Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Standard Catalog Update : Armour coins (3)

This is the third of a three-part series of postings concerning 1955 Armour coin variations brought to our attention by specialist collector Phil Garrou.

Please take a minute to read or re-read the first two installments for all the background so we don't need to repeat it. I'll wait here . . .

O.K., this variation epitomizes the type of letter/word variations that I have come to feel are too arcane for the typical user of the Standard Catalog, though I do recognize that chronicling the minutiae of such variations is of interest to a small number of specialists. My feeling is that if we get bogged down in printing each tiny variation that results from printing errors in every card set the catalog would have to be twice as big and twice as expensive. And, as Garrou correctly points out, the easy availability of cards (coins, etc.) and their images on the internet means that more variations have been discovered in the last 10 years than in the century previous.

As you can see, the Haddix coin on the left has a fairly narrow gap between LOUIS and CARDINALS, compared to the coin on the right. Garrou has indicated that the narrow-gap version is significantly scarcer than the wide-gap piece.

These coins also perfectly illustrate the differences in "bust tilt" that are commonly found on the 1955 Armours. Note that on the coin at left, the bill of the cap points between the A and R of HARVEY, while on the right-hand coin, the bill points to the H. Trying to put a description of these variations into the catalog listing for the 1955 Armour coins could easily double or triple the amount of space used and I am not convinced this is a productive use of the limited pages available.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Standard Catalog Update : Armour coins (2)

This is the second installment about a trio of newly reported 1955 Armour coin variations. If you haven't already done so, please bring up the March 27 posting about the Jim Finigan variations. It will provide the necessary background information.

The coin we're presenting today is another variation that could go either way in terms of whether or not it wil make the final cut for listed variations in the next Standard Catalog.

Specialty collector Phil Garrou reports that the 1955 Armour coin of Duke Snider can be found in two back versions: 1) comma after the 19 in the birthdate; no decimal point in front of the 1954 batting average, and, 2) no comma after the 19; with decimal point in front of 341.

This a curious situation because each version of the coin has one error, and so far no coin has been seen with both elements correct. It strains logic to believe that if the coins' creators made a conscious decision to correct one error or the other, they would have intentionally created a new error.
That is, if someone noticed there was no comma after the 19, it is unlikely they would have added it, but deleted the decimal point. Or, if the missing dot was noticed and corrected, why would the comma have been removed?
The point on which the decision to list or not list this variation rests is whether or not the omission of the decimal point and addition of the comma were simple errors in the preparation of the back typography, or whether the decimal point and/or comma simply wore off over the course of producing the coins. Garrou reports that his studies of the Snider coin indicate about half are found with the dot and no comma, and half with the comma but no decimal point.

Comma, no decimal No comma, with decimal

What I'm looking for here is whether or not coins can be found with partial or diminishing comma and/or decimal point, which would indicate the variation was caused by deterioration of the mold over the production run. In such a case, I would not be inclined to list this as a variation. If however, it turns out that the decimal point and comma are an either/or proposition, it may be worthy on consideration for cataloging as an error/corrected situation. Let me know what you find.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Standard Catalog Update : 1955 Armour coins (1)

Collector Phil Garrou is one of the most advanced collectors of the silver-dollar size plastic coins that were inserted into Armour hot dog packages in 1955, 1959 and 1960.

The Armour coins are a special kind of baseball player collectible in that collecting them can be as easy or as challenging as each collector desires. The basic collection consists of 24 players in 1955, and 20 each in 1959 and 1960. A nice mix of superstars, Hall of Famers, regional favorites and journeyman ballplayers comprise the checklists.

Obviously, the basic set consists of one coin of each player in any given year. While there are a few degrees of player scarcity within each year's set, with the exception of Bud Daley in 1960, who is unaccountably scarce, the 64-piece set could easily be assembled in a year's time at a cost of between $12-15 apiece for commons, $30-50 for Hall of Famers, and $75-100 for the Mantles (Daley can bring from $750-900).
The coins are made of injection molded plastic, in about six or eight basic colors, so theoretically the collector could choose to build his set in all-red or all-blue coins, perhaps, or in a rainbow of the available hues. (It has not been conclusively proven that each player in each year can be found in each of the "primary" colors.)
Anybody pursuing Armour coins, however, soon discovers that there are, in fact, an endless variety of color variations. A green Armour coin can actually be light green, dark green, lime green or translucent green. Coins can be found in gold, silver, black and in mixtures with two colors swirled together. Whether these color variations were intentionally created or were the haphazard result of mixing the pigments for the plastic is unknown, but they create a virtually unlimited palette that can keep a collector searching for a lifetime. Long-time catalog contributor Larry Serota, for instance, collects only the 1955 and 1960 Mickey Mantle coins, but he does so in every available color.

