Saturday, August 29, 2009

Perpetuating a canard, Edgar Allan Poe and football

To satisfy demand from a couple of Brett Favre's new fans in Minnesota, I had occasion to go "back to press" and print up a few more of my 1955 Topps All-American style cards depicting him in his days at Southern Mississippi.

I had originally created this card after Favre's first retirement and prior to his comeback with the Jets, so the write-up on back is a bit outdated. I've decided not to rewrite the back copy unless or until he finally retires.

But in looking over the card back, I notice that I have been guilty of perpetuating the myth that Edgar Allan Poe played football for Princeton.

As with all of the cartoons on the backs of my "Second Series" All-American cards, this one is a direct pick-up from an original 1955 Topps card. The only changes I made to the cartoons in my #101-200 series was when a rule change had affected what Topps had written in '55, or somebody had broken a statistical record they had originally quoted.

In fact, Edgar Allan Poe never played football for Princeton. He probably never played football at all, and he never attended Princeton. He died in 1845, nearly a quarter-century before the first game of collegiate football was ever played.

The Topps writer back in 1955 must have been confused by the fact that in Princeton's early football history, some of its most famous players WERE named Poe. They were the six sons of Maryland attorney general John Prentiss Poe, who was a cousin of the mystery/macabre writer.

If I ever have occasion to need more of my '55-style Favre cards, I'll rework the cartoon to correct the Poe football myth.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #21 : Globe Printing Independence Browns

As promised yesterday, here is the report of a second newly-discovered team issue from the circa 1951-54 Globe Printing Co. series of minor league sets.

To get caught up on Globe cards and Oklahoma collector Glen Turner's discovery of two new team sets, I'll wait here while you go back and read yesterday's post about the Ponca City Dodgers set.

Shown here is the only card we know of so far for what appears to be another Globe set from the 1952 Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League, the Independence (Kans.) Browns.

Independence had had an on-again, off-again presence in the Class C and D minor leagues since 1896. Prior to joining the K-O-M circuit in 1947, its second season, Independence had last fielded a team in Organized Baseball in 1932.

From 1947-50, Independence was a Class D farm club for the N.Y. Yankees. Independence was 17-year-old Mickey Mantle's first professional engagement. He hit .313 with seven home runs in 89 games.

Independence left the league for 1951, but was back in 1952 as a farm team for the St. Louis Browns. When the K-O-M League folded after the 1952 season, so did Independence's history in minor league baseball.

The '52 team was managed by 36-year-old Fred "Rip" Collins, who also played first base. It is Collins' card that has survived to provide proof of the team's status as a baseball card issuer. We currently know of no cards for the rest of the team roster of 17-23-year-old players, none of whom ever got a game at the major league level. If other Globe team sets of the era are any indication, there should be 18-20 player cards yet to be accounted for in the Independence team set.

Collins himself played 13 seasons in the minors between 1937-52 (with three years out for military service), mostly with the Yankees organization. He made it to the top levels of the minors several times, with teams like Newark, Kansas City and Toronto, but never got a day of MLB service.

I suppose that as long as I continue to work on the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, I'll be treated to new discoveries in the realm of Globe Printing Co. minor league cards -- at least I hope so. I hold out only faint hope that, since Globe did a set for the 1952 Oshkosh Giants, that they also did a set for my hometown Fond du Lac Panthers of the Wisconsin State League. I've had one long-time dealer tell me that he believes he has seen such cards, but they've never surfaced during my time in the hobby.

Oh, and speaking of Globe cards, despite the insistence of one veteran dealer, the Jim Jones in the 1953 Globe Sioux City Soos set is not the Rev. Jim Jones of Jonestown massacre infamy. The Soo was James Steven Jones, born in 1930. The cult leader was James Warren Jones, born a year later and practicing in the ministry by 1954.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #20 : Globe Printing Ponca City Dodgers

One of my favorite areas of collecting and cataloging has always been vintage minor league baseball cards. I am particularly fond of the more than two dozen team sets issued circa 1951-54 by Globe Printing Co., of Fresno, Calif.

I particularly like the Globe card sets because they are primarily focused on the lower levels of Organized Baseball. Most of the players included in those sets never had so much as a cup of coffee at the major league level, and for most of the players, the Globe issue is their only baseball card.

One of the significant challenges about collecting Globe minor league cards is that they are nowhere near being completely cataloged. We don't know how many teams are represented, and we don't have complete checklists for most of the teams that are cataloged.

Globe's business model appears to have been along the lines of traveling the length and breadth of minor league America selling teams on the concept of issuing baseball cards as a promotion to bring fans into the ballpark. While more than a few teams appear to have issued their cards in complete sets, usually sponsored by a local business, most seem to have distributed them a few at a time over the span of several different games, making complete sets virtually impossible to assemble today. Globe also produced "Souvenir Albums," which are really card-sized images in booklet form, for a few teams, along with albums in which the single cards could be mounted.

All Globe cards share an identical format. They are printed in black-and-white, blank-backed on fairly thin cardboard. The size is about 2-1/4" x 3-3/8". The Globe photographer seems to have favored nearly full-length poses or posed action shots. Which is great, because it gives collectors a great look at the old uniforms and, especially, the old ballparks. Most cards have only the player name in a white strip at bottom. Some cards have a sponsor's name in a white box, along with the player identification.

The rarity of Globe Printing minor league cards cannot be understated. Most are known in only a single example. Fortunately for the true collector, demand is also fairly low for these cards, keeping prices at a modest level.

Another factor in the limited appeal of Globe cards is the non-star status of most of the players who appear in the sets. As mentioned, most of the players were career minor leaguers, with only a handful of future major league semi-stars sprinked among the sets: Charley Lau, Ken Aspromonte, Dave Garcia, etc. Some teams had former major leaguers, including Pepper Martin and Lefty O'Doul, as managers. Also seen among the issues are a handful of aging former Negro Leagues players such as Sam Hairston and George Handy.

