Saturday, October 30, 2010

"Missing" 1954 Burger Beer photos found

In recent weeks we've devoted a lot of attention in this space to 1950s-1960s collectibles of the Cleveland Indians. Now I want to turn your attention to Southern Ohio, and the Cincinnati Reds.

In that same era, Reds fans and collectors were blessed with at least as large and wide a selection of team-issued and sponsored collectibles as the Indians fans. In the same way, this wealth of goodies has translated to a large and fanatical collector following today.

That made it all the more curious that until now, the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards' listings of Burger Beer premium player photos included an issue pegged to 1952-1953, a 1955 issue, 1956-1957 and 1958-1959 sets and a catchall 1960-1964 compendium. But there was nothing for 1954.

That has changed. An issue that can be reliably pinpoined to 1954 has been reported and is being debuted here.

In the course of my cataloging work over the years I have worked with several dedicated Reds' specialists on building and updating checklists for the Burger Beer premium pictures. Names that come to mind as especially helpful in that work are Len Samworth, Moe Ryan, Bob Montgomery and Mark Reed. The latter pair have been instrumental in allowing us to finally postulate a checklist for 1954 Burger Beer premium pictures.

Burger Beer was one of the Reds' staunch supporters and (presumably) stadium concessionaires in the 1950s and 1960s. In that period they produced several distinctive styles of Reds' player pictures, though the manner of distribution is unknown . . . at least to me. The pictures may have been given as point-of-purchase handouts, or possibly used to satisfy fan requests for a favorite player's picture.

The Burger Beer premiums are all similar in format. They vary a bit in size, but all have portraits or posed action black-and-white photos on front, surrounded by fairly wide white borders. In the bottom border are some combination of player name (sometimes first and last, sometimes only last name), position, team name and team logo. Backs are generally blank, except for a few issues that have a short advertising message at the bottom.

Dating of the Burger Beer pictures is problematic and in the SCBC, they have been assigned to their various "sets" rather arbitrarily, generally based on shared photo characteristics and the uniform worn by the player, even when the players depicted might not have been on the Reds' roster in a given year. To me, these anomalies suggest that more than one style of picture may have been produced in any given season. Some players, in fact, are shown in the same pictures in different years, sometimes with minor cropping variations.

Here's a summary of what the Standard Catalog shows for these premiums:

1952-1953: 8" x 10-1/2". The REDS-within-C logo appears at bottom, with the player name and, usually, but not always, his position printed to the right of the logo in all-caps. Backs are blank. The current checklist stands at 12.

1955: 8" x 10". The Mr. Red logo appears in each bottom corner at bottom. The player's first/last name, position and, sometimes but not always, team name appear in all-caps in two or three lines. Backs are blank. The checklist in the 2011 catalog stood at 13, but we have been able to add a fair number to that, and will present an update in our next presentation.

1956-1957: 8-1/2" x 11". The only printing in the front bottom border is the player name in all-caps. On back, for the first time, the sponsor is identified in a line of type at bottom that reads: "COURTESY OF BURGER -- A FINER BEER YEAR AFTER YEAR". The checklist now stands at 27, with several players existing in more than one pose. The existence of this ad line raises the possibility that the issues long catalog as 1952-1953, 1955 and 1960-64 may not actually have any connection with Burger Beer, though they are accepted as such by collectors based on their similarity to the issues that bear the ad slogans.

1958-1959: 8-1/2" x 11". Again in this series, variations in poses are known, with the current checklist identifying 17 pictures of 13 players. Player name, sometimes only the surname, appears on front in bold capital letters. On back, at bottom, is a new slogan in two lines, "COURTESY OF SPARKLE * BREWED BURGER BEER / HAVE FUN -- HAVE A BURGER.

1960-1964: 8-1/2" x 11". These premiums are grouped together on the basis of format alone. All have two lines of type on front, presenting the player name and team. Backs are blank. Many of the players are found in more than one pose, some in as many as six. Backs are, once again, blank. Some specialty collectors have proposed breaking this "set" down into its component parts based on player selection and uniform shown. That may be feasible in the future, but the likely reuse of photos from one year ot the next would make it a complicated undertaking. The checklist now stands at 57 player/pose combinations.

To these issues, we expect to add in the 2012 book a listing for 1954 Burger Beer premiums. This issue of 8-1/2" x 11" pictures can be distinguished by the appearance, on either front or back, of the advertising message, "Courtesy of Burger Brewing Co."

