Nothing to Gloss Over

After working hard on several vintage football sets, I turned back to baseball in late September. I was having a great time (still am) working on old Bowman, Topps and Philadelphia football sets of the 1950’s and 1960’s (short checklists, not too many pricey cards), but, for me, a 1964 Jim Parker doesn’t resonate as much as a 1964 Wes Parker. For reasons stated previously, I dove into the 1964 Topps baseball set. 

It’s been pretty fast work. I thought I’d get from my starting point of 157 cards to 400 relatively quickly, and I did. And how! In two months, thanks to multiple purchases of 50–60 cards at a clip (including two incredibly productive trips to Yastrzemski Sports in Cooperstown), a few trades, and enough sales to help cushion the cost, I powered up to over 560 cards. Twenty or so to go, none more expensive than the Niekro rookie (which I think I can get for less than $50 in EX).

I’m at the point where any 3 or 4 card pickups are meaningful. Yesterday I got four in the mail—an upgraded Dick McAuliffe, Dave Morehead, Ken Harrelson, and Frank Baumann. In Baumann lies today’s story.

It’s rare to me when something sticks out as fishy. I had a weird incident last week with a ’64 Maris. It was off center, which I knew, but only when I had it in hand did I notice the right edge was clearly trimmed. It was uneven in a way that only a hand cut could produce. I sent it back, got a refund, no problem. 

Handling yesterday’s delivery, I was struck by the quality of the Baumann. Sure, it had all the looks of an EX/EX+ card (as advertised), but it didn’t feel right. First, it was glossy, not at all like the finish that vintage cards have. Second, the paper stock was thin and bendy. Third, the back had a thin white line that seemed out of place.

The dealer is one of my favorites, and I had no reason to suspect foul play. Perhaps it was in a collection they bought, and the original owner printed it up at home to fill a binder slot. I reached out and they were happy to offer a refund.

But it still bugged me this morning. How could it be fake? Why would it be fake? The counterfeit Frank Baumann market can’t be a lucrative business. Why would anyone go through that trouble?

I first turned to Nick, our esteemed committee co-chair and knower of all things print related. I sent him a hi res scan, 800 dpi, and he gave it a look. He didn’t think it was beyond the regular Topps inconsistencies of the day, and the printing was not what he’d expect to see in a fake.

I put it out on Twitter and Keith Olbermann knew. Of course Keith Olbermann knew. Keith has often pointed out Topps’ use of different printers for different series (which resulted in several  years of last series having a brighter look), and he believed that was what went on here. He was aware of cards from the 6th series of 1964 having a “slick” feel. Mystery solved, refund not needed.

Interestingly, one of my Twitter pals (@KenBorsuk1) replied that he had recently bought a 1969 Roy Face card online that had the similar quality of not feeling right. Then more Tweets followed. Nick checked his Giants and they all were printed this way. Gio (@wthballs) thought the Gaylord Perry he recently sent my way was like this, and it is! Why that didn’t make an impact on me is a mystery.

This all makes me wonder how many years this happened, how many of these glossier cards are out there and is there any real rarity there. Not for Frank Baumann of course, but for Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry? If that type of card was harder to come by, then shouldn’t that be a pricing factor?

Check your collections everyone! We may be on to something here!

You can see the relative shine when you compare Ralph Terry to Baumann.

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.

6 thoughts on “Nothing to Gloss Over”

  1. This experience has wanting to to do a deep dive into a 1960s set to see how the printing changes series to series and looking at other design and production inconsistencies. Between the paper stock and the screening differences it’s really wild to me how unorganized Topps production was (admittedly it seems like Topps is still doing the same thing now since Series 1, 2, and Update all seem to have a different product owner in the way that photos and other design aspects change between each release). Of course the likelihood of me ever starting a 1960s build is zero but I can still dream.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s the thing. I have no idea what to look for until I start looking at the cards. I would never had thought that there were two different blue screens used nor that the angle of the screen would change series to series. Was not nearly as obvious as the orange color changes. No way for me to even suspect that there was a stock difference either. As a child of the everything released in one series era (when Donruss switched to two series in 1991 it really confused me) I’m used to things being much more consistent this way (though with a ton more per-card variations due to loose quality control tolerances)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I completed a 1964 set in 1967. Even then, it was quite obvious that there were extreme differences in the printing quality of the cards, even straight out of the wax pack.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cool that you notice it early. Somehow I don’t pick these things up that fast. I think because my focus is on corners, creases, etc. and I miss what’s the most obvious thing right before me!

      Like

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