Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #29 : 1976 Hostess variations

A real old-school hobbyist, Mike McCoy of Ohio was recently perusing the collection of 1976 Hostess box bottom panels that he put together when they were new. For the first time he noticed that the card of Jim Palmer, #56 in the set, had two distinct variations.
On one of his panels, the photo of Palmer shows two buttons below the Orioles script on the pticjer's jersey. Another panel shows three buttons. Not seeing the variation mentioned in the Standard Catalog, Mike e-mailed scans and asked if it was something that has remained unreported for more than 30 years.
While the catalog does note a handful of panels that appear to have been unissued proofs, with different players or major variations, there are no variations of this nature reported.
In making a close comparison of McCoy's panels, I've found that all three player pictures are cropped somewhat "lower" on one of the panels than the other. Besides adding a button to Palmer's uniform, the slight photo cropping difference allows the bottom of the "s" in Mets to show on Mike Vail's jersey, and reveals an extra fold in the left leg of Orta's pants.
My best guess is that these minor, yet distinct, differences, resulted from the panels -- more accurately, the complete snack product boxes on which they appear -- having been printed in more than one locations. We know that some brands of Hostess snack cakes were sold only regionally, or were known by different names (Ding Dongs = King Dons) in different parts of the country. It makes sense that rather than centrally printing the boxes and shipping them all over the country, that printing was undertaken on a more localized basis, accounting for the variation that Mike noticed.
It is entirely possible, likely even, that similar cropping differences can be found throughout the 1976 Hostess series of 150 cards. That being the case, we will not attempt to undertake a complete lisdting of them in the Standard Catalog, but will mention their existence in the set's introduction.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #30 : Tharp's, Harrington's "found"

In the Standard Catalog Update #24 post on Sept. 15, we looked at a rare Harrington's Ice Cream card that is going across the Heritage auction block in a couple of days. We also took a broader look at several related ice cream prize-redemption baseball card issues of the day.

It was mentioned that the catalog introductions for those sets did not have information on where the issuing ice cream companies had been headquartered. Thanks to collector Dave Weisner, we now know.

I had known for some time that the Yuengling's Ice Cream card issue of 1928 was produced by the "U.S.A.'s oldest brewery" at Pottsville, Pa. (They still make a darn good lager.) In the midst of Prohibition, Yuengling's had, along with some of the nation's other breweries, found a way to keep the factory open until the ban on the production and sale of liquor was lifted. For some reason I had never added the location to the set's introduction, but will do so for the 2011 catalog.

Also to be added will be the fact that Harrington's Ice Cream was manufactured at a dairy in Dushore, Pa., while Tharp's Ice Cream was a product of Shamokin, Pa. These "finds" can be credited to Dave, who forwarded some internet sources confirming those locales.

Those unfamiliar with Eastern Pennsylvania geography may not realize that Shamokin, Dushore and Pottsville are no further than about 60 miles apart. It's also interesting to note that York Caramel Co., which in 1927 created the format that Tharp's, et al, copied the following year, is located in the same general area, about 50 miles southwest from Pottsville.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tales of T212 #12: Jimmy Byrnes

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.
Jimmy (born James Joseph Byrnes in San Francisco in 1880) came to professional baseball in 1903 at the age of 23, getting in through the "back door," with the Oakland Reliance of the "outlaw" California State League, for which stats are unavilable. He jumped to the CSL's San Francisco team for 1904, then caught on in the "real" minor leagues with Oakland in the Pacific Coast League. He split catching duties on the Oaks in 1904-1905 with the aging veteran Pete Lohman.
Despite batting only .207 in those two seasons, he was picked up by Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's for 1906, where he rode the pines as a third-string catcher, getting into only nine games and hitting just .179. He may have had injury or personal problems that kept him off the diamond for most of the 1907-1908 seasons. He played in only 36 games with Portland and Oakland of the PCL in 1907. In 1908 he was back among the outlaws, catching for Sacramento of the California League, but appearing in only 67 games. He got into a spot of trouble during the season when he was fined $10 for throwing a bucket of water in an umpire's face.
He was in Sac'to again for the 1909 season, but this time with the PCL Sacts. He was traded to Oakland in September. The 1910 season found him with Tacoma in the Northwestern League, but he hit only .155 for the Tigers.
One source reported Byrnes in the Southwest Texas League in 1911, but the official record does not confirm that. He was a coach for the Santa Clara College baseball team in 1912 and sometime in that period did some umpiring.
He returned to the PCL as a player in 1913 with the Los Angeles Angels, hitting .190 at the age of 33. He managed the Modesto club in the California State League in 1914.
In November, 1914, he was elected to the California Assembly from San Francisco, and later went to work for the California state parole office, chasing down violators. He died in his home town in 1941.
Jimmy appears on two of the Obak sets, with Sacramento in the 1909 issue, and the illustrated 1910 card with Tacoma.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #28 : 1951 Hartford Braves

Any of you that followed my SCD column in the good old days may remember that I am a big fan of vintage minor league collectibles and of the Milwaukee Braves.

