Saturday, August 30, 2014

Custom cards update 1954-55 World on Wheels

Yesterday I told you how a chance encounter with a stack of World on Wheels cards is a used book store rekindled my interest in card collecting.

On Aug. 13 I reported on the first of what is going to be an on-going custom/fantasy card project to create non-sports "cards that never were" from classic 1950s and 1960s Topps (and other) series.

Today I'm presenting the first of what I anticipate will be more than a handful of cards I'll be making in the format of Topps 1954-55 World on Wheels.

I may have mentioned it on the blog in some of my 800+ postings since 2009, but for one year of my 31+ years at Krause Publications, I served as executive editor of the Old Cars division. From Sept., 1978-Sept., 1979, I was editor of Old Cars Weekly newspaper, the Old Cars Price Guide magazine and the start-up monthly newsstand magazine Car Exchange.

Because I've always been a car guy, I look back on that year as the best of my time at Krause. 

Sports cars and luxury imports were never my thing. (I did have a Thing, actually three of them; 1974 Volkswagen Things.) I was more interested in vintage vehicles from Model T and other brass-era autos to late-1940s woodies, virtually everything made in the 1950s and the muscle cars of the mid- to late-1960s.
For most of the years between 1971-2001 my daily driver was a succession of 10-year-old Cadillacs.

Having neither the money nor the mechanical aptitude to seriously pursue old cars as a hobby, my interest was mostly voyeuristic. Today I could afford to indulge myself with a few pieces of old iron, but I'm too stove up to get in and out of bucket seats, to operate a stick shift or crawl under a car to change oil. And I'm a believer that if I can't drive a car, there's no use owning it.

I'd make an exception, though, for the car I chose as the subject for my first World on Wheels customs. 

I first encountered the 1956 Buick Centurian dream car in the spring of 1979 while on a backstage tour of the Sloan Museum in Flint, Mich. Press junkets like that were one of the big reasons my year at Old Cars is so fondly remembered.

The rocket-inspired Buick dream car is widely covered all over the internet, so I won't detail it here. If you're like me, I don't have to explain the attraction of a sporty silhouette, bubble top, fins, chrome and expanses of mid-century color scheme fiberglass. If you don't "get it" at first glance, nothing I can say here will sway you.

In keeping with Topps' original card set, I created my custom WoW cards in both a red-back and blue-back version. While Topps used the same pictures for both red- and blue-backs of its high-number (161-180) series, I decided to splurge on two views of the Centurian.

I could make a new WoW custom every week for a year and never run out of ideas that don't stray too far from Topps' original concept. However, I want to do some more TV Westerns and I've got plans to dabble in a few other favorite non-sports issues from my childhood; not to mention my on-going efforts in the fields of baseball and football custom cards. So, I'll probably limit my car cards to just a handful for the time being.

Watch this space in the coming months and you'll see them first.

You can purchase these cards. You can obtain a copy of either or both of these custom cards for $12.50 each, postpaid. E-mail me at for ordering details. Illustrated lists of all available custom baseball and football cards can be found on my blog post of July 17.

A pair of 1968-style Reggie customs

I can see why Topps didn't include Reggie Jackson in its 1968 baseball card set.

He'd had only two years of professional ball under his belt and his two gigs with the 1967 Kansas City A's had been underwhelming. Jackson had been called up from Birmingham on June 9 and played in 26 games batting .189 without demonstrating any of the speed and power that had caused Charley Finley to pay him a reported $75,000-85,000 signing bonus as the No. 2 overall pick in the June, 1966, major league draft.

Jackson was sent back down to Birmingham in the first week of July, probably to bolster the A's Class AA team in the Southern League pennant race. Birmingham won the title by 3-1/2 games and then defeated Albuquerque four games to two in the one-year revival of the Dixie Series between the Southern League and Texas League champions.

Jackson returned to Kansas City on Sept. 15, with the A's in last place, 24 games in back of the American League leading Red Sox. In nine games he hit just .143, bringing his rookie season average down to .178. 