It is fun to speculate on how high the bidding would go if a Globe card of a real superstar was to be discovered, such as Henry Aaron with the 1952 Eau Claire Bears. That's not so far-fetched, since Globe did make its presence known in Wisconsin, with a 1952 Oshkosh Giants set.

Through the courtesy of Oklahoma collector Glen Turner, we are now able to add two more teams to the line-up of Globe Printing minor league sets. Today we'll present the larger of his two "finds," the 1952 Ponca City (Okla.) Dodgers, of the Class D Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri League.

Glen's Globe cards came to light via a colleague who grew up in Ponca City and whose mother recently passed away. In squaring away the household, Glen's friend found his old Robin Hood and Zorro cards, while his older sister found the Globe P.C. Dodgers cards that she had acquired while attending games back in the day.

The 1952 season was the K-O-M League's final year, having lasted just seven seasons. Ponca City had joined the circuit when it expanded from its founding six teams to eight in 1947. The team was a Brooklyn Dodgers farm club during its entire run in the K-O-M.

Probably not unlike many other Class D minor league teams in that era, the only former or future major leaguer on the roster was the manager, Boyd Bartley, who also played third base. Bartley had been a star at Illinois University from 1941-43. He had played in nine games at shortstop for Brooklyn in 1943, while Pee Wee Reese was in military service. He hit just .048 before being sent down to Montreal, then going off to war himself. After the war he played for Ponca City 1947-49. He was out of OB in 1950-51 (possibly again in uniform during the Korean War), then returned to Ponca City for 1952. After the K-O-M League folded, he managed three other Dodgers Class D teams 1953-56.

Glen has turned up nine Ponca City cards from the 1952 Globe team issue. If the set was typical of Globe issues, there are probably at least nine more cards to be accounted for. The P.C. cards are different from other Globe sets in that eight of the nine cards we have seen are "sponsored" by seven different local businesses. The only exception is Bartley. This probably indicates the cards were distributed one or two at a time on the sponsors' different nights at Conoco Park.

Here is the checklist, so far as is currently known:
  • Boyd Bartley no sponsor
  • Tony DeVelis Midwest Creamery
  • Clyde Girrens First National Bank
  • Russ Greenbush Cities Service D.M.F.
  • Al Jarvis Colvin's Conoco Service
  • Morris Mack Midwest Creamery
  • Mike Ryan Jay G. Paris Furniture Co.
  • Don Stewart Ponca City Savings & Loan
  • Duke Stuart Alexander Distributing Co.
Tomorrow we'll cover the single card that Glen turned up from another Globe Printing Co. set.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #19 : Looking for a Hero

I'm looking for a Sports Hero. More accurately, frequent catalog contributor Larry Serota is looking for a Sports Hero.

Among his eclectic collecting pursuits, he has been working on an uncataloged set of baseball player stickers known as Sports Heroes. These red, white and blue 2-3/4" diameter stickers were on my radar back in the 1990s, but a catalog listing was never actively pursued because of a complete lack of information as to the extent of the set.

Larry, with an assist from sports memorabilia auctioneer Bob McGann of Pennsylvania, now seems to have a handle on what was issued . . . almost.

According to McGann, the stickers were issued circa 1964-65 by Hunter Publishing Co., Winston-Salem, N.C. Besides their suitability to be used as wall, notebook, locker, etc., decorations, there were cardboard display pages issued on which the stickers could be placed.

It now appears that only three teams are represented in this issue: Tigers, Pirates and Yankees.
Larry believes that there were four players issued in each team set. He is lacking only one Tiger to complete the set.

The known checklist is this . . .

Tigers: Don Demeter, Bill Freehan, Al Kaline and ?
Pirates: Roberto Clemente, Donn Clendenon, Bob Friend and Bill Mazeroski
Yankees: Elston Howard, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Tom Tresh

Naturally, we're looking to identify (via photocopy or scan) the missing Detroit player. If you can help, please e-mail me at Thanks much!

We have received a report from collector Ed Ford that another team, the St. Louis Cardinals, is represented in this set, as well.

Ed reports that he has Sports Heroes stickers of Curt Flood and Ernie Broglio. There are probably two more Cardinals yet to be found.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tales of T212 #9 : Tom Madden

Back in the early 1980s I thought I'd combine my interests in minor league baseball and vintage baseball cards by assembling a collection of the Obak cigarette cards that were distributed on the West Coast in 1909, 1910 and 1911.I didn't realize it then, but those cards are so much rarer than most of the contemporary T206 cards from "Back East" that putting together complete sets of the Obak could take decades to accomplish -- and that's if a guy had more money than God to buy the cards when they became available.At about the time I started my Obak collection I also started researching the players who appeared in the sets. Over the course of several long Wisconsin winters I pored over microfilms of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life from the period several years before to several years after the Obak cards circulated, making prodigious notes on 3x5 file cards for each player in the set.I gave up trying to collect the T212s (that's the catalog number Jefferson Burdick assigned the three sets in the pioneering American Card Catalog in 1939), long ago, and have since sold off all my Obaks, one-by-one, first on eBay, then on the Net 54 baseball card forum. As I was selling each card, I included interesting tidbits about each player from my notes. The bidders seemed to like learning a little bit about these guys on the cards, so I thought I'd now begin sharing their stories here.
Tom "Don't Call Me 'Bunny'" Madden
This was one of the more challenging identifications to make among the Obak players in the pre-Google days. There were two Tom Maddens playing at the same time. Thomas Francis Madden, nicknamed "Bunny" was born in 1882 in Boston and played 1909-1911 with the Boston Red Sox. Thomas Joseph Madden -- this Tom Madden -- was born in 1883 in Philadelphia and played in 1906 with the Boston Beaneaters (Nat'l League).
Between the notes I made all those years ago while paging through the sports papers, and the on-line reference by the Society for American Baseball Research, I've got it straight now and can positively identify the Madden who appears in the 1911 Obak set.
This is the Tommy Madden who was born in Philadelphia and at age 22 turned pro with Haverhill in the Class B New England League before being sent to the Boston Beaneaters for a trail at the end of the 1906 season. At the big league level he hit .267 in four games and returned to Haverhill for 1907. He spent the next two seasons at Utica in the New York State League, where he batted .310 and was purchased by the New York Highlanders (now Yankees).
After getting a lone pinch-hit appearance for New York, his last taste of big league life. He returned to the Class A minors in 1910, splitting the season between Montreal and San Francisco. He was traded to Sacramento in mid-1911, batting .3030 that season.
He opened the season with Sacramento for 1912, but in July was fined and suspended for heavy drinking, apparently ending his professional baseball career. He died back in Philadelphia in 1930.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tales of T212 #8 : Jacques Fournier