When a new discovery crosses my desk that combines those hobby interests I am in hog heaven.

Such is the case with a newly reported set of player pictures of the 1951 Hartford Chiefs, a Class A Eastern League farm club of the Boston Braves. The discovery was first posted on the forum by Dave Bergin, who provided the scans and information you see here.

The black-and-white cards are in a 4-1/4" x 5-1/4" format, printed on card stock, blank backed. The pictures are likely a team-issued souvenir stand type item, but because Dave acquired them from the collection of a former typesetter for the Hartford Courant, it is possible the newspaper had some hand in printing and/or issuing them.

Dave has 17 cards from an as-yet unknown number that were originally issued.

Here's the list of cards currently known to exist:
  • Earl Bass
  • Gene Conley
  • Jack Daniels
  • Pete Fox
  • Harry Hanebrink
  • Tommy Holmes
  • Travis Jackson
  • Ford Jordan
  • Tom Keenan
  • Dick Kelly
  • Ed Lenthe
  • Jack Mulcahy
  • Len Pearson
  • Don Schmidt
  • Harry Sullivan
  • Elmer Toth
  • Bob Verrier

You might recognize some of the names on that list.

Travis Jackson is a Hall of Fame shortstop who took over as Chiefs' manager after Tommy Holmes was called 100 miles up the road to take over the helm of the Boston Braves in mid-season.

Len Pearson was an aging (33) Negro Leagues (1937-50) slugger who was in his second season in Organized Baseball but who never got a chance to play in the Major Leagues.

Gene Conley had a 20-9 record with the Chiefs in 1951 on a 2.16 ERA. The Sporting News named him the Minor League Player of the Year (an award he also won two years later with the Toledo Mudhens) and was called up the Boston Braves in 1952.

Conley was one of six future Boston/Milwaukee Braves who played for the Chiefs in 1951. Besides Conley, the known checklist includes cards of Jack Daniels and Harry Hanebrink. Other future Braves whom you'll remember from your 1950s Topps cards who are not yet known to have been issued with this set are Ray Crone, Phil Paine and a 19-year-old Frank Torre.

Bergin's discovery set will be included in the vintage minor league section of the 2011 Standard Catalog. Naturally, if you can provide evidence of the existence of currently unknown cards from this set, please contact me via a comment on the blog or by e-mail at Thanks much!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tales of T212 #11 : Tommy Murray, Portland

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.
Tommy Murray was one of the Obak players who appears only in the 1911 set, with Portland of the Pacific Coast League.
It was reported that Murray was born in 1886 in Pittsburgh and played for the Pitt Panthers college team in 1906, the same year he turned pro with Steubenville in the Pennsylvania-Ohio-Maryland League. He was a lifelong minor leaguer whp spent his entite pro career behind the plate, most often as a back-up backstop because his hitting was generally in the under-.250 mark.
After another year with the Stubs in 1907, he jumped from Class D to Class B with Trenton. He found his way out the West Coast for 1909, where he played for both team in Portland, the Class B Colts of the Northwestern League and the Class A Beavers in the PCL at Class A, where he played through the 1911 season.
He reached the peak of his career in 1912 with the St. Paul Saints in the Class AA American Association, but when he hit only .224 for the season, he was turned back to the Colts in Portland for 1913, after which his pro career was over.
Tommy Murray is one of the many Obak players for whom personal information in my years of research was almost non-existent.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #29 : 1954 Bowman Erskine variation?

Chalk this up to the variation mavens (Jim and Levi) at 707 Sportscards.

I can't explain how it might have been created, unless the signature portions of the 1954 Bowman fronts were the only elements of the cards' printing that were printed in actual black ink. Come to think of it, that might explan why the cards have such a pastel look to them.

It seems evident that the stray black loops that show up at the top of a few -- seemingly a very few -- Carl Erskine (#10 in the set) cards were once part of the Jackie Jensen (#2) facsimile autograph, and that the Jensen card must have been positioned above the Erskine on the printing sheet.

Out of curiosity, when I first got Jim's e-mail about this variation, I called up Carl Erskine 1954 Bowmans on eBay, both current and past auctions, and store offerings. Out of about 20 cards, not one echibited the black loops.

Realistically, as resistant as I've become in the past few years about adding vintage variations to the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, especially when most of them are just printing problems, I'd be quite inclined to accept the Erskine "with loops" as a legitimate variation, providing that more examples can be verified so that I am assured that this is not just a one-of-a-kind anomaly.

So, if you can provide scans or a photocopy of other specimens of this variation, please do so by adding a comment to the blog, e-mailing me at, or mailing to Bob Lemke, P.O. Box 8, Iola, WI 54945.

