“He’s already got one, you see?” – My Holy Grail, Pt 2

When making Grail references, many these days go for the line from Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade (“You chose…….wisely”). Me? I’m an old fashioned traditionalist sort of guy who still prefers to pull my references from Monty Python. So, in response to Andy’s earlier article, I’m going to set myself up as his very own French Taunter.

french taunter

“Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!”

I’d like to share with you some of the cards that I’ve chased and found over the years, and the ones that I’d still love to add to my collection. I’ve been at this game a bit longer than Andy, having collected when I was a kid during the late 1960s/early 1970s before picking up the bug again about 1990. At that time, I concentrated on Detroit Tigers cards rather than set building. My early targets were fairly modest by today’s standards:

1970TAlKaline  1970 Topps #640 Al Kaline1967TNormCash1967 Topps #540 Norm Cash 

1968TTigersTeam

1968 Topps #528 Tigers Team

 1964TALBombers

1964 Topps #330 AL Bombers

Norm Cash and Al Kaline were two of my big heroes when I was growing up in Detroit. The 1970 Kaline card shows him in the classic 1960s Tigers grey road uniform – beautiful in its simplicity. The ’67 Cash was a toughie, coming as it did from the 1967 high series. The 1968 Tigers team card was a “must-have” featuring the World Series Champions of my youth. Lastly, how could I not want a card that showed not only Kaline and Cash, but also Yankees Home Run powerhouses Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle?

The cards above took a few years to collect, and by the time I added them my collecting habits had progressed to set building, cards featuring Scots born ballplayer Bobby Thomson, and sets from other sports. The next generation of Grail-shaped objects took on a different look:

Al_Kaline_1954

1954 Topps #201 Al Kaline RC

1952TThomson

1952 Topps #313 Bobby Thomson

1968TRyan

1968 Topps #177 Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman RC

1967TTomSeaver

1967 Topps #581 Tom Seaver/Bill Denehy RC

After a few years, I started to get a bit more ambitious in my collecting aims. The card that immediately shot to the top of my wants list was the Kaline RC which I acquired as a gift from a fellow collector at the Atlanta National in 1999. The Ryan RC was a major stumbling block towards completing the 1968T set, but that also soon found its way into the binder. Among the standard Topps and Bowman issued Bobby Thomson cards, the 1952T is probably the toughest. It remains the ONLY 1952 high number card in my whole collection. Lastly, my quest to knock off the 1967 Topps set took a major leap forward when I acquired the Seaver RC in late 2012 from Kevin Savage Auctions. At $124, it is the most I’ve ever shelled out for a single card by quite some way.

So, which cards are at the pinnacle of my desires these days. Well, things sure don’t get any easier, but here we go:

 1962FordColavito

1962 Ford Motor Co. Postcards Rocky Colavito

1963TPeteRoseRC

1963 Topps #537 Pete Rose RC

1965TGordieHowe600

1965/66 Topps #122 Gordie Howe

1952CokeThomson

1952 Coke Bobby Thomson

In 1962, the Ford Motor Co. produced a regionally issued set of postcards featuring Tigers players. Of the 17 cards in the set, a small handful are fairly common and show up regularly on auction sites. Most however are like hen’s teeth. Even finding images on the web can be tough! I’ve never seen the Colavito card, either in person or for sale online. No idea what sort of price it would demand, but I would think it’d be fairly steep.

The Rose RC is the only card I need to complete my 1963 Topps set. It’s incredibly tough to find a genuine one at a reasonable price. Not only has it been reprinted – legally but with no discerning reprint indications – its also been illegally counterfeited. Unless you get this from a dealer you can trust, you’re taking a hefty gamble! (Insert Pete Rose joke here).

The only non-baseball card in this article is the 1965/66 Gordie Howe short print. This card is virtually identical to his standard card within the set (#108), but is overprinted with the commemoration of Gordie’s 600th goal. A tough card, but one that I feel is definitely attainable.

Finally, I’d really like to add a 1952 Coke Bobby Thomson to my collection. This set featured players from the New York teams (the Yankees, Giants, and the Brooklyn Dodgers) and included home schedules and baseball tips. An example of the Thomson recently sold on eBay for $192. A gorgeous card.

So, there you have it. My “Holy Grail” cards past and present. Now go away before I taunt you a second time.

