Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Worch Cigar minor league checklist enhanced

As a result of a string of eBay auctions in late July and early August, we were able to add three players to the 1933-1935 Worch Cigar American Association premiums checklist.

The Worch premiums are often confusing to inexperienced collectors because the name of the sponsor appears nowhere on the 3-7/16" x 5-7/16" blank-backed black-and-white premiums. The postcard-sized player cards were evidently available by sending cigar bands to the company's address in Minneapolis. Many of the surviving cards have the original envelope in which they were mailed, thus establishing the issuer's identity.

Worch Cigar cards are divided into two types: major leaguers and minor leaguers. To date, 146 different players are known (many with two or more poses) among the major leaguers, which appear to have been issued in 1933. Typical prices on common major league players are $100 in Near Mint. Most Hall of Famers bring $300-400 in that condition, with the big guns like Gehrig and Ruth up to $2,000.

The minor league players, until recently, numbered 57, all from teams in the American Association circa 1933-1934. While the minor league checklist is heavy on Twin Cities' players from the Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints, there are a smattering of players from the Columbus Redbirds, the Kansas City Blues and one or two other teams.

Recent book value on the minor leaguers has been about 50% of the major leaguers, with only one Hall of Famer, Dave Bancroft, manager of the 1933 Millers, known. Catalog values may have to be adjusted upwards, however, based on the recent sale of 10 cards in the eBay sales. All sold at prices at least 3X the book value.

The best sellers among the minor leaguers were three heretofore uncataloged players: Johnny Gill, Minneapolis (1934-1935), Marty McManus, St. Paul manager in 1935, and Monty Stratton, St. Paul (1935). Stratton, of course, was the subject of The Stratton Story, in which Jimmy Stewart portrayed the pitcher trying to return to professional baseball with a wooden leg after a hunting accident. In about NM condition, those cards brought $287, $227, and $320, respectively.

And so it goes in the endeavor of checklisting vintage minor league baseball cards.

Friday, August 13, 2010

'71T high-number proofs are 1/1

Some strange and wonderful things have emerged from the Topps Vault since much of the contents of the gum company's card archives began to be offered in eBay auctions some years back.

For various reasons, not all of the goodies are "catalogable" (there's that word again). One grouping that does seem worthy of inclusion in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, however, is what appears to be an early Topps trial of high-gloss coating on card fronts.

According to Buffao, N.Y., collector Mike Chauby, who brought these cards to our attention, the experiment was probably not a success because the cards in his possession show signs that the glossy coating was either applied unevenly or dried unevenly. This resulted in streaks, pock marks and other imperfections on the surface. As well, the cards' showed a proclivity to scratches on the glossy surface.

What is especially interesting in the Topps experiment is that they chose to try the glossy coating on high-number 1971 baseball cards. While it is impossible to know when the experiment was conducted, it is not unreasonable to presume it was contemporaneously with the issue of the high-number '71s, when a sheet of the cards would have been at hand. Topps did not release a true high-gloss finish card until its 1984 Tiffany baseball set.

Beginning on June 16, 2008, and continuing throughout July of that year, Topps offered a handful of the glossy '71 high numbers every couple of days in its eBay auctions. Each card was sealed in a thick plastic slab and each card had a Topps hologram attached to a back corner, guaranteeing authenticity. Some purists might decry the placing of a sticker directly onto the card back, rather than on the holder, but in reality, it would not be at all difficult to fake these cards by applying a glossy coat to the front of "regular" '71T high numbers.

Each of the test cards is known in only one example, but it is not known how many of the 108 cards in Topps' Sixth Series of 1971 (#644-752) were involved in the experiment. The gloss coat may have been applied to a full sheet of 132 cards (in which case there would be two examples of some), or it may have been done working with a half-sheet of 66 cards. It is known that some of surviving test cards are among the series' short-prints.

Classifying these glossy '71T high numbers is problematic. They are not really a test issue in the sense that term is usually applied. Test issues were usually released for public sale in limited quantities and markets. They are also not strictly speaking proof cards because they are completely printed, front and back. The hobby has never really embraced the term experimental issue, but that probably comes closest to an accurate description of these 1/1 rarities.

Chauby had maintained records for more than a dozen of the glossy cards when they were originally sold on eBay. Winning bids ranged from $9.99, which would have been the minimum bid, to more than $30 for the Expos team card and Rich Allen, toa high of $66.65 for Jose Martinez. The average of 17 cards for which Chauby recorded prices was $20.04. Unfortunately, if the Hall of Famers and other high-demand cards in the Sixth Series were ever offered, their selling prices are not recorded. These would include Sparky Anderson, Boog Powell, the Dusty Baker-Don Baylor rookie card, and Luis Aparicio. Given their 1-of-1 status, those 2008 prices seem cheap and can likely be attributed to the fact that these cards were previously unknown and uncataloged within the hobby.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Investigating Baseball Magazine team posters

A recent inquiry about an uncataloged Baseball Magazine poster on the Net54 vintage baseball card forum has called into question the accuracy of the current checklist of those premium as published in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards.