Standard Catalog Update #23a :1948 Bowman Feller “box” variations revisited

As I've said before, there are limitations to my ability to create/manipulate posts on this blog site. In trying to create this Update, I managed to delete the original Standard Catalog Update #23 post about the 1948 Bowman Bob Feller variations.

In response to that post, the guys (Jim and Levi) at 707 Sportscards sent me these photos and information. There's not a lot of commercially involved hobbyists who see more 1950s cards than 707, and little escapes their eagle eyes when it comes to variations. More importantly, they are generous with sharing their findings with the rest of us and have been regular and long-time contributors to my efforts in SCD and with the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards for more than 20 years.

Their study of 1948 Bowman Bob Feller cards has led them to identify four major stages of the "boxes" variations that were the original subject of SC Update #23. Here's what they had to say about the variations . . .

"The variation on the 1948 Bowman Feller relates to 'windows' at the top center of the card. Most of the time when you see the card it has no white shapes, like card #1 above. Due to some sort of printing problem, the card can also be found with two white windows at the top. The windows also come in different sizes, as can be seen in the other cards shown, and this is probably due to the problem increasing in size gradually, as can be seen in cards #2 and #3, and then stopping at a point like card #4. A bunch of #4 types were printed and then the problem was likely discovered and corrected. Most of the cards found with the windows look like card #4. The quantity of #2s and #3s, and perhaps more in between varieties as well, appear to be found less frequently. A count of the 17 cards we surveyed shows: 12-#1, 1-#2, 1-#3 , and 3-#4 . The basic variation is pretty well known among advanced variation collectors, but few are probably aware that cards can be found in between."

Given that this is a case of "stages" of the variations, I'm not inclined to include it in the "big book," but the information is definitely worth preserving in this forum, where it will live forever in the cyber hobby.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

New custom card : 1955 Harry Agganis

I've been so busy with Standard Catalog Update posts lately that I haven't had much time to work on my custom card projects. I made time last weekend, however, to finish this 1955 All-American style card of Harry Agganis.

The card was made possible by finding a great photo of the "Golden Greek" in a recent auction.

If you're much younger than I am (and I'm sure most of you are), you may not have heard of Agganis. In the 1940s and 1950s he was a legend in the Boston sports world. And his legacy remains strong there. The arena at Boston University is named for him.

As summarized on my card back, Agganis was a left-handed quarterback high scool All-American at Lynn Classical High School in the late 1940s. He chose BU from among 75 scholarship offers so he could remain close to his widowed mother.

He played QB and defensive back for the Terriers and did their punting, settinhg a number of school records. In Agganis' three varsity seasons, 1949, 1951-52 (he was in military service with the Marines in 1950) BU had a 17-10-1 record, often playing out of their class against teams such as Miami and National Champion Maryland.

In the 1952 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns made him their #1 draft pick (12trh pick overall), but Agganis rejected what was reported as a $50,000 offer to play baseball for the Boston Red Sox.

Agganis started his pro baseball career at first base for the Red Sox' top farm club, the Louisville Colonels, in 1953. He hit .281 with 23 home runs and the next season was called up to Fenway. With the Red Sox in 1954 Agganis batted .251 with 11 home runs.

A month into the 1955 season, batting .313, Agganis was struck with a pulmonary embolism and died on June 27 at the age of 26. By the time most of us saw his rookie card in the 1955 Topps set, Agganis was gone.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #27a : 1956 Schmidt variation

This is an update to the Standard Catalog Update #27 post of Sept. 20, concerning a missing "6" in the losses column of the previous year stat line on Willard Schmidt's 1956 Topps card #323.

I speculated that if additional copies of the variation pictured in that posting could be verified, the card could possible be listed as a legitimate variation in the 2011 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards.

Based on new evidence shown here, that's not going to happen. The pictures here were provided by 707 Sportscards and show that rather than the "no losses" card being an error of typographical omission that was later corrected, it is, rather, just a stage in a progression of missing black ink that affected those cards.

The top image shows that besides missing the 1955 losses, this particular example is missing the wins in that row, most of the "AJOR" in the red bar above the stats, and much of the printed numerals in the losses, percentage and hits in the lifetime row.

The lower picture shows those elements are now completely blocked from the black ink flow.

That being the case, I'm thinking this is not a "catalogable" variation, since it is likely that there also exists several or many other itermediate stages of missing black ink in these areas, and that differentiating among them with a written description would be imprecise and too cosumptive of page space.

These printing errors likely resulted from some sort of obstruction that got between the card stock and the black-ink plate and then gradually wore or fell away. The errors are worth recording for the hobby record in this forum, but should probably not become part of the printed catalog due to the fact that such variations appeal to only a limited segment of the hobby.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #27 : '56 Schmidt variation?