Players are identified only by name, in heavy upper- and lower-case typography. Thus far my contributors have pieced together a checklist of nine players and personnel. They are: Bobby Adams, Fred Baczewski, Dick Bartell (coach), Bob Borkowski, Jim Greengrass, Charley Harmon, Waite Hoyt (announcer), Andy Serminick and Birdie Tebbetts (manager). It is likely further pictures from this issue will be reported.

The continuing expansion of the Burger Beer checklists can be lain not only to the dedication of the Reds' collectors, but also to the easy exchange of information and, especially, images via the internet. While I expect that we'll continue to see new pictures added to the lists each year, the hobbyists' embrasure of emerging technology continues to bring us all closer to the ultimate goal of finalized checklists for these great old collectibles.

Your own reports of additions to any of the Burger Beer checklists are encouraged, providing you can verify them with scans or photocopies.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My 1977 Topps-style Namath Rams custom card

My latest custom football card creation is a bit out of my normal range.

For one thing, it's not a college football card; for another it's in a 1970s format.

As a kid, the last football cards I purchased on any kind of a regular basis were the 1960 Topps and the 1961 Fleer. By the 1970s I wasn't following football and I wasn't collecting cards.

Thus, it has been a fairly recent revelation for me that Topps cards in the 1970s didn't include team logos or identifiable helmet designs because Fleer had the exclusive with the NFL for those elements. I also didn't realize that Topps evidently had contracts with individual players, and that throughout the Seventies, some of the bigger name stars do not appear in some years.
The smaller number of cards in a football set in that era, and the need to have players represented from every team meant that each year Topps had to omit some players, especially rookies, who went on to Hall of Fame careers. In a few cases, though, it appears other factors -- probably player demands for higher royalties, kept some players off Topps cards. Lynn Swann, for instance, appeared on Topps cards in 1975-77, but never again, though he played through 1982. And Earl Campbell, who had a Rookie Card in 1979 Topps, never appeared on another Topps card through the end of his playing days in 1985.

The biggest star of the era, Joe Namath, did not appear on a Topps card after 1973. That prevented a card from picturing Namath with the L.A. Rams, to whom he gravitated for the 1977 season. Literally on his last legs by 1977, Namath was waived by the Jets and signed as a free agent by the Rams. The principal reason he cleared waivers is that any team picking him off the wire would be stuck with a $550,000 guaranteed contract.

I have always been a Namath fan; principally because it cheesed off my old man.

So, when I discovered there are some really nice Namath-as-a-Ram photos available, I decided to make a card "that might have been."

My initial quandry was whether to do a 1977 or a 1978 style card. A 1978 would have been cool because the stats on back would have represented his final career numbers. In the end, I chose the 1977 because I liked the format better.

The second big question was whether to honor Topps' handicap of not being able to picture uniform logos. After seeing a couple of '77 Rams cards on which Topps had airbrushed the "horns" off the helmet, I decided not to do so on my card.
I think I made the right choice.
I'm still sitting on a nice photo of Namath in a Rams jersey without a helmet. That would allow me to make a more accurate 1978 career-summary card, but I just don't have the burning desire to do so while I have so many other custom card projects to do.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Still more Indians . . . 1952 Fleet-Wing Gasoline

The Cleveland Indians were riding high in the American League between their World Series win in 1948 and their capture of the 1954 American League pennant.

Team-specialist collectors 60 years later are enjoying the fruits of the Tribe's popularity with its fans, as all manner of team-issued and sponsored player collectibles were forthcoming in that era.

That's not to say, though, that the embarassment of riches in the form of player photo collectibles is not without its challenges.

The fact that so many of these collectible series are in similar formats and often share the same player images has the potential to confound today's collector who is faced with a stray photo or a small group.

That's probably the reason that a 1952 issue by a Northern Ohio gas station chain has thus far escaped the notice of catalogers. Who knows how many of these Indians premium pictures reside in collections today, misidentified as team-issued picture pack photos.

In reality, there is not much to distinguish the 1952 Fleet-Wing player photos from contemporary picture pack fare. The pictures are a mix of portraits and posed action shots, bordered in white, bearing either a black or white facsimile autograph. According to Indians specialist Chuck Lobenthal, who provided the data and images for this listing, the pictures from the gas station promotion are the same as those found on the 1952 Num Num potato chips, though the Fleet-Wings are larger, at 6" x 9," and have the facsimile signatures.

