersect. If I moved the action picture towards the portrait in order to get the bat mostly off of the Phillies logo, too much of it intruded on the portrait, which was also something that was rarely seen in the originals.

I slept on the design for a couple of nights, and when I returned to it, I found I could live with it. I e-mailed Fred and told him of my quandry, and he responded with a trio of alternatives that were much more vertically oriented. He offered batting, throwing and leaping/fielding poses. I colorized the batting and leaping poses, plugged them into the front design and sent them to Fred for review. It turned out that we were in synch, both favoring the fielding pose as an homage to a Hall of Famer whose fielding skills were largely overlooked in the era because of a trio of New York centerfielders (Willie, Mickey and the Duke).

With that decision made, the card was quickly wrapped up. I decided that a 1955-style card should have a shiny front, so I printed the fronts on glossy photo paper. My first attempt to pair that in a sandwich with the matte back and a cardstock center proved too thick and I ruined the first sheet trying to cut it. I opted for a thinner center stock and got the look and feel I wanted.

As per our agreement, I sent Fred half of my six-card production, and he is now able to fill that hole in Richie Ashburn's Topps baseball card legacy. I got an addition to my custom card opus that I am very proud of. Now it's on to the 1955 Charlie Grimm!

Monday, February 22, 2010

More silly stuff from my 1955 Topps-style set

By the time I was 20 or 25 cards into my custom set of 1955 Topps-style college football cards, I was looking to shake things up a bit.

The result was a "card that never was" of a "player that never was."

Until he got so stridently liberal (or maybe since I got more conservative) I was a fan of Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury comic strip. He was making a name for himself as a cartoonist in the pages of the Yale Daily News at the same time I was growing my hair, giving aid and comfort to the enemy, killing brain cells and generally wasting my college years.

I think I was reading one of the coffee table books of his early strips when it hit me that one of his best-loved characters, Zonker, had played college football for Walden. One thing led to another and the card presented here was the result. Yes, my original is in black-and-white.
I spent nearly an entire afternoon in the library paging through various Doonesbury compendiums (compendia?) to find not only the images for my card, but the "biographical" details for the write-up on back.
If you're familiar with the original 1955 Topps All-American card set, you know that the college logo used on Notre Dame players' cards is a "skyline" drawing of one of the campus's landmark buildings. From the moment I decided to do a Zonker Harris card, I knew I wanted to parody that logo. Finding a picture of Zonker in uniform wasn't nearly as difficult as finding the proper image of Walden College's skyline.
While it is decidedly different in both intent and execution from the other 125+ cards in my '55-style set, the Zonker Harris card remains among my personal top-10 favorites.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My favorite player on a favorite format

As a kid my favorite player was Milwaukee Braves' back-up first baseman George Crowe.

As is often the case, pinning down why he was my favorite is largely conjectural. It may have stemmed from seeing Crowe up close and personal at my first big league game, when we got to use my uncle's box tickets at County Stadium that were just a few rows behind the Braves' dugout on the first base side.

It may be that Crowe wore glasses, one of the few major leaguers to do so at a time when I was struggling to come to terms with being the first "four eyes" in my kindergarten class.

In any event, as an adult collector I have always been a sucker for Crowe's cards. And, since I've begun making my own custom cards, I'm now able to fill in some of the gaps in Crowe's baseball card legacy.

Crowe never appeared on a Bowman card. He was in 1952 Topps (an expensive high-number series card) and 1953 Topps, but not 1954 or 1955. He was back with Topps for a final year as a Brave in 1956, before showing up in 1957 with the Reds.

Crowe's only 1955 baseball card was in the Johnson Cookies regional issue shown here. Truth be told, the '55 Johnston card of Crowe is one of my all-time favorite baseball cards, so it's no wonder I stole that image to use when I made this 1955 Bowman "Color TV" card.
The background for the front of my 1955 Bowman-style card was taken from Jim Wilson's card in that set. I'm not sure why, but I always felt that Wilson's photo in the 1955 Bowman set was a photo that had been taken at night; it may be the dark stands in the background or the strange green color of the grass. I think Jim Brosnan's card in the same set has a similar feel.
In any event, my first effort at recreating a 1955 Bowman-style card was very satisfying for me. I don't really have any plans to do another at this point, but there were a lot of big stars in '55 that didn't get onto a Bowman card, so someday I may try another. Stan Musial? Roberto Clemente rookie?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Newest card creation: 1954 Topps-style Charley Pride

You might have noticed that I haven't been posting as frequently to the blog in the last few weeks. I've recently decided that I much prefer to spend my limited hobby time working on my custom card creations.

In the eight months or so that I've been blogging, my card output has really suffered and my to-do list of custom projects has been growing.

So . . . I'm going to be cutting back on the blogging and devoting more time to my card making.
I'll be sure to post all of my new cards here, so check back once in awhile if you're interested in that sort of thing.