Glenn

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A Little Light Reading…

A contributor to the UK Cards email group recently asked “Does anyone know any good books concerned with cards and card collecting?”. I thought it was an interesting question and one that merited an article here on TWF.

So, without further ado, here are a few books that I’ve read or acquired over the years –

The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book

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This is a terrific little book – first published in 1973 – that gives the reader an overview of the history of baseball cards and card collecting up to the 1960. In addition to the factual stuff, it also presents an irreverent overview of over 200 cards from the early 1950s to 1969, featuring anecdotes about the players and the era. An incredibly fun book!

Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became An American Obsession

Mint_Condition_How_Baseball_Cards_Became_An_American_Obsession_by_Dave_Jamieson

Author Dave Jamieson presents an excellent history about the card companies and collecting, explaining the rise of the card industry from kid’s hobby to an “investment” business in the 1980s and the subsequent spectacular bubble in the 1990s. Good factual stuff.

Topps Baseball Cards: The Complete Picture Collection (A 35-year history 1951-1985)

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A true coffee table book. Large format, full colour images of every card produced by Topps up to 1985.  An updated version of the book was published in 1991 featuring cards up to 1990. Hard to find cheap and in good condition!

Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards

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I like this one. Author Josh Wilker recounts his childhood and adolescent years, using cards he collected along the way as milestones and reminders of key events. It demonstrates how much baseball cards were ingrained into the lives of American kids growing up in the 1950/60/70s eras.

The Sports Collector’s Digest Standard Catalogs

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Never mind Beckett. This is the book to get if you want to know what’s out there and what its worth. At the annual National Sports Collectors Convention in the States, almost as many dealers use this as their pricing bible as do Beckett – especially when it comes to vintage. Within this annual tome, you could find full checklists and prices over over 16,000 of sets and 1,000,000 cards. In 2011, the Standard Catalog had grown so big that it is now concentrating primarily on vintage cards (pre 1981). Because of that, its a bit smaller than it used to be, but still extremely comprehensive. Every serious collector should have an edition of this publication on their bookshelf. And if you’re into football, basketball, or ice hockey card collecting, there are equivalent catalogs for those sports too! If you buy old stuff, this meaty price guide gives you a real feel for relative value and  shows you cards and sets you might never have realised existed!!

Happy reading!

Glenn

The Traveller Returns…

A few of you (my wife, my dog, my barman) may have noticed my absence of late. This was due to a family wedding in Norway – the single most expensive land I’ve ever been to in my life. 22 quid for a pint of stout and a bottle of cider in Trondheim!! When I think of the cards I could have bought with what I’ve spent this past week…

Anyway, I did return to a nice little treat in the mailbox. No, the neighbour’s cat hadn’t been up to his tricks again. It was a card from Jim & Steve’s Baseball Card Shop – a dealer on Beckett Marketplace. The card in question was the toughest of the five remaining 1966 Topps on my wantlist – #561 Choo Choo Coleman. I was lucky enough to be viewing the site at just the right time and was able to nab ol’ Choo Choo in EX condition for just under 20 bucks.

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1966 Topps #561 Choo Choo (Who Who?) Coleman

Now who the hell is Choo Choo Coleman you may well ask. Well, I may well ask the same thing! Coleman didn’t really amount to much in his major league career. He played just over 200 games over four seasons with the Phillies and Mets, popping nine homers and garnering a lusty batting average of .197

For some reason though, Coleman’s 1966 card sells for three figure sums in NrMt condition. Why? Well, there seems to be two trains of thought on this. One is that the card is a genuine “super” short print – a card that is printed not only in shorter numbers than the rest of the series, but also in shorted numbers than the rest of the short prints! There are one or two other cards among the 1966T high numbers that are thought to be among this group and as a result, prices tend to be notably higher than the other SPs. The other possible explanation is an interesting one…

There are rumours that a collector (or collectors) in the States are creating an artificial premium for these cards by cornering the market on them… in other words, buying up as many of them as possible over the past few years, forcing prices up by making an already scarce card even harder to find. Now this may or may not be true. Perhaps its just speculation based on similar situations which are generally acknowledged to be genuine. Read here about the 1966T #591 Bart Shirley/Grant Jackson RC. There is also a guy who seems to buy every 1964T #103 Curt Flood card… seemingly he has well over 1000 of them.