Chuck says the principal feature differentiating the Fleet-Wing photos from the 1952 "Fine Pen picture pack issue is their size (the photo pack pictures are 1/2" wider, at 6-1/2"). and the heavier paper stock on which the Fleet-Wings are printed.

You can see the potential for confusion.

The album that was issued to house the Fleet-Wing pictures is actually somewhat smaller, at approximately 5-7/8" x 8-3/4". The horizontal format album has 32 pages. The inside front cover has the Indians home and away schedules. This is followed by five pages of information about the team and Fleet-Wing. There are then eight pages of player biographies, with instructions to scotch tape the pictures to the top of the page, presumably so that the photo can be lifted to read that player's comprehensive stats and analysis.

At the center of the album are eight pages of scorecards, then another eight pages for player pictures.

Chuck also has an 8-1/2" x 5-1/2" sheet that appears to have been a point-of-purchase window or counter display that explains how to obtain the album and pictures. One picture was given for each $1 purchase made at the gas station.

To assist collectors in correctly identifying 1952 Fleet-Wing premiums, we'll checklist them not only by player name, but also include the pose and the color of the facsimile signature.

Player Pose/Autograph

(1) Bob Avila Fielding, white

(2) Ray Boone Hands on knees, black

(3) Lou Brissie Pitching follow-through, black

(4) Larry Doby Fielding, black

(5) Luke Easter Kneeling w/bat, white

(6) Bob Feller Portrait, black

(7) Mike Garcia Pitching follow-through, white

(8) Jim Hegan Ready to throw, white

(9) Bob Kennedy Portrait, black

(10) Bob Lemon Portrait, black

(11) Al Lopez Portrait, black

(12) Dale Mitchell Portrait, black

(13) Al Rosen Batting, white

(14) Harry Simpson Batting, black

(15) Birdie Tebbetts Portrait, black

(16) Early Wynn Pitching, white

Conventional hobby wisdom would dictate that a gas station premium would carry a significantly higher market value than a team-issued or picture pack photo. However, the ease with which the Fleet-Wing pictures could be misidentified may mitigate against their achieving that sort of advantage.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

1980(?) Union Novelty N.Y. Yankees

A collectors' issue that has heretofore remained uncataloged but that is found regularly on eBay and at card shows purports to have been issued by Union Novelty Co., Los Angeles.

The set features frequently-seen images of Yankees greats in a 3-1/2” x 5-1/2” black-and-white format. There is no indication of issue date. The cards may have been produced anytime between about 1980, when collectors' issues began to proliferate within the hobby, and 1995. The latter date was the year of Mickey Mantle's death, and authnticated examples of the cards bearing Mantle's autograph are known.

The cards were produced in two styles. One version has printing on front with the player name(s), references to the team and a card number from within a series of 20. Backs of this type are identical, describing the card as “one in a collection of nostalgic prints of famous athletes.” The second type has nothing on front except the player photo with a white border. Backs of this style are arranged as a postcard. There is no price differential between the types.

This is the checklist:

1 Mickey Mantle
2 Mickey Mantle
3 Mickey Mantle
4 Mickey Mantle
5 Mickey Mantle
6 Mickey Mantle
7 Roger Maris & Mickey Mantle

8 Mantle & Maris
9 Lou Gehrig
10 Lou Gehrig & Joe DiMaggio
11 DiMaggio and Bauer

12 Joe DiMaggio
13 Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio

14 “The Yankee Clipper” Joe DiMaggio
15 Roger Maris

16 Whitey Ford
17 Yogi Berra
18 “The Iron Horse” Lou Gehrig
19 Phil Rizzuto
20 Babe Ruth

A reasonable retail value for the set would be about $40. Single cards sell for $3-5 each.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

1967 Indians Yearbook . . . Wasn't

The dean of vintage baseball card and memorabilia collectors in Maine is indisputably Bob Thing. He has been contributing bits and pieces for the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards as long as there has been a Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards.

Responding to our recent spate of Cleveland Indians collectibles reports, Bob sent a care package of information regarding a number of Indians picture packs and related items from the 1950s and 1960s. His reports are especially useful in cataloging because they are "first-hand." That is, the checklists that he provided are derived from sets that he personally ordered from the team when they were issued, and which have remained in his hands continuously.