There seems to be a lot more interest in vintage variations right now than there was when I left the Standard Catalog helm 3-1/2 years ago. I'm guessing that's a result of the ever-increasing role of the internet in facilitation collector communications, and especially the easy sharing of card images that can used for variation verification.

An old-school variation hunter and long-time catalog contributor Al Richter of Texas recently sent a batch of color photocopies of various 1950s-1970s variations. One of which I'm sharing here with you in an effort to determine whether or not it will be listed in future editions of the catalog.

Frankly, in my current second-term as vintage editor for the "big book," I am going to be a lot tougher on variation additions. The internet information explosion has resulted in the "discovery" of dozens -- even hundreds -- of minor variations that are obviously the result of printing problems, rather than intentional corrections of design or textual errors. The various card forums I follow are full of reports of this card or that card with a gap in the black border surrounding a photo, or a missing spot of color on a graphic, or a stray scratch or splotch on a photo. Most of these will not find their way into the catalog, even though they may be virtually identical to some of the variations already listed. In fact, it is more likely that some currently listed minor variations will likely be removed from future editions.

The card pictured above, however, has caught my interest more than once on forums. As you can see, there is a blank box where Schmidt's previous year losses (it was 6) should appear. In fact, on most #323 backs, the "6" does appear.

What I'm trying to determine with this presentation is whether or not sufficient numbers of the "no losses" variation card exist to warrant listing as a variation, or whether Al's card is just an anomaly caused by a stray bit of flotsam getting between the plate and the cardboard on one or a handful of examples.

Please, respond with a comment if you can shed any light on this variation.


New information on this variation situation has surfaced. Please check back on Sept. 22 for an update.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #26 :1955 Wilson Franks Baseball Books

A year after issuing its 20-card set of baseball cards as package inserts, Wilson Meats created a series of four Baseball Books (“for boys”) and four Fun Books (“for GIRLS”) that were inserted into packages of Wilson Certified Franks.
As rare as the Wilson Franks card are, these booklets are even moreso. We don’t even know who two of the four featured players in the series were.
The Baseball and Fun Books were 16 pages “IN FULL COLORS” in a size of about 4-1/2” x 3-1/2,” printed on low-grade paper. The back page of each book is ambiguous as to whether there was one baseball and one fun book in each package of wieners, or whether there was just one book per package.
The front of the baseball book has a large comic book-style portrait of the player on a yellow background with a stylized baseball diamond. The typography reads, WILSON & CO., INC. / BASEBALL / AS THE STARS PLAY IT / (Title of book) / BY / (Player facsimile autograph) / (Team name)”. The inside pages have baseball tips presented in comic book illustrations.
We don’t know what the cover of the “girls” books looks like, or their inside pages. The Fun Books advertised on the back covers were: Circus Cut-Out and Fun Book, Western Cut-Out and Fun Book, Dress-Up and Fun Book, and, Travel Cut-Out and Fun Book.
The baseball books are: 1. Pointers on Pitching (player unknown), 2. Batting and Fielding Secrets (player unknown), 3. Playing the Infield (Harvey Kuenn), and, 4. How to Catch (Sammy White).
If you can identify, and verify through a scan or photocopy, the identity of the two unknown players in this series, we’d be happy to hear from you.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #25 : Ewing added to Just So checklist

While it's only September, I think it would be a safe bet that the card pictured here will turn out to be the most important "find" of 2009. OK, the card was actually found in the 1990s, but it was only recently brought to the attention of the hobby.

Don't feel badly if you don't recognize the type, few collectors have ever seen one. The card of William (Buck) Ewing is from the 1893 Just So tobacco package insert set. Virtually unknown until the 1960s, the Just So cards feature only members of the Cleveland Spiders. These sepia portrait photos are printed on heavy, blank-back paper in a size of approximately 2-1/2" x 3-7/8".

Ewing becomes the 16th player on the set's checklist. Collectors had been divided for decades on whether a Just So Ewing had been issued. The Hall of Fame pitcher/outfielder had been traded to Cleveland from the N.Y. Gothams prior to the 1893 season for third baseman George S. Davis (himself a future Hall of Famer). That changed with the recent announcement by Rob Lifson, principal of REA Auctions, that the only known example of an 1893 Just So Wm. Ewing card has been consigned to his 2010 auction.

The card had been discovered years ago when Mike Gazo was remodeling the bathroom of his mother's home in Tamaqua (east-central), Pa. Behind a plaster-and-lath wall, the Ewing card was found fixed to a stud by a large square-headed nail. The front of the card bears the waffled imprint of a 19th century hammer and is speckled and streaked with coal dust and smoke as a result of its being located about a foot from the chimney of a coal stove for 100 years.