Whatever the reason, I’m just glad that Choo Choo now resides in my 1966 Topps binder.

Just four more spaces to fill…

Vintage Expensive? Think Again!!

As a card collector in the UK who predominantly collects vintage, one thing I’ve heard so many times from fellow Brit-based collectors is “Oh, I’d love to start a vintage collection, but its just too expensive!”. Well friends, I’m here to tell you that its not! To illustrate that point, I’ve included scans of some of the cards I’ve picked up over the years, along with their NM Book Value and the price that I paid for them.

1957T Ted Williams

1957 Topps Ted Williams #1 – BV $600, purchase price $18

If you fellow the hobby at all, you’ll no doubt hear occasional stories of a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle RC selling for a 6 figure sum, or even a T206 Honus Wagner (the current Holy Grail of vintage cards) for a **SEVEN** figure sum. The thought straight away is to imagine that this is commonplace in the world of vintage collecting, The truth is, its not.

5960TSawchuk

1957/58 Topps #35 Terry Sawchuck – BV $250, purchase price $4.76

Building a vintage set to a budget can be as cheap – or cheaper – than building many new sets. How much would it cost you to build a set of 2013 Topps Heritage Baseball including all the SPs (just cards 1 to 500)? £200? £300? A quick browse of eBay shows a complete 1979 Topps Baseball set including the Ozzie Smith RC currently available for $80 (£55) on Buy It Now. If you’d prefer to build a set rather than buy it all in one fell swoop, baseball, football, hockey, and basketball cards from the 1960s and 1970s can be bought in group lots at prices which work out at less than 10c (6p) per card.

For the most part, its a question of condition. If you aim for graded or high condition cards then yes, you almost certainly will run into some very expensive territory, especially when it comes to stars and short prints. To stay within a budget, you really need to get past your fear of a small crease or two, or maybe a pencil mark or hole punch. Look on these as part of the character of a card and think about all the hands that its been through since it was liberated from its wax cocoon all those years ago. Low grade usually means low price, and it means that almost anyone can start to build vintage collections. My own tactic is to buy whatever I can in order to fill a gap in a set, regardless of its condition. I can always upgrade later and pass on the replaced card by way of trade, sale, or even better as a gift to a fellow collector in need. Bargains are out there to be had. Its just a matter of putting in the time to search for them. It also helps to get lucky now and then by being online at exactly the right time, or throwing in a lowball bid which somehow manages to succeed.

6364PHowe

1963/64 Parkhurst  #55 Gordie Howe – BV $450, purchase price $15

COMC remains one of the best sources for vintage on the web for UK collectors (they ship direct at a reasonable cost). If however, you are able to use relatives or friends in the US as a go between, you’ll find yourself able to take advantage of great online dealers and auctions who ship exclusively within North America. In addition to eBay, check out Kevin Savage Auctions, Sportlots, and Beckett Marketplace for great vintage deals.

1967TJohn

1967 Topps #609 Tommy John – BV $80, purchase price $5

Vintage card collecting offers you a terrific window into the history of your chosen sport. Its a great way to learn about the stars and teams of the past. And I can assure you that the excitement of adding that final card to nail down a vintage set is really an amazing feeling!!

7071TOrr

1970/71 Topps #3 Bobby Orr – BV $75, purchase price $9

So, as an older friend of mine once advised me when I was a plukey youth – “Lower your standards and have some fun!”

ps In case you were wondering, the second part of my look at the Wonderful World of Short Prints will appear in print…..err……shortly.

Vintage View: The Wonderful World of SP’s (Part 1)

Does it drive you up the wall when you find that the last few cards you need to complete a set are SPs? Do you get a certain thrill when you open a pack to find a card that’s just a little different from what you expect – maybe a team name in an unexpected colour, or an unfamiliar pose – and you think, “Scored! SP!!”?

SP’s, or to give them their full name Short Prints, are nothing new. Vintage sets are absolutely littered with them, but for considerably different reasons than the SPs of today.

Modern printing techniques incorporating computer aided design and layout allows the card companies to produce exactly the quantity of each card that they desire, right down to the dreaded 1 of 1. SPs these days are a totally manufactured phenomena, artificially creating a market for certain cards. Back in the vintage days however, SPs simply a by-product of the printing and distribution processes of the time.