Back in the early 1980s I thought I'd combine my interests in minor league baseball and vintage baseball cards by assembling a collection of the Obak cigarette cards that were distributed on the West Coast in 1909, 1910 and 1911.I didn't realize it then, but those cards are so much rarer than most of the contemporary T206 cards from "Back East" that putting together complete sets of the Obak could take decades to accomplish -- and that's if a guy had more money than God to buy the cards when they became available.At about the time I started my Obak collection I also started researching the players who appeared in the sets. Over the course of several long Wisconsin winters I pored over microfilms of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life from the period several years before to several years after the Obak cards circulated, making prodigious notes on 3x5 file cards for each player in the set.I gave up trying to collect the T212s (that's the catalog number Jefferson Burdick assigned the three sets in the pioneering American Card Catalog in 1939), long ago, and have since sold off all my Obaks, one-by-one, first on eBay, then on the Net 54 baseball card forum. As I was selling each card, I included interesting tidbits about each player from my notes. The bidders seemed to like learning a little bit about these guys on the cards, so I thought I'd now begin sharing their stories here.
Jacques Fournier, the faux French first baseman
While he was born (1889) in the wilds of northern Michigan's lower peninsula on the shores of Lake Huron, and though he was known during most of his professional career as "Jacques," John Fournier was an all-American boy. It is not recorded how he got from Michigan to Washington state, but by the age of 18, after working at a livery stable and as a railway messenger in Aberdeen, he turned pro in 1908 with Aberdeen/Grays Harbor in the Northwestern League, as a catcher, as he is depicted on his 1910 Obak, his only appearance in that cigarette card series.
He spent his first four pro seasons in the Pacific Northwest, with nine teams in five leagues. Twice he played for two teams in the same city in the same season. In 1909 he split time between the Portland Colts (Class B NWL) and the Portland Beavers (Class A Pacific Coast League). In 1910 he played for both the Class D Sacramento Baby Senators (California League) and the Class A Sac'to Senators. He also played for Aberdeen that year.
By 1911 Fournier had raised his batting average from the .210s to the .250s, and switched to first base. He played most of 1911 with the Moose Jaw "Robin Hoods" in the Western Canada League, a Class D affair, where he hit .377 before moving up to Class A Vancouver, from whom he was purchased by the Boston Red Sox.
Prior to the 1912 season, he was sold to the Chicago White Sox. He made his big league debut with the ChiSox, but was hitting under .200 when he was farmed out to Montreal. Back in Chicago in 1913, he was Hal Chase's understudy at first base, then claimed the first-string job in 1914. He led the American League in HR percentage that year, hitting six in 118 at-bats. He led the league in slugging in 1915 with a .491 SA. In 1917 he lost his big league job to future Black Sox Chick Gandil, and, except for a month with the New York Yankees in 1918, spent the 1917-1919 seasons back in PCL with Los Angeles, batting .319. On Aug. 10 that season, he got into a fight with umpire Red Held and threw his glove, hitting the arbiter in the face. Fournier was fined $50 and suspended for a week.
It was back to the bigs in 1920, when Fournier was bought by the St. Louis Cardinals, where he batted .317, before being replaced by future Hall of Famer Jim Bottomley. He was traded to Brooklyn prior to the 1923 season.
Fournier played four years with the Robins. He averaged a strong .337 BA in that period, but in his final year there, with Babe Herman contending for his job, he was released. They didn't have to throw any benefit for Fournier, though, as he reportedly made $75,000 in 1925-1926 during the Florida real estate boom.
He caught on for a last major league season in 1927 with the Boston Braves, but again lost his job to a Hall of Famer, George Sisler. He left the majors with a career batting average of .313 in 1,530 games over 15 seasons.
Fournier played in 1928 for the Newark Bears in the International League, batting .288 with 22 home runs at the age of 38.
After hanging up the spikes, Fournier coached the UCLA baseball team in 1934. He returned to pro ball as a manager in the St. Louis Browns system with Johnstown in 1937 and Toledo in 1943. He later scouted for the Browns. Fournier died in 1973 in Tacoma.
Besides the 1910 Obak pictured above, Fournier appeared on many other baseball cards during his playing days. On the card above, notice the purple ink rubber-stamped on back. Though the reason is unknown, many Obaks, particularly those of 1910-1911, are found with two-digit numerals on their backs, always in purple.

Standard Catalog Update #18 : '77, '81 Variations

Variations that one collector may view as insignificant minutae may be viewed by another collector as a fresh challenge to completing a favorite-player collection, or an excuse to hunt down and build a parallel version of a favorite set.

In my role as one of the editors of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards I admit that I sometimes just shake my head and go ahead and add to the data base newly reported variations, even though I might not consider them to be a big deal. I've always espoused the philosophy that one of the best things about the baseball card hobby is that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to collect.

That said, I want to thank eagle-eyed New York collector William Lawrence for reporting and sending verification samples for two variations that affect entire sets.

1977 Topps Cloth Stickers

William reports that, as shown here, each of the 55 player stickers in the 1977 Topps cloth set can be found with either one or two asterisks at bottom preceding the copyright notice.

I'm guessing that both * and ** versions were printed on the same press sheet of 132 "cards" that would have yielded two complete sets and two rows of 11 double-prints.