Ewing is the fourth Hall of Famer to have been included in the Just So Spiders team set, joining Jesse Burkett, John Clarkson and Cy Young. The only two "regulars" from the team yet to be found on a Just So card are third baseman Chippy McGarr and center fielder Jimmy McAleer. Almost all of the Just So cards, including all of the Hall of Famers, are known to have survived in only a single example. Knowledgeable 19th century collectors expect that even in its technically "Poor" condition, the Ewing card will bring a mid to high five-figure price when it crosses the REA auction block next spring.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #24 : A $10,000+ "common"

If you looked up card #48 in the 1928 Harrington's Ice Cream set in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, you'd find that Earl Smith "books" for $90 in NM. Why, then, is an SGC-graded Good example of the card already bid to $11,000 in the Oct. 1 sports cards/memorabilia auction being conducted by Heritage? And why has Heritage placed a $40,000 estimate on the card?

I'm sorry to report that I can't give you any definitive answers, but I did want to bring this anamoly to your attention.

Some background . . .

The Harrington's is one of a "family" of seven card sets that share the same front design and basic checklist of 60 players. The progenitor of the clan seems to be the 1927 York Caramel
Type 2.

The following year, a half-dozen other sets were issued. We're going to disregard the Greiners Bread version in this discussion, since so little is known about it, and even a picture of the card is virtually impossible to lay hands on. Within the five other sets, there are two distinct "generations." The first-generation cards were issued by Tharp's Ice Cream (location unknown), the Sweetman Co., of St. Louis (we don't know the type of product they used the cards to promote), and an unknown issuer whose cards have on back a game play/prize redemption notice and which are cataloged as W502. All of these first-generation cards measure about 1-3/8" x 2-1/2" and are printed in black-and-white. A portrait or posed action photo is on front, with a card number within parentheses and the player's name in the wider border at bottom.

There are two second-generation sets in this format, on which it appears that the entire front of a first-generation set was reprinted, with a resultant loss of quality, some different cropping and the card number/player name line of type being incorporated into the player picture. These sets were issued by Harrington's Ice Cream (location unknown) and Yuengling's Ice Cream (Pottsville, Pa.). Besides having stolen the design of York, et. al., the Harrington's and Yuengling's cards shared a purpose, along with the first-generation Tharp's.

Evidently given away, one card with each retail ice cream purchase, the 60 cards in these sets, according to information printed on the backs, could be redeemed for a gallon of ice cream, while the Babe Ruth card was redeemable for an ice cream bar or "novelty" or could be saved in an unspecified number for a quart of ice cream (Harrington's and Yuengling's) or "a $5.00 skooter" (Yuengling's).

As was often the case with such redemption programs, to limit the number of top prizes given away, the issuers were inclined to hold back from distribution one of the cards needed to complete a set. It is now becoming apparent that for Tharp's, Harrington's and Yuengling's, the "chase" card that kept many a youngster from pigging out on a gallon of free ice cream was #48, veteran National League catcher Earl Smith.

This supposition is based upon the empirical evidence of lack of surviving examples of that card in those three sets. Of 145 cards reported graded by PSA and SGC for the 1928 Harrington's set, there are only two Earl Smiths. Considering that the "average" number of cards graded per player in that set is only 2.4, the scarcity of the Smith card is not all that remarkable. Among Tharp's (146 submissions) and Yuengling's (412 submissions), however, not a single Earl Smith card has been graded.

Among the sets that were not issued as part of a redemption gimmick, the Earl Smith card shows up once among 91 York Type 2s, twice in 42 Sweetman's submissions, and in 10 examples among 550 W502s handled by SGC and PSA.

Of special interest in the example of the 1928 Harrington's Earl Smith card in the Heritage auction is the fact that, unlike the other 59 cards in the set, it is printed front and back in green ink, rather than black-and-white. The other reported example of the Harrington's Smith card is also in green. There are no confirmed reports of the card surviving in black-and-white. We are left to speculate whether the card was originally distributed in b/w, but exchanged for a green version when a set was redeemed for a gallon of ice cream, to absolve the retailer of the need to "cancel" all 60 cards, or whether it was only issued in the distinctive color to signify its status as the rarity of the issue.

Regardless of the facts surrounding their original distribution, surviving examples of Harrington's, Tharp's and Yuengling's Earl Smith cards can now take their place among the elite of vintage baseball card rarities. When the hammer falls in the Heritage auction, we'll know how far up on that list the hobby deems appropriate.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #22 : 1967 Ashland Oil

Jim Maloney existence confirmed

The 1967 Ashland Oil “Grand Slam Baseball” contest card of Reds pitcher Jim Maloney has a lock on “comeback” card of the year. The card was on the verge of being excised from the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards as non-existent.

We now know that the card is not extinct, but is certainly on the endangered list.The 2010 edition of the book listed the card as “existence now questioned.” That will be changed in the 2011 edition to reflect the fact that at least one example of the card has been confirmed. Veteran collector John Rumierz has provided a scan of what may well be the sole surviving Maloney card from that gas station promotion.

