Sunday, May 8, 2011

'52T House: Error or variation?

If you've read my blog entries or my ravings on some of the baseball card forums in which I participate, you know that in recent years I have undergone a significant change in my thinking on which cards should be added to the master checklists in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards as variations.

Along with many others in the hobby, as a result of the greatly increased flow of information via the internet, I have begun to clarify my perceptions of what constitutes a real "variation" and what is "merely" a printing error.

To sum up my personal philosophy in a few words: A legitimate variation requires human participation in its creation. A printing error is the result of a mechanical malfunction somewhere in the pre-press process, while the card is on press, or in the cutting/packaging operation.

While each collector is free to create his own definitions and to judge the suitability of any card for inclusion in his holdings, as "gatekeeper" of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, it is my judgment that will ultimately prevail in whether or not a card becomes "listed."

I recognize that many classic hobby rarities that ARE listed in the "big book" have been grandfathered in; if they were discovered today they would be unlikely to make the cut. This includes cards such as the 1957 "Gene Bakep," the 1958 "Pancho Herrer," the several 1980 name-color errors, 1990 Frank Thomas "No Name," and others.

With the 2011 edition, I began the process of excising some of the previously listed error cards. These were generally printing errors that had not yet gained any great degree of premium value.

Lately, much of my collector contact regarding the SCBC has been regarding the topic of errors and variations among vintage cards. I have used this forum, and will continue to use it, to present the most interesting of those cards, while seeking hobby input on their "catalogability" and, if nothing else, making them part of the permanent hobby record, even if they never make the pages of the catalog.

All this is by way of bringing up for discussion an error or variation affecting card #146 in the 1952 Topps set, Frank House.

Tom Killeen of Massachusetts is a dedicated collector specializing in '52T. He has identified several cards that display distinct differences, be they errors or variations.

To my mind, the most significant of these -- and the only one that has me stumped as to whether it should be labeled E or V, is the House card.

Killeen has accumulated a handful of examples of the card that did not receive the red ink in the area of the roaring tiger logo. The result is a jaundiced-looking cat with a yellow tongue and without the orange shading around the face. 

The presence of the normal amount of red ink on the cap's "D" proves that the yellow-tongued tiger did not result from simple failure of the red ink to be applied. I also noticed nothing significant in the shading of the player's face that would indicate an overall shortage of red ink. 

If forced to guess 60 years later, I'd say the color-strippers in the pre-press department at Topps' printer initially forgot to prepare the team logo to receive the red ink. After an unknown number of the cards had been printed and packaged, the mistake was discovered and corrected. 

This fits my definition of a true variation. 

A check of the 1952 Topps Frank House cards for sale on eBay on a recent day showed 27 of the red-tongued tiger and just a single example of the yellow-tongued cat.  

If today was the deadline for the 2013 edition of the Standard Catalog, I would be sorely tempted to add this as a legitimate variation. Since we have almost a year before that deadline, however, we'll have time to consider the input of other collectors and to determine whether the card market sees a premium value for the yellow-tongued tiger card.

You are encouraged to weigh in with your opinion.

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