One of the hazards of checklisting team-issued photo packs 40 or 50 or 60 years after their issue, is the possibility that photos from different years were intermingled as the sets went from the original purchaser through several later owners to today. Another complicating factor is the widespread hobby belief that some teams issued different versions of their photo packs as the season progressed to reflect roster changes as players were called up or traded. The picture pack that was sold during spring training might not have corresponded identically to that sold at World Series time.

While Bob was able to provide checklists for each Cleveland Indians picture pack from 1956-1962, and while those lists will be incorporated into the SCBC data base, that's not the focus of this presentation.

What I want to share with you here is the 1967 Cleveland Indians "Yearbook." I put the title in quotation marks because the '67 Indian yearbook wasn't what the hobby generally thinks of in regards to that term . . . an 8-1/2" x 11" stapled publication with pages of player photos and data and team information.

Rather, the 1967 Cleveland Indians Yearbook was a 7" x 9" folder that held, loose-leaf style, a set of player photos and a few other specialty pictures. Each picture was printed on heavy paper stock, about 6-3/16" x 8-11/16". Most of the player pictures were color poses, though a few were in black and white. Fronts have a white border with the player name at bottom. Backs are in black-and-white with an informal player photo, complete stats, biographical details and career highlights.

The sample back that Bob sent shows Rocky Colavito holding a hunting rifle with a taxidermy moose head in the background. That photo is so politically incorrect by today's "standards" that if it appeared today PETA would picket the Indians' ballpark and Rocky would be sent away for sensitivity training.

While we normally don't include yearbooks in the Standard Catalog, I think this merits an exception because of its loose-leaf nature. The player photos could easily become seperated from the folder and collectors might logically look for them in the "big book." Also, the nature of the loose photos makes it easy for them to be sold individually. Thus they are more like baseball cards than a yearbook.

Here's the checklist; black-and-white pictures are noted.

(1) Bob Allen
(2) Max Alvis
(3) Joe Azcue
(4) Steve Bailey
(5) Basebelles Night at the Stadium (b/w)
(6) Gary Bell
7) Richard Booker
(8) Larry Brown
(9) Rocky Colavito
(10) George Culver (b/w)
(11) Vic Davalillo
(12) Vern Fuller
(13) Gus Gil
(14) Pedro Gonzalez
(15) Steve Hargan
(16) Chuck Hinton
(17) Indians Field Leaders (George
Strickland, Del Rice, Mgr. Joe Altobelli,
Pat Mullin, Clay Bryant)
(18) Jack Kralick
(19) Lee Maye
(20) Sam McDowell
(21) John O'Donoghue
(22) Dick Radatz
(23) Vincente Romo (b/w)
(24) Chico Salmon
(25) Sonny Siebert
(26) Duke Sims
(27) Willie Smith (b/w)
(28) Luis Tiant
(29) Leon Wagner
(30) Wahoo Club (Al Rosen, Larry Brown)
(31) Fred Whitfield

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Second 1952 Indians Picture Pack reported

I know it seems like we've been seeing more Indians than Custer, but I really don't mind. I wish we had as many dedicated vintage team specialists for the other teams as we do for Cleveland. These reports expertly expand the scope of our coverage of team-issued collectibles that we can share with the rest of the hobby in the pages of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, and possibly some day, in other, even more comprehensive, venues.

The most recent addition to the body of knowledge again comes from Chuck Lobenthal, who presents the straight scoop on two different 1952 Cleveland Indians picture packs. Why the team chose to produce two distinctly different photo packs in some years during the 1950s is a mystery to me. And, because the pictures from each version are sometimes the same, or nearly so, this has created collector confusion over the years. And that's aside from the confusion that results when pictures from packs issued in different years are found accumulated together.

The two 1952 photo packs are slightly different in format, and Chuck has labeled them, in true hobby tradition, as Fine Pen and Wide Pen, because the principal difference between the two sets of photos is the thickness of the facsimile autographs.