Besides the color varieties, the process by which the coins were modeled created a huge number of variations, particularly in 1955. Many of the 1955 coins feature typography that was changed during the course of production. Most notably, Mantle's coin was originally issued with his name misspelled Mantel on front. Once that was corrected, the back was also changed at some point to create versions that read: "bats L or R" or "bats L - R". Johnny Antonelli's coin can be found with his team given on back as "New York Giants" or as "N.Y. Giants". Similar intentional design changes exist for half a dozen of the 1955 coins and for the 1960 Hank Aaron ("BRAVES" or "MILWAUKEE BRAVES").

Besides those variations, specialized collectors have come to recognize that all of the 1955 coins, and at least one (Drysdale) of the 1960 coins, are found with subtle differences in the typography, related to the spacing between words or letters. Additionally, each of the 1955s can be found with the player portrait in two or even three alignments relative to the typography around the edge. Collectors call these "bust tilt" variations. The peak of a player's cap bill might point between the last two letters of his name on one coin, but point past the final letter on another. This was likely caused by the fact that the plaster models from which the coin molds were made probably comprised a matrix of several different elements such as the player name, team, name, stars and bust. In the process of fixing the errors or creating multiple molds for the production run, these elements were not aligned exactly the same each time.

For decades, most of these variations went unnoticed because no one was looking for them, and generally there were not enough specimens of any particular coin at hand at the same time to make comparisons. As Phil points out, however, the rise of the internet, and particularly eBay, allowed collectors to view dozens of coins at any one time, hundreds per week, and sharp-eyed specialists began to spot the differences.

For a period of years beginning in the late 1990s, the Standard Catalog dutifully recorded each verified variation among the Armours. However, the seemingly endless stream of portrait alignment and letter/word-spacing variations now makes that impractical for the book's general audience. Some lines will have to be drawn.

Before a decision is made one which variations will be presented in future editions, we'd like to gather input on a trio of newly reported 1955 variations that Garrou has brought to our attention.

The first involves the back of the Jim Finigan coin. According to Garrou, about 50% each of the coins can be found with his birthplace city correctly spelled "QUINCY" or misspelled "OUINCY". At first glance, this would seem like a no-brainer for a catalogable variation. My concern, however, is that rather than being an actual spelling error that was later corrected, the tail of the Q may simply have worn off of the mold . . . after all, it wasn't very prominent in the first place.
Look at the pictures above -- or better yet, look at any '55 Finigan coins you may have -- and let me know what you think. You can post a comment here, or send me information and scans to
Check back on the blog in the next few days to see the other variations that Garrou has uncovered.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Standard Catalog Update : 1962 Salada discoveries

Besides being my collaborator on the creation of a 1955 Topps-style Richie Ashburn card presented in an earlier posting, Fred McKie is one of the hobby's most knowledgeable collectors of the 1962 Salada -Junket coins.

Fred has reported three new variations to the set, and a theory about the creation of the rarest of the Salada variations.

Newly cataloged are variations of coins #9 Jim Lemon, #36 Harmon Killebrew and #46a Ryne Duren (red shirt buttons).

The most visually compelling of the trio is the Killebrew variation. In the common version, the player name and position to the left of the portrait, and the coin number and team nickname to the right are printed at an angle roughly coincident with the slope of the Killer's shoulders.

The variation that McKie has reported shows those typographic elements to be printed on horizontal planes, with the "n" of Harmon, the "w" of Killebrew and the "B" of 1B nearly touching the portrait. This variation is so rare, McKie reports, that none of the advanced Salada collectors with whom he is contact owns one or has ever seen one.

The newly reported Duren coin is a variation of a variation. The coin was first issued, as were several other Saladas, with red buttons on the jersey. This was later corrected to show white buttons.