As has been common with similar promotions involving baseball cards over the past century, to avoid giving away too many high-dollar prizes, contest promoters often released one or more cards in quantities much more limited than the rest. That is evidently the case in the 1967 Ashland contest.

The Ashland contest pieces were a 7-1/2” x 2” triplefolder card that featured a square black-and-white player portrait card in the center. The identity of the particular player determined whether or which prize had been won.

The currently unique Maloney card has been cancelled, presumably by an oil company contest official, in red felt tip ink “void” with a set of initials. Frequent column/catalog contributor Larry Serota, speculates that the survival of this cancelled example “would probably mean full-size ones that haven’t been voided either don’t exist or are somewhere in Ashland Oil’s files.”

With about a year to go before the 2011 book’s deadline, unless another example of the Ashland Maloney turns up, we will amend that set’s listing to reflect the unique nature of the Maloney, unpriced of course, and specify the set as “complete” at 11 cards.

The 2011 catalog will also, for the first time, carry a number of new “endangered” notations in the listings, particularly in the E121 American Caramel sets of 1921 (Series of 80) and 1922 (Series of 120). Recent discussions on the Network 54 Vintage Baseball Card Forum have rightly questioned the accuracy of checklists for those sets that have long been accepted in the hobby’s major reference catalogs. Such errors have occurred over the past decades as mistakes were made in identification of cards, in the conveyance of information to catalogers, or assumptions made that if a particular card or variation exists in one set, it must also exist in a closely related set. Advanced collectors in E121, as well as in other areas of the card world, have compiled, through their own want lists and those of colleagues chasing the same sets, lists of cards that are suspected to not actually exist, regardless of their appearance in our catalog or other references.With forums such as Network 54 and the rest of the internet providing easier than ever communications among collectors and the ability to share images via posted or e-mailed scans, cleaning up cataloging errors that have been promulgated for a generation is now feasible.

The standard process we use with the “big book” is to modify the suspect listings by removing their pricing and adding the “existence now questioned,” notation. If, after sufficient inquiry on respected forums and a year or two of “ENQ” status in the printed catalog, credible evidence of a card’s existence is not forthcoming, the listing will be deleted.

Of course such cards can always be relisted in the future should the dispersal of some old-school collection provide evidence of existence.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A little late, but . . .

I would have posted this more timely in relation to the senator's death, but as I mentioned, I was on vacation and did not have access to my custom card creation archives to include the photo. I have the card front posted on my Photobucket pages (
but didn't have the back image on that site.

This 1955 Topps All-American style custom card of Ted Kennedy was one of the first dozen or so cards I created in my long-running "2nd Series" of college cards in one of my all-time favorite formats. The card was originally created more than six years ago, and was probably the first one on which I adopted the vertical layout, which was necessary to accomodate the tall, narrow photo.

I wasn't a fan of the senator's politics, but since I had already done cards of John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy (and would eventually do one of Joe Kennedy, Jr.), I felt it was necessary to do a Ted Kennedy card to complete the "set."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

OT: I'm on vacation. Hey! Is that Robin Yount?

I've tried to schedule enough new posts to run while I am on vacation. I'll be back in action about Sept. 10, but I thought I'd knock out this off-topic ramble just to keep my hands in while the kids are at work.

The picture of the turkey-totin' Sesech is a print from a painting that was done by Mark Twain Noe (google him, he has a website). That print hung at the end of the hall of the "retirement" home we bought in Western Pa.

When I first saw it, I was struck by the resemblance of the rebel soldier to Robin Yount. The house's former owner took the print with him when we bought the place, but I couldn't get the picture out of my mind and how great it looked as a focal point at the end of the hallway.

In the summer of 2007 I was feeling pretty flush. I was a year into my new job and my retirement accounts were growing by the day. While sitting in the corner bar one Saturday afternoon, I got to talking with a friend of mine, wildlife artist Sharon Anderson. (Iola, Wis., is fortunate to have in residence two nationally famous wildlife artists in Sharon and in Jerry Gadamus. You can google Jerry, but Sharon's website is still under construction.) Iwas telling her about the Confederate turkey hunter painting when it struck me that I was in a position to have a painting of my own done.

We kicked around the idea and she drew some sketches on a napkin. I asked her how much an original painting would cost and before you know it, I had commissioned a portrait for my new house.

There's no doubt that I flat out stole the concept for my painting from Mark T. Noe. However, it fit some vague conceit of mine that if I had been a non-com back in Civil War days, I would have been a provider for my troops.