The first set, which Chuck calls the Fine Pen set was issued in a red-and-white envelope labeled Cleveland Indians 1952 Autographed Photos. These pictures are 6-1/2" x 9," blank-backed. The checklist provided by Chuck is:

(1) Bob Avila
(2) Ray Boone
(3) Lou Brissie
(4) Bob Chakales
(5) Merrill (2 L's in first name) Combs
(6) Larry Doby
(7) Luke Easter
(8) Bob Feller
(9) Jim Fridley
(10) Mike Garcia
(11) Steve Gromek
(12) Mickey Harris
(13) Jim Hegan
(14) Bob Kennedy
(15) Bob Lemon
(16) Al Lopez
(17) Dale Mitchell
(18) Pete Reiser
(19) Al "Flip" Rosen
(20) Dick Rozek
(21) Harry Simpson
(22) George Strinweiss
(23) Birdie Tebbetts (2 t's in last name)
(24) Early Wynn
(25) George Zuvernick

The second set, the Wide Pen issue, came in a red, white and blue envelope titled Cleveland Indians 1952 Photos. These pictures are somewhat smaller than the Fine Pens; they measure 6" x 8 3/4".

The checklist for the Wide Pens is:
(1) Bob Avila
(2) Johnny Berardino
(3) Ray Boone
(4) Lou Brissie
(5) Merril (1 L in 1st name) Combs
(6) Larry Doby
(7) Luke Easter
(8) Bob Feller
(9) Jim Fridley
(10) Mike Garcia
(11) Steve Gromek
(12) Mickey Harris
(13) Jim Hegan
(14) Sam Jones
(15) Bob Lemon
(16) Barney McCoskey
(17) Dale Mitchell
(18) Pete Reiser
(19) Al Rosen
(20) Dick Rozek
(21) Harry Simpson
(22) Birdie Tebbets (1 t in last name)
(23) Joe Tipton
(24) Early Wynn

Chuck found three players with the same picture but different facsimile autographs: Combs, Reiser and Rosen. All the others have different poses for each player in each pack. Also, as you can see, each pack has some different players.

The appearance of Joe Tipton in the Wide Pen set indicates it was produced later in the season, as he was not on the roster until June 23, when he was claimed off waivers from the Philadelphia A's.

Regardless of relative scarcity of the two sets, there is probably little practical difference in the market value of the two versions. Each should be about $150 in Near Mint condition, half that for Excellent and $45 or so in VG.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bill Veeck playing with baseball cards

In recent months there have been thousands of vintage newspaper photos and negatives offered on eBay from a variety of sources. One of those that recently caught my attention was this 1959 photo of Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck displaying a handful of contemporary Topps baseball cards.

The image was offered as an original 4" x 5" black-and-white negative, and I was able to buy it very reasonably.

The photo was taken June 4, 1959, when Veeck was the guest speaker at the Headline Club dinner in Chicago's Sheraton Hotel. The caption indicated Veeck had pulled out from a group of "baseball playing cards" the card of Early Wynn, who was to pitch the next day's game.

Chicago's headline club provides support and networking for area journalists, reporters, editors, photographers, news executives, educators and students.

Wynn did, indeed, start the June 5 game against the Red Sox. He pitched seven innings, giving up six hits (including a home run to Frank Malzone), two runs, six walks and striking out five. After facing three Boston batters in the eighth with the score tied 2-2, Wynn was relieved by Gerry Staley, who got the win when Chicago scored three in the bottom of the eighth.

Besides Wynn's card, among the two dozen or 30 cards that Veeck is holding, all appear to be in the card number range of 205-278. Other players that are identifiable are Don Larsen, Chuck Essegian, Orlando Pena, Ron Kline, Carl Furillo and Ellis Burton.

That's about all there is to say about this great vintage baseball card photo; I just wanted to share it with you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Who was Jimmy Wyatt, and why . . . ?

A reader recently brought to my attention an interesting baseball card because he had been unable to find it listed in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, or anywhere else.

The card purports to be a 1956 Remar Bread regional of Oakland Oaks catcher Jimmy Wyatt, and is autographed "Jim Wyatt" at top on front.

Nothing unusual at first glance, except that conventional hobby wisdom is that Remar stopped issuing baseball cards in 1950. The Bay Area bakery had previously issued team sets of Pacific Coast League Oakland Oaks in 1946, 1947, 1949 and 1950, and team-photo cards in 1945 and 1948.

Collector Jeff Legendre had initially sent scans of his mystery card and later agreed to send me the card itself for examination.

I'm stumped.

While visually similar to the Remar Oaks player cards, there are significant differences with his Wyatt card. The 1946-1950 Remar cards measure 2" x 3", printed on thin cardboard in black-and-white on front and in red (1946) or blue (1947, 1949, 1950) on back.

