Cards of Cards of Cards

As a kid few things sucked more than being dragged to Kmart by my mom. All that changed one day in 1982 when I saw these on the shelves by checkout.

I don’t recall the price, but it was damn low for a set that included Mantle, Mays, and Aaron, and it was even low enough for me to somehow twist my mom’s arm into adding it to our cart. On top of that, these were no ordinary cards. These were a Limited Edition!

Opening the box on the way to the car, I was pretty thrilled with the look of the cards, the first 41 of which featured images of earlier Topps baseball cards. At least that’s what I thought.

In fact, the set not only included cards of cards but also cards of cards that never were.

The set also gave me my first Topps Traded card since the designers smartly eschewed the 1981 Rollie Fingers base card in favor of his Brewers update.

However, the most intriguing cards in the set were these five. Even as a Dodger fan, I had to love the idea that these were cards of cards of Cards!

Thanks to some trades and card show visits, I already had some cards of cards from 1975 in my collection.

Three cards in the 1975 Topps MVP subset even included cards that never were.

The Wills card appears to be the same one used seven years later by Kmart, which leads me to wonder if a “real” 1962 Topps Maury Wills was created but never released or if someone in 1982 simply said, “Hey, wait a minute! No need to make a fake Wills. We still have that one from ’75.”

The 1951-style Campanella seems to work well, but the 1955 is a bit of an eyesore. Not only did Topps aberrantly go black and white on the head shot but they “capped off” the anachronism by placing Campanella in L.A. three years early. (Collectors of the 1958 or 1962 Jay Publishing sets may recognize the source of the 1955 Campy fauxtaux.)

But I digress. What you really want to know is were there cards of cards of Cards, and of course the answer is YES! As the set’s theme was identical to the Kmart set and the time frame wasn’t too different either, we see the same cards of cards of Cards as Kmart, minus Keith Hernandez who of course hadn’t won his MVP award yet.

And just the year before that Topps recapped the entire cardboard career of the Hammer with its five-card “Hank Aaron Special” subset.

North of the border, the same subset was issued but with some twists I never understood until reading Matthew Glidden’s terrific article on the subject. While the first and last cards are largely the same as the U.S. issue, the middle three cards were split into six.

On the heels of their 1974 and 1975 successes, Topps created another “cards of cards” subset for 1976. Though there were no cards of cards of Cards, the “Father & Son” cards featured five (then) current players along with the 1953 or 1954 Topps cards of their Big League dads.

I’m not aware of other cards of cards between the 1976 Father/Son cards and the Kmart set. However, cards of cards had a strong run from 1985-1990 thanks to another Father/Son series, featuring (yes!) a card of a card of a Card…

…and the five-year reboot of a classic Topps subset that debuted in 1977.

Where the 1977 subset used ordinary (or sometimes extraordinary) photos, these later sets adopted a Kmartesque cards of cards design. There were five cards in the 1986 subset, but none were cards of cards of Cards, nor were there even cards of cards that never were. The closest we come to a novelty is the use of Fernando Valenzuela’s 1981 Topps Traded card.

The 1987 subset again featured five cards but sadly no cards of cards of Cards. What it did include was the by now familiar Maury Wills card that never was.

Finally in 1988 were are rewarded with two cards of cards of Cards, and these weren’t just any old Cards but two of the greatest ever to wear the uniform.

The 1989 subset had just about everything under the sun: a card that never was of Tony Oliva, a card of a card of a Card, and a card of my cardboard crush, the Topps XRC of Dr. K. Oh, and Hank Aaron and Gil Hodges are in there too!

Following the subset into 1990, equipped with airplane bag to stomach its design, we find no cards of cards of Cards, but we do see a tighter cropping of the Kmart Fred Lynn, more closely matching his actual RC, and a card reminding Cards fans of recent postseason agony.

The 1986 Topps set also doubled down on the Hank Aaron Special design to honor Pete Rose’s breaking of Ty Cobb’s career hits record.

Where Topps had already turned the multiplayer RC of Fred Lynn into a solo card for Kmart (and would do similar for Oliva and Lynn again), Topps left Rose’s iconic 1963 rookie card in its original format. Also breaking with card on card tradition, Topps ran with Rose’s main 1984 issue rather than his update card on the Expos. In retrospect we might regard this as the beginning of the end for Montreal baseball.

Before closing the article, I want to highlight one more card on card that depending on the release date may in fact be the first of its kind. The same year Topps issued the Hank Aaron Specials, Fleer and Bob Laughlin blessed the baseball world with a 42-card set of Baseball Firsts. Card 12 in the set describes the first baseball cards and the front depicts a tobacco-style card that never was of Beaneater hurler (pardon the visual!) Kid Madden (SABR bio).

Oh how I would have loved it had Madden been a Cardinal so I could end with a card of a card of a Card. About the closest I can come is to note that the James O’Neill mentioned on the back of the card did spend seven years in St. Louis, but of course his team was the Browns.

I’m curious to know if you’re aware of any cards of cards earlier than 1974 or know whether the Fleer set beat Topps to the shelves (or mail order catalogs). For those of us trying to collect the baseball card’s rookie card, if not the master set, this kind of thing matters a lot!

