Saturday, May 29, 2010

1950s Dell Comic Book/Wheaties ads

If you've been around the baseball card/memorabilia hobby for very long, you've probably seen at least one of a series of colorful Wheaties advertisements that appeared on the back covers of some Dell comic books circa 1953.
I recently received an inquiry from reader Steve Magelli, who had acquired a pair of the comics and wanted to know where the advertisements stood in the world of baseball collectibles.

Specifically, he asked if I had ever seen any of the facsimile autographed color photo player portraits that had been cut out of the ads -- as instructed. He wondered whether they were considered "real" baseball cards and what collectible value they might have.

Surprisingly, baseball collectors seem to have had little regard for the colorful Wheaties ads over the years, even though the ads feature many of the same star players that appeared on such widely collected Wheaties memorabilia as box-back cards, tin trays and premium photos in the early 1950s. Occasionally at card shows, complete comic books are offered, and, less frequently, back covers that have been torn off. I've never seen the cut-out portraits offered, and doubt they would generate much interest.

Because the comics covers were printed on a higher quality, glossy paper than the newsprint body of the comic, the Wheaties ads maintain their original brightness better, although being on the outside of the book, they suffered more from wear and tear than the interior pages.

Among comic book collectors, Dell titles have never enjoyed the popularity and collector value of contemporary DC comics. While DC had Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and other superhero icons, Dell's biggest names in the 1950s were Tarzan and the Lone Ranger, along with a host of cartoon characters like Woody Woodpecker and Little Lulu.

For that reason, Dell comics with the Wheatiers series of "Spark Up" ad backs, remain very reasonably priced today. While the biggest names among the ballplayers on back can bring up to $100 in top condition, lesser stars can be found for under $10. These values are for complete comics. Seperated back covers would bring 50-75%, and cut-out portraits no more than 25%.

After my initial response to Steve, admitting that I didn't have much data about the Wheaties ad comics covers, but that I definitely remembered seeing a Yogi Berra ad and possibly a few others, he did some digging around the internet and came up with these baseball players: Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, George Kell, Stan Musial, Phil Rizzuto and Al Rosen, along with hockey Hall of Famer Sid Abel.
I wouldn't be surprised if there are few other baseball players in the series, and perhaps even a few more non-baseball athletes. Some of Wheaties' line-up of endorsers in that era included Ralph Kiner, Bob Lemon and Preacher Roe. I suppose it's not out of the realm of possibility that there might be Jackie Robinson ad in this series, as well.
If you have scans of other ads from this series that you'd like to share, e-mail them to me at

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Standard Catalog Update: 1950 Indians picture pack

While they are not baseball cards in the traditional sense of the word, team-issued picture packs have been a part of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards for more than 25 years. Widely issued from the 1930s into the 1970s, picture packs were among the most widely available team souvenirs at concession stands and by mail order.

To me, they also represent a great bargain for collectors because the complete photo packs, in even the highest grades of preservation, are usually available for less the price of a Topps or Bowman card of one of the stars included among the 12-25 players usually found in the picture packs.

Over the years, to conserve space and recognizing that many card collectors have no interest in picture packs, the Standard Catalog has had to remove from its pages those picture packs issued after the 1950s, but at least for now we'll continue to list the earlier issues.

Joining those in the 2011 or 2012 edition of the Standard Catalog will be a newly reported 1950 picture pack from the Cleveland Indians, who were one of the most prolific issuers of picture packs (and later player postcards) in the late 1940s-1950s.

The picture pack checklisted here may have escaped notice because it was assumed that there was only one set issued in 1950. But there were two distinctly different sets. The picture pack that has been included in the catalog for many years is the familiar "Autographed Photos" type, on which the portrait or action photos were identified with a facsimile of the pictured player's actual autograph.

The set presented here shares the basic format of most contemporary Indians picture packs. The photos are printed on thick, matte paper stock in 6-1/2" x 9" size, black-and-white with narrow white borders and blank-backed. Besides the checklists, this set differs in that the player names are presented in black or white script. Some of the photos are shared with other Indians picture packs, but some appear to be unique to this issue.

We were tipped to the existence of the set by Cleveland-area collector Gary Fink, who wrote to seek information about a couple of the pictures he had in his collection, but didn't quite fit the catalog description.

After posting an inquiry on the Net 54 Baseball Card forum, I received a link from collector Chris Counts to an eBay item that appeared to be a match. He was right. The eBay listing (item #350120256453) was from Mike's Vintage Sports Memorabilia in Cleveland, offering the complete 25-player set ($103.99 delivered) and listing some of the players.

I contacted the seller and asked if I could get a complete checklist so that the date os issue could be ascertained and the set listed in the "big book." Owner Mike Lipka promptly replied and shared the list, which is presented here.