Jeff's card is 2-5/16" x 3-5/16" and is black-and-white both front and back.

The back of the Wyatt card follows closely the format of the 1950 Remar set. There are player stats at top, and ads at the bottom for Sunbeam Bread and for radio and television stations that broadcast Oaks games.

On the back of the card in question, the lower portion appears to have been photographically copied from a genuine 1950 Remar, with subsequent loss of some fine details, while the stats at top vary subtly in typography and punctuation from a 1950 card, such as using a "0" instead of a long dash. That's not to say that if Remar had decided in 1956 to resurrect its baseball card program that such minor differences would not have resulted.

But it is unlikely that Remar would have issued Oaks cards in 1956, because Oakland did not field a team in the Pacific Coast League -- or anywhere else in Organized Baseball -- in 1956. In fact, professional baseball did not return to Oakland until 1968, the American League A's came to town.

And Jimmy Wyatt?

More than cursory searching on the internet failed to turn up anybody by that name who was associated with the 1955 Oaks. Neither was there a Jimmy/Jim/James Wyatt of that age playing anywhere else in the minors that season.

Yet, there on the front of the card is a photo -- visually consistent with those found on other years of Remar cards -- of a player identified as Jimmy Wyatt. It appears as if the printing plate for the cardwas not created from a pristine copy of this photo, however, as what looks like a major crease in the upper-left corner, and some black spots and streaks to the right of the player's head were likely present on the original photo.

While all of this could have been determined from the scans that Jeff sent, I wanted to examine the card in-hand to look at the paper and printing. Doing so compounds the mystery. The thin cardboard stock on which the card was printed displays exactly the type of aging that one would expect in a 55-year-old baseball card. The overall white borders and background have mellowed to a cream tone, with slightly darker edges. Those edges, and the corners exhibit the kind of light handling that would also be consistent with a mid-1950s card.

Examination of the printing under magnification shows that the Wyatt card was printed by offset technology current half a century ago. It is clearly not something that was computer-generated in the recent past.

So, what do we have here? Darned if I know. My best guess is that the person identified on the card as Jimmy Wyatt had some sort of connection to the Oaks at one time, though clearly not as a player. (In fact, the stats on back, purporting to be from the 1955 PCL season, don't add up. If a player has 46 hits in 124 at-bats, his batting average is .371, not .238 as shown on the card.)

I'd guess this card was a fantasy or custom card created by Wyatt or a friend or family member as a tribute to whatever his connection had been with the team. If so, the creator has my admiration. As a custom card maker myself, I can appreciate how difficult it would have been to create such a card in pre-computer days. This card was likely printed more than 25 years ago, and I could be persuaded that it was indeed a late-1950s product.

If you can shed any light on this mystery card, or this particular Jimmy Wyatt, please post a comment or drop me an email at

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

1961 Topps Jim Golden: Error or variation?

As mentioned last time, we're going to take a look at a little-known error/variation card from the 1961 Topps baseball set.

The usually encountered version of Dodger pitcher Jim Golden's card in that set has on back the card number 298.

One of the hobby's veteran vintage card collectors, John Rumierz, is credited with discovering a rare error/variation of that card on which the card number appears to be 293. John says he discovered three examples of this error more than 30 years ago. He has retained two, and one was traded to Larry Fritsch in some long-forgotten transaction.

I remember Larry showing me this error/variation more than 25 years ago. As far as I know, he never found another example among the dozens or hundreds of 1961 Jim Golden cards that passed through is inventory.

While I can't recall definitely, I seem to remember that at some point in the distant past, we ran an article on this anamoly in SCD, seeking reader input as to the existence of further specimens. None were forthcoming. It's possible, though not likely, that Rumierz' three cards are the only ones that have ever been identified.

His reason for reopening an inquiry about this card was his desire to have it authenticated by PSA. That grading company is loathe to authenticate/grade any card that is not listed in one of the major baseball card catalogs, and to date, the Golden has remained uncataloged.

I don't know if that will change, because the #293 Golden is a printing mistake, rather than a true variation. At some point in the printing process, perhaps right at the stage at which the back printing plate was being made, a stray foreign object appears to have obscured part of the "8" digit in the card number, giving it the appearance of a "3".

It takes a sharp eye and probably a lot of experience poring over 1961 Topps card numbers to discern the difference in the "3" on the back of the Golden error and the typical digit found on Topps cards that year. For illustrative purposes, I've digitally enhanced the numerals from a normal card and from the error Golden.

