The epitome of baseball card collecting

A friend recently sent me a surprise package of cards in the mail, highlighted by a new addition to my Steve Garvey collection.

The card was about one-and-a-half times the dimensions of a standard baseball card, featured what looked like a real autograph (see Author’s Note at end), and most notably was made from a ceramic material.

The back featured complete statistics, a serial number (430/1000), and some “Interesting Facts About Steve,” among them his favorite player being Gil Hodges and his nickname being Garv. There was also a 1985 copyright date in the bottom right corner, which in conjunction with Garvey’s stats, established a year for the card’s issue.

“Garv” was packaged in a tri-fold of corrugated cardboard, it’s front panel identifying the product as Armstrong’s Pro Ceramic Baseball Cards and indicating the full name of the player whose card was enclosed. The middle panel housed the card, and the back panel featured high praise from five of the era’s biggest stars: Reggie Jackson, Tom Seaver, George Brett, Pete Rose, and Steve Garvey.

According to no less an authority than Mr. October, these cards were “the epitome of baseball card collecting…Just like a classic car.” Meanwhile, Tom Terrific predicted the set to “soon become a bit of Americana” while Charlie Hustle declared the cards “winners.”

After doing some very light research I learned that the entire set of Pro Ceramic cards consisted of five players: exactly the ones who had hyped the cards on the back of the packaging. It was also evident that two different sets were released, one with autographs and one without. My gut sense from searches is that the unsigned cards are actually more scarce than the signed ones.

As nice a card as my “Garv” was, gold autograph and all, I toyed with the idea of pursuing the full set though I imagined at least the Seaver would be out of my price range.

Much to my surprise, I was able to nab all five cards for $29. And that’s total, not each! As good a deal as that seemed, my searches revealed other sets having gone for as little as $14.

On one hand it really is the “epitome of baseball card collecting” to see a high-end set from my collecting hey day fizzle its way into oblivion. On the other hand, it’s also the epitome of baseball card collecting to find bargains when you ignore “book value” and buy the cards you like.

After all, what really is oblivion but a hiding place for forgotten gems, a secret corner of the Hobby universe where ceramic baseball cards go not to die but only to await appreciation.

Author’s Note: A Pristine Auction listing for the set indicates the autographs as facsimiles. However, all look good to me, and they also vary from card to card enough to rule out an auto-pen sort of approach. For instance, here are two autographed Garvey cards with numerous evident differences in the signatures.

If someone faked these, I’d say they did a damn good job! That, and their ridiculously low price suddenly makes sense.

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.

11 thoughts on “The epitome of baseball card collecting”

  1. I wonder if these were issued in other years as well. Saw a Clemens ceramic card still in package at show last weekend. Didn’t buy it. Maybe I should have. I have a few Ted Williams ones

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    1. I think Armstrong only did the 1985 set, signed and unsigned. Another company, Gartlan, was active in ceramic cards around the same time, putting out various Pete Rose cards–maybe other players too.

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  2. There are ceramic Topps cards being made in the 90s. They are often player specific, Ruth, Ripken, etc. There’s a number of 1993 Topps reproductions, most Rockies (Inaugural year), but the bulk of the cards seem to be Indians which makes sense as the company that made them was out of Northeastern Ohio. There’s a 1999 Topps Indians team set on eBay which is the most recent I’ve come across.

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  3. My 2003 Standard Catalog tells me that the gold autographs on the front are hand-signed; the cards without autographs on the front have facsimiles on the back. I trust in Bob Lemke and his team on matters like this.

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      1. In addition, it does seem like a set of ten cards, rather than two sets of five cards. Three of the five large cards (Jackson, Brett, Seaver) look like zoom variants of the photos on the small cards, and the other two large cards (Garvey, Rose) contain more of the information from the photograph than do the small cards. The ten cards use five photographs to produce ten different pictures–an interestingly designed set.

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  4. After further inspection of the images in the article, the Garvey large card looks like a zoom variant too, so the Rose large card is the exception. General point still seems okay–ten pictures from five photos, one set.

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  5. What I meant is that, in the 1985 Armstrong set, the large card of Rose is the only large card that contains more information than the small card (though it is the same photograph). The other four large cards are zoom cuts of the smaller cards. Still, ten pictures all together made from five photographs.

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