On Sept. 17, Jackson hit the first of his 563 major league home runs. It was a solo shot off of the California Angels' Jim Weaver . . . that is if you trust the data on over Jackson's own recollection. According to Reggie's official website, he remembers that first home run as coming off of Cleveland Indians pitcher John O'Donoghue, though both sources agree on the date.

I also noted a slight discrepancy concerning the car Jackson bought after his signed his first A's contract. Some internet sources claim that the car was part of his signing bonus; on his site Jackson says he bought the car. Jackson describes the car on his website: "Oooh, I almost forgot my 1st new car with my signing. A 'typical me' car. 1967 Pontiac Catalina, with a 421cu. inch 375 hp engine, a 2dr really cool ride, a 4spd transmission, Burgundy with a black vinyl top and of course an aftermarket 4 track stereo." 

Before starting work on my 1968 Topps-style Reggie Jackson custom, I kicked around some concepts for a 1967-style card. Two problems ultimately killed the notion, one practical, one conceptual.

On the pragmatic side, I haven't yet found a decent photo of Jackson in a Kansas City uniform. I messed around with adding a "KC" cap logo to an Oakland photo, and came up with a serviceable image. As I worked, though, it became increasingly apparent that a '67 Jackson card would be too much of an anachronism. While he'd a good debut pro season in A-ball in 1966, he really wouldn't have been a candidate for a 1967 Topps card. And I generally prefer to create "cards that never were" in the formats of cards that might have been.

With two decent late 1960s photos of Jackson to work with, I took the easy way out and used both. Thus you see two '68-style Reggie Jackson custom cards here.

These bring to five the total number of Reggie Jackson custom cards I've created. The 1977-style Orioles card shown here was the first custom baseball card I ever made, after months of working solely on 1955-style All-American football cards. The two 1976-style Orioles cards came soon thereafter.

You can purchase these cards. You can obtain a copy of any or all of these custom cards for $12.50 each, postpaid, for one or two cards; $9.95 each for three or more. E-mail me at for ordering details. Illustrated lists of all available custom baseball and football cards can be found on my blog post of July 17.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Chance encounter with World on Wheels cards changed my life

If you read my blog on Aug. 13 you know that I have now added the creation of non-sports cards to my efforts in the custom card field.

And if you saw the blog on Aug. 23, you know that my next non-sports customs are going to be in the format of the 1954-55 Topps World on Wheels.

Today, I'll tell you why I've been working on WoW cards; tomorrow I'll show you the results.

World on Wheels cards are the reason I got back into card collecting in the late-1970s after having taken the usual teenage hiatus a decade earlier.

I had been an avid collector of bubblegum cards -- baseball, football and non-sports -- from 1954 through 1962. My earliest childhood card memory is opening a nickel pack of 1954 Topps baseball that my grandfather bought for me when we were out gallivanting in his 1950 DeSoto.

My last specific childhood card memory is of trading Civil War News cards in the boy's bathroom in fifth grade. Our dealings in those cards had to be carried out in the can because the nuns couldn't appreciate the historical educational values of the cards, choosing instead to focus on the impalements, sharks and flying, mangled bodies.

For a few years thereafter I'd usually buy one pack of each year's new baseball and football cards just to see what they looked like, but my card collecting days were behind me.

That all changed one day in a used book store on Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee.

About once a year beginning in the mid- to late-Sixties, my oldest brother Jim (five years my senior) would find a reason to make the one-hour drive from our home in Fond du Lac to Milwaukee. Sometimes it was to go to the State Fair, sometimes to pick up a car part, etc. I always tried to get an invite to ride along.

Besides whatever the principal reason for the trip was, two stops were traditional; one for lunch at Leon's drive-in and the other to browse one or both of the Schroeder's used book stores downtown. (Googling Schroeder's today, I see they are still in business in the Milwaukee area.)

Add caption
The day after Christmas 1972, I moved out of the family home and started my journalism career in a small Central Wisconsin town an hour away. That pretty much ended my trips to Milwaukee with Jim, but for some reason we were able to get together for one last jaunt circa 1977-78.