The red-button Duren, however, is found with two distinct placemements of the player name and position to the right of the portrait. On the rare version, the name and "P" are placed at a distance from Duren's left ear, very near the blue plastic rim. The common coin shows those elements much closer to the portrait, with the "D" of Duren almost touching the ear. The coin number and team nickname to the left of the portrait is unchanged between the variations.

Similarly, the variation discovered for the Lemon coin affects only the name and position lettering. The common version has those elements closer to the portrait, and lower, with the bottom of "Jim" lining up somewhat below the player's left ear.

The rarer coin has the name and "OF" centered between the portrait and rim, with the bottom of "Jim" aligned with the center of the ear.

McKie believes these newly reported variations, as well as the other rarities in '62 Salada -- #48a Dick Williams (name on right), #53b Jackie Brandt (Orioles) and #113a Ed Bailey (partial left shoulder) -- represent a very early printing of the Salada coins. "It had to almost be a test run due to the scarcity of the rare coins," McKie said. "They may have looked at the test printing and made changes from that, then went ahead with the main printing" of "180" backs. The "200" backs came even later when the Mets and Colt .45s were added.

At this point, only the Killebrew coin will likely be added to the 1962 set checklist in a future edition of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. The catalog introduction to the set states, "Many of the players in the 180 series can be found with variations in the placement of the front typography relative to the colored portrait. Though these variations seem to affect a tiny percentage of some players' 180 coins, they are in most cases too difficult to distinguish except by direct comparison between specimens and are of interest only to the most dedicated Salada collectors."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

1960 Kaline variation . . . is it "catalogable"?

As the title of this posting indicates, I am undecided as to whether this new variation of 1960 Topps #50, Al Kaline, will be listed in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards.

Besides being somewhat jaded by all of the newly reported variations in this internet age of enhanced collector communications, I'm leery of loading down the long-established master checklists of vintage card sets with frankly insignificant variations caused by mistakes, anomalies and vagaries of the printing process.

Rob Thompson, an Illinois collector who maintains the Detroit Tigers Cards and Stuff blog at gets credit for this discovery, and is well qualified to explain it. Quoting from his blog:

There are little red marks in the upper left corner that I know from my experience in printing are a flaw from the pre-press cutting a mask for the red background. Back in the old days you would cut a window out of a vinyl mask for each image to appear on the printed piece. On anything that formed a corner, if you extended the mask too far out your X-acto blade would leave a tiny cut line like the one seen in the pic above. Now it's all done on the Mac. No cut marks. The process used to be called four-color stripping (four colors because that's how many inks are used, and stripping because in the real old days you used to strip the emulsion off the film before you burned printing plates), and yours truly was a stripper for many years.

In his e-mail to me, Rob added, "I worked in pre-press for close to 20 years, so I know this would be something that would have to be fixed (by putting a piece of red tape over the lines on the mask before burning the plates) and have new plates made to correct.

The picture that Rob posted on his blog is the one at top-left, with "cut marks" that extend horizontally and vertically to the top-left edges of the card. The picture at bottom-left is from one of the '60T Kalines I found on eBay when checking to see whether the variation is common, scarce or unique. That picture appears to show a partially corrected version, with only a remnant of the horizontal cut mark showing. This is another reason I am hesitant to list the variation. If the card came only two ways, with and without cut marks, I'd be more favorably disposed. With at least one in-between stage seen so far, I'm less sure I want to list it. Doing so would seem to require at least three listings for 1960 Topps Al Kaline #50: a) full vertical and horizontal cut marks, b) remnant horizontal cut mark, and c) no cut marks.

If you have strong feeling in any direction, post a comment or e-mail me.

My eBay search, by the way, seemed to show that offered examples of the card were about evenly divided between cut marked and no cut marks versions. Whether that ration holds up will largely determine whether one or the other of this variation achieves and market value premium.


