Sunday, June 22, 2014

REA auction finally pegs Baas premiums value

One lot among the post-war baseball cards in the April 26 sale by Robert Edward Auctions sold for over four times its "book" value . . . and I believe it is underpriced even at that level.

The lot was a set (so far as is known) of five premium pictures from Baas Cheri-Cola Drink, attributed to 1949. 

The pictures were apparently issued by a soft drink maker, but as far as I have ever been able to determine, that company's location is unknown today. 

The date attributed to the set is somewhat speculative, based on the players included, who were all members of the 1948 National League Champion Boston Braves (Johnny Sain), the World's Champion Cleveland Indians (Bob Feller, Ken Keltner) or the American League runners-up Boston Red Sox (Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr).

Inclusion of the second-place Red Sox players leads me to believe the Baas premiums were distributed in the northeast.

I was involved in the baseball card hobby on a professional day-to-day basis for some 25 years, between 1980-2006 as editor and publisher of the hobby's leading trade papers, magazines and reference catalogs. Those are my bona fides for telling you that the Baas premiums are among the rarest post-war baseball "cards" I ever encountered.

I believe they were listed, but not pictured, in the 1970s Bert Sugar "bible." The one and only time I ever saw a Baas premium in person was in the mid-1980s when I made a trip to Maryland to catalog and photograph the collection of Al Strumpf, a very advanced collector.

Now, 30 years later, I no longer recall whether Al had the complete set or just the Johnny Sain picture that has illustrated the Baas set listing in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards for decades. On a side note . . . you may notice that the photo in the catalog is not particularly good. There was a camera malfunction during my photo shoot and some of the film became overexposed. Upon reflection, I tend to think that Al did not have the other players in the set, or I probably would have chosen the Williams or Feller to appear in the "big book."

For all the years that the Baas premiums have been listed in the Standard Catalog the prices attributed have been nothing but wild-ass guesses. I believe Al gave me a ballpark figure of value originally. However, because not a single example of a Baas premium EVER appeared (to my knowledge) in the baseball card market, either by fixed price or in a card auction, there was never any firm basis on which to change price in subsequent editions of the catalog. Every couple of years during my tenure as editor, I would bump the book prices by my estimation of the pieces' relative value to other rarities of their era.

If I was still involved with the catalog today, thanks to the Robert Edward Auction result, I would at last have a real-world dollar figure to work with. 

With the buyer's fee, the set of five Baas pictures sold for $7,702.50. They were described as being in Excellent condition. The "book value" in the SCBC for the five in EX has been $1,860 for a number of years now.

While the REA sale settled, at least generally, the question of current market value, it raise a couple of questions that intrigue the retired card-researcher in me.

Probably because I had never seen any picture from the series except Johnny Sain, prior to this auction I had not realized that the Baas premiums use the same player pictures that are found on the several 1947 Bond bread baseball cards and related issues. In the case of each of the five Baas players, the photos are identical, except that the Baas pictures show more background to the left and right of the player. Like the Bond et. al. cards, the Baas pictures have the player name in script, right down to the misspelling "Bobbie" on Doerr's card/picture.

Another question raised by the auction listing is the actual size of the Baas premiums. The Standard Catalog has always listed the size at 7-5/8" x 9-1/2". I now believe this is incorrect. Those dimensions were based on hastily made notes during the photography process. I'm going to trust that Rob Lifson and his auction crew were more meticulous in writing up their catalog description, which identifies the premiums as 6-3/4" x 9".

And that brings up another mystery. Were the Baas Cheri-Cola premiums merely overprints on existing "Bond Bread" premiums? 

The Standard Catalog has for some 10+ years carried a listing for a set of 48 "Bond Bread Premiums," the checklist of which corresponds to the bread insert cards, including the five figures found on Baas premiums.

It is interesting to note that the catalog description of the Bond premiums gives their size as 6-5/8" x 9". That's just 1/8" different than the auction company's description, a discrepancy that is likely attributable to faulty information used to create the SCB listing..

Since the Bond premiums were issued with blank backs, it is entirely possible that the Baas premiums were created simply by overprinting the backs in red with the soda company's advertising message. That, unfortunately, would make it easy for scammers to do the same. 

Given the complete absence of Baas premium pictures in the hobby marketplace in the past 30 years, any sudden appearance of examples of this rare issue should be viewed with skepticism. While it is possible for a trained eye to spot an overprint that has been applied 65 years after the fact, potential buyers should be sure of their own expertise in this regard or have implicit trust in the seller before plunking down five-figure money.

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