From our readers

Thanks to @DonSherm for supplying us this “cards on card” card a year before the Hank Aaron Specials and the Fleer Kid Madden.

The card back shows several cards, though it’s impossible to know whether any are cards of Cards or even cards of cards of Cards!

Now going way back, I’m reminded that some very early non-baseball cards of cards were issued in 1906 (!).

I’ll let you read about this fantastic six-car set over on my co-chair’s blog.

The ghost of Gaylord Perry

As an eight-year old collector it was a thrill to pull this card (or any Record Breaker) from a pack.

Trivia question: Who were the two American Leaguers referenced in the card back’s final sentence?

An obvious thing the card had going for it was that it was of Brooks Robinson, who I’d already read about as the greatest fielding third baseman ever. A more subtle thing it had going for it was that Robinson had no other card in the 1978 Topps set.

“Can they do this?” I wondered once I’d figured that out. I checked all my other Record Breakers, and sure enough they all had base cards. Weird. The concept of an error card hadn’t yet entered my consciousness, but I tended to treat my Brooks Robinson card as something very special and prized, maybe even the one thing even better than a baseball card of a superstar: a mistake made by a grown-up somewhere.

My whole universe of baseball cards consisting of a thousand or so 1978 Topps cards, a rubber-banded stack of 43 cards from 1974 that I bought at a carnival for 50 cents, and the lone pack I bought at the end of the 1977 season, I was unaware that this Brooks Robinson Record Breaker card had precedent. For example, the 1976 Record Breaker cards featured a player whose previous Topps card (outside of Venezuela) came in 1964!

And just two years before that there was half the answer to my earlier trivia question.

Aside from a single card, Topps had no Highlights/Record Breaker cards in the 1974 set, but thanks to its World Series subset we hadn’t yet seen the last of the Say Hey Kid.

Though I’ve looked backward thus far, the Brooks Robinson card was hardly the last of its kind. Two years later, Lou Brock’s entry into the 3000 hit club would earn him a bonus card in the 1980 set.

Then came the flood. Gaylord Perry received two bonus cards, one of which doubled as a bonus card for fellow Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski.

I’ll take a quick detour here just to acknowledge what a terrific job Topps did with the final base cards of each of these three players.

After 1984 players who lacked base cards but earned last hurrahs practically disappeared. Committee co-chair Nick reminded me of one more from 1988 (the Phil half), and I hope you’ll let me know of others in the comments.

As for the very modern, I wondered if maybe Ichiro could be a 2019 example thanks to his #ToppsNow cards from the Japan series, but then I saw he managed 700+ other cards this year, just as he may well have 700+ cards next year and every year after.

Though I initially considered my Brooks Robinson card a fluke, if not a mistake, you can see here that at least for the 1974-1984 stretch it was practically a feature of the Topps sets to include bonus cards of players who had otherwise reached cardboard retirement.

Bonus cards like the Brooksie and Brock will always carry something bittersweet about them. On one hand, we get one last cardboard look at a legend of the game. On the other hand, we are staring at a ghost. The player’s main card has vanished from the set, and this specter is all that remains, as if to remind us of another season gone, another career in the books, and a fate that will eventually reach us all.

P.S. The other answer to the trivia question? Definitely not Gaylord Perry! It was Brooks Robinson! 🤦 Pretty tricky, Topps!

Extras from our readers

I’ll use this space to acknowledge all the additions to the list supplied by readers, either here or on our Twitter/Facebook sites.

1967 Topps Sandy Koufax – No base card but three League Leader cards as the winner of the Triple Crown for pitchers.

Author’s note: A few days after publishing this piece I stumbled upon a very similar article on the terrific Wax Pack Gods site. Had I seen it earlier I probably wouldn’t have bothered with my article. Still, I think mine does enough that’s different to keep it here. Either way, all credit goes to Adam at Wax Pack Gods for getting there first.

Bowman’s encore performance

The first Bowman baseball card sets might technically be considered the 1939-41 Play Ball sets produced by Gum, Inc. However, the first baseball cards to use the Bowman name were released in 1948.

The 48-card set used black and white photographs and looked very much like miniaturized versions of its 1939 Play Ball predecessor.

Bowman followed up its 1948 offering with a set five times the size. The appearance of the cards differed from the 1948 cards primarily in using color over the player images and using one of several solid colors for the background. The backs also used color ink.

Bowman changed things up again in 1950. Player images used a fuller color palette and backgrounds were quite remarkable in their mix of color and detail. Among full-color baseball card sets, this was almost certainly the most lifelike one ever produced.

When the 1951 season rolled around collectors had been treated to fresh, if not revolutionary, new designs each of the past two years. How could Bowman possibly keep the wheels of progress turning? What would they do for an encore? Would the 1951 cards be 3-D? Scratch and sniff? (Let’s hope not!) True color photographs? Let’s take a look.

Well those cards sure look familiar, don’t they? Aside from adding names and making the cards taller, Bowman seemed content to put out more or less the same product as the year before.

In almost all cases, Bowman (or rather their artists at the George Moll Advertising Agency) employed a standard formula for turning the 1950 images into the 1951 images.

The 1950 image was enlarged about 25%, its full height was used, and excess width on each side was discarded, possibly unevenly. For players whose 1950 Bowman card used a landscape image, Bowman took an analogous approach.