Thanks to that co-operative collector effort, we'll be able to include this set in futurte editions.

(1) Bobby Avila
(2) Gene Bearden
(3) Al Benton
(4) Ray Boone
(5) Lou Boudreau
(6) Allie Clark
(7) Larry Doby
(8) Luke Easter
(9) Bob Feller
(10) Jesse Flores
(11) Mike Garcia
(12) Joe Gordon
(13) Steve Gromek
(14) Jim Hegan
(15) Bob Kennedy
(16) Bob Lemon
(17) Dale Mitchell
(18) Ray Murray
(19) Chick Pieretti
(20) Al Rosen
(21) Dick Rozek
(22) Thurman Tucker
(23) Dick Weik
(24) Early Wynn
(25) Sam Zoldak

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Newest custom card -- 1971 Carlton Fisk

Well, it HAS been a while. I was away from my home base for nearly two weeks, and then busy playing catch-up at work and with my hobby projects.

I'm finally getting time to post my newest custom card creation, a 1971 Topps-style Carlton Fisk to go along with the 1970-style card I posted nearly a month ago (April 28).

The '71 Fisk was the first for me in that format, but now I have a template created in case I want to delve any deeper into that genre. Truthfully, though, I don't really have any other 1971-style cards in my sights right now.

In 1971 I was no longer buying cards. At age 20 I was more interested in growing my hair, overthrowing the government, pursuing hippie chicks and my part-time job in pharmacological distribution. By '71 even my youngest brother had stopped buying cards, so I was never really exposed to what Topps was doing until I got back active in cards around 1979.

Card-wise, my heart will always be in the Fifties.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A "new" 1952 Bowman card

This was an exciting NFL draft for me. Besides waiting anxiously to see with which team home-town boy Austen Lane would land, and which team would take Tim Tebow and when, I was watching the selections to see where Dexter McCluster was going in the NFL.

I had the pleasure of watching McCluster in person at Ole Miss against Nat'l Champ Florida in 2007. He is a playmaker, though he is decidedly undersize for the NFL. I was hoping that the Green Bay Packers would realize that McCluster could fill a number of their needs, principally as a "change-up" running back and as a punt returner. I don't really follow any other NFL teams, although I have some leftover affection for the N.Y. Jets from my days as a Namath fan, and I'll always watch the Giants with their Ole Miss alumn quarterback. Now I have a reason to tune in the Chiefs when they're on TV.

I decided to go with a 1952 Bowman style card, instead of my usual 1955-Topps All-American, because I found such a great artwork picture of McCluster on the cover of a video game.

Unfortunately, the huge EA Sports logo on the game box covered too much of the player's right side just below the football, so I wasn't able to opt for a vertical format, or plkace the name banner/logo desigjn elements below the picture, as is more commonly seen on '52 Bowmans. Still, I like the final result.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

New/old counterfeit warning

An inquiry from a reader about what appeared at first glance to be an unchecklisted card from the 1921 Holsum Bread set prompts a warning about some "old" (20th Century) counterfeits.

The appearance of a Boston Braves card of Sherry Magee in a circa 1921 set was the first red flag. Magee last played for Boston in 1917, and was out of the major by 1919. I posted these scans and an inquiry about the card on the forum and quickly received verification that this is a fake.

Since the early 1990s, this type of counterfeit has been plaguing the hobby. Regardless of the advertising on the backs (more on that later), the cards share a few physical characteristics.

The card stock is somewhat rough and often shows a yellowish or ochre tint. Vintage card experts Frank Ward and Leon Luckey describe the counterfeits as having a slight gloss on the front.

The front photos are kind of fuzzy, probably because they have been copied either from genuine 1917 Collins-McCarthy cards or possibly even reprints of that set. The principal at-a-glance difference between this family of fakes and genuine C-M cards is that the real cards have a card number centered in the bottom border.

The typography on this Magee card is all wrong for a 1921 Holsum. The bread company's set was derived from the 1921 American Caramel (E121) / W575-1 strip card sets. As such, it should feature sans-serif type on the front.

Fortunately, for all but the most novice of collectors, the backs of these fakes are readily discerned as poor reproductions of the real thing. On these counterfeits, the back printing seems to have been rubber-stamped, rather than printed by the correct lithograph or offset technology of the early decades of the 1900s.

While this appears to be the first of these counterfeits to surface with a Holsum Bread back, they have been seen with backs advertising Oodles Chocolates and Kendig Chocolates, neither of which ever produced baseball cards, as well as Henry A. Johnson Confectioners -- which issued genuine overprinted backs on similar series in the 1920s.

Given the permanence of information posted in cyberspace, it seemed like a good idea to put this information out there.