It is unlikely that either version is numerically scarcer than the other, thus I wouldn't expect to see any price differential between them

1981 Permagraphic Super Stars Credit Cards

Another full-set variation reported appears in the lower-right corner of the backs of the 1981 Permagraphic Super Stars Credit Cards, in the area of the card numbers.
William points out that each card can be found with and without a "125-" appearing in front of the three-digit card number. He posits that since the corrected (uniform #29) version of the Rod Carew card is found only with the 125-022 number, and the error (uniform #20) with the 022 number, the 125- is indicative of a second, later printing. Sounds right to me.
On this variation, we'll note it in the set's introduction in the catalog, but will take a wait-and-see attitude about whether one or the other version will command a premium price.
As always, your own reports of variations -- accompanied by scans or returnable examples -- are welcome, but remember that my "official" position with the catalog is as vintage (pre-1981) editor, so things that happened much after that date aren't likely to get my priority attention.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Newest Custom Card : Charley Pride

Here's my latest custom card creation. It's a 1954 Bowman-style card of country music legend Charley Pride as a pitcher for the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League. Ever since I learned that Pride had pitched for my home town minor league team, the Fond du Lac Panthers in the Class D Wisconsin State League in 1953, I've been interested in his professional baseball career.
When I found a nice black-and-white photo of Pride in his Memphis uniform in a book about the Negro Leagues, I knew someday I'd be making a card of him.
I'm going to walk you through some of the steps I took to make this card, in case you're interested in making your own custom cards.
I do two basic types of custom cards. The first is cards of players who were active in the year of the card's style, but who never appeared in that particular card set. For these I usually create the backs to read as they would have in the year of issue. The second style is to use card formats from the past, with modern players. All of my 110+ 1955 All-American style football cards are of this type. In this format I write the backs as up-to-date as possible.
My Charley Pride card is something of a hybrid. I chose a card format that was contemporary to his playing days (though no Negro Leaguers or minor leaguers appeared in the 1954 Bowman set), but wrote the back to present a complete summary of his baseball days . . . or at least as complete as you can be in about 150 words.
In the area where a player's previous season and lifetime stats would appear on as real '54 Bowman, I created a "Music Career Record" with such things as Billboard #1 Hits, Albums Sold, Grammys, major awards, etc. I would have used his baseball stats, but there aren't many of those available. The Negro Leagues didn't keep stats, and he never played on any minor league team in Organized Baseball long enough to have his stats recorded in league records, which usually only did so for players in 10 or more games.
I dithered quite a bit in choosing the card format to use. I strongly considered 1951 and 1952 Bowman, and 1953 and 1954 Topps before landing on 1954 Bowman. In colorizing the black-and-white photo, I kept the "look" of '54B in mind, minimizing a lot of the background details and muting the background colors. While I like the 1951 and 1952 Bowman formats, with their relatively clean front designs, and backs that are heavy on career summary and light on stats, their smaller size was a sticking point. For my custom cards I like to "go big or go home," except when the subject matter cries out for the smaller format. Too, the earlier Bowmans, along with the 1953 Topps, require more of an artwork look rather than a photograph. I use a dinosaur edition Photoshop Elements 2.0 graphics program, and I'm still learning how to give photos the look of a painting, so that is ultimately what caused me to reject those models. A 1954 Topps card was a distinct possibility. I could have used my full-length picture of Pride for the small image, and flopped the head-and-shoulders area for the color portrait. I even rounded up some cartoons to use on the back. I recently found a more close-up photo of Pride in uniform on his official website, and I may noodle around some with that 1954 Topps format, since I've already put in all the work on the biographical research. His web site, by the way, is where I found the autograph that appears on my card's front. Surprisingly, autograph images are surprisingly easy to find on the internet, and with a little bit of Photoshop work to give them cleaner edges, they can readily be used on custom cards.
That research was really one of my biggest hang-ups in doing a Charlie Pride card. So much of what you find in a google search is copied from source to source and, at least to my way of thinking, lacks credibility. For instance, both Pride's official web site and most other biographical citations on the internet give his year of birth as 1938. Since I know Pride was pitching professionally by 1953, that would mean he was a pro at age 15. While the Negro Leagues were known to have more than a few players in their mid-teens, I cannot reconcile the fact that he would have been able to sign a standard minor league baseball contract with not one, but two, teams at that age. Moreover, the SABR Minor League Data Base gives 1936 as his birth year, which seems to be more likely.
I just ordered a copy of his autobiography from Amazon (how do those sellers make a living selling used books for 40 cents plus $3.99 postage?). It will be interesting to see what details can be picked up from that first-hand source. If necessary, I can always issue a "corrected" version of my card.
While I greatly enjoy blogging and sharing my hobby interests, I'm not in love with this platform. It is very clumsy to insert decent sized pictures and you never know from the preview what the final product will look like when you hit the "Publish Post" button.
Because you probably won't be able to read my card back, I'll reproduce the text here:
Charley began playing pro ball with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League -- at the age of 17! He played with the Louisville Clippers in 1954, until he was traded for a used team bus to the Birmingham Black Barons. He returned to the Red Sox in 1958 after two years in the Army. Charley traveled all over the U.S. (and Mexico) trying to get a start in Organized Baseball, making stops in Class C and D leagues with the Boise (Id.) Yankees and Fond du Lac (Wis.) Panthers in 9153, the Nogales (Mex.) Yacquis in 1955 and the Missoula (Mont.) Timberjacks in 1960. After hanging up his spikes he picked up the guitar with which he entertained teammates on long bus rides and made a (Country Music) Hall of Fame career for himself over the next three decades in Nashville.
According to the stats on the SABR site, Pride played in one game with the Boise Yankees, who were a Class C Pioneer League farm club for the N.Y. Yankees; no other stats are recorded. With Fond du Lac, once a Yankees farm, but unaffiliated in 1953, the final year for the Wisconsin State League, he had an 0-1 record in his two games. With Nogales in the Class C Arizona-Mexico League debut season of 1955, Pride had no record in two games, and was 0-for-2 at the plate. Missoula was a Cincinnati Reds' affiliate in the Pioneer League in 1960. He played in four games for the Timberjacks, with no won-loss record in seven innings over three games, in which he gave up eight hits and four walks with a 3.86 ERA. But he did bat .400 in five ABs.
Pride had an unsuccessful tryout with the California Angels organization in 1961 and when even the lowly expansion Mets refused to give him a look in 1962, he gave up his dream of playing big-league baseball.
For a number of years Charley worked out at spring training with the Texas Rangers (he's made his home in Dallas for many years), and when Major League Baseball did that dopey ceremonial draft of living former Negro Leaguers in June, 2008, he was picked by the Rangers (his brother Mack "The Knife" Pride was picked by Tampa).
Some day when I'm back visiting Fond du Lac, I'd like to read the old microfilm from 1953 to see what, if, anything, they had to say about Charley Pride. I can tell you this much, he is unlikely to have found FDL a very hospitable place. In 1953 he would have been one of exactly two Negroes in that east-central Wisconsin city of 30,000+ . . . but, that's a topic for another blog.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #17 : 1950s Mantle Decal