In my last article, I mentioned that up until 1973, cards tended to be released throughout a season in “series”. How did this work, and how did it produce SPs? Well, let’s look at one year – say, 1971 – as an example. The 1971 Topps Baseball set featured a total of 752 cards, broken down into 6 series.

It’s February 1971. There’s still snow on the ground in my home town of Westland, Michigan but down in Florida, Mickey Lolich, Bill Freehan, and the rest of the pitchers and catchers of my Detroit Tigers have reported for Spring Training. Within a few days, they’d be joined by the rest of their teammates, and fans would start to look ahead with the optimism that a new season always brings.

For kids, thoughts turned the excitement of this year’s baseball cards. What will they look like? Which players will be featured? Every couple days, I’d trudge along to my local store to see if the new cards had arrived yet, until one day…..they’re here!!! I hand over a crisp dollar for 10 packs of 1971 Topps Series One (only 10 cents a pack…changed days indeed!), featuring the first 132 cards in the set. After about 5-6 weeks, boxes of Series 2 will replace Series 1 on the shelves, followed by Series 3 and so on.

1971 Topps Wax Pack

Topps know their market, and during this early part of the season print runs are high, lots of product are on the shelves, and cards sell in high volume. As the summer progresses, though, things slow down. Kids have gotten over the excitement of the “new” set, their own teams may have already fallen out of contention, and their thoughts turn to other summer ventures. Topps, therefore, start to turn down the volume on their print runs. By Series 4 and 5 (round about July/August), retailers are still stocking cards but already in noticeably smaller numbers.

1971TRegJackson

1971 Topps #20 Reggie Jackson

Come September, Series 6 – the last 130 or so cards in the set – is due for release. But wait! There’s competition on the shelves at the local store! There’s new season football, hockey AND basketball, too. All Topps products, and all being pushed. As the printing presses are turned over to these new products and faced with declining interest, the final series of 1971 Topps baseball is therefore printed is lesser quantities then its predecessors. Some retailers don’t even bother to stock late series cards, making them scarcer still.

6thchecklist

1971 Topps 6th Series Checklist

When you look at a vintage price guide, you might wonder why the “high numbers” in a set seem to command a price premium. Well, there you have your answer! Topps didn’t set out to deliberately short print cards to create an artificial “desire” for them, they did so to address the market forces of the time.

The 1971 set is nowhere near the most extreme example of short printing of high series by Topps. The 1967, 1966, 1962 and 1961 high series all seem to be in shorter supply. The grand-daddy of them all scarce high series though is the 1952 Topps set, where the high numbers can command 3 figure prices even for cards in poor condition. Apparently, the scarcity of that particular series was down not only to a shorter print run, but also due to Topps dumping cases and cases of unsold product into the Atlantic Ocean in the late 1950s.

There are other non-market reasons for SPs springing up in vintage sets, but that’s for Part 2!

Vintage Vintage Everywhere……

I’ve been thinking that if I’m going to try to write about vintage cards on this blog, maybe it would be a good idea to start by defining exactly what vintage cards are!

There really are no hard and fast rules governing the definition of vintage trading cards. To a young collector, “vintage” could mean a card from the 1990s. Others consider true vintage cards to be those produced prior to WW2. Both of these are valid points of view. It all depends on the collector.

There are several distinct points in time which most collectors use when deciding what vintage means to them.

The Pre-Bowman/Topps Era – If you’re not really into vintage cards, you may not be aware of the plethora of sets that were produced prior to WW2. Several large cigarette card sets featuring baseball players were produced in the late 19th century through the first couple decades of the 20th. These were followed by sets which more closely resemble the cards that we know today – Goudey, Batter-Up, Diamond Stars, PlayBall. To many, these are true “vintage” cards.

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1941 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio

The Golden Age or The Series Age – The arrival of the first Bowman card sets in 1948 sparked the modern era of trading cards. Bowman produced both baseball and football sets in those early years. The first modern Topps set came out in 1952, although this had been preceded in 1951 by the small Topps Red/Blue Backs. From then up until 1973, Topps released their products in “series”. Series 1 would normally appear prior to the start of a season, with new series hitting the shelves periodically  throughout the year until a set was complete. Print runs on later series in any given year tended to tail off, commonly giving rise to scarcity among higher numbered cards.