Having just written about the laziest set ever, the thought crossed my mind that 1951 Bowman might at least warrant a seat at that table. However, reuse of prior images, and generic ones at that, was employed by MP & Company for its entire 1949 set, while reused Bowman images were at least based on actual player photos and in fact made up barely a third of the total set.

118 of the 1951 Bowman set’s 324 cards featured repeated players and images from the year before, such as the six I’ve shown. (See this article’s Appendix for a link to the full list.) I should note here that I’m referring to repeated source images, even if modifications were made to reflect team changes. For example, this Peanuts Lowrey card is counted among my tally of reused images.

Another 116 cards were of players who had no card at all in the 1950 release, including these two particularly famous ones.

Finally, there were 90 repeated players from the 1950 set whose cards used new images. While I’ve chosen two superstars to illustrate the point, it’s not evident to me that star power was a primary factor in selecting which players would receive image makeovers…

…nor was the player’s position on the checklist. For those of you with Ted Williams 20/10 vision or really large computer monitors, I’ve plotted the entire checklist using the color scheme from the pie chart (e.g., the top row of blue dots represents repeated players with new images.)

As much as I was hoping to spot a pattern, the dots strike me as largely random other than the unsurprising clustering of brand new players in the set’s final three series.

While my research into the set didn’t turn up any big find, there was at least one card pair that I was glad to stumble upon, not because it confirms any particular theory I had but because it does the opposite.

At first glance these Eddie Lake cards appear a lot like the landscape cards of Mueller, Kerr, and Snider that I showcased earlier. However, a closer look at Lake’s rear end on the 1950 card shows it just about (ahem) butting up against the card edge while the 1951 card leaves room for a sliver more of infield dirt. Likewise the 1951 card shows (nearly) full bodies of two players in the background while the 1950 card barely shows more than one.

These are minor details, but they are enough to illustrate that not all repeated artwork followed the simple crop strategy I showed earlier. In Lake’s case, previously unseen elements were added to the card whereas all earlier examples only showed elements subtracted. Had Bowman followed the standard formula, the result would have been the Fake Lake on the right instead of the Honest Eddie on the left.

Admittedly, I’d be a bigger fan of the 1951 Bowman set had it used all new images rather than recycling more than a third of them. Still, the subtle differences in the reused images–the cropping necessary to produce a new aspect ratio, the occasional team/uniform updates, and the bonus art of the Lake card–provide ample reason to take some of these cards out for a second look, an encore if you will.

Take a Bow…man!

Appendix

Want to do your own comparisons? I’ve created a Google Sheet with the 118 cards from the 1951 set that recycled images from the 1950 set.

Origins of the laziest baseball card set ever

At first glance the 1949 MP & Company baseball set is simply…how shall I say this? Ugly.

And lest you think the card designers were saving all their mojo for the backs of the cards, let me disabuse you of that notion before we go any further.

Still, ugly ≠ lazy, and even if it did I suspect many of you could find uglier sets out there somewhere. (See any set with “metal” in the name.)

To understand the 1949 MP & Company baseball set as the laziest set ever, it’s important to know it had a predecessor six years earlier. Here are two cards from the 1943 release.

I know some of you still aren’t convinced. After all, other sets have reused prior card designs and fared quite well in the minds of collectors. It’s just that the 1949 MP & Company cards took recycling to a whole new level. For instance, here are the 1943 cards of Danning and Medwick.

Scroll up the page and you’ll note more than just a passing resemblance to the 1949 cards of Berra and Pesky. In fact, every one of the 24 cards in the 1949 set is a retread of a card issued six years earlier. Here are each of the 1949 cards (yellow rows), a few at a time, matched to their corresponding 1943 versions (red rows).

Cards 100-102

While Boudreau and Williams are repeated from set to set, we see that Yankees pitcher Ernie Bonham becomes Giants shortstop Buddy Kerr.

CARDS 103, 105, 106

The next three cards in the sets are pure repeats of their earlier issues, though Joe DiMaggio’s cap and sleeves, along with the fielder’s garb, appear to have changed from white to light blue.

Cards 107-109

All three players are different in this next grouping. Hank Greenberg’s playing days were over by 1949, so he instead becomes Ferris Fain. That they batted with opposite hands was not a detail that would trouble the set designers. Turning Lou Novikoff into Andy Pafko required little effort and made good use of the Cubs uniform already there. The change from Hubbell to Ennis was a bit more gauche as it not only got the glove hand wrong but also put the Phillies star in a Giants uniform.

Cards 110-112

First up is a slugger-for-slugger trade that works well as both are righties and the uniforms are fairly generic. Next up are the two brothers and battery mates from the Cardinals. Pitcher Mort becomes shortstop Nippy Jones while catcher Walker morphs into fellow catcher Del Rice. As Jones and Rice were both Cardinals, the uniforms are good as is.

Cards 113-115

Mize to Sauer is another example of a lefty turning righty while Reiser to Coan works just fine. Small liberties are taken in shortstop Joost inheriting a classic pitcher’s pose from Ruffing.

Cards 116, 117, and 119

The Alvin Dark card is worth attention and not just because nobody expected this Giant to be the second coming of Mel Ott! Unless the 1949 release has been incorrectly catalogued all these years, we have our first instance of “Cardboard Clairvoyance” since Dark did not move from the Braves to the Giants until December 14, 1949, a date presumed to be later than the set’s release.