I don't know if this item will make it into print in the 2011 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, but at least it will be in the data base.

With space in the print edition at a premium, it is less likely with each passing year that an item that is not an actual baseball card, or very close to the traditional definition thereof, will be added. By getting such things into the data base, however, we can include them in any expanded DVD version of the book.

This decal, measuring about 2-1/4" square, has only recently begun to show up in any quantitiy in the market. I attribute this to the discovery of an original hoard, rather than modern fakery.

There no way to accurately date the release of the decal; the last half of the 1950s seems like a good bet.

Dairylea was a milk producers' co-operative organized before World War II in Orange County,
just north and west of the New York metropolitan area.

I've seen this decal being sold in slabs from both Beckett and SGC. Prices seem to vary from $90-200, but I'd bet they come down some as more of these make their way into the hobby.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tales of T212 #7 : Paul Strand

Back in the early 1980s I thought I'd combine my interests in minor league baseball and vintage baseball cards by assembling a collection of the Obak cigarette cards that were distributed on the West Coast in 1909, 1910 and 1911.I didn't realize it then, but those cards are so much rarer than most of the contemporary T206 cards from "Back East" that putting together complete sets of the Obak could take decades to accomplish -- and that's if a guy had more money than God to buy the cards when they became available.At about the time I started my Obak collection I also started researching the players who appeared in the sets. Over the course of several long Wisconsin winters I pored over microfilms of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life from the period several years before to several years after the Obak cards circulated, making prodigious notes on 3x5 file cards for each player in the set.I gave up trying to collect the T212s (that's the catalog number Jefferson Burdick assigned the three sets in the pioneering American Card Catalog in 1939), long ago, and have since sold off all my Obaks, one-by-one, first on eBay, then on the Net 54 baseball card forum. As I was selling each card, I included interesting tidbits about each player from my notes. The bidders seemed to like learning a little bit about these guys on the cards, so I thought I'd now begin sharing their stories here.

Paul Strand was something of an N.L. Babe Ruth

There were a number of similarities between Paul Strand and Babe Ruth. They were both left-handed pitchers who hit so well that they were converted into outfielders and posted league leading numbers at the plate.

Strand was a Western boy, born in late 1893 at Carbonado, Wash. As a side-arming lefty, he made his professional debut at the age of 17 with Spokane in the Northwestern League. He had only a 5-9 record for the Indians, batting .212, but he earned a spot on the checklist for the final year of Obak's cigarette card issues out West. He also earned the interest of big league scouts, and the Boston Red Sox bought his contract for $5,000.

The Red Sox turned him back to Spokane where he opened the 1912 season. After getting shelled for nine runs in one inning, he was sent down to the new Class D Tri-State Western League. Following the 1912 season he was drafted by the Boston Braves.

Strand pitched sporadically for three seasons for the Braves, with a 7-3 record and a 2.37 ERA. He was on the "Miracle Braves" team of 1914 that wonthe World Series, but Strand never got into the post-season action because the Braves used only three pitchers in sweeping the Athletics.

At the start of the 1916 season, Strand was sold to Toledo on the American Association, where he continued his conversion from the mount to the outfield. He hit only .215 and returned to the West Coast in 1917 with Seattle in the NWL. That season he pitched a perfect game on May 13 against his old team, Spokane. He had a winning season, 9-7, and raised his BA to .285.

Strand spent 1918 in military service during World War I. When he returned to pro ball in 1919 it was with Peoria in the Class B Three-I League. He hit .299 for the "Tractors," then finished the season up a grade at Class A Joplin, where he batted .386 in 17 games.

He split 1920 out West again, leading the Pacficic Coast International League (Class B) with a .339 average at Yakima, before moving up to the Pacific Coast League with Seattle, by now afull-time outfielder.

Moving inland to the Salt Lake City Bees for the next three years, Strand really hit his stride at the plate. After a .314 year in 1921, he led the PCL in 1922 with a .384 BA and 28 home runs. He also set a professional baseball record with 289 hits -- but remember, the PCL played nearly 200 games a season back then.

Strand broke his own hits-in-a-seaon record the following year, with 325 safeties on his way to the PCL triple crown, also leading the league with 43 home runs, 187 RBI and a .394 average. His 180 runs scored were also league-best.

Those numbers earned Strand another shot in the majors at the age of 30 when Connie Mack bought him for a figure variously reported at $35,000 or $50,000, and three players. With the Philadelphia A's for only a couple of months, and hitting only .228, he was sold to Toledo.

Strand continued to dominate pitchers in the high minors for the next three years. He finished 1924 with a .355 average for Toledo, and hit an even .300 in 1925. Moving to Columbus (Amer. Assn.) for 1926, he hit .335 before returning to the West Coast with Portland of the PCL, hitting .326. He remained with Portland for 1927, hitting .355.

At the aqe of 34, Strand wrapped up his pro career in the Southern Association in 1928, batting .273 for Atlanta and Little Rock.