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1952 Topps Dizzy Trout

The 1970s or The Decline of the Topps Empire – In 1974, Topps changed their printing and distribution strategy and released all 660 cards in that year’s baseball set in one fell swoop, a practice they would continue for the next 3 decades or so.. Topps were still the only game in town at this point, but were coming under increasing pressure from other companies hoping to feed from the trading card trough.

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1974 Topps Mike Schmidt

Competition Time! – Topps monopoly was finally broken in 1981 when licenses were granted to both the Donruss and Fleer companies to produce true baseball card sets. Other companies soon appeared on the scene. In 1989, Upper Deck released the first premium quality card set and kicked off the UV Age.

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1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr.

Collectors of “vintage” trading cards tend to use one of the above milestones as the cutoff point for their own definition. Most, however, consider 1980 to be the last “vintage” year – before the hobby was opened up to almost anyone and everyone who wished to produce cards. This is the definition that I will most often use within this blog.

Hi, Everyone!

bobbleglenn    Hello to The Wax Fantastic community!

As you will have gathered from Andy’s posts, I’ve been asked to contribute an occasional word or two to the blog on the subject of vintage collecting. Hopefully, I’ll also throw something else in to the ring once in a while, but for the most part I’ll do my best to give those of you who might be a bit new to the hobby some insight into the wonders and joys of vintage cards.

I guess it would be best to start by telling you who I am. My name is Glenn Codere. I was born in Detroit, where I spent the first 13 years of my life before moving to Scotland in 1973. I now live in Glasgow. I started collecting cards in 1968, the same year my beloved Detroit Tigers won the World Series. As a kid, I collected cards from all 4 major US sports but baseball was always my big love. When we moved overseas in 1973 most of my collection was left Stateside. I often wonder where all those cards ended up. I re-discovered cards on my return to the US for a vacation in 1988, but it wasn’t until my next trip in 1990 that I really started to rebuild my collection. At first, I concentrated solely on putting together those sets that I had as a kid (1968-1973) and building a Detroit Tigers team collection. I was incredibly naive as far as prices were concerned, and grossly overpaid for cards in those early years, but it was a start. On returning to Scotland, I began to use a variety of mail-order dealers that I tracked down through Beckett Magazine. Over the next few years, I moved on to use several fledgling internet auction sites. These were the pre-eBay years. Progress was slow, but in 1997 I discovered an online group of collectors called OBC (Old Baseball Cards).

Membership of OBC has over the years not only boosted my collection, but its also given me a wonderful education in card collecting and connected me with many collectors across the US who I now count as good friends. Its also given me the appreciation of the joys of helping out fellow collectors whether it be through trade or (more fun) through sending out cards unsolicited. Thanks to OBC, a wide variety of online auction sites, and several dealers with whom I’ve developed relationships, my collection has grown from strength to strength. Since 1990, I’ve completed a run of Topps Baseball sets from 1968 to 1980 (more on the significance of that year in a later article!), as well as sets from 1960 (my birth year set!) to 1962, 1964 and 1965. I only need a handful of cards to knock off the 1963, 1966 and 1967 sets and have recently started working on sets from the 1950s.

In addition to baseball cards, I also work on US football and hockey sets from the late 1960s/early 1970s period, and Detroit Tigers, Detroit Lions (football) and Detroit Red WIngs (hockey) team collections from all eras. Lastly, I’ve also managed to put together a tidy little collection of cards relating to Bobby Thomson, who was born right here in Glasgow and went on to hit “The Shot Heard Round The World” in 1951 – one the most famous home runs in the history of the game. Although I do collect some newer stuff – mostly Topps Heritage Baseball – my real love is for vintage cards.

I’ve already got several ideas for articles floating around in my head – and believe me, there is plenty of space for stuff to float in! – which I hope you readers will find interesting. One thing I’d like to make clear though…..I really don’t consider myself an “expert” on vintage cards or the art of the hobby. I’ll do my best to get my facts straight, but I’m well aware that I’m still learning new stuff all the time. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share some of this knowledge with you as we go.

I’d like to thank Andy for the opportunity to contribute to this blog, and I look forward to your comments, questions, and opinions.