Berra from Danning is one we’ve already seen, and it generally works, apart from looking nothing like Yogi Berra. Of course, collectors wanting more lifelike images were welcome to buy Bowman instead.

Meanwhile, Lemon from Hack is another with a story. Stan Hack played his entire career as a Cub, so the Chicago uniform makes sense, just not when it goes onto Bob Lemon, who played his entire career with Cleveland. Though the MP & Company sets don’t scream “quality control” when you look at them, high ranking execs found this error too great to let stand, leading to the only major variation in the 1949 set.

No word on why Bob’s face turned blue in the process unless to show he’d been screaming for the corrected jersey till he was…oh, never mind.

Cards 121-123

The left-handed hitting Johnny Pesky inherits a right-handed stance from Joe Medwick while Cronin-for-Sain works out even if the “Boston” on their uniforms were from two different teams. As with the Pesky-Medwick pairing, Hoot Evers is forced to bat wrong-handed thanks to inheriting his artwork form Dolph Camilli.

Card 124 and un-numbered cards

The last numbered card in the 1949 set is card 124, Larry Doby, who is shown throwing with the wrong hand thanks to the recycled Johnny Vander Meer artwork his card was based on. You’ll also notice both players wearing uniform number 57.

While Vander Meer wore number 33 from 1939-1949, he did in fact wear 57 in 1938 when he threw his consecutive no-hitters. Though much of the artwork in the 1943 set feels very generic, we can at least wonder if the artist may have been looking at a 1938 press photo when drawing Vander Meer’s MP & Company card. Either way, neither 33 nor 57 would have been a match for Doby, who wore either 14 or 37 at the time his card was produced.

Following Vander Meer is Tommy Henrich, a repeated player from the 1943 set. While none of the 1943 cards were numbered, Henrich’s 1949 card is one of only three un-numbered cards in the 1949 set. A second un-numbered card is that of second baseman Al Kozar, who must have struggled mightily to play his position in full catcher’s gear!

The last un-numbered card in the 1949 set is Jimmie Foxx. As his final season was 1945, I don’t have any theory for how Foxx cracked the 1949 set. His presence is particularly puzzling in that he gives the set 25 cards, despite numerous accounts that the set was released as three strips of eight cards each. (See this auction listing for an example of a 1943 uncut strip.)

Noting the very low population counts on the 1949 Foxx, I wonder if the card was released somewhat by accident (“Oh, shoot! He retired? Seriously?”) and then replaced by another player.

MP & Company gets even lazier!

Thus far we have focused solely on the fronts of the cards. Now let’s take a look at the card backs of each player who had cards in both 1943 and 1949. First here is Lou Boudreau, fresh off managing the Cleveland Indians to the 1948 World Series title. Easy as it might be to note that accomplishment, the 1949 card simply repeats the 1943 card back verbatim.

Next up is the Splendid Splinter. There are some subtle wording differences between the two bios but nothing substantive. Oddly, the most significant update is changing the spelling of Francis to Frances. Of course, Ted’s middle name was Samuel, but what the heck! (For whatever reason, you will find Theodore Francis Williams in several other contemporary sources including his 1940 Play Ball card. Also head to post #21 in this Net54 thread for even more Williams misspellings/variations in the MP & Company sets.)

Next up is Bob Feller, and you probably think you know the drill by now. Still, even I was surprised to see the on both cards that “Feller is 24 years old.”

Batting clean-up is the Yankee Clipper, centerfielder…I mean rightfielder (?!)…for the New York Yankees. Again, the 1949 bio is stuck in 1943. (Technically, both bios are current through the end of the 1942 regular season since they ignore New York’s loss to St. Louis in the 1942 World Series.)

Pee Wee Reese is next. His 1949 bio shows the biggest change thus far, omitting the opening line about being with the Dodgers for three years. Still, I bet Pee Wee would have preferred to see a revision to his batting average instead since his 1949 card still had his career mark at at very pee wee .244 when in fact he had raised it to .265.

Next to last of the repeated players is Tommy Henrich. While some of his bio has been removed, nothing new has been added.

The final repeated player in the set is Jimmie Foxx. Again, part of the bio has been omitted but nothing new has been added.

Cardboard ancestry OF the 1949 set

As has been shown in great detail, the immediate ancestor of the 1949 set is the 1943 set, right down to the reuse of all 24 player images. However, as amateur as the cards look, you’d be wrong to conclude that they represented a one-off (sorry, two-off) effort that just showed up in 1943 out of thin air.

Just one year earlier, MP & Company issued its “War Scenes” set, a collection of 48 cards numbered 101-148 and featuring similar comic book style art to the baseball issues.

Between the “War Scenes” set and a “War Gum” set from Gum, Inc., the makers of the 1939-41 Play Ball (and later Bowman) sets, 1942 was a great year for Admiral Nimitz supercollectors.

Interestingly the 1942 set was not the only time MP & Company had the same idea as Gum, Inc. Here is a card from the 1935-37 Gum, Inc., set known as “G-Men and Heroes of the Law.”