On the typical 3, the ends of the top and bottom arms at left are truncated flatly horizontal. On the broken 8 from the Golden card, the ends of those arms are angled, and the bottom arm appears to have an "ear" at the left tip. Note also that the center bar of the regular 3 extends to the left almost as far as the right end of the top and bottom arms. On the error Golden cards, the center bar is just a nub.

Frankly, I'm not inclined to list this error/variation in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. In recent years, due to the information explosion made possible by the internet, the ease of scanning images, and the creation of large and active on-line sales and trading sites, the number of reports of vintage cards exhibiting visual variations has grown exponentially.

The vast, vast majority of those cards are the result of unintended mishaps in the printing process, rather than variations that were created by intentional changes made in the design, paste-up or printing stages.

While there are avid collectors of every cards that has a gap in a black photo frame, stray blobs of ink or areas of missing color, to attempt to legitimize all of them by cataloging them seems impossible. Many of these printing flaws show up in various stages on different cards and could require multiple listings on a checklist to describe each. Again, with the revolution in computer-assisted publishing bringing costs down, a catalog of even the most minute error cards is not out of the realm of technical possibility, although given the limited number of collectors that care about such things, such a catalog would never be commercially feasible as an ink-on-paper product.

It can certainly be argued that some of the most valuable post-war baseball cards are printing errors not unlike the #293 Golden. These include the 1957 Gene Bakep, the 1958 Pancho Herrer and the 1990 no-name Frank Thomas. These cards are from several hundred to many thousands of dollars. It is largely because these cards have attained such demand and value in the hobby market that they are included in the SCBC. If any of these had not been discovered until recently, it's doubtful they would have been cataloged. In fact, recent research by dedicated error collectors has shown that the same printing mishap that created the no-name Thomas card also affected a dozen or so other cards on that press sheet, though much less visually arresting and none on an iconic rookie card of a future Hall of Famer.

I'd be interested to see your comments about the #293 Jim Golden, and whether your own collection harbors an example. If a sufficient market for the card was to develop, the issue of its inclusion in the Standard Catalog would be revisited. But that's kind of a Catch-22. The major grading companies will not sanctify the card unless it is listed, and many collectors will not pursue it unless the grading companies will slab it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Clearing up 1960 Topps proof confusion

I no longer have a shelf full of back editions of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, so I don't know how long the book has carried the listings for the 1960 Topps proofs, nor how long that listing has incorrectly referenced one of the cards.

Recent editions of the catalog show three 1960 Topps proofs, one of which is listed as "(Existence not confirmed.)". The proofs differ from the regularly issued versions of the same players' cards principally in the team logos that appear in the lower-left corners on front.

The proof card that the Standard Catalog has promulgated misinformation lo these many years is that of Faye Throneberry. The books lists under 1960 Topps Proofs card #436 Marv Throneberry, and lists its existence as unconfirmed.

Thanks to a report by veteran vintage card specialist John Rumierz we now have the real story. John obtained examples of each of the three proofs many years ago from former Topps employee Bill Haber. Actually, John calls these cards "team variations," and he has a legitimate point. Most of what the hobby identifies as proof cards are unfinished in some way, usually blank-backed. The three First Series 1960 Topps rarities are fully printed both front and back.

Let's examine each.

Card number #9, Faye Throneberry, in the commonly encountered issued version, pictures him in a Senators uniform, lists his team on front and back as the Washington Senators and has a Senators logo on front. The proof/variation version differs only in that the team logo at bottom-left is that of the N.Y. Yankees.

Unlike the players on the other two proofs/variations, Faye Throneberry was not involved in a pre-1960 season trade that necessitated reworking his Topps card. Throneberry, in fact, never played for the Yankees. He was with the Senators from mid-1957 through the 1960 season.

It is likely the appearance of a Yankees logo on the front of the proof/variation card is the result of somebody at Topps mixing Faye up with his brother, Marv. I can't fault them for that, since we did the same thing in the SCBC. Marv Throneberry was involved in the multi-played deal on Dec. 11, 1959, that sent Roger Maris, Kent Hadley and Joe DeMaestri from the K.C. A's to the N.Y. Yankess for Marv Throneberry, Don Larsen, Hank Bauer and Norm Siebern. I'm still unsure exactly how that factored into Topps putting a Yankees logo on the first version of Faye Throneberry's card, but that's what happened.