With a belly full of frozen custard and an armload of used book bargains I was waiting to check out at Schroeder's when I spotted a stack of cards sitting on the ledge of the cash register. 

I immediately recognized them as World on Wheels cards, as I had numbered a few of them among my collection as a kid. I asked the clerk if the cards were for sale and at what price.
They were 20 cents each and I peeled off four or five dollars and bought the whole stack.

With that purchase I was back in the world of card collecting. A friend in the coin collecting hobby introduced me to Sports Collectors Digest in 1978 and by late 1980 I had convinced Krause Publications to introduce the national newsstand magazine Baseball Cards. The course of my life was thus set for the next 30 years.

Through the pages of SCD and visits to card shows to promote the new magazine, I eventually completed a set of World on Wheels cards. Along the way I discovered that there had been a scarce high-number (#161-180) series of WoW cards and that they came in both red and blue backs. I still have that set (in nice Ex-Mt. condition) and it has proved invaluable in my efforts to supplement the original Topps issue with some latter-day additions.

Come back tomorrow to have a look at the first of what I expect will be several World on Wheels custom cards.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Nig" Grabowski's heroism went beyond baseball

Grabowski was given a "day" at Yankee Stadium
in 1927 in recognition of his role in filling in for
injured starting catcher Benny Bengough.
Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

            Having a major league career of any kind, especially in the pre-expansion days of 16 teams, should be notable enough as a lifetime achievement. Johnny Grabowski played seven seasons in the American League (White Sox 1924-26, Yankees 1927-29, Tigers 1931) as a backup catcher. But he’s better remembered – when he’s remembered at all – for his tragic death.

            Grabowski died as the result of a fire that destroyed his home in Guilderland, N.Y., May 19, 1946. He died a hero at the age of 46.
            The former major league player and minor league umpire died in an Albany hospital of burns suffered when he carried his wife from the blaze and was attempting to back his car out of the garage. His wife suffered burns to the face, neck, ears, back, hands and feet. She recovered.

            Grabowski, of Ware, Mass., turned pro at the age of 21, playing in 1921 with Minneapolis and Saskatoon, with St. Joseph in 1922 and with Minneapolis in 1923-24.
            He was traded to the White Sox on July 6, 1924, then was traded to the Yankees in January, 1927.
            He played for New York through 1929. He was sent to St. Paul in 1930, returned to the American League with Detroit in 1931 and released to Montreal in 1932. He played there through the 1933 season.
            Grabowski retired as a player in 1934 and by midseason 1935 was umpiring in the Class AAA International League. He umpired in the Eastern League in 1938-40, then returned to the I.L. in 1941-42.
            After retiring from pro ball he worked as a toolmaker in Schenectady and was active in the semi-pro ball scene there.

Johnny Grabowski didn't appear on any career-contemporary
baseball cards. However, as a member of the 1927 Yankees,
he was included on several collectors' issues of the 1970s-
1990s such as the 1975 TCMA set (left) and the 1990
Conlon Collection (right).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Toga-clad scientist seen on bond certificate

In my blog of Aug. 7, I presented a collection of stock and bond certificates that feature a male allegorical figure that I call the near-naked scientist.

Since that presentation I have found only one additional example, shown here.

Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Co., 1967
This is the only example of Security-Columbian's toga-clad scientist that I've seen on a large-format (about 15-1/4" x 22-1/4") bond certificate. The bond is in the amount of $5,000, payable in 35 years with interest at an annual rate of 4-5/8%. The male figure holds in telephone handset in his right hand, with a length of phone cord in his right. At his right is an early piece of phone equipment. There are a number of other telephone-related vignettes in the upper and lower corners.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Custom card type tech tip

At least once a month I get an email from a prospective custom card creator seeking advice on my process.

I'm always happy to help any way I can, but it is not possible for me to lay out in detail the nuts and bolts that take me from a concept to a finished card in hand.

I have been developing my system auto-didactically for more than 10 years. It wouldn't be practical to try to impart it in a few thousand words.