And here is a card from a 1936 set known as “Government Agents vs Public Enemies.” The copyright line on the card back identifies “M. Pressner & Co.,” which is simply a long form of MP & Company.

Interestingly, the earliest collectibles produced by MP & Company are hardly knock-offs at all but at least in my opinion nearly 20 years ahead of their time.

Yes, these Ruth and Gehrig photos fall somewhere short of striking, but good chance they were developed by a ten-year-0ld kid! That’s right, MP & Company’s first collectible I could track down is a 1930 set of eight “Ray-O-Print” photos that kids produced themselves from a kit that included negatives and photo paper.

Though the technology would differ, I believe the next time kids could develop their own baseball photos from a pack would be 1948 in a set that would quietly mark the baseball card debut of the small company that would soon come to be synonymous (if not hegemonic) with baseball cards.

1948 Topps “Magic Photos”

Another ancestor I’ll offer, though not blood related, is the 1933 Eclipse Import baseball set. Between the artwork, the card backs, and even the oddball numbering scheme, this set seems to have everything in common with the 1943/1949 MP & Company sets. What’s more, the two companies were only a block apart!

The final ancestor of the MP & Company cards is the American Caramel E91 series. As Anson Whaley details on his Prewar Cards website, each piece of player art is used for up to three different players across the three-year issue’s 99 cards. If you know your deadball era hurlers well, you might also notice another detail reminiscent of MP & Company: Rube Marquard has his glove on the wrong hand.

In truth, the E91 cards from American Caramel make a credible run at laziest set ever, but I still give the nod to 1949 MP & Company since at least the American Caramel cards batted 1.000 on updating teams and uniforms whereas the MP & Company cards barely even bothered.

Just who are these guys?

The MP in “MP & Company” stands for Michael Pressner. The name suggests the proprietor would be a person named Michael Pressner, but I’ve personally come up short in my attempts to find such a person beyond this bowling team photo from 1895…

…and a skin care consultant in Virginia! I can see some resemblance between the two, but that’s not to say either has any link to MP & Company.

What is known is that MP & Company was a producer of carnival supplies. No, not Ferris wheels and bumper cars but the sorts of trinkets you might win at Skee Ball. This ad from 1927 gives you the general idea…

And this 1974 catalog shows the firm was still in business a good quarter century after their 1949 baseball release.

In fact this notice of product recall shows MP & Company alive and well as late as 1995!

Finally, I suspect MP & Company had some relation to Pressner’s Carnival Mart, a 1960s version of “Party City” just outside New Orleans. If you’re thinking Mardi Gras beads, you’d be correct, as we learn from this January 1969 article.

This could go on a ways, but you can see we’re drifted pretty far from baseball cards already. I’ll just close by noting that I wrote most of this post over Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and that for many of us the New Year is a time of hope and renewal. At the same time, what many of us find is that our “new” years look a lot like our old years, save some occasional new names and faces around us.

In the world of baseball cards, 1949 was one such year. There were some goodbyes. There were some hellos. But when you put that set together it looked exactly the one before it. Lazy and ugly, yes, but also familiar, which we sometimes need just as much as newness and beauty. And besides, spring was just around the corner.

SABR Black Sox Symposium trading cards

At the Memorial Day Weekend Baseball Cards Research Committee meetup in Cooperstown, I was lucky enough to meet the great Mike Noren in person. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell his artwork is probably familiar to you.

Mike, whose work now hangs at on the walls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, is the artist behind the wildly popular “Gummy Arts” trading cards posted daily to Twitter and (if you’re lucky) available in packs online.

I recently saw that Mike had begun putting together a new W514-style set commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Black Sox Scandal.

With the SABR Black Sox Scandal Centennial Symposium coming to town here in Chicago I wondered if there might be a way I could put some of these cards into the hands of attendees. Thinking there might be a good 30-40 SABR members and guests on hand for the event, I thought “Hmm, maybe.” Then I checked with conference organizer Jacob Pomrenke and got the bad-news-for-me-good-news-for-everyone-else that he expected more than 200 attendees!

Never mind, right? It’s not like I could ever imagine Mike’s being willing to put together this many cards! (He cuts every card himself, including the rounded corners.)

Well, what do you know! And thank you, Mike! Sure enough, the first two hundred guests on hand Saturday morning will be able to pick up an envelope with five cards from the full set of 19.

Here is the checklist for the complete unnumbered set of 19 cards.

I can’t thank Mike enough for making his cards available in such large numbers to SABR for this once-in-a-century event, and I hope the Symposium guests will enjoy these cards as much as I do.

I have a bad feeling that after printing and cutting more than a thousand cards Mike will never want to make, much less see, one of these cards again. Nonetheless, I encourage readers to follow @gummyarts on Twitter just in case Mike decides to make additional cards or sets available to the public. If not, get in touch with your friends who made it to Chicago. In the spirit of the Black Sox, they might not be above taking bribes to help you complete your set!

Six days in September

I unexpectedly added this 1974 Topps Deckle Edge card of Hank Aaron to my collection last week.

Before getting into my main story I’ll answer a couple quick questions about the card itself.

What is it?

Many collectors are familiar with a Topps Deckle Edge issue from five years earlier, either through the original 1969 set or through more recent Topps Archives reboots.