Since I was 10 years old when the Civil War Centennial came around in 1961, and have been fascinated with all things related to the war ever since (I had the big Marx Civil War playset, and collected the Topps Civil War News card set). In the early 1970s I became involved in Civil War shotting competitions. I've never been a re-enactor, but for a decade or so went out a couple of weekends a year and participated in target-shooting competitions with replica .36 caliber Navy revolver, a .50 caliber breech-loading Smith carbine, a .58 caliber Mississippi rifle and was even drafted a time or two for a cannon crew.

The personna I adopted for those evenst was a sergeant in Co. B, nd Wis. Volunteer Cavalry. That unit had been formed largely of men from my hom county of Fond du Lac, Wis., and had seen plenty of action in Tennessee, at Vicksburg and Texas.

The process of getting the painting done was a real education for me. Sharon works principally from photographs and, buy, did we ever take photos. The horse is my wife's "Sport." Since the painting was to be a surprise for my family when we visited our Pennsylvania home for Christmas, I had to make all the arrangements on the QT.

While my wife was out of town for a week, Sharon and her photographer friend came out to my place one afternoon and took about 200 pictures of Sport from every conceivable angle. With my wife out of town, I grew a beard (of course I started two or three week before she left), which I shaved in successive stages while close-up portrait photos were taken of my with a full beard, with the burnside as on the painting and with a moustache.

No, I never got on the horse to pose. I'm no longer agile enough for that. The artist borrowed my uniform and equipment and had a young man pose for a series of pictures on horseback. As a wildlife artist, Sharon was particularly keen to get the young buck right. She actually put a couple of local deer processors on notice of what she was looking for during the September archery season. When a hunter brought in the right specimen, she went over the butcher shop, draped the deer across a barrell and shot some photos.

Sharon did a lot of research in Civil War photo books to get the tents, horse trappings, etc., authentic. I think the end result was worth it all. During the process I occassionally fretted about spending that kind of money on a vanity item. However, as payments came due I always had enough in my baseball card account to pay for the painting without dipping into the family budget. I knew I had done the right thing the first time I came into the house after the portrait was hung and saw it down the hallway. I also got a feeling this was right for me one night when I was watching a Sopranos re-run and saw Tony commission a portrait of his race horse. When they said on TV what he was paying (at New Joisey prices a few years earlier), I felt pretty good about what I was getting for the money. We have a family heirloom that captures me at a time of my life that I recall with a lot of good memories.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

1954 Topps variation? Probably not, but . . .

There is no I in . . .
I was pishing around with some 1954 Topps cards the other day, working on a future custom card project, when I noticed an error on the back of card #235, Vernon Law.
Where it was intended that the Year stats line was to read, "IN MILITARY SERVICE," the "I" in "IN" had been left off.
I'm going to assume this was am error that was never corrected, or we'd likely have heard about the variation prior to now . . . but you never know.
Actually, Topps DID correct the error -- 40 years later when they issued the 1954 Topps Archives reprint set.
Though it's unlikely, it would certainly be worth your while to check the back of any original 1954 Topps Vern Law cards you might have. If you turn up a correct version, let us know.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Tales of T212 #10 : Bert Hall, Clyde Hall

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.

Did Bert Hall invent the forkball?

Bert Hall is one of many pitchers over the years who have laid claim to inventing the forkball, now more commonly known as the split-finger fastball. The back of Hall's 1911 Obak card (he also appears in the 1910 set) says Hall is "the only pitcher who has mastered the fork ball." The card also says that the pitcher's unusually long fingers allow him to produce the "oddest" curveballs.

Herbert E. (some sources give his middle name as Ernest, others as Earl) Hall was born in Portland, Ore., on Oct. 15, 1889. He turned pro in 1908 with the Tacoma Tigers of the Class B Northwestern League. From 1908 through July, 1911, Hall accumulated a 47-44 record. A sportswriter of the day said, "of all the pitchers in the Northwestern League, batters most fear Bert Hall. He was a 20-game winner in 1910 and had won 10 by July of 1911 when he was purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies.

In the closing months of 1911, Hall got one start and half a dozen relief appearances with the Phillies, earning an 0-1 record on a 4.00 ERA over 18 innings. That was extent of his major league career.

He returned to Tacoma in 1912, with a 6-10 record. He played for Vancouver in the NWL in 1913-14, winnnig 41 and losing 19. That earned him a jump up in class on the West Coast, and for 1915 he joined the Salt Lake City Bees of the Pacific Coast League. Over two seasons with the Bees he fought the Coast circuit to a 33-33 draw, and was sent back down to the NWL in 1917 for a final year of pro ball with Great Falls. He had an 11-7 record for the Electrics.