A recent experience in one aspect of card creation strikes me, however, as perfect fodder for a "lesson."

As you may have read in my Aug. 13 entry, I have recently begun branching out from baseball and football cards to non-sports. I've created three TV Westerns customs (and will be making more) and am now working on my first World on Wheels cards based on the Topps 1954-55 set.

I find that I never really get to know a vintage card format until I begin to recreate it. 

While I had some World on Wheels cards as a kind, and built a complete set in the 1980s, it never registered on me that Topps used three different type style for the principal identification of the 180 cards in the set. The antique vehicles were identified with a vintage-looking outline font. The contemporary vehicles were identified with a modern 3D font. Many of the "miscellaneous" vehicles were identified with a mid-century type face.

I'm often asked how I match the fonts on my customs to original vintage cards. I have no other answer than "trial and error." All of what I'm about to say pertains to the Photoshop Elements graphics program I use. Other programs may require different approaches.

I begin by scanning an original card and magnifying the area of type I want to replicate. Then I use the type tool to enter the same words, even though I will be changing them further along in the process.

Then I begin cycling through the 200 or so fonts I have in my Windows system (I really have to pare that down some day as there are many, many that I know I'll never use). I almost always find an identical match, or something that is close enough that only a really knowledgeable graphics artist is likely to notice the difference.

By that rather labor-intensive process, I soon found that the misc. vehicles in the set were identified with a font called Balloon XBd BT. Similarly the modernistic font used on newer cars was Umbra Bt.

I was stymied, however, by the type face found on the antique vehicle cards. It looked so familiar and I was sure I'd quickly find it in my Windows font folder. No such luck. After looking at nearly every font, I'd come up empty.

My next move was to check the free fonts web sites: and There are other free-font web sites out there, but I've found that if the font I need isn't on one of these, it's not likely to be on the other sites, either.

Despite being categorized by style, the fonts on these sites run into the thousands and finding a match can be a needle-in-a-haystack proposition. I spent several hours on these sites without a match. Without knowing the font's name, further searching seemed doomed to failure.

Next I turned to a site that I'd had little experience with, . That site takes you through a number of multiple-choice questions about various aspects of the letters and numerals of the font you are looking to identify. The questions ask such things as "Serif or Sans Serif?" "What style of tail does the letter Q have?" "Is the 4 open or closed?"

As you answer each question, half a dozen possibilities pop up on the side. Eventually, after 12-15 questions, there was my font: Vineta. I checked the free fonts sites again, but Vineta was not there. The identifont site offered places on the net where the font could be purchased for $30-40 dollars, but I went to bed without pulling the trigger.

Before I drifted off, it occurred to me that I should do a google search along the lines of "font like Vineta". I'm not the type to hop out of bed to do such things, but the next morning, with just a few clicks, I had found a free version of Vineta and downloaded it into my fonts folder.

Illustrated  here are a couple of the format sheets that I keep in a binder for my custom card work. They are a permanent reference to recreating type. Referring to the World on Wheels sheet, you'll notice that on the subheads for the top card I have a notation of "139% h." This indicates that while I'd use either 9 or 7-1/2 point Calibri Bold for those elements, I'll want to stretch the type 139% horizontally. I've found that on more than a few Topps, Bowman, etc., cards of the 1950s-60s, the makers stretched the words to some extent. I find out what percentage to stretch by again typing over the existing words and using the Elements program to stretch it to match.

One more word about the "free fonts." While many of them are truly free for personal use, others have a button to click to make a donation to the font's creator. Since I have real respect for artists like that who can do something I can't, I suggest a $5 or $10 tip for the time you'll be saving and the effect the right font will have on your finished custom cards.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Photos evoke minor league time travel

The other day I grabbed my box camera, stepped into my Wayback Machine, set the dial for 1920, hopped in a Model T Ford and drove out to catch a ball game in Chickasha, Oklahoma between the Chicks and Ft. Smith.