In 14 minor league seasons, Paul Strand played in 1,561 games and had a career batting average of .334. He died in Salt Lake City in 1974 at the age of 80. Since his major league career began after the golden age of cigarette cards, he never appeared as a major leaguer on a baseball card, though he appeared in a number of card sets during his PCL days, including the popular Zeenuts candy issues of 1922, 1923 and 1927.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #16 : 1949 Page's Milk

While the Page's Pittsburgh Milk Co. card set has been "cataloged" for more than 35 years -- in the sense that it was listed in the old Sports Collector's Bible -- we were never able to pin down the details for an updated listing in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards.
That has changed with information provided by Texas type-card specialist Leon Luckey, who recently published on his vintage baseball card forum, Net 54 (, the definitive on-line community for serious pre-war card collectors) an example of the Page's milk card. More importantly, he also published the "offer card" that was issued with the cards to explain the promotion 60 years ago.
Many collectors will recognize the Page's milk card as a parallel of the set best known in the hobby as 1947 Bond Bread. In reality, both sets are part of a line-up of collectibles featuring the same photos in a variety of formats. There are 2-1/4" x 3-3/8" round-cornered cards (44 baseball, four boxers), 2-1/4" x 3-1/2" square-cornered cards with white/gray backs (same 44 baseball players and four boxers), 2-1/4" x 3-1/2" square-cornered cards with beige backs (22 baseball players, two boxers[and recent, circa 2000, counterfeits thereof]), 3-3/8" x 5-3/8" exhibit-size (45 baseball players), 3" x 5" (presumably 45 baseball players), 6-5/8" x 9" photographic premiums (44 baseball players, four boxers) and perforated, two-sided 2-1/4" x 3-1/2" (22 baseball players, two boxers, with western movie stars on the other side).
We know these collectibles are all related because they share the same photos and script-name identifications on the front, including a few misspellings: "Bobbie Doerr, Cid Gordon, Larry Janson, Johnny Vandermeer."
A great deal about these cards remains unknown, and what is known is clouded by rumor and misinformation.
All have some connection with the Harry M. Stevens Co., of New York, the major producer of baseball year books and concession stand player picture packs in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It is likely Stevens was the source of the photos used on the cards and premiums.
It is likely that at least the 2-1/4" x 3-3/8" (and 3-1/2") cards, whether round- or square-cornered were actually manufactured by Aarco Playing Card Co., Chicago. Aarco was, in the late 1940s, the second- or third-largest manufacturer of playingcards in the U.S. They had been in business since at least 1938 and were sold to the industry leader, United States Playing Card Co., Cincinnati, in 1987.
From the player selection and uniforms, it is evident the first of the baseball cards were produced in 1947, when anecdotal evidence shows the round-cornered cards were inserted into loaves of Bond Bread, a national brand that was sold around the country in about the same geographical area in which major league baseball was played at the time. This version was designated D305 in Jefferson Burdick's American Card Catalog.
Contemporaneously, or perhaps a year or two later, the square-cornered versions of the cards were being sold in four boxed series of 12 cards each, labeled "Sport Star Subjects." This version is labeled W571 in the ACC.
In 1974, just over 3,000 sets of two of these square-cornered series were found in a warehouse and sold into the hobby. There is much disagreement as to whether these warehouse-find cards were from the same printing as the boxed-set issue, or were a later reprinting. Regardless, the end result was that half of the square-cornered cards are now much more common than the others. And don't even get me started about the recent counterfeits of those 24 cards. Aarco also produced other small boxed sets of similarly formatted cards of movie stars and other athletes, with the small boxes labeled "Collectors & Traders."
In 1949, the round-cornered cards, all 48 of them, were used in another promotion, this time by Page's Pittsburgh Milk Co. (presumably proximate to Pittsburgh, Pa.) As can be seen on the offer card distributed with the player cards, a complete set of the cards bearing the Page's rubber-stamped printing on back (which is known in both purple and black ink) could be redeemed for a high-end bicycle. It should also be assumed that to avoid giving away too many bicycles, one of the 48 ballplayer/boxer cards was intentionally distributed in short supply. However, since surviving Page's-backed cards are so rare, we'll probably never know which was the short-printed card.
We will be adding the Page's Pittsbugh Milk Co. set to the 2011 Standard Catalog. Perhaps my then we'll have taken the time and made the effort to reorganize the other related issues that are, in conformity with current hobby practice, lumped together as Bond Bread issues.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #15 : W514 H.A. Robinson

Last time around we presented a couple of previously uncataloged (at least by us) advertising-back versions of W514. Here's the third ad-back version, as promised.
This type of ad-back W514 is known in within the hobby in only one, or possibly two, surviving examples. Fortunately for the card's owner, veteran W514 collector Bob Zych of New York, the player on the front of this card is Black Sox pitcher Ed Cicotte. This card bears on its back the advertising of a Lynchburg, Va., peanut company, H.A. Robinson.
Perhaps it is because this virtually unknown back is found on a Black Sox card, but there are those in the vintage card community who are not convinced this is a legitimate, circa early-1920s, overprint.
I am on the fence, but leaning towards legitimate, for the following reasons . . .
  • The lack of specimens in the makretplace argues against someone having contrived this variation to cheat collectors. Granted, the pictured example has only recently been made public, and if it is a fake, the maker could be waiting for hobby buzz to develop before cashing in by leaking his other creations into the market.
  • The subject matter of the ad-back is rather mundane. A con man might be inclined, if he was going to fake an ad-back, to go with a better-known brand name, a more glamorous type of product, or a more exotic location for the issuer.
  • The details of the advertising are, with a little work, verifiable. There was an H.A. Robinson peanute company located in Lynchburg in the past. Two brands of five-cent peanut packages are mentioned on the card, "Our Hero" and "Robinson Cruso" (it was not unusual to spell the surname without an "e" in times past). A good guess would be that one baseball card was packaged with each peanut purchase, and the Cicotte card certainly shows evidence of having come into contact with some sort of greasy substance.
If the Robinson Cruso brand rings a bell, it might be becuase the brand still exists today as Robinson Crusoe (now with an "e") Salted Home-style Virginia Peanuts, and was on the list of peanut products recalled in the salmonella scare earlier this year. The brand is now the property of Peanut Corporation of America, which is in bankruptcy and the subject of numerous pending criminal and civil investigations as a result of it being "ground zero" for the salmonella outbreak.
Besides the aforementioned appearance on a "star" card that is so low-grade as to not risk losing much value if it was proven to be phony, the nagging doubt I can't quite shake is that there is a decided lack of corroborative, verifiably vintage, advertising for the two named peanut brands. A company that went to the trouble to create baseball cards to promote its product was certainly savvy enough to have used other types of promotions and premiums, yet these are not to be found by the casual researcher.
Here is where I'm currently at in terms of listing this set in the Standard Catalog . . .
I will withhold such "sanctification" unless or until more definitive proof of legitimacy is forthcoming. This could be accomplished by my having the opportunity to microscopically examine the subject card, or preferably more than one, to determine whether the advertising on back was printed before or after the card was circulated.
Listing a card or a set in the hobby's premier reference book is a bell that can't be unrung. Even if it was listed, then taken out if/when evidence was forthcoming that it was not legitimate, much damage to the hobby's body of knowledge would have been done.
Obviously, if you can provide any new information, or samples for study, contact me.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #14 : Ad-back W514s