Hall retired to the plumber's trade and died in Seattle in 1948.
Clyde Hall . . . middle initial A or W?
Since so little is known about Clyde Hall, who appears only in the 1910 Obaks, I thought I'd combine his "tale" with that of Bert Hall.
Even the Society for American Baseball Research has no biographical information on Clyde Hall, or even whether he threw and batted lefty or righty. At least from his baseball card we can tell he was a right-handed pitcher.
SABR maintains two records for Clyde Halls; one has the middle initial of A, the other, W. From my notes I believe they are the same player and that A was the correct initial.
Clyde Hall first appears as a professional ballplayer with Class B Cedar Rapids in 1906, though his record for 14 appearance is unrecorded. It must have been reasonably proficient, however, as he spent the next two seasons with Omaha of the Class A Western League.
Hall reportedly held out from Omaha most of 1909, then joined Seattle for 1909-10. His record in those seasons is, again, incomplete, but it is recorded that he was 13-4 in 1909.
He drops out of sight after 1910, resurfacing in 1913 with the Boise "Irrigators" of the Class D Western Tri-State League, where he was 6-6.
And that is about all we know about the confident-looking young pitcher portrayed on a 100-year-old baseball card.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A unique Al Simmons autograph

For nearly the past year I have maintained an office for my "day job" in a building near downtown Iola that was built in 1957 by my former boss, Chet Krause. With the completion of that building, Chet finalized his transition from a country carpenter/contractor to a hobby publishing magnate.

When I joined Krause Publications as an editorial assistant on Numismatic News, the weekly newspaper for coin collectors, in June 1974, I occupied a cubicle in that building.
The company vacated the 1957 building in November 1975, moving into a much larger new facility at the edge of town that allowed the different departments of the greatly enlarged Krause Publications to once again operate under one roof, as opposed to the three or four different buildings around town that had been providing temporary housing.
Chet's oold office building was subsequently sold to a church, which occupied it for a few years, then to a coin and antiques dealer who maintained it as both an office and residence. When he severed all ties with his former publishing company in 2002, Chet bought back his old office building and completely rennovated it for use as a retirement office, from which he could work on writing, cataloging his lifelong numismatic collections for sale and conducting family, civic and charitable endeavors.
He has leased space in his building to a local attorney and a tax preparation specialist. Since last November, my employer, Whitman Books of Atlanta, has also leased space there for my office.
All this is by way of explaining how I came to be in possession of the item illustrated in this posting. What it is, is an enameled brass "card," about 3-3/4" x 2-1/4." It is a season pass for the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago and it was issued to Hall of Fame ballplayer Al Simmons.
While I am no autograph expert, I believe that this pass was "signed" by Simmons, using a steel graver. As hard as it is to sign a baseball with a fountain pen, I imagine scratching a signature into a metal plate is an even trickier proposition, but the signature on this pass bears many characteristics of Simmons' more commonly encountered ink-on-paper autographs to convince me that it was probably his handiwork.
Simmons was probably honored with this season's pass by virtue of his selection to, and appearance in, the first modern All-Star Game, which was conducted in conjunction with the World's Fair at Comiskey Park on July 6. I imagine all of the players and other significant personages connected with the game were accorded a similar pass.
The American League won that premiere All-Star Game 4-2 on a Babe Ruth home run. Simmons played the entire game in center and right, and went 1-for-4 at the plate. The attendance was recorded as 49,200 and the game was played in two hours and seven minutes. Today, the pre-game introductions take nearly that long.
Now, Chet Krause never was a sports card or memorabilia collector, but in the course of 40-50 years of attending coin shows around the country, he accumulated a large volume on non-numismatic ephemera, which he is now organizing and preparing for disposition. He "disposed" of this Al Simmons item by giving it to me.
In doing so, he confirmed a local legend, which was the reason he ever bought the piece in the first place.
It is folklore here in Iola that Al Simmons once played a game for the town team against arch rival, Manawa. This is said to have occurred circa 1921, when Simmons, who was born and raised in Milwaukee, was probably still playing under his birth name, Szymanski. It is said that Simmons had been lured "Up North" with a significant cash offer to pitch a game or two as a "ringer" for Stevens Point (about 25 miles west of Iola) in one of that city's supposedly amateur tilts. (While Simmons played his entire pro career as an outfielder, the legend is pretty clear that he was pitching during his sojourn here in the northern wilds.) After pitching for Point on a Saturday, he was brought to Iola for a Sunday game. These games between town teams were a very important source of entertainment in that era, with much civic pride invested in the outcome. Thus the use of semi-pro and even professional players when the rivalry (and likely the betting) reached significant levels.
In 1922, Simmons made his professional debut at the age of 20 with the Aberdeen Grays, a Class D league in the Dakotas, and with his hometown Milwaukee Brewers in the American Association.
Nobody seems to recall the details of the game in which Simmons played for Iola, and if the details were ever recorded in the local paper, it is unlikely I'll ever live long enough to find them. But this brass plaque with a most unusual version of the autograph of Wisconsin's greatest native ballplayer presents not only a link to a local baseball legend, but also a link to my old boss, Chet Krause, a local legend in his own right.