The 1974 cards, however, are ones that many collectors have never seen, original or otherwise. They were part of a “test issue” limited to the New England area and considerably more scarce than their 1969 predecessors. For example, PSA has graded only 46 Hank Aaron cards from the 1974 set, and even this number is probably inflated by all the “crack and resub” collectors out there.

Where are the deckles?

As the Yaz and Ichiro pics show, a key feature–sorry, THE key feature–of the Deckle Edge cards is…well…deckled edges. Meanwhile, the Aaron pic I showed appears to be perfectly straight. This is the case with the even more scarce proof cards from the set. PSA populations for these proofs range between 1 and 4 per card, and no numerical grades have been issued. As such, were I ever forced to sell my “PSA Authentic” Aaron, I could legitimately do one of those eBay listings that says, “NONE GRADED HIGHER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” right down to the dozens of exclamation marks.

The setting

Unlike the 1969 Deckle Edge cards, which have barely more than the player’s name on the back, these 1974 cards really go the extra mile.

From the information on the back we see Aaron was at Candlestick on September 1 to play the Giants. A bit of quick research also tells us Aaron had 706 career home runs at the time, just eight fewer than the Babe. Having averaged a home run every three games thus far (33 HR in the 100 games he’d played), Aaron was on pace to break the record by season’s end, but only on one condition: he play in every one of Atlanta’s 26 remaining games.

The pursuit of Ruth had been excruciating for the Hammer: death threats, sleepless nights, and constant media attention were so great that Aaron simply wanted to be done. He was less after a crown on his head than a weight off his shoulders. When he finally did break the record, the feeling was not elation but relief.

The decision

Here is the box score from that night’s game.

Plenty of familiar names in the line up but no Hammer, not even when the Braves, down by a single run in the ninth, looked to pinch-hit for Niekro. Five more times in that final month the box score would be similar: no Hammer.

Six days in September

In taking the six days off, the die was cast. The record would wait until 1974. With his team 18 games behind the first place Dodgers, I sometimes wonder why Aaron didn’t just push through and play these games. I have to imagine his fans and teammates would have forgiven a little less hustle in the field and on the bases if it meant another 25-30 trips to the plate.

I don’t know the actual circumstances and decision making behind these six missed games, just that they followed a pattern of off days throughout the season. I can only imagine that Aaron didn’t see himself as able to give 100%.

Were you to scan the Braves roster you might quickly conclude that 80% from Hank Aaron would still be better than 110% from anyone on the Atlanta bench, particularly knowing the best manager Eddie Mathews could put out there in his place would be these two players.

So yeah, these numbers might surprise you.

  • .455 batting average
  • .520 on-base percentage
  • .727 slugging percentage
  • 1.247 OPS

Babe who??

King Henry

The photograph on the Deckle Edge card shows a man who had a choice. What he would do that day and in all for six fateful days in September would determine whether he would enter a much needed offseason with the crown or let the strain and anguish of the chase drag on him another six months.

That would be an easy choice for most of us, and perhaps it was an easy one for the Hammer as well. Carrying his own burdens, that he could live with. Placing burden on his teammates, that just wasn’t in his DNA.

Though he finished the season with “only” 713 home runs, Topps provided Aaron with an early cardboard coronation. His was a royalty that needed no crown. All hail the Home Run King!

Intel briefing on Canadian Goudey

WHat are these?

Show these two cards to most collectors, and they’ll identify them without hesitation.

1933 Goudey Rabbit Maranville and 1934 Goudey Lou Gehrig, right? In fact, both cards come from a single Canadian release known variously by the names V354, 1934 World Wide Gum, and 1934 Canadian Goudey.

“Aha, so Goudey just released their same cards in Canada, eh?”

Sort of, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. For a two-year stretch, Goudey did release their cards in Canada, but it was only some of their cards and not necessarily the ones you might have expected. This article seeks to explain the what, when, and why (or at least how) of two years of Canadian baseball cards that aren’t nearly as confusing or strange as they first appear.

1933 world wide gum

We’ll start with the first of the Canadian Goudey releases, the 1933 World Wide Gum set, designated as V353 by Jefferson Burdick in his American Card Catalog. As the two Babe Ruth cards below show, the World Wide Gum fronts (left) are indistinguishable from their U.S. Goudey (right) counterparts.

back differences

However, differences on the card backs are evident. On this particular card, the most prominent differences are the card number (80 in this set vs 144 in the U.S. set) and the footer, which shows World Wide Gum of Montreal as the distributor and Canada as where the printing took place. Additionally, each of the World Wide Gum card backs has two language variations: English only and French-English.

In addition to minor layout differences and a more crammed look, the French-English cards commonly omitted the final paragraph of the player bio as a space saving measure.

Side note: I have three possible theories for the language variations.

  1. French-English was “Plan A” but necessarily took longer than English-only. As such, early runs of English-only were produced to avoid delay.
  2. English was “Plan A” but poorly received by the market, leading to a second release in French-English.
  3. French-English was produced for areas with large francophone populations (Quebec, New Brunswick) while English was produced for predominantly anglophone areas.