Actually that's just the feeling I get when I look at a group of four photos that I dug out of one of my old files. They appear to be fan's snapshots of members of the Chicks in the Class D Western Association. I'm guessing the pictures were taken at the Chickasha ballpark, but they might have been shot at any of the circuit's other venues around Oklahoma, Arkansas and Illinois.

I bought the pix about 10 years ago, planning to do a feature in SCD. Now I'll share them with you.

To me the most interesting photo is that of Mose Poolaw. 

Edward Moses Poolaw wasn't too long out of the World War I U.S. Army when he played with Chickasha. It appears to have been his first engagement in Organized Baseball, though in 1917, while a student at the U.S. Indian Industrial Training School at Lawrence, Kans., he had played professionally with the Nebraska Indians barnstorming team.

Poolaw was a full-blooded Kiowa, born on the Anadarko Agency in southwestern Oklahoma in 1894.

He played his entire career in the Western Association between 1920-26, starting as an infielder-outfielder then switching to pitching. He played for Chickasha in 1920-21, when the league was designated Class D. When the circuit earned a Class C rank for 1922, Poolow was with Joplin. He joined Bartlesville/Ardmore for 1924. In 1925 he was with Independence. He finished his pro playing days with McAllister in 1926.

Poolaw wasn't a bad Class C pitcher. He had a four-year record of 55-43 from 1921-45, winning 20 in 1924.

Poking around the internet, it appears Poolaw may have gone into some sort of religious work and his name is found associated with a Kiowa-English Christian song book. He died in 1969.

The other single-player photo in the group is of Chickasha catcher-manager Lester Hayes, identified as "Drap" on the picture. The vintage automobiles parked behind the grandstand give the photo a great period look.

Hayes had a 12-year minor league career as player and/or manager between 1911-30. He'd gotten his start in pro ball in my neck of the woods, at Green Bay and Appleton in the Wisconsin-Illinois League. He was with the Chicks in 1920-21.

The only man on the 1920 Chicks with major league experience is one of the three outfielders photographed together, Ned Pettigrew . . . he'd had two games with Buffalo in the Federal League in 1914.

He played 16 seasons (1905-21) in Class A-D leagues all over the West, then managed three more years (1922-23, 1937).

In this photo he's shown with Vic Ruedy, who led the 1920 Chicks with a .287 batting average. Ruedy was a 10-year minor league veteran who played in the lower minors all over the country between Twin Falls, Idaho and Manchester, N.H. between 1920-29.

The third outfielder is identified in the photo as Eddie Neusal. The minor league data base shows only a "Musel" on the 1920 Chicks roster, and that being his only O.B. engagement. They also have a separate listing for a "Neusal" playing with Jacksonville in 1917. I'm going to guess the unknown photographer got it right.

The fourth photo is a group shot of Chicks pitchers. According to the identification on back they are (presumably left to right) Lefty Lewis, Dan Payne, Lou Kraft and Lefty Miller. Given the common nature of the pitchers' surnames, and the paucity of records for teams in the low minors in the early 1920s, it's not possible to trace the careers of the Chickasha pitchers. I can't even tell if Lefty Miller is the "E. Miller" or "Fred Miller" who were both pitchers on the 1920 team.

Great old professional baseball photos like these have always appealed to both the minor league fan and baseball researcher in me. Perhaps you enjoyed them, as well.

Now that I've gotten these pictures into "print," I'm offering the original photos now on eBay. Search the auction listings under 1920 Chickasha.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

1969-style Parilli custom gives him a Jets card

Back on Aug. 11, I presented my 1955 Topps-style All-American college football card of Kentucly Wildcats legend Vito "Babe" Parilli.

At that time I discussed his career, his football card legacy and why I decided to create a couple of Parilli custom cards. You can scroll down to that blog posting to get the background.

That really doesn't leave me with much that needs to be said about my 1969 Topps-style Parilli custom, so I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

You can purchase this card. You can obtain a copy of this custom card for $12.50, postpaid. E-mail me at for ordering details. Illustrated lists of all available custom baseball and football cards can be found on my blog post of July 17.