The posters, which were listed in the American Card Catalog system as M114, were premiums that were issued by the baseball monthly magazine as a subscription premium, and were also offered for individual sale between 1910-1957.

The sizes and formats of the posters varied over the years between about 9" x 12-1/4" for single-player posters to 9" x 20" for some of the team pictures. They were printed in sepia tones on semi-gloss paper stock.

The Baseball Magazine posters are one of a handful of issues that are checklisted in the Standard Catalog not on the basis of known surviving examples, but rather on what was advertised by issuer as being available. Other examples include the 1902-1911 Sporting Life cabinets (W600), the 1888-1889 Old Judge cabinets (N173) and the 1911 Obak cabinets (T4).

In the cases of the Baseball Magazine posters and Sporting Life cabinets, the checklists were generated from advertising within the pages of those periodicals. In the cases of the Old Judge and Obak cabinets, the checklist was derived from lists printed as cigarette package inserts or coupons. In all cases, these contemporary offers indicate only what was available, or even intended to be available, to persons redeeming coupons or subscribing.

Especially in the cases of the cabinet cards, it is possible that certain advertised cards were never ordered by customers and thus were never produced or perhaps were scrapped after the promotions had run their course. This explains why in the cases of some of these issues, the biggest names among the stars of the day are more common in collections today than the more obscure players. It makes sense that when offered a list of players from which to chose, more fans elected to receive a King Kelly, Ty Cobb, or Christy Mathewson cabinet than one of a small-market team's utility infielder or a minor league player.

The Baseball Magazine posters list in the Standard Catalog has been published unchanged for most, if not all, 20 editions of the book. Now, it appears, changes are in order.

The team poster that was posted on Net54 was of the Chicago White Sox "World's Champions" of 1917. It is 7-1/2" x 14-1/2" and features the usual indicia found on most M114s concerning the publisher, etc. Such a poster is not listed in the catalog, which has only two team posters listed for 1917, the Red Sox and the Giants. None are listed for 1918. The Giants and White Sox were the World Series participants in 1917, and it seems likely that it would have been 1918 before posters with the World's Champions notice could have been available as a magazine premium.

That poster appears in an advertisement from Baseball Magazine that offers many team and player posters dating from 1914-1917. The ad is undated, though a small "10 - 19" in the lower-left corner may indicate an October, 1919, issue date.

The upshot is, based on the content of the ad, it looks like the checklist should be revised to include a 1917 White Sox poster and a 1914 St. Louis Cardinals poster. The listing of a Red Sox poster for 1917 may have been in error. If, after suitable inquiry, it cannot be proven to exist, either in a surviving example or included in an ad, the Rex Sox poster will likely be dropped from the checklist.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Even more on Indians' picture packs

This forum has been blessed with quite a bit of new information on Cleveland Indians picture packs in recent months. Most will eventually find its way into the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. The trend continues with the first checklisting of a 1959 photo pack.

This (probably partial) picture pack was offered on eBay on Aug. 5, when the beat-up envelope and 19 player pictures -- each described as exhibiting some light discoloration -- sold for $36.51. The envelope is a bit misleading in that it shows Chief Wahoo presenting drawings of portrait photos when, in reality, the individual pictures all seem to be posed action shots.

I'd like to have included a photo of one of the pictures in this presentation, but the seller did not respond to my request for a scan. (What's up with that? Doesn't he know who I am?) UPDATE: Thanks to reader Bob Wong, we now have a photo of one of the picture from the 1959 issue. Jim Bolger only played eight games for the Tribe, having come to Cleveland from the Cubs in a pre-season trade and being traded to the Phillies on June 6, 1959.

The pictures are in the usual Indians' photo pack format of white-bordered, blank-backed photos with a facsimile autograph for identification. If the seller was accurate in his description, these 1959 pictures were a bit longer, at 9-1/4", than normal for the genre, but in the same 6-1/2" width.

The checklist here shows only 19 players and manager Joe Gordon, so it is likely incomplete. Indians' pix packs of the era typically contained 24-30 or more pictures.