Shown here is my first attempt to recreate the look of one of my all-time favorite Fifties card sets, the 1954 Topps issue.

I chose Charley Pride as the subject, but since there aren't a lot of pictures out there of Pride in his playing days, I had to recycle the photo I colorized for my earlier 1954 Bowman-style card. And, as you can see, the portrait is a close-up from the full-length pose.

The back was the really challenging part. Because Pride played for such low-level minor league teams in 1953, there were few official stats to report. I tried to channel what the Topps creators would have done in such a case, and the results are what they are.

I did have fun doing the cartoons. I scoured the backs of the 50-60 or so original 1954s that I have to find cartoons that could be converted to tell Pride's story. I'm pleased with the result.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Standard Catalog Update #48 : 1972 Partridge Reds

A few weeks ago I mentioned that collectors of vintage Cincinnati Reds cards and memorabilia had a better than average selection of goodies to pursue. I forget to mention how avid they are in that pursuit.
A case in point is the previously unchecklisted 1972 Partridge Meats card of Joe Morgan that sold on eBay Feb. 8.
The '72 Partridges are a smaller (in known checklist) and larger (in format) set than the more commonly encountered 1968-70 set.
The 1972 set is, like the earlier issue, blank-backed, but is 3-3/4" x 5-1/2" size. The black-and-white photo at center is a version of the team-issued player portraits, though the team logo has been removed from the cap. There is a red Partridge ad at bottom.
It is believed the Partridge cards were issued in conjunction with player autograph appearances on behalf of the hot dog company at Kroger stores in the Cincinnati area.
Prior to the discovery of the Joe Morgan card in the 1972 set, that checklist had only recorded: Don Gullett, Lee May, Denis Menke, Jim Merritt, Gary Nolan, Tony Perez and Bob Tolan. The 2010 Standard Catalog carried a NM price of 30.00 for "commons" and 60.00 for Perez. We'll revisit that pricing structure in light of the sale of the Morgan card.
In stained and creased condition, the Morgan sold for just over $450. There were five bidders over the $100 mark.
I'd guess that the number of surviving Partridge cards, in either the 1968-70 format or the 1972, is not equal for all players. The number of cards handed out would likely have been affected by such things as player popularity (that's why Bench and Rose are most often seen), the location/accessibility of the particular store in which the players were signing, and even whether or not they actually showed up at their appointed day and time.
My hat is off, once again, to the Cincinnati collectors, for their devotion to the Big Red Machine.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Vintage Playboys for the football fans

In 1957 Playboy magazine began doing its annual Pigskin Preview articles. The feature was authored by Francis Wallace who had begun the series with the Saturday Evening Post in the 1930s and 1940s, continued it with Collier's in the 1950s, then brought it to Playboy in 1957.

The Pigskin Preview, as a reflection of national football fandom in those decades, was strictly concerned with college football.

In 1971, Playboy introduced the companion Pro Football Preview feature in its August issue. As the college edition had been since 1958, it was authored by Anson Mount. The artwork at the top of this posting is from that debut Pro Football Preview, showing Jethro Pugh bearing down on Johnny Unitas in the 1970 Super Bowl.

For its first pro edition, Playboy picked the Vikings to beat the Bengals in the Super Bowl. While Mount correctly predicted the winners of all three NFC divisions, as shown in the chart at right from the article. He missed the AFC East, won by the Dolphins, and the Central, which was won by the Browns. And, of course, the Cowboys beat Miami in the Super Bowl.

For a couple of years now, I have been buying up those issues of Playboy that featured the college Pigskin Preview. I hoped to find photos of the magazine's All-American teams that would provide fodder for some of my 1955 Topps-style custom cards.

That really hasn't worked out great for me. In most years the photos are just not large enough or formatted properly (lots of group shots, etc.) for me to get a useful image. Though it is still fun to see guys like Ernie Davis, Roman Gabriel, Bob Lily, etc., in their pre-pro days.

Still, I find the $3-5 that I generally pay for these magazines to be a tremendous value. (That's less than the current cover price of a new issue, which is about half the page count of those classic 1960s and 1970s issues.) Not only are the football articles extremely interesting when read in hindsight, but the rest of the magazine provides a contemporary look -- albeit skewed by the magazine's liberal bent -- at the world to which I aspired when those issues were fresh on the newsstand; focused on middle- to upper-class urban males in a time when that wasn't a bad thing.

The issue pictured here, for example, has an in-depth interview with George McGovern, a first-hand account, with surprising insights, of ground-pounding in the closing days of the U.S.'s role as primary combatant in Vietnam, a short-story by Ray Bradbury and some nostalgic summer camp humor by Jean Shepard featuring some characters you might know from his more famous Christmas Story: Flick, Schwartz, Ralphie, the Old Man, etc.

Yes, this time around I am buying the vintage Playboys for the articles. But the girls are still gorgeous . . . if you can forget that they are now pushing 60 years of age.