Tattoo Me

On one of my frequent trips to Baseball Nostalgia, my favorite go-to card shop in Cooperstown, I was telling long-time collector, owner and friend Pete Henrici that I was going to try and complete the 1933 Tattoo Orbit set.

“Oh, you like ugly cards,” he said.

I kinda get it. Unlike, say, the 1933 DeLongs or, going further back, T205s, the Tattoo Orbits look a bit amateurish, a tad half-assed. They’re not particularly artful. Still, there’s something I like about the slightly colorized photos superimposed on the bright, generic backgrounds.


But let’s be real, aesthetics aside, it’s a set I can complete because there are only 60 of them, I already have 23 and commons can be had relatively cheaply. I’m looking for VG cards, though most of the cards I have are more EX. Actually, I’m looking for VG prices. For commons, I can usually nab a nice example for 1/3 to ½ of book. I’ve been pretty nimble at picking off stray bargains.

I’ve got a bunch of stars, though I still need Jimmie Foxx, Dizzy Dean, a few short printed cards and a handful of middle of the road Hall of Famers of the Chick Hafey variety. This one will take a while to finish, due to both availability and price. There’s no way I can get eBay type deals at card shows, so it’s going to take some time.

Making it even harder is my desire for raw cards. That cuts two ways, both badly. Cards of this vintage are almost always graded, regardless of condition, which sucks and limits the supply. However, I am a “price first” person, so if the graded card is attainable at the level I’m willing to pay, so be it. I have a few sets that are all in albums, save one or two graded cards. I don’t like it, but having is better than not having.


Raw cards carry their own risks. Trimming, miscuts, and other problems, come with the territory and scans alone don’t reveal all the flaws. I recently got a beautiful Smead Jolley card, but, though it had all the characteristics of a regular Tattoo Orbit – shiny feel, thin paper stock – something felt off. I compared it to all of the other cards I had and it’s either trimmed or miscut. The seller was very understanding and we arranged a suitable solution, but the uncertainty I fell around that card tapped into some fears I have about old raw cards.


Over the last two years I’ve been pretty quick on finishing sets. Either I was working on Topps or other hugely available cards or I was lucky enough to have such a head start on harder sets that what I needed I could grab. This Tattoo Orbit set is definitely going to be an exercise in patience (and, to my memory, I’ve never spent as much on a single card as I’ll need to spend on Foxx and Dean). It took me 18 years to finish the 2000-01 Topps Heritage Basketball set with all its short prints. The 1933 Tattoo Orbit set may take as long, but it’s bound to be much more rewarding to have.

Author: Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.

8 thoughts on “Tattoo Me”

  1. It’s funny. I was just looking at some photos of 1949 Bowman today and had the same thought about finding something appealing in the pseudo-colorization of just slapping solid colors behind a black-and-white photo. These are kind of ugly but they also have a ton of style with that black keyline outlining the player.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Why not use blue for the sky? Rube Walberg appears to be pitching during a volcanic eruption. I suppose any type of color printing in this era was appealing. By the way, Smead Jolley was a legendary Pacific Coast League player, primarily with the SF Seals. Tweet out a few more cards. I’m unfamiliar with this set.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Don’t have any of these yet. To be honest, I kind of like the look of them. Maybe it is because they remind me of Diamond Stars a little bit, which I really like. I have always thought of these cards as over my wallet, but at 60 cards that might be a buildable set for me. I bet it would also check-off a bunch of HOFs that are pre-Topps/Bowman.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Late reading this one, but one thing about older PSA-slabbed cards, I’ve seen estimates that as many as 75 percent of cards graded 5 or less (the percentage most likely is lower for really old issues, of course) have been removed from the slabs. The card’s certification number stays in PSA’s data base, while the actual card liekly gets sold again as a raw one. It’s pretty easy to take an older PSA card (before the recent upgrades) out of the slab with a pen-knife or thin screwdriver without damaging the card, if you prefer the card in its ungraded state.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was able to easily pull apart a slabbed card but most of the others need some work with tools. I’m afraid to do that, both for the health of the card and myself. I tend to bleed when screwdrivers are around.


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