Gary Bell

Jim Bolger

Dick Brown
Al Cicotte

Rocky Colavito

Don Ferrarese

Tito Francona
Joe Gordon

Jim “Mudcat “ Grant
Woody Held

Billy Martin

Cal McLish
Minnie Minoso

Russ Nixon

Jim Perry
Jimmy Piersall
Vic Power

Herb Score

George Strickland

Ray Webster

Sunday, August 8, 2010

George Brett gets a 1974 Rookie Card

One of the advantages I have as a custom card maker in the 21st Century is the ability to "scoop" the old-time card companies with the advantage of 20-20 hindsight.
You certainly can't blame Topps for not including George Brett in its 1974 card set. In 13 games during his August-September call-up the previous season he had hit only .125 with no power.
But 35 years later, when an early image of Brett turned up on the internet (notice the uniform #25), I thought it would be fun to see how a '74 Brett would have looked.
Topps didn't use the All-Rookie Team trophy on any of its 1974 cards, but I thought it would make a nice additition to my custom and it nicely filled the space at the lower-left of the photo.
It had originally been my intention to do a 1973-style Brett card on the premise that he was going to make the majors with the Royals that season. But given his minor league stats, that would have seemed like quite a stretch.
In truth, I've never liked the 1974 Topps format and didn't like the 1973s much better, but as I worked on the '74, it kind of grew on me. Anyway, I've got a nearly complete 1973-style front and back template made, so if I ever want to make a card in that style, I'm halfway home.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Player's son reports Globe '52 Dallas addition

Cataloging the early 1950s minor league baseball card issues by the Globe Printing Co. is a painstaking endeavor.

While we probably (I wouldn't bet the ranch ot it, though) have a record of every team that actually issued the cards, we don't have complete checklists for many of those teams.

In our Nov. 22, 2009 presentation, we ran a lengthy list of players' cards from the 1952 Dallas Eagles issue. The Eagles were a Class AA Texas League farm club of the Cleveland Indians in 1952. That checklist contained 21 cards, and we speculated that since it appears that Globe printed on six-card sheets, there were probably a few players missing from our list.

We've now got confirmation of one of those "missing" cards; it's pitcher Walt Lanfranconi.

That information comes courtesy of Greg Varhely, whose father, Edward, was also a pitcher on the '52 Dallas team. Greg had found our column while surfing the 'net for information about his dad's career. Among his father's effects were a pair of the Eagles' photo albums and a stack of the Globe player cards.

Lanfranconi was the only card that wasn't in that legacy. Lanfranconi was a Vermont native who, except for World War II service in 1943-45, played pro ball from 1937 through 1953, usually at the Class AA or AAA minor league level. He also pitched in the majors, going 0-1 with the Chicago Cubs in 1941 and 4-4 with the 1947 Boston Braves.

Greg had sent scans of all of the '52 Globe Eagles he has. They are a good looking group of cards, generally featuring posed-action photos.

The back cover of the album indicates that the player cards were to be given away at "special photo nights throughout the season." That seems to have been typical of the Globe minor league cards, which explains why complete sets of most teams are virtually unknown.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Another alternate Indians picture pack. 1949?

On May 23 we presented a 1950 Cleveland Indians picture pack that differed from the long-cataloged picture pack in that instead of "facsimile autographs" the players were identified by a relatively thcik black or white script name.

The pictures otherwise followed the format used by the Tribe for its souvenir picture packs between 1947-1956. The pictures are blank-backed, 6-1/2" x 9" with players represented in either portrait or posed action photos.

We now learn, from veteran vintage collector and Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards contributor Rhett Yeakley that this type of alternative photo pack was also issued earlier, probably in 1949.

That dating is empirically based on the player photos in his possession. Yeakley has 15 pictures of what would typically be 25-30 in a contemporary Indians' picture pack. His line-up is:

  • Gene Bearden
  • Ray Boone
  • Lou Boudreau
  • Allie Clark
  • Bob Feller
  • Mike Garcia
  • Joe Gordon
  • Steve Gromek
  • Jim Hegan
  • Dale Mitchell
  • Frank Papish
  • Satchel Paige
  • Thurman Tucker
  • Mickey Vernon
  • Sam Zoldak
Papish and Vernon were not with the Indians in 1948, so if this group represents a single issue -- and differences in picture stock on some of the players make that a big "if" -- the date of issue narrows to 1949.

Yeakley notes that two of his pictures are on paper stock that it thinner and not textured, whereas the other 13 pix are on the thicker, textured paper associated with many of the Indians' other photo pack efforts in the 1940s and 1950s. The two outliers are Mike Garcia and Ray Boone.

Yeakley also notes that the picture of Gene Bearden in this "set" is a portrait, while the Bearden photo that was pictured in our article about the 1950 set was an action pose.

Since it is likely that the pictures in Yeakley's possession share at least some of their poses with the earlier-identified 1950 set it will be hard to pin down a checklist for a specific 1949 sisue unless a complete-with-envelope set is brought to our attention. It is, however, good to know that the Cleveland "wide pen" team-issued photo packs were more than a one-year phenomenon.