If you know the answer (or have a different theory) let me know in the Comments. While I can’t produce any viable alternative theories, I can also offer reasons why I think each is incorrect! (I’ll avoid going down that rabbit hole here, but I’ll offer more info in the Comments section on request.)

checklist differences

Another major difference between the two sets is their size. The U.S. set included 239-240 cards, depending how you count the Lajoie card. Meanwhile the Canadian set was much smaller, including only 94 cards. On the off chance you’re wondering which 94, you came to the right place.

  • Cards 1-52 and 58-67 on the Canadian checklist align perfectly with the U.S. release, including numbering. For example, card #1 in both sets is Benny Bengough.
  • The other 32 cards, at least at first glance, appear to be more or less random, though we will later see they are not.

The chart below shows the correspondence between the Canadian and U.S. checklists.

A final mini-mystery, particularly if you know that Goudey cards of the era were printed on sheets of 24 cards each, is the unusual size of the Canadian set: 94 cards.

As it turns out, the size of the Canadian set and the apparent randomness to the second half of the checklist are both explained by various quirks of the U.S. set.

meanwhile back in the states…

As mentioned, Goudey printed its 1933 set on sheets of 24 cards each. However, the cards on the sheets were not numbered sequentially, instead jumping around and leaving gaps. A 2015 article written for PSA by Kevin Glew provides this summary of card numbers by sheet.

For example, here are Sheets 1, 2, 3, and 6 from the U.S. Goudey set…

…or if you prefer, a complete set of 1933 Canadian Goudey! Yes, all the “randomness” of the Canadian checklist is simply a reflection of the oddball numbering scheme used in the States. World Wide Gum simply took four of the first six U.S. sheets and renumbered the cards sequentially from 1 to 94.

For those of you who’ve already done the math, you’re a step ahead of me. Correct…there are 96 cards here, not 94. However, we can also look at the number of different cards. While there were no duplicates on the set’s first three sheets, the sixth sheet introduced extra cards for three different players: Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and Lou Gehrig.

I’ve marked up an image of the final Canadian sheet to demonstrate how the 96 cards became 94.

  • Babe Ruth’s two “full action” cards, double-printed as 144 in the U.S. set were both numbered as 80 in the Canadian set.
  • Jimmy Foxx was the star of the first U.S. series (sheet) as card 29, a number that was retained in the Canadian set as well. The Beast’s second card, identical to his first save numbering, was assigned 154 in the U.S. set and 85 in the Canadian set.
  • Lou Gehrig was the top player on the third U.S. sheet as card 92. His Sheet 6 duplicate is card 160 in the U.S. set. In the Canadian set both cards are given a single number, 55.

In summary then, the 94-card Canadian checklist is perfectly explained by its four source sheets from the U.S. set, the retention of Ruth DP, and the creation of a Gehrig DP. Armed with this information, we are ready for the 1934 edition, a set I believe is the strangest of the entire decade.

1934 World wide gum

As shown at he beginning of the article, this 96-card set colors very much outside the lines by merging cards from both the 1933 and 1934 U.S. sets.

The first 48 cards follow the 1933 U.S. design, and the final 48 cards follow the 1934 U.S. design, so we’ll look at each of these groupings separately.

the lower 48

Cards 1-48 on the 1934 Canadian Goudey checklist match up with the following 48 card numbers from the 1933 U.S. set: 53-57, 68-74, 80-91, 100-105, 115-120, and 130-141. While this grouping of numbers appears odd on the surface, you are now zero shocked to see a perfect match to U.S. Goudey sheets 4 and 5.

For those of you keeping score at home, that means Canadian gum chewers pocketing both the 1933 and 1934 World Wide Gum sets now had Canadian counterparts of every card from the first six sheets of the 1933 U.S. issue.

back differences

While the card fronts were a perfect match with the U.S. series, a number of expected differences could be found on the backs of the cards: reduced bios to make room for French translation, new card numbers, WWG/Montreal vs Goudey/Boston, etc., i.e., the same things we’d already seen the year before. Another key change, one that’s particularly helpful to collectors sorting their cards, is the “1934 Series” header.

My favorite changes, however, are not evident from the Frankhouse card, and show that the World Wide Gum set was not simply a lazy retread of its neighbor to the south. (This just in: Readers from Windsor, ONT, would like to remind you that their city is actually south of Boston!)

team updates

The very first card in the 1934 World Wide Gum set provides one of many team changes.

And lest you imagine such changes are few and far between, here is card #2. As the card front suggests, Morgan was with Cleveland in the 1933 set but the back of his 1934 Canadian card reflects his move to Boston, a transaction that occurred in October 1933.

Not owning this half-set nor even finding a complete run of 1-48 online, I am not able to provide a full catalog of team changes. (Other sources such as Trading Card Database are not yet reliable for this set.) As such, I will simply share two more examples to convey the idea that someone in Montreal (or Boston) was willing to go the extra kilometer (or mile) to keep things au courant (or current).

I particularly like this next example in that it involves two teams many collectors were not even aware had 1933/34 Goudey cards, the Milwaukee Brewers and Montreal Royals.

And my all-time favorite is this one. First, here is the 1933 Goudey version…nothing too unusual.

But what’s this? When I first saw it, I thought mission must have had an alternate meaning in French or that Friberg might have been Mormon and taking a break from baseball. It’s also hard not to think of the Blues Brothers movie: Friberg’s on a mission, a mission from Goudey!

