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.

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