Monday, March 8, 2010

My 2nd Charlie Grimm custom card [crickets]

I know this isn't as exciting as a new Honus Wagner or Mickey Mantle or Charley Pride custom card, but as I said a couple of weeks ago, I'm going to be spending more of my hobby time working on projects that have personal appeal to me.
Last weekend, that translated to finishing a 1955 Topps-style custom card for Charlie Grimm. I'd already done a 1956-style Grimm and wanted to boost Jolly Cholly's Topps-style card count.
Because he was under contract to Bowman, appearing in their 1953 and 1955 sets, Grimm didn't have a Topps card until 1960, as Cubs manager.
Grimm was one of my favorite Braves when I was a kid. He always seemed to have a smile on his face, even when the Braves were coming in second in the N.L. to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955 and 1956. As an adult collector, he remained a favorite of mine, signing autographs through the mail for me on a couple of occasions.
There really not too much to say about my '55 Grimm. The portrait is a studio photo I found on the internet and colorized. The action photo is from the 1955 Johnston Cookies Braves. Sharp-eyed Braves' collectors among you might note that on the Johnston card, Grimm is facing his right. I flopped the photo to give my card better composition. I was able to do so because the "M" on the Braves' cap shows up the same in regular or mirror image, and, fortunately, when the photo of the skipper was taken at the Bradenton, Fla., spring training site, Grimm was wearing a wartm-up jacket that hid the tomahawk/script logo on his jersey.
Another lucky coincidence, appealing to my normal desire to be as accurate as I can when copying vintage card formats, is that unlike a lot of the teams in 1955 Topps, the Braves in the set can be found on every color background: blue, green, red and yellow, so I could take my pick. Right from the start, I knew I wanted to use the 1955 red background, which I believe is unique among the Braves to Mel Roach.
So, having completed the 1955 Grimm and Richie Ashburn cards in recent weeks, I'm going to shift gears for a while.
Once the NFL draft is over, I'm going to do a 1955 All-American of Tim Tebow and a 1952 Bowman-style of Dexter McCluster.
I'll be sure to share them with you when they're ready.

Friday, March 5, 2010

S.F. Giants 1972 Japanese pitching prospects

I've always had an interest in early Asian players in the U.S. minor leagues, so the picture here caught my attention when it appeared on eBay. I put in a token bid, but because the seller had not marketed the photo very well -- he didn't use Japanese in the auction title -- I was able to buy it very reasonably.

I originally thought it might make a great custom card, but I doubt that it will ever make it that far up my to-do list.

The picture is an 11" x 8-1/2" glossy wirephoto from United Press International. Dated Feb. 21, 1972, the picture shows Giants coach Ozzie Virgil (left) in spring training at Casa Grande, Ariz., with a pair of pitching prospects brought to spring training from Japan's major leagues.

In 1964 the Giants had been the first major league team to field a native Japanese player, pitcher Masanori Murakami, who had a 5-1 record in 1964-65 and appeared on a 1965 Topps rookie card. Like many pro teams on the West Coast since the 1930s, the Giants were always on the lookout for a Japanese player who could not only help the team, but also draw fans from the large number of Japanese immigrants and their descendents.

At the center of the photo is Toru Hamaura. The 20-year-0ld Hamaura came to the Giants in mid-January, 1972, in a trade with the Lotte Orions of Japan's Pacific League for Frank Johnson, a utility player for San Francisco from 1966-1971. The deal was billed as the first international trade in Major League history. Some observers felt it was more of a publicity stunt to drum up interest in the "Friendship Series" player between Lotte and San Francisco March 24-26 in Honolulu. Johnson evidently played the 1972 season in Japan, then returned to the Pacific Coast League, playing through 1975.

Hamaura never played in the U.S. majors. In the Giants farm system he played two seasons -- 1972-1973 -- at Class A Fresno, winning 10 games each season, and compiling a 20-15 record and 3.43 ERA. He returned to pro ball in Japan.

The player on the right was veteran Central League pitcher Shigeyuki Takahashi, age 26. Rookie of the Year in the C.L. in 1964 with the Taiyo Whales, Takahashi had been a 21-game winner in 1968, with a 2.40 ERA.

Takahashi played only one year in the U.S., 1972 with the Giants AAA farm club at Phoenix. He was used almost exclusively as a reliever, with a 1-3 record and 4.80 ERA in 37 games.

I imagine that if I spent a few more hours on the internet, I could find more about the careers in Japan of Hamaura and Takahashi, but life's too short.

I've put the original photo back up for sale on eBay (key words Giants Japanese). I've scanned it so I can use it for a future card project if time ever permits. If you have need of a somewhat enhanced black-and-white 8x10 print of the picture, I can print it up for you for a small charge -- though postage to Japan would be high -- or I'd be happy to send you a scan if you e-mail me at