As it turns out the answer is more Reds than Blues. Friberg had simply headed west to San Francisco to play for the Mission Reds of the Pacific Coast League. The story goes that one time Bernie was left out of the Mission lineup and a lone fan in the San Francisco crowd immediately began chanting “FREEEEEEEE-berg, play FREEE-berg, man!”

The upper 48

No decoder ring is needed to understand cards 49-96 in the Canadian set. They correspond exactly the first 48 cards in the 1934 U.S. set, just in a totally different order easy enough to confuse for random.

Look a little more closely and you’ll find in fact the first 24 Canadian cards are a shuffled version of U.S. cards 1-24 and the final 24 Canadian cards are a shuffled version of U.S. cards 25-48.

The sequencing looks even less random when you look at a 1934 Goudey uncut sheet or two. Here is how the first two sheets, 1-24 and 25-48, of the U.S. issue were numbered. I am happy to award a prize package to anyone who can find the pattern!

And here is how World Wide Gum numbered the same 48 cards. (No prize this time if you spot the pattern!)

And here you were thinking the Canadian set was the random one!

Side note: Cards 1-48 in the Canadian set (i.e., the “lower 48” profiled earlier) worked in exactly the same way. While numbering on sheets 4 and 5 from the 1933 U.S. set was in no particular order, World Wide Gum re-numbered the cards on each sheet sequentially from left to right and top to bottom. For example, while these same cards were numbered 119, 116, 118, 117, 136, 132, etc., in the 1933 set, here is their numbering in 1934 World Wide Gum.

Back differences

By now you’re a pro at anticipating what differences the Canadian card backs will show versus their U.S. counterparts. You can check off your guesses against Heinie’s (ahem) backsides.

However, the 1934 U.S. series actually features two other styles of card backs.

  • Cards 1-24 match the Manush card already shown.
  • Cards 25-79 and 92-96, the remaining “Lou Gehrig says…” cards in the set, feature the first card back shown above.
  • Cards 80-91, the “Chuck Klein says…” cards, feature the second card back shown above.

Because the Canadian set doesn’t include U.S. cards 80-91 it’s not a surprise at all that no Canadian cards have the Klein back. Given the space saving measures already seen on the Canadian cards, the absence of the Gehrig signature might not surprise you either.

Nonetheless I do attach significance to another missing element: the line on U.S. cards 25-96 that reads “By arrangement with Christy Walsh.”

Christy Walsh was of course the super-agent of many of era’s biggest stars, among them Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Walsh’s “arrangement” with Goudey is often cited as the main reason there are no Babe Ruth cards in the 1934 U.S. set.

Certainly it is possible that the Walsh tagline was omitted in Canada only to conserve space. On the other hand, legalese is often the last to go. My own hunch is that the Goudey/Walsh arrangement extended only to the United States and did not extend north of the border. In particular, I connect the absence of the Walsh tag line with the set’s checklist boasting this heavy hitter.

There he is, Babe Ruth, on a 1934 (and sort of) Goudey card! Meanwhile American collectors could only dream of such a card in their wildest mastication fantasies!

Odds and ends

For all the ink I’ve spent explaining the construction of the two Canadian Goudey sets, one question I’ve left alone is the why. Here are my best guesses to a few questions that remain outstanding.

  • Why did the 1933 set draw from Sheets 1, 2, 3, and 6 of the U.S. set vs some other set of sheets (e.g., 1-4)?
    In order to have a product on shelves in any timely manner, using low-numbered U.S. sheets was a necessity. In my own research I’ve come to believe that Sheets 1-3 and 5 were all ready to go even before the start of the 1933 season whereas the other six sheets were prepared in a series of later efforts. As such, the use of Sheets 1-3 is probably no surprise: they were available quickly. As for why the set then skipped to Sheet 6, I suspect it was for the star power. Boasting a Foxx, Gehrig, and three Ruth cards, this was the one to put out there if the clock was ticking and you wanted the most buck for your bang.
  • Why did the 1934 set use any 1933 cards at all?
    Again I’m going to go with time-to-market. Waiting on true 1934 Goudey cards and adding time for translation meant it would be a while before cards could hit shelves. Meanwhile here was a ready made supply of cards that needed only translation and (in some cases) team updates.
  • Why did the 1934 set switch in the middle to the 1934 Goudey cards?
    An auction house listing I read suggested the change was in response to criticism that the set was “behind the times.” I doubt this for two reasons. First, unless kids were in frequent correspondence with their American cousins, I’m not sure they would have noticed or complained much. Second, provided the 1934 U.S. cards were ready for us, why wouldn’t WWG want to use them? While modern collectors might frown at WWG putting out a set using two different card designs, bear in mind that Goudey (U.S.) did the exact same thing in 1933.

FURTHER READING

  • Matthew Glidden has a terrific write-up of World Wide Gum cards, going well beyond the 1933 and 1934 baseball sets. Among the highlights is his rock solid case that the 1936 issue (as catalogued) was in fact a 1936-37 issue.
  • Some very clean front/back scans of the 1934 World Wide Gum cards are here. The collector is pretty far from a complete set, but his images are among the better ones online.
  • My own gum-in-cheek article on the history of the Goudey Gum Company is here. Most Goudey company biographers skip the poisoning scandals. Not me.