Another of the players involved in that trade also has 1960 team variation cards. Kent Hadley's card, #102, was initially printed with his photos in A's uniform, his team listed as New York Yankees and an A's logo. The only change made on the "regular" version of the card was the substitution of a Yankees logo on front. Hadley's proof/variation is the only one of the trio that has been publically sold in recent memory. In Nov., 1999, a NM example sold for $13,500.
The third card in this group was the most extensively changed. As initially printed, card #58 had Gino Cimoli pictured as a St. Louis Cardinal, listed his team that way on both front and back, and had a Cardinals logo on front.
Cimoli was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Dec. 21, 1959, prompting Topps to halt the presses and rework Cimoli's card. While Cimoli is still pictured with the Cardinals on the regularly issued card, his team designation has been changed on front and back to "Pittsburgh Pirates," the logo on front was changed to the Pirates, and the trade was noted among the bullet points on the back.
You know, after working through all this, I'm not sure that the catalog listing for these three cards as "Proofs" shouldn't be deleted and the three cards added to the main checklist as variations. What do you think?
The number of extant specimens of the proof cards is unknown. My best guess would be that there are fewer than five of each, it could be as few as two or three.
In his recent correspondence, John raised the subject of another rare 1960s "variation" that is worthy of presentation. We'll look at that next time out.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Crossing Bleier off my "wish list"

In my Sept. 1 posting about how I got into creating custom 1955 Topps All-American style football cards, I published a "wish list" of former college players that I would like to include in my on-going update set.

Quick to respon was Indiana collector Harold Dieter, who sent me a card of Rocky Bleier in his Notre Dame uniform. The card originated in one of the early 1990s Collegiate Collection team sets of former Fighting Irisher players.

The portrait on the card was just what I needed to create my Rocky Bleier tribute card, and just a couple of weeks later, it was finished and I was sending a couple of the cards off to Harold. Now I'm sharing it with you.

Why Rocky Bleier? Primarily because he is virtually a local boy. Bleier was born and raised in Appleton, Wis., about 45 minutes east of my locale here in Iola. He is probably the most famous and accomplished football player native to Wisconsin; certainly in this part of the state.

Bleier attended St. Francis Xavier High School in Appleton. On the varisty football team from 1961-1963, his teams were 9-0 each season. He was All-State running back three times and All-Conference as a linebacker one season and defensive back another. In three seasons he amassed 2,985 rushing yards, 55 touchdowns and a 9.4 yard average. His uniform #23 is the only one retired by the Hawks, which named their football field for him.

While many schools felt that Bleier was too small (5'10", 175 lbs.) for big-time college football, Notre Dame's new coach Ara Parseghian was willing to give him a chance. and Bleier became a major contributor at starting halfback to the Irish's National Championship team in 1966. He was named captain of the 1967 team.

The Pittsburgh Steelers chose Bleier in the 1968 NFL draft, but not until the 16th round. He was the 417th player selected. Bleier had a decent rookie season with the Steelers, playing in 10 games. Then he was drafted again -- into the U.S. Army at the height of the Vietname War.

On Aug. 20, 1969, Bleier's unit was ambushed and he was shot in the left thigh. As he lay wounded, a grenade landed nearby and tore up his right foot. He earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his combat service.

While rehabilitating form his injuries, Steelers' owner Art Rooney sent Bleier encouraging messages and told him they would support his return to the NFL, even as his doctors told him that was an unlikely outcome.

Bleier spent the 1970 season on Pittsburgh's injured reserve list, and most of 1971 on the taxi squad, though he was activated for six games without seeing any action.

In 1972, with his old college quarterback Terry Hanratty leading the Steelers offense, Bleier began to work himself into an integral part of the dynasty that won Super Bowl titles in 1974-1975 and 1978-1979. His best season was 1976 when he rushed for 1,036 yards and his combined 1,330 yards rushing and receiving were tops on the team.

Bleier retired after the 1980 season. In December of that year, his book Fighting Back was adapted for an ABC-TV Movie of the Week starring Robert Urich. (I saw a note while googling around that Urich played college football at Florida State . . . I'll have to look into that.)

So in a nutshell, local boy makes good and triumphs over adversity. That's why I had Rocky Bleier on my wish list for a custom card. 
I received a couple of other offers to help on my wish list that seem like they will pan out. Watch this space for update.