A 1943 mini-mystery 79% solved

In a previous article I detailed the 1949 M.P. & Company baseball set and paired up each of its 24 cards with their recycled artwork from the original 1943 issue. For example, the Del Ennis below comes from the 1949 set and reuses the same art, Giants uniform and all, as the Carl Hubbell from the 1943 set.

A question I only barely touched on, largely because I had no answer, was where the artwork for the 1943 cards came from. The closest I came was in speculating that Vander Meer’s artwork may have been based on a 1938 press photo due to his wearing number 57 on the card.

The Standard Catalog is equally mum on the artwork’s origins, noting only that “the cards feature crude color drawings that have little resemblance to the player named,” a sentiment echoed by the minds at PSA:

“The cards were produced as crudely drawn cartoons presented in bold colors, but show little resemblance to the players themselves.”

Perhaps I would have dug deeper someday but chances are I would have gone to my grave believing a cartoonist somewhere simply drew generic baseball men and attached the names of famous players to them. Then I got an email from fellow collector Jack Q. Spooner.

Jack’s message immediately grabbed my attention with this photo of Johnny Vander Meer.

Not only did the picture include Vander Meer’s 1938 uniform number, but EVERYTHING in this Charles Conlon (!) photograph matched up to Vandy’s 1943 M.P. & Pressner card.

Contrary to my press photo guess, Jack identified the Vander Meer photo as a Baseball Magazine Player Poster, designated M114 by Jefferson Burdick and released in 1938.

Had Jack’s email stopped there it would have already been one of the highlights of my inbox this year, but it kept right on going. Here is what Jack sent me for Mel Ott.

Not only did Jack match the Ott card to his M114, this one from 1933, but he even showed a match to Ott’s subsequent 1946-47 Propagandas Montiel card.

Then I opened the attachment Jack included with his message. You can probably guess where this is going.

Sure enough, Jack had supplied M114 matches for 19 of the 24 cards in the 1943 set. The only players missing from the match were Bill Dickey, Stan Hack, Tommy Henrich, Lou Novikoff, and Pee Wee Reese.

While there are other possibilities I now picture that the M.P. & Company artist had these posters in front of him (or her) when sketching the 1943 card set. Only one fact makes this seem improbable, at least at first. The Vander Meer poster was five years old, and the Ott poster was ten years old. Unless someone was a collector, where would all these posters come from?

The answer is that while the Baseball Magazine M114 issue was released more or less continuously from 1910 to 1957, nearly all posters remained available until sold out. In other words, anyone with about two dollars to spend could have ordered all 19 of the posters shown just about anytime, for example in late 1942 or early 1943.

For fun we’ll take a look at when each of the posters in this article were first released. I’ll also include the non-matches in yellow for completeness. (For reasons I’ll save for the Comments if asked, there is some uncertainty to the entire exercise but not enough to worry about unduly.)

Before proceeding I’ll note the asterisk for Johnny Mize is that the Standard Catalog, at least my Fifth Edition (2015), lists his only M114 posters as from 1937 and 1946. However, since his “match” poster shows him with the Giants, we know it can’t be from 1937. Likewise, since the M.P. & Company set came out in 1943, we know the source poster can’t be from 1946. Because the M114 checklist is known to be incomplete and because Mize joined the Giants in 1942, I feel confident his source poster was issued that year.

When I got through Jack’s email it was KILLING me that five of the 24 M.P. & Company cards were left unmatched. In his message, Jack had indicated to me that he had already checked the M114 posters for four of them and confirmed the non-matches. Thanks to the unbelievable online gallery hosted by Doug Goodman, I was able to track down the fifth one (Novikoff) as well. Here they are next to their 1943 cardboard.

At the moment, then, the mystery of where the 1943 M.P. & Company artwork came from appears to be 79% solved. I would love it if any of you can solve the rest of the mystery by tracking down the source photos for these final cards. That said, 79% isn’t a bad place to be considering I was at 0% yesterday!

Quick note: The original version of this article included speculation that the M114 posters of other players could have been the source for the five “missing” players. That was before I found Doug Goodman’s flickr site and reviewed all 961 posters from his collection. None matched the missing five.

TWENTY-FOUR HOURS LATER

I still haven’t found photo matches for the missing five players, though I’ve gone down than more than my share of rabbit holes in the 24 hours since this article was first published. While I came up completely empty in terms of photo sources I did find some images that at least came close in some instances.

While you might imagine bottomless searches through the archives of the Sporting News or newspapers.com, it turns out that these images were right in front of my nose the whole time. I know these aren’t really correct, but they sure looked good to me through the eyes of desperation!

And while we’re at it, who’s that guy batting behind Pee Wee Reese? He sure looks a lot like Hank Greenberg! 😄

Author: jasoncards

I mainly enjoy writing about baseball and baseball cards, but I've also dabbled in the sparsely populated Isaac Newton trading card humor genre. As of January 2019 I'm excited to be part of the SABR Baseball Cards blogging team, and as of May 2019 Co-Chair of the SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee.

9 thoughts on “A 1943 mini-mystery 79% solved”

  1. I have the m114’s of Cronin,Foxx and Ted Williams as well as the corresponding MP&co cards of the three. I never put the connection together. Great work

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  2. The forward-facing cap on Bill Dickey makes me wonder if the chest protector was added by the artist (or the hat was changed to forward-facing). I looked at current cards like 2017 Diamond Kings (variation – catcher’s equipment), 2014 Classics, 2013 Panini Cooperstown, and 2003 SP Legendary Cuts and they all have a chest protector but the hat is backward-facing.

    Some “earlier” cards like 2006 SP Legendary Cuts, 2001 Upper Deck Legends of NY (#95 -there may be multiple Dickeys), 2001 SP Legendary Cuts, 2001 Greats of the Game, and 2000 Upper Deck Yankees Legends (#45 and #72) all have forward-facing caps but no chest protectors.

    Looking at more contemporary cards to Dickey’s playing years, the 1946-1949 Sports Exchange W603, 1937 Wheaties, and 1936 Goudey Wide Pen Premiums all feature a chest protector but backwards cap. The 1937 O-Pee-Chee Batter Ups (which is almost certainly the same photo as the 2001 Greats of the Game) is the only contemporary picture of Dickey I see in the Beckett database with a forward-facing cap – but there is no chest protector.

    This link is about as close as I can come to finding a picture that matches (except for the cap facing backwards):

    https://www.hotsr.com/news/2018/mar/23/bill-dickey-the-pride-of-arkansas-20180/

    This link is the only one I see where he has a forward-facing cap and a chest protector, but the hands aren’t right:

    https://www.amazon.com/DICKEY-Autograph-Postcard-Authentic-Signed/dp/B07RJKJ1VV

    In looking at the Henrich, I wonder if an original Henrich photo was used given that Henrich throws left-handed. The Henrich looks a lot like the 1936 S and S Greenbacks Stan Hack.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great info here! And yes, the wrong-handed Henrich could signal that the artwork’s model was a different player entirely! That Hack is pretty close but probably not close enough to be the source. I may need to put my SABR membership’s free access to the Sporting News archives to work!

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  3. Wow! Great research and observations. Great photos, but poor cartooning. The backdrops are particularly bad. The poster gallery is fantastic.

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    1. Wow, that’s perfect! Maybe the MP & Co Dickey is kind of like those 1973 Topps cards with the multiplayer action photos. Here I was thinking the crouching catcher in the foreground was Dickey, but really Dickey was the hitter all along! 🏆

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