The 10-for-a-penny strip card set of the early 1920s that has become the most popular in the card hobby is the 120-card issue that was designated W514 by Jefferson Burdick in the American Card Catalog. The set was issued from 1919-1921, as evidenced by several team-change variations found on the cards.

The popularity probably stems from three principal attributes of the set: 1) At 120 cards it is large enough to include not only the top stars of the day, but also more of the journeyman ballplayers; 2) Among the color artwork genre of strip cards of the era, the images on W514 are, while by no means photorealistic, at least not cartoonish in their player depictions, and, 3) The set contains career-contemporary cards of seven of the "Eight Men Out" Black Sox, lacking only Fred McMullin for a complete rogue's gallery of those banned for life for throwing the 1919 World Series.

While not particularly rare, the W514 set is a challenge to complete, especially in anything approaching "investment" grade. The Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards indicates that, at least theoretically, an outlay of about $30,000 would be required to acquire the set in Near Mint condition.

What are rare are W514s that, instead of the blank backs expected of strip card issues of that time, bear contemporary advertising from promotions-minded retailers or consumer goods manufacturers who saw the baseball cards as an inexpensive advertising vehicle, especially for products appealing to children. For a minimal investment in strips, or possibly uncut sheets, of the cards, they could be converted to colorful, collectible giveaways by a quick trip to whatever was the local equivalent of a Kinkos in the 1920s for a fast overprinting of the otherwise blank backs.

It is unknown whether the ad-backed W514s were issued when the cards were new, or whether the overprints were added later in the decade to allow local companies to compete with larger national or regional companies that had their own baseball cards.

For a number of years, a version of W514 that carries ads on back for Mother's Bread has been included in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. For the 2011 edition, two more such ad-back versions of W514 will be added to the "Big Book," with the possibility of a third also joining the line-up.

The first, and more common (if you can call five verified survivors "common") ad-back W514 was overprinted to promote the sales of Hendlers (no apostrophe on the cards) ice cream. Hendlers cards originated in the Baltimore area where their issuer, Hendler Creamery Co., sold ice cream from at least 1905 into the late 1960s. The creamery was one of Baltimore's most successful Jewish-owned businesses of the early 20th Century. The company was sold to Borden's prior to 1932.

The company's long-time slogan for its ice cream was, "The Velvet Kind," and that line appears on each of the handful of known Hendlers baseball cards. Each card also exhibits a second slogan. Those known so far are:

  • A Pal For Your Palate

  • A Smile Follows The Spoon

  • In The Triple Sealed Package

  • Melts In Your Mouth

  • On Your Way Take Home A Bric

Naturally, if you can add to this list, please do so by sending a scan for verification. The Hendlers card pictured herewith is courtesy of Virginia collector Val Kehl.

The second type of ad-back W514 to be reported has on back an advertisement for Barker Bread. Specifically, all known examples have a three-line message: Safe at the Home Plate / Eat / Barker Bread.

Unlike the Hendlers cards, nothing is known definitively about the issuer of the Barker Bread version of W514. Period advertising exists for Barker Bread, a Santa Monica, Calif., baker, but it is not known whether this was the baseball card advertiser.

Veteran type card collectors indicate that examples of either of the overprinted W514s should easily support a multiplier of 6-8X the same player's card in the same condition from the "plain" W514 issue.

As always with overprinted cards, collectors should be especially cautious when contemplating purchase. With the proliferation of scanning and printing hardware available today, producing a bogus ad-back W514 would not be too great a challenge. It is helpful to closely examine such purported rarities to determine whether the overprint was applied before or after the card saw circulation.

That being said, next time out we will tackle a third type of overprinted, ad-back W514 . . . a type that by no means has universal agreement as to its authenticity.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Autographed cards reunited 70 years later

Two autographed 1933 Goudey baseball cards that apparently had their origins in a (presumably) young fan's passion for baseball player autographs more than 70 years ago have been serendipitously reunited in the collection of an Illinois man.

The 1933 Goudey baseball card set is one of the iconic issues of that golden age in the early years of the Depression when bubblegum manufacturers conceived of the idea of pairing their confectionery product with baseball player cards in an effort to persuade youngsters to part with their pennies.

Few vintage card collectors today contemplate the challenge of completing the set, daunted by the existence of four Babe Ruth cards and two Lou Gehrigs . . . not to mention the almost mythic Napoleon Lajoie card that was never issued until a year later, presumably in an effort to keep youngsters spending their money in an impossible quest to find card #106. Today the Lajoie card in anything but the worst surviving condition sells for $25,000 or more.

Collector Sean Brennan is not only piecing together a 1933 Goudey set, he is attempting to do so with every card bearing the authentic autograph of the pictured player. Typical of the cards Brennan buys in pursuit of his goal was that of George "Kiddo" Davis, card #236 in the set. He picked up the card for $41 in an eBay auction in late July. The card had been encapsulated in plastic by third-party authentcation service PSA, and the signature on the card's front, which reads, "To Jimmy Kahs / George Davis / June 3, 1936", has been adjudged genuine by the grading service's autograph specialists.

It was only after receiving the Davis card that Brennan recognized the name on the personalization as being the same as on a card already in his collection. The #1 card in the 1933 Goudey set, Benny Bengough, carries a similar inscription. The Bengough card with which the Davis was reunited in Brennan's collection is inscribed "To Jimmy Kahs / with Best Wishes / "Bennie" Bengough".
It would be interesting to know how Master Kahs acquired his autographed bubblegum cards in the mid-1930s. On June 3, 1936, when Davis signed his card, he was a utility outfielder with the New York Giants, who were playing the Cubs in Chicago. It is possible that Jimmy Kahs got his card autographed as Davis made his way into or out of Wrigley Field, or possibly at the team's hotel or the train station. Or the card may have been in a batch of fan mail that Davis carried along to answer on the road trip.
Without the inclusion of a date in the inscription on the card he autographed "To Jimmy," it's difficult to even speculate on how the youngster got his card autographed by Bengough. By the time the card had been issued in the spring of 1933, Bengough had played his last game in the major leagues and was back in the minors with Milwaukee. In 1934 he began the season with Little Rock, then took over as playing-manager for the Washington (Pa.) Generals in a Class D league through 1935. He was player-manager for the Class C Joplin (Mo.) Miners in 1936-1937. After a copuple years apparently away from Organized Baseball, Bengough returned to the major leagues as a coach with the Senators (1940-1943), Braves (1944-1945) and Phillies (1946-1958).

Brennan describes his acquisition of the Bengough card as "the deal of a lifetime." He saw the card several years ago on eBay from a seller who was disposing of a set of 1933 Goudeys. Noticing that Bengough, the #1 card in the set, was autographed, Brennan contacted the seller and arranged to trade him a similar condition Bengough sans signature, along with $150, for the autographed card.

The Davis-autographed card is the 172nd different card from the 1933 Goudey set that Brennan has acquired since he began the project around 1988. The Davis card leaves Brennan just one short of having an autographed 1933 Goudey of every player who died after 1975, with the exception of card #114, which pictures Luke Sewell in a full-body pose. Sewell also appears in the set as card #163, in a portrait pose, which Brennan already has in his collection.

He has nearly 50 different autographed 1933 Goudey cards of players who died prior to 1970, the "earliest" being Johnny Welch, Cubs/Red Sox pitcher who died in 1940. Brennan considers the "holy grail" of his quest to be Earl Clark, a reserve outfielder for the Boston Braves who died in 1938. Except for Clark, Brennan said he has seen nearly every other card in the set in signed form.
Even the key Lajoie rarity is known to have survived in at least one autographed example. A signed Lajoie, dated 1936, was sold in the 1999 auction of legendary collector Barry Halper, where Brennan recalls that it sold for $27,000.

Like most collectors, Brennan has regrets about the "one that got away." He recalls, "The best deal I ever passed up was in about 1989 when someone had all four Ruths signed for $2,400. Of course this was before authentication so God only knows if they were real."
Brennan has yet to add any of the four '33 Goudey Ruths to his autographed set, nor either of the Gehrigs, though he does have 38 Hall of Famers' cards out of 54 in the set. He recognizes that he will likely never complete the 240-card set in autographed form and said his realistic goal is to get to 200 autographed cards.
Persons wishing to contact Sean Brennan about his unique quest are invited to email him at

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Picture to Beat the Summer Heat

With much of the country in a heat wave, I thought I'd try to give you a bit of a break by sharing this old press photo.

The picture is dated Feb. 4, 1948, and was taken at a snow covered Wrigley Field in Chicago. It shows Chicago high school phenom George Zoeterman demonstrating his four-seamer with a snowball for Cubs' captain Phil Cavaretta. The Cubs had just signed Zoeterman in a 12-team bidding war, but there was way more to the story than that.

The 5'11", 172 lb. left-hander had been a prep star at Chicago Christian High Scholl, where he had pitched two no-hitters in 1946 and two more in 1947. He signed with the White Sox in September of 1947 for a $1,500 bonus, but Commissioner Happy Chandler ruled that the Sox had violated baseball rules regarding signing of high schoolers, since Zoeterman would not graduate until January, 1948. White Sox GM Leslie O'Connor, claiming that since Zoeterman was a private-school student, the rule didn't apply, dug in his heels and Chandler suspended the White Sox from the American League for nearly two weeks until the team paid a $500 fine and voided Zoeterman's contract.

After he was again a free agent, Zoeterman said he received offers from every big league team except the Reds, Giants, Senators and, of course, the White Sox.

Zoeterman began his pro career with Decatur in the Three-I League in 1948. His record in 20 games was 3-5 with a 6.37 ERA. Nonetheless, the Cubs sent him to California to get an early start on the 1949 season with Los Angeles in the Pacific Coast League. Naturally, the jump from Class B to Class AAA was too much for the youngster, and he pitched only two innings with no decision before returning to Decatur. He again had a losing record in '49, going 8-10 with a 3.74 ERA.

Again opting for an earlier start, Zoeterman was sent to Shreveport of the Texas League to open the 1950 season. The 20-year-old had a 1-2 record in seven games, then was sent back up north to Springfield, the Cubs' AAA farm in the International League, where he was 0-2 in nine games.

Zoeterman ended his career in Organized Baseball in 1951 with Grand Rapids in the Class A Central League, where he was 4-4 in 21 games. He washed out of pro ball at the age of 21 with a minor league career record of 16-23.

George Zoeterman died in 2001.

He never appeared on a baseball card. I bought this photo because it pictures a really great piece of Cubs' memorabilia, the leather jacket with the team logo